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Philip Kapleau


Philip Kapleau dies on May 6th at 91. 

Thanks to Jamie Avera for the following sad message about the passing of one of the people most dedicated to opening the West up to Zen. . - DC


Roshi Philip Kapleau passed away yesterday at Rochester Zen Center, about 3:30pm. According to a friend of mine who is a long-time member of the sangha, he passed away quietly during a chanting session, surrounded by students, in the RZC garden. Roshi's body will be placed in a casket in the Zendo for three days, and will then be buried at RZC's country retreat center. - JA


Condolences to his students, friends, and family. Thanks for all the hard work, for your teaching and the disciples you ordained, for the Three Pillars of Zen which opened so many eyes, and for your harmonica playing (which I only heard about - from Alan Ginsberg). Kapleau visited Sokoji and gave a talk in 1961 and Shunryu Suzuki visited him and his Rochester Zen Center and sat zazen there with them in March of 1967. - DC

From the Washington Post:

Philip Kapleau Zen Center Founder, Author

Philip Kapleau, 91, author of "The Three Pillars of Zen" and founder of the Rochester Zen Center in Upstate New York, died May 6 at the Zen center. He had Parkinson's disease. Mr. Kapleau was born in New Haven, Conn., and became a court reporter in Connecticut. While serving as chief court reporter for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany, and later covering the Tokyo War Crimes Trials after World War II, he felt compelled to devote his life to spiritual teaching. While in Japan, he became interested in Zen Buddhism and sought out D.T. Suzuki and other Zen teachers. He was ordained by Hakuun Yasutani Roshi in 1965 and given permission by him to teach. He was one of the first Westerners allowed to observe and record dokusan, the private interviews between a Zen teacher and student. The resulting book, "The Three Pillars of Zen," was published in 1965 and quickly became the standard introductory text on Zen practice. It is still in print and has been translated into 12 languages. - thanks Paul Shippee


The Fall 1969 Windbell pp. 48-53 has an excerpt from The Three Pillars of Zen and an article on the Rochester Zen Center by Tim Buckley


There are many mentions of Philip Kapleau on, especially what a pivital role the Three Pillars of Zen played in people's practice.


from cuke Interview with Allen Ginsberg

I ran into Roshi Kapleau recently. He's retired. Lives in Florida. I was up in Rochester giving a reading and they offered to put me up in their house there. I'd visited them years ago in the '60s and done a benefit with them. He was up from Florida. Very old and fragile, but playing his harmonica. He's a good harmonica player. He's unleashed the harmonica on them all and they all sing-along to the songs he plays.


Albert Stunkard has unique material on Kapleau in an excerpt from a book he was working on.


From Jean Stearns on cuke

I graduated from Berkeley in 1964 and, thanks to a connection with the Episcopal church I’d been raised in, found a job teaching English at a prep school in Japan. I felt very lucky to have found a job in a country that interested me so much because of the sitting I’d been doing at Sokoji. As you probably know, Japan wasn’t affluent then; no cars being made yet, still pretty much the post- Occupation economy for them, so jobs teaching English there weren’t as easily come by as they were later, and they didn’t pay much. My school was in Kamakura, one of the old capitals, an exquisite small city about an hour south of Tokyo. Soon after I arrived, I met Phillip and Delancey Kapleau, who also lived there. Phillip Kapleau was mildly critical of my interest in Zen, saying he didn’t think it was the best way for a really young person such as me to spend her time (a sort of “get a life first” message, I think). But he did introduce me at Engakuji, a nearby Rinzai temple where I could sit any day, and at Zuisenji in Kamakura where an informal Soto Zen group sat about once a month, usually with Yasutani-roshi.  Delancey Kapleau , a meditation adept herself, befriended me and nobly helped me through some of my problems, complications with a boyfriend, religious dilemmas, etc. Once, after a day of sitting at Zuisenji, a man I never saw again came up to me and said, very intently, in excellent English, that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else and I should keep coming. I don’t think I fully got then how much insight, and what unusual initiative, were involved in his doing that. I hadn’t accepted yet that the right to pursue Zen on equal terms with anyone else was an issue for me.

I remember that when Grahame and Pauline Petchey came to Kamakura for a brief visit, I took them to meet Phillip Kapleau, and he was unexpectedly rude to Grahame, saying something like, well, why did you come to see me if not to accept me as your teacher?  And that was from an American who didn’t have his own temple yet, though obviously he was already steeped in some of the Zen mores. 


From Anon on cuke

The publication of Phillip Kapleau's book [The Three Pillars of Zen] in about 1965 was a big revelation. Before that there wasn't very much on Zen practice and meditation. The other books weren't about practice.


From Crooked Cucumber

Ch 14

Yasutani was giving sesshins on the West Coast and had attracted a following, partly due to the success of Philip Kapleau's new book, The Three Pillars of Zen, which told a great deal about zazen, koan work, and Yasutani's brand of Zen. 


In Kamakura, Grahame and Pauline visited Philip Kapleau, who had been studying for years with Yasutani. Kapleau was furious with them for having been in Japan a year without looking him up. Wasting their time! He told them that none of the Soto teachers were enlightened--not Suzuki, not Uchiyama, nor anyone at Eiheiji, and that they should have studied with his teacher. "I'm very happy to have studied with such unenlightened teachers," Grahame told him. It was a disappointment to have that sort of exchange with Kapleau after the wonderful time they'd had four years before, when the Kapleaus had visited Zen Center.

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