NIRVANA AND KINGDOM OF GOD
THOMAS J. J. ALTIZER
OUR task in this paper will be to inquire into the relationship be-tween Nirvana and the King-dom of God in the perspective of our contemporary religious situation. First it is necessary to define this situation, if only to make clear what this paper will regard as valid principles, methods, and goals of theological inquiry in our time. For this paper rests upon two cru-cial assumptions: (1) The foundations of Western civilization-and of Chris-tendom itself-are collapsing about us, and the root ideas and values of this civilization no longer have validity or relevance to the authentically contem-porary man. (2) Christianity as we know it historically has been integrally related to Western civilization, and therefore insofar as Christian theologi-cal categories are a product of Western civilization-regardless of the effect which Christianity itself has had upon this civilization-they have neither va-lidity for nor relevance to the contem-porary Christian. While seldom stated explicity, these assumptions are obvi-ously operative to one degree or an-other in much contemporary theology (for example, in Bultmannianism and even in the call of some Continental Catholic theologians for a post-Con-stantinian Christianity). These assump-tions also cast light on the baffling fact that dogmatic theology proper has vir-tually died in recent years, for it would seem that it is no longer possible to ex-press traditional theological categories (such as Creation, Incarnation, Logos, Trinity, etc.) in contemporary lan-guage, that is to say, in language which is meaningful in our historical situation.
It is easy to state these assumptions but extremely difficult to assess their full meaning and impact. However, there are two problem areas where it is possible for the astute critic to sense the gravity of the revolutionary crisis in which we must live. These are (1) the idea and the doctrine of God and (2) the radical disruption between the biblical categories of faith, as revealed in historical scholarship, and the tradi-tional categories of Christian theology. The latter problem is recognized by all-except perhaps dogmatic theologians-while the former problem is seldom discussed significantly enough, and despite its name, at no point is modern theology weaker than in its doctrine of God-it could perhaps be said that the doctrine of God is the "Emperor's clothes" of modern theology, and it is a pity that no ironist has arisen to por-tray the nakedness of our theologians. The three most influential theologians of our time clearly illustrate this prob-lem. Thus the Barth of the Dogmatik has constructed a magnificent trini-tarian doctrine of God which is over-whelming in its sheer power and comprehensiveness; but it succeeds in its purpose only by isolating all theologi-cal meaning from man's historical life or his existence as man-nevertheless the Dogmatik performs the invaluable service of demonstrating the archaic nature of the orthodox theological tra-dition, for perhaps nowhere else may one encounter so many meaningless sentences. Tillich, on the other hand, has constructed a philosophical doc-trine of God as the Unconditioned which is intended to have both existen-tial relevance and religious reality; yet Tillich's Unconditioned eventually dis-appears into a mysterious Ground of Being, which is construed ambiguously either as a mystical Godhead (the God beyond God) or as absolute Imma-nence (or Dionysian in the Nietzschean sense, as brilliantly demonstrated by Jacob Taubes). Finally, Bultmann has attempted to collapse theology into an-thropology, which, if nothing else, indi-cates that for the Bultmannian school the idea of God no longer has existen-tial significance.
One is tempted to note that in the Western tradition the idea of God has always been philosophical rather than theological (with the possible exception of Augustinianism). Thus Western man has constructed an idea of God as a part of his project of understanding the world; the God of the philosophers is a rational idea, created both to make possible the philosophical project and to crown the systems of the philoso-phers: perhaps the last chapter in this history was written when Whitehead, who previously had shown no interest in the idea of God, seized upon the idea of God as a means of completing his metaphysical system. It is impossible for Western man to dissociate the idea of God from the idea of the kosmos,the idea of a rational order which is imbedded in the world. God and kos-mos are polar expressions of one root idea: the rationality of the universe, or, rather, the very idea of the universe itself. Significantly, the dissolution of the idea of God in modern thought has been followed by an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness: with the eclipse of God, man has experienced himself as "thrown" into a mysterious void. But the idea of God was also im-bedded with a pseudo-understanding of the world; the very assumption of a universal cosmic order represents a turning away from the concrete contin-gency of the world. Thus, when the world was most fully known-as in modern science-it was wholly de-tached from a transcendent ground. Accordingly, modern science spells the end of all teleology, and thus the ad-vent of modern science-and of mod-ern historicism-has brought about the death of the rational idea of God. All that which modern man genuinely knows-which is to say all that which he knows scientifically or historically-he knows only through the death of God, through the death of any abso-lute which could condition man's knowledge or experience of reality. The collapse of natural theology (which is to say of any sort of genuine philo-sophical theology) has long been re-marked; but it is not often realized that the death of philosophical theology represents at bottom the death of the idea of God.
