Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


Edited by Mark L. Blum and Shin'ya Yasutomi
Oxford University Press, New York 2006

This book is a collection of essays, mostly by Japanese thinkers, concerning the life, times and thought of Rennyo Shonin, the 'Second Founder' of Jodo Shinshu. Professor Blum translated many of the essays and contributes a long and thoughtful introduction outlining why the study of Rennyo matters, and what each of the essays will contribute to the volume. Professor Yasutomi wrote the first essay; a fairly detailed narrative of the life and works of Rennyo and both editors contributed further essays. The book is divided into three parts; Historical Studies - Rennyo's thoughts and deeds in context; Shinshu Studies - examinations of Rennyo's thought, and Comparative Religion - attempts to place Rennyo with regard to a context beyond Japanese history and sectarian Jodo Shinshu concerns.

The ground covered by the essays is therefore quite extensive, and some obscure byways are explored. Yasutomi Shin'ya contributes a piece on 'The Tale of the Flesh Adhering Mask' explaining the context and origin of this Japanese folk legend and its relation to Rennyo's positive attitude toward women. To the non-Japanese reader this was new ground and quite fascinating. I also found very interesting Kinryu Shizuka's 'The Ikko-shu as portrayed in Jesuit historical Documents' for its insight into what outsiders made of Jodo Shinshu at the time of Rennyo. The problem with this essay is that it is only eight pages long. It just gets going, then it is over. I would have liked to have learned a lot more from this author. This unfortunately is the inevitable problem with a book of this type. All the contributors have much learning and I am sure have much more to say than there is room to say here.

I must mention too that the essays that attempt to give a Christian perspective on Rennyo were disappointing. As readers of my other reviews will have gathered I am essentially unconvinced of the worth of interfaith scholarship. I am, however, open to persuasion. However, early in Kato Chiken's essay, 'Rennyo and Luther' he states the ground on which he will base his discussion as, partly, a reflection on the characteristics of Rennyo's faith, and goes on with 'Rennyo himself used the word shinjin, but I shall use the word 'faith while incorporating into it the meaning of the word shinjin.' That is a great leap and a leap that does not persuade. Ruben L.F. Habito's 'Primal Vow and Its Contextualization' is much more about the Roman Catholic church than Rennyo.

This book then is of scholarly interest. It is well referenced and well produced but is a hardback and relatively expensive. For most purposes it does not advance the understanding of Rennyo's life and thought beyond Minor and Ann Rogers' 'Rennyo, The Second Founder of Shin Buddhism.'

- Mark Healsmith

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