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BOOKS: 'My Heart Sutra,' by Frederik L. Schodt

A superficially nihilistic Buddhist vision may be perfect for our confused times

As Frederik L. Schodt explains in his book "My Heart Sutra," the Heart Sutra -- a core Buddhist teaching -- is everywhere in modern Japan, from towels to T-shirts to TV shows. Right: A statue of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion and the narrator of the Heart Sutra. (Courtesy of Frederik L. Schodt)

In December 1980, just days before his murder, John Lennon took part in a photo shoot in New York City. In one image, captured by photographer Bob Gruen, Lennon wears a jacket with a sleeve embroidered with the kanji (Chinese characters) that form the opening of the Heart Sutra, a core Buddhist teaching.

Dabbling with Eastern religions was nothing unusual in the Western counterculture, and The Beatles had played a pioneering role with their highly publicized trip to India. But to Yoko Ono, walking alongside Lennon in the photo, and to the designer of that jacket, Kansai Yamamoto, the Heart Sutra would have been no more exotic than the King James Bible is in America.

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