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Buddhism: Mahayana: Japan, Korea, Vietnam

Last Updated: May 15, 2024 3:52 PM

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Mahāyāna Buddhism: Japan, Korea, Vietnam

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On this page you can find the best resources for exploring scholarly perspectives on Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan and Korea. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region. Resources within the gallery box are arranged from the newest to the oldest publications, left to right. The area below the gallery highlights a few recent or especially notable works selected from the gallery above.

Bronze Buddha at Kotoku-in

Above: The head of the Great Buddha of Kamakura, a bronze statue of Amitābha Buddha at the Kōtoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Japan.

Japan: General Works

This work offers a comprehensive, nuanced, and chronological account of the evolution of Buddhist religion in Japan from the sixth century to the present day. It traces each period of Japanese history to reveal the complex and often controversial histories of Japanese Buddhists and their unfolding narratives; examines relevant social, political, and transcultural contexts, and places an emphasis on Japanese Buddhist discourses and material culture; addresses the increasing competition between Buddhist, Shinto, and Neo-Confucian world-views through to the mid-nineteenth century; is informed by the most recent research, including the latest Japanese and Western scholarship; and illustrates the richness and complexity of Japanese Buddhism as a lived religion, offering readers a glimpse into the development of this complex and often misunderstood tradition.

Matsuo History cover artA History of Japanese Buddhism by Kenji Matsuo. Folkestone, UK: Global Oriental, 2007.

This first comprehensive introductory study of the history of Japanese Buddhism from the sixth to the twentieth centuries by one of Japan's leading Buddhist Studies scholars is to be widely welcomed. The main focus of the work is on the life, activities and role of the monk (o-bo-san) as the main agent of Buddhism, together with the historical processes by which monks have been at the centre of the development of Japanese Buddhism up to the present day, not least regarding the salvation of women and outcasts which in part informed a new Buddhist 'enlightenment' in Japan known as Kamakura New Buddhism, which the author claims established the foundations of the Japanese way of life and culture as we know it today. Students and researchers will find this work an indispensable source of reference, as well as providing valuable key benchmarks for further research.


Nishitani Buddhism cover artOn Buddhism by Keiji Nishitani, translated by Seisaku Yamamoto & Robert E. Carter. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

This book presents the first English-language translation of a series of lectures by Keiji Nishitani (1900–1990), a major Buddhist thinker and a key figure in the Kyoto School of Japanese philosophy. Originally delivered in the early 1970s, these lectures focus on the transformation of culture in the modern age and the subsequent decline in the importance of the family and religion. Nishitani’s concern is that modernity, with its individualism, materialism, and contractual ethics, is an insufficient basis for human relationships. With deep insight into both Buddhism and Christianity, he explores such issues as the nature of genuine human existence, the major role of conscience in our advance to authenticity, and the needed transformation of religion. Nishitani criticizes contemporary Buddhism for being too esoteric and asks that it "come down from Mount Hiei" to reestablish itself as a vital source of worthy ideals and to point toward a way of remaining human even in a modern and postmodern world.

Bays Jizo cover artJizo Bodhisattva: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers by Jan Chozen Bays. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2003.

Jizo is an important bodhisattva or "saint" of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Most prominent today in Japanese Zen, Jizo is understood to be the protector of those journeying through the physical and spiritual realms. This bodhisattva is closely associated with children, believed to be their guardian before birth, throughout childhood, and after death. Here, an American Zen master offers an engaging and informative overview of the history of this important figure and conveys the practices and rituals connected with him, including a simple ceremony for remembering children who have died. Bays explains how the Buddhist teachings on Jizo can bring peace to those confronted with loss.

