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Buddhism, Christianity and the Question of Creation Karmic or Divine?
PERRY SCHMIDT-LEUKEL UniverSi'ty of Glasgow, UK
© Perry Schmidt-Leukel 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or . otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Perry SchmidtcLeukel has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the Editor of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Road Aldershot Hants GUll 3HR England . Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington, VT 05401-4405 USA Ashgate website: http://www.ashgate.com British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Buddhism, Christianity and the question of creation: karmic or di vine? 1. Creation - Comparative studies 2. Buddhism - Doctrines 3. Buddhism - Relations - Christianity 4. Christianity and other religions - Buddhism 5. Christianity and atheism 1. Schmidt-Leukel, Perry 294.3'424 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Buddhism, Christianity, and the question of creation: karmic or divine? / edited by Perry Schmidt-Leukel. p.cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-7546-5443-5 (hardcover: alk. paper) 1. Christianity-Relations-Buddhism. 2. Buddhism-Relations-Christianity. 3. Creation. 4. Karma. I. Title: Karmic or divine? II. Schmidt-Leukel, Perry. BR128.B8B8142006 202'.4-dc22 2005007948 ISBN-IO: 0754654435
Typeset by lLVIL Typographers, Birkenhead, Merseyside and printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books, Bodmin, Cornwall
List of Contributors Acknowledgements Introduction Perry Schmidt-Leukel
Part One: Buddhist and Christian Perspectives on the Issue of Creation 1 Hindu Doctrines of Creation and Their Buddhist Critiques Ernst Steinkellner
2 Three BuddhistViews of the Doctrines of Creation and Creator Jose Ignacio Cabez6n
3 Buddhist Forms of Belief in Creation Eva K. Neumaier
Creation and the Problem of Evil Armin Kreiner
5 Refuting Some Buddhist Arguments about Creation and Adopting
Buddhist Philosophy about Salvation History John P Keenan 6 Creation and Process Theology: A Question to Buddhism Aasulv Lande
7 Buddhists, Christians and Ecology John D 'Arcy May
Part Two: The Unbridgeable Gulf? Towards a Buddhist-Christian Theology of Creation Perry Schmidt-Leukel 8 Preparing the Ground
9 Buddhist Criticism and Its Motives
10 Bridging the Gulf
List of Contributors
Jose Ignacio Cabezon has a B.S. with an emphasis in physics from Caltech, and a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Born in Cuba and raised in Boston, he spent ten years as a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Six of those ten years he spent in the traditional curriculum of studies at the Byes College of Se ra Monastery in Bylakuppe, India. Professor Cabez6n has published extensively in the field of Buddhist and comparative thought. Among his published books are A Dose of Emptiness (Albany, NY: SUNY 1992), Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender (ed.) (Albany, NY: SUNY 1992), and Buddhism and Language (Albany, NY: SUNY 1994). His current research interests include Buddhist and comparative theology, medieval Tibetan philosophical polemics, and Buddhist sexual ethics. Jose Cabez6n taught at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver for twelve years. In 2001 he joined the Religious Studies faculty of the University of California Santa Barbara as XIVth Dalai Lama Professor of Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies. John P. Keenan is a specialist in Yogacara Buddhism, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, and priest of St Mark's Episcopal Church in Newport, Vermont. His publications include translations from the Chinese Buddhist canon and works on Christian scripture and theology as seen through the lens of Mahayana philosophy. He is author of The Meaning of Christ: A Mahayana Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 1989), The Wisdom of James: Parallels with Mahayana Buddhism (New York: Paulist Press 2005), and co-editor of Beside Still Waters: Jews, Christians, and the Way of the Buddha (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications 2003), recipient of the 2004 Book of the Year Award from the (North American) Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies.
Armin Kreiner was Professor of Fundamental Theology and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Mainz (1995-2003) and joined the University of Munich in 2003 as Professor of Fundamental Theology. Among his numerous publications in the philosophy of religion are Ende der Wahrheit? Zum Wahrheitsverstandnis in Philosophie und Theologie (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder 1992), Gott und das Leid (Paderborn: Bonifatius 1994) and Gott im Leid. Zur Stichhaltigkeit der TheodizeeArgumente (Freiburg im Breissgau: Herder 1997). He co-edited (with S. Gratze1) Religionsphilosophie (Stuttgart: Metzler 1999), introducing philosophy of religion in a multi-religious perspective.
