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Iron Eyes

The Life and Teachings of Obaku Zen Master Tetsugen Doko

Helen J. Baroni

Publication Year: 2006

Iron Eyes focuses on the Japanese Zen master Tetsugen Doµkoµ (1630–1682), the best-known exponent of O÷baku Zen in Japan and the West. O÷baku Zen arose during the seventeenth century and became the third major Zen sect in Japan. O÷baku monks encouraged the laity to deepen their knowledge of and commitment to Buddhism. Tetsugen is credited with producing the first complete wood block edition of the Chinese Buddhist scriptures in Japan. Legend has it that Tetsugen had to raise the money for the project three times: twice his great compassion led him to give away the money he had raised to the starving victims of natural disasters. This Zen story is well-known in Japan and has gained popularity among contemporary Buddhists in the West. The first part of this book offers an introduction and a series of analytical chapters describing Tetsugen’s life, work, and teachings, as well as the legends related to him. The second part comprises annotated translations of his major teaching texts, important letters and other historical documents, a selection of his poetry, and several traditional biographies.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

I began the research that eventually developed into this book many years ago. Paul Watt, then my adviser at Columbia University, recommended that I look at the writings of Tetsugen and consider him as a dissertation topic. I began reading his Dharma Lessonon my daily commute into and out of Manhattan, ...

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pp. 1-8

Tetsugen Dōkō (1630–1682) is perhaps the best known Ōbaku Zen monk in Japan and the West. He is credited with producing the first complete wood block edition of the Chinese Buddhist scriptures in Japan. Many older Japanese still remember reading about Tetsugen in school textbooks used in the first half of the twentieth century. ...

Historical Biography and Analysis

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CHAPTER ONE The Life of Tetsugen

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pp. 11-38

Tetsugen was born to the Saeki family, who lived in the Mashiki region of Higo province (now Kumamoto prefecture), on New Year’s Day of Kan’ei 7 (1630). We know little of his family or his childhood, not even the names by which Tetsugen was known as a youth. The Saeki family was devoted to Pure Land Buddhism, ...

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CHAPTER TWO Carving the Scriptures

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pp. 39-54

Tetsugen’s most significant contribution to the Buddhist world of his day was the Ōbaku edition of the Buddhist scriptures. By means of that massive undertaking, Tetsugen provided practical support for the “back to the original sources” trend that characterized many of the intellectual movements throughout the ...

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CHAPTER THREE The Teachings of Tetsugen

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pp. 55-78

Today, Tetsugen is known principally as the editor and driving force behind the Ōbaku edition of the Buddhist scriptures, and that work must be regarded as his primary contribution to Japanese Buddhism of the early modern period. In his own day, Tetsugen was already widely acclaimed for his work on the scripture project. ...

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CHAPTER FOUR The Myth of Tetsugen

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pp. 79-88

After his death, Tetsugen was venerated in the customary manner within the Ōbaku sect, particularly by his surviving disciples. The Ōbaku edition of the Buddhist scriptures continued to be printed and distributed for well over two centuries. This represented the only legacy that Tetsugen purposefully bequeathed to ...


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Part I Teaching Texts

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pp. 91-138

Tetsugen composed the Dharma Lesson in Japanese for a Japanese woman “deeply committed to Zen.”1 The text takes the form of an extended commentary on a single line from the Heart Sutra. Tetsugen wrote the original text in Japanese. He uses parables and images from everyday life to explain basic teachings ...

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Part II Texts Related to the Buddhist Scripture Project

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pp. 139-158

Tetsugen wrote the Keen no sō to promote his plan to improve the availability of the Buddhist scriptures in Japan. In 1663, when he composed it, his intention was to raise enough funds to import an edition of the scriptures from China. He only later decided that it would be better to produce a woodblock edition in Japan. ...

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Part III Poetry

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pp. 159-170

Tetsugen wrote poetry throughout his career as an Ōbaku monk. Japanese Buddhist monks and nuns traditionally used poetry to serve a variety of purposes. In many cases, an exchange of poetry with a lay disciple or visiting dignitary served as a form of social exchange. In other cases, they composed verses to commemorate ...

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Part IV Other Letters and Historical Documents

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pp. 171-194

Tetsugen wrote this statement explaining events that occurred in the city of Mori from his perspective for Lord Kurushima Michikyo, the daimyō (provincial governor) of Bungo province. Tetsugen composed it after he had left the area, either late in 1674 or early in 1675; it describes an incident from the eleventh ...

Appendix: Biographies

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pp. 195-216


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pp. 217-250


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pp. 251-254


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pp. 255-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468913
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468917

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Tetsugen Dōkō, 1630-1682.
  • Ōbaku (Sect) -- History.
  • Zen priests -- Japan -- Biography.
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