The Record of Linji

Translation & commentary by Ruth Fuller Sasaki Edited by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner

Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008. xxxii+487 pages.

The Linji lu (Record of Linji) has been an essential text of Chinese and Japanese Zen Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. A compilation of sermons, statements, and acts attributed to the great Chinese Zen master Linji Yixuan (d. 866), it serves as both an authoritative statement of Zen’s basic standpoint and a central source of material for Zen koan practice. Scholars study the text for its importance in understanding both Zen thought and East Asian Mahayana doctrine, while Zen practitioners cherish it for its unusual simplicity, directness, and ability to inspire.

In the late 50s, when I was a student in Chinese studies in Kyoto, I worked part-time for Mrs. Sasaki’s First Zen Institute. We were working on her translation of The Record of Linji, and every time we went over it with her we hoped it was at last in publishable form. But “Needs more work!” was always her dour comment, and back it would go into her files.

In 1961 Mrs. Sasaki and I parted company, and not long afterward she died. In 1975 a version of the translation came out, but without the elaborate annotation she had envisioned.

And now, thanks to the efforts of the meticulous and indefatigable Mr. Kirchner and his supporters, we have a new version of that earlier translation. With Mrs. Sasaki’s old notes put into finished form, along with the ones she never got around to writing, here is this important Zen classic with all the annotation one could desire, in what will doubtless be the definitive edition for many years to come.

Burton Watson

Translators of classical Chinese will immediately recognize the Kirchner edition constitutes a small handbook of classical and colloquial Chinese grammar. It sets a new standard in scholarly translation of Buddhist primary texts.

Victor Sōgen Hori

… Sasaki would definitely approve. It if needs “more work,” I cannot imagine in what way. This complete Linji-lu is more than half composed of notes and commentaries. Editor Kirchner is apparently as fond of them as Sasaki ever was… This is probably the definitive book on “The Record of Linji,

Donald Ritchie, The Japan Times

The long-awaited publication of this book is the belated culmination of an epoch-making research program. Beginning in 1954 and extending for over a dozen years until her death in October 1967, Ruth Fuller Sasaki (1892–1967) engaged a small group of exceptionally gifted scholars in the detailed study and annotated English translation of the recorded sayings of Linji Yixuan 臨済義玄 (d. 866), arguably the single most important–and certainly the single most captivating–text of the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition. The English translation appeared, but with only minimal annotation, in 1975; the current volume contains an updated version of the translation, with the historical introduction and in-depth annotation planned for but not included in the original volume.…

That we have this book in our hands at all is to the infinite credit of Thomas Yūhō 釈雄峯 Kirchner, who with this contribution shows himself to be a significant authority in the academic study of Chinese Chan. Kirchner’s résumé does not follow the standard academic pattern of university study and professional appointments, but rather began with religious practice that has matured into a combination of deep empathy with and broad understanding of East Asian Buddhism. (This is a pattern much more commonly found among western participants in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition than those involved in East Asian Buddhism, I have recently realized–an intriguing difference that deserves further consideration by scholars of Buddhism in the contemporary world.) A long-time copyeditor at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Kirchner has produced a volume that is impeccably well crafted, which reads smoothly and with elegance in every turn of phrase, and which provides the English reader with access to a foundational generation of scholarship on Chinese Chan.

Zen specialists should be most grateful to Thomas Kirchner for his painstaking distillation of the volumes of loose-leaf notes, corrections to Dōchū bibliographic information and grammatical analyses, as well as his careful checking of notes that were incomplete or undecided with the results of the latest scholarship.… Indispensable.

John Jorgensen, Japan Studies

The Nanzan Institute and the University of Hawai‘i Press have combined to produce a beautiful volume, encased within a handsome hardcover. The user friendly and logical layout allows for many levels of enjoyment or edification. The translation is first provided devoid of notes or characters, which allows the reader a smooth perusal without the distracting allure of footnotes or original text. Also, at the end of the volume is the Chinese text for those who may like to read (or scan as the case may be) Linji in his original best. And in between these is the luxurious annotated translation, which allows one to study and appreciate the mechanics of a skillful translation in small, easily-digestible segments.

James Baskind, The Eastern Buddhist