The Raft Is Not the Shore:
Conversations Toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness
By Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan
Orbis Books, 153 pp.

Jesus and Buddha:
The Parallel Sayings
Edited by Marcus Borg
Introduction by Jack Kornfield
Seastone, 241 pp.

Jesus and Lao Tzu:
The Parallel Sayings
Edited by Martin Aronson
Introduction by David Steindl-Rast
Seastone, 210 pp.

Buddha and Christ: Images of Wholeness
By Robert Elinor
Weatherhill, 223 pp.

Interreligious dialogue is a fact of our times, whether we are actually engaged in meeting with people of other faiths, or are simply trying to make sense of the world's variety of relgious traditions in our own minds. Many of us are wondering whether our differences divide us, or whether they perhaps actually create a need for the wisdom of one another's traditions. But how can you tell when a fruitful search for understanding gives way to a shallow borrowing of half-understood ideas and rituals from another religion?

Books on the world's religions abound, but which ones offer real guidance and insight? The following four books represent three very different ways of approaching the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism, from the chance to be a fly on the wall as Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan speak from their hearts, to a comparison of the words of the founding figures, to a kind of visual conversation among images of the Buddha and of Christ. Together, these four books negotiate the narrow path that respects religious differences while reaching for a common understanding of both humanity and transcendence.

The republication, after 25 years, of "The Raft Is Not the Shore" is cause for celebration. It is a classic work of interfaith reflection on the role of religious people in the shaping of a just and compassionate world. The book came into existence over a period of weeks during the late winter in a suburb of Paris, where Daniel Berrigan, the American Catholic priest, had gone to recover his equanimity after release from an American prison where he had been held for his active resistance to the Vietnam War.

Every evening, Father Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh prayed together in silence, "for the space of a candle."

In Paris, Berrigan met Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, who shared Berrigan's spiritually based political commitments as well as his love of poetry. "Each morning I would pack a few books and walk to the magnificent Parc de Sceaux, there to spend the day reading, meditating, writing," Berrigan writes of the days he spent getting to know Nhat Hanh. "Every evening we prayed together in silence, 'for the space of a candle,' at Nhat Hanh's gentle leading."

Their conversations ranged from purely religious issues, such as the relationship between Jesus and the Buddha, or Thich Nhat Hanh's understanding of the Christian Eucharist, to criticism of the involvement of religious people in armed conflict, the implication of religious institutions in economic systems, and the moral necessity to follow the consequences of one's religious convictions, even when they lead to exile, imprisonment, or death.

The talks recorded in these pages are at once gentle and full of fire, sharply truthful and courageously hopeful. And, although the authors were speaking of current events in the 1970s, there is not one chapter that seems dated now, because their approach to the issues is timeless, grounded in a profound understanding of their religious traditions. Their conversation about religious tensions and politics in the Middle East is more poignant now than ever.

In a chapter called "Religion in the World," Thich Nhat Hanh tells of a conversation he had with a rabbi in Israel who was trying to get him to see that loyalty to one's religion and homeland might require violence. Nhat Hanh's response to the rabbi's questions, "What if Buddhism cannot survive in Vietnam? Will you accept that in order to have peace in Vietnam?" illustrates the clarity of the monk's discernment of the path of faith.

"I said, 'Yes. I think if Vietnam has real peace--cooperation between North and South--and if it can ban war for a long time, I would be ready to sacrifice Buddhism.

' He was very shocked. But I thought it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace. Because if you choose Buddhism, you sacrifice peace, and Buddhism does not accept that. Even if you don't have any temple or any monks, you can still be a Buddhist in your heart and life."