Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


Historical, Textual and Interpretive Studies
Edited by Richard K. Payne
Institute of Buddhist Studies and Numata Center for Buddhist studies and Research 2007

This volume brings together a selection of essays originally published in the New Series (1986 - 1995) of the journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Pacific World.' While the scope of the articles published in 'Pacific World' is broad, the essays in this volume, as the title says, are concerned principally with aspects of Shin Buddhism.

The opening section of essays on is on historical matters and covers a great range of topics, from the immediately engaging to the rather specialized. It begins with a brief article, 'Pure Land Systematics in India: The Buddhabhumi-sutra and the Trikaya doctrine', by John P. Keenan which posits the Sutra as an early Pure Land sutra of Indian origin.

Whalen Lai, in 'Avadana-vada and the Pure Land Faith', considers the different approaches to dating the development of the Mahayana in general and Pure Land Buddhism in particular and finds fault with a purely textual approach, looking instead to the narrative spirit of the stories of the past lives of the Buddhas as nascent Pure Land teachings.

The next essay, 'The Chan Zong in Medieval China: School, Lineage or What? by T. Griffith Foulk would at first seem to have little to do with Shin Buddhism. In it Foulks discusses the nature of lineage in the Chan School. He is not the first scholar to debunk the continuity of lineage that the Chan/Zen school claims. The facts are that the lineage is discontinuous in time and place, as is the lineage of Shin Buddhism. To us this does not matter.

Katherine K. Velasco contributes 'The Transformation of the Pure Land in the Development of Lay Buddhist Practice in China', an analysis of Daochuos Anluoji. I have not come across a translation into English of this work so it was very interesting to read about it. Velasco characterizes it as an eclectic work that popularized Nembutsu recitation amongst the Chinese laity.

Kenneth K. Tanaka gives us 'Where is the Pure Land? Controversy in Chinese Buddhism on the Nature of the Pure Land', in which he gives a brief overview of the different views of the concept of a 'Pure Land' within the various Buddhist schools of thought in Tang Dynasty China, and concludes with a postscript setting out what Tanaka calls 'Shinran's Views in the Modern Context'. Tanaka focuses on Shinran's description of the Pure Land as the 'Land of Uncreated Nirvana', a conception of the Pure Land that goes beyond disputation over which Buddha's Pure Land is superior to one where the personal meaning of the Pure Land for each individual is paramount.

Bruno Lewin's 'Activity of the Aya and Hata in the Domain of the Sacred' is about the influence of Chinese and Korean immigrants in the introduction of Buddhism into Japan.

The highpoint of the historical studies section was for me Allen A. Andrews 'Genshin's Essentials of Pure Land Rebirth and the Transmission of Pure Land Buddhism to Japan'. This long essay is an in depth study of the historical context and textural sources of Genshin's work. It is an impressive and instructional piece of work and I would love to see an expanded version published as an introduction to a translation of the entire work into English. Dr Andrews, if you are reading this please get going!

Hartmut O. Rotermund's 'The Conception of the Japanese Kami in the Kamakura Era: Notes on the First Chapter of the Shasekishu' would probably only be of interest to students of the history of Japanese religions.

The last piece is 'The New Buddhism of Kamakura and the Doctrine of Innate Enlightenment' by Ruben L. F. Habito. This is a good introduction to a big controversy. Some modern Japanese Buddhist scholars have pronounced significant portions of East Asian Buddhism in general and of Japanese Buddhism in particular non-Buddhist because of the existence of the belief in innate enlightenment within many Buddhist sects. In Japan the Tendai sect transmitted this belief, and so it would stand to reason that the founders of the new schools of Buddhism in the Kamakura era, who were all initially Tendai monks, would have been steeped in this teaching. In a brief but revealing essay Habito considers the teachings of these monks and concludes that Honen did not accept the doctrine of innate enlightenment and that, despite some opinion to the contrary, neither did his student, Shinran and I agree with this. To simplify a complex problem, apparently in some of his early writings Nichiren did teach innate enlightenment, but in his later writings not so. Dogen surely did, and I would have thought the Soto Zen sect transmits this teaching today.

The second section of the book consists of textual studies. I wont do more than quote the title of Kenneth K Tanaka's 'Earliest Usage of 'Daijing' (Daikyo) and 'Wangshenglun (Ojoron) by a Non-Orthodx Pure Land Buddhist: Its Implications for Chinese Pure land Buddhism' other than to agree with the author that there is much to be learnt from Pure Land Buddhist teachers beyond the orthodox Shin patriarchs.

Richard K. Payne contributes a brief essay about Tendai Nembutsu practice in the Muromachi era, 'Shinzei's Discourse on Practicing the Samadhi of Meditating on the Buddha'.

Minor and Anne Rogers 'Rennyo's Legacy: The Letters as Scripture' is a very small fragment of, and could serve as a 'taster' for the Minor's 'Rennyo: The Second Founder of Shin Buddhism', an essential book for all students of Shin Buddhism despite its unnecessary use of Christianity as a normative comparator to Rennyo and the Hongwanji.

Finally there is a selection of interpretive studies. 'The Brilliance of Emptiness: Tanluan as a Mystic of Light' is a beautiful contribution by Roger K. Corless in which he covers a lot of ground in only seven pages as he considers the varieties of Buddhist mysticism in relation to the Tanluan's view of Amida's Pure Land as 'the brilliance of emptiness.'

Next there is 'Honzon - Object of Worship in Shin Buddhism, by Joryu Chiba, a brief overview of the form and role of the honzon in Shin Buddhism.

Mitsuya Dake's essay 'Shin Buddhist Studies and Secularization' articulates the problematic place of traditional religion in modern secular society, an issue that should exercise the minds of all of us. Dake concludes that Shin Buddhists perhaps have an approach to the problem presented to us if we work to clarify the content of Shinran's words, 'neither a monk nor one in worldly life.'

Gilbert L. Johnson presents an overview of the thought of an important early 20th century Shin Buddhist in 'The Theme of Subjectivity in Kiyozawa Manshi's Seishinshugi.'

Finally there is 'The Buddhist Churches of America: Challenges for Change in the Twenty First Century' by Tetsuden Kashima. This is a detailed presentation of the membership composition and numbers, finances and challenges for the future for the BCA. Although written in the late 1990's and while the numbers will be different today, the issues of keeping an organization based on an immigrant culture whose time is passing relevant to both its traditional support base and to the wider community are just the same today.

- Mark Healsmith

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