This immensely useful book explores Zen's rich tradition of chanted liturgy and the powerful ways that such chants support meditation, expressing and helping us truly uphold our heartfelt vows to live a life of freedom and compassion. Exploring eight of Zen's most essential and universal liturgical texts, Living by Vow is a handbook to walking the Zen path, and Shohaku Okumura guides us like an old friend, speaking clearly and directly of the personal meaning and implications of these chants, generously using his experiences to illustrate their practical significance. A scholar of Buddhist literature, he masterfully uncovers the subtle, intricate web of culture and history that permeate these great texts. Esoteric or challenging terms take on vivid, personal meaning, and old familiar phrases gain new poetic resonance.
Shohaku Okumura is a Soto Zen priest and Dharma successor of Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. He is a graduate of Komazawa University and has practiced in Japan at Antaiji, Zuioji, and the Kyoto Soto Zen Center, and in Massachusetts at the Pioneer Valley Zendo. He is the former director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco. His previously published books of translation include Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen Zen, Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo, and Opening the Hand of Thought. Okumura is also editor of Dogen Zen and Its Relevance for Our Time and SotoZen. He is the founding teacher of the Sanshin Zen Community, based in Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives with his family.
"Okumura offers his own perpective on different interpretations of these texts, giving detailed analysis of key Japanese words in order to illuminate unseen meanings. In doing so, he shares his personal experiences of these practices, lifting these texts out of their familiar ceremonial settings and bringing them into conversation with the Zen practitioner. The book goes beyond an explication of specific chants and rituals to reveal that the unifying practice of Zen is living by the bodhisattva's vow."
"Living by Vow is a unique and wonderful combination of skillful, fresh translations and Dharma discourses by a Zen priest who is a scholar, a long-term practitioner, and a Zen master. Shohaku Okamura reveals his own life vow as he helps us dive deeply into the many chants that are recited daily in Buddhist temples around the world, rendering them accessible and beautifully relevant to our lives. This is a book to read and re-read, to consult and cite."
– Jan Chozen Bays, author of How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness
"Living By Vow unpacks much of the Zen liturgy with striking clarity, depth, and detail. Shohaku's writing manifests the deep, settled mind of the Soto school. A refreshing read! This is an essential resource for students and teachers alike."
– Dosho Port, author of Keep Me in Your Heart a While
"An important and much-needed book. Shohaku Okumura's elucidations of these fundamental teachings--so familiar to many, yet so often poorly understood--make plain how profound they truly are."
– Steve Hagen, author of Buddhism Plain and Simple
"In this lovely and informative book, Shohaku Okamura illuminates the meaning of the texts we chant in so many Zen practice centers. The combination of his abundance of knowledge and his personal openness allow these ancient words to come alive. I am grateful for Okamura Roshi's gift of scholarship and heart, and look forward to enjoying his wise companionship in my own chanting practice."
– Melissa Myozen Blacker, coeditor of The Book of Mu
"Drawing on teachings from a variety of Zen teachers as well as his wide knowledge of the Buddhist canon, Shohaku Okamura offers us new ways to approach these sometimes too familiar passages. His writing is always infused by his great love of practice and his love for the living practice of Zen."
– David Rynick, author of This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons
"A great book. Steeped in the best of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, Shohaku Okamura has lived and taught in America for decades. This experience--honed by the sincerity of Shohaku's character, scholarship, and commitment--results in a rare text that fully integrates the richness of Dogen's culturally profound Buddhism with the needs of the contemporary student. Shohaku's discussion of Soto Zen's key liturgical texts will be required reading for all students of that tradition--and will be of great benefit to anyone who wants to appreciate the nature and scope of religious life. I am inspired and delighted by this book and will be using it for a long time to come."
– Zoketsu Norman Fischer, author of Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
"This book features detailed commentary on a series of fundamental texts including historical, philosophical, and practice perspectives, and will be very useful to all beginning Zen students, and also illuminating for many long-time practitioners."
– Taigen Dan Leighton, author of Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry