A Little Buddhist Reading...

Now that I’m back from Japan, I’m trying to catch up on a variety of things at both work and home. One of these things is some of my reading.

While I was away, I ordered Trekking through Hell to find Heaven by Rev. Jion Prosser. This is Rev. Prosser’s account of  his gyo-in training on Mt. Hiei in Japan. This is the two month “boot camp” that Tendai priests go through in order to have the essential training that they need, often to take over a family temple. Rev. Prosser is one of the few non-Japanese to have passed through this training, which is quite arduous.

I’ve had some communication with Rev. Prosser in the past, and he is relatively local since he lives in Los Angeles, so I had been  wanting to read this since I heard that he was working on it a while ago. At 107 pages, it is a pretty short book and is largely an autobiographical account of many of his experiences and thoughts during the training. Having just visited Mt. Hiei recently, I recognized quite a few of the places there that he mentions.

For those interested in Japanese Buddhism, especially books relating to its training that don’t focus on Zen, I think that this would be an excellent choice.

I’ve also picked up Zen Pioneer: The Life & Works of Ruth Fuller Sasaki. This is a biography of Rev. Ruth Sasaki. Rev. Sasaki was a student of the famous D. T. Suzuki. She was involved in the creation of one of the first, if not the first, public Zen temples in the United States, the First Zen Institute in New York City. This opened the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked. After the war, she was briefly married to her zen teacher (the other Rev. Sasaki), who died, and she then went to live and study in Japan. She was one of the first non-Japanese to be ordained within Zen and definitely the first Western woman to be ordained. Later in life, she went to Japan and was the abbess of Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. She was a mentor to Gary Snyder, who wrote the foreward to the book, and the mother-in-law to Alan Watts. It is thought that much of his initial contact with Zen was through her and the events around her.

When I first heard about this book, it sounded very interesting. I expect that it will also be a quick read but won’t simply be a retread of things that I’ve read within Zen books before.