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Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of…

Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light

by Mark Unno

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It's important to state right off the bat that this book is not geared toward anyone new to Shingon Buddhism (to say nothing of Buddhism in general) as Unno assumes his readers have a high level of knowledge concerning both. Even more advanced readers may find themselves wishing Unno had devoted more time to explaining the sutra from which the Mantra of Light is derived instead of assuming his readers are already familiar with its contents.

The earliest chapters of the book, which briefly outline the career and times of Myoe Shonin and his place within Japanese Buddhism, are both its most solid and most readable. Later chapters, however, devolve into increasingly speculative discussions of Myoe's worldview. (For instance, I believe Unno's conclusions about the role of women in Myoe's beliefs are particularly tenuous and poorly supported by the evidence, and his interpretation of a key passage of the Chuangzi rather counterintuitive.)

The second half of the book, which is comprised of Unno's translations of some key works by Myoe fares somewhat better by comparison. Unfortunately, if the first half of the book assumes the reader is more informed concerning the material than may be the case, Unno's translations assume the reader is rather too uninformed and overcompensate [overdo it] by providing too much information [more information than necessary] in brackets in the text of the translation [written into the translation itself]. As is the case with the sentence I have just typed, this rather mucks up the read and even assuming such "improvements" were necessary, they would have been better relegated to footnotes.

The unwieldy translation is not improved by the shoddy editing job: not only are place and personal names not standardised (and in many cases misspelled), there are many careless errors besides. (Can you spell the word "and"? The editors at Wisdom Publications cannot.) Unno and his editors are to be commended, however, for their decision to include appendices including the Chinese and Japanese characters for many (but by no means all) of the individuals, places, and scriptural works referenced in the volume.

In closing, Shingon Refractions is a worthwhile read for anyone interested Kamakura Era developments in the practice of Shingon Buddhism in Japan; however, I do not recommend it to beginners to the subject.
  Trismegistus | Jan 8, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0861713907, Paperback)

Shingon Buddhism arose in the eighth century and remains one of Japan's most important sects, at present numbering some 12 million adherents. As such it is long overdue appropriate coverage. Here, the well-respected Mark Unno illuminates the tantric practice of the Mantra of Light, the most central of Shingon practices, complete with translations and an in-depth exploration of the scholar-monk Myoe Koben, the Mantra of Light's foremost proponent.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:31 -0400)

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