Nietzsche's proclamation of the death of God is at once the most ac-curate portrait of our religious condi-tion and the most profound portrait of the situation of contemporary man. Surely it is not possible for any re-sponsible person to think that we can any longer know or experience God in nature, in history, in the economic or political arenas, in the laboratory, or in anything which is genuinely modern, whether in thought or in experience. Wherever we turn in our experience, we experience the eclipse or the silence of God. To refuse to accept the death of God is to evade our actual condition, to turn our back on our historical situ-ation. The most devastating attack up-on Christianity from Marx and Nietz-sche to Sartre and Camus is the charge that Christianity represents a flight from reality, a cowardly retreat-both in resentment and illusion-from the horror and chaos, the emptiness and vacuity, and even the actual problems of man's naked existence in the world. The Christian is condemned for his evasion of suffering, for his refusal to accept the anguish of the human condi-tion, for his inability to live in a revo-lutionary world, for his flight from the world itself. In our world, the "Chris-tian" is both the sick man and the ar-chaic man; too weak to bear existence in a seemingly meaningless world, he seeks solace in a vanquished world of the past to assuage the wounds to his tender sensibility. Consequently, the confession of the death of God is now the price which the Christian must pay for contemporaneity. And the absence of a genuine doctrine of God in the higher expressions of modern theology is mute testimony to its genuine con-temporaneity. Indeed, the first axiom of an authentically contemporary the-ology is the acceptance of the death of God.
If the death of God has been thrust upon the Christian both by his immer-sion in modern thought and by his own immediate experience, it is Christian thought and scholarship which has revealed the chasm which lies between biblical faith and the Christian tradi-tion. How startling it has been to en-counter anew the God of the Bible, about whom Luther and Pascal once spoke with such confidence, and to real-ize that this God is truly the Wholly Other. Not only is the biblical God wholly other than everything which we know in the world, He-or should we say It? for we have lost that intimacy with God that alone makes possible the use of a personal pronoun in referring to deity-is now seen to be wholly oth-er than the God of Christendom, in-cluding the God of Christian theology. Now we know that the biblical God-at least as known by the Christian-is the God of the End. For modern schol-arship has conclusively demonstrated that the message of Jesus and of the primitive church (including Paul) was radically eschatological. The Christian God was originally known and pro-claimed only through the announcement of the glad tidings of the coming of the Kingdom of God, whose coming would annihilate the world. In truth, the Christian believed that the Kingdom of God had broken into time with the res-urrection of Christ, that the form (sckema) of this world is passing away, and that life in Christ-which is to say life in the Kingdom-liberates the Christian from the values and reality of the world. The very power of the Gospel, including most particularly its ethical power, was created by the lib-eration which it brought the Christian from the world. Through being lifted out of the reality of the world, the Christian was able to reverse the values of the world, and thus to live in his new life the new reality of love (agape).
Thus the biblical foundations of the Christian faith were seen to be radically eschatological. Yet this eschato-logical form of faith rapidly disap-peared from orthdox Christianity; or, rather, orthodox Christianity, as we first encounter it in the later writings of the New Testament and in the sec-ond-century Fathers, and then through-out the history of the main stream of Christianity, is quite simply non-escha-tological. Furthermore, we can now see that the basic categories of orthodox theology only came into existence by means of a process of "spiritualizing"-which is to say of de-eschatologizing all the fundamental categories of the original Christian proclamation. And it is obvious that it was the transplanting of Christianity from its Palestinian soil and its entrance into the Hellenistic world that occasioned the transforma-tion of Christianity. Thus began the synthesis of Christ and civilization, leading thereby to the apparently in-extricable association of Christianity with the civilizations that were descend-ents of the classical culture of the West.
