Walsh investigates the origins of Mahayana Buddhism in his careful, honest search for truth on the spiritual path.
Examining religious history can be a polarizing pursuit. The scarcity of tangible proof can lead to holes in the larger narrative, and faith can inspire both zealous belief and bitter skepticism. Walsh’s debut manages to avoid these pitfalls. His approach falls between scholarship and personal reflection; through investigating the many sources (but few facts) that surround the provenance of Mahayana texts—focusing mostly on the Lotus Sutra but also appealing to his own experience and the writings of his teachers within Nichiren Buddhism, the branch of Mahayana Buddhism he studies personally—Walsh triangulates a “middle way” between skepticism and faith. Where Walsh cannot be sure of a conclusion—for instance, whether Zoroastrianism and Mahayana Buddhism intermingled along the Silk Road in Persia and India—he calmly and rationally states his uncertainties. As such, the numerous fascinating details about the timeline of world religions and the historical figures within the development of various strains of Buddhism are allowed to speak for themselves. Although Walsh eventually concludes that it’s unlikely the Mahayana texts were issued directly from the Shakyamuni Buddha (usually recognized as the historical Buddha), he nonetheless resolves to open-mindedly examine the real-world effects of doctrines in Mahayana Buddhism; ultimately, Walsh decides that these effects fortify the tradition, despite the path’s debatable origin. Though calm and relaxed, Walsh’s scholarly approach can sometimes seem dense and tangential in comparison to other writers on Buddhism, such as Alan Watts or Thich Nhat Hanh. Walsh doesn’t write Zen koans; he researches and investigates. Therefore, his book will primarily appeal to Mahayana Buddhists who seek to resolve the religion’s apparent inconsistencies while learning more about the history of their tradition. Nonetheless, any student of religious history will benefit from a reading.
A sincere, penetrating history whose conclusions are both scholastically and spiritually sound.