In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Seeking Śākyamuni: South Asia in the Formation of Modern Japanese Buddhism by Richard M. Jaffe
  • Judith Snodgrass (bio)
Seeking Śākyamuni: South Asia in the Formation of Modern Japanese Buddhism. By Richard M. Jaffe. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2019. xvi, 309 pages. $97.50, cloth; $32.50, paper; $32.50, E-book.

Richard Jaffe's new book is a brilliant addition to the series Buddhism and Modernity, adding a crucial dimension to our knowledge of the formation of Buddhism in modern Japan and, by extension, to the history of modern global Buddhism. It builds on and contributes substantially to earlier work documenting the domestic and East-West imperatives in that formation. While these tended to focus on the journeys to the West undertaken by Japanese Buddhist reformers, Jaffe instead focuses on those who traveled to India, arguing convincingly that the "road to conceptualizing Japanese Buddhism for the twentieth century ran through Colombo, Madras, Calcutta and Bombay as much as it did through Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and Heidelberg" (p. 238).

Indeed, for some of the pioneering Japanese scholar priests such as Nanjō Bun'yū and Takakusu Junjirō, travel between Oxford and Japan took them through India, where the facility with Indic languages gained in Europe enabled them to study texts and work with South Asian scholars directly. And, it should not be forgotten, many of the Indian pandits with whom Japanese scholars studied, Indian scholars who would lead the Buddhist revival in South Asia, had previously worked with and been trained by British scholars. They studied in British colonial institutions. The Buddhist pilgrimage sites they visited had been reinserted into Indian memory and heritage by the colonial archaeological surveys. The Western factor is not denied, just resituated and complimented by Jaffe's Asia-centric perspective.

Most of the Japanese Buddhists in this study, however, traveled directly to South Asia. Among the earliest of these was Zen Abbot Shaku Sōen, more familiar in Western scholarship for the time he would later spend in the United States. While much has been written of him, Jaffe's account, based on Sōen's diary of his journey to Ceylon and resulting publication on Southern Buddhism, greatly expands English-language knowledge of his life and work. Sōen studied Pāli, working with Theravāda scholars—Asian and European—including leaders of the Buddhist reform movement taking place in Ceylon and Siam at the time, the activity documented in Anne Blackburn's Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Princeton University Press, 2001). A major contribution of the book is the way it links with earlier studies and fills gaps between them.

Jaffe's Asia-centric focus also contributes significantly to research on modern Japanese Buddhism, introducing a number of important figures previously [End Page 132] unknown to English-language readers, people who should be more widely known. Among these are Kawaguchi Ekai, Akegarasu Haya, and Kimura Ryūkan. Their stories add much to our knowledge of twentiethcentury Japanese Buddhism and to intra-Asian relations in the early twentieth century. The chapters covering their journeys range from the early twentieth century to the 1930s, several decades of rapid and tumultuous change in both countries and in the relationship between them. But more of this below.

The book is clearly the culmination of years of research. The diaries and personal publications of more than 20 Japanese Buddhist priests who spent substantial periods in South Asia provide a core archive (see list on p. 115). As well as revealing their observations and responses to South Asian and Southeast Asian Buddhism (Jaffe translates extensive passages on this material), the author identifies the places they visited and the people they met, studied with, and learned from. This evidence is contextualized and expanded on with reference to a comprehensive array of additional primary and secondary sources (including temple records, private papers, photographs, interviews, and a note on a business card) to reveal the networks and the historical contexts that conditioned their experiences. The result is an impressive compendium of erudite research.

As the records show, the factors motivating and enabling the journeys varied greatly, but the travelers were united in seeking knowledge of the origins...