List of Contributors
Aasulv Lande graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology in Oslo, Norway in 1962, and is an ordained minister of the Church of Norway. From 1965 to 1980 he studied Buddhism, Shinto and new religious movements in Japan, basically related to Doshisha University and Kansai Seminar House, and was involved in inter-religious dialogue. He received his Doctorate in Uppsala, Sweden in 1988 with a thesis on 'Japanese Protestantism in History and Historiography'. Subsequently, he worked as Japanese lecturer at Oslo University and as lecturer (Lutheran World Federation) of Ecumenism and Dialogue at Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham University, England. In 1994 he became Professor for Missiology with Ecumenical Theology at Lund University, Sweden. Among his publications in the field of inter-religious dialogue and Japanese religion are Meiji Protestantism in History and Historiography (Frankfurt: Peter Lang 1990), Japans religionar (Oslo: Samlaget 1991), Mission in a Pluralist World (co-edited with W. Ustorf, Frankfurt: Lang Verlag 1996) and Sjdnna po. Elbursfjell. Alexander Seippel, mann en og verket (co-edited with S. Lomheim and G. Stubseid, Kristiansand: Hoyskoleforlaget 2001). He has been President of the European Network of Buddhist Christian Studies since its foundation in 1996.
John D' Arcy May is Associate Professor of Interfaith Dialogue, Trinity College Dublin. He holds a doctorate in theology (Munster 1975) and the history of religions (Frankfurt 1983). He taught at the University of Munster (1975-1982), was Ecumenical Research Officer with the Melanesian Council of Churches, Port Moresby, Research Associate at the Melanesian Institute, Goroka, Papua New Guinea (1983-87) and Director of the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin (1987-1990). He is the author of Meaning, Consensus and Dialogue in BuddhistChristian Communication: A Study in the Construction of Meaning (Berne: Peter Lang 1984), Christus Initiator: Theologie im Pazifik (Dusseldorf: Patmos 1990), After Pluralism: Towards an Interreligious Ethic (Munster-Hamburg-London: LIT Verlag 2000) and Transcendence and Violence: The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian and Primal Traditions (New York-London: Continuum 2003), and he edited Pluralism and the Religions: The Theological and Political Dimensions (London: Cassell 1998). Eva K. Neumaier is presently the Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada, and is Professor Emeritus and former Chair and Professor of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (Canada). She holds a Dr Phil. (1966) and Dr Phil. Habil. (1976, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich, Germany). Her specialization comprises the literature of rDzogs -chen (Great Perfection), the interpretation of sacred biographies, and the interaction between local religious traditions and the literary religion of Buddhism. She has published extensively in academic journals and authored or coauthored five books, among which are The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2nd edn), The Sovereign All-Creating Mind - the Motherly Buddha:
List of Contributors
A Translation of the Kun-byed rgyal-po'i mdo (Albany, NY: SUNY 1992) and Gender, Genre and Religion: Feminist Reflections (The Calgary Institute for the Humanities 1995). Perry Schmidt-Lenkel is Professor of Systematic Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow, and Founding-Director of the Centre for Inter-Faith Studies. He has published widely in the areas of philosophy/theology of religions and Buddhist-Christian dialogue, for example 'Den Lowen briillen hOren': Zur Hemuneutik eines christlichen Verstandnisses der buddhistischen HeilsbotschaJt (Paderbom: SchOningh 1992), Theologie der Religionen: Probleme, Optionen, Argumente (Neuried: Ars Una 1997) and Gott ohne Grenzen: Eine christliche und pluralistische Theologie der Religionen (Gtitersloh: Gtitersloher Verlagshaus 2005). Among his edited books are Wer ist Buddha? Eine Gestalt und ihre Bedeutungfiirdie Menschheit (Munich: Diederichs Verlag 1998), Buddhist Perceptions of Jesus (St Ottilien: EOS 2001), War and Peace in World Religions (London: SCM 2004) and Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue (London: SCM 2005). Ernst Stei.nkeilner, Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, is Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at Vienna University and Director of the Institute for Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His main scholarly aims are the philological improvement of the sources available for the study of Buddhist philosophical and spiritual traditions, context-orientated interpretations of Buddhist ideas and their developments, and the appreciation of original contributions of Tibetan philosophers to the Buddhist tradition. His present efforts are devoted to editing original Sanskrit texts of major importance from the Buddhist epistemological tradition. Among his translations and text editions are Dharmaklrti's Pramii!JaviniscayaJ;., Zweites Kapitel: Svarthiinumanam, Teil 1 (1973), Teil 2 (Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1979); Santideva: Der Eintritt in das Leben zur Erleuchtung (Bodhicaryavatara) (Cologne: Diederichs Verlag 1981) and Nachweis del' Wiedergeburt. PrajT1asenas 'Jig rten pha rol sgrub pa, ein friiher tibetischer Text aus Dunhuang (two parts) Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1988).
