- The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Sōtō Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan
In The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Sōtō Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan, Duncan Ryūken Williams uses documentary sources to depict life within Japanese Buddhist temples of the Sōtō Zen school during the seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries. The "other" of the title indicates that, unlike the majority of prior Western works about Zen Buddhism, this book does not focus on meditation, famous Zen masters and their teachings, or high culture practices like the tea ceremony. Since the late 1980s local historians and university scholars such as Tamamuro Fumio, with the cooperation of the abbots of Sōtō Zen temples, have been cataloging and publishing the treasure trove of records carefully preserved in these temples and elsewhere. Williams uses these records to explore the mundane details of daily temple life and the legal wrangling between temples and secular powers. He sets this detailed social [End Page 546] history within the context of the values of the Zen tradition as seen through its traditional teachings. The end result is an account that is much richer for the inclusion of both aspects.
Williams begins each chapter with a background essay summarizing recent scholarship in both Japanese and Western languages and giving extensive bibliographic references. These essays are in themselves worth the price of the book. They will be useful in university classes and should serve as starting points for new research by both graduate students and established scholars.
In the first chapter Williams explains how primary historical materials can illuminate the everyday existence of Sōtō Zen temples and discusses the kinds of sources he uses. Chapter 2 begins with an overview of the system of affiliations that permanently linked an extended family to a particular temple. Inaugurated as a means of stamping out Christianity, the requirement that people declare an affiliation with a Buddhist temple developed into a semigovernmental registration and census system that gave Buddhist clerics great and largely unchecked powers over their parishioners. Williams documents how Sōtō Zen clerics claimed that parishioners were legally required to support financially the temple with which they were affiliated and to attend ceremonies. Although Tamamuro has shown the official-sounding document upon which this claim was based to be a forgery (p. 24), it was widely copied and read at important ceremonies and is still held at many Sōtō Zen temples.
Williams documents several cases of clerical abuse of power. In some instances clerics used the threat of removal of the family name from the temple register with all its dire consequences to press parishioners for larger donations or demand sexual relations. Clerical control of the allocation of posthumous Buddhist names was another common source of abuse of power. Documents show that higher-status names were available for a suitable donation. Parishioners sometimes were able to rid themselves of an out-of-line cleric, but from the legal records presented, it is apparent that censure became an effective option only when a cleric was outrageously extortionist, physically abusive, or flagrantly engaged in sexual activity. Other materials show that families could not escape a bad cleric by changing temples, because the government almost never permitted that kind of change of registration.
Chapter 3 adds significantly to recent work about funerals and Buddhism with an account of the complex conflation of sources and rituals of Tokugawa Sōtō Zen. Williams describes the Sōtō Zen practice of ordaining the deceased and then authenticating his awakening in a kind of Zen encounter dialogue. Another section of this chapter shows how the Blood Pool Sutra was used to save women from the hell to which the teachings of that same sutra condemned them. In chapter 4 Williams pursues further the mixture of values and doctrines in Sōtō practice through a consideration of Daiyūzan, a major prayer temple in the city of Edo that also...