Secrecy’s Power

Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment

Clark Chilson

Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2014. xv+242 pages.

For centuries throughout Japan, covert Shin Buddhists met in homes, the backrooms of stores, and on secluded mountains. In these undisclosed places they taught their hidden doctrines and conducted secret rites. Among their adherents was D. T. Suzuki’s mother, who took her son to covert Shin meetings when he was a boy.

Although historians thought covert Shin Buddhists had disappeared before the mid-twentieth century, the author serendipitously encountered a group that survives today. This led him to discover that a variety of covert Shin Buddhist groups still conceal from outsiders the very existence of their religion.

Drawing on historical and ethnographic sources, as well as the author’s fieldwork among a covert Shin Buddhists in central Japan, Secrecy’s Power introduces the histories, doctrines, and practices of different covert Shin Buddhists. It shows how and why they have concealed their Shin traditions and the effects secrecy has had. In doing so, Secrecy’s Power indicates how Shin Buddhism is a richer, more diverse, and more contested tradition than commonly depicted. It also reveals how secrecy has the power to produce multiple consequences, even polar opposite ones, among those who keep secrets.

University of Hawai’i Press, 2014