Series Four Volume 1

Review: Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Contexts

Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Contexts: An Anthology. Edited by Georgios T. Halkias and Richard K. Payne. University of Hawaii Press, 2019. 808 pages. $85.00 (hardcover). ISBN 9780824873097.

Edward Arnold

Columbia University

Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Contexts may be one of the few edited collections offering heterogeneity as its organizing principle, doubtless due to the well founded presumption that the reader’s brain will automatically translate, because of unconscious expectations, heterogeneity into homogeneity: “pure lands” into “Pure Land” and “Asian” into “Japanese,” the latter all but redundant. It is these sorts of reflexive associations, or exclusions, this volume counters, particularly—though not quite explicitly—with its inclusion of selections drawn from traditions outside East Asia. This collection problematizes the essentialized character of “Pure Land” (upper case, singular) in ways that scholars have done with “Buddhism” in recent decades, with an attention to local forms and praxis. The volume’s heterogeneity, of course, is not without limits: the editors determine its structure in thematic coherence as a means to display commonalities across Buddhist histories in which social forces and political pressures have been more important than any putative doctrinal orthodoxy. As a result, neither Sukhāvatī nor Amitābha/Amida is the inevitable focus, nor do we find only other pure lands and other buddhas represented. Rather, central are individual actors—some known, others unknown—and the historical contexts they represent, persons for whom and contexts in which such lands and buddhas were objects of contestation or veneration and ritual concern as well as, and perhaps most importantly, innovation within claims to authority.

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