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Dimensions of Asian Spirituality

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Dimensions of Asian Spirituality

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Dharma

Alf Hiltebeitel

This introductory work proposes a fresh take on the ancient Indian concept dharma. By unfolding how, even in its developments as "law" and custom, dharma participates in nuanced and multifarious understandings of the term that play out in India’s great spiritual traditions, the book offers insights into the innovative character of both Hindu and Buddhist usages of the concept. Alf Hiltebeitel, in an original approach to early Buddhist usages, explores how the Buddhist canon brought out different meanings of dharma. This is followed by an exposition of the hypothesis that most, if not all, of the Hindu law books flowered after the third-century BC emperor Asoka, a Buddhist, made dharma the guiding principle of an entire realm and culture. A discussion built around the author’s expertise on the Sanskrit epics shows how their narratives amplified the new Brahmanical norms and brought out the ethical dilemmas and spiritual teachings that arose from inquiry into dharma. A chapter on the tale of the Life of the Buddha considers the relation between dharma, moksa/nirvana (salvation), and bhakti (devotion). Here, Hiltebeitel ties together a thread that runs through the entire story, which is the Buddha’s tendency to present dharma as a kind of civil discourse. In this sense, dharma challenges people to think critically or at least more creatively about their ethical principles and the foundations of their own spiritual values. A closing chapter on dharma in the twenty-first century explores its new cachet in an era of globalization, its diasporic implications, its openings into American popular culture, some implications for women, and the questions it is still raising for modern India.

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Karma

Johannes Bronkhorst

Karma has become a household word in the modern world, where it is associated with the belief in rebirth determined by one’s deeds in earlier lives. This belief was and is widespread in the Indian subcontinent as is the word “karma” itself. In lucid and accessible prose, this book presents karma in its historical, cultural, and religious context.

Initially, karma manifested itself in a number of religious movements—most notably Jainism and Buddhism—and was subsequently absorbed into Brahmanism in spite of opposition until the end of the first millennium C.E. Philosophers of all three traditions were confronted with the challenge of explaining by what process rebirth and karmic retribution take place. Some took the drastic step of accepting the participation of a supreme god who acted as a cosmic accountant, others of opting for radical idealism. The doctrine of karma was confronted with alternative explanations of human destiny, among them the belief in the transfer of merit. It also had to accommodate itself to devotional movements that exerted a major influence on Indian religions.

The book concludes with some general reflections on the significance of rebirth and karmic retribution, drawing attention to similarities between early Christian and Indian ascetical practices and philosophical notions that in India draw their inspiration from the doctrine of karma.

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Korean Spirituality

Don Baker

Korea has one of the most dynamic and diverse religious cultures of any nation on earth. Koreans are highly religious, yet no single religious community enjoys dominance. Buddhists share the Korean religious landscape with both Protestant and Catholic Christians as well as with shamans, Confucians, and practitioners of numerous new religions. As a result, Korea is a fruitful site for the exploration of the various manifestations of spirituality in the modern world. At the same time, however, the complexity of the country’s religious topography can overwhelm the novice explorer. Emphasizing the attitudes and aspirations of the Korean people rather than ideology, Don Baker has written an accessible aid to navigating the highways and byways of Korean spirituality. He adopts a broad approach that distinguishes the different roles that folk religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and indigenous new religions have played in Korea in the past and continue to play in the present while identifying commonalities behind that diversity to illuminate the distinctive nature of spirituality on the Korean peninsula.

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Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation

by Barry C. Keenan

Approximately fifteen hundred years after Confucius, his ideas reasserted themselves in the formulation of a sophisticated program of personal self-cultivation. Neo-Confucians argued that humans are endowed with empathy and goodness at birth, an assumption now confirmed by evolutionary biologists. By following the Great Learning—eight steps in the process of personal development—Neo-Confucians showed how this innate endowment could provide the foundation for living morally. Neo-Confucian students did not follow a single manual elaborating each step of the Great Learning; instead they were exposed to age-appropriate texts, commentaries, and anthologies of Neo-Confucian thinkers, which gradually made clear the sequential process of personal development and its connection to social order. Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation opens up in accessible prose the content of the eight-step process for today’s reader as it examines the source of mainstream Neo-Confucian self-cultivation and its major crosscurrents from 1000 to 1900.

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Shinto

The Way Home

by Thomas P. Kasulis

Nine out of ten Japanese claim some affiliation with Shinto, but in the West the religion remains the least studied of the major Asian spiritual traditions. It is so interlaced with Japanese cultural values and practices that scholarly studies usually focus on only one of its dimensions: Shinto as a "nature religion," an "imperial state religion," a "primal religion," or a "folk amalgam of practices and beliefs." Thomas Kasulis’ fresh approach to Shinto explains with clarity and economy how these different aspects interrelate. As a philosopher of religion, he first analyzes the experiential aspect of Shinto spirituality underlying its various ideas and practices. Second, as a historian of Japanese thought, he sketches several major developments in Shinto doctrines and institutions from prehistory to the present, showing how its interactions with Buddhism, Confucianism, and nationalism influenced its expression in different times and contexts. In Shinto’s idiosyncratic history, Kasulis finds the explicit interplay between two forms of spirituality: the "existential" and the "essentialist." Although the dynamic between the two is particularly striking and accessible in the study of Shinto, he concludes that a similar dynamic may be found in the history of other religions as well. Two decades ago, Kasulis’ Zen Action/Zen Person brought an innovative understanding to the ideas and practices of Zen Buddhism, an understanding influential in the ensuing decades of philosophical Zen studies. Shinto: The Way Home promises to do the same for future Shinto studies.

