|Born||August 20, 1912|
New Haven, Connecticut, United States
|Died||May 6, 2004(aged 91)|
|Successor||Zenson Gifford, Albert Low, Mitra Bishop, Sunyana Graef, Danan Henry, |
Bodhin Kjolhede, Sunya Kjolhede, Lawson Sachter
Kapleau was born in New Haven, Connecticut. As a teenager he worked as a bookkeeper. He briefly studied law and later became an accomplished court reporter. In 1945 he served as chief Allied court reporter for the "Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal", which judged the leaders of Nazi Germany. This was the first of the series commonly known as the Nuremberg Trials.
Kapleau later covered the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. While in Japan he became intrigued by and drawn to Zen Buddhism. During the tribunal he became acquainted with Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, then a prisoner at Sugamo Prison, who recommended that Kapleau attend informal lectures given by D.T. Suzuki in Kita-Kamakura. After returning to America, Kapleau renewed his acquaintance with D.T. Suzuki who had left Kita-Kamakura to lecture on Zen at Columbia University. But disaffected with a primarily intellectual treatment of Zen, he moved to Japan in 1953 to seek Zen's deeper truth.
He trained initially with Soen Nakagawa, then rigorously with Daiun Harada at the temple Hosshin-ji. Later he became a disciple of Hakuun Yasutani, himself a dharma heir of Harada. After 13 years' training, Kapleau was ordained by Yasutani in 1965 and given permission to teach. Kapleau ended his relationship with Yasutani formally in 1967 over disagreements about teaching and other personal issues. According to Ford, "Kapleau had completed about half of the Harada-Yasutani kōan curriculum, the koans in the Gateless gate and the Blue Cliff Record," and was entitled to teach, but did not receive dharma transmission. According to Andrew Rawlinson, "Kapleau has created his own Zen lineage."
For almost 40 years, Kapleau taught at the Center and in many other settings around the world, and provided his own dharma transmission to several disciples of both genders. He also introduced many modifications to the Japanese Zen tradition, such as chanting the Heart Sutra in the vernacular English in the U.S., or Polish at the Center he founded in Katowice. He often emphasized that Zen Buddhism adapted so readily to new cultures especially because it was not dependent upon a dogmatic external form. At the same time he recognized that it was not always easy to discern the form from the essence, and one had to be careful not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."
He lived with Parkinson’s Disease for several years, and while his physical mobility was reduced, he enjoyed lively and trenchant interactions with a steady stream of visitors throughout his life. On May 6, 2004, he died peacefully in the backyard of the Rochester Zen Center, surrounded by many of his closest disciples and friends.
Kapleau transcribed other 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, has been translated into 12 languages, and is still in print. It was one of the first English-language books to present Zen Buddhism not as philosophy, but as a pragmatic and salutary way of training and living. Michael Alan Singer, New York Times bestselling author and former CEO of WebMD, identified that the Three Pillars of Zen was the source which embarked him on his spiritual journey.
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 and isolated Zen monks. Also well known for his views on vegetarianism, peace and compassion, he remains widely read, and 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.
A favorite saying of Philip Kapleau was "Grist for the mill" which means that all of our troubles and trials can be useful or contain some profit to us. In this spirit, his gravestone is one of the millstones from Chapin Mill, the 135-acre (0.55 km2) Buddhist retreat center whose land was donated by a founding member of the Rochester Zen Center, Ralph Chapin.
Philip Kapleau appointed several successors, some of whom have also appointed successors or authorized teachers:
Two students ended their formal affiliation with Philip Kapleau, establishing independent teaching-careers:
First published in 1965, it has not been out of print ever since, has been translated into ten languages and, perhaps most importantly, still inspires newcomers to take up the practice of Zen Buddhism.
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