The best books on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Author Of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan
By David Brazier

Who am I?

David Brazier ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976, studied all the major schools of Buddhism, and eventually founded Amida Shu, a Pure Land order, of which he was head from 1996 until retiring in 2020. His close disciples now meet as “Global Sangha”. He holds a doctorate in Buddhist psychology, has initiated socially engaged projects in several countries, and still teaches internationally and online. He is the author of more than a dozen books and many chapters, monographs, and podcasts.

I wrote...

The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

By David Brazier,

Book cover of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

What is my book about?

Genjo Koan is the most seminal and key writing of Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) who was the most important writer in the Zen tradition in Japan. There are a number of translations into English, but these are mostly by Zen specialists. This book reveals the coherence of Dogen's original vision in its spiritual and historical context and thus provides a doorway into the profundity and range of Japanese Buddhism.

The books I picked & why

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Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation

By Stephen Covell,

Book cover of Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation

Why this book?

Most books on Buddhism emphasise the monastic tradition, meditation and a life of strict morality, removed from the everyday world of ordinary people. Much of Japanese Buddhism, however, is conducted by married priests living modern lives in direct interaction with secular society. This book provides an important antidote to contemporary stereotypes.

Shapers of Japanese Buddhism

By Yusen Kashiwahara, Koyu Sonoda,

Book cover of Shapers of Japanese Buddhism

Why this book?

This book includes twenty full and seventy-five brief biographies of significant figures in the history of Japanese Buddhism, some of them orthodox, many of them eccentric, each contributing some unique genius to the living tradition from the sixth century up to modern times. An excellent way to enter the spirit of the tradition with many stories to enjoy.

Honen the Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography

By Joseph A. Fitzgerald, Harper Havelock Coates, Ryugaku Ishizuka

Book cover of Honen the Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography

Why this book?

Honen Sangha (1133-1212) revolutionised Japanese Buddhism. Famous in his own time yet exiled near to the end of his life he introduced an approach to practice that embraced ordinary people and appealed to all ranks of society. His mould breaking innovation paved the way for the emergence of the several new schools that still dominate the Buddhist scene in Japan today. and his humanity and warmth of character still inspire.

Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

By Burton Watson, Saigyo,

Book cover of Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

Why this book?

Saigyo (1118-1190) was one of the most influential Japanese poets. His name means "Westward Journey" which implies moving toward the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. The poems bring out the bitter-sweet quality of life, beauty and loneliness, blooming spring and frosty winter, cherry petals and tears that fall, echoing the deep emotionality and mystery of the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

The Monk Who Dared

By Ruth M. Tabrah,

Book cover of The Monk Who Dared

Why this book?

A gripping work of fiction constructed around the known facts of the life of Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism which is today the largest denomination in Japan. The novel reveals a thorough appreciation of the social climate and circumstances while telling the tale of Shinran who - “neither monk nor layman” - carried forward the religious revolution of the Kamakura period.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, Buddhism, and Buddhism in Japan?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Tonoharu, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, and The Wild, White Goose if you like this list.