Fr Thomas Plant, Anglican Priest and Comparative Theologian

Category: Japan

Christianity and True Pure Land Buddhism Kindle e-booklet: $2.99/£1.99

Buddha by Faith Alone?: True Pure Land Buddhism from a Christian perspective (Comparative Theology Essays Book 1) by [Plant, Thomas]

Why has True Pure Land Buddhism, the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, received so little attention in the West? And how might its founder Shinran Shonin’s teachings of salvation by ‘faith’ or ‘deep entrusting’ contribute to Christian disputes in a similar vein?
This small book outlines True Pure Land doctrine and draws on the theology of Dionysius the Areopagite to consider such questions and suggest how Christians might learn from and engage with Buddhism. Scholarly but readable, it will be of interest to general readers in Christianity and Buddhism, historians of the western reception of Buddhism, and anyone interested in comparative theology and inter-faith encounter.
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The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Thoughts on the Tsunami

I hope you will forgive me for a few words on wordlessness.

There is a strange kind of Christianity that always has a fixed smile on its face; the kind that thinks that people get what they deserve, that if you pray hard enough, everything will always be OK. I think the recent events in Japan should make us very sceptical of this kind of religion. It does not tie in with the deaths of thousands of innocent people. And it does not tie in with the words of Jesus himself, who taught that it rains on the just and the unjust alike. Even the book of the Bible that deals most explicitly with the problem of terrible things happening to good people, the Book of Job, is ultimately inconclusive. A Christianity that gives easy answers to painful questions does nobody any favours. Indeed, faith if anything should only make us question more deeply.

Nor does the idea that people get what they deserve tie in with the God who, we believe, knew suffering and torture on the Cross. One who knows a thousand loves knows a thousand sufferings; and we believe in a God who suffered precisely because He loves. When those we love suffer, we suffer too.

I cannot presume to speak for my Buddhist readers, and I hope that I do not speak out of turn. Please forgive me if anything I say is ignorant or simplistic; I speak with deepest respect. But during my studies, I have learnt much from the work of Shinran Shōnin, founder of the Jōdo Shinshū, Japan’s largest Buddhist school. In his view, the one who realises enlightenment, the end of suffering, returns in the Buddha’s great compassion to this world of suffering to guide others along the way. Indeed, Shinran believes that ultimate enlightenment can only be realised when all sentient beings have realised it. One person’s suffering will finally end only when all suffering has ended. This strikes me as great compassion indeed.

Such compassion was the theme of the Emperor of Japan, when he said on television yesterday: “I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.” ‘Compassion’ is simply the Latin word for the Greek ‘sympathy;’ and sympathy literally means ‘suffering together.’ Questions about why this has happened – angry questions, theological questions – have their place. But right now, the answer to the question, ‘where is your God now?’ will not be answered by engaging in verbal acrobatics to get Him off the hook. It will be answered only by showing compassion; by suffering with those who suffer, mourning with those who mourn, weeping with those who weep: because the Gospel of Christ, like the wisdom of the Buddha, is too deep to express with such blunt tools as words.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

St Stephen´s Anglican Church, Tokyo, Hatanodai: 聖三光教会

Another beautiful High Mass at this lively church. Having been to the consecration of the new church building some weeks ago, I was surprised to find myself at the 90th anniversary celebration of the church´s original foundation, for which Tom Foreman and I were invited to eat an excellent curry with the congregation.

This afternoon, we went to an intimate chamber concert in which the organist of the church, who is a professional pianist, and her husband, a cellist in the Tokyo Philharmonic, performed works ranging from Mozart through Rachmaninov to Brahms. The venue was the house of an academic whose late father was a celebrated architect. The house has a performance venue, replete with Yamaha grand piano and original modern art, where some twenty or so of us gathered for the performance. Afterwards, we were treated to wine and a buffet in the garden, which unusually for Tokyo featured a full swimming pool. All this was at the kind behest of the Kurogawas, the musicians, who invited us without charge. This is only one of many examples of Japanese kindness and interest in meeting foreign people. If only English people extended the same kindness to Asian visitors.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Autumn leaves on Mount Takao

A day trip to Mount Takao to look at the Autumn leaves.  Click to see the gallery. 

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Dancing dragons and fascists – a typical Tokyo Sunday

Japan’s still full of surprises. Wandering through Shinjuku yesterday, one of Tokyo’s busiest districts, I came across a traditional music group playing drum-‘n’-flute out of the back of a van while a man in an old-school dragon outfit danced around snapping his wooden teeth at frightened children. Round the next corner, a fascist rally was blaring out old marching tunes from their big black vans. I bought a pair of trousers from the Uniqlo there and caught the train home.


日 本はまだ時々驚かせる。昨日新宿に歩きながらトラックの中に伝統的な伎楽を弾いているフルートと太鼓のバンドを見た。すると、ある人は獅子舞と言う踊りを 踊って木の歯をカチッと鳴らして小さい子供を怖がれせていた。次の角に、右翼の黒いバスから戦争の演歌が鳴り響いてきた。心が困じてユニクロからズボンを 買ってから電車に乗って帰った。

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

A nice cup o’ tea


Contrary to Japanese sentiment, my blunt European palette had never been able to discern the nation’s mystical heart in a cup of tea. On tasting Shizuoka green tea this morning, though, I think I may have come a step closer to tisanical enlightenment. As one looks through the pond-green murk to the black heart of leaves that slides at the bottom of the cup, subtle flavours gradually emerge through the overall nutty plasticene aroma; on the tip of the tongue, something floral, rose or lavender, rolls back to almond and leaves a lasting freshness in the mouth until the next sip. Tastes rise and swirl like life’s episodes and emotions perceived through a glass darkly, hints of light refracted through an overall harmony of shadowy oneness. This very Japanese aesthetic could also be Christian. The plenitude of God’s confections and our fractured experience of them do not contradict His overall unity: taste and see, the Lord is good.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

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