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Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai First Edition Edition

20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520219823
ISBN-10: 0520219821
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book is billed as a sequel to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki's classic collection of talks on Zen, but it stands on its own considerable merits as an eloquent, humorous series of lectures on the Sandokai, an eighth-century poem central to the Soto Zen tradition. These lectures show Suzuki, head priest of Tassajara monastery in California until his death in 1971, using his line-by-line exposition of the poem to illuminate what it means to practice Zen Buddhism. He stresses the simultaneity of the relative and the absolute, skillfully using words to direct his listeners toward understanding, all the while emphasizing that words are merely fingers pointing at the moon of enlightenment. Suzuki's devaluation of the verbal frees him to embrace humor and paradox as teaching methods; his examples range from ancient Chinese stories to anecdotes about weeding in the Tassajara garden and encountering an earwig. Readers of his previous book will be familiar with his earthy, clear, intense style. This book also conveys the texture of monastery life; it recounts 12 consecutive talks and includes the question-and-answer sessions at the end of each talk. These exchanges offer some of the most fascinating parts of an already excellent book, as they explicate some of the unclear points and illuminate the indirect yet confrontational quality of traditional Japanese Zen teaching. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Suzuki (1904^-1971) came to San Francisco in 1959, established the first Zen Buddhist monastery in the U.S., and wrote the seminal Zen text for Westerners, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1972). Toward the end of his life, Suzuki presented a series of talks based on the Sandokai, an eighth-century poem written by the Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen. An elegant set of 22 couplets, it addresses a number of dichotomies, such as light and dark and sharp or dull, and it is chanted daily in Zen temples. In his cogent discussions and the question-and-answer sessions that follow--edited for publication by Mel Weitsman of the Berkeley Zen Center and Michael Wenger of the San Francisco Zen Center--Suzuki worked his way through the entire poem, expounding on the meanings of the Sandokai's imagery and its relevance to Buddhist practice and to life. The fact that one text can inspire a book's worth of philosophical thought and practical advice is testimony both to Buddhism's depths and to Suzuki's considerable gifts. Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (November 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520219821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520219823
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #879,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By John Elliott on January 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent little book. It is based on the a series of talks that were given by Shunryu Suzuki in a sesshin lead by him, as it happened near the end of his life. The book in my view would be suited to a more advanced practitioner rather than a beginner. However all would benefit by reading it.
The book gives a line by line explanation of the "The Identity of Absolute and Relative" sutra. This sutra along with the "Heart Sutra" are the two main sutras chanted in Zen Buddhist services.
As practitioners we hear this sutra over and over again and it is easy to think of it as just a simple and poetic piece(even dare I say it, tune out to some extent with our own familarity), which it is. Suzuki's explanation of the sutra shows that considerably more can be gleaned from studying/meditating on this important zen work.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By L. Cornell on October 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is largely a well-executed editing effort of a number of talks that Suzuki Roshi gave of the Sandokai, a poem written in the early zen years. The poem, written by the Eighth Ancestor in China, Sekito Kisen, was intended to bridge a perceived (and I am hesitant to say) 'philisophical' gap between two zen schools of the time. One appealed to the 'clever', and the other appealed to the 'dull'. The Sandokai reveals that Buddha-nature transcends all such interpretations.
Each talk addresses a different section of the poem. Each chapter begins with the section of the poem that will be discussed. At the end of each talk there is discussion, consisting of questions from the students followed by the Roshi's response.
While superficially, bridging the gap between the "northern school" and the "southern school" was the impetus, we learn from the Roshi the poem's many deeper meanings. By reading the talks one begins to realize the great import of this poem as a primary and essential work.
Anyone who has read Suzuki's first book can attest to the Roshi's keen ability to impart the most complex subjects on a simple and understandable level. He does so in a way that also recognizes the limitations of such talks.
While this text was clearly not intended to be an introduction to practice, those who regularly practice will find it an invaluable work, and those, such as I, who have worn out the covers of 'Zen Mind Beginner's Mind' over many, many years won't be disappointed. The Sandokai is addressed by the Master in a most refreshing, sometimes humorous, and most enlightening way.
I look forward to wearing out this book as much as the first.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Peter Abbott on June 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have no doubt that Shunryu Suzuki will be a great influence on American Buddhism for many years to come. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (though not "written" by Suzuki-roshi--it's edited from lectures) has been a work that I have turned to again and again through-out my years of practice, finding new levels of insight each time. Branching Streams is a deserving continuation to the publication of Suzuki-roshi's teaching (it is, of course, also based on lectures, coming almost thirty years after his death). But it is a little more slow-going than Zen Mind and probably won't be as accessible to those without some experience of Zen. But, like Zen Mind, there are some beautiful, even poetic moments in the text. If you are just getting started in Zen and haven't read Zen Mind, you should definitely start with that before moving on to this. But if you have read ZM, BM and couldn't get enough, you will enjoy revisiting the Master.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Bolton on July 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
To get a glimpse of Shunru through this text is very gratifying. He deftly communicates the paradoxical aspects of ji-the apparent-and ri-the unseen. The text takes the reader through subtle aspects of zen thinking mind, but without being overly analytical. When he hears himself getting too conceptual, he pulls away with humor and a very special humanness that communicates beyond words, which is actually the context of the Sandokai! I enjoy picking up Branching Streams and reading it for clarity and inspiration every day, and you will too.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. adams on December 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is Shunryu Suzuki's commentary on the Sandokai. The Sandokai is a poem by Zen master Sekito Kisen on the inseparability of the relative and the absolute.

You will find this poem in many Zen and Buddhism books. I checked out 10 or 11 books from the library, and this poem was in... I think it was 4 of them. So it wouldnt be very hard to compare the different translations of the peom if one wished. They differ quite a bit. Although the core meaning is always the same.

This poem was written in response to the disagreement between the northern (more hinayana/gradual) and southern (more mahayana/instant) schools that started to distance themselve in the 7th century. Actually it started long before that and continues to this day. Also, the one school, by very nature contains the "other school." So while more and more people were sticking to one side or the other, the absolute teachings of Zen were suffering from this ignorance. Thats where the illuminating rays of Sekito Kisen's wisdom--in the form of the Sandokai--illuminate and expose a dualistic view that so easily creeps into Zen practice and jeopardizes it. Sekito shines his wisdom upon not just the troubles of the northern and southern schools, but on the perils of sticking to dualistic views in and of themselves.

While the actual poem is only a couple pages. It is powerful and very important to all of Buddhism. Suzuki gives a valuable commentary that takes the poem line for line. Each chapter takes 4, 5 or 6 lines of the poem. Suzuki explains and adds his own words of wisdom, experiences and views wich brings out the profound nature of these verses that might otherwise be to deep for most people. You cand read a line and think "yeah I see the meaning of that.
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