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Sikhism

Doris R. Jakobsh

This volume offers a comprehensive overview of Sikhism, which originated in India's Punjab region five hundred years ago. As the numbers of Sikhs settling outside of India continues to grow, it is necessary to examine this religion both in its Indian context and as an increasingly global tradition. While acknowledging the centrality of history and text in understanding the main tenets of Sikhism, Doris Jakobsh highlights the religion's origins and development as a living spiritual tradition in communities around the world. She pays careful attention to particular events, movements, and individuals that have contributed to important changes within the tradition and challenges stereotypical notions of Sikh homogeneity and stasis, addressing the plurality of identities within the Sikh tradition, both historically and within the contemporary milieu.

Extensive attention is paid to the role of women as well as the dominant social and kinship structures undergirding Punjabi Sikh society, many of which have been widely transplanted through Sikh migration. The migration patterns are themselves examined, with particular focus on Sikh communities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Finally, the volume concludes with a brief exploration of Sikhs and the Internet and the future of Sikhism.

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Socially Engaged Buddhism

by Sallie B. King

Socially Engaged Buddhism is an introduction to the contemporary movement of Buddhists, East and West, who actively engage with the problems of the world—social, political, economic, and environmental—on the basis of Buddhist ideas, values, and spirituality. Sallie B. King, one of North America’s foremost experts on the subject, identifies in accessible language the philosophical and ethical thinking behind the movement and examines how key principles such as karma, the Four Noble Truths, interdependence, nonharmfulness, and nonjudgmentalism relate to social engagement. Many people believe that Buddhists focus exclusively on spiritual attainment. Professor King examines why Engaged Buddhists involve themselves with the problems of the world and how they reconcile this involvement with the Buddhist teaching of nonattachment from worldly things. Engaged Buddhists, she answers, point out that because the root of human suffering is in the mind, not the world, the pursuit of enlightenment does not require a turning away from the world. Working to reduce suffering in humans, living things, and the planet is integral to spiritual practice and leads to selflessness and compassion. Socially Engaged Buddhism is a sustained reflection on social action as a form of spirituality expressed in acts of compassion, grassroots empowerment, nonjudgmentalism, and nonviolence. It offers an inspiring example of how one might work for solutions to the troubles that threaten the peace and well being of our planet and its people.

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Theravada Buddhism

The View of the Elders

Asanga Tilakaratne

This book brings to life the age-old religious tradition of Theravada (literally, “view of the elders”) Buddhism as it is found in ancient texts and understood and practiced today in South and Southeast Asia. Following a brief introduction to the life of the historical Buddha and the beginning of his mission, the book examines the Triple Gem (the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of monastic followers) and the basic teachings of the Buddha in the earliest available Pali sources. Basic Buddhist concepts such as dependent co-origination, the four noble truths, the three trainings, and karma and its result are discussed in non-technical language, along with the Buddha’s message on social wellbeing.

The author goes on to chronicle his own involvement as an observer-participant in “the Theravada world,” where he was born and raised. His is a rare first-hand account of living Theravada Buddhism not only in its traditional habitats, but also in the world at large at the dawn of the twenty-first century. He concludes with a discussion on what is happening to Theravada today across the globe, covering issues such as diaspora Buddhism, women’s Buddhism, and engaged Buddhism. The book’s accessible language and clear explication of Theravada doctrine and texts make this an ideal introduction for the student and general reader.

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Zen Koans

Steven Heine

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” These cryptic expressions are among the best-known examples of koans, the confusing, often contradictory sayings that form the centerpiece of Zen Buddhist learning and training. Viewed as an ideal method for attaining and transmitting an unimpeded experience of enlightenment, they became the main object of study in Zen meditation, where their contemplation was meant to exhaust the capacity of the rational mind and the expressiveness of speech. Koan compilations, which include elegant poetic and eloquent prose commentaries on cryptic dialogues, are part of a great literary tradition in China, Japan, and Korea that appealed to intellectuals who sought spiritual fulfillment through interpreting elaborate rhetoric related to mysterious metaphysical exchanges. By focusing on two main facets of the religious themes expressed in koan records—individual religious attainment and the role dialogues play in maintaining order in the monastic system—Zen Koans reveals the distinct yet interlocking levels of meaning reflected in different koan case records and helps make sense of the seemingly nonsensical.

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