Secrecy’s Power: Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment

Hardback: $42.00
ISBN-13: 9780824838393
Published: July 2014

Additional Information

264 pages
  • About the Book
  • Shin has long been one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. As a devotional tradition that emphasizes gratitude and trust in Amida Buddha, it is thought to have little to do with secrecy. Yet for centuries, Shin Buddhists met on secluded mountains, in homes, and in the backrooms of stores to teach their hidden doctrines and hold clandestine rites. Among their adherents was D. T. Suzuki’s mother, who took her son to covert Shin meetings when he was a boy.

    Even among Shin experts, covert followers were relatively unknown; historians who studied them claimed they had disappeared more than a century ago. A serendipitous encounter, however, led to author Clark Chilson’s introduction to the leader of a covert Shin Buddhist group—one of several that to this day conceal the very existence of their beliefs and practices. In Secrecy’s Power Chilson explains how and why they have remained hidden.

    Drawing on historical and ethnographic sources, as well as fieldwork among covert Shin Buddhists in central Japan, Secrecy’s Power introduces the histories, doctrines, and practices of different covert Shin Buddhists. It shows how, despite assumptions to the contrary, secrecy has been a significant part of Shin’s history since the thirteenth century, when Shinran disowned his eldest son for claiming secret knowledge. The work also demonstrates how secrecy in Shin has long been both a source of conflict and a response to it. Some covert Shin Buddhists were persecuted because of their secrecy, while others used it to protect themselves from persecution under rulers hostile to Shin.

    Secrecy’s Power is a groundbreaking work that makes an important contribution to our knowledge on secrecy and Shin Buddhism. Organized around the various consequences concealment has had for covert Shin Buddhists, it provides new insights into the power of secrecy to produce multiple effects—even polar opposite ones. It also sheds light on ignored corners of Shin Buddhism to reveal a much richer, more diverse, and more contested tradition than commonly is understood.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Clark Chilson, Author

      Clark Chilson is assistant professor of religion at Pacific Lutheran University.
    • Paul L. Swanson, Series Editor

      Paul L. Swanson is a Permanent Research Fellow at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Nanzan University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Research on obscure religious groups like covert Shin can easily yield studies that are interesting exercises in thick description but that have little to say to those in other fields. Chilson, however, has succeeded in writing an engaging historical and ethnographic account that meaningfully relates his findings to theoretical concerns in the study of secrecy and covert religious groups more generally. This brief review can reveal only a few of the many fascinating insights this book contains.
      —Journal of Religion
    • In this extraordinary book, Chilson has lifted the veil of secrecy of one of many covert Shin groups, the Urahōmon. [This book] provides new and fresh insight into the power of secrecy to produce multiple effects. It also sheds light on an ignored dimension of Shin’s history as a means of revealing a much richer and diverse Shin Buddhist tradition than has been to this date understood.
      —Religious Studies Review
    • A work of staggering scholarship, Secrecy’s Power – an undertaking requiring a mind-bending grasp of Japanese religious terminology and nomenclature – represents a milestone in the study of covert Buddhist groups, not so much for what it tells us, but for what it pointedly omits.
      —Japan Times
    • Chilson skillfully weaves issues related to concealment into the fabric of each chapter, explaining how the case studies he presents illustrate this or that function or consequence of secrecy. This book will be of particular interest to those researching or interested in Jōdo shin shū (Japanese True Pure Land Buddhism), secrecy in religion, secret societies
      —New Books Network
    • This is an intelligent book, well-written and meticulously researched, which merits a wide readership.
      —Journal of Religious History
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