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Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts Paperback – June 26, 2012


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Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts + Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo + Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1614290105
  • ISBN-13: 978-1614290100
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Okumura offers his own perpective on different interpretations of these texts, giving detailed analysis of key Japanese words in order to illuminate unseen meanings. In doing so, he shares his personal experiences of these practices, lifting these texts out of their familiar ceremonial settings and bringing them into conversation with the Zen practitioner. The book goes beyond an explication of specific chants and rituals to reveal that the unifying practice of Zen is living by the bodhisattva's vow." (Buddhadharma)

"Living by Vow is a unique and wonderful combination of skillful, fresh translations and Dharma discourses by a Zen priest who is a scholar, a long-term practitioner, and a Zen master. Shohaku Okamura reveals his own life vow as he helps us dive deeply into the many chants that are recited daily in Buddhist temples around the world, rendering them accessible and beautifully relevant to our lives. This is a book to read and re-read, to consult and cite." (Jan Chozen Bays, author of How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness)

"Living By Vow unpacks much of the Zen liturgy with striking clarity, depth, and detail. Shohaku's writing manifests the deep, settled mind of the Soto school. A refreshing read! This is an essential resource for students and teachers alike." (Dosho Port, author of Keep Me in Your Heart a While)

"An important and much-needed book. Shohaku Okumura's elucidations of these fundamental teachings--so familiar to many, yet so often poorly understood--make plain how profound they truly are." (Steve Hagen, author of Buddhism Plain and Simple)

"In this lovely and informative book, Shohaku Okamura illuminates the meaning of the texts we chant in so many Zen practice centers. The combination of his abundance of knowledge and his personal openness allow these ancient words to come alive. I am grateful for Okamura Roshi's gift of scholarship and heart, and look forward to enjoying his wise companionship in my own chanting practice." (Melissa Myozen Blacker, coeditor of The Book of Mu)

"Drawing on teachings from a variety of Zen teachers as well as his wide knowledge of the Buddhist canon, Shohaku Okamura offers us new ways to approach these sometimes too familiar passages. His writing is always infused by his great love of practice and his love for the living practice of Zen." (David Rynick, author of This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons)

"A great book. Steeped in the best of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, Shohaku Okamura has lived and taught in America for decades. This experience--honed by the sincerity of Shohaku's character, scholarship, and commitment--results in a rare text that fully integrates the richness of Dogen's culturally profound Buddhism with the needs of the contemporary student. Shohaku's discussion of Soto Zen's key liturgical texts will be required reading for all students of that tradition--and will be of great benefit to anyone who wants to appreciate the nature and scope of religious life. I am inspired and delighted by this book and will be using it for a long time to come." (Zoketsu Norman Fischer, author of Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong)

"This book features detailed commentary on a series of fundamental texts including historical, philosophical, and practice perspectives, and will be very useful to all beginning Zen students, and also illuminating for many long-time practitioners." (Taigen Dan Leighton, author of Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry)

About the Author

Shohaku Okumura is a Soto Zen priest and Dharma successor of Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. He is a graduate of Komazawa University and has practiced in Japan at Antaiji, Zuioji, and the Kyoto Soto Zen Center, and in Massachusetts at the Pioneer Valley Zendo. He is the former director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco. His previously published books of translation include Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen Zen, Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo, and Opening the Hand of Thought. Okumura is also editor of Dogen Zen and Its Relevance for Our Time and SotoZen. He is the founding teacher of the Sanshin Zen Community, based in Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives with his family.

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Customer Reviews

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I owe Shohaku Okamura a debt of gratitude for this important work, thank you.
Amazon Customer
This book is very well written and explains many difficult to understand phrases/concepts one encounters when attempting to understand Zen Buddhist chants.
S. Mason
This is a very good, zen budda book, I just love to read this book, and I am reading it in second time, and will read it many times again.
Guđlaugur Guđmundsson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It seems that I have been waiting for this book for a very long time.

The essence of the book is to guide and explain in the most straight forward way that I have ever read on Zen practice.

