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The Blue Cliff Record Paperback – April 12, 2005
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"The cases comprising [this volume] are meticulously yet gracefully rendered, and should make this classic welcome to both scholars and Zen students, and even casual readers. A nice addition is the inclusion of biographical information about the Chinese masters."—Library Journal
"The Blue Cliff Record reveals to us what enlightenment is, what the enlightened life is, how the patriarchs and masters of old struggled with it, attained it, actualized it, and accomplished it. . . . I firmly believe this translation is a milestone and will immensely benefit those who are sincerely engaged in the practice and the enlightenment of the Buddha-way."—from the foreword by Taizan Maezumi Roshi
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Chinese --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
To peruse the contents of this text is more like picking at an onion, than surveying a flat surface, exploring several layers of meaning. Hence, it is at once simple - and complex, insofar as each of its individual cases (100 in all), with verses, commentaries etc., and meta-commentaries - are convoluted and inter-linked. What eventually became the 'Blue Cliff Record' had began life as Master Hsueh-t'ou's verses and comments. Yuan-wu, an eminent Sung master, eventually added introductory comments, verses and verse comments of his own. It is probably true to say that there is nothing else quite like it - in the rest of the world's literature.
Suzuki presented individual cases as a kind of 'taster.' As a pioneer, Shaw (1961) was daunted by the prospect of translating every layer of the text. Sekida's rendering (1971), presented along with the Mumonkan (Chin. Wu Men Kuan) omitted the final layer of verse/commentary, probably for fear of overwhelming the reader. Cleary has given us the complete text, with some fascinating supplementary material besides. This was a monumental achievement, which will probably remain the definitive version of this classic Zen text, for many long years to come.
It seems a vain undertaking, to try and summarise the Blue Cliff Record - in a book review. If you feel an affinity with the world of Zen - well, get a copy, let its paradoxical sayings, twists and turns penetrate your own being, and it will speak to you in its own, inimitable language. As Cleary notes, Hakuin Zenji stated that he still gained fresh insights from the Blue Cliff Record, even after lecturing on it for over thirty years.
Cleary provides a good introduction, touching on the background to the Ch'an/Zen tradition generally. Modestly (and thank goodness!), Cleary has not imposed himself upon the text proper. What you read is more or less what you find in the Chinese text, with the exception of minimalist notes,delicately added to explicate key terms, idioms etc, or clarify historical references, hinted at in the Chinese text. An interesting biographical section has been appended to the text, detailing the lives of eminent Ch'an/Zen Buddhists, whose words or sayings appear in the Blue Cliff Record.
A final word. Some readers may find it helpful to read this book alongside Sekida's 'Zen Training:Methods and Philosophy' or Miura/Fuller-Sasaki 'The Zen Koan' - which outline something of the practice associated with this material. I might add that Cleary's translation of highly relevant commentary-material,
- titled 'Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record' - comprising comments by Hakuin Zenji (1685-1768) and Tenkei Denson (1653-1726) is currently being offered at discount through Amazon. Tenkei Denson was a member of the Soto school, so it is fascinating to see how a Soto master approaches the B.C.R. Hakuin is known well enough today, but some of his descendants seem only too willing to attribute arbitrary study programmes to the Tokugawa master, which merely mislead Zen students and snare them in literary pretensions. Cleary's supplementary material - noted above, should clear away much of the confusion on this point. Taizan Maezumi Roshi has said of Cleary's work: " I firmly believe this translation is a milestone and will immensely benefit those who are sincerely engaged in the practice and the enlightenment of the Buddha way. "
tr. Thomas and J.C. Cleary
Shambala, Boston and London 1992
I first encountered the classic of Ch'an literature known as The Blue Cliff Record nearly 20 years ago, in a review by my teacher Sangharakshita. He described it as 'a world in which Buddhism matters, is the only thing that matters, and in which people are prepared to go to any lengths in order to attain - and transmit - "the profound anti mysterious principle of Enlightenment".' I suggested, with naive enthusiasm, that he lead a seminar on The Blue Cliff Record. His response was a mischievous smile: `You would have to be ready for anything!'
