Opening a Mountain: Koans of the Zen Masters. Book by Steven Heine
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Amazon.com Editorial Review
In Opening a Mountain, Steven Heine takes a unique look at the Zen koan, delving into its mythological background and its relationship to folk beliefs. Even with available commentaries, koan are enigmatic at best, but in a virtuosic display of historical and textual scholarship, Heine brings us a step closer to understanding what the koan are saying and where they come from. Why are there spirits or supernatural rivals in koan? What is the significance of the staff or fly-whisk the monk carries? Why are mountains so central? These are some of the questions that Heine answers as he examines 60 handpicked koan, case by case, first translating them complete with their original commentary, then offering his own discussion that covers textual points, then going into the role of supernatural and ritual imagery. Scholarly in tone, Opening a Mountain opens up a new dimension in the study of Zen koan.
Could blow your mind if you let it
If one does not understand the ORIGIN of a koan, then one understands nothing for oneself about the koan. One can only develope a second hand understanding from a "lineage" biased interpretation of a "zen master", not worth bothering over.
To encounter the koan on its own terms, one needs access to the linguistic skills of Dr. Heine and his deep appreciation of the historic and cultural context in which each different koan was developed.
Dr. Heine applies his linguistic scholarship of the Chinese dialects of seventh century China to create a topical classification of selected koans, and the classification itself tells us new things about how to understand the koans within those classes. Aside from the koan practicer's interest, this book certainly must rate as a "feat of scholarship" among academics.
Koans and their associated tradditional commentaries are full of arcane Chinese word play, from which the author has generally spared the reader. Dr. Heine does not concern himself with "solving" a koan, but rather provides the reader with the contextual ACCESS to develope his own insights into a koan.
Most books about koans are not worth their paper, much less the reader's time to think about them. The "keepers" on this subject are this book and Heine's "The Koan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism". Don't leave samsara without them.