A retired Japanese university professor and Buddhist priest introduces a major religion of his home country.
Widely practiced in Japan but less well-known in the United States, Shin Buddhism offers its practitioners salvation from the myriad cares of the world. “Salvation,” debut author Hirose explains, is “strictly a mental process such that one becomes able to cope with difficult situations.” In this, Shin Buddhism differs from other branches of the Buddhist faith; unlike Tibetan Buddhists, for example, Shin’s adherents “have no magical instruments, no sacred places believed to have supernatural powers, no magic words.” Instead, devotees concentrate on trying to “see things as they are without any bias or self-interest.” In pursuit of this, questions of morality and religion become uncoupled, selflessness is prized over selfishness, and various scriptures become simplified. Hirose describes how Shinran, the faith’s 13th-century founder, turned to the original Sanskrit teachings of Gautama Buddha to figure out which lines were intended literally and which symbolically. The tool he used to do this was a search for “universality,” as “a universal idea makes sense in any place at any time,” Hirose explains. Accordingly, teachings of the Buddha that would be acceptable in all cultures were thereby incorporated as canon in Shin Buddhism. Hirose compares this process to the formation of English common law in one of his brief and always useful personal asides. Readers will come away from this short book with a firm, uncluttered idea of an important and potentially alluring faith. Hirose is cleareyed about his own subject and aware of the ways that its teachings can seem abstruse, as when he admits that the essential part of one teaching is “very simple—perhaps too simple.” The dialogues that he includes at the end of each chapter serve as a sort of catechism, answering questions and reinforcing previous lessons. The author shows the patience of the practiced teacher that he is, and, with luck, he’ll be rewarded with worthy students.
A cogent, concise, and personable guide to a transformative faith.