Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, Mochizuki


I am very pleased to announce that Shinkō Mochizuki’s famous work Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, is now available in English translation through the Institute of Buddhist Studies’ Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Studies Series. The work will soon be available for $79.00 from University of Hawai’i Press, which markets and distributes volumes in the series. The work is in two volumes:

Volume I: Translation, xv + 680

Volume II: Supplemental Essays and Appendices, xi + 231, includes four important essays by  leading scholars in each of the four areas covered:

  1. “Mochizuki Shinkō: Historical and Intellectual Contexts” by Daniel Getz
  2. “Chinese Scholarship on Pure Land Buddhism in China” by Charles B. Jones
  3. “Scholarship on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism Since Mochizuki: Japanese Sources” by Mark L. Blum
  4. “English-Language Sources on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism: A Bibliographic Essay” by Scott A. Mitchell

These provide context for the translation and bring it up to date regarding the extensive scholarship that has been done since Mochizuki’s writing. Also included are appendices that allow for conversion between Pinyin and Wade-Giles for names and manuscripts, and an index.

Leo Pruden had translated the work into English in 1982, and shortly after becoming Dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, I discovered two copies of the typescript of Pruden’s translation in a rarely used store room at the IBS building. I began editing the work with the idea of publishing it chapter by chapter in our journal Pacific World. In the face of other institutional demands, this proved to be an overly optimistic plan, and was abandoned after a few chapters. This was actually quite fortunate as the current version has benefited greatly from the expertise of my co-editor, Natalie Quli, and the many others who contributed to revising, correcting, and updating the translation. My thanks to all of them, but with special thanks to Natalie without whom this project could never have been completed.

Originally published in 1942 as Chūgoku Jōdo kyōrishi (中国浄土経りし), it is a compilation of a series of lectures. The style of the work is rather in keeping with the fact that Mochizuki was the editor of a large Japanese language encyclopedia of Buddhism, that is, it is long on facts, dates, names, titles of works and so on, and short on theory or analysis. Rather than dismissing the work as (out-)dated because of this style, we can look at it as an example of a different kind of historiography from that which is common in the US today.

Doctoral students in the US are usually informed today that their work needs to relate to some broader issue, something actively under discussion by members of the field of study. (One can add sotto voce that this is what “theory” means.) This is why, for example, at most universities in the US translating a work is not considered adequate as a doctoral project. Other questions need to be asked, and answered: why is the work important? what does it add to our knowledge of the field of study? what does the work tell us about the historical context within which it was written? what does the historical context tell us about the work? how does it relate to issues being discussed in conjoint fields of study? and so on.

Quite evidently, Mochizuki was not operating under such an expectation. In an important sense, that makes the work more durable as a resource than it might have been were it limited by some theoretical issue that loses currency.

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