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The Lost Way to the Good
My latest book on Christian Platonism and Buddhism, reviewed in First Things
Paschal greetings! I’m delighted to let you know that my book on Christian Platonism and Japanese Buddhism has just received a very warm review from Rex Bradshaw in First Things:
The Lost Way to the Good:
Dionysian Platonism, Shin Buddhism, and the Shared Quest to Reconnect a Divided World
by Thomas Plant
Angelico, 270 pages, $20
We all know the statistics. The Industrial Revolution not only reconfigured social and family life; it brought with it a dramatic improvement in what we call “standards of living.” By and large it has made us, if not exactly happy, at least comfortable beyond the dreams of our ancestors. This fact alone makes it difficult to articulate persuasively why we should care whether we have lost something, let alone what cannot be measured by mouth or eye, in our ruthless pursuit of efficiency and individual liberation.
Thomas Plant’s The Lost Way to the Good does many things. It weaves together personal narrative, concise but lucid summaries of Neoplatonic and True Pure Land Buddhist thought and practice, sorties against the grotesqueries of secular modernity, and a familiar narrative of intellectual decline. In the process, Plant adds his voice to a growing chorus which tells us we must care, we must find the “Lost Way,” or we are doomed. What makes Plant unusual is that his vision of cultural renewal hinges on inter-religious solidarity. Chaplain to Japan’s most distinguished Anglican university, Plant believes the magnitude of the disaster of secular modernity requires us not only to rediscover our own Great Tradition (Platonism), but to find truth in other religious visions of the Good.
This statement must be qualified by Plant’s orthodoxy: He claims no esoteric equivalence between the Christianity of Pseudo-Dionysius and the Buddhism of Shinran, only analogous structures of thought which can be placed in fruitful and mutually enriching dialogue. Both, he argues, posit a kenotic, fully transcendent reality at the root of being that can be addressed through nembutsu, or what Dionysius calls “hymning.” Together with Shin Buddhists, Christian Platonists can offer a true alternative to the spiritual wasteland of secularism, and in the process, re-enchant and revivify their own traditions. The Lost Way to the Good stocks no silver bullets—the Good cannot be bound by our exigencies—but it embodies the best of a thoughtful eclecticism, animated by the conviction that lost paths can again be found.