Hence we face the dual dilemma of discovering that the forms and catego-ries of our inherited Christian faith are both irrelevant to the actual world in which we must live and detached from a biblical ground. In very truth, the Christian God is dead. Now the Chris-tian, too, must face that terrible abyss of the man in our time who is without faith; both must live in a new world, a revolutionary world which has de-stroyed all established meaning and values, and both must live in the world apart from any ultimate source of meaning or security. One of the most subtle problems which theology must now face is that of distinguishing the authentically contemporary Christian from the unbeliever who fully accepts and lives his actual condition and situation (in fact, there are some theolo-gians who deny that such a distinction can be drawn). But perhaps the greater problem is that of attempting to appre-hend the Christian meaning of the Kingdom of God in a situation in which God is dead; in other words, the prob-lem of finding a genuinely contempo-rary meaning, a meaning which can be expressed in contemporary language, of that Reality which lies at the center of the Christian faith. Negatively, we are well prepared; for we are forbidden to make use of the traditional categories of the Christian faith, because they are both archaic and unbiblical. Yet, other-wise, we would seem to have no center or direction. All religious meaning has collapsed in our world; so long as we remain within our own world, our actu-al condition and historical situation, we can know only the death of God. Con-sequently, this paper has chosen the task of relating the Kingdom of God to Nirvana, for therein we can gain a new perspective, a perspective apart from the traditions of Western Christendom and apart from the radical immanence of the modern West. Thereby it may be possible to apprehend the Kingdom of God in a new light, and that light may prove to have a contemporary rel-evance.
Let us remember that the idea-or more properly the symbol-of the Kingdom of God is a product of the Jewish eschatological tradition (regard-less of its presumed origin in Persian religion) and that here the Kingdom of God had never been associated with a rational understanding of either God or the world. On the contrary, here the Kingdom of God is identified with a New Creation whose coming must bring an end to the present order and struc-ture of the world. To relate, in a posi-tive or organic manner, the Kingdom of God to a presumed eternal order of the world is to dissolve the deepest re-ligious foundations of the symbol of the Kingdom. While such was the path of the ancient patristic church-and later of Christendom at large-we can now see that this path leads to an oblit-eration of both the meaning and the power of the original Gospel. But here we may observe a decisive parallel with the Buddhist symbol of Nirvana. Throughout the Buddhist tradition, Nirvana is radically detached from all experience and understanding of the world. The Buddhist is forbidden even to speak of Nirvana, for language in-evitably betrays the disordered and an-guished state of man's life in the world (Samsara). True, Nirvana may be known, but known only in an interior mystical vision, a knowing which de-mands a dissolution of all thought and experience and which culminates inevi-tably in the dissolution of the self. Thus Nirvana tells us nothing about the meaning of the world or of human ex-istence, except to identify it as the arena of pain, suffering, and death. When Nirvana is truly known, world and self disappear; for the realization of Nirvana can only occur through a radical transformation of everything which man knows as existence.
If we except the mystical form of the Buddhist quest for Nirvana, can we find anything in the symbol of Nirvana which decisively differs from the Chris-tian symbol of the Kingdom of God? Without a qualm, the traditional Chris-tian will say: everything! He will point to the nihilistic foundations of the symbol of Nirvana, its world-denying thrust, its dissolution of the human person and of human history, and its atheistic ground. And it is true that Buddhism stands wholly apart from the established categories of Christian theology. Yet which of these theological categories is consistent with an escha-tological form of faith? Let us begin with the claim that the world-denying thrust of Buddhism sets Buddhism rad-ically apart from the Christian faith. It is true that classical Christian the-ology created the idea of the Creation, an idea which represents a synthesis of the Greek idea of the kosmos and the Old Testament-priestly symbol of the Creation, and classical Christian the-ology has maintained both that the Creation is real and that the Creation is good. But insofar as the Creation is invested with the ontological idea of reality (which is to say reality in an ultimate sense) and the moral idea of good (which is to say intrinsically good, good according to its nature), then the idea of the Creation is not only incon-sistent with, but represents an inver-sion of, eschatological faith. In the New Testament, kosmos means Old Aeon (as Bultmann has demonstrated), and, insofar as the Creation is identified with the world, it can only be known in eschatological faith as Old Creation -the arena of sin, darkness, and death. Now granting that the Buddhist under-standing of the world as Samsara is radically inconsistent with the classical Christian idea of Creation, how does it radically differ from the eschatological symbol of Old Creation?