The book looks harmless enough. In its English translation it has a nice, shiny. deep blue dust jacket with a bit of calligraphy - a classical design, nothing flashy. But if you begin to read it seriously and consistently, in the right kind of conditions, it shakes you to the very core. It looms up out of the mist like a mile-high cliff face. There are no handholds. It is cold, silent, and steep. Very steep.
It consists of 100 kung-an (koan) or 'public cases', originally compiled by a master named Hsueh Tou Ch'ung Hsien (980-1052), who wrote a verse on each case - a cryptic verse pointing the way for his disciples to contemplate. About 60 years after Hsueh Tou's death, another master, Yuan Wu, gave a series of talks elucidating each case and Hsueh Tou's verses. The cases, the verses, and the elucidations together comprise The Blue Cliff Record. so called after the Blue Cliff monastery on Mt. Chia in Hunan where Yuan Wu delivered his talks.
That sounds tidy - a book in which we can read stories about Enlightened masters and then read edifying poems and talks by other masters explaining them. But this is no trendy book about Zen, full of consoling platitudes about our being Buddhas already. If we are tempted to waffle about 'the light within', here is Master Yun Men's challenge: `"Everyone has a light: when you look at it, you don't see it and it's dark and dim. What is everybody's light?" Silence! He answers the question himself. "The kitchen pantry and the main gate".' The Blue Cliff Record is full of challenges. Last summer I read the entire book on a long retreat, on a mountain in Spain. After a day of meditation, ritual, and study, before sleeping, with cicadas for background music, I read until my eyes grew heavy, and then sank into dreams that shook me. Sometimes I woke with a phrase echoing through the cave of the mind. One morning it was: `Mahasattva Fu expounds the scripture.'
This was the title of the kung-an and commentary I had read the night before. Mahasattva Fu, an old mountain-dwelling hermit, came to town selling fish to support himself, and Emperor Wu, a great patron of Buddhism, summoned him to the court to expound the Diamond Sutra I see Mahasattva Fu in a patched robe and the court in their finery waiting for an edifying exposition of Buddhist philosophy. The old hermit slowly made his way to the front of the hall, mounted the teaching throne and shook the desk in front of him. I don't imagine he smiled. He just shook the desk and left. Another monk explained to the astonished Emperor that Mahasattva Fu had just expounded the Diamond Sutra ... thoroughly.
I felt as if Mahasattva Fu had been there in my troubled dreams, showing me that the Diamond Sutra was not a book to verbalise about, but diamond-hard reality itself, smashing my ideas about self, world, life... Buddhism: shaking those ideas to their foundations. Very disturbing!
'The Path has no byroads: one who stands upon it is solitary and dangerous. The truth is not seeing or hearing:
`words and thoughts are far removed from it. If you can penetrate through the forests of thorns and untie the bonds of Buddhahood and Patriarchy, you attain the land of inner peace, where all the gods have no way to offer flowers, where outsiders have no gate to spy through. Then you work all day without ever working, talk all day without ever talking; then you can unfold the device of "breaking in and breaking out" and use the double-edged sword that kills and brings to life, with freedom and independence.'
From 16th Case: Ching Ch'ing's 'Man in the Weeds'.
Yet this is the realm that - on a good day - I aspire to reach. I want to wake up one morning and know for sure that I do not know anything, not because I have read the wrong information, but because reality has come and smashed all assumptions, all borrowed ideas. On a good day I court such devastation, for it is, I believe, the beginning of liberation.
The patch-robed Ch'an travelers of The Blue Cliff Record are not afraid of such devastation, like Huang Po, who 'understood Ch'an by nature': and the nun Iron Grindstone Liu. who had studied for a long time, and whose active edge was 'sharp and dangerous'. They never settle down in 'the nest of cliche". They keep pushing beyond the boundaries. They push not only themselves but each other. For this is also a world of intense communication, in which the teachers' only concern is to break through the shell of the students' ignorance and the students are intent on breaking out of that shell to reveal their 'true face'.
Padmavajra works in the ordination team at Padmaloka Retreat Centre