Early & Medieval Japan

This book focuses on the transformation of the Tendai School from a small and impoverished group of monks in the early ninth century to its emergence as the most powerful and influential school of Japanese Buddhism in the last half of the tenth century--a position it would maintain throughout the medieval period. This is the first study in a Western language of the institutional factors that lay behind the school's success. At its core is a biography of a major figure behind this transformation, Ryogen (912-985). The discussion, however, extends well beyond a simple biography as Ryogen's activities are placed in their historical and institutional context. Unlike the recluses and eccentrics that have so often attracted Western readers of Buddhism, Ryogen was a consummate politician and builder. Because he lost his major monastic sponsor at an early age, he was forced to find ways to advance his career with little support. His activities reveal much about the path to success for monks during the tenth century. Skill in debate, the performance of Esoteric Buddhist ritual, and strategic alliances with powerful lay and monastic figures were important to his advance. Ryogen has been vilified at times for his loyalty to his own faction within Tendai, but careful analysis of the political and social factors behind his attitudes, however, places his activities in their appropriate context.

Sango Halo cover artThe Halo of Golden Light: Imperial Authority and Buddhist Ritual in Heian Japan by Asuka Sango. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2018.

In this pioneering study of the shifting status of the emperor within court society and the relationship between the state and the Buddhist community during the Heian period (794–1185), Sango details the complex ways in which the emperor and other elite ruling groups employed Buddhist ritual to legitimate their authority. Although considered a descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, the emperor used Buddhist idiom, particularly the ideal king as depicted in the Golden Light Sūtra, to express his right to rule. Sango’s book is the first to focus on the ideals presented in the sūtra to demonstrate how the ritual enactment of imperial authority was essential to justifying political power. These ideals became the basis of a number of court-sponsored rituals, the most important of which was the emperor’s Misai-e Assembly. Sango deftly traces the changes in the assembly’s format and status throughout the era and the significant shifts in the Japanese polity that mirrored them. In illuminating the details of these changes, she challenges dominant scholarly models that presume the gradual decline of the political and liturgical influence of the emperor over the course of the era. She also compels a reconsideration of Buddhism during the Heian as “state Buddhism” by showing that monks intervened in state religious policy.


Hall Marishiten cover artThe Buddhist Goddess Marishiten: A Study of the Evolution and Impact of her Cult on the Japanese Warrior by David A. Hall. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

In this volume, David A. Hall provides an in-depth exploration of the Buddhist cult of the warrior goddess Mārīcī; its evolution in India, China, and Japan; its texts and their audience; its rituals; and, finally, its efficacy as experienced by the Japanese warrior class--the bushi or samurai. In examining the psychological effects of these rituals on the Japanese warrior this volume moves beyond a narrowly focused examination of a religious cult. David A. Hall convincingly explains how these rituals aimed at preparing the warrior for combat and acted as an antidote for the toxicity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when the warrior returned from the battlefield.

Watson Miraculous larger cover artRecord of Miraculous Events in Japan: The Nihon ryoiki, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

The Nihon ryoiki, a collection of setsuwa, or "anecdotal" tales, compiled by a monk in late-eighth- or early-ninth-century Japan, records the spread of Buddhist ideas in Japan and the ways in which Buddhism's principles were adapted to the conditions of Japanese society. Beginning in the time before Buddhism was introduced to Japan, the text captures the effects of the nation's initial contact with Buddhism―brought by emissaries from the king of the Korean state of Paekche―and the subsequent adoption and dissemination of these new teachings in Japanese towns and cities. The Nihon ryoiki provides a crucial window into the ways in which Japanese Buddhists began to make sense of the teachings and texts of their religion, incorporate religious observances and materials from Korea and China, and articulate a popularized form of Buddhist practice and belief that could extend beyond monastic centers. The setsuwa genre would become one of the major textual projects of classical and medieval Buddhism, with nearly two dozen collections appearing over the next five centuries. The Nihon ryoiki serves as a vital reference for these later works, with the tales it contains finding their way into folkloric traditions and becoming a major source for modern Japanese authors.

