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River of Fire, River of Water Paperback – April 13, 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

With great spiritual insight and unparalleled scholarship, Dr. Taitetsu Unno--the foremost authority in the United States on "Shin or Pure Land Buddhism--introduces us to the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan. Unique among the various practices of Buddhism, this "new" form of spiritual practice is certain to enrich the growing practice of Buddhism in the United States, which is already quite familiar with Zen and Tibetan traditions. "River of Fire, River of Water is the first introduction to the practice of Pure Land Buddhism from a trade publisher and is written for readers with or without prior experience with it.


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

With spiritual insight and unparalleled scholarship, Dr. Taitetsu Unno - one of the foremost authorities on Shin, or Pure Land, Buddhism - introduces us to the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan. The introduction of this unique form of spiritual practice is certain to enrich the growing practice of Buddhism in the United States, which is already well familiar with Zen and Tibetan traditions. River of Fire, River of Water is the first introduction to its practice from a trade publisher and is written for readers with or without prior knowledge of Buddhism. The Japanese Pure Land and tradition dates back to the sixth century, when Buddhism was first introduced in Japan. Unlike Zen, its counterpart, which flourished in remote monasteries, Pure Land 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 differences in method, however, the goal of Pure Land is the same as that of other schools - the awakening of the true self.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Image; 1 edition (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385485115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385485111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I used to look down on Pure Land Buddhism. This book turned my views all the way around. Tai Unno is a former college professor of Buddhist Studies and a very warm, admirable man. In "River of Fire, River of Water" he presents the heart of the Shin Buddhist path, a 800-year-old tradition of purely lay-oriented Buddhism (as opposed to the monastic-oriented traditions of Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan Vajrayana). Unno shows how Shin Buddhism aims to awaken the ordinary person in their everyday life, discovering wisdom and compassion through the difficulties and mistakes of parenthood, jobs, taxes, family life, etc. His book is accessible, personable, and spiritually insightful, well-balanced between the head of intellectual rigor and the heart of true entrusting in the awesome power of the Dharma to enlighten even the most confused, worldy person.
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Format: Paperback
Taitetsu Unno's latest book, River of Fire, River of Water, is a down-to-earth and accessible introduction to Shin Buddhism, which teaches faith in the great Buddha, Amida as the avenue to enlightenment. Taitetsu Unno is an ordained Shin Buddhist minister who has written frequently and forcefully on Shin Buddhism. His translation of the famous Tannisho - a compilation of sayings by Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism - is a quick introduction to Shin.
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.
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Format: Paperback
There are religious books you read for information and there are books that you not so much read as wade in them, the way after a long hike, you take your shoes off and wade in the cool waters of a mountain stream. This is one of those books. Taitetsu Unno takes up different topics, at random it seems, and passes them through Shin Budhism's unhurried, all-accepting gaze. When so many of the world's major religions seem to have spun off violent and hate-filled offspring, it is wonderful to learn about a way of humility that recognizes and can live at ease with human limits, a way of trust and surrender that does not relinquish the duty to act responsibly. This small book doesn't tell you about faith and gratitude and compassion as much as it gradually reveals to you its eternal presence in you.
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Format: Paperback
Rev. Taitetsu Unno is part of an esteemed family of Shin Buddhist teachers, priests, and scholars. So it's not surprising that someone of his background should create one of the best introductory texts on the subject.
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.
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