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Reviewed by:
  • Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume I: Zen ed. by Richard M. Jaffe, and: Zen Dust: The History of the Koan and Koan Study in Rinzai (Lin-chi) Zen by Isshū Miura and Ruth Fuller Sasaki
  • Steven Heine (bio)
Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume I: Zen. Edited by Richard M. Jaffe. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014. Pp. lviii + 273. Hardcover $59.95, isbn 978-0-520-26919-4.
Zen Dust: The History of the Koan and Koan Study in Rinzai (Lin-chi) Zen. By Isshū Miura and Ruth Fuller Sasaki. Pp. xx + 531. Paper $83.00, isbn 978-1-922169-12-9.

The two fine books under review represent in different but complementary ways very successful efforts to revise and reprint what can be considered modern "classic" writings on Zen Buddhist thought, with a strong emphasis on the Rinzai sect, that were produced either by an eminent Japanese scholar or an American working in collaboration with a Japanese researcher and were initially circulated in the West through the 1960s. These writings had a remarkably influential impact on the course of Zen studies at the time, but in the intervening years have largely fallen into disuse or a decline in reputation. However, they are richly deserving of the current editorial exercises leading to a recovery and rehabilitation so that a new audience can appropriate in the twenty-first century their rightful historical place as well as ongoing utility, since the writings remain highly effective and in many ways up-to-date resources on the topic.

Both books can be evaluated in terms of (1) editorial issues, or how well they repackage the original materials, given the multitude of recent changes in standards involving the use of foreign terminology and scholarly annotations, among other concerns, and (2) content issues, or the significance and relevance of the writings that are being disseminated anew for today's understanding of Zen. In the case of the D. T. Suzuki volume, the second item for assessment also includes the matter of appraising whether and to what extent the relatively short pieces that were selected from among the author's vast corpus on Zen are sufficiently representative. A related issue pertains to how the set of writings holds up in light of sometimes withering [End Page 588] criticism beginning in the 1990s by a variety of Japanese and Western scholars of Suzuki's putative ahistorical and nationalistic claims about Zen.

The volume of Suzuki writings, Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume I: Zen, edited by Richard Jaffe, a noted scholar of Meiji-era Zen and its aftermath who also contributed an introductory essay for the 2010 reprint of Suzuki's seminal Zen and Japanese Culture, is the first of four volumes to be released with Jaffe serving as general editor. The other three books dealing with Pure Land as well as comparative and miscellaneous topics all have volume-specific editors. The series highlights the fact that Suzuki, "a committed Zen layman" (p. xlix) for the most part without formal institutional affiliation, is best known as an expositor of Zen for the West at a time when it was becoming well regarded in the first half of the twentieth century and was soon capturing the imagination in the 1950s of writers and musicians, such as Jack Kerouac and John Cage. Yet, that was only a part of Suzuki's life mission, as he also vigorously promoted many other aspects of Buddhist studies, including translations from Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese, in addition to wide-ranging cross-cultural dialogues involving the philosophy and psychology of world religions. This approach, as influenced by the pioneering investigations of William James, who also had a strong effect on Suzuki's hometown friend from Kanazawa, the founder of Kyoto School philosophy Nishida Kitarō, had a special focus on the function of mystical consciousness or "religious experience" (shūkyōteki keiken) as a basic hermeneutic category in Eastern and Western traditions.

From an editorial standpoint, Jaffe (and other editors for the later volumes) have had to reckon with wide-ranging concerns, including regularizing the romanization of Japanese and Chinese terms, with the latter originally in various renditions...


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