I would like to thank those people and institutions who helped to realize this book. First of all, the book is the fruit of the continuous work of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies. The Network debated the issue of creation during its fifth conference, on which the contributions to Part One are based. This would not have been possible without the generous support from the W eisfeld-Foundation, to which, on behalf of the Network, I would like to express my sincere gratitude. Further, I would like to thank the members of the Centre for Inter-Faith Studies of the University of Glasgow, in particular Dr Kiyoshi Tsuchiya and Sr Isabel Smyth, who gave considerable support in organizing the conference. The Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Glasgow University has enabled the research on which Part Two is based by generously granting a study leave. Finally I want to say 'thank you' to Carolina Weening, who helped decisively with improving the various drafts of Part Two.
Introduction Perry Schmidt-Leukel
Buddhism - Atheistic or Non-theistic? ' ... the idea of a personal deity, a creator god, conceived to be eternal and omnipotent is incompatible with the Buddha's teachings'.1 This is the resume which Nyanaponika Mahilthera presents right at t.l-J.e beginning of the introduction to his little anthology Buddhism and the God-Idea, thereby resonating with a long Buddhist tradition which, in similar brevity, is already quoted by Buddhaghosa (fifth century CE), the Theravilda 'Church father', in his Visuddhi Magga (XIX 603): For there's no deva, no Brahmii, The maker of the round of life. . It's nothing but bare states that come to pass, The right conditions all fulfilled. 2
Again and again Christians have taken these and similar statements as evidence that Buddhism is atheism, as, for example, Paul Williams, formerly a practising Tibetan Buddhist, now a convert to Roman Catholicism, who is widely known and renowned for his introduction to Mahayana Buddhism: 3 Buddhists do not believe in the existence of God. There need be no debating about this. In practising Buddhism one never finds talk about God, there is no role for God, and it is not difficult to find in Buddhist texts attacks on the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good Creator of the universe. [... J From a Christian point of view Buddhism is clearly a form of atheism. 4
The statement of Pope John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope that 'Buddhism is in large measure an "atheistic" system' became quite famous. s A number of the Buddhists who replied agreed. To be sure, there was a strong Buddhist
2 3 4 5
Buddhism and the God-Idea: Selected Texts, edited and introduced by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel Publication No. 47 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 3rd repr. 1981), p. L Buddhaghosa cites this as a word 'the Ancients'! The Path of Purity: Being a Translation of Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga by Pe Maung Tin, Part ill (London: Pali Text Society 1931), p. 727. P. Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London-New York: Routledge 1989). P. Williams, The Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism (Edinburgh-New York: T &T Clark 2002), pp. If. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Alfred A. Knopf1994), p. 86.
Buddhism, Christianity and the Question a/Creation
repudiation of the Pope's further characterization of Buddhism as having 'an almost exclusively negative soteriology,.6 But, to quote Bhikkhu Bodhi, they agreed that 'B uddhism is an atheistic system in the sense that it does not admit the existence of an all-powerful creator God ... '.1 However, this consent was in a number of cases not without further qualification. Bhikkhu Bodhi emphasizes that for 'Buddhism Nibbana is a supramundane reality, a reality which is utterly transcendent to the world ... '.8 And hence he reminds us that 'Buddhists themselves prefer to describe their religion as "non-theistic" rather than "atheistic".'9 From a Mahayana perspective, Masao Abe also admits that 'Buddhism is not a monotheism which is based on the belief in one absolute God who is creator, lawgiver, judge, and redeemer.' 10 But, according to Abe, Buddhism teaches 'that everyone and everything is respectively the manifestation ofthe absolute Reality. Buddhism is not an atheism, but a religious realism beyond monotheism..' II Already Nyanaponika had pointed out that the term 'atheism' might be misleading because of its frequent association 'with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow. Buddhism is nothing of that sort' .12 What these and similar qualifications show is that the usual contrast of atheistic Buddhism versus . theistic Christianity is too coarse. The obvious fact of a long tradition of Buddhist critique of creator-doctrines l3 does not automatically malce Buddhism a form of atheism. And the reverse is not less true: that is, the long tradition of Christian affirmation of creator- and creation-doctrines does not entail that Christianity is theism in an unqualified sense. Anyway, the Buddhist critique and the Christian affirmation of a creator-god are too often treated as part of a package. However, in order to address the issue adequately, it is first of all necessary to unpack the whole thing, to isolate and identify the different aspects involved and to disentangle them from a web of unintended associations. 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13