Again we must face the claim that the Buddhist denial of selfhood and the Buddhist quest for a selfless state are radically opposed to Christian an-thropology. Here the problem is far more complex, and its complexity de-rives chiefly from the confused and contradictory state of the Christian doctrine of man. Nevertheless, certain observations can be made. The idea of the ultimate value and reality of the human person is a Western idea, hav-ing its roots in Greek thought and the Bible and its most powerful expressions in Augustinianism and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance Western thought and experience. But for Augustine, the human person can be known only through, and indeed only after, the ex-perience of God; there is no basis what-soever in Augustinianism for the idea of the autonomous value and reality of the person. This idea of the autono-mous person has become the dominant Western idea, and it is clearly a prod-uct of Western secularization-which is to say that it is a post-Christian idea. Moreover, nothing could be further from eschatological faith than the idea of the autonomous person: for eschato-logical faith, the autonomous person is quite the sinner, the "old self," the Old Adam, and, as such, personhood in this sense must be seen as being wholly other than the new life in Jesus Christ. While we cannot say that there is no idea of a person whatsoever in eschato-logical faith, we can say that the New Being of the believer is so intimately related to Jesus Christ and the King-dom of God that he has no autonomous value or reality. Insofar as the Chris-tian lives as a believer, he lives in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God; he lives a life which is not only open to, but indeed is caught up in, transcend-ence. Here, authentic existence-which is to say real existence-is existence in the Kingdom of God, not existence in the world, the flesh, or the self. Thus Christian existence is transcendent ex-istence and thereby is wholly other than the autonomous existence of the domi-nant Western tradition and the imma-nent existence of the dominant contem-porary experience. Accordingly, it seems obvious that authentic Christian existence is closer to the selfless exist-ence of Buddhism than to the autono-mous existence of Western man and that everything which we know as ex-istence in the world (Dasein) must be annihilated in authentic life in Jesus Christ.
The charge that Buddhism is op-posed to the Christian idea of history is perhaps equally complex, yet it is far more open to resolution. For in re-cent years we have learned that the idea of the autonomous meaning and order of history is not only post- but is deeply anti-Christian. Through the work of Karl Loewith, we know that even Augustine did not believe that historical events as such were either inherently meaningful or religiously significant. And we know that philoso-phers of history from Hegel and Marx to Spengler and Croce have at bottom been theologians of history, and it is clear that their theologies are patently anti-Christian. More deeply, through Nietzsche, Dilthey, and Troeltsch, we know that the modern historical con-sciousness itself is grounded in the death of God, in the eclipse of all abso-lutes; no way has yet been found of drawing a decisive line between histori-cal thinking and historicism. Dilthey concluded his life's work with the judg-ment that "the relativity of all human concepts is the last word of the histori-cal vision of the world." In response to this situation, Bultmann has followed Kierkegaard in insisting that the true events of the Christian faith are not historical events proper (Historie) but rather existential events (Geschichte) which are not susceptible to historical investigation~this is the theological reason why Bultmann has so deeply re-sisted the new quest for the historical Jesus, and it is a sad commentary that his followers seem so oblivious to the deeper consequences of their "new" quest. Finally, it is also now clear that an eschatological faith-as opposed to a messianic faith-cannot look upon history as the arena of the "acts" of God; for eschatological faith, God is the God of the End, and His "action" must bring history to an end. Here there is no room for a pattern or direc-tion in history, except insofar as his-tory must inevitably fall more deeply into darkness. Only a Christianity which has been profoundly molded by the autonomous and secular values of modern Western man could grant his-tory an ultimate reality and value. In the original and purer form of Chris-tian faith, history has no value what-soever; it is looked upon with indiffer-ence if not with outright rejection; thus it is difficult to see where lies the decisive difference between the Chris-tian and the Buddhist attitude to his-tory.
