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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
96 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY SCOTT MITCHELL 97 have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” A more open inquiry into North American Shin Buddhism—one in which we drop our attachment to the distinction between adaptation and authentic- ity—reveals different sides of the community, different points of ten- sion or challenges. learning from the experienCes of shin Buddhists By framing North American Shin Buddhism as merely a type of Asian American Buddhism, or a Japanese cultural institution, we perpetuate the “otherness” of the community. This “othering” not only does harm to the Shin Buddhist community, it also deprives other Buddhists of an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. In a recent issue of Buddhadharma, Ann Gleig recalled the 2011 Maha Teacher’s Council, which met in New York to discuss the state of Buddhism in the West and “the challenges of adapting the dharma to new contexts.” What may have been lost on participants in that council is that Shin Buddhists were already having the exact same conversation a full one hundred years before this council. If, rather than dismissing North American Shin Buddhism as merely a Japa- nese cultural tradition, we could approach it as a legitimate form of American or Western Buddhism, non-Shin Buddhists might be able to learn and glean inspiration from it. Chances are, whatever problem your Zen Center or vipassana sitting group is facing, Shin Buddhists have grappled with the exact same problem, and long before you did. How do we translate the Buddhist tradition to make sense to American audiences? What is essential, the heartwood, and what is merely on the surface? How do we build a community? How do we make this practice relevant for others? There is no single answer to these questions, and Shin Buddhists themselves have not been uniform in their responses. Moreover, the questions and answers naturally shift and change over time and place. Sometimes, adaptations are big and obvious—as evi- denced by “churches” with pews. At other times, they are subtle and barely perceptible. Consider the Oakland obon celebration, with its hot dogs and jazz ensemble. Such events are wildly popular, not only for temple members but also for the general public, making them an important part of the church’s financial health. While many Buddhists find