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Since Zen Buddhism first captivated the attention of Western seekers the dominant discourse about this sect has been romantic, idealistic, and utopian. The essence of Zen has been described as ineffable, wholistic, and promoting social harmony. In recent years, however, some scholars have begun to examine Zen through the lenses of historical and cultural criticism, producing a sharp challenge to the traditional view. These clashing viewpoints are now entrenched in two warring camps, and their exponents talk past each other with virtually no constructive interaction. In this book, Steven Heine argues that a constructive compromise is possible. He focuses on three principal areas of disagreement: (1) the role of language and discourse in a tradition that claims to be 'outside words and letters,' yet has produced a voluminous body of texts, (2) the function of rituals and objects of worship to gain world benefit in a tradition supposedly founded on unmediated experience attained in an iconoclastic and ascetic environment, (3) the impact of a tradition that espouses peace and harmony on social issues such as class and gender discrimination and on nationalism and imperialism in Japan. Avoiding the stagnant polarization that characterizes most encounters between Zen traditionalists and their critics, he suggests ways in which these two perspectives can complement each other in a more balanced and nuanced alternative position.
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In each chapter he [Heine] brings to attention a number of examples that playfully juxtapose both sides of the story..By bringing together discussions about literature, ritual and ethics in one book, Heine portrays Zen as a multidimensional, multivocal tradition...[this is] an excellent contribution to scholarship...[which] contains a number of engaging observations (Brian Black, Times Higher Education Supplement)About the Author:
Steven Heine, Professor and Director of Asian Studies at Florida International University, is an authority on Japanese religion and society, especially the history of Zen Buddhism and its relation to culture in China and Japan. He has published over a dozen books, including Zen Classics and Zen Ritual, coedited with Dale S. Wright.
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