anthology, n. a collection of literary pieces, especially poems, of varied authorship. (Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary)
The wonderful thing about anthologies is their durability. You can read good anthologies over and over again. And you can pick them up in idle moments and savour–and reflect upon–cherished passages.
In my view, the finest of all anthologies is Shinran Shonin’s remarkable, timeless and wonderful work A Collection of Passages Revealing The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation of the Pure Land Way, commonly known as the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho.
In his biography of Shinran (Shinran: His Life and Thought) Norihiko Kikumura reflects, at some length, on aspects of the teaching that is propounded in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho but eventually seems to feel defeated by it. He muses,
It is not easy to answer the question, “What is the Kyogyoshinsho about?” (p. 155)
This is a strange question because Shinran tells us precisely what it is about in the title: Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyo Gyo Sho Monrui. It is a ‘collection of passages’–an anthology–that reveal the true teaching, practice and enlightenment of the Pure Land way.
From the time of Shan-tao (813-861) the ‘true Pure Land way’ has been succinctly defined as ‘nembutsu jobutsu kore shinshu’: ‘to become Buddha through the nembutsu is the true teaching’. So, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is a collection of edited and annotated quotations revealing the true way of nembutsu.
If we approach the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho with Shinran’s stated purpose from the title in mind, it becomes a truly valuable resource, which contains the essentials of the entire Pure Land tradition from Shakyamuni Buddha to Shinran himself; mostly in the form of quotations from the writings of our revered Dharma masters. In that way it serves as a treasury of insight and of spiritual refreshment.
Another great anthology is of much more recent provenance. This is Buddha Dharma, the Way to Enlightenment, which was first published in English by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai in 1984, followed by a new edition with an index and glossary in 2003. To my mind this is an essential resource. It contains long quotations from the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha that have been handed down to us in the Buddhist Canon (tripitaka).
Still more recently comes a delightful brand new anthology by the Reverend John Paraskevopoulos, a Shin Buddhist minister who lives in Canberra. This is The Fragrance of Light, A Journey into Buddhist Wisdom. It was published only last year by Sophia Perennis.
Its title comes from the Surangama Samadhi Sutra
Sentient beings who are mindful of Amida Buddha are like persons who, imbued with incense, bear its fragrance on their bodies; hence, they are called ‘those adorned with the fragrance of light.’
Wonderfully accessible, this anthology is divided into four sections that lead us from the perplexing and difficult realities of human existence, through the source of emancipation to Amida Buddha and the Pure Land. It is a priceless new resource that will delight and inspire you.
The words of sages, ancient and modern, are here in this book, and you will be guided on your way by the gentle counsel of the author as you reach the crest of each wave in your journey.