Letting Go

Letting Go: The Story of Zen Master Tosui

Translated and with an Introduction by Peter Haskel
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Letting Go
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6334-0
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  5. Introduction: Japanese Zen in the Age of Tōsui
    (pp. 1-40)

    Although the Zen schools in Japan tend to emphasize their medieval¹ origins, Japanese Zen as we know it today, which is to say the modern Sōtō and Rinzai sects, is to a great extent the product of the more recent Tokugawa, or Edo, period, which spanned the years 1600 to 1868. It was during these critical two and one half centuries that the current identities of the Zen schools were created, or perhaps more accurately, recreated, in large part as an attempt to restore the integrity of the teachings of the medieval founders.

    In the Rinzai school the revival of...

  6. About the Translation
    (pp. 41-42)
  7. Tribute to the Life of Master Tōsui (Tōsui oshō densan)
    (pp. 43-94)
    Menzan Zuihō

    The Master’s formal name was Unkei, his common name Tōsui.¹ He was a native of the castle town of Yanagawa² in Chikugo Province, the child of a merchant family. His family belonged to the Pure Land sect.³ His father and mother were both devout believers, taking care to see that there were always incense and flowers on their Buddhist altar.

    The Master’s mother had a strange dream and became pregnant. From the time he was born, the child was fond of Buddhist images, having no interest in other toys. Once, seeing him leave the house with the statue of Amida...

  8. Biographical Addendum: Tōsui’s Story
    (pp. 95-120)

    From what we learn of him in theTribute, Tōsui, during his colorful later years, was very much of a loner, someone who went to great lengths to live in anonymity, to leave no traces, his activities and where-abouts often a mystery even to his closest disciples and colleagues. It is the sort of life that readily attracts anecdote and legend but defies biography, at least in the usual sense of a detailed and coherent chronological record. TheTribute, as its author Menzan freely admits, reflects many of these problems, and while its contents are presented according to a kind...

  9. Appendix: Biography of Master Tōsui (Tōsui oshō den)
    (pp. 121-124)
    Zōsan Ryōki
  10. Notes to Text
    (pp. 125-152)
  11. Notes to Poems
    (pp. 153-154)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-160)
  13. Index
    (pp. 161-166)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)