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Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold Paperback – September 17, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A recently retired religion professor at Smith College and author of River of Fire, River of Water, Unno here takes on the larger classroom of Westerners interested in Eastern religions to introduce Shin Buddhism, a sect that is dominant in modern Japan and exists in the U.S. as the Buddhist Churches of America. While Zen (and other schools) offers Buddhism for monks who have time and quiet to meditate themselves into enlightenment, Shin is a Buddhism for lay people with jobs and families. (A kind of "Pure Land" Buddhism that stresses compassion, humility and access to enlightenment, Shin was the first Japanese school to permit married clergy, after the fashion of 13th-century founder Shinran.) In unintimidating yet thorough fashion, Unno explains the history, practices and central ideas of Shin Buddhism, differentiating it even while locating the sect within the larger family of Buddhist teachings about suffering and enlightenment. Unno's accessibility is enhanced through use of personal story, quotations from poetry by Shin practitioners as well as such writers as Rainer Maria Rilke and T.S. Eliot, and liberal allusion to American cultural references as well as Buddhist parables. Book design is sensitive to its subject but not altogether successful. The screened art used on the title and part-title pages is lovely, but the brush-painterly typeface in which the table of contents and chapter titles are set is challenging to read. Unno's effort to convey more of Buddhism's 2,500 years of rich complexity should open new doors for Westerners.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Unno (religion, emeritus, Smith Coll.) follows his useful River of Fire, River of Water with this further discussion of Shin Buddhism. A form of Pure Land Buddhism begun in 12th-century Japan, Shin is widely practiced in Japan but is less well known in this country than forms such as Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. Centered on the recitation of the nembutsu, or the name of Amida Buddha, the simple practice of Shin is available to people in all walks of life and offers a framework for Buddhist practice to those for whom the monastically centered rigor demanded by other traditions is not practical or desirable. This book moves beyond the introductory River of Fire, River of Water to give a more comprehensive view of Shin practice. Those expecting a textbook approach, however, will find instead an accessibly written account of the spirit of Shin practice that will appeal to general readers. This is not an essential title but makes an excellent companion to Unno's earlier book. Given the book's reasonable price, the relative scarcity of titles on Shin Buddhism, and the wider following it is likely to attract in the West as a simpler and more accessible form of practice, this book is an excellent choice for most collections. Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (September 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385504691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385504690
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By DAC Crowell on May 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Rev. Unno's book "Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn Into Gold" is essentially a follow-up work to his wonderful introductory text "River of Fire, River of Water". But while that work provided an overview of Shin Buddhism in of itself, this work provides a broader view of how Shin Buddhism affects the lives of those who practice it, as well as exploring the deeper issues of the Nembutsu-faith.
Weaving a complex yet easily-understood tapestry from personal experience, anecdotes, Pure Land teachings, and philosophical insight, Rev. Unno unfurls an examination of the depth and breadth of impact of Jodo Shinshu in peoples' lives. This school of Mahayana Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, is essentially a Buddhism for the common man, emphasizing faith in the "other power" of Amida Buddha as its central tenet, as opposed to the complex battery of practices eschewed by other (and more familiar to the West) schools of Buddhism. A branch of the Pure Land school which was formed in the early 13th century in Japan, Jodo Shinshu emphasizes the "true entrusting" in Amida, the embodiment of wisdom and compassion from which all Buddhist thought emanates. And while this form of Buddhism is largely unknown in the West outside of the ethnic Japanese community, it is a powerful...and easily-accessible...path among the 84,000 Paths to Enlightenment as the diverse streams of religious and philosophical thought are known in Buddhism.
Rev. Unno here shows us how this faith affects those who accept it, and why. Just as "River of Fire..." explained the 'what' of Jodo Shinshu, "Bits of Rubble..." explains the 'how' in like manner...which is clear, concise, and readily-understandable.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Doug M on September 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I really would give this 4.5 stars if I could. Taitetsu Unno is a brilliant writer, and despite being Japanese, he truly knows how to write for a Western audience. My only complaint were the early chapters where he's mostly talking about how great the 'nembutsu' and not much else. It's kind of feel-good fluff.

However, by the second section, he really delves into so many aspects of Buddhism, from a Jodo ShinShu perspective (I am a newly converted Shin Buddhist myself). The chapters are surprisingly relevant and the topics build from the simple topics in the first few chapters into progressively more deep and theological issues for Buddhists. This book has a subtle, but very compelling flow to it.

Taitetsu is clearly a well-read person as he quotes from many interesting sources, and clearly conveys their meaning to the reader.

This really was time well-spent reading, and I definitely recommend this to anyone who's curious about Shin Buddhism. It's the largest school of Buddhism in Japan (not Zen or Soka Gakkai), yet the least known here. Read this book and find out what it's about.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter M. Schogol on July 20, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read this book when it was published in 2002. I was younger then in so many ways and thought I was hot stuff. What Unno wrote stuck to me like a post-it to a mirror. With only a little heat it slid right off.

I am older now and I leave whatever specialness I might have to the appraisal of the compassionate cosmos. What Unno wrote has become the mirror itself. I highly recommend this book and suggest the reader return to it after some years to see how its insights weather.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on August 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
Rev. Taitetsu Unno (born 1930) is a scholar, lecturer, and author on the subject of Pure Land Buddhism, and is the founding Sensei of the Northampton Shin Buddhist Sangha. He has also written books such as River of Fire, River of Water and Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner Togetherness.

Here are some quotations from this 2002 book:

"If I were to translate 'nembutsu' into English, it would be the 'Name-that-calls,' for it calls us to awaken to our fullest potential to becoming true, real, and sincere human beings." (Pg. 24)
"...the millennium may have significance for those who believe in the Second Coming... but it has no special significance for a Buddhist who is a nontheist." (Pg. 55)
"There is no need for such a deathbed ritual, because birth in the Pure Land has occurred in the awakening to shinjin here and now." (Pg. 66)
"The path of Pure Land, on the other hand, is primarily a way for the laity; it is available to any one, regardless of status, who seeks the path of enlightenment." (Pg. 74)
"Buddhism, including Shin, does not give clear and firm directives for everyday living. It is not prescriptive." (Pg. 131)
"Transformation is possible by the very fact that Buddhism teaches us that we are all already fully enlightened, although we live in complete ignorance of this elemental fact." (Pg. 202)
"Toward the end of his life, (D.T. Suzuki) devoted more and more of his writings to Shin Buddhism (e.g., his "Buddha of Infinite Light"), and his final scholarly accomplishment was the translation of Shinran's major work into English under the title 'The Kyogyoshinsho'..." (Pg. 209)
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