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  • Japan Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies 2005 Annual Meeting
  • Paul Swanson

The 2005 meetings of the Japan Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies focused on the theme "Personal and Impersonal Aspects of the Absolute" and were divided into two venues, with a preliminary panel at the nineteenth World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) in Tokyo, March 24–30, and the regular annual meeting held in Kyoto on July 19–21. At both meetings, the same four papers by JSBCS members were presented, in English at the World Congress and in Japanese at the regular meeting of the Society.

The topic summary for the IAHR panel read as follows:

In general, the Christian God is said to be transcendental and personal, but the Buddhist dharma is said to be immanent and impersonal. God, Christ, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, however, have an immanent transcendent side, and it is impersonal on the immanence side. There is also a transcendent immanence side of the Buddhist Tathagata, and it is personal on the transcendent side. On the one hand, the three major personalistic monotheisms that originated in the Middle East traditionally understood the teachings of other religions as incomplete. On the other hand, in Buddhism other religions are looked down on as "other ways," unable to bring about final liberation (ADK IX). It is said that in the case of the personalistic religions, there is risk of spiritual attachment because God reveals His absolute divine will to believers through prophets; in the case of Buddhism, practitioners are urged to seek their own enlightenment and even, in some early sutras, to use critical reasoning. However, even in Buddhism the thoughts of the founders of the sects have authority. It is important to re-examine the meaning of God and dharma from the perspective of the human personality structure.

Chaired by Watanabe Manabu, the IAHR panel consisted of the following four paper presentations:

  1. 1. Hanaoka Eiko, "Absolute Infinite Openness in Christianity and Buddhism." The origin of a personal God in Christianity and impersonal "emptiness" or "absolute nothingness" in Buddhism are both personal and also impersonal [End Page 183] as an "absolute infinite openness." The self-awareness of absolute infinite openness is the self-awareness of the experience of the most personal dimension, and always simultaneously of the most impersonal dimension. It is that impersonal dimension that this paper investigates.

  2. 2. Takemura Makio, "On the Significance of Buddha in Buddhism." Buddhism has a view of the Absolute that is comparatively unique. The Absolute is not found in the absolute in contrast to the relative. It is always found in the identity of the absolute and the relative, that is, the identity of any conditioned dharma (samskrita) and the ultimate unconditioned nature (asamskrita) as emptiness (sunyata), or the activity of jnana and the tathata or dharmata. In other words, the individuality or personality of Buddha and the universality or impersonality of tathata are never separated. The ultimate nature does not exist only by itself, and a buddha is one of many buddhas, even if people believe the Buddha as absolute. In Buddhism, buddhas as personal are filled with great compassion and work hard to guide people to become Buddha. They never judge people's guilt. Why is this so? This paper attempts to analyze the reasons in terms of questions such as whether or not the personality of the Absolute is rooted on emptiness, whether the Absolute is one or not, and so forth.

  3. 3. Tanaka Yutaka, "God as the Locus of the World and the Ground of Human Freedom." This paper critically discusses Nishitani Keiji's arguments of "The Personal and the Impersonal in Religion" in his Religion and Nothingness. Comparing the Christian tradition of speculative mysticism or "panentheism" with the Zen Buddhist philosophy of "Nothingness," the paper seeks to show that God as the locus of the cosmos is the transcendental ground of human freedom and subjectivity.

  4. 4. Yagi Seiichi, "Impersonal God in the New Testament." In the Pauline epistles and Johannine literature, the key words of a theology that indicates the oneness of divine-human activity can be identified: God working in us, as an expression of mutual...


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