Waking the Buddha


An exploration of what makes Soka Gakkai unique.
Strand (How to Believe in God: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not, 2008), a religion writer and former Zen monk, delves into the history and mission behind Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect perhaps best known for its peace activism and belief in fair wealth distribution among people. While this may be the denomination’s primary identity in America, Clark is quick to point out its racial and economic diversity, its international scope, and the political activity that sets it apart from other Buddhist traditions and from many other religions as well. He explores the lives of Soka Gakkai’s founders and major players—Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda—and shows how each furthered a particular mission that gave the faith a global reach and broad appeal. Most notably, perhaps, he shows how Soka Gakkai’s seeming emphasis on material things, the aspect for which it receives perhaps the most criticism, in fact makes it “a dynamic and practical philosophy of life that, for the first time in human history, privileges life over religion, rather than religion over life.” Strand’s perspective is broad, with an academic distance that is nevertheless fair toward Soka Gakkai, and cogent in his analysis of American Buddhism as a “baby boomer” faith that suffers many of the flaws of the modern era. The ultimate goal and intended readership of the book, however, are somewhat unclear. It covers ground sure to be interesting to Buddhists, religious scholars and practitioners of Soka Gakkai in different measure but perhaps without fully serving the curiosity of any particular group. While the prose is clear and readable, there is a lack of organization that makes the narrative hard to follow, especially with regard to Soka Gakkai’s history and to Strand’s own place within the movement and within American Buddhism more broadly. Overall, the work perhaps best serves as a jumping-off point for people interested in learning more about this unique denomination.
Thoughtful, clear and informative, if somewhat scattered.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0977924561

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Middleway Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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