Modern Japan

Religious freedom is a founding tenet of the United States, and it has frequently been used to justify policies towards other nations. Such was the case in 1945 when Americans occupied Japan following World War II. Though the Japanese constitution had guaranteed freedom of religion since 1889, the United States declared that protection faulty, and when the occupation ended in 1952, they claimed to have successfully replaced it with "real" religious freedom. Through a fresh analysis of pre-war Japanese law, Jolyon Baraka Thomas demonstrates that the occupiers’ triumphant narrative obscured salient Japanese political debates about religious freedom. Indeed, Thomas reveals that American occupiers also vehemently disagreed about the topic. By reconstructing these vibrant debates, this work unsettles any notion of American authorship and imposition of religious freedom. Instead, Thomas shows that, during the Occupation, a dialogue about freedom of religion ensued that constructed a new global set of political norms that continue to form policies today.

Against Harmony cover artAgainst Harmony: Progressive and Radical Buddhism in Modern Japan by James Mark Shields. 2017.

This work traces the history of progressive and radical experiments in Japanese Buddhist thought and practice, from the mid-Meiji period through the early Showa. Perhaps the two best representations of progressive Buddhism during this time were the New Buddhist Fellowship (1899-1915) and the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism (1931-1936), both non-sectarian, lay movements well-versed in both classical Buddhist texts and Western philosophy and religion. Their work effectively collapsed commonly held distinctions between religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, and economics. Unlike many others of their day, they did not regard the novel forces of modernization as problematic and disruptive, but as opportunities. James Mark Shields examines the intellectual genealogy and alternative visions of progressive and radical Buddhism in the decades leading up to the Pacific War. Exposing the variety in the conceptions and manifestations of progress, reform, and modernity in this period, he outlines their important implications for postwar and contemporary Buddhism in Japan and elsewhere.


Cogan Princess Nun cover artThe Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan by Gina Cogan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014.

This book tells the story of Bunchi (1619-1697), daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo and founder of Enshōji. Bunchi advocated strict adherence to monastic precepts while devoting herself to the posthumous welfare of her family. As the first full-length biographical study of a premodern Japanese nun, this book incorporates issues of gender and social status into its discussion of Bunchi's ascetic practice and religious reforms to rewrite the history of Buddhist reform and Tokugawa religion. Gina Cogan's approach moves beyond the dichotomy of oppression and liberation that dogs the study of non-Western and premodern women to show how Bunchi's aristocratic status enabled her to carry out reforms despite her gender, while simultaneously acknowledging how that same status contributed to their conservative nature. Cogan's analysis of how Bunchi used her prestigious position to further her goals places the book in conversation with other works on powerful religious women, like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. Through its illumination of the relationship between the court and the shogunate and its analysis of the practice of courtly Buddhism from a female perspective, this study brings historical depth and fresh theoretical insight into the role of gender and class in early Edo Buddhism.

Kimbrough Wondrous Brutal cover artWondrous Brutal Fictions: Eight Buddhist Tales from the Early Japanese Puppet Theater, translated by R. Keller Kimbrough. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

This book presents eight seminal works from the seventeenth-century Japanese sekkyo and ko-joruri puppet theaters, many translated into English for the first time. Both poignant and disturbing, they range from stories of cruelty and brutality to tales of love, charity, and outstanding filial devotion, representing the best of early Edo-period literary and performance traditions and acting as important precursors to the Bunraku and Kabuki styles of theater. As works of Buddhist fiction, these texts relate the histories and miracles of particular buddhas, bodhisattvas, and local deities. Many of their protagonists are cultural icons, recognizable through their representation in later works of Japanese drama, fiction, and film. The collection includes such sekkyo "sermon-ballad" classics as Sansho Dayu, Karukaya, and Oguri, as well as the "old joruri" plays Goo-no-hime and Amida's Riven Breast. R. Keller Kimbrough provides a critical introduction to these vibrant performance genres, emphasizing the role of seventeenth-century publishing in their spread. He also details six major sekkyo chanters and their playbooks, filling a crucial scholarly gap in early Edo-period theater. More than fifty reproductions of mostly seventeenth-century woodblock illustrations offer rich, visual foundations for the critical introduction and translated tales. Ideal for students and scholars of medieval and early modern Japanese literature, theater, and Buddhism, this collection provides an unprecedented encounter with popular Buddhist drama and its far-reaching impact on literature and culture.

