Adaptation of Tradition and Condition: The Dialectical Relationship
Buddhism is considered as the most important religion in South Asia; developed from Indian roots, it has affected culture, politics philosophy, art and architecture, even standards of living from last two thousand years in significant countries of South Asian Asia, including Japan. This paper deals with some problems that arise from the evolution and adaptation of traditions in Japan with reference to Buddhism. There exists a dialectical relationship between tradition and new conditions in all religions. In every scenario, the meaning of a new condition if to a greater or lesser degree colored and conditioned by the weight of the given tradition, whereas tradition is inevitably transformed or transmutated to sustain the features of the tradition itself. Some remarks might be made to specify my general perspectives pertaining to the paradoxical nature of religion, the character of Buddhist tradition, the cultural pattern ,and the relevance of new conditions that confront the Buddhist tradition in contemporary times. First, religion, however it is interpreted in different contexts has both universal and particular dimensions. At the same time, religion must be particular, precisely because the universal elements of religion must be communicated. The universal must be particularized and the particular must be universalized, if religion is to be meaningful at all. In this respect, it is our observation that while Buddhism has tended historically to stress the particular elements in various parts of Asia, its universal dimension has never been lost completely. Second, the historic character of the Buddhist tradition has never been too belligerent toward existing local religions and cultures. Both the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism despite their apparent disagreements over doctrines and practices, share the same spirit of “tolerance” as exemplified by the Theravada Buddhist attitude toward Nat worship in Burma and the Mahayana Buddhist attitude toward Confucianism and Taoism in China. Historically, when Buddhism entered a new area, it usually presented itself more as a “supplement” to, than as a “contestant” with, existing religions. “In doing so, Buddhism enriched the local cultures and contributed rich symbols, rituals and lofty philosophical systems to the religious life of the peoples, view and cultural assumption in various parts of Asia.” Third, contrary to the oft-repeated affirmation of the unity of South Asian culture, the cultural pattern of Asia might be better understood in terms of “juxtaposition”. For example, the two developed in relative insularity. To be sure, we might argue that Buddhism has provided a common tie among various South Asian cultures, but at no time did Buddhism achieve in Asia, the kind of unity- religious, cultural or political- comparable to Christendom in Europe. Actually, it may be more true to say that Buddhism from the tenth in the nineteenth centuries developed very much as though it were a local religion, each part of it confined to a particular and insular cultural or national region, thus developing a series of culturally oriented Buddhist traditions.
Fourth, confronted by the new condition in today’s world, which will be discussed more fully later, Buddhism is compelled to fight with the problem of relating its historic tradition to the living experience of modern Buddhists, and in this purpose Buddhism is rediscovering its religious integrity and common heritage, even though there are a number of factors that work against such a trend. At any rate, it is our contention that a brief survey of Japanese Buddhism may serve as a case study of the historical development of the Buddhist tradition and of its adaptation to new conditions in our time. As I turn your attention to the Buddhist tradition in Japan, I realize that it is no easy task to make general observations, because what we call Japanese...
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