Yet perhaps the most damning Chris-tian charge against Buddhism is that it is atheistic, not atheistic in the West-ern sense, of course, but atheistic in the sense that it allows no room either for an idea of God or for a transcendent Being. First let us inquire into the rea-sons why Buddhism is atheistic. The Buddha forbade all theoretical ques-tions-and therefore all theoretical thinking-because of his conviction that such questioning distracts the mind of the religious seeker from the religious quest itself, from the actual practice of the way to Nirvana. To translate this principle into Christian terms, we might say that the entertain-ment of the idea of God distracts the Christian from the actual presence of God, or that thinking represents a turn-ing away from the religious life itself, from life in the Kingdom of God. Nor is it without significance that eschato-logical faith has never-whether in Ju-daism, Christianity, or Islam-pro-duced a theology. But if we were to accept a certain continuity between Buddhism and Christianity at this point, how else but negatively can we react to the Buddhist refusal of a tran-scendent reality of any kind? Note should be immediately taken, however, of the fact that a transcendent reality (and with it the religious reality which Rudolph Otto termed the "numinous") is foreign to the Buddhist religious ex-perience: Buddhism is closed to the experience of a Beyond. Nirvana is not conceived as an ontologi cal state; and, in part, this is because Nirvana is not "known." For Nirvana is manifest only in conjunction with a dissolution of all man's faculties, only through an aboli-tion of consciousness which shatters the self, thereby bringing human exist-ence to an end. Thus Nirvana cannot be known as a Beyond, first, because knowing itself disappears with the ad-vent of Nirvana and, second, because with the presence of Nirvana there is present no other reality whatsoever with which Nirvana could be con-trasted. Not only does the self disap-pear in Nirvana, but with it all experi-ence of a here and a now, all awareness of Samsara. Therefore Buddhism is closed to a transcendent reality if only because it is so radically open to-and so deeply immersed in-the salvation reality of Nirvana.
Surely it is just at this point that the Christian must be most deeply chal-lenged by his encounter with Buddhism. And it is here that the real meaning of Buddhist nihilism is manifest. The world is known to be void (empty, Sunya) of reality in the moment in which Nirvana appears: for with the appearance of Nirvana all knowing comes to an end, all "reality" disap-pears. This means that for the Buddhist "reality" only appears (ex-ists) through the absence of Nirvana. The very cate-gory of "existence" is a product of ig-norance (avidya), is created by desire or craving (tanha), and is grounded in pain (dukkha). Hence Buddhist nihil-ism is the product of a purely religious apprehension of the world. When the world is most deeply experienced-which is to say when it is apprehended apart from all human "experience -it manifests itself as being void of "re-ality," as being wholly other than that which man "knows" it to be, in short, as being the Nothing. Samsara is known as pain and suffering only when it is known by man, only when it is con-sciously experienced and wilfully grasped. Through the advent of Nir-vana, Samsara as Samsara (as pain and suffering) disappears. Yet do we not find here an amazing coincidence with eschatological faith? For the ap-pearance of the Kingdom of God brings an end to the reality of the world; the God of eschatological faith is the God of the End, and therefore the mani-festation of his Kingdom occurs o~y through an annihilation of "reality," and he is known in faith only through an abolition of self, of existence (Dasein), and of sin.
Now it must not be thought that at all these points Buddhism is superior to Christianity, or purer than Christi-anity, or, for that matter, that Bud-dhism is any closer to the religious Reality than is Christianity. Need it be said that Buddhism appears purer to us because we are not Buddhists! We have not lived in the Buddhist tradi-tion, have not been forced to bear the terrible imperfections of the human and historical expressions of Buddhism, and even today are not dependent upon the weak scattered fragments of a once vital faith. But we must bear Christi-anity in all these forms: indeed, it is impossible for us to see Christianity apart from them. Furthermore, the Christianity that we know is the prod-uct of almost two thousand years of secularization-for secularization be-gan with Christianity's acceptance of the world, with Christianity's submis-sion to the very reality of the world. Thus we can look at Christianity only through a glass darkly, and, for those who live in our time, and are thereby destined to live the death of God, there can be no assurance that what we see through our dark glass will be Christi-anity. For all of these reasons it is im-perative that we gain a new perspective, a new vantage point, from which to look at Christianity. And Buddhism is ideally suited to play this role: it is rivaled only by Christianity as a higher expression of religion; it has no rela-tion to the Near Eastern eschatological religious tradition; it has never been as-sociated with Western civilization; and it is a genuinely universal religion.
