Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Third Series Number 7
Special Section: Meditation in American Shin Buddhism

Pacific World comes out once a year and I think this is the latest edition. As the journal of an academic institute there are always some articles that are of fairly specialized interest and this edition is no exception, but, again as always, there are some very interesting essays here.

This issue begins with a special section which investigates a question of ongoing interest and controversy - 'Meditation in American Shin Buddhism'. In a way this special section was a disappointment. I had hoped for more an iconoclastic clash of views, but I probably should not have expected this from a staid academic journal. I found what was presented of variable interest. Firstly there is an excellent essay by Takamaro Shigaraki - 'The Meaning of Practice in Shin Buddhism' - that goes straight to the heart of the matter. He elucidates his view of what Shin Buddhist practice is - practices of mind, body and voice - and it does not include meditation. Taigen Dan Leighton contributes 'Dogen's Zazen as Other Power Practice'. Leighton is a Soto Zen priest and gives an in depth background to the meditation practice taught by Dogen. He shows that Dogen's zazen is Other Power practice and looks forward to Western Zen practitioners seeing beyond their psychological or consumerist desires for peak experience and recognizing this. While he would like Zen practitioners to learn to appreciate the teachings of Shinran Shonin, he does not conflate Shin and Soto Zen practice. Bruce C. Williams 'Seeing Though Images: Reconstructing Buddhist Meditative Visualization Practice in Sixth-Century Northeast China' is interesting enough, but off the point. Lisa Gumbrich covers a lot of ground in 'Nembutsu and Meditation: Problems with the Categories of Contemplation, Devotion, Meditation and Faith.' While she correctly concludes that Shin Buddhists should not buy into the myth that only those who meditate are truly Buddhist, she is ambiguous about what to do with this conclusion. Mitsuya Dake's 'A Contemporary Re-examination of Shin Buddhist Notions of Practice' is the highlight for me. He expands on the path of practice in Shin Buddhism emphasizing Shinran Shonin's view of the Nembutsu as both a path and a destination, an understanding that gives Shin Buddhists a practice other than meditation at all stages of our spiritual journey.

After the special section there is Richard K. Payne's 'Seeing Buddha's, Hearing Buddha's: Cognitive Significance of Nembutsu as Visualization and as Recitation' which is quite a difficult essay about the stages of individual and cultural cognitive development and how this might interact with the forms of Pure Land practice. Interesting yes, but in the end unconvincing I felt. In 'Transforming Reality through vocalization of Salvific Truth' Russell Kirkland seems more intent on demonstrating his knowledge of obscure Daoist texts than advancing a useful point with regard to Buddhist practice.

The last essay is 'American Women in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism Today: Tradition and Transition' in which Patricia Kanaya Usuki presents the results of surveys and interviews she undertook to gauge the position of women in the BCA and their attitudes towards their position. She presents a picture of an organization in ongoing crisis, losing membership especially of later generation Japanese-Americans and too slow to adapt to non-Japanese ways and modern ideas of gender equality. Still, knowing there is a problem is the first step to remedying it. To finish the volume there is a review by Jonathon H. X. Lee of an interesting sounding book by Ian Reader, 'Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku'.

- Mark Healsmith

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