Zen Sand

The Book Of Capping Phrases For Kōan Practice

Victor Sōgen Hori

Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003. xiv+764 pages

In Japan the traditional Rinzai Zen kōan curriculum includes the use of jakugo, or “capping phrases.” Once a monk has successfully replied to a kōan, the Zen master orders the search for a classical verses to express the monk’s insight into the kōan. Special collections of these jakugo were compiled as handbooks to aid in that search. Until now, Zen students in the West, lacking this important resource, have been severely limited in carrying out this practice. Zen Sand combines and translates two standard jakugo handbooks and opens the way for incorporating this important tradition fully into Western Zen practice.

This impressive compendium of texts central to Zen practice offers a wealth of information not only to students of Zen or Buddhism in general, but to anyone interested in the history and culture of East Asia.

The whole literary and cultural baggage of Zen Buddhism–key Buddhist concepts, Confucian and Taoist adages, the most famous figures of Chinese history and legend, the most widely quoted lines of the great Chinese poets–all in one book. Zen Sand is a gold mine!

Burton Watson

The publication of Zen Sand marks a major step in the transmission of Rinzai Zen to the West. By providing a complete translation of the major Zen phrase anthologies, it offers a new opening to both the literature and the practice of Zen. Of particular importance is the opportunity it provides for English-speaking students to work with capping phrases, one of the most important elements of traditional kõan study. Enriched by Sõgen Hori’s detailed introduction, which clarifies the function of the phrases in Zen practice and does much to dispel misunderstandings of koan work, Zen Sand is certain to become a valuable resource for Zen students everywhere.

Harada Shōdō, Sōgen-ji Temple

Zen Sand is a wonderful contribution to Ch’an and Zen literature in English. Actually there’s no need to qualify it with ‘in English,’ because Zen Sand is the largest modern collection of capping phrases in any language and it includes both the Chinese characters and the Japanese reading for each entry.… Capping phrase practice may seem to happen on its own, but in the West we have good reason to encourage it. It has the power to reveal a Zen that is not bound to another time and a different place, a Zen that is native to us.

Joan Sutherland, Buddhadharma
  • The Introduction to this book is available for downloading. (© Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture. For personal use only. This material may not be distributed without written permission of the copyright holder and the University of Hawai’i Press.)
  • A complete and searchable list of all the Chinese verses in Zen Sand is also available in PDF format.