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Zen Words for the Heart: Hakuin's Commentary on the Heart Sutra Paperback – July 15, 1996
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Original Language: Japanese
From the Back Cover
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Hakuin writes in the incisive, poetic, paradoxical style that I think of as "Zen-speak" when it gets imitated poorly, but this is the real thing. Hakuin's writing is lively, funny, often sarcastic or scatalogical.
Here are a couple of bits I especially liked, to give you a sense of Hakuin's style: Commenting on the line "Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form," Hakuin says, "A nice hot kettle of stew. He ruins it by dropping a couple of rat turds in. It's no good pushing delicacies at a man with a full belly. Striking aside waves to look for water when the waves _are_ water." Commenting on the phrase "is delivered from all distress and suffering," Hakuin offers this verse:
The ogre outside shoves the door,
The ogre inside holds it fast.
Dripping sweat from head to tail
Battling for their very lives,
They keep it up throughout the night
Until at last when the dawn appears
Their laughter fills the early light--
They were friends from the first.
If you'd prefer a commentary in a more ordinary, explanatory style, try Albert Low's "...Read more ›
If you do not work out your own understanding, questions, reflections first, this text will either offend or amuse, and thus be wasted. It is no museum piece or comedy act; as another reviewer has said, Hakuin is the Real Deal when it comes to Zen, and treated with respect - and even fear - he will deliver the Heart of this Sutra directly into your own heart.
His sharp wit and poetic metaphors serve to both jumble and clarify your understanding of this famous sutra. You may have to read and reread his words many a time before you reach that "aha!" moment - a sort of mini enlightenment, so to speak.
Because of Hakuin's bizarre writing style and often esoteric allusions, I would not recommend this as one's first experience with the Heart Sutra. However, for those well-versed in the sutra, as well as for those with an open mind and the ability to gain wisdom from seeming irrationality and paradox, I can't advocate this commentary enough.
Give it a go. Then give it another go. All the better for your mind, and of course, your heart.
Some of Hakuin's statements are very much in the time of his writing them, some are concepts you can find in most texts on early Buddhism. I like that Hakuin undermines the dangerous and harmful interpretations of "emptiness". It is his metaphors that helped me get this point, feel this point. The translator's notes did help in this. If you have read the Heart Sutra or other works on emptiness and find yourself falling into the trap of seeing a "here" to leave and a "there" to which you need to go to, or your view of emptiness tends towards nihilism then you should read this book and weigh it carefully.
There were also typos, they were annoying but did not render the book unusable. However, those and some incompleteness in the translators notes make me consider this text a 4 out of 5 stars.
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