Zen Master Tales: Stories from the Lives of Taigu, Sengai, Hakuin, and Ryokan (Paperback)
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A lively collection of folk tales and Buddhist teaching stories from four noted premodern Japanese Zen masters: Taigu Sôchiku (1584–1669), Sengai Gibon (1750-1831), Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), and Taigu Ryôkan (1758-1831).
Zen Master Tales collects never before translated stories of four prominent Zen masters from the Edo period of Japanese history (1603-1868). Drawn from an era that saw the “democratization” of Japanese Zen, these stories paint a picture of robust, funny, and poignant engagement between Zen luminaries and the emergent chоnin or “townsperson” culture of early modern Japan. Here we find Zen monks engaging with samurai, merchants, housewives, entertainers, and farmers. These masters affirmed that the essentials of Zen practice—zazen, koan study, even enlightenment—could be conveyed to all members of Japanese society in ordinary speech, including even comic verse and work songs. Against the backdrop of this rich tableau, Zen Master Tales serves not only as a text for Zen students but also as a wide-ranging window onto the fascinating literary, material, and social history of Edo Japan.
In his introduction, translator Peter Haskel explains the history of Zen “stories” from the tradition’s Golden Age in China through the compilation of the classic koan collections and on to the era from which the stories in Zen Master Tales are drawn. What was true of the Chinese tradition, he writes—“its focus on the individual’s ordinary activity as the function, the manifestation of the absolute”—continued in the Japanese context. “Most of these Japanese stories, however unabashedly humorous and at times crude, impart something of the character of the Zen masters involved, whose attainment must be plainly manifest in even the most humble and unlikely of situations.”
About the Author
PETER HASKEL received a PhD in East Asian Studies from Columbia University. He is the translator of Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei, Great Fool: Zen Master Ryôkan—Letters and Other Writings, Letting Go: The Story of Zen Master Tôsui, and Sword of Zen: Master Takuan and His Writings on Immovable Wisdom and the Sword Taia.
“In his first-rate translation of the tales of Zen masters Taigu, Sengai, Hakuin, and Ryokan, Haskel captures the spirit and the humor of these unique teachers. Like Haskel’s previous books on Zen masters Bankei, Ryokan, and Tosui, he brings these eccentric Zen men to life. In the introduction he reminds us how these tales or myths, though not exact factual histories of these men and woman, may be what the spirit of Zen is all about.”—Arthur Braverman, author of Mud and Water: The Zen Teaching of Master Bassui
“In Zen Master Tales, Peter Haskel offers us an everyday view of four of the greatest and quirkiest Zen masters of Japan. Most of these tales are appearing here in English for the first time and ring true like folk stories rather than formal encounter dialogues. So the book goes down like a hot chocolate on a wintry night.”—Dosho Port, author of The Record of Empty Hall: One Hundred Classic Koans
“Zen Master Tales opens the world of Zen through its stories and reveals who and what we really are. It tells the truths of Zen in a manner I think best for our age, both skeptical and seeking.”—James Ishmael Ford, author of Introduction to Zen Koans