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Philip Kapleau

Philip Kapleau (1912 - 2004) was an American teacher of Zen Buddhism in the Harada-Yasutani tradition, a blending of Soto and Rinzai schools. He was a student of Daiun Harada and Soen Nakagawa and was a disciple of Haku'un Yasutani.

Kapleau was born in New Haven, Connecticut, where he studied law and became a court reporter. In 1945 he was chief court reporter for the Nuremberg Tribunals and later covered the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. While in Japan he became interested in Zen Buddhism. After a return to America for studies at Columbia University with D.T. Suzuki, Kapleau moved to Hosshin-ji monastery in Japan in 1953.

After thirteen years of study under three Japanese Zen masters, he was ordained by Haku'un Yasutani in 1965 and given permission by him to teach. Kapleau transcribed Zen teachers' talks, interviewed lay students and monks, and recorded the practical details of Zen Buddhist practice. His book, The Three Pillars of Zen, was published in 1965 and has been translated into twelve languages.

During a book tour in 1965 he was invited to teach at a small meditation group in Rochester, New York. In 1966 he left Japan to create the Rochester Zen Center.

For over twenty years, Kapleau taught at the Rochester Zen Center and provided dharma transmission to several disciples. He also introduced Western modifications (such as chanting the Heart Sutra in English rather than Japanese) to Zen tradition which may have contributed to his ultimate alienation from Yasutani.

Kapleau was an articulate and passionate writer. His emphasis in writing and teaching was that insight and enlightenment are available to anyone, not just austere Zen monks. Known for his views on vegetarianism, peace and compassion, he remains widely read.

Kapleau is a notable influence on Zen Buddhism as it is practiced in the West. Today, his dharma heirs, descendants and former students teach at Zen Centers around the world.

On 6 May 2004, he died from complications of Parkinsonís Disease at the Rochester Zen Center.

Selected Works

   * (French) "Questions zen" (Paris, Threshold/Points Wisdoms, 1979) ISBN 2020145960
   * (German) "Die drei Pfeiler des Zen. Lehre, √úbung, Erleuchtung" (Barth O.W., 2002) ISBN 3502643555
   * (Italian) "I Tre Pilastri dello Zen: Insegnamento pratica e illuminazione" (Roma: Ubaldini Editore, 1981)
   * (English Audio) Phoenix Audio, 1995: Downloadable: <> or <> (Abridged length: 2 hours & 51 min)
  • "The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical and Spiritual Guide" (Boston: Shambhala, 1998) ISBN 1570621985
   * (German) "Das Zen-Buch vom Leben und vom Sterben. Ein spiritueller Ratgeber" (O. W. Barth Bei Scherz, 2001) ISBN 3502610576
   * (Portuguese) "Roda da Vida e da Morte: Guia PrŠtico e Espiritual, A" (Cultrix, 1993) ISBN 8531604230
   * (English Audio) Audio Literature, November 1998: Cassette, ISBN 1574530577 
  • "To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist Case for Vegetarianism" (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982) ISBN 094030600X
   * (Spanish) "El Respeto a la Vida" (Troquel Editorial, 2000) ISBN 9501602397
  • "Zen: Dawn in the West" (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1979) ISBN 0385142730
   * (Italian) "La nascita dello zen in Occidente" (Astrolabio: Roma, 1982)
  • "Zen Keys" by Thich Nhat Hanh, 19-page Introduction (New York: Doubleday, 1974) ISBN 0385475616
  • "Zen: Merging of East and West" (New York: Anchor Books, 1989) ISBN 0385261047
  • "Zen Teaching, Zen Practice" edited by Professor Kenneth Kraft, a festschrift honoring "Philip Kapleau and the 'Three Pillars of Zen'" (New York: Weatherhill, 2000) ISBN 0834804409