Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Seeds for Dialogue: Learning in Confucianism and Judaism

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Seeds for Dialogue: Learning in Confucianism and Judaism

Article excerpt

This essay has two aims. First, I would like to elaborate on the religious sense that learning carries in Confucianism and Judaism. Second, I wish to open up these traditions to a fruitful dialogue regarding the senses of learning and its implications. I would like to deal with the religious dimension of learning in Confucianism and Judaism through three observations: one, learning is in both traditions the bonding activity between the human and the ultimate; two, learning is a ritualistic meditative custom; three, learning is a genuine moral practice.

I. Confucianism and Judaism: A Buberian Incentive

Let us open with the motivation for the present attitude, which is in Buberian dialogical philosophy. Like other religious traditions, Confucianism and Judaism are about human life, and living is related to other human beings, to texts, to ideas, and, most importantly, to a totality of being. This totality is frequently considered "religious" and is sometimes seen as an aspect of life that is remote from the daily, belongs with transcendence, and is related to a reality that is not part of human limited existence. Martin Buber expressed a strong intuitive feeling toward the power to bring the religious back into human life and practice, rather than segregating it to remote realm:

      In my earlier years, the "religious" was for me the exception.
   There were hours that were taken out of the course of things.
   From somewhere or other the firm crust of everyday was
   pierced.... "Religious experience" was the experience of an
   otherness that did not fit into the context of life....

      Since then I have given up the "religious," which is
   nothing but the exception, extraction, exaltation, ecstasy; or
   it has given me up. I possess nothing but the
   everyday, out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no
   longer disclosed ...

      I do not know much more. If that is religion then it is just
   everything, simply all that is lived in its possibility of
   dialogue. (1)

According to Buber a dialogue enables one to give up "religion" as a distinct and remote spiritual discourse and practice and to realize that religion is life, or "everything." "Everything" is described as any given in the world that can be put into dialogue. A dialogue, ill his view, has a life of its own, and this life is based on human ability and will, not on divine command. Thus, the first aspect I will deal with regarding learning in Confucianism and Judaism is that learning is a dialogue that reflects "everything" and in particular unifies the "religious" with the "everyday" and the ultimate with the human.

Buber suggested further:

   And how could the life of dialogue be demanded? There is no
   ordering of dialogue. It is not that you are to answer but
   that you are able.

      You are really able. The life of dialogue is no privilege of
   intellectual activity like dialectic. It does not begin in the
   upper story of humanity. It begins no higher than where
   humanity begins. (2)

A dialogue is within everyone's ability and is possible for everyone; it is not a demand but an existent aspect of one's life that can be either realized or denied. In Buber's view a dialogue is a true relatedness that can be expressed in the interaction between one and another, and between the individual and the ultimate. This dialogue can be realized through texts, yet neither words nor a cognitive process is demanded; rather, it is an embodiment of feelings, thoughts, and practices. In this spirit, I will stress my second point: the importance of tradition in the learning of both Confucianism and Judaism. The dialogue that is religious life is performed through incessant learning of texts, not to attain a certain goal but, rather, as a religious meditative practice, such as prayer.

The third and final observation is that dialogue has life or, put differently, that the embodiment of dialogue is life. …

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