Sunday, 9 April 2017

Amida Comes West

Circle Network Book Review: The Other Buddhism - Amida Comes West by Caroline Brazier Paperback £11.99 Published by Mantra Books 296 pages Author website:

In this book, the Rev. Brazier discusses Pureland Buddhism, weaving her insights from contemporary psychology and psychotherapy, with an analysis of the issues facing the world in the twenty first century, whilst sharing her love of medieval Japanese poetry with its zen-like quality. 

This is a charming book, which was a revelation about a devotional approach to Buddhism that I had not previously encountered. As a student of eastern religions, I feel honoured to be asked to review this book. The path of Pureland Buddhism is a focus on tariki  (harnessing a higher power) as opposed to jiriki (the path of self effort).

From a Vedic perspective, this is the path of Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion). In this path, the bhaktha, or spiritual aspirant finds an isthta-devata (personal chosen deity).

In the path of Amida, the deity is the form and personality of Amida Buddha which personifies love, light, compassion and redemption. The grace of Amida can be harnessed through a life devoted to nembutsu (a chanting practice) and a life of service to others (Socially Engaged Buddhism) - as opposed to a life of self-centeredness and self focus.

The path of the bhakta is that of saranagati (flinging oneself upon the Divine Mercy). The cultivation of ‘devotion to God’ is fairly easy to talk about, but in practice, it is harder to approach. It represents the power of faith in the Divine Providence and encourages the pilgrim to set off on a pilgrimage, without a penny in his pocket, believing his or her needs will be met and 'the Lord will provide'. And indeed there are countless accounts of pilgrims down the ages, and from all traditions, who attest to the fact that the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways and does indeed provide!

Reading about the path of Pureland Buddhism evoked parallels with The Way of the Sufi, and with the path of Jesus - 'faith can move mountains’ and ‘…ye men of little faith’. In particular, it brought to my mind one of the most famous texts of medieval Christianity, 'The Way of a Pilgrim', where the central character is a wandering Russian monk who spends a lifetime of inner praying - ‘Lord have mercy upon me!’ in a literal attempt to follow the advice of St Paul to ‘pray without ceasing’. Nembutsu practice seemed to me to echo this sentiment. Reviewer: Dr L Da Costa

For an excerpt from Caroline Brazier's latest book, click on this link:

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