Jizo statues at Hase-dera, Kamakura

Above: Statues of the bodhisattva Jizō at the Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura, Japan. The grounds of the temple are home to hundreds of these statues, placed by parents mourning offspring lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. These statues remain in place for about a year, before being removed to make way for more statues. It is estimated that some 50,000 Jizō statues have been placed at Hase-dera since World War II.
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Japanese Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu or Shin)

For close to a thousand years Amida’s Pure Land, a paradise of perfect ease and equality, was the most powerful image of shared happiness circulating in the Japanese imagination. In the late nineteenth century, some Buddhist thinkers sought to reinterpret the Pure Land in ways that would allow it speak to modern Japan. Their efforts succeeded in ways they could not have predicted. During the war years, economist Kawakami Hajime, philosopher Miki Kiyoshi, and historian Ienaga Saburō―left-leaning thinkers with no special training in doctrinal studies and no strong connection to any Buddhist institution―seized upon modernized images of Shinran in exile and a transcendent Western Paradise to resist the demands of a state that was bearing down on its citizens with increasing force. This book treats the religious thought of these three major figures in English for the first time. Kawakami turned to religion after being imprisoned for his involvement with the Japanese Communist Party, borrowing the Shinshū image of the two truths to assert that Buddhist law and Marxist social science should reinforce each other, like the two wings of a bird. Miki, a member of the Kyoto School who went from prison to the crown prince’s think tank and back again, identified Shinran’s religion as belonging to the proletariat. For him, following Shinran and working toward building a buddha land on earth were akin to realizing social revolution. And Ienaga’s understanding of the Pure Land―as the crystallization of a logic of negation that undermined every real power structure―fueled his battle against the state censorship system, just as he believed it had enabled Shinran to confront the world’s suffering head on. Such readings of the Pure Land tradition are idiosyncratic―perhaps even heretical―but they hum with the same vibrancy that characterized medieval Pure Land belief.

Chilson Secrecy's Power cover artSecrecy's Power: Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment by Clark Chilson. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2014.

Shin has long been one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. As a devotional tradition that emphasizes gratitude and trust in Amida Buddha, it is thought to have little to do with secrecy. Yet for centuries, Shin Buddhists met on secluded mountains, in homes, and in the backrooms of stores to teach their hidden doctrines and hold clandestine rites. Among their adherents was D.T. Suzuki’s mother, who took her son to covert Shin meetings when he was a boy. Even among Shin experts, covert followers were relatively unknown; historians who studied them claimed they had disappeared more than a century ago. A serendipitous encounter, however, led to author Clark Chilson’s introduction to the leader of a covert Shin Buddhist group—one of several that to this day conceal the very existence of their beliefs and practices. In this book, Chilson explains how and why they have remained hidden. Drawing on historical and ethnographic sources, as well as fieldwork among covert Shin Buddhists in central Japan, Chilson's work introduces the histories, doctrines, and practices of different covert Shin Buddhists. It shows how, despite assumptions to the contrary, secrecy has been a significant part of Shin’s history since the thirteenth century, when Shinran disowned his eldest son for claiming secret knowledge. The work also demonstrates how secrecy in Shin has long been both a source of conflict and a response to it. Some covert Shin Buddhists were persecuted because of their secrecy, while others used it to protect themselves from persecution under rulers hostile to Shin. This is a groundbreaking work that makes an important contribution to our knowledge on secrecy and Shin Buddhism.

Shigaraki Heart of Shin cover artThe Heart of the Shin Buddhist Path: A Life of Awakening by Takamaro Shigaraki, translated by David Matsumoto. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

In this book, Takamaro Shigaraki examines Shin Buddhism anew as a practical path of spiritual growth and self-transformation, challenging assessments of the tradition as a passive religion of mere faith. Shigaraki presents the core themes of the Shin Buddhist path in fresh, engaging, down-to-earth language, considering each frankly from both secular and religious perspectives. Shigaraki discloses a nondual Pure Land that finds philosophical kinship with Zen but has been little discussed in the West. With its unassuming language and insights drawn from a life of practice, this work dispels the fog of misconception that has shrouded Western appreciation of Shin traditions to reveal the limitless light of Amida Buddha that reaches all.

