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The Blue-Cliff Record

The Blue-Cliff Record (c. 1040) is the first of the three classic sangha-case (koan) collections from ancient China. These collections culminate the Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist literary tradition, incorporating all of the insights and strategies that had developed over millennia of Ch’an’s development in China. Translated with David Hinton’s trademark lyricism and philosophical rigor, this translation is a revelation. It presents a whole new Blue-Cliff Record. Here we discover the book as a delightfully compelling literary text, full of poetry and storytelling and characters both zany and profound. We also discover it in all the profundity of its original philosophical context, a context largely lost in modern Zen and its translations of the Chinese classics, but rediscovered in Hinton’s other, much-celebrated books on Ch’an. 

    In The Blue-Cliff Record, as in all Ch’an literature, we encounter a community not of religious acolytes, but of philosophers exploring the deep nature of things together, and in a way that is experientially transforming. This Blue-Cliff Record was not originally meant to be a teaching text understood only after long instruction from Zen masters, as it is now seen. And it is not shrouded in impenetrable paradox, as often assumed. Instead, it is a literary/philosophical text crafted to create a direct and immediate experience of awakening. Trusting this, Hinton’s translation presents only the original text, free of the commentary that usually shrouds it. This original book insists over and over on the need to rely on oneself rather than teachers for insight and awakening, and Hinton’s translation opens this possibility anew for contemporary Western readers.

    This is the second in Hinton’s series of the three sangha-case classics, which also includes No-Gate Gateway (2018) and The Carefree-Ease Record (forthcoming).

Praise for The Blue-Cliff Record:

“Another translation of The Blue-Cliff Record? The text has been admirably translated already, several times. But David Hinton adds something rare: a deeply informed and radically different take on Ch’an. As developed here and in earlier books, Hinton sees Ch’an not so much a school of Buddhism as a uniquely indigenous Taoist mysticism in which awakening is radical embeddedness in the natural world rather than transcendence of it—an important perspective in our time of planetary crisis. Readers familiar with The Blue-Cliff Record will be disoriented by the thoroughness of Hinton’s re-Englishing, which is, for me, the pleasure, the puzzle, and the wonder of this book.”


                   —Roshi Norman Fischer, author of The World                                                   Could Be Otherwise


                  — from the book jacket



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