Book Hunting

A huge part of my becoming Buddhist in my 20s was discovering used book stores. I read books up until that point, but used book stores a) made books more affordable, and b) opened up a treasure hunt for unusual, rare and out of print books. It became a quest, almost a thirst, for knowledge and understanding. I think the first stores I found were in Harvard Square, but I quickly found other ones, as far away as Amherst, Massachusetts – Raven Books was one of my favorites.

I don’t buy nearly as many books anymore – I have too many, they take up too much space, etc. But scanning and the ability to read PDFs on my computer or iPad means that I can still read without having more physical books to clutter up my house. Also, you can mark them in Adobe Reader and not feel like you are defacing the precious pages.

Some books are essential but very hard to find – one such book is Allen A. Andrews’s The Teachings Essential for Rebirth: A Study of Genshin’s Ojoyoshu (sorry, I’m leaving out the diacriticals on that one). Every temple library I go into, I look for it, but I haven’t found one yet. The Institute of Buddhist Studies copy was stolen a long time ago. I had almost given up hope, but finally came across one!


Genshin is one of the Seven Masters of Jodo Shinshu, selected by Shinran Shonin. He quotes passages from this work in his Kyogyoshinsho, and composed wasans (“hymns”) about him as well. Though he doesn’t appear to have as much doctrinal impact on Shinran as some of the other masters (such as Vasubandhu, T’an-luan, and Shan-tao), Shinran does offer this nice paraphrase of a section of the Ojoyoshu in both his “Shoshinge” and Koso Wasan, so I will finish with this:

The evil person just has to say the Buddha’s Name.
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp,
The kleshas obstruct my eyes and I cannot see this;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.

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