Ama Immigrants cover artImmigrants to the Pure Land: The Modernization, Acculturation, and Globalization of Shin Buddhism, 1899-1941 by Michihiro Ama. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2011.

Religious acculturation is typically seen as a one-way process: The dominant religious culture imposes certain behavioral patterns, ethical standards, social values, and organizational and legal requirements onto the immigrant religious tradition. In this view, American society is the active partner in the relationship, while the newly introduced tradition is the passive recipient being changed. Michihiro Ama’s investigation of the early period of Jodo Shinshu in Hawai‘i and the United States sets a new standard for investigating the processes of religious acculturation and a radically new way of thinking about these processes. Most studies of American religious history are conceptually grounded in a European perspectival position, regarding the U.S. as a continuation of trends and historical events that begin in Europe. Only recently have scholars begun to shift their perspectival locus to Asia. Ama’s use of materials spans the Pacific as he draws on never-before-studied archival works in Japan as well as the U.S. More important, Ama locates immigrant Jodo Shinshu at the interface of two expansionist nations. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, both Japan and the U.S. were extending their realms of influence into the Pacific, where they came into contact―and eventually conflict―with one another. Jodo Shinshu in Hawai‘i and California was altered in relation to a changing Japan just as it was responding to changes in the U.S. Because Jodo Shinshu’s institutional history in the U.S. and the Pacific occurs at a contested interface, Ama defines its acculturation as a dual process of both "Japanization" and "Americanization." This work explores in detail the activities of individual Shin Buddhist ministers responsible for making specific decisions regarding the practice of Jodo Shinshu in local sanghas. By focusing so closely, Ama reveals the contestation of immigrant communities faced with discrimination and exploitation in their new homes and with changing messages from Japan. The strategies employed, whether accommodation to the dominant religious culture or assertion of identity, uncover the history of an American church in the making.

Soka Gakkai

This engaging book offers a rare insider’s look at Soka Gakkai Buddhism, one of Japan’s most influential and controversial religious movements, and one that is experiencing explosive growth around the world. Unique for its multiethnic make-up, Gakkai Buddhists can be found in more than 100 countries from Japan to Brazil to the United States and Germany. In Encountering the Dharma, Richard Seager, an American professor of religion trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, travels to Japan in search of the spirit of the Soka Gakkai. This book tells of his journey toward understanding in a compelling narrative woven out of his observations, reflections, and interviews, including several rare one-on-one meetings with Soka Gakkai president Daisaku Ikeda. Along the way, Seager also explores broad-ranging controversies arising from the Soka Gakkai’s efforts to rebuild post-war Japan, its struggles with an ancient priesthood, and its motives for propagating Buddhism around the world. One turning point in his understanding comes as Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai strike an authentically Buddhist response to the events of September 11, 2001.

Machacek and Wilson cover artGlobal Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World, edited by David W. Machacek & Bryan Wilson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

This work is an intriguing study of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement--which was founded in 1930 in Japan, spread rapidly after WWII, and has since developed a worldwide following. It provides an overview of the historical importance of the movement as an educational reform society, its development into a sect of Nichiren Buddhism, its success among people living in urban industrial environments, and Soka Gakkai's response to the surrounding social and cultural environment. For example, it provides important details of Soka Gakkai's entry into Japanese politics, including up-to-date information on the relationship between the Komeito (the political party founded by the Soka Gakkai) and the Liberal Democratic Party (its historical opponent in Japanese politics and present partner in the ruling coalition). The book then documents the spread of Soka Gakkai Buddhism to North and South America, Europe, and other Asian countries.

