Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals

Hardback: $52.00
ISBN-13: 9780824835354
Published: September 2011
You must register to use the waitlist feature. Please login or create an account
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824894184
Published: April 2022

Additional Information

280 pages
  • About the Book
  • Healing lies at the heart of Zen in the home, as Paula Arai discovered in her pioneering research on the ritual lives of Zen Buddhist laywomen. She reveals a vital stream of religious practice that flourishes outside the bounds of formal institutions through sacred rites that women develop and transmit to one another. Everyday objects and common materials are used in inventive ways. For example, polishing cloths, vivified by prayer and mantra recitation, become potent tools. The creation of beauty through the arts of tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry, and flower arrangement become rites of healing.

    Bringing Zen Home brings a fresh perspective to Zen scholarship by uncovering a previously unrecognized but nonetheless vibrant strand of lay practice. The creativity of domestic Zen is evident in the ritual activities that women fashion, weaving tradition and innovation, to gain a sense of wholeness and balance in the midst of illness, loss, and anguish. Their rituals include chanting, ingesting elixirs and consecrated substances, and contemplative approaches that elevate cleaning, cooking, child-rearing, and caring for the sick and dying into spiritual disciplines. Creating beauty is central to domestic Zen and figures prominently in Arai’s analyses. She also discovers a novel application of the concept of Buddha nature as the women honor deceased loved ones as “personal Buddhas.”

    One of the hallmarks of the study is its longitudinal nature, spanning fourteen years of fieldwork. Arai developed a “second-person,” or relational, approach to ethnographic research prompted by recent trends in psychobiology. This allowed her to cultivate relationships of trust and mutual vulnerability over many years to inquire into not only the practices but also their ongoing and changing roles. The women in her study entrusted her with their life stories, personal reflections, and religious insights, yielding an ethnography rich in descriptive and narrative detail as well as nuanced explorations of the experiential dimensions and effects of rituals.

    In Bringing Zen Home, the first study of the ritual lives of Zen laywomen, Arai applies a cutting-edge ethnographic method to reveal a thriving domain of religious practice. Her work represents an important contribution on a number of fronts—to Zen studies, ritual studies, scholarship on women and religion, and the cross-cultural study of healing.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Paula Arai, Author

      Paula Arai, the author of Women Living Zen: Japanese Buddhist Nuns, received her Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University under the mentorship of Masatoshi Nagatomi. She is an associate professor of religious studies at Louisiana State University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • In Bringing Zen Home, Arai shows, through her relationships with 12 Japanese Buddhist women over 14 years, that Soto Zen's teachings are also at the root of a paradigm for healing in the home.... This excellent ethnographic study has relevance beyond its field.
    • Essential reading for those who miss the perspective of Buddhist lay women in Japanese Buddhist studies; to overlook this aspect means to ignore an important part of contemporary Buddhism in Japan. Students and scholars of Buddhism, Zen, and ritual studies will leave this book with an enriched understanding of the diversity and complexity of Japanese contemporary Buddhism as well as on the healing function of rituals.
      Religious Studies Review
    • It’s glorious to hear all the voices in Bringing Zen Home—to feel the common yearnings, the different responses to them, and the ways that host and guest can blend into each other. These women’s prayers, their outer and inner pilgrimages, and their understandings have entered the vast net of interconnectedness, and we have the pleasure of receiving their communications, heart-mind to heart-mind.
      Shambhala Sun
    • Bringing Zen Home broadens our idea of Zen in a welcome and enlightening way. It also contributes significantly to a range of developing new academic fields, from women’s religious studies to the study of therapeutic ritual and everyday “domestic” religion. But this is not just a work of excellent and original scholarship; it is also a book of wisdom, the wisdom of generations of Japanese women who have found relief from their everyday sufferings in the “therapeutic” worldview and meditative ritual practices of Zen. The book is also written in a lucid and graceful style and so may well itself possess the “healing power” of drawing readers into a state of dokusho zanmai (reading samadhi).
      —New Zealand Journal of Asia Studies
    • Arai paints a vivid portrait of these religious lives, which are rich and complex and have resulted in the achievement of very high levels of Buddhist skill. The author conclusively demonstrates that these lay women practice a Sōtō Zen that, while different from the practice of nuns or monks, is just as sophisticated and—given that the majority of Zen practitioners in Japan are lay people—is more genuinely popular than monastic Buddhism in Japan today.
      —Gina Cogan, Boston University, Monumenta Nipponica, 67:2 (2012)
    • This book speaks to two main audiences: those interested in gender and religion and those interested in Japanese religion and culture, especially the role of Zen Buddhism in that culture.... The book is... a rich representation of the subtleties of Japanese religious culture, which are very difficult to capture in book format.
      Rita Goss, University of Wisconsin
    • Arai paints a fascinating picture of the lives of her consociates. The close relationships she developed with these women enable her to describe in detail not only their ritual practices, but their everyday lives, their struggles, and their creative pursuits, making this work an important contribution to the growing body of literature on contemporary Zen.... Bringing Zen Home should be of interest not only to scholars in Japanese Buddhism, but also to those interested in ritual studies and in the relationship between religion and healing.
      Gina Cogan, Boston University
    • Written in an affective, poetic prose, Arai's book explores the private "healing rituals" of contemporary Japanese laywomen.... [T]he book will be very accessible to readers without any background knowledge of Buddhism or Japanese culture, and may be of interest to those curious about the potential medical effects of religious practice. It will also be valuable for scholars or laypersons interested in learning about how Zen doctrine plays out in everyday contexts, in what we might call the "practical theology" of laywomen and nuns in contemporary Japan.
      Jessica Starling, University of Virginia
    • This book is a rich ethnographic study on the religious practices of twelve devoted Japanese Buddhist women associated with the Aichi Zen nunnery in Nagoya....Bringing Home Zen is an essential reading for those who miss the perspective of Buddhist laywomen in Japanese Buddhist studies; to overlook this aspect means to ignore an important part of contemporary Buddhism in Japan. Students and scholars of Buddhism, Zen, and ritual studies will leave this book with an enriched understanding of the diversity and complexity of Japanese contemporary Buddhism as well as on the healing function of rituals.
      Michaela Mross, LMU Munich/Komazawa University
  • Supporting Resources