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9. The Confluence of Buddhist and American Thought Scanning through all the philosophical ideas, there is not a single concept which lends itself to a totally absolutistic interpretation in the strictest sense. Even the Buddha, as the historically enlightened being, is never referred to as a metaphysical absolute. If it were otherwise, Buddhism would then easily fall into a system of absolute First Principles, whereupon these principles would dictate everything in the whole of nature. There would be no challenge to understanding the empil'ically gl'Ounded existential strains in our common everyday lives; there would be no meaning to the search for tbe basis of life itself But the absolute 01' absolutism has no real place in scheme of a Buddhist analysis of man. Be it said once and for all that Buddhist philosophy cannot admit 01' submit to any ideas with cosmic dimensions. Kenneth K. lnada Niigiirjuna The sudden reversal that has taken place since World War II between nations of East and West, particularly the shift in the 118 0 Understanding Buddhism deepest currents of the world's life from Europe to the Pacific Basin and the cultures most heavily impacted with Buddhism, is a critical turning point in the development of the human community at large. It constitutes a transformation as significant in its influence upon the species as the four pivotal events around which the history of "the modern world" has frequently been written: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Russian Revolution , and the rise of modern science. This reversal in the tide of human affairs finds philosophy in only one Western society eminently prepared to adapt itself to the shift. American philosophy, indeed, has been coming of age in the midst of this radically altered state of affairs. Throughout its career it has been struggling to shake itself free from the great architectonic European systems of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Marx. It has struggled to shift the focus in philosophic insight away from the long habit of using symbolic processes to control what men and women can know, what they ought to do, and what they can expect. It has shifted the axis of human affairs to the feeling side of experience and the live nexus of original individualized feelings in the self-active experience in which individual men and women find the secret of life. The focus of American thought has been centered in experience, in what individuals do and what is done to them as life responds freely to life, over and above any conception of how things ought to be. American philosophy is the first in the West to penetrate the outer shell of abstractions and emancipate the novel feelings and forms of awareness always emerging in the live creature. This effort to feel out the lines, folds, and rhythms of the basic medium in which the drama of life is enacted, this American revolution in what has been called lithe seat of intellectual authority,1/ is already prominent in Emerson, becomes central with William James, wears an obvious Christian form in Royce, addresses the basic educational problems in John Dewey, expresses itself in the forms of logic and science in Peirce, acquires an elaborate metaphysical matrix in Whitehead, and in Buddhist and American Thought· 119 the major living member of the group, Charles Hartshorne, mounts an all-sided attack upon the concept of "enlightened selfinterest " which is paralleled only in the Buddhist past.1 Rejection of permanence, the acceptance of the transitoriness of life lanicca), the evacuation of any not-further-analyzable substances from both human experience and the world at large (anatta), and the disclosure of the individual's dynamic organic relatedness of which richness of life consists are all prominent perspectives shared by Buddhism and what Max Fisch calls "the Classical Age" of American thought. How was it possible for this one culture-world in the West to arrive at methods and conclusions of central importance in Buddhism, curing human reason of its imperious European ways? What kind of cultural habits were set afoot on these shores, powerful enough to clear away the cosmological and ontological debris originally absorbed by everyone who came from the nations of the West: the persuasion that our concepts and values are rooted in divine revelation (Aquinas), in an eternal structure which mind discerns beyond all sense experience and change IPlato), in the Unconditioned which transcends time and space (Tillich), in Absolute Reason waiting in the wings of history to give...


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