Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart  of Japanese Women's Rituals
280pp. September 2011
Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women's Rituals
Author: Arai, Paula;
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.

16 illus.

“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 (39:1, March 2013)

“This excellent ethnographic study has relevance beyond its field.” —Choice (49:8, April 2012)

“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 (March 2012)
Author: Arai, Paula;
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.
Read Chapter 1 (PDF).
Foreword by Nara Komyo Yasuaki 

Chapter 1. Mapping the Terrain  
Chapter 2. The Way of Healing: Yudo 
Chapter 3. Personal Buddhas: Living with Loss and Grief 
Chapter 4. Domestic Zen: Living Esoteric Wisdom 
Chapter 5. The Healing Power of Beauty 
Chapter 6. Revealing the Healing Realm of Zen 

Kanji Glossary 
Bibliography of Sources Cited