Recently I was looking for some inspiration and pulled an old book from my bookshelf that I hadn’t read in many years: The Way to Buddhahood by the late Ven. Yin-Shun. Yin-Shun (印順, 1906-2005) was a major influence on the revival and reform of Buddhism in Taiwan, and Chinese Buddhism as a whole. I found his book many years from a used bookstore online, and I knew none of this at the time.
Back then, I was still pretty new to Buddhism and hungry for information, so I managed to read this book from start to finish. It’s a large tome, so it took me a few months to read through it, but it was a big influence on me. Looking back, I think this book is still one of the biggest influences on my Buddhist outlook of things, though it has little in common with the training I’ve been doing lately.
Yin-Shun’s book was written, I believe, for Chinese not Western audiences, so he doesn’t sugar-coat or explain away things like demons, Buddhist deities, etc. Also, unlike some books geared toward Western audiences, he doesn’t shy away from the precepts, including celibacy (for monastics or those taking the Eight Precepts). In one sense, it is a very traditional, mainland Asian version of Buddhism that might intimidate Western converts who are new to Buddhism.
At the same time, what makes those so valuable to Western Buddhists is the incredible depth and breadth of the book. Yin-Shun was a lifelong, committed scholar and revived interest in the Agamas (the Mahayana equivalent of the Theravadin Pali Canon), and so this book covers just about every possible topic in Buddhism in a single, cohesive structure. So, while Yin-Shun has a traditional Buddhist education, he was a modernist and reformer at the same time.
Ven. Yin-Shun was a big influence in modern, Chinese Buddhism but remains largely unknown in Western Buddhist culture. I am thankful I found this book though when I did because it has provided an important foundation to Buddhist religion in my life and I hope more and more Westerners get a chance to learn from Ven. Yin-Shun.