Entangling Vines, a translation of the Shumon kattoshu, is one of the few major koan texts to have been compiled in Japan rather than China. Indeed, Kajitani Sonin (1914 - 95), former chief abbot of Shokoku-ji and author of an annotated, modern-Japanese translation of the Kattoshu, commented that "herein are compiled the basic Dharma materials of the koan system." Most of the central koans of the contemporary Rinzai koan curriculum are contained in this work.
A distinctive feature of Entangling Vines is that, unlike The Gateless Gate and Blue Cliff Record, it presents the koans "bare," with no introductions, commentaries, or verses. Its straightforward structure lends the koans added force and immediacy, emphasizing the Great Matter, the essential point to be interrogated, and providing ample material for the rigors of examining and refining Zen experience.
Containing 272 cases and extensive note material, the collection is indispensable for serious koan training and will also be of interest for anyone drawn to Zen literature. The present translation had its origins in the discussions between three forward-looking modern Japanese Zen masters and Thomas Kirchner, an experienced Zen monk from America. And Kirchner's careful annotation of each koan makes this a brilliant introduction to Buddhist philosophy.
"A masterpiece. It will be our inspiration for 10,000 years."
– Robert Aitken, author of Taking the Path of Zen and The Gateless Barrier
"A wonderful book, a book to take if you are planning to be shipwrecked on a desert island; it is the book I open every day, and teach from every day. It is surprising, lucid, scholarly, alive, unassuming, and it goes deep."
– John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Koans That Will Save Your Life
"This book summon us into a dynamic immediacy with life itself."
– Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles
"An excellent translation of an important collection."
– Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
"Anyone who plays in the fields of koan introspection will welcome this book."
– Melissa Myozen Blacker, coeditor of The Book of Mu
"Working with these koans is a challenging and joyous enterprise."
– Ross Bolleter, author of Dongshan's Five Ranks
Zen monk and translator Thomas Yuho Kirchner has drawn on his impressive skill and insight to craft this outstanding translation of the Katto-shu. His lively renderings succeed at conveying the vitality of the koans in this collection. Readers will also benefit from the dynamic foreword by Zen teacher Nelson Foster.
– Christopher Ives, author of Zen on the Trail: Hiking as Pilgrimage