Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada

Article excerpt

Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada Edited by John S. Harding, Victor Sogen Hori, and Alexander Soucy. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014, xxii + 445 pages, ISBN 9780773543379 (hardback), $100 CAD; 9780773543386 (paperback), $29.95 CAD; 9780773590489 (ePDF) and 9780773590496 (ePUB), $16.17 USD for individuals on Google eBooks (available elsewhere at differing price points).

The study of Buddhism in Canada is still in its infancy," state the editors of Flowers on the Rock, and it is hard to dispute that assertion (3). Thankfully, though, the baby has at least been born, in no small part through the continuing efforts of John Harding, Victor Hori, Alexander Soucy, and the various contributors represented in this book. Flowers on the Rock is best understood as the second volume in a single work-the first volume being the editors' book Wild Geese: Buddhism in Canada (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011), which I reviewed for the Journal of Global Buddhism in 2011. That review praised the first volume but also noted some missing pieces, such as work on vipassana and a relative lack of attention to women. Both of those are covered in this second volume, along with many other fascinating topics.

I wish to state up front as a reviewer that I'm entangled in this project in various ways: I was invited to contribute to the 2010 conference from which this second volume was partially crafted (but had to decline due to a prior commitment); I was invited to contribute a chapter to Flowers on the Rock (but did not have an appropriate research project ready within the editors' necessary timeframe); and one of the contributors (Fenn) is the chair of my department, another is a graduate of the PhD program that I run (Mitra, though I was not closely involved in his training), and I have intersected with others in various professional ways as well. Furthermore, certain essays in Flowers on the Rock respond directly (at times, critically) to my observations on the first volume, as we will see shortly. These are natural conditions when a new subfield is brought into the world: there are only a handful of midwives, and we must all work together or risk stillbirth. I pointed all of these out to the journal's book review editor when I was approached to do this review, but was told to go ahead anyway. Given the impossibility of a fully neutral outside stance in these circumstances, I will drop that pretense and opt instead to locate my positionality overtly for the reader. Readers may wish to keep such connections-and the possible biases and blind spots that may flow from them-in mind as they consider this review.

The introduction to Flowers on the Rock rehearses what are by now familiar critiques of earlier models of scholarship, ones which centered on analyses of Buddhism in the United States by relying on dichotomies built around supposed ethnic/convert or traditionalist/modernist splits in the Buddhist community. This ground was already covered in Hori's essay in Wild Geese, and curiously, almost no examples of apparently flawed scholarship are cited in the advancement of this critique. The effect of these facts is a creeping feeling that a dead horse is perhaps being beaten, and I fear that this may mean that the criticism of weaknesses in these models is moving beyond careful dissection and reconsideration toward a new "political correctness" that rejects such models as improper for any researcher to work with. Although my own work has frequently been critical of the difficulties-and in some cases cultural prejudices-in much "two Buddhisms" scholarship, I would object to the establishment of it as taboo for three reasons. First, as a scholar I believe we need the freedom to pursue the theoretical lenses that seem best to each of us in relation to each specific project we undertake, and I am slow to support the implicit blacklisting of any theory. I am not certain that this is actually what the editors seek; rather, I raise it because it is one possible consequence of their line of argumentation. …

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