Daisaku Ikeda

Gilt Buddha and 500 statues of arahants in South Korea

Above: A gilt Buddha and 500 celadon statues of arahants (enlightened individuals) adorn an altar at Deungmyeongnakgasa Temple in Gangneung, South Korea.


In the year 721, a young Buddhist monk named Hyecho set out from the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula, on what would become one of the most extraordinary journeys in history. Sailing first to China, Hyecho continued to what is today Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, before taking the Silk Road and heading back east, where he ended his days on the sacred mountain of Wutaishan in China. With this work, eminent scholar of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. re-creates Hyecho’s trek. Using the surviving fragments of Hyecho’s travel memoir, along with numerous other textual and visual sources, Lopez imagines the thriving Buddhist world the monk explored. Along the way, Lopez introduces key elements of Buddhism, including its basic doctrines, monastic institutions, works of art, and the many stories that have inspired Buddhist pilgrimage. Through the eyes of one remarkable Korean monk, we discover a vibrant tradition flourishing across a vast stretch of Asia. Lopez's book is simultaneously a rediscovery of a forgotten pilgrim, an accessible primer on Buddhist history and doctrine, and a gripping, beautifully illustrated account of travel in a world long lost.

Nathan Mountains cover artFrom the Mountains to the Cities: A History of Buddhist Propagation in Modern Korea by Mark A. Nathan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2018.

At the start of the twentieth century, the Korean Buddhist tradition was arguably at the lowest point in its 1,500-year history in the peninsula. Discriminatory policies and punitive measures imposed on the monastic community during the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) had severely weakened Buddhist institutions. Prior to 1895, monastics were prohibited by law from freely entering major cities and remained isolated in the mountains where most of the surviving temples and monasteries were located. In the coming decades, profound changes in Korean society and politics would present the Buddhist community with new opportunities to pursue meaningful reform. The central pillar of these reform efforts was p'ogyo, the active propagation of Korean Buddhist teachings and practices, which subsequently became a driving force behind the revitalization of Buddhism in twentieth-century Korea. This book traces p'ogyo from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. While advocates stressed the traditional roots and historical precedents of the practice, they also viewed p'ogyo as an effective method for the transformation of Korean Buddhism into a modern religion-a strategy that proved remarkably resilient as a response to rapidly changing social, political, and legal environments.

Yongun Selected Writings cover artSelected Writings of Han Yongun: From Social Darwinism to 'Socialism with a Buddhist Face' by Han Yongun, translated by Owen Miller & Vladimir Tikhonov. Folkestone, UK: Global Oriental, 2008.

One of Korea’s most eminent Buddhists and political activists in the independence movement during the long years of Japan’s colonization of his country, Han Yongun , otherwise known as Manhae (1879-1944), was a prolific writer and outstanding poet, known especially for his poetry collection Nim ui ch’immuk (‘The Silence of the Lover’). This volume, however, concentrates on translations of his principal non-literary works, which are published here in English for the first time. It focuses on his ideas for the revitalization of Korean Buddhism in the modern world; the nature of Buddhism as a religion; his critique of the atheist movements fashionable among the communists of his time, together with memoirs of his early life and travels. This work, published in collaboration with the Academy of Korean Studies, also contains an introductory essay on Manhae’s life, his relationship with socialist ideas as well as the significance of some of the ideas discussed in the translated writings. Students and researchers in Korean Studies, Studies in Buddhism and Comparative Religions will find this collection invaluable.

Buswell Currents cover artCurrents and Countercurrents: Korean Influences on the East Asian Buddhist Traditions, edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007.

Seven papers from a September 1995 conference in Los Angeles explore how influences from Korea, as a peripheral culture in east Asia, reached and impacted Buddhists in China, the dominant center of the region, and other peripheral cultures. Western and Asian scholars of Asian history, culture, and religion, most working in the US, consider such topics as the evidence of Ch'an and Son literature for Korea as a source for the regeneration of Chinese Buddhism, and Uich'on's pilgrimage and the rising prominence of the Korean monastery in Hang-chou during the Sung and Yuan periods.

