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Thomas F. Cleary (1949-)
Thomas Cleary holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. He told us in an interview:
"I am not in Engaged Buddhism, have never supported cults, am not a member of any academic clique, and do not belong in organized education. I am not confined to any group. I want to stay independent and reach those who want to learn directly through my books... Of the eight languages and some 80 books I translated, I would say Old Irish was the most challenging."
The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 1
PDF: Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership
This guide to enlightened conduct for people in positions of authority is based on the teachings of several great Zen masters of China.
PDF: Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom
Drawn from the records of the great Chinese Zen masters of the Tang and Song dynasties, this collection represents the most open and direct forms of instruction in the entire Zen canon.
The Five Houses of Zen
These writings are widely considered to be preeminent among Zen literature.
Minding Mind: A Course in Basic Meditation
The meditation instructions in this book focus on attaining a state of true objectivity that enables the practitioner to use all other forms of meditation freely and consciously, without becoming fixated or obsessed.
PDF: Instant Zen
Presented here are the teachings of Foyan, who offers simple exercises in attention and thought designed to lead to insight into the real nature of self.
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 2
PDF: Teachings of Zen
This anthology presents talks, sayings, and records of heart-to-heart encounters to show the essence of Zen teaching through the words of the Zen masters themselves.
This book is a collection of quotations from the great masters of Zen. The masters talk about the practicalities of Zen realization and primarily about waking up, seeing for yourself, and standing on your own two feet.
Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu
Presented here are the teachings of the great Chinese master Yuanwu in direct person-to-person lessons, intimately revealing the inner workings of the psychology of enlightenment.
PDF: Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen
Dogen, the founder of Japanese Zen, presents a thorough recasting of Buddhism with a creative ingenuity that has never been matched in the subsequent literature of Japanese Zen.
The Ecstasy of Enlightenment
An inside look at the spiritual world of tantra, revealing noteworthy parallels between tantric Buddhism in old Bengal and the original Zen Buddhism of China.
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 3
PDF: The Sutra of Hui-neng: Grand Master of Zen
Hui-neng was the sixth patriarch of Chinese Zen. His teachings are characterized by their striking immediacy and by their concern with direct insight into the essential nature of awareness. The Sutra of Hui-neng is accompanied by Hui-neng's own commentary on the Diamond Sutra .
PDF: Dream Conversations on Buddhism and Zen
A collection of a renowned Japanese masters' written replies to questions about the true nature of Zen.
PDF: Kensho: The Heart of Zen
Included here are some of the important texts focusing on the profound subtleties of this essential Zen awakening and the methods used in its realization.
PDF: Rational Zen: The Mind of Dogen Zenji
Contains selections from Dogen's two masterworks, Shobogenzo and Eihei Koruko . Cleary's commentary and compendium of authentic source materials enhance the reader's insight into Dogen's methods.
Zen and the Art of Insight
Thomas Cleary has gathered key selections from throughout the Prajnaparamita literature, accompanying each selection with commentary, to present the key teachings as exercises in learning freedom.
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 4
Transmission of Light: Zen in the Art of Enlightenment
This first complete modern translation of the classic Denkoroku illustrates how to attain satori.
Unlocking the Zen Koan
This translation of the koan classic Wumenguan also includes Cleary's selection of comments by great Chinese Zen masters.
Original Face: An Anthology of Rinzai Zen
An anthology of Japanese Rinzai Zen from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Timeless Spring: A Soto Zen Anthology
Contains sayings, informal talks, and public cases of important Soto Zen masters.
Zen Antics: 100 Stories of Enlightenment
Unlike many of the baffling dialogues between Zen masters preserved in koan literature, the stories retold here are pointedly simple but with a richness and subtlety that make them worth reading again and again.
Record of Things Heard: From the Treasury of the Eye of the True Teaching
This Zen classic is a collection of talks by the great Japanese Zen Master Dogen, founder of the Soto school.
