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Where the World Does Not Follow

Buddhist China in Picture and Poem

Photographs by Steven R. Johnson / Translated by Mike O'Connor

Gorgeous and unique, Where the World Does Not Follow captures an almost-hidden China. Acclaimed translator Mike O'Connor and photographer Steven Johnson uncover a world rarely seen by outsiders--even as they capture it in its everyday beauty. O'Connor's translations of poems from China's Tang Dynasty sing in the present day, while Johnson's photographs reveal a modern-day China that seems almost unchanged by the passing of centuries.

Chinese authorities are only now allowing access to ancient Buddhist sites and many writings and devotional objects are being made available for the first time in decades. These poems written by Zen and Taoist hermit-sages, together with the crisp yet almost dreamlike images capture the aesthetic, literary, and spiritual roots of Buddhist China. Where the World Does Not Follow provides insight into a world that very few have been able to visit--and a time difficult even to imagine. O'Connor and Johnson's book is a hymn to nature, to the art of photography, and to the common beauty of humanity that extends to us like a silk thread from another time and place.

"Poetry and pictures combine in Where the World Does Not Follow: Modern photography is married to ancient verse, creating what translator Mike O'Connor calls 'a third work, a larger whole that ideally evokes a felt sense of things beyond either words or visual representations.' Steve Johnson's black-and-white photographs emerged from his pilgrimage to the temples, huts, and caves of mountain hermit-sages, a kind of practitioner that many thought obsolete in China. The genius of this book is the timelessness that emerges from juxtaposing modern photographs with T'ang Dynasty Buddhist poetry. The photos or the poetry alone would make this a wonderful text. The two together are something truly special. Adjacent to a striking picture of Cold Mountain Cave near T'ien-t'ai Shan. Chekiang, is the poem 'On Hearing A Bell,' whose final verse captures the spirit of this work: 'In the long night of Zen meditation, when the clear bell sounded, it was my mind.'"

– Shambhala Sun

"The poetry and photographs, equally captivating, take the reader on a guided tour of China."

– ForeWord

"A striking collection of poetry and stunning black-and-white photographs. The result is an amazing balance of timeless wisdom in a land where time seems to have stood still."--

– New York Resident

"Where the World Does Not Follow is splendid. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful and elegantly laid out but I feel that it fills an important need for Western Zen practitioners. Most of us have not visited China and so our experiential grasp of the landscape and culture that the great Zen teachers of the Tang dynasty is limited, if not non-existent. The photographs, complemented by the poems, allow us to experience the world of Joshu and Rinzai as never before. That, surely, can only enhance our grasp of their profound teaching... We keep the book prominently displayed in our sangha room."

– Janet Jiryu Abels, Sensei, Still Mind Zendo, NYC

We need the solace of sanctuary, whether it be in meditation, in prayer, or walking in the solitude of wilderness. We are offered such sanctuary within the pages of this book."

– William Neill, from his foreword

"A beautiful marriage of word and image. The book explores the hermit-sage tradition of China, with poems by Taoist and Buddhist adepts from the T'ang Dynasty. These haunting poems are paired with Johnson's stark black-and-white photos, offering a visual cue to the loneliness and rugged splendor of the hermit's life."

– Publishers Weekly

"O'Connor and Johnson provide dual glimpses of Buddhist culture in ancient and modern China. Photographs of the landscape and people of modern China complement the ancient poetry in juxtapositions both surprising and literal. From a row of teacups to misty cliffs to a hermit's retreat, here is a literary and visual tribute to a land where religion and daily life are inseparable."

– Tricycle

"While reading through this book and looking at the exquisite photos, it feels a privilege to have access to the world described in its pages. The pairing of the pictures and poems indeed brings greater understanding and beauty to each... This is a book you can devour in one sitting, with the knowledge that you will want to return to each page in order to glean what was missed in the first rush."

– Port Townsend Leader

"Breaktaking and unique; uncovers a world rarely seen by outsiders. The poems bring peace to our hearts while viewing the dreamlike images."

– The Messenger

"A handsome collection of stunning photos of China by Steven R. Johnson, matched with Mike O'Connor's fine translations of Tang Dynasty poetry--all related to the world of Chinese Buddhism and of Buddhist and Taoist recluses. Also a real plus for students of Chinese culture: the poems are accompanied by their original Chinese texts."

– Zen Notes