Opening a MountainKoans of the Zen Masters

Opening a MountainKoans of the Zen Masters

Steven Heine

Print publication date: 2003

ISBN: 9780195135862

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Opening a Mountain is a translation with a commentary of 60 koan cases that feature an important supernatural or ritual element selected from a variety of the major and minor Zen Buddhist koan collections compiled in Sung China and Kamakura Japan. The koan is a brief, enigmatic anecdote or dialog between two contesting parties that defines the heart. The book demonstrates that the main theme underlying much of the koan literature deals with how Zen masters opened or transformed mountains. The transforming of spiritual forces that had been closing off the mountains into manifestations of sacred space in Zen was referred to as kuai‐shan in Chinese (or kaizan in Japanese). The mountains harbored spirits, demons, and bodhisattvas, as well as hermits, recluses, ascetics, and other irregular practitioners, and were opened using the symbols and rituals of spiritual purification. In contrast with conventional interpretations that view koans as psychological exercises with a purely iconoclastic intention, the approach here highlights the rich component of mythological and marvelous elements that pervade this genre of literature in a way that complements, rather than contradicts, the demythological or iconoclastic perspective. This approach to interpreting Zen literature is distinctive and innovative in several respects. Opening a Mountain includes the selection of koan cases emphasizing supernatural symbols, such as mountains, animals, and other natural imagery, based on a scholarly standard of translation and citation of source materials. The main topics include “Surveying Mountain Landscapes,” “Contesting with Irregular Rivals,” “Encountering Supernatural Forces,” “Wielding Symbols of Authority,” and “Giving Life and Controlling Death as Confessional Experiences.”