The Promise of a Sacred World: Shinran’s Teaching of Other Power by Nagapriya. Next running in Spring/Summer 2023, email firstname.lastname@example.org to go on the waiting list for this study group.
Shinran (1173–1263) is one of the most important thinkers of Japanese Buddhist history and is regarded as the founder of its largest sect, the True Pure Land School (Jodo Shinshu). Nagapriya brings alive for a contemporary audience Shinran’s perspective on ‘Other Power’ as embodied in the myth of Amida Buddha and the Pure Land scriptures.
“This book is a major contributor to the growing literature on Shinran for a non-Japanese audience. The author has profoundly entered the Pure Land imaginative world with his own bold sense of existential authenticity. Writing against the modern trend towards the ultra-secularization of Buddhism, he tackles themes of existential boundedness, the Pure Land mythos, and Shinran’s particularity. He makes use of a large swath of the literature on Shin Buddhism in English and refers to dozens of major literary, artistic, and philosophical figures from the West, producing a discourse illuminated by many global traditions. The author has a tremendous sense of the profundity of Shinran’s mythical, imaginative language, and applies a heightened level of hermeneutical strategies to his writing, offering one of the richest appreciations of Shinran to date. Along with its rich intellectualism, the book is an astonishing, highly poetic, magical, mystical, personal, emotional, and even confessional encounter with Shinran, which strikes a brilliantly fresh note. This book should become a foundational stepping stone into a new era of engagement in the English-language world with this seminal Japanese thinker.” – Galen Amstutz, Adjunct Instructor, Institute of Buddhist Studies/Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, USA
“In this book, Nagapriya shares with us his journey into the heart of Shinran’s teachings and the Pure Land traditions with which he is associated. He offers a unique and valuable introduction to the Japanese Pure Land master, Shinran, who is recognised as the founder of Jodo Shinshu, Japan’s largest Buddhist school. Drawing on western theologians and philosophers to elucidate Shinran’s message for the western context, as well as exploring the historic roots of the tradition in India and China and their traditional representation in the lineage of Shinran’s tradition, Nagapriya demonstrates the relationship between this tradition and Buddhism as a whole, finding links to both the Mahayana and Theravada. The result is a remarkable book that presents a clear overview of the core points in Shinran’s teaching, well grounded in original sources and in the broader context of Pure Land Buddhism. This very readable book will particularly aid those new to Shinran’s works in appreciating their spiritual depth, but it will be of interest to practitioners from all Buddhist schools, as it offers new perspectives on Buddhist fundamentals.” – Caroline Brazier is a priest in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and a psychotherapist. She is the author of seven books on Buddhism and therapy.
“Not only does Nagapriya’s book offer an intelligent and sympathetic exploration of the writings of Shinran and those authors from which he drew inspiration, but it also explores ways in which legend and mythic narrative complement historical narrative as vehicles of important truths. Drawing upon his academic training in philosophy and the history of religions, Nagapriya deftly weaves reflections of Western theologians and philosophers into his rich and colourful tapestry, the most dominant theme of which is accounts of ways in which he has been inspired and transformed by decades of contemplating the implications of Shinran’s seemingly simple but actually nuanced commentaries, essays and letters. A result of Nagapriya’s rumination, this is a delightfully readable book that is sure to be of interest to practising Buddhists, as well as to those studying comparative religions and spirituality.” – Dh. Dayamati (Richard P. Hayes) is a retired professor of Sanskrit and Indian Buddhist philosophy and author of Land of No Buddha and of numerous dry and tedious scholastic works. His non-academic website is: ‘Inquiring Buddhist’, dayamati.org.
“This is a truly extraordinary book. It’s about Shinran, the founder of the Jōdo Shinshū or True Pure Land School, but it’s also a sustained and searching enquiry into the nature of the Dharma life, actually, the nature of any spiritual life. Western Buddhists, on the whole, find Shinran’s very particular, even unique interpretation of the Dharma – absolute dependence on Other Power – startling, puzzling, and I have known some to question whether he was really a Buddhist. He definitely was, but in order to understand him, you need a guide, and Nagapriya is an excellent one. A practitioner of the Dharma for 30 years, he has read widely and thought deeply about Shinran’s teaching, and in this book he generously shares his wisdom. He discusses the idea of ‘reading as existential transformation’ that can occur if we are willing to engage with a text. I was willing, and there were many times when I was so struck by an idea, a phrase, a truth, that I stopped reading, closed my eyes, and allowed it to reverberate through me. At those times I experienced faith, gratitude, and joy. Now I’m going to read it again.” – Ratnaguna, author of The Art of Reflection, and Great Faith, Great Wisdom
“Shinran’s teachings are the perfect antidote to our striving, self-power culture. Nagapriya is a reliable and personable guide as we journey into Shinran’s world, examining his philosophy and applying it to our everyday lives. This book will wake you up to a new way of life, where everything is assured, and where we can relax into knowing that we are accepted just as we are. Comforting, poetically written, and full of inspiration.” – Satya Robyn, author of Coming Home: Refuge in Pureland Buddhism
Nagapriya’s book accomplishes a rare feat, which is largely unprecedented in the English language literature on Jodo Shinshu. He explores the teachings of Shinran Shonin through the larger context of Pure Land Buddhist thought in India, China, and Japan in a readable, accessible manner. Whereas sectarian scholarship narrowly focuses only on the figures selected and quoted by Shinran, this book explores the teachings and writings of Buddhist teachers outside of the Jodo Shinshu historical lineage, who doubtlessly contributed to shape Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, and, by extension, Jodo Shinshu, in crucial ways. This book also accomplishes an original reading from outside the Jodo Shinshu tradition(s), while remaining faithful to the sectarian interpretations. By drawing on other Buddhist traditions and on Western thought, Nagapriya offers a view of Shinran that transcends sectarian boundaries, while showing a deep and thorough engagement with English-language Jodo Shinshu materials. – Enrique Galvan-Alvarez is a Jodo Shinshu priest from the Hongwanji-ha school and an Associate Professor at the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja.