Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 6

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Emptiness and Self-emptiness

Buddhism is furthest from Christianity precisely because it an absolute reversal of history actualized in an absolute emptiness. This reversal is not actual but rather a non-actualization of history itself, a history that Christianity celebrates as the historical revelation of the I AM. Dualism and otherness are simply impossible in Buddhism because absolute emptiness is a totality that cannot recognize difference. Altizer emphasizes that even if Buddhism seems absolutely other than Christianity from a Christian perspective, from the vantage point of Buddhism the difference is illusory. The difference is not shattered because there was never an “X” to be dissolved in the first place. Buddhism understands time as the identity of past, present, and future in which the distinctions within time are impossible. This is furthest from the actuality of history that Altizer has outlined because this history can only ever move forward by negating the past in irreversible, singular events. If Christians could know Jesus as embodying the love of God then Buddhism realizes the absolute compassion of the Buddha himself. This compassion is not an act of will because compassion is contingent on the dissolution of the will and hence the negation of an “I”. This center where the “I” once was, is now dislocated so that the center is now nowhere and hence everywhere.

In Buddhism, both temporality and space are utterly absent. Hence, Altizer rightly notes that those in the West who want to return to Buddhism fail to recognize that this is a violent appropriation unthinkable within Buddhism itself (because past time is illusory, and hence return impossible). Buddhism does offer Christianity a unique understanding in which the eternal now of God is always. However, Christianity disagrees with this eternal now because it understands the Fall as an absolute, irreversible event. The notion of a longing for a paradise lost in Christianity is of course inconceivable within Buddhism because the difference between past and present is not. The act of God in history introduces difference and in fact is “the self-embodiment of otherness in its own act and actuality” (102). Against total emptiness, “I AM is the self-emptying of absolute emptiness, a self-emptying which actually realizes its won Godhead or “I”, and if that “I” is absolute center, it is that absolute center which is in absolute opposition to itself” (103).

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