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The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment Paperback – February 27, 1989

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Editorial Reviews


"The Three Pillars of Zen is still, in my opinion, the best book in English that has been written on Zen Buddhism."--Huston Smith, author of The Worlds' Religions and Forgotten Truth

"The Three Pillars of Zen heralded the end of armchair Buddhism.  With this practical guide to Zen meditation, Roshi Kapleau ushered in the first wave of American zazen practitioners.  It was extraordinarily inspiring.  It still is."--Helen Tworkov, founding editor of Tricycle:  The Buddhist Review and author of Zen in America

"For over thirty years Roshi Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen has been the wellspring of Zen teachings for practitioners in the West, remaining as vital and fresh today as it was when it was originally published.  It truly ranks among the timeless classics of Zen Buddhism."--Roshi John Daido Loori, Abbot, Zen Mountain Monastery

"For anyone seriously interested in Zen--this book will be invaluable."--Times Literary Supplement (London)

Language Notes

Text: English, Japanese (translation)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 35 Rev Upd edition (February 27, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385260938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385260930
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

326 of 335 people found the following review helpful By F. Neunemann on August 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I guess that most people getting interested in Zen without having a competent roshi within reach are facing the living hell of Zen books. At least that was the situation in my case. So, I was picking up all sorts of books on Zen from authors of unknown or doubtful competence. Some aren't really worth the paper they are printed on. This process turned out to be quite time and money consuming without getting closer to the results one is expecting.
Even after reading books from known authorities like D.T. Suzuki I found out that my own progress was still slow, because many of these kind of books are pretty academic, barely touching the most important practice and heart of Zen--the practice of Zazen.
"The Three Pillars of Zen" is the first book in a fairly long line of Zen books I read that approaches Zen in a practical way that enables Westerners to get started with Zen right away, without having a teacher. Roshi Kapleau wrote a well structured and personal book, reporting from his own development under various Zen masters in Japan back in the 1950s. In the chapters of "The Three Pillars of Zen" Kapleau lets his own teachers speak. This approach gives a unique insight into Zen practice in Japan, the traps and pitfalls and how to avoid them. It also explains what Zazen and dokusan are all about as well as the important role of the koan, its proper use (and misuse).
This book really sets back the majority of Zen books I read so far by at least 2 stars ( rating). If I'd be forced to pick only one book about Zen, this would be the one.
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114 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Jisetsu on November 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
by Philip Kapleau
Now in a 35th Anniversary edition, The Three Pillars of Zen is generally regarded as the "classic" introduction to Zen Buddhism, and along with Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, has probably helped more westerners begin Zen practice than any other book.
The book is a collection of texts which describe Zen Buddhism as encountered by Philip Kapleau in Japan in the 1950's. Kapleau's transmission is Zen as it was taught in particular by Harada-Roshi and Yasutani-Roshi, a synthesis of both the Rinzai and Soto traditions. Harada's and Yasutani's school revitalized Zen in the twentieth century, and their teaching is particularly relevant to Americans as many American Zen teachers today are of their lineage.
The book is in three parts. Part One is titled "Teaching and Practice" and consists of Yasutani's Introductory Lectures on Zen Training (these alone are worth the price of the book), his Commentary (Teisho) on the Koan Mu, and records of his Private Encounters With Ten Westerners (in dokusan). These three sections provide the reader an idea of what Zen training is, how to begin, and hint at the flavor of the process as practiced in Yasutani's school. Part One concludes with a translation of a dharma talk and some letters by the 14th century Japanese master Bassui.
Part Two is titled "Enlightenment" and consists of first-person descriptions of 20th century enlightenment (kensho) experiences. These descriptions are unique and fascinating, and bring the concept of enlightenment a personal relevance - it's not just something that was attained by ancient masters.
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340 of 374 people found the following review helpful By Mike in the Middle on July 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
I have very mixed feelings about this book. It is the book which really brought me to spiritual practice; for that, I will always be grateful. It was, however, the same things about it which first drew me in, that I now find problematic.

If you are at all open to practice it is hard not to find this book exciting. There is great drama in the stories of those struggling against all odds to achieve enlightenment. It is that sense of drama which I find problematic. There is a sense of striving encouraged by this book and practice at Rochester. Metaphors of climbing a mountain are used; we are encouraged to "push harder.' But who is striving? There is an underlying sense of dualism in this flavor of practice. While that drama of achieving something is perhaps helpful for those difficult early stages of practice, it is ultimately a poison. Traditional Zen practice, such as that described here, pits you in a battle against your ego. Such warfare can, in the end, only be ego building.

This is a modern Zen practice in that there is an explanation of the "theory" of practice. At one time you just sat, heard talks on Koans, and had very brief interviews with your teacher. Eventually, you would either get it or not (mostly not, I believe). Of course, in that more historically traditional practice you would have been a monk totally removed from the concerns of the day-to-day world. I think that the practice described by Kapleau Roshi is still too close to those traditional monastic roots.

My experience at traditional Zen Centers is that they are beautiful and that meditation practice there has a sense of percptible strength-it seems quite grounded. The trouble comes when people are off the cushions.
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