The People's Zen

What it really looked like

Jeff Wilson

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The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan
Duncan Ryuken Williams
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004
241 pp.; $49.50 (cloth)

Duncan Williams is a Soto Zen priest and one of America’s leading scholarly experts on Zen Buddhism. His new book, The Other Side of Zen, is a highly interesting look at how Soto Zen grew from just a few thousand temples in the early 1500s to more than 17,500 by the early 1700s, the most of any single sect. As he demonstrates, the explosive growth of Soto Zen was not connected to the writings of Dogen, nor to the practice of zazen. Rather, Zen’s success was due to the way in which it provided ritual and magic functions that promised happiness in the afterlife and health and fortune in this life.

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