- Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada by John S. Harding, Victor Sōgen Hori, and Alexander Soucy
Editors John S. Harding, Victor Sōgen Hori, and Alexander Soucy have made a second welcome addition to the still small collection of texts on Buddhism in Canada. Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada is a follow-up to Wild Geese: Buddhism in Canada, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2010. In his introduction to Flowers, Harding sets out a paradigm for the study of Buddhism that avoids the “disputed binaries” of Asian/ethnic and western/convert. Instead, Flowers looks at the broader currents of globalism and localism that shape Buddhism in Canada and around the world. This paradigm is offered as a way past the implicit and erroneous assumption, present in many Buddhist studies, that the modernization of Buddhism is equivalent to its westernization.
Soucy contributes the first chapter, a cornerstone piece in which he argues, as he did in Wild Geese, against the construction of the category “Canadian Buddhism.” Given the absence of any defining characteristics of Canadian identity, along with the global and local forces that create diverse and overlapping traditions in Canada, Soucy proposes focusing on the interactions between Buddhist globalism, localism, and parochialism (he intends the latter term not negatively but denoting a force for conservatism). These forces together help create the many “Buddhisms” now present in Canada.
Following this chapter, the book is divided into three sections. Part One, “Taking Root,” is an important historical record of a number of Buddhist organizations in Canada. While it is impossible to comment on every article here, representative of this section is the first essay, by Michihiro Ama, which describes the history and the personal and political conflicts that shaped Japanese Shin organizations in western Canada. The debates over modernizing versus maintaining tradition that these groups faced with respect to ritual, language, the role of the clergy, and so on represent an important theme throughout this section and the whole of the text.
Part Two, “Communicating the Buddhadharma,” looks at the dissemination of Buddhist teachings and practices in Canada. Noteworthy is D. Mitra Barua’s article on a book written to teach Buddhism to the children of Sri Lankan Buddhists in Toronto, a book that is itself an example of the balance of tradition and adaptation. This section also includes Paul McIvor’s fascinating look at Buddhist prison outreach and the politics and practicalities that volunteers encounter when leading meditation in Canadian prisons. This second section offers substantial [End Page 543] reflections on the ways in which Buddhist principles are transmitted and adapted in Canada.
Part Three, “Buddhist Lives,” presents three biographical essays on influential Buddhists in Canada. Mavis. L. Fenn’s biography of Canadian nuns Dhammadinna and Jayantā begins with a superb summary of the issue of nuns’ ordination in Theravada Buddhism. Soucy poignantly describes conflicts over tradition, gender, and authority in his biography of Quebec-based nun Thầy Phổ Tịnh. Finally, Harding’s biography of Dr./Rev. Leslie Kawamura is an insightful exploration into the intersections in one man’s life of the roles of Buddhist priest and scholar.
The “Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada” paradigm presented in Flowers highlights significant, complex, and nuanced factors that influence Buddhism around the world. It offers a means of understanding local expressions of the tradition with reference to global forces that inevitably affect them. Even so, readers will notice that contributors still occasionally use the terms Asian, Western, and Canadian to describe individuals or groups of practitioners. This suggests a still-relevant distinction between practitioners from Buddhist and non-Buddhist ancestral or cultural backgrounds. For better or worse, these labels are well understood and used by people from either background, and are apparently difficult to avoid.
As is the nature of such anthologies, Flowers is a fairly random collection of pieces. Even so, the articles presented here represent important contributions to our understanding of...