“Critical Buddhism” reviewed

Books Buddhism around the World Zen

Engaging with Modern Japanese Buddhist Thought

James Mark Shields
Ashgate Press (Surrey, England, 2011)
216 pages / ISBN 978-1-4094-1798-9 hardback / An e-book edition is also available

Dr. Shields completed his undergraduate work and later received a PhD at McGill University. He is currently Assistant Professor of Asian and Comparative Thought at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA and was Visiting Faculty Fellow at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, 2009-2010.

What happens when good Buddhists do bad things? This is the underlying question behind James Mark Shields analysis of Japan’s Critical Buddhism movement of the 1980s and 1990s. His book is an exploration of many important issues illuminated by, and flowing from, that initiative, such as:

  • how Buddhist thought in Japan (and other countries) was at times co-opted by, or collaborated with, authoritarian and conservative tendencies within the ruling elite
  • how Buddhists (and particularly Zen Buddhists) have unwittingly or consciously provided a script for militaristic adventurers to justify their ideologies
  • how Buddhism has responded to modern, liberal, humanist thought from the West (and must continue to do so)
  • how modern Zen thought has been distorted by anti-rationalism and infusions from non-Buddhist traditions
  • how Buddhist practitioners fall into the trap of imagining a golden past – an originary Buddhism that never existed
  • how Westerners have mis-interpreted Buddhist teachings and practices to suit their own agendas
  • how Engaged Buddhism evolved (and must continue to do so)

In short, it is packed full of provocative and powerful arguments for applying a critical eye to contemporary Buddhist thought. Rather than accepting the pronouncements of Buddhist teachers holus-bolus, he bravely explores the “what if?” of testing the wider social context and historical implications of those positions.  Shields’ scholarship is impeccable and his bibliography is extensive, making the book a valuable resource for other researchers.

Essential reading!





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