by Michael Sheehy
How we have received and continue to interpret Buddhism through European lenses is the subject of The Cult of Emptiness (University Media 2012), which presents us with a glimpse into the European discovery of Buddhism. The author, Urs App, explores and narrates this history, beginning with sixteenth-century Jesuit and Christian missionaries who encountered Zen Buddhists in Japan. App looks at how these encounters shaped the invention of a unified “Oriental philosophy,” an atheistic doctrine of nothingness that was attributed to the Buddha and thought to originate in Egypt. Bringing to light new sources for the study of these encounters, we see how the history of Buddhism was rewritten by the Church. The story of what was known about Buddhism and how that knowledge was manipulated, not to mention how it informs our perceptions of Buddhism today, makes for a fascinating read.
In Love, Roshi (SUNY 2012), Helen Baroni studies letters that the late American Zen master Robert Aitken Roshi received from people seeking his friendship and guidance and the lettershe wrote in reply. One of the first Americans to study Zen in Japan after World War II, Aitken became something of a towering figure in American Zen and was sought out by many. Between 1968 and 2002, he received 261 letters from strangers requesting his counsel on matters ranging from feeling isolated as a practitioner to being disillusioned with one’s teacher. Baroni chose not to include the letters themselves but rather to use them as a way to highlight the issues that Aitken was responding to.
Excerpted from the Spring 2013 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, available on newsstands and by subscription.
Michael Sheehy Ph.D. is the head of research at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and the director of the Jonang Foundation.