Of the many eccentric figures in Japanese Zen, the Soto Zen master Tosui Unkei (d. 1683) is surely among the most colorful and extreme. Variously compared to Ryokan and Francis of Assisi, Tosui has been called "the original hippie". After many grueling years of Zen study and the sanction of a distinguished teacher, Tosui abandoned the religious establishment and became a drifter.
The arresting details of Tosui's life were recorded in the Tribute (Tosui osho densan), a lively and colloquial account written by the celebrated scholar and Soto Zen master Menzan Zuiho. Menzan concentrates on Tosui's years as a beggar and laborer, recounting episodes from an unorthodox life while at the same time opening a new window on 17th-century Japan. The Tribute is translated here for the first time. Peter Haskel's introduction places Tosui in the context of the Japanese Zen of his period - a time when the identities of early modern Zen schools were still being formed and a period of spiritual crisis for many distinguished monks who believed that the authentic Zen transmission had long ceased to exist. Abiographical addendum offers a detailed overview of Tosui's life in light of surviving premodern sources.
"Haskel's excellent introduction explores at length the various trends and themes within the different schools of Zen Buddhism in early Tokugawa Japan.... This work is a study in contrasts and paradox in many subtle and not so subtle ways." (Japanese Religions)
"The most successful feature of this book is the way it shows how Menzan, who epitomized the reform of Zen monastic institutional structure in the eighteenth century ..., came to idealize a maverick monk who thumbed his nose at all structures a century before." (Monumenta Nipponica)
"Letting Go is both an introduction to Zen Buddhism of the Tokugawa era and a carefully researched translation of the story of one of the oddest members of the clergy of this colorful and turbulent era. As such it is a welcome addition to the range of materials available that present Zen in a clear historical context rather than some thing mystified in timeless transcendence." (Philosophy East and West 55)
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Historical Edo Zen-Shu
- Christian Stander