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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 81 |spring 2006 book briefs In Japanese Temple Buddhism: World- liness in a Religion of Renunciation (University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), Stephen Covell sets out to describe the complex reality of Tendai Buddhism in contemporary Japan. In order to do so, he first carefully examines and debunks the popular conception of present-day Tendai Buddhist priests in Japan as cor- rupt and superficial imitations of their predecessors. Trained as an American academic and ordained as a Tendai priest, Covell is sensitive to the challenges of trying to balance the changing demands of the modern world with the monastic roots of the medieval tradition. From this unique viewpoint, he discusses taboo top- ics (such as the roles of “temple wives” and temple finances) without being sensa- tionalist or voyeuristic. The book offers a frank assessment of contemporary Tendai as a tradition in crisis, but is also opti- mistic in its discussion of the responses to this crisis. The indigenous inhabitants of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, the Newars, have practiced Buddhism since ancient times. Traditional Newar Buddhism is a unique combination of tantric Buddhism, monas- ticism, and a caste-based hierarchy. Since the 1930’s, however, Nepal has also been the site of a growing Theravada Buddhist community based on the teachings of modernizing Buddhist reformers in Sri Lanka and Burma. Rebuilding Buddhism: The Theravada Movement in Twentieth- Century Nepal (Harvard University Press, 2005), by anthropologists Sarah LeVine and David Gellner, considers the history and present impact of this movement. Their careful research and thoughtful analysis focus on the perceptible life of this movement in society, rather than doctrines or ideas. As such, this study of the contrasts and occasional conflicts between the growing Theravada move- ment and the established tantric tradition reveals much about the dynamic life of Buddhism in a changing world. In Smile of the Buddha: Eastern Phi- losophy and Western Art from Monet to Today (University of California Press, 2005), Jacquelynn Baas traces the influ- ences and resonances of Buddhism (and other Asian religious traditions) in the works and lives of twenty modern art- ists. Her essays on the late nineteenth- century European painters Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Redon reveal that these artists were not only inspired by Asian paintings, but also read the works of the pioneering Buddhist scholars of their time. Baas’s discerning eye and thor- ough research keeps her enthusiasm for discovering Buddhist elements in modern art from straying too far into the specula- tive. In the sections of the book devoted to artists such as John Cage and Agnes Martin, who wrote and spoke openly about the Buddhist content of their art, Baas provides a balanced assessment of the ways meditation practice influenced their art and the ways their art influenced their practice of meditation. Buddhism is often represented as a pragmatic philosophical system that eschews the faith-based approaches of theistic religions. However, anyone who embarks upon Buddhist practice quickly discovers the ubiquity of faith and prayer. In his latest book, The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Our Spiritual Practice (Parallax Press, 2006), prolific Viet- namese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh addresses this topic. He begins by discuss- ing the place of prayer in Buddhism and then goes on to offer a Buddhist commen- tary on the Lord’s Prayer. He discusses recent findings in medical science that support the belief in the healing powers of prayer and explains that prayer is only efficient when it recognizes the connec- tion between the one who prays and those who are prayed to and for. The book also includes examples of the meditation exer- cises and prayers (gathas) performed at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in Plum Village, France. Ronald Davidson’s Tibetan Renais- sance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture (Columbia University Press, 2005) offers a groundbreaking cul- tural history of a period known to Tibet- ans as the “later spread of the dharma” (950–1200 C.E.). Davidson’s exhaustive research into hundreds of previously unstudied Tibetan texts reveals details of how Tibetans responded to the collapse of their ninth-century empire by using the literature and practices of esoteric Buddhism to rebuild their civilization. Davidson has taken great pains to make his research accessible to readers by dra- matizing the narrative and abandoning the scholarly conceit of unreadable trans- literations of Tibetan names. Students of the Tibetan schools that trace their by benjamin bogin