Ibid. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, 'Replies to Questions from "Source"', Dialogue (N.S.) 22, 1995,20-28, p. 24. This issue of Dialogue is dedicated to the topic of 'Pope and Buddhism' and contains a number of Buddhist and Christian Replies to the Pope's remarks on Buddhism. . Ibid., p. 21. Ibid., p. 24. M. Abe, 'On John Paul II's View of Buddhism', in B.L. Sherwin and H. Kasimow (eds),John Paull! and Interreligious Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2nd print 2000),108-12, pp. 109f. Ibid., p. 110. Nyanaponika: Buddhism and the God-Idea, op. cit., p. 5. Overviews and summaries can be found in R. Jackson, 'Dharmakirti's refutation of theism', Philosophy East and West 36, 1986, 315-48; R. Hayes, 'Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition', loumal of Indian Philosophy 16, 1988, 5-28; G. Paul; 'Der Buddha aus atheistischer Sicht: Atheistische Positionen im Buddhismus', in P. Schmidt-Leukel (ed.), Wer ist Buddha? Eine Gestalt und ihre Bedeutung fiir die Menschheit (Munich: Diederichs Verlag 1998), pp. 211-24, and 264-5. H. Krasser, SQ]ikaranandanas isvariipiikarQ].1Qsmik/fepa, 2 vols (Vienna: Verlag der OstelTeichischen Akadernie der Wissenschaften 2002), Vol. 2, pp. 15-18. See also Ernst Steinkellner's chapter in this volume.
A good example of such a helpful disentanglement are the distinctions recently proposed by Christopher Gowans: ... it is sometimes suggested that the Buddha's teaching contains nothing of the supernatural and is a form of naturalism. But this can be misleading. '" if, as is commonly the case, the term 'naturalism' implies that the only reality is that which is disclosed by the five senses (directly or by inference), then the Buddha did not teach naturalism ... 14 ... insofar as Nibbiina is portrayed as ultimate reality that is beyond change and conditioning, and that, when attained, enables us to overcome suffering, it might invite comparison with the God of the theistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are points of similarity. As we saw ... Nibbiina is transcendent reality in the broad sense of the term: it is beyond the ordinary world of sense-experience and may be approached only via meditation. But the differences are quite significant. The most important are that, unlike God, Nibblina is not the ultimate cause of the universe, and it is not a personal being, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving. Hence, it is not a reality on which human beings depend or with whom they could form a personal relationship. IS
What is crucial about this statement is the clear distinction between three different components of 'theism': (1) the affirmation of an ultimate, unconditioned reality, (2) its characterization as the 'ultimate cause', that is, creator, 'of the universe', and (3) its qualification as a 'personal being'. Insofar as 'atheism' is identified with the denial of all three components, it follows that Buddhism cannot be properly designated as being 'atheistic' as long as it denies only (2) and (3) while at the same time affirming (1).16 Moreover, this distinction enables Buddhist-Christian dialogue to discuss all three components separately. What are the reasons in both traditions for jointly affirming (1) but opting differently with regards to (2) and (3)7 Furthermore, meaningful questions can be raised concerning the relationship between the three components and its relevance for Buddhist-Christian understanding. For example, if Buddhism affirms (1) but denies (2), how does it then conceive the relation between the universe and transcendent reality? Or, if the reason for affirming (2) is to express precisely the world-transcending character of the ultimate as affirmed in (1), what are the alternative forms through which Buddhism can safeguard its own affirmation of (1)? And what does the joint affirmation of (1) by Buddhism and Christianity entail for their different options with regards to (3)? Over the last fifty years, Christian-Buddhist dialogue has moved forward considerably along those lines and a number of significant advancements have been 14 C. Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha (London-New York: Routledge 2003), p. 53. 15 Ibid., p. lSI. 16 This view has already been held by Hsue-li Cheng: ' ... the Buddhist rejection of the existence of the creator, according to my judgement, does not really make Buddhism non-theistic or atheistic .... we should not define God only as the Creator in examining whether a certain religion is theistic or not.' H. Cheng, 'Buddha, Man and God', Dialogue (N.S.) 8, 1981,54-68, pp. 56f.
