Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


Blown by the Wind of Amida's Vow
Alfred Bloom
American Buddhist Study Center Publications
New York 2008

This book is an autobiography by Shin Buddhist teacher, scholar and prolific author Professor Alfred Bloom. 'A Life of Serendipity' is a great title for an autobiography and is a description really of all our lives. Where we live, what career path we follow, who we spend our life with are issues we make choices about, but our choices are conditioned by our biological and social circumstances - our karma if you like. We act on what is presented to us in reality and in imagination and since our own and other peoples karma is unknowable to we bonbu, we may as well call it serendipity. Certainly it is due to unknowably good karmic circumstances that we come to hear Amida Buddha's calling voice. Also, as Bloom Sensei points out, when one considers the journey of one's life - how one thing leads to another, how strangers become friends and how even strangers and 'enemies' lead and teach - the concept of interdependence becomes a reality.

Bloom Sensei's background was unique from the start. His grandparents on both sides were Jewish and his mother was a Christian fundamentalist! He followed his mother's faith and ended up taking his first degree - in Theology - from a conservative Baptist University. It seems that Bloom was a rather sceptical fundamentalist even at this stage and was often in a degree of trouble for that. It took many more years though, and more study and life experience before he finally left Christianity behind. Long before all that though Bloom volunteered to join the U.S. Army during World War Two, and, it seems, fell into the study of the Japanese language which led to time in post-war Japan. This experience eventually opened up the main part of his academic career and put him in the position to hear Amida's call. All of this is serendipitous. A less inquisitive, less open minded man may have missed all these opportunities.

Like most lives Bloom's life has not followed a clear or easy path. He had a successful academic career (his list of publications at the end of the book demonstrates that) and he also cared about teaching and experimented with various ways of going about it. He was socially active, probably confrontingly so by my reading. Bloom and family had to relocate a number of times and had their share domestic difficulties. What stands out though is Bloom's appreciation of his family and of a circle of friends that widens steadily with each phase of his life.

Although Bloom introduces the Shin Buddhist teachings at various stages of the narrative of his life, my only criticism of the book is that I did not get any sense of the feelings with which he left Christianity behind and heard Amida's call. For Shin Buddhists like me who respect Bloom Sensei's contribution to Shin Buddhism and want to learn more about him the details of his conversion experience do not have to be articulated, but if the book were to appeal to a wider readership at least some of the emotion should be revealed. This is, however, a charming and easy to read memoir of a warm and interesting man and important teacher.

- Mark Healsmith

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