In the prologue to American Sutra, A Story of Truth and Freedom in the Second World War, Dr. Rev. William asks:
“Although there are many insightful works on the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II, Buddhism remains a neglected aspect of that history.“
In American Sutra Rev. Williams does a lot to fill that gap and lets Japanese Americans themselves tell the story of Buddhism during WW2, one that has largely been buried and one which this work does much to illuminate.
Rev. Williams was inspired more than seventeen years ago, when he was asked by the widow of his college advisor, Prof. Masatoshi Nagatomi, to translate some Japanese documents. Among them, he discovers some that belong to his advisor’s father, including drafts of Buddhist sermons he had delivered in 1942 while imprisoned in Manzanar.
As he translated these documents, his advisor’s widow, Masumi shared her own stories as a ten-year girl in Madera, CA, facing incarceration.
It is to the memory of Prof. and Mrs. Nagatomi that Rev. Williams dedicates American Sutra.
Documents and stories such as these, Rev. Williams explains “make it possible for us to understand how the faith of these Buddhists gave them purpose and meaning at a time of loss, uncertainty, dislocation and deep questioning of their place in the world. Their religious faith might have contributed to their loss of freedom, but it was also indispensable to their attempts to endure that loss.”
I’ve only read the prologue to American Sutra and am anxious to learn more about how JA Buddhists and Buddhism together survived the WW2 experience and in this process transformed one another. This is, as Rev. Williams intends, is an American Sutra, a story of how Buddhism came to America, of how it changed and how it transformed Japanese Americans and all who heard the Dharma.
I hope everyone will consider enjoying this unique opportunity to hear Dr. Rev. Duncan Williams, February 17, at 10 am, when he will be the guest speaker at our service.
Comments by Keith Kojimoto