Not one of the chapters explains more than an everyday "ordinariness" in Zen but the explanation brings the reader into a world of deep and, on occaisions for me, profound understanding of what this practically means in a Zen way.

This book will require more than one reading; not because it is difficult to read (on the contrary, it is very easy to read) but because of the important insights that it contains into the human condition and how Zen practice may assist us to find a better way of living.

I owe Shohaku Okamura a debt of gratitude for this important work, thank you.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stevan Kelly on September 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Instantly a primary textbook for all western Soto Zen students. Wish I had this 30 years ago.
Detailed Commentary on :
1 Bodhisattva vows
2 verse of repentance
3 3 refuges
4 robe chant
5 meal chant
6 heart sutra
7 merging of difference & unity
8 sutra opening verse

This book would be worth it for the heart sutra commentary alone. I'm voting it best Zen book of the year. Thanks Shohaku.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bill Gallagher on July 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
Living by Vows is refreshing for Westerners seeking a deeper practice through the vehicle of chanting. This book brings the reader into the rich garden of Zen liturgy. In Okumura's capable hands, the liturgy is revealed to be an enlightening function of the community. Diving into the actual meaning of terminology used in the liturgy, readers can become familiar with the historical meaning of the words and verses. This helps us drop our cultural preconceptions, which can be compounded by difficulties in translation.

The scholarly, yet eminently practical approach Okumura creates a resource that is both refreshing and illuminating. The texts examined are important ones and equal emphasis is given to the many dimensions of these liturgical forms, including the historical and the philosophical. This leads to a much deeper grounding in the texts and liturgy. This also deepens the possibility for intentional and deliberate practice. This book is an essential pathway to participating -- even in a small, personal way -- in the greater liturgical life of the global Zen community as it is expressed in temple liturgy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Xavier F. Hussenet on May 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For years I have recited the various verses we recite before or after meditation and other events without really understanding why or what we were really talking about. This book is a classical explication de texte of these ancient verses squarely anchored in the context of the great Japanese philosopher monk of ancient Japan, Dogen Zenji, founder of the principal Soto school of Zen, which was transmitted to the West by Shunryu Suzuki in San Francisco, and Taisan Maezumi in Los Angeles.
I am only half way through it and all the things I thought before have already been completely undone. I have listened to many mystifying Dharma talks from Western masters and Tibetan lamas, and I have laboriously read all 4 volumes of Gudo Nishima's edition of Dogen's Shobogenzo, with all the erudite academic annotations, but this simple volume, Living by Vow, in plain language from the inside perspective of a Japaneze Zen monk who grew up in this tradition in his native Japan, and whose translations of the daily Zen liturgy into modern English are so eloquent, has taken me to a new level of appreciation and understanding, or not understanding and being free with that. For anyone seeking a way through the mystifying permutations of Zen franchises proliferating our world of spiritual consumerism, this is a capital book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Seth Segall on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
This volume is based on a series of talks Okumura gave from 1993-1996 when he was interim head teacher at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. Like his previous work, "Realizing Genjokoan," this book distills Okumura's understanding of Soto Zen teachings and practice, grounded in Dogen Zenji's writings, the teachings of Uchiyama Roshi, and Okumura's own life experience. Each chapter serves as a teisho on a single Zen chant or text. Chapters include discussions of the Bodhisattva vows, the gatha of repentance, the refuge, robe, and meal chants, and the Heart Sutra and the Sandokai. Okumura displays a deep scholarly understanding of the tradition that undergirds these texts, but he is not bound by tradition, and understands that, as moderns, we must make our own adjustments as we make Zen our own. His understanding of Japanese culture and language, as well as his experiences living in America, make him uniquely suited to convey the meaning of these texts to contemporary Westerners. For Okumura, these texts are expressions of a living transmission, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind, of what it means to be a living, breathing human being. The meaning behind these texts is to be lived, experienced and embodied, not just read about and understood. The personal story of how Okumura's own practice has matured as he has endured and survived personal hardship lends this book a special grace. I strongly recommend it, both to Zen novices, and experienced practitioners.
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