Rev. Taitetsu Unno is part of an esteemed family of Shin Buddhist teachers, priests, and scholars. So it's not surprising that someone of his background should create one of the best introductory texts on the subject.
This book's title comes from a Pure Land parable which encapsulates the premise of faith in "other power", namely that of Amida Buddha, which can best be described as the 'ur-Buddha' from whom all Dharmic wisdom and compassion springs. Specifically, Rev. Unno is writing here about the Jodo Shinshu school, one of the great schools of Japanese Buddhism which sprang from the Kamakura period of that nation's history, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Jodo Shinshu is, in fact, one of the largest sects of Mahayana Buddhism, but in the West is little-known outside of the Japanese ethnic community. But despite this ethnic concentration, the Shin faith is more or less a "Buddhism for Joe Average", irrespective of ones' skin color or land of origin.
The book is very well-written, and also well-organized given the amount...and often, complexity...of the information it imparts. Rev. Unno deftly opens up the teachings of Jodo Shinshu to anyone who might wish to learn, or for that matter might simply be curious. He deals excellently with both the historical perspective of this school, as well as the more complex philosophical issues posed by the Nembutsu-faith as well as its place in the mainstream of Mahayana thought.
Shin Buddhism is truly a faith that anyone can follow, without the complexities of what is referred to as "the path of difficult practice". And likewise, "River of Fire, River of Water" provides an uncomplex point of entry into this rich and enriching path. For anyone starting down this path, I would have to say that this...along with Dr. Kenneth Tanaka's "Ocean"...makes for an excellent point from which to begin. I recommend it unconditionally.
I used to look down on Pure Land Buddhism. This book turned my views all the way around. Tai Unno is a former college professor of Buddhist Studies and a very warm, admirable man. In "River of Fire, River of Water" he presents the heart of the Shin Buddhist path, a 800-year-old tradition of purely lay-oriented Buddhism (as opposed to the monastic-oriented traditions of Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan Vajrayana). Unno shows how Shin Buddhism aims to awaken the ordinary person in their everyday life, discovering wisdom and compassion through the difficulties and mistakes of parenthood, jobs, taxes, family life, etc. His book is accessible, personable, and spiritually insightful, well-balanced between the head of intellectual rigor and the heart of true entrusting in the awesome power of the Dharma to enlighten even the most confused, worldy person.