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River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism Paperback – April 13, 1998
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The Pure Land tradition dates back to the sixth century c.e., when Buddhism was first introduced in Japan. Unlike Zen, its counterpart which flourished in remote monasteries, the Pure Land tradition was the form of Buddhism practiced by common people. Consequently, its practice is harmonious with the workings of daily life, making it easily adaptable for seekers today. Despite the difference in method, though, the goal of Pure Land is the same as other schools--the awakening of the true self.
Certain to take its place alongside great works such as "Three Pillars of Zen, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind--River of Fire, River of Water is an important step forward for American Buddhism.
From the Back Cover
Top Customer Reviews
River of Fire is a deeper study. In it, Unno not only tackles the depths of Shin Buddhist doctrine but speaks with warm wit about his own imperfection and the transforming influence of Shin Buddhism upon his life through a period of decades. Hence, it is partly autobiographical, although the main thrust of the book is not centered around his life.
Shin Buddhism is a religion of conscience and faith, not a religion of compulsion and belief. Morality and stern practice is not seen as the key unlocking the door to enlightenment, only simple faith and conscience.
I cannot recomment this book highly enough. It is published by a major publisher, Doubleday, which portends a wide circulation and may hopefully touch many lives with the positive and life-affirming path of Shin Buddhism, the natural way to enlightenment.
Shin Buddhism for centuries has been the prevailing Buddhist faith of Japan. It has remained largely within Japanese communities in the United States and hence has not been widely known, much less understood. But books such as this are sure to change this picture. Already, native-grown Shin Buddhist groups are springing up in the United States and elsewhere, often as lay groups. This is a healthy sign, in my opinion, for it shows that it just takes an advocate who takes the time to explain Shin Buddhism in order for it to become immediately attractive to people.
River of Fire, River of Water is both an "easy read" and a reference work rolled into one. It bears successive readings. I have spend days rereading Chapter 6, &qu! ot;Nembutsu: The Name-that-Calls." This chapter gets to the heart of Shin Buddhism. One quote that jumped out at me is:
"Philosophically speaking, the nembutsu is the self-articulation of fundamental reality. As such, the saying of the Name contains the alpha and omega of the Buddhist soteriological path."
Faith in Amida Buddha means saying the name of Amida Buddha, or the Nembutsu - "Namu Amida Butsu." It is not a mechanical chant but a celebration of deep entrusting to Amida Buddha's vow to save all troubled beings who so much as request it.
Unno approaches Shin Buddhism from a variety of angles to articulate this simple yet initially difficult-to-understand faith. Here he describes what the practice can be like:
"The person who chooses the Shin path devotes hours, days, and years to the interior practice of deep hearing.... This initial stage of deep hearing is like mastering the theory. But this must be followed by the saying of nembutsu, the practice equivalent to mastering technique in dance. After that everything must be forgotten and the person must 'just live,' but now live with awareness, sensitivity, and grace."
This book can be studied as a doorway to further inquiry into the foundations and history of Shin Buddhism, or it can be experienced solely on its own terms, as one person's profound experience of this great faith. Either way works - both ways work too.
There have been other books appearing on the market on Shin, or Pure land, Buddhism in very recent years. The eminent Dr. D.T. Suzuki, widely respected for his writings on Zen Buddhism, was also a believer in Shin Buddhist principles. He gave a series of lectures on Shin Buddhism in 1958. These were collected into a book in the 1970s. A few years ago, the author of River of Fire, Taitetsu Unno, undertook a revision of the book using modern scholarly methods and working with the original sources which have been preserved. The result was another book published last year entitled, The Buddha of! Infinite Light (published by Shambala publications). This book is also currently available from Amazon Books.
The sutras, or original teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni, which expound the Pure Land faith have been translated into English twice in the past few years. One is the Three Pure Land Sutras (also known as the "Triple Sutra" - there are three 'canonical' Pure Land sutras) translated by Prof. Hisao Inagaki of Ryukoku University in Japan. This is published by the Numata Translation Center in California. Another is a translation of two of the three sutras by Luis O. Gomez. These are highly scholarly yet readable books and I strongly recommend them to anyone who wants to go further after reading River of Fire, River of Water.
Lastly, a word about the title. One of the distinguished teachers of Pure Land Buddhism named Shan-tao (lived in China about a thousand years ago) had a vision which dramatized the meaning of Pure Land Buddhism.
In this vision a traveler is being chased by a gang of thugs and comes to a strange dead end, two rivers - one of fire and one of water. The water is torrential and he would drown attempting to cross it. He would burn alive in the fire. But someone on the near shore tells him there is a narrow path across leading to safety on the other side. It is a white path, just a few inches wide. The traveler scarcely believes he could make it across when he hears another voice beckoning him to proceed across the path to safety from the thugs who are now bearing down upon him.
He is afraid but he starts across and finds the going is easier than he imagined. The thugs, meanwhile, are calling out to him from the shore, trying to seduce him back with false concerns that he will fall into one of the rivers and be killed, but the traveler keeps hearing the two voices on the near and far shore encouraging him to cross and he continues. He finally reaches the other side and safety.
This parable is about the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, where Shin Buddhists and other Pure! Land Buddhists believe they will go after death and there attain full enlightenment as buddhas. The path across the rivers is symbolic of faith. The voice on the near shore is that of Shakyamuni Buddha, urging people to take refuge in Amida's compassion and protection. The voice on the far side is Amida Buddha calling and ultimately welcoming those who cross the perilous path. The two rivers represent human greed, ignorance, and blind passion. The thugs on the near side represent all the dangers and delusions of living and the appeal they make to our unenlightened natures.
This parable of the white path, as it is called, is a fitting background to Taitetsu Unno's book and is embodied as the title.
I hope others will purchase and read this book. It is a wonderful exposition of Shin Buddhism and the serene life of faith in Amida Buddha.
respectfully submitted, Dr. Richard St. Clair
Boston Shinshu Buddhist Sangha
This book's title comes from a Pure Land parable which encapsulates the premise of faith in "other power", namely that of Amida Buddha, which can best be described as the 'ur-Buddha' from whom all Dharmic wisdom and compassion springs. Specifically, Rev. Unno is writing here about the Jodo Shinshu school, one of the great schools of Japanese Buddhism which sprang from the Kamakura period of that nation's history, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Jodo Shinshu is, in fact, one of the largest sects of Mahayana Buddhism, but in the West is little-known outside of the Japanese ethnic community. But despite this ethnic concentration, the Shin faith is more or less a "Buddhism for Joe Average", irrespective of ones' skin color or land of origin.
The book is very well-written, and also well-organized given the amount...and often, complexity...of the information it imparts. Rev. Unno deftly opens up the teachings of Jodo Shinshu to anyone who might wish to learn, or for that matter might simply be curious. He deals excellently with both the historical perspective of this school, as well as the more complex philosophical issues posed by the Nembutsu-faith as well as its place in the mainstream of Mahayana thought.
Shin Buddhism is truly a faith that anyone can follow, without the complexities of what is referred to as "the path of difficult practice". And likewise, "River of Fire, River of Water" provides an uncomplex point of entry into this rich and enriching path. For anyone starting down this path, I would have to say that this...along with Dr. Kenneth Tanaka's "Ocean"...makes for an excellent point from which to begin. I recommend it unconditionally.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
the author has intuitive insights that
can only come from amida butsu
Wanting to use the book for reference in writing the review, i could not find it. It was under my pillow!Read more