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Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice Paperback – June 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


"Few books have spoken with such clarity to the essence of Zen." (John Daishin Buksbazen, author of Zen Meditation in Plain English)

"Uchiyama [was] one of the most contemplative of Zen Buddhist teachers, and until his death in 1999, was also one of the most influentia. Now, through this new edition of his most famous book, he continues to enlighten our lives. His book is important for its clarity, its rejection of jargon, and its refusal to make illumination a drama." (The Japan Times)

"Uchiyama Roshi's words have long been my inspiration, and I am delighted that this collection of his teachings is now available in a revised and expanded edition." (Robert Aitken, author of Taking the Path of Zen)

"If you read one book on Zen this year, this should be that book." (James Ishmael Ford, head teacher of Boundless Way Zen and author of Zen Master Who?)

"Not since DT Suzuki has the evasive quality of Zen been explained so well to the Western reader. This book was Uchiyama's gift to his monks-in-training as well as laypeople following the path of Zen. This welcome re-release has been refined with further introductory material." (Kyoto Journal)

About the Author

Kosho Uchiyama was a preeminent Japanese Zen master, instrumental in bringing Zen to America. The author of over twenty books, including Refining Your Life, he died in 1999.

Daitsu Tom Wright, who was born and raised in Wisconsin, has lived in Japan for over thirty years. He practiced and studied under Uchiyama Roshi from 1968 until the latter's death and was ordained as a priest in 1974. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, he is currently a professor in the English Language and Culture Program at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. He was a teacher for the Kyoto Soto Zen Center until 1995, and since then he was been co-leading Zen groups with Rev. Doyu Takamine in Kyoto and Tamba. Rev. Wright has worked on the translation and editing of several works on Zen, as well as writing on Zen, the aftereffects of the Holocaust, and Japanese gardens.

Jisho Warner is a Soto Zen priest and guiding teacher of Stone Creek Zen Center in Sonoma County, California, which she founded. A former president of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, Warner trained for many years both in Japan and the United States. Having graduated from Harvard University in 1965, she was also a longtime student of Dainin Katagiri. She is also a co-editor of the book Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama, whose teachings she encountered during the 1980s while practicing at the Pioneer Valley Zendo. She had also practiced for many years at the Milwaukee Zen Center under Tozen Akiyama (from whom she received shiho).

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications; Rev Exp edition (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0861713575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861713578
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Eric Arbiter on September 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Three Books by Kosho Uchiyama

February 21, 2000 and September 28, 2004

Reviewer: Eric Arbiter from Houston,TX

"Opening the Hand of Thought", "The Wholehearted Way", and From "Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment"

I am re-posting this review because "Opening the Hand of Thought" went out of print for several years. It has just been re-released with wonderful new introductory materials.

Ten years ago I had determined to take up Zen practice and this book was a key ingredient in that process. I was truly saddened that it was not available to help others as a guiding inspiriation for doing zazen during the time it was out of print.

I am so grateful to Wisdom Publications and the authors for taking the time to refine and make this seminal work available again for people sincerely seeking to undertake the practice of zazen (Zen seated meditation). Below is the original review, of these three books, with a few additional observations in parenthesis.

I have re-read these books so many times that I think of them as different components of the same work, since the subjects interweave to produce a wonderful fabric of integrated Zen practice viewed from different perspectives. At first glance all of these books might seem "lightweight". I thought so at first because of their covers. Especially "Opening the Hand of Thought- Approach to Zen" (this is no longer the case with the new edition). It suggests a new-age type of quick fix book about Zen. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was just the book I needed, though I didn't yet know it. Having come to Zen meditation 2 years before reading this book, I was still unclear about meditation (zazen). (Ten years later I am still unclear about it- but I am still sitting!
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Rob Myers on June 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
Well-written and carefully, lovingly edited. Quite a tribute to a great teacher!

What struck me most about this book was the personal, honest insights into the author's own mind. This is at once a book about Zen Practice, and a very personal voyage through life. Uchiyama Roshi must have been an intelligent and thoughtful man, and he left us a gift of his unique, unadorned dharma.

From the beautiful persimmon metaphor to his talk about zazen being useless (and why we should do it anyway), he takes us on a varied journey, examining our practice from numerous angles. Rich, fresh insight fills each talk.

There are some talks "for beginners" you might say. In one such chapter, you will find zazen, itself, drawn on a simple cartesian graph, with mathematical designations of points along the path. What a simple, useful metaphor, especially for those of us with an overactive left-brain! And, perhaps to keep us from taking the graph too literally, there are sketches of a young practitioner falling asleep, or daydreaming. Sketches drawn with humor and compassion!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. adams on March 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is on Zen practice of course. Beautifuly written, translated and edited, it covers just about every aspect of practice that a book like this could. This is a thourough examination of Zen/Zazen from many angles.

After reading this I realize my attitude and knowledge of zen was shallow and very incomplete. Thats not to say you can "pin it down" after reading this. That would be impossible. This book will however help you understand Zen as life, masifesting life itself (Uchiyama often speaks like this to show the "wholeness" of Zen life), it brilliantly illuminates the "life" of the way. I am very thankful to Uchiyama for this. In a time when words like "Zen" are used and abused as catchwords and such. It is very nice to have books like this, to help practitioners understand more clearly, the heart of these teachings. He does this very well.

As far as Zazen goes, Kosho Uchiyama Explains, illuminates and clears up misapprehensions about "just sitting". He tells us how the very process of bringing our attention back to the reality of this moment and our posture is the profound wisdom of Zen in action (wich is our most important teacher). That is Opening the Hand of Thought. Opening this "Hand" is what allows us to go beyond the small selfish ego and realize the universal self. The self of everyone and everything. Wich is enlightenment, without the baggage of words or ideas like enlightenment (to "Open the Hand of Thought" means to let everything come and go without grasping). Someone said I beleive in a review, that not even Dogen gives as clear and precise account of Zazen as Uchiyama. I completely agree.

Uchiyama also give us a rich and detailed account of Zen as a religion, a daily practice, a way of life, and a way to a peaceful world.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Eduardo Neecha on December 28, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let's face it, even though Zen is often claimed to be based in utmost simplicity and directness, the sad truth is that the majority of Zen books and teachers are (often deliberately) opaque, if not flat-out UNREADABLE: rife with academic abstractions, badly translated religious jargon and pious rhetoric, not to mention encumbered by massive cultural baggage and exoticism (=the slavish, obsessive fetishization of all things Japanese). Which is why books like Charlotte Joko Beck's "Everyday Zen" are so rare and so successful---ditto for the work of the marvelously concise, plain-spoken and unpretentious Pema Chodron, an American in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

This is particularly true when it comes to teachings on "shikantaza" which is the practice of "just sitting" or objectless meditation, known as "choiceless awareness" or "open presence" in other schools. John Daido Loori's compilation of writings on shikantaza, "The Art of Just Sitting," is mostly a catalogue of ancient Chan/Zen teachers taking a long time to say nothing, albeit in a very artful manner.

So Uchiyama's book is a real gift: it is almost wholly devoid of the ritualized obfuscation all too common in the Zen tradition. This is the clearest book on seated meditation since Shunryu Suzuki's classic "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" which is much denser and far less cohesive since it was cobbled together from months of his lectures.
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