The Story of Zen Master Tosui
Narrated by J. B. Thomas
Approximately 5 hours
Book published by University of Hawai'i Press
Of the many eccentric figures in Japanese Zen, the Soto Zen master Tosui Unkei (d. 1683) is surely among the most colorful and extreme. Variously compared to Ryokan and Francis of Assisi, Tosui has been called "the original hippie." After many grueling years of Zen study and the sanction of a distinguished teacher, Tosui abandoned the religious establishment and became a drifter.
The arresting details of Tosui's life were recorded in the Tribute (Tosui osho densan), a lively and colloquial account written by the celebrated scholar and Soto Zen master Menzan Zuiho. Menzan concentrates on Tosui's years as a beggar and laborer, recounting episodes from an unorthodox life while at the same time opening a new window on seventeenth-century Japan. The Tribute is translated here for the first time, accompanied by woodblock prints commissioned for the original 1768 edition. Peter Haskel's introduction places Tosui in the context of the Japanese Zen of his period—a time when the identities of early modern Zen schools were still being formed and a period of spiritual crisis for many distinguished monks who believed that the authentic Zen transmission had long ceased to exist. A biographical addendum offers a detailed overview of Tosui's life in light of surviving premodern sources.
Peter Haskel is the author ofBankei Zen; co-author with Ryuichi Abe of Great Fool: Zen Master Ryokan; and coeditor of the forthcoming Original Mind, lectures on the Platform Sutra by the early twentieth-century Zen master Sokei-an Sasaki.
“For Tosui, no line was drawn between the learned and the illiterate, between high-class and low. As Peter Haskel says in his introduction to his fine translation, Tosui's life was that of a Zen master who has hidden in the world, rather than merely from it.”
—The Japan Times
“Haskel's excellent introduction explores at length the various trends and themes within the different schools of Zen Buddhism in early Tokugawa Japan.... This work is a study in contrasts and paradox in many subtle and not so subtle ways.”
“The most successful feature of this book is the way it shows how Menzan, who epitomized the reform of Zen monastic institutional structure in the eighteenth century ..., came to idealize a maverick monk who thumbed his nose at all structures a century before.”
“Letting Go is both an introduction to Zen Buddhism of the Tokugawa era and a carefully researched translation of the story of one of the oddest members of the clergy of this colorful and turbulent era. As such it is a welcome addition to the range of materials available that present Zen in a clear historical context rather than some thing mystified in timeless transcendence.”
—Philosophy East and West 55
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