Nothingness and the Place of Religious Experience — An Asian View

  • George Pattison


The language and the symbolism of nothingness, of non-being and of the void inevitably call to mind Asian traditions of religious thought and experience. Indeed, any attempt by the West to go it alone in formulating an adequate account of nothingness would be the height of provincialism.1 On the contrary, the enterprise of thinking through the concept of nothingness in the context of Western thought cannot but be invigorated and strengthened by a serious engagement with any one of a number of Eastern thinkers and schools, Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist. If religious thought today is duty-bound to understand its project against the background of human globalization, this must be especially true in the case of fundamental concepts of being and nothingness that have so widely been taken as marking one of the most distinctive boundaries between East and West.


Religious Experience Lightning Flash Double Exposure Religious Language Evil Person 
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  1. 6.
    Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (St Albans: Granada, 1977) p. 63.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    This account is taken from D.T. Suzuki, The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind (London: Rider, 1958).Google Scholar
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    K. Nishida, An Inquiry Into the Good (Newhaven and London: Yale University Press, 1987, 1992) pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
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    See also Nishitani Keiji, Nishida Kitaro (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991) especially Chapters 6, 7 and 8 which summarize Nishida’s argument in An Enquiry Into the Good.Google Scholar
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    See also Robert E. Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nishida Kitaro (New York: Paragon House, 1989).Google Scholar
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    For a critical view of Nishitani’s conflation of science and existentialism see M. Abe, ‘What is Religion?’ in The Eastern Buddhist New Series, vol. XXV, no. 1 (Spring 1992) especially pp. 66–9.Google Scholar
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    see also James W. Heisig, ‘Foreword’ to Hajime Tanabe, Philosophy as Metanoetics (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986).Google Scholar
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    This not only involves taking a critical position over against the kind of Barthian approach that would deny to dialogue between religious traditions any fundamental role in Christology, it also implies that Christology is not the primary field in which such dialogue is to be set in motion. Christology is only a mediated theme in religious dialogue and must defer to the more fundamental question of God. This means that the argument developed here is conceived quite otherwise than the dialogue reflected in, e.g. J.B. Cobb and C. Ives (eds), The Emptying God. A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (New York: Orbis, 1990)Google Scholar
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    and John P. Keenan, The Meaning of Christ. A Mahayana Theology (New York: Orbis, 1989).Google Scholar
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    It is on the other hand closer to the more specifically theological Buddhist—Christian dialogue set up by Raimundo Pannikar in his The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha (New York: Orbis, 1989).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© George Pattison 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Pattison
    • 1
  1. 1.King’s CollegeCambridgeUK

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