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Buddhaland Brooklyn

Some time ago, Alma Books very kindly sent us two copies of Buddhaland Brooklyn (Richard C Morais) to read and to mention on atsukojoe. Actually we both read, and Atsuko wrote her review of, this book a couple of weeks ago but a sudden work-trip away has meant that I’ve neglected to post this until now… Apologies to Alma books for being slightly slow.

Atsuko’s thoughts beneath the pictures below…

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Buddhaland Brooklyn Review
Atsuko Keating

A young Japanese boy, Seido Oda, born and raised in a small village in Japan, was chosen to be an acolyte at the Head Temple of the Headwater sect. The author Richard C. Morais depicts Oda’s journey to become a Buddhist priest in Brooklyn New York, which is filled with tragic events and human drama. This tale of discovery is led through Oda’s eyes and we are guided to experience his life in Japan and New York; his personal experience and religious views.

Morais chose a very challenging topic: a story of Buddhism in America told by a Japanese monk, written by an American author. As someone who grew up in Japan, knowing Buddhism at first hand, I could not help finding it somewhat suspicious and possibly even slightly offensive. However, as Morais pointed out at the end of his book, this is total fiction and he simply used his wild imagination. His imagination does include very convincing descriptions of Japanese culture, especially Seido Oda’s childhood in Japan was well captured with some great details. The depiction of landscape and sense of smell in the small village Oda grew up in was refreshing to read.

What interested me most is how this whole story represents ‘limits’ and ‘boundaries’ between the two cultures. Some of the conflicts between Reverend Oda and his believers capture the point well; how can the Headwater Sect doctrine be eternal and universally enlightening yet the format of its ritual seems entirely specific to Japanese, and exclusive to others? These arguments give Oda some understanding of American culture and he reflects on his own arrogance and his inflexibility of mind. But making the doctrine completely open and easy-access to all is not quite right, and Oda struggles to balance his pure vision of Buddhism with the more superficial hopes and blessings that the Americans try to receive from him. While some Americans continue pursuing Buddhism for economical benefits and good fortune, Oda keeps his teachings on a human level: he tries to understand and help them all.

It all sounds cohesive as Oda proceeds with his discovery in New York, however he often appears completely irrational. One of the female believers comes to him for comfort, not for religious reasons but with sexual desire. After finding out that she is interested in men in general, Oda utters “Man is like peanut. You can’t stop eating peanut?” It is hard to understand that this is the same Buddhist priest who argues cultural boundaries with believers and teaches doctrine to hundreds of Americans. Furthermore, when Oda’s superior comes to New York for the temple opening, his superior says, “they are such bizarre people” looking at Americans; it is these details that significantly reduce the depth of the story.

There are some interesting sections in the story, however, the author himself greatly suffers the ‘limits’ and ‘boundaries’ between the two countries.

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