Three Pillars of Zen – Philip Kapleau (1970)


Three Pillars of Zen – Philip Kapleau (1970)


Title: The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice and Enlightenment

Author: Philip Kapleau, Huston Smith (foreword)

Publisher: John Weatherhill, Tokyo, 1970. Fifth printing.

Condition: Hardcover, no dust jacket. Good. Bookplate with stickers on endpaper. Very small cellophane tape to back cover corner. Slight tanning to fore-edge, else very good. 363pp., 9″ by 6″.

SKU: kapleau-zen Categories: , ,

A classic work introducing Zen Buddhism to the West, with an introduction by the author along with translations of meaningful or important Zen texts from the Soto and Rinzai traditions, presented for the first time in English. The book begins with a series of lectures by Hakuun Yasutani (Yasutani Roshi), a Zen master who travelled to the US, who later became famous as a result of this book.

Contents include:

Part 1: Teaching and Practice

  1. Yasutani-Roshi’s Introductory Lectures of Zen Training
  2. Yasuntani-Roshi’s Commentary on the Koan Mu
  3. Yasutani-Roshi’s Private Interviews with Ten Westerners
  4. Bassui’s Sermon on One-Mind and Letters to his Disciples

Part 2: Enlightenment

5. The Experiences
6. Yaeko Iwasaki’s Enlightenment Letters
Part 3: Supplements (Includes a translation of Dogen, Zaze postures, notes on vocabulary)


About the author (from Wikipedia):

Philip Kapleau (August 20, 1912 – May 6, 2004) was a teacher of Zen Buddhism in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition, a blending of Japanese Sōtō and Rinzai schools.

Kapleau was born in New Haven, Connecticut. As a teenager he worked as a bookkeeper. He briefly studied law and later became an accomplished court reporter. In 1945 he served as chief Allied court reporter for the “Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal”, which judged the leaders of Nazi Germany. This was the first of the series commonly known as the Nuremberg Trials.

Kapleau later covered the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. While in Japan he became intrigued by Zen Buddhism. During the tribunal he became acquainted with Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, then a prisoner at Sugamo Prison, who recommended that Kapleau attend informal lectures given by D.T. Suzuki in Kita-Kamakura. After returning to America, Kapleau renewed his acquaintance with D.T. Suzuki who had left Kita-Kamakura to lecture on Zen at Columbia University. But disaffected with a primarily intellectual treatment of Zen, he moved to Japan in 1953 to seek Zen’s deeper truth.

He trained initially with Soen Nakagawa, then rigorously with Daiun Harada at the temple Hosshin-ji. Later he became a disciple of Hakuun Yasutani, a dharma heir of Harada. After 13 years’ training, Kapleau was ordained by Yasutani in 1965 and given permission to teach. Kapleau ended his relationship with Yasutani formally in 1967 over disagreements about teaching and other personal issues. According to James Ishmael Ford, “Kapleau had completed about half of the Harada-Yasutani kōan curriculum, the koans in the Gateless Gate and the Blue Cliff Record,”and was entitled to teach, but did not receive dharma transmission. According to Andrew Rawlinson, “Kapleau has created his own Zen lineage.

Kapleau transcribed other Zen teachers’ talks, interviewed lay students and monks, and recorded the practical details of Zen Buddhist practice. His book, The Three Pillars of Zen, published in 1965, has been translated into 12 languages, and is still in print. It was one of the first English-language books to present Zen Buddhism not as philosophy, but as a pragmatic and salutary way of training and living. Michael Alan Singer, New York Times bestselling author and former CEO of WebMD, identified that the Three Pillars of Zen was the source which embarked him on his spiritual journey.

Kapleau was an articulate and passionate writer. His emphasis in writing and teaching was that insight and enlightenment are available to anyone, not just austere and isolated Zen monks. Also well known for his views on vegetarianism, peace and compassion, he remains widely read, and is a notable influence on Zen Buddhism as it is practiced in the West. Today, his dharma heirs and former students teach at Zen centers around the world.