by Takafumi Hirose
Pub Date 09 Jun 2017
Shin Buddhism: An Introduction by Takafumi Hirose
This is a simple and clear introduction to Shin Buddhism, or Jodo Shinshu, a school of Japanese Buddhism founded by a priest named Shinran (1173-1263). Although this school has Japan's largest Buddhist following, led by the Honganji (east) and Hongwanji (west) Temples, was transported abroad by Japanese immigrants, and became the basis of the Buddhist Churches of America, the Buddhist Temples of Canada, Jodo Shinshu Brazil, and Pure Land Buddhism in Europe, it is not as well known in the rest of the world as some other schools of Buddhism, because of a lack of readable literature about it.
Without using unnecessary Buddhist jargon, this book introduces the essence of Shin Buddhism in plain everyday English, for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. Shin Buddhism is a wide-open teaching without any elements of mysticism or secrecy. As the original teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha) traveled thorough many nations and cultures over centuries, they became sometimes academic, sometimes mysterious, and sometimes localized by absorbing local cultures, traditions, and superstitions. Shin Buddhism is an attempt to extract the true essence of Buddha's original teachings from non-Buddhist and provisional or instrumental Buddhist teachings.
This book has five distinctive features:
First, it uses minimal Buddhist jargon. It uses everyday language familiar to ordinary English speakers. This way, the reader does not need any background knowledge on Buddhism. Anyone can pick up this book and read it through without getting lost in a labyrinth of Buddhist terminology.
Second, the book takes a comparative approach rather than a doctrinal approach. Although the book's primary purpose is to explain and clarify Shin Buddhism to Shin Buddhists in English-speaking countries, the book is also readable by non-Buddhists. This is clear even in chapter titles, which use universal terms instead of terms peculiar to Buddhism. This book can therefore be appreciated not only by Buddhists but also by anyone else interested in religion, including students of comparative religion.
Third, it makes frequent references to the Christian Bible, especially to the Gospels. One theme of this book is universality. It argues that long-lived religions have certain universal aspects that are acceptable at any point in history and in any place and society. To demonstrate this, the book quotes a number of passages from the Gospels to explain certain concepts in Buddhism. In the long run, the author hopes for this book to become a bridge between the two great religions of the world, Christianity and Buddhism, whose adherents should know about each other to show respect to each other.
Fourth, the book is dotted with stories and analogies to make certain concepts easier to understand. In addition to Buddhist stories, various cultural aspects and folk traditions of Japan are discussed, and historical information provided; hence, readers also catch glimpses of Japanese culture and society through the book.
Finally, a brief summary is presented in a dialogue at the end of most chapters. Although the entire book is written in colloquial English, the dialogues serve as simpler and clearer reviews of chapter topics, presenting Buddhist responses to questions in black-and-white terms rather than mysterious and vague terms.
"Experienced both as a teacher and priest, gifted with outstanding skills as a communicator and, meanwhile, faithful to the heritage of Shin Buddhism's founder Shinran, Professor Hirose draws the reader to a vision of what is universal, as opposed to instrumental and local, in Buddhism ... A work with a universal appeal and relevance, appearing precisely at a time when its message needs to be heard." David Keen, former senior lecturer in social studies, Dunedin College of Education
"It is quite a substantive introduction, written at a level that will satisfy academic interests while also being approachable to any reader. The stories interlaced in this book as well as the discussion-style summaries at the end of each chapter make the style engaging and enjoyable throughout." Stephen Nelson, PhD, Philosophy Instructor, Northland Community and Technical College
"A cogent, concise, and personable guide to a transformative faith." Kirkus Reviews