If we are to employ Buddhism as a mode of entry into the original form of Christianity, then we must do so by means of comparison of the primal Buddhist and Christian categories of Nirvana and Kingdom of God. Unfor-tunately, the Christian tradition has succeeded in isolating the meaning and reality of God from the eschatological category of Kingdom of God. This it did under the impact of Greek theo-retical thinking, and whether or not this impact was mediated through Philo as Wolfson maintains, it effectively merged the biblical-numinous appre-hension of the holiness of God with a rational idea. This idea has a number of names (all of them unbiblical)-such as absolute, infinite, uncondi-tioned, true Being, etc.; it is grounded in a rational apprehension of the world, and it can know God only as a God who is in essential continuity with the world, with "being." Thus the orthodox Christian tradition postulates God as Being qua being: and if we were to translate this rational theological idea into eschatological terms, we should discover that here God is known as Be-ing qua Old Being, or Being qua Old Aeon, which is to say that classical Christian theology has only known God insofar as it knew a world turned away from God. Thus the God of theology is closed to the God of the Gospel, and theology itself has been closed to the eschatological meaning and reality of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
A major task of contemporary the-ology is that of recovering-or should we say creating-an eschatological vi-sion of God, and it is just at this point that Buddhism has a deep relevance to our task. Buddhism has never attempt-
ed to relate Nirvana to a reality be-yond or apart from it; indeed, it has never allowed itself to speak of true reality (as opposed to the reality of Samsara) as a reality apart from Nir-vana. Therein it has recognized that the mere awareness of a genuine real-ity apart from Nirvana is both a dis-traction of the mind of the seeker from the salvation-reality of Nirvana and a threat to the very reality of Nirvana itself. It is this latter point that we Christians need to learn: mere aware-ness of a reality which stands apart from the Kingdom of God is only pos-sible through a turning away from the power of the Kingdom. And to know God apart from his Kingdom is to know a God who is a God only of tkis world, and never the God proclaimed by Jesus Christ. It also follows that to the extent that we understand God ra-tionally, that is, the extent to which we apprehend God by a thinking that arises out of our understanding of the world, we are doomed to dissolve the God of faith. Simply to think of God in this manner is to know him through categories which are a reflection of the world, to submit him to the reality of being; and against this enslavement of God to being the prophetic tradition has always violently rebelled (as wit-ness especially the orthodox Muslim reaction to the advent of philosophy in Islam). And most significantly of all, to know a God whose very reality is in continuity with the reality of the world is to make impossible an ethical act that reverses the values and reality of the world, despite the fact that this re-versal lies at the center of Jesus' mes-sage, and of the Christian life itself.
Therefore the time has come for the Christian theologian to bring an end to the idea of God, for the idea of God as we know it is inconsistent with escha-tological faith and makes impossible the practice of the Christian life. Already we have seen that the life which we are now called upon to live, the ex-istence into which we are "thrown," is a wholly immanent reality, a reality created by the collapse of the tran-scendent realm. We must live the death of God if we are to exist in our world, for the confession of the death of God is now the price of the Christian's con-temporaneity. Yet not only does the confession of the death of God liberate us from an archaic retreat from our destiny, it also liberates us from a tra-dition that was closed to eschatological faith and grounded in a reversal of the message of the Gospel. By living the death of God, we can both accept our destiny and be open once more to the radical call of Jesus' Word. No longer can the idea of God bring us security in the world; no longer can the Chris-tian know God as the Absolute who is the source of all meaning, order, and reality in the world. And no longer can the Christian know God as Being itself; for therein lies a retreat from the actu-ality of the world and an idolatrous identification of the God of faith with the presumed orders and structures of the world. Not only must the Christian be open to the death of God, he must live the death of God with all the passion and depth that Nietzsche de-manded.
Now the time has come to face the final problem of this paper. Can the Christian live in the terrible void with which we are confronted, or must he turn away from this void in his quest for the Kingdom of God? Does faith isolate the Christian from the empti-ness, the meaninglessness, and the sheer horror of our world? Is Christianity a retreat from reality, a flight from an-guish, death, and pain? All of us must say no to this question, and say no be-cause we know that the Christian is called to share Christ's Cross and Pas-si on; but do we have a theological ground upon which to say no? Certain-ly no such ground is provided in the theological tradition, and we must note that Christian existentialists from Kier-kegaard to Bultmann have spoken of the leap of faith which liberates the Christian from his existence in the world. At bottom, Christian existential-ism is grounded in the Kierkegaardian fallacy that authentic human existence culminates in the passion of faith, an assumption that denies the authenticity of the terrible anguish of contemporary man. Yet again we must turn to our Buddhist perspective. However, if we look at Mahayana Buddhism, a baffling paradox is apparent which casts both light and darkness upon our problem. Here, the highest ideal of the Buddhist life is the path of the Bodhisattva, a path which entails the renunciation of salvation (Nirvana) and an identifica-tion with the suffering of all sentient beings (Samsara) until such time as these beings themselves pass into Nir-vana. Yet at the same time, and deeply imbedded in the very way of the Bodhi-sattva, we find a mystical identifica-tion of Nirvana and Samsara, based upon a denial of the independent re-ality of either Nirvana or Samsara and culminating in a denial of the reality of either the Bodhisattva or the suffer-er, either the Buddha or suffering itself. This identification is grounded in a mystical apprehension of the oneness of reality, an apprehension which makes void or empty (Sunya) the re-ality of Nirvana and Samsara alike. There is but one Reality: when known to consciousness, and manifest in his- tory, it appears as Samsara; but through higher mystical intuition (praina) and self-giving compassion (karuna),it appears as Nirvana.
It is difficult to resist the temptation to translate this Mahayana position in-to Christian terms. Forgoing all pru-dence, let us make the impossible at-tempt. There is but one Reality: when known to consciousness, and manifest in history, it appears as Old Aeon; but through faith and self-giving compas-sion (agape) it appears a~ Kingdom of God. Now obviously this translation does violence both to the eschatological form and to the religious meaning of Christianity. Nevertheless it may illus-trate a Christian truth which has been obscured by Christian theology. Faith, for the Christian, is not a turning away from the world but rather a turning to God in the midst of the world; not a turning to a God who is Beyond, but rather a turning to the Kingdom of God which breaks into time in our midst. Thus the very idea of a leap of faith is foreign to the innermost religious life of Christianity: for it arises out of an evasion, a flight from, the anguish of the human condition; it represents a refusal of the presence of the Kingdom. Understandable as such a refusal is on the part of the Christian who must live in our world, this refusal nevertheless remains un-Christian insofar as it must seek the Kingdom in a beyond. Yet if the Christian is to know the Kingdom as present in the world, he cannot know the world as "world." Insofar as the man of faith knows reality as "na-ture," "history," "world," or "being," he is closed to the presence of the King-dom and turned away from the call of Christ; nor can he, while in such a condition, live the life that Jesus demanded. But insofar as the Christian knows reality as God's Kingdom, he knows the presence of Christ, and therein gives himself-spontaneously, immediately-in compassion to others. Here, the giving of one's self to others is an immediate response to a new con-dition, the dawning of the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom does not dawn "above," it dawns "here"; it dawns in our midst. Therefore it does not take us away from the "here" and "now" as such, it tears the veil from our reality and draws all reality into itself. Through the advent of the Kingdom, the world appears in a new light, for now the world gives witness to its ulti-mate end, when the world will be trans-figured by a New Creation, when God will be all in all.
