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The Institute of Buddhist Studies would like to thank all the panelists, participants, and guests who made the 2010 Buddhism Without Borders Conference such a wonderful success!

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Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Developments of Buddhism in the West

at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Berkeley, California
March 18 - 21, 2010

Panel VI: Interpreting Buddhism in the West, 9:30 -12:30

Kiyozawa In Concord: Will Shin Buddhism Manage to Make a More Successful Contribution to American Religious Thought in the 21st Century?

Galen Amstutz, independent scholar

Knowledge of Buddhism among non-Asians has come a long way in the past few decades, and at this point in history “Buddhisty,” wholistic understandings of knowledge have become remarkably pervasive and accessible even in America. It is also clear, however, that even though among these traditions Shin Buddhism, from a world-historical perspective, has been a very important version, Shin has remained relatively marginalized in the West, standing in a kind of hermeneutical isolation. (An interesting observation: despite many references to Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, the New York Review of Books has never published a mention of Shinran or Shin.) The situation remains particularly paradoxical because it can be argued that in some respects Shin is more, not less, sophisticated than other kinds of Buddhism, because it offers an evolved sense of personal interiority and a unique recognition of an inaccessible subconscious in human experience. Unfortunately, it is quite clear that the hermeneutical isolation has arisen in large part because it has so far been impossible to separate Shin ideas from Japanese ethnicity and identity-seeking and from the entanglements of twentieth-century intercultural socio-politics. (Whether or not frankly articulated, these “hostage-holding” issues have been an incredibly pervasive and depressing aspect of almost any dealings with modern Japanese spiritual culture.) In the long run, however, the present degree of isolation is radically at odds with the inner genius of Shin ideas, which happen to have emerged historically in Japan, but about which there is essentially nothing “ethnic” or “national” at all. The long-standing communicative impasse will only be solved when Americans finally determine to make the ideas truly and adventurously their own through an American creative synthesis which simply ignores the isolation and the Japanese intellectual constraints which have largely dominated up to the present. Ironically, a new creative synthesis appropriate to the times was precisely what was aimed for in Japan itself in the early part of the twentieth century by Kiyozawa and other innovative Shin thinkers.

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