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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
winter 2006| 90 |buddhadharma Assembly to inform members of the possibili- ty of having a Buddhist practice. One hundred and thirty people gathered at the first UUBF convocation in 2005, and more are expected to come to the next one in April 2007 at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York. Both the Unitarian and the Universalist churches, which merged in 1961, have long histories in the United States. Many influential early Americans belonged to these denomina- tions, which emphasized a humanist, rational- ist perspective on spirituality that was very much in keeping with the early American experiment in self-government. Their minis- ters and theologians espoused the most liberal form of Protestantism. In the nineteenth cen- tury, the transcendentalists, including most prominently Ralph Waldo Emerson and Hen- ry David Thoreau, influenced this tradition in the direction of a pluralism that embraced many possible paths, including Buddhism. According to Ford, UU has long been a church with “one foot in Christianity and one foot outside, and the trend lately has been toward the outside foot.” In UU World magazine, one UU member summed up the faith by say- ing “Unitarian Universalists believe that all life is sacred, all existence is interconnected, and that justice and compassion must be the foundation of our thoughts and deeds.” Another said, “Rather than choose your path for you, we provide a safe place for you to discover and pursue your own path.” UU Buddhism encompasses a broad range of people, from those who simply allow Bud- dhist ideas to influence their thinking to those who call themselves Buddhists. Based on re- cent surveys, James Ford believes that if you apply the broadest possible definition, there UU BUDDHISTS, who combine Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, “may be the largest convert Buddhist grouping in the coun- try right now,” says James Ford, a Zen priest and Unitarian Universalist minister. As senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in New- ton, Massachusetts, and a leading teacher at Boundless Way Zen, a regional consortium of Zen groups, Ford exemplifies the not-one, not-two spirit of UU Buddhism. Buddhism can offer Unitarian Universalists profound contemplative experience, and Unitarian Uni- versalism can offer American Buddhists a tra- ditional American-style congregation. Describing UU Buddhism strains the vo- cabulary usually associated with religious groups. It is not a sect or branch of either Buddhism or Unitarian Universalism per se. It has no hierarchy and no rules and creeds. The defining statement on the Unitarian Uni- versalist Buddhist Fellowship website is open- ended: “Should a person feel affinity with both Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, profile: unitarian uniVersalist buddhist felloWship By Barry Boyce ➤ continued page 92 PhoTos:(ToP):samTrombore;(boTTom):richardswanson.bannerbydorriesenghas they may consider themselves a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist.” According to Sam Trumbore, president of the UUBF, the fellowship is “a point of connec- tion and conversation between Unitarian Uni- versalists and the wider Buddhist universe.” It also provides support for “those who are both Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist in affiliation or affection,” which includes more than 125 practice groups in thirty-four states and Canada who list themselves with the UUBF. (Ford thinks there may be almost as many groups who have not chosen to list themselves.) It publishes a newsletter, UU Sangha, made up largely of talks on Unitar- ian Universalism and Buddhism (all available online), that taken together form a primer on what this tradition is all about. But according to Trumbore, the fellowship has no dominant agenda for itself or its members. The purpose of the UUBF, he says, is “to discover the pur- pose of the UUBF.” It presents workshops ev- ery year at the Unitarian Universalist General