True, the appearance of the King-dom effects a reversal of the reality of the world; but, as in Mahayana Bud-dhism, reality, as known in sin, is re-versed and not annulled or annihilated. To be sure, the reality of the world (Old Aeon) is annihilated insofar as that reality is created by sin, by a hu-man existence which is turned away from God-that is, the world as "his-tory," "nature," and "being" is brought to an end. Yet must we not insist that it is not the world, the creation, but rather our world-the world as mani-fest, as real, to fallen man-which is annihilated by the advent of the King-dom? Granted that our world is the only world that we can know, the only reality that we as men can experience; yet in faith we know that this very world has come to an end, that its foun-dations have crumbled, that now it can only appear as Old Aeon. In faith we know that our world has come to an end because in faith we live in the Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God draws all reality into itself. Further-more, our world is brought to an end only insofar as the Kingdom breaks in-to its midst: the Kingdom appears only in conjunction with a transfiguration of everything which we know as reality. For the Kingdom appears in our real-ity, it dawns in our midst; to the extent that the Kingdom appears "above" or "beyond" it has not yet dawned in us. Precisely because the coming of the Kingdom effects a reversal of the reality of the world, life in the Kingdom can only take place in the midst of the world. It is this very reality in its sheer actuality and immediateness which is being transfigured by the dawning of the Kingdom; God appears here and not in a beyond. Therefore the Chris-tian must live this life, sharing all its fulness and emptiness, its joy and its horror, knowing that his destiny is to live here and now, allowing his life to be the metal which God's fire will trans-form into his Kingdom. And if we are to live now, we cannot escape the an-guish of the human condition; if we are to live here, we cannot flee this condi-tion by a leap of faith. It is our anguish that God's Kingdom will transfigure in-to joy: but the Kingdom will never dawn in us if we refuse our existence in the here and now. If our destiny is darkness, then we must believe that it is God's will that this darkness be transfigured into light.
Yet what of Dionysian existence? How is the Christian to judge the radi-cal immanence of the contemporary sensibility, an immanence which de-mands a total immersion in the sheer actuality-the pure immediacy-of the here and now? Does Christian contem-poraneity demand a merging of Christ
and Dionysus (as Nietzsche in his mad-ness foresaw)? Is there no real distinc-tion between contemporaneity and faith? Let us but recall the words of the Mahayana: Nirvana is Samsara, and Samsara is Nirvana. Can the Chris-tian, too, affirm that existence in our world is existence in the Kingdom of God? Certainly not; and yet, do we not believe that the Christian is bound to accept his destiny, regardless of what that destiny might be, and accept it through the power of the Kingdom of God, through his life in the Kingdom of God? Must the Christian pronounce an absolute "No" upon the autonomous existence of modern man, and thereby upon human creativity itself, upon man's existence in history? Is the Christian likewise called to condemn with a final "No" the radical imma-nence of the contemporary sensibility, thereby condemning the most profound engagements of man with the world, of man with time? Knowing that there can be no retreat to an earlier historical moment, are we forced to condemn hu-man existence itself? How is faith to greet the Nothing which dawns upon the contemporary horizon? Wherever we turn in our destiny, we are con-fronted by the Nothing: for the death of God has been followed by the resur-rection of the Nothing; the Nothing is now openly manifest in the deepest ex-pressions of contemporary existence. Is the advent of the Nothing simply a di-vine judgment upon human autonomy, an inevitable consequence of a history -a Dasein, a movement of being-that has plunged itself into radical imma-nence?
This paper has moved beyond the limits of contemporary theological analysis for theological language is not yet prepared to meet such problems. Yet if we are here faced with mystery, it is a mystery which we must live, a challenge which our hearts, if not our minds, can by no means escape. Dare the Christian meet the Nothing which is now overwhelming us; dare he open himself to the nothingness about us? But this is to ask: Can the Christian
live in our world? Can he accept the destiny which has been thrust upon us? At this point I can do no better than quote the final words of my book:
Faith can know the Nothing only as a reflec-tion of ultimate Reality, only as a proiection of the religious Reality into the arena of man's world. For iust as the Buddhist comes to know Samsara as Nirvana, the Christian must come to know the Nothing as the hither side of God.