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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
fall 2005| 72 |buddhadharma year-old teachings are astonishingly fresh, whether studied as a complete anthology or opened at random for inspiring verses on the heart of Buddhist practice. The Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (1st–2nd century) remains best known for his essential expositions of the Madhyamika philosophy. In Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend (Snow Lion, 2005), the Padmakara Translation Group pres- ents another facet of the great master’s works. Addressed to a king, this episto- lary poem offers advice and instructions for applying the Buddhist teachings to life in the world. Although less abstract than Nagarjuna’s philosophical compositions, the Letter to a Friend shows the same sophistication and descriptive skill that mark his better-known masterpieces. The concise and lucid commentary by Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche (1897–1975) reveals that the letter’s 123 verses provide an overview of the entire bodhisattva path, organized into sections devoted to each of the six perfections. Despite the importance of Nagarjuna in Mahayana Buddhism, we know very little about the author who wrote by that name. Joseph Walser’s new mono- graph, Nagarjuna in Context: Mahayana Buddhism and Early Indian Culture (Columbia University Press, 2005) offers a significant step towards clarifying the mys- teries and myths that surround the name of Nagarjuna. After presenting a critical over- view of a century of academic research on Nagarjuna and early Mahayana, Walser suggests a new approach that considers the marks of institutional and social realities in Nagarjuna’s compositions. Using arche- ological research as well as textual sources in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan, Walser argues that Nagarjuna most likely wrote in a monastic context where Mahayana views were in the minority. References from Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali are compared with archeological evidence to make a compelling case that the text must have been written in the South Indian region of Andhra during the late second century. Although the paucity of reliable sources makes Walser’s conclusions hypothetical, the scholarly detective work that under- lies their careful logic will make fascinat- ing reading for anyone interested in the historical development of the Mahayana tradition. The art and architecture of Japan’s Muroji temple are often described as works of timeless beauty. But as Sherry Fowler’s Muroji: Rearranging Art and History at a Japanese Buddhist Temple (University of Hawai’i Press, 2005) demonstrates, both the forms and the meanings of Muroji’s iconography have shifted throughout time to reflect the interests of different residents and patrons. This generously illustrated volume traces the historical changes hidden behind an iconographic arrangement that, on the surface, appears static and immovable. Drawing upon tex- tual sources and rigorous examination of visual evidence, Fowler tells the story of a temple where images have shifted loca- tion and identity for centuries. From its pre-Buddhist roots as the temple of a Dragon King to the struggles over its sec- tarian status and eventual recognition as an important Shingon center, the history of Muroji shows impermanence at play even in one of Japan’s most “timeless” Buddhist temples. In the tragic and complex history of rela- tions between Tibet and China in the twen- tieth-century, Buddhism is often depicted as the religion of the victims crushed by the atheist communists of Mao’s repub- lic. Gray Tuttle’s Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2005) shows the fallacy of this one-dimensional view by explor- ing the many ways that Buddhism linked China and Tibet from the Republican periods (1912-1949) through the early years of Communist rule. Tuttle’s exten- sive original research lends itself to a lively and detailed account of the networks of Chinese who studied Buddhism in Tibet, Tibetans who taught Buddhism in China, and the politicians who attempted to use these networks to bridge the two cultures. The resulting documentation of this little- known but vitally important period is essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century relations between Tibet and China. Nyogen Senzaki will always be remem- bered as one of the great patriarchs of American Zen. His impact on the trans- mission of Zen to the West is remarked upon in every study of the subject and yet his own writings and teachings have until now been very difficult to find. An excellent collection was published by Japan Publications in 1978 and had been announced for a reissue in 2003 by PeaceWorks Publications (and reviewed in Buddhadharma’s Fall 2003 issue). Unfortunately, that reissue never came to press, but thankfully Wisdom Publications is publishing it this fall under the title Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Writings and Translations of Nyogen Senzaki. From the moving and informative new introduc- tion by Eido Shimano Roshi, to the last words of Senzaki himself, this volume offers abundant testimony to the master’s ability to present the Zen tradition with directness and humor. This long overdue publication will make Nyogen Senzaki’s inimitable voice available to a new genera- tion of readers and students.