The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism

Gilt bronze Maitreya statue, Korea

Above: A gilt bronze statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, dating from the late sixth century CE, on display at the National Museum of Korea, Seoul, South Korea. Many images of Maitreya depict him in a pensive pose, contemplating the sufferings of human beings from a seat in the loftiest heaven, and awaiting the right moment to return to the human plane as a fully enlightened Buddha.


During the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Buddhist peace activists made extraordinary sacrifices--including self-immolation--to try to end the fighting. They hoped to establish a neutralist government that would broker peace with the Communists and expel the Americans. Topmiller explores South Vietnamese attitudes toward the war, the insurgency, and U.S. intervention, and lays bare the dissension within the U.S. military. This book is one of the few studies to illuminate the impact of internal Vietnamese politics on U.S. decision-making and to examine the power of a nonviolent movement to confront a violent superpower.

Malarney Ritual cover artCulture, Ritual and Revolution in Vietnam by Shaun Malarney. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002.

This book is a study of the history and consequences of the revolutionary campaign to transform culture and ritual in northern Vietnam. Based upon official documents and several years of field research in Thinh Liet Commune, a Red River delta community near Hanoi, it provides the first detailed account of the nature of revolutionary cultural reforms in Vietnam as how those reforms continue to animate contemporary socio-cultural life. The study examines the key foci of revolutionary cultural change, such as the articulation of a new moral system, the attempts to eliminate explanations that invoke supernatural causality, the creation of socialist weddings and funerals, and the development of innovation ties to commemorate war dead. By examining debates over culture, ritual, and morality that have emerged between residents, notably between men and women, and party members and non-party members, the study shows how ideas and values that preceded the revolution have entered into a creative dialogue with those that were articulated by the revolution, and how this has produced an innovative set of ritual and other practices, particularly since the relaxation of the cultural reform agenda in the post-1986 period.


Nguyen Zen Medieval cover artZen in Medieval Vietnam: A Study and Translation of the Thien uyen tap anh by Cuong T. Nguyen. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998.

Among the China-based Buddhist traditions of East Asia, Vietnamese Buddhism is the least known. To most Westerners, it is an extrapolation of popular perceptions of modern East Asian Buddhism, particularly Japanese Zen. At the root of this misperception lies the uncritical acceptance of the Thien Uyen Tap Anh (Outstanding Figures in the Zen Community [of Vietnam]), a fourteenth-century text that claims to report the transmission of the Zen lineages in Vietnam. The author proposes a rereading of the Thien Uyen and an analysis from a variety of perspectives (historical, textual, and comparative), which includes an outline of influences and borrowings. He concludes that there has never been a "Zen tradition" in Vietnam in the sense of unbroken lineages, a well-defined philosophical outlook, or institutions with an identifiable set of scriptures, doctrines, and practices. Rather Zen Buddhism manifests itself in a philosophical attitude and artistic sentiments scattered throughout religious and cultural life. To support his argument, Nguyen concludes his study with a complete, annotated translation of the Thien Uyen, the first ever in English.

Khong Learning True Love cover artLearning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced Social Change in Vietnam by Chan Khong. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1993.

Sister Chan Khong was born in a village on the Mekong River Delta in 1938. Propelled by her passionate dedication to social change, she began working in the slums of Saigon as a teenager, distributing food, helping the sick, and teaching children, In 1964, she joined Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in founding the School of Youth for Social Service, which grew to an organization of over 10,000 young people organizing medical, educational, and agricultural facilities in rural Vietnam, and rebuilding villages destroyed by the war. this unique autobiography tells the gripping story of a woman who not only lived but made history, and whose single-minded dedication to humility and courageous integrity can serve as an inspiration for all. Learning true love reflects Sister Chan Khong's spiritual growth against the backdrop of the suffering in her war-torn country, and offers many inspiring examples of how to resolve difficulties and celebrate the joys of a life of service. Chan Khong has for more than three decades worked closely with Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam and at his community-in-exile in France, Plum Village.

