Commentary on the Song of Awakening

Commentary on the Song of Awakening

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Author: Kōdō Sawaki

Translators: Janine Coursin and Tonen O'Connor

Publisher: Merwin Asia (2015)

The Song of Awakening (chin. Cheng-tao ke, jap. Shōdōka), is a seminal text within early Chinese Chan (jap. Zen). Written in the seventh century by the Chinese master Yung-chia Hsüan-chüeh (Jap. Yōka Genkaku, known familiarly as Yōka Daishi), this superb poem resonates with Yōka Daishi’s great awakening to the truth of reality. As such, it has had a deep influence on the understanding and practice of a long line of Chinese and Japanese Zen masters and practitioners.

Kōdō Sawaki uses the poetic expression of Shōdōka as a springboard for a wide-ranging commentary that not only elucidates the poem, but adds a rich background of Buddhist teachings and emphasizes Sawaki Roshi’s focus on upright sitting in the zazen posture as the seat of realization. Filled with humor, Japanese folk history, and sometimes a no-holds barred critique of academic and priestly posturing, Sawaki’s commentary is a pleasure to encounter.

"One of the greatest voices of twentieth-century Japanese Zen can finally be heard on our Western shores, speaking directly to each of us about our inmost intention and all the illusions we pile on top of it. Kōdō Sawaki’s iconoclastic mind is matched by the poem he is writing about: The Song of Awakening is a great and edgy classic of early Chinese Zen. Together they are a provocative and exciting read, brightly lit by the clarity of Tonen O’Connor’s translation."

–Jisho Warner

"Kōdō Sawaki Roshi was one of the most important Soto Zen Masters of the 20th century. For nearly half a century, his teaching activities at monasteries, temples, Komazawa University and other places, including both priests and lay practitioners, made Sōtō Zen practice and Dogen Zenji’s teachings widely available . . . It is exciting to read Sawaki Roshi’s teisho in English, an historic publication as we approach the 50th anniversary of his death."

–Shohaku Okumura

"[Sawaki] never makes his readers feel like they need any sort of academic knowledge to understand the core points of Zen practice. Tonen O'Connor has done an amazing job of producing an accessible and entertaining translation. Highly recommended!!"

–Brad Warner