Buddhism, Christianity and the Question of Creation
made.17 Based on the affirmation of an ultimate reality a...'1d its characterization as' 'unborn, unbecome,unmade, uncompounded,18 in Udiina VIII 3 and Itivuttaka 43, the Irish Buddhist Maurice Walshe stated a 'fundamental agreement at a very deep level ... that the terms "nirvana" and "God" both refer to the UNBORl'Twhich being incomprehensible to the ordinary mind, is differently interpreted', 19 schematically expressed as: 20
UNBOR1\l Buddhist NirvaI].a (Impersonal)
Christian God (Personal)
Concerning the difference between impersonal and personal verbalizations of the Ultimate, Buddhist-Christian dialogue has, over recent years, drawn the attention of both partners to a number of relativizing aspects on both sides: the strong tradition of negative and apophatic theology within the mainstream of traditional Christianity which significantly modifies and outbalances' any straightforward and literal understanding of personalistic God-talk, or the strong and influential tradition of the 'Three Buddha-Bodies' (trikiiya) and 'Buddha-Nature' (buddhatii or tathiigatagarbha) in Mahayana Buddhism which understands the Buddha as a cosmic reality expressing itself not only in the fully developed person of the Enlightened One, but to some extent in every sentient being or even in every being in general. Moving further on, partners in dialogue have set their feet on new ground. Startling admissions have been made, like the one by Keiji Nishitani, that the 'idea of man as person is without doubt the highest conception of man yet to appear. The same may be said of the idea of God as person.'21 Or, to mention another 17
18 19 20 21
Broad overviews are offered in J. Spae, Buddhist-Christian Empathy (Chicago, IL: The Chicago Institute of Theology and Culture 1980); P. Schmidt-Leukel, 'Den Lowen briillen horen': Zui Henneneutik eines christlichen Verstandnisses der buddhistischen HeilsbotschaJt (Paderbo.rn: Schoningh 1992); M. v. Bruck and W. Lai, Buddhismus und Christentum: Geschichte, Konfrontation, Dialog (Munich: C.H. Beck 1997), abbr. Eng!. trans!. as Christianity and Buddhism: A MultiCultural History of Their Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 2001); and - from a process-theological perspective - P. Ingram, The Modem Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: Two Universalistic Religions in Transformation (Lewiston/Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press 1988). ajatmil, abhiitaril, akatmil, asalilchatmiL. M. O. Walshe, 'Buddhism and Christianity: A Positive Approach', Dialogue (N.S.) 9, 1982,3-39, p.6. Ibid. K. Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1982), p. 69. For a profound Christian response to Nishitani's philosophy see H. Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness: Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1980).
example, Masao Abe's view that 'in the completely keno tic God, personality and impersonality are paradoxically identical' .22 Theologians like Lynn de Silva and Aloysius Pieris have related the personal and impersonal ways of talking about the Ultimate to different categorial systems which in the end reflect and evoke different but. equally liberating and complementary experiences of transcendence. 23 Thus, while the question of the personal or impersonal characterization of the Ultimate has been at the centre of a number of ongoing constructive dialogues, the second component - the Christian affirmation and the Buddhist refutation of the Ultimate as creator - has attracted far less attention. 24 This might have to do with an unspoken feeling that this topic could be too thorny, that it would possibly lead the dialogue partners to the edges of a chasm which cannot be bridged, leaving them speechless in view of an irreconcilable contrast, and thereby eventually even endanger all those consensuses that have been achieved so far. 25 It was Winston King who in his pioneering study Buddhism and Christianity: Some Bridges of Understanding judged that, in face of all the parallels which may be detected between the Christian God and analogous elements in Buddhism, the 'essential difference' remains the one of 'creativity and noncreativity, and the implications flowing therefrom' .26 M. Abe, 'Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata', in J. Cobb and C. Ives (eds), The Emptying God: A Buddhist-jewish-Christian Conversation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 1990), 3-65, p. 18. See also the contributions in R. Corless and P. Knitter (eds), Buddhist Emptiness and Christian Trinity: Essays and Explorations (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press 1990). As a more recent contribution to the Buddhist-Christian discourse on kenosis, see A. MUnch, Dimension~n der Leere: Gatt als Nichts und Niclus als Gatt im christlich-buddhistischen Dialog (MUnster: LIT-Verlag 1998). 23 Cpo L. de Silva, 'Buddhism and Christianity Relativised', Dialogue (N.S.) 9, 1982,43-72; A. Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism (Maryknoll, NY: Orb is 1988). My own suggestion follows a similar approach, relating the impersonal talk of the Ultimate as the 'Deathless' (amata, amrta) to a categorial system which is marked by the experience of transitoriness and the personal talk of the Ultimate as a Divine Father to the experience of interpersonal rehltedness. Cpo Schmidt-Leukel, 'Den Lowen briillen horen', op. cit., pp. 434