Asia: General Works

Over its long history, Buddhism has never been a simple monolithic phenomenon, but rather a complex living tradition--or better, a family of traditions--continually shaped by and shaping a vast array of social, economic, political, literary, and aesthetic contexts across East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Written by undergraduate educators, this book offers a guide to Buddhism's rich variety of traditions and cultural expressions for educators who would like to include Buddhism in their undergraduate courses. It introduces fundamental yet often underrepresented Buddhist texts, concepts, and material in their historical contexts; presents the major "ecologies" of Buddhist belief, practice, and cultural expression; and provides methodological insights regarding how best to infuse Buddhist content into undergraduate courses in the humanities and social sciences. The text aims to represent "Buddhisms" by approaching the subject from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives, including art history, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, religious studies, and pedagogy.

Sujung Kim Mediterranean cover artShinra Myojin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian "Mediterranean" by Sujung Kim. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2019.

This ambitious work offers a transnational account of the deity Shinra Myōjin, the "god of Silla" worshipped in medieval Japanese Buddhism from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. Sujung Kim challenges the long-held understanding of Shinra Myōjin as a protective deity of the Tendai Jimon school, showing how its worship emerged and developed in the complex networks of the East Asian "Mediterranean"―a "quality" rather than a physical space defined by Kim as the primary conduit for cross-cultural influence in a region that includes the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the East China Sea, and neighboring coastal areas. While focusing on the transcultural worship of the deity, Kim engages the different maritime arrangements in which Shinra Myōjin circulated: first, the network of Korean immigrants, Chinese merchants, and Japanese Buddhist monks in China’s Shandong peninsula and Japan’s Ōmi Province; and second, that of gods found in the East Asian Mediterranean. Both of these networks became nodal points of exchange of both goods and gods. Kim’s examination of temple chronicles, literary writings, and iconography reveals Shinra Myōjin’s evolution from a seafaring god to a multifaceted one whose roles included the god of pestilence and of poetry, the insurer of painless childbirth, and the protector of performing arts.


Cassaniti Remembering cover artRemembering the Present: Mindfulness in Buddhist Asia by Julia L. Cassaniti. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.

What is mindfulness, and how does it vary as a concept across different cultures? How does mindfulness find expression in practice in the Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia? What role does mindfulness play in everyday life? J.L. Cassaniti answers these fundamental questions and more through an engaged ethnographic investigation of what it means to "remember the present" in a region strongly influenced by Buddhist thought. Focusing on Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, this work examines the meanings, practices, and purposes of mindfulness. Using the experiences of people in Buddhist monasteries, hospitals, markets, and homes in the region, Cassaniti shows how an attention to memory informs how people live today and how mindfulness is intimately tied to local constructions of time, affect, power, emotion, and selfhood. By looking at how these people incorporate Theravada Buddhism into their daily lives, Cassaniti provides a signal contribution to the psychological anthropology of religious experience. Cassaniti's book heeds the call made by researchers in the psychological sciences and the Buddhist side of mindfulness studies for better understandings of what mindfulness is and can be. Cassaniti addresses fundamental questions about selfhood, identity, and how a deeper appreciation of the many contexts and complexities intrinsic in sati (mindfulness in the Pali language) can help people lead richer, fuller, and healthier lives. This work shows how mindfulness needs to be understood within the cultural and historical influences from which it has emerged.

Lackner Coping cover artCoping with the Future: Theories and Practices of Divination in East Asia, edited by Michael Lackner. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

This work offers insights into various techniques of divination, their evolution, and their assessment. The contributions cover the period from the earliest documents on East Asian mantic arts to their appearance in the present time. The volume reflects the pervasive manifestations of divination in literature, religious and political life, and their relevance for society and individuals. Special emphasis is placed on cross-cultural influences and attempts to find theoretical foundations for divinatory practices. This edited volume is an initiative to study the phenomena of divination across East Asian cultures and beyond. It is also one of the first attempts to theorize divinatory practices through East Asian traditions.