- Report on the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Japan Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies
In Japan, the disasters of the giant tsunami and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on 11 March 2011 have been grim reminders of the unprecedented tragedies of the nuclear bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just sixty-six years ago. These are experiences in which one becomes speechless, when words are no longer able to convey what used to be their usual meaning.
At that time, people were faced with basic and universal questions concerning the fundamental constitution of human existence. What is the ultimate basis for our thoughts and actions? Is there a way to know? If there is a way to know these answers, how do we attain them? The state of intellectual inquiry in postwar Japan, however, was not able to face these questions and come up with answers. Rather, there was a tendency to avoid facing these questions directly and instead rely on absorbing the pronouncements of Western thought.
Within this postwar intellectual environment in Japan, the Japan Society for Buddhist- Christian Studies has continuously attempted in an academic way to discuss comprehensive themes, based on Buddhist-Christian or Christian-Buddhist foundations, and is perhaps the only forum in Japan that has consistently sought answers to these basic and universal questions of human existence.
It was in this time of crisis that the thirtieth annual conference of the Japan Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies met 5-7 September 2011 at Hanazono University in Kyoto. Discussion of a recent book, Dialogue and Commentary: The Words of Jesus and the Words of Zen (対談評釈 イエスの言葉／ 禅の言葉, Iwanami Shoten, 2010, in Japanese), a series of dialogues and discussions between Ueda Shizuteru and Yagi Seiichi, was chosen as an appropriate theme for this meeting. This book was chosen because it is a splendid synthesis of the activity and discussion carried out by our Society over the past thirty years. Through the magnificent dialogue of these two men, we hoped to open a "living horizon" for a mutual understanding of "the words of Jesus and the words of Zen." The main themes were "direct experience," "self-awareness," "place," and "words."
The two dialoguers—Ueda and Yagi—have not only both served and provided [End Page 139] leadership for the Society over many years, as presidents and in other capacities, but also share a basic sense of fundamental questions. They are also leading philosophers of religion who represent the attempt to seek answers to fundamental questions within Buddhism and Christianity in postwar Japan. Ueda Shizuteru, a leading authority and internationally recognized scholar of Meister Eckhart, is also known for his contributions on the philosophy of religion (especially the idea of "place"/basho) in the tradition of Nishida Kitarō, Nishitani Keiji, and Zen Buddhism. His basic philosophical statement is "I am I when I am not I." Yagi Seiichi, on the other hand, is known for promoting religion (philosophy) as "a logic of place" as seen in the New Testament, and for his historical and essentialist critique of New Testament thought. To Yagi, the essence of "the religion of Jesus" is religion as a "logic of place," and if we return to this place we can (to borrow the exquisite phrasing of Yagi himself) "drink directly from the same fountain that was discovered by Jesus." Through this experience we can transcend not only biblical fundamentalism and the exclusivist absolutism of Christianity, but also make it possible to have a true dialogue with other religions. For Yagi, the dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity not only should deepen common understanding, but also open the way to mutual reform, clarify the truth that flows at the basis of both religions, and probe into the fundamental constitution of human existence, and this is why he has constantly sought after dialogue with Buddhists.
Yagi Seiichi has stood out as a partner in dialogue for many years. His discussions with the Zen master Hisamatsu Shin'ichi (A Religion of Awakening, published in 1980) was an epochal event in intellectual history from the perspective of "Buddhism and Christianity." Yagi has also been involved in important dialogues with Nishitani...