The copy of ‘Zen and Japanese Culture’ retains its value


COURTESY PICTURES
Daisetz Suzuki’s “Zen and Japanese Culture” has retained a high market value since its first release in 1938.

Here is a great book, unearthed in a flea market:Zen and Japanese culturea classic that has been printed in hundreds of languages. It’s an easy book to appraise, as it hasn’t been more expensive on the market since its first printing in 1938.

JS’s copy is from 1959 – author Daisetz Suzuki writes in his preface that he begs the reader’s indulgence for not rewriting the book after many years. The first title of the book in 1939 was “Zen Buddhism and its influence on Japanese culture » (pub. Eastern Buddhist Society of Otani Buddhist University in Kyoto). Instead of rewriting the book, he explains, it includes three new chapters essential to understanding Zen: Swordsmanship, The Art of Tea and The Haiku. This is because in the 1959 edition, Suzuki had become, as he says, enamored with the relationship between these subjects and Zen, which he incorporates into a section that includes the Japanese love of nature.

The 1959 edition is profusely illustrated with “inserted” plates; pictures of rock gardens; paintings from the 600s and older; photos of shrines; and an astonishing undocumented painting of the Buddha entering Nirvana under the trees, showing his mother Queen Maya with medication and his disciple Mahakasyapa, both of whom arrived too late. All of nature, human and non-human, weeps as the trees bloom. It’s from the early 18th century

This book has been an enduring classic primarily because of the way the language is used to illustrate Zen; a first edition, 1938, will set you back $800. Even Princeton’s paperback sells for $40 used because the book has been so readable for 84 years. The language is both simple and poetic, as it describes 2,500 years of Buddhist history and its relationship to Zen.

Mr. Suzuki illustrates the concept of Zen with stories, such as this one by Goso Hoyen (d 1104): “If you must ask what Zen is like, I would say it is like learning the art of burglary; An aging burglar’s son asks to learn the art. Thus, the father takes the son to a burglary, and in the night, locks his son in a large trunk, wakes the household, and leaves, unnoticed, to return home. The son lay in the trunk, hating his father. He thought about making rat noises; he was discovered and fled, hoisting a huge stone into the well in the courtyard. In pursuit, the family gathers around the well, searching deep in the dark waters for the drowning burglar. Back at his father’s house, he approached his father, who said, “Son, don’t be offended, just tell me how you got on.” The son did, and then the father said, “There you go. You learned the art.

Mr. Suzuki comments on this parable: Satori (enlightenment) must be an outgrowth of one’s inner life, not brought in from without.

Why use art to illustrate Zen? Mr. Suzuki says, “The artist’s work is a free creation from direct intuitions…unfettered by the senses and the intellect. He creates shapes and sounds from formlessness and the absence of sound. And then the author argues that Zen is unique because Zen influences every aspect of life, not just the spiritual.

The 1959 book is published by the Bolligen Foundation, responsible for publishing books, like this one, that have had a huge impact on culture since 1940, when it was founded by a husband and wife team. For many years, the Foundation has awarded scholarships and awarded an annual poetry prize. The Foundation has published 275 titles, its last in 2002.

Notable individual titles include the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the “Yi Ching”, or “Book of Changes”; DT Suzuki “Zen and Japanese Culture”; Vladimir Nabokov’s translation of Pushkin”Eugene Onegin”; by Erich Neumann”The Origins and History of Consciousness »; by Mircea EliadeThe myth of the eternal return; Isaiah Berlin “The Origins of Romanticism”; by Gershom Scholem”Sabbati Ṣevi »; by E.H. Gombrich”Arts and illusions; and by Kenneth Clark”The Nude.

There is a lovely little delicate and beautifully written inscription from a friend named Shirley on the flyleaf of JS’s book: “To Ann: If your eyes see,/ and your ears hear,/ no doubt you will cherish/ How naturally the rain drips from the leaves!

Throughout the book, Suzuki elegantly analyzes haiku like this, and here’s my favorite, a simple green symphony after a rain: “A lonely frog drenched in the rain/Ride on a Basho leaf,/Unsteadily.”

The value of the flea market treasure is $100.

Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Monday in the News-Press.

Written after his father was diagnosed with COVID-19, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that culminate in personal triumphs over current constraints. It is available from Chaucer in Santa Barbara.


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