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The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan Reprint Edition

5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520056220
ISBN-10: 0520056221
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William R. LaFleur received his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Joseph Kitagawa and Mircea Eliade. Over the course of his career, LaFleur taught at Princeton University, UCLA, Sophia University, Tokyo, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the E. Dale Saunders Professor of Japanese Studies. In addition to his work on Buddhist cosmology and the "mind" of medieval Japan, he was a gifted translator and interpreter of poetry and published two volumes on the medieval monk-poet Saigyo. He was deeply interested in Zen, especially as a resource for contemporary thought. He wrote and edited several books and essays, introducing to Western readers the work of the thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen, the Kyoto-school figure Masao Abe, and the twentieth-century philosopher and cultural historian Watsuji Tetsuro. In 1989, he became the first non-Japanese to win the Watsuji Tetsuro Cultural Prize. In his later career, while continuing to study medieval Japanese religion and literature, he produced pioneering studies of Japanese bioethics, highlighting contrasts with Western approaches to such issues as abortion, organ transplants, and medical definitions of death. Altogether, he wrote or edited nine books. He passed away in 2010.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (May 8, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520056221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520056220
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

This is a truly amazing study. I read it for a class I was taking on medieval Japan. The professor warned that this book was very dense and difficult to read, but I thought - No problem! It's under 200 pages, I'm a fast reader, I like the subject.
So let me restate: this book is a DENSE read. Every sentence has deep significance, and don't be surprised if you have to reread paragraphs several times, even if you're used to memorizing things with a once-over.
That said, this book was so good that it gets 5 stars despite the difficulty of reading it. LaFleur deftly weaves together strands from medieval forms of Japanese Buddhism (specifically Tendai and Shingon) during the Kamakura and Ashikaga bakufus with earlier cultural tendencies from Heian times right through to the flowering of new cultural ideas in Tokugawa Japan. He does not shy away from appreciating art or fine points of theology on their own terms, but also does not hesitate to show how the two blended together and shaped one another.
I personally enjoyed the sections on the Hojo-Ki by Chomei more than his sections on No and Kyogen, but that's personal preference. You will also gain a new understanding of major poets and monks of the era, such as Chomei, Basho, and Zeami. Rather than try and define such difficult concepts as yugen, he illustrates them through use of those individuals and their own efforts at definitions.
Read a chapter at a time or all at once, a great book.
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By Kyle Gorden on October 7, 1998
This book is good for both those with casual interest in Japanese culture and specific interests in the field of Buddhism. Special attention is paid to the relationship between religion and the traditional theatre forms of Noh and Kyogen.
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This is one of William LaFleur's great books. Elegant, deep, full of extraordinary learning over a vast canvas. Opens up worlds of understanding.
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Whether you love Japan, poetry, or the philosophy of Buddhism - or all three - this book will delight you. Soberly written but full of the indescribable beauty of Japanese culture.
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