NEW BOOK: Toward A Contemporary Understanding of Pure Land Buddhism
Sometimes a new book can be an introduction to the landscape, a summary of familiar material, a personal scan on a topic or some other “good reads”. And then there are books like this. Toward A Contemporary Understanding of Pure Land Buddhism is subtitled Creating a Shin Buddhist Theology in a Religiously Plural World, and is edited by Dennis Hirota, a Professor of Asian Studies at Chikushi Jogakuen University in Japan. He is a brilliant writer on Pure Land in his own right, a world authority on Shinran.
This book is a very engaging format in that it presents a set of three “contemporary interpretations” of Pure Land, by Hirota and two other equally erudite Pure Land academics. Then follows a set of commentaries by two giants of contemporary western religious thought, George Kaufman, (God-Mystery-Diversity: Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World ) and John B Cobb Jr. ( Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism) The book concludes with a response to those two by the three opening writers.
The initial three chapters offer three separate approaches to the Pure Land path, which the authors call the hermeneutical, the process and the buddhological. The first is a familiar approach which centres on a coherent understanding of oneself and one's place in the world. The second, Process Theology, is relatively new and comes from recent Christian thought, notably the writings of people like John Cobb Jr. The final piece introduces what it calls a “buddhological” approach, that is using the language and concepts of esoteric Buddhist writing to explain Pure Land practice, especially mandala visualization. What follows are the back and forth commentary of the five writers.
There is insufficient space here for any kind of expanded remarks on this book. After my first read-through, I have to confess there is so much to consider and examine that I probably have little to say at this point. I found this title most provocative with its underlying theme of how we are to express Pure Land practice in addressing contemporary concerns. All note that Pure Land has succeeded in providing a potent and profound theory and practice which explains the universe and our means to salvation. It has not similarly provided guidance for everyday life. It would seem that this was not a concern for teachers like Shinran.
This book is far from an introduction to Pure Land. Those new to it are better of with Suzuki's Buddha of Infinite Lightor Unno's River of Fire, River of Water. This book will take us far beyond those opening doors.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu