The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan

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Popular understanding of Zen Buddhism typically involves a stereotyped image of isolated individuals in meditation, contemplating nothingness. This book presents the "other side of Zen," by examining the movement's explosive growth during the Tokugawa period (1600-1867) in Japan and by shedding light on the broader Japanese religious landscape during the era. Using newly-discovered manuscripts, Duncan Ryuken Williams argues that the success of Soto Zen was due neither to what is most often associated with the ...
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Overview

Popular understanding of Zen Buddhism typically involves a stereotyped image of isolated individuals in meditation, contemplating nothingness. This book presents the "other side of Zen," by examining the movement's explosive growth during the Tokugawa period (1600-1867) in Japan and by shedding light on the broader Japanese religious landscape during the era. Using newly-discovered manuscripts, Duncan Ryuken Williams argues that the success of Soto Zen was due neither to what is most often associated with the sect, Zen meditation, nor to the teachings of its medieval founder, Dogen, but rather to the social benefits it conveyed.

Zen Buddhism promised followers many tangible and attractive rewards, including the bestowal of such perquisites as healing, rain-making, and fire protection, as well as "funerary Zen" rites that assured salvation in the next world. Zen temples also provided for the orderly registration of the entire Japanese populace, as ordered by the Tokugawa government, which led to stable parish membership.

Williams investigates both the sect's distinctive religious and ritual practices and its nonsectarian participation in broader currents of Japanese life. While much previous work on the subject has consisted of passages on great medieval Zen masters and their thoughts strung together and then published as "the history of Zen," Williams's work is based on careful examination of archival sources including temple logbooks, prayer and funerary manuals, death registries, miracle tales of popular Buddhist deities, secret initiation papers, villagers' diaries, and fund-raising donor lists.

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Editorial Reviews

Philosophy East & West
The Other Side of Zen offers a rich, ground-breaking contribution to the history of the Soto Zen sect and of Tokugawa Japan.
— Cristina Rocha
Monumenta Nipponica - David E. Riggs
This book is required reading for any student of Zen Buddhism or Japanese religion and will remain a standard reference for years to come.
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies - William M. Bodiford
[This book] presents so much new information in such an insightful and accessible manner. By doing so, The Other Side of Zen helps us to begin to realize just how much we do not know and do not understand. Williams shows us several previously unexplored landscapes and gives us a tour of a few of their notable features. One can only hope that the terra incognito he reveals will attract future scholars to map in more detail its ways and byways.
Philosophy East & West - Cristina Rocha
The Other Side of Zen offers a rich, ground-breaking contribution to the history of the Soto Zen sect and of Tokugawa Japan.
From the Publisher

"This book is required reading for any student of Zen Buddhism or Japanese religion and will remain a standard reference for years to come."--David E. Riggs, Monumenta Nipponica

"[This book] presents so much new information in such an insightful and accessible manner. By doing so, The Other Side of Zen helps us to begin to realize just how much we do not know and do not understand. Williams shows us several previously unexplored landscapes and gives us a tour of a few of their notable features. One can only hope that the terra incognito he reveals will attract future scholars to map in more detail its ways and byways."--William M. Bodiford, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"The Other Side of Zen offers a rich, ground-breaking contribution to the history of the Soto Zen sect and of Tokugawa Japan."--Cristina Rocha, Philosophy East & West

Monumenta Nipponica
This book is required reading for any student of Zen Buddhism or Japanese religion and will remain a standard reference for years to come.
— David E. Riggs
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
[This book] presents so much new information in such an insightful and accessible manner. By doing so, The Other Side of Zen helps us to begin to realize just how much we do not know and do not understand. Williams shows us several previously unexplored landscapes and gives us a tour of a few of their notable features. One can only hope that the terra incognito he reveals will attract future scholars to map in more detail its ways and byways.
— William M. Bodiford
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691119281
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/8/2004
  • Series: Buddhisms: A Princeton University Press Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Duncan Ryuken Williams is Assistant Professor of East Asian Buddhism and Culture at the University of California, Irvine.

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Table of Contents

1 Toward a social history of Soto Zen 1
2 Registering the family, memorializing the ancestors : the Zen temple and the parishioner household 13
3 Funerary Zen : managing the dead in the world beyond 38
4 The cult of Doryo Daigongen : Daiyuzan and Soto Zen prayer temples 59
5 Medicine and faith healing in the Soto Zen tradition 86
Conclusion : the other side of Zen 117
App. A Nyonin Jobutsu Ketsubonkyo Engi (the origins of the blood pool hell sutra for women's salvation) 125
App. B Shinsen Gedoku Manbyoen Fukuyo No Koto (how to prepare and take the wizard mountain "poison-dispelling" pill that cures all illnesses) 129
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Recipe

"The Other Side of Zen brings to light the vital but little studied social dimension of early modern Japanese Zen. Drawing on a wealth of hitherto untapped sources, Williams offers insightful analyses of how Soto Zen temples won and maintained broad lay support by providing rites for healing and protection in this world and salvation in the next. This fascinating study will be essential reading for students and scholars of Buddhism and Japanese religion and has much to offer anyone interested in the social roles of religion."—Jacqueline Stone, Princeton University

"This is the first significant contribution in a Western language on Soto Zen of this period. The author's approach is innovative. His use of recently discovered sources, well synthesized, has helped the author succeed in demythologizing the Soto tradition. The book reflects the best of Japanese scholarship."—Michel Mohr, independent scholar

"This book—well argued, well documented and filled with fascinating material—demonstrates the strengths of a social history approach to the study of Buddhist life and contributes to the field of Zen studies in a dramatic way."—Charles Hallisey, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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