Sleepless Nights: Verses for the Wakeful
Among the greatest masterpieces of the secular Buddhist poetry, these verses mock the folly of tyrants and celebrate the indomitability of life.
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 5
Dhammapada: The Sayings of Buddha
The famous collection of 423 verses of Buddhist wisdom that has been profoundly influential in every Buddhist school.
The Buddhist I Ching
The translation included in this volume is the only full-length interpretation of the I Ching by a Chinese Buddhist meditation master.
Stopping and Seeing: A Comprehensive Course in Buddhist Meditation
A monumental work written by sixth-century Buddhist master Chi-i. One of the most comprehensive manuals written on these two essential points of Buddhist meditation.
PDF: Entry into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism
An introduction to the philosophy of the Hua-yen school of Buddhism, one of the cornerstones of East Asian Buddhist thought.
PDF: Buddhist Yoga: A Comprehensive Course
A landmark translation of the classical sourcebook of Buddhist yoga, the Sandhinirmochana-sutra, or "Scripture Unlocking the Mysteries," a revered text of the school of Buddhism known as Vijnanavada or Yogachara.
PDF: The Blue Cliff Record by 圜悟克勤 Yuanwu Keqin (1063–1135)
translated by Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary ; foreword by Taizsan Maezumi Roshi.
Boulder, Colo. : Shambhala ; [New York] : distributed by Random House, 1977.
Boston, Mass. : Shambhala Publications ; [New York] : Distributed by Random House, 1992.
Boston : Shambhala, 2005.
PDF: The Flower ornament scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra)
PDF: Understanding Reality : A Taoist Alchemical Classic
PDF: Lu Tung-pin: Secret of the Golden Flower
PDF: The Story of Chinese Zen
by 南怀瑾 Nan Huaijin (1918-2012), aka Nan Huai-Chin
DOC: 從容録 Congrong lu / Book of Serenity
PDF: Skeletons by Zen Master Ikkyu
[永平] 道元希玄 [Eihei] Dōgen Kigen (1200–1253): 普勧坐禅儀 / 普勸坐禪儀 (Fukanzazengi)
A Generally Recomended Mode of Sitting Meditation
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Minding Mind: A Course in Basic Meditation . Boston, Mass. : Shambhala, 1995. 2nd Revised edition, 2009
PDF: Secrets of Cultivating the Mind by Korean Zen Master Chinul
Translated by Thomas Cleary
PDF: The Essential Tao
(Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching and the first seven "inner" chapters of Chuang-tzu)
Translated by Thomas Cleary
PDF: Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women
PDF: Samurai Wisdom: Lessons From Japan's Warrior Culture. Five Classic Texts on Bushido
[Yamaga Sokō 山鹿素 行 et al.]
by Thomas Cleary
I. Yamaga, Soko, 1622-1685. The Way of the Knight
II. Tsugaru, Kodo, 1682-1729. Buji teiyo. The Warrior's Rule
III. Yamaga, Takatsune, 1650-1713. Budo teiyo. Essentials of Military Matters
IV. Yamaga, Soko, 1622-1685. The Education of Warriors
V. Yamaga, Soko, 1622-1685. Primer of Martial Educations
The Lit interview: Thomas Cleary
An Oakland author and translator ranges through the many worlds of spiritual life
San Francisco Bay Guardian Literary Supplement. http://www.sfbg.com/40/04/lit_int.html
By Daniel Burton-Rose
THOMAS CLEARY IS one of the country's most prolific translators of classical spiritual texts. Since the initial publication of The Blue Cliff Record (Shambhala), a core text of Chan Buddhism Cleary translated with his brother in the late 1970s, he has authored, edited, or translated more than 70 books from Celtic, classical Chinese and Japanese, Pali (the scriptural and liturgical language of Hinayana, or "lesser vehicle," Buddhism), Old Bengali, and Arabic. If you've pursued any interest in Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, conflict studies, or women's spirituality, you've most likely been aided by his contributions.
Cleary's work is clear-eyed and incisive. He consistently conveys what the contemplative San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth called "the experiential or existential core of the transcendental experience." As for those who intentionally obfuscate so as to manipulate others, the master translator's remarks are cutting.
Cleary's most recent publications are The Counsels of Cormac: The Ancient Irish Guide to Leadership (Doubleday) and, with Bannie Chow, Autumn Willows: Poetry by Women of China's Golden Age (Story Line Press). His upcoming projects are equally fascinating: a translation of Oriental tales from medieval Spanish, a comparative study of Chinese and Japanese constitutional law, and a study of contemporary cultural warfare in East-West relations, among others. Despite a penchant for reclusiveness, he recently spoke with the Bay Guardian from his Oakland home.
Bay Guardian: With the publication of The Counsels of Cormac, your work now spans from east Asia to westernmost Europe. What insights about commonalities and differences among peoples have you picked up on this path?
Thomas Cleary: Much could be said about this, but to paraphrase Confucius, it seems our closeness is natural, our distance acquired.
BG: How did you come to translate classical Asian spiritual texts?
TC: It came about through my interest in Buddhism. I got interested in Buddhism about 40 years ago. I had non-ordinary experiences ever since childhood, and Buddhism put them into perspective. I got interested in other religious methods through an experience induced by Pure Land Buddhist practice. When I learned to read canonical Buddhist languages, I also found that studying other religions and other ways of thought is a normal part of Buddhist practice, so I continued.
BG: What issues are involved in the process of translation?
TC: The central issue involved is how much of the original range of intention can be usefully conveyed under the prevailing conditions, based upon need and possibility. The issues of meaning and purpose necessarily touch on any and every question that might be posed about the relationships between language and experience. The diverse possibilities of the effects of language on sensation, perception, and conception can be very complex, and the potentiality of literature designed to affect the whole mind is particularly rich in this respect.
BG: What allowances do you make for cultural differences?
TC: It's a question of the underlying meanings and purposes of the work, how these can be conveyed and accomplished in a new milieu. Of course, there are considerable differences within cultures as well as among cultures, and similar sectors in different cultures may often be more alike in their outlook than different sectors of the same culture. Also, international communications have become quicker. Some of my work is published and read in English in Asia, for example, while some is translated into modern Asian languages such as Mandarin, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian. I've found that culture, however useful and important, is neither the foundation nor the ceiling of human experience, even if it is commonly used for walls.
BG: In your opinion, have consumer cultures like those of the United States, Japan, and, increasingly, China changed people's abilities to receive knowledge from classical texts?
TC: Well, even if you look at it from a strictly linguistic point of view, you can see that time and change naturally distance any culture from its classics. The intrusion of incongruous elements exaggerates this process. The question of whether anything useful can be derived from classics, beyond residual cultural identification, may remain an individual matter. As for consumerism in particular, this is not a new phenomenon, even if it has been more generalized by the economic methodology of modern imperialism. Chan Buddhist texts criticize the consumerist approach to religion and spiritual studies, while Daoist classics criticize the consumerist approach to everything.
Organizations that collect followers for fuel, however, whether they're religious or political in appearance, regularly make even greater efforts to foster consumerism in their own domains. So it's a matter of whether anyone can and will retain or recover the innocence and autonomy to appreciate anything beyond implanted expectations.
BG: Among your most popular works are those on conflict, such as Sun Tzu's immortal Art of War and The Japanese Art of War, which you authored. In what way do these pieces join with your purely literary, philosophical, and spiritual contributions to form a whole?
TC: What one discovers in these materials depends on how they're approached. In Buddhist terms, they're there to assist in the study of causes of suffering and ways to relieve suffering. Tactics that are used every day to capture minds and overcome personal autonomy become part of common convention, fixtures of everyday life – even dressed up in overtly respectable guises such as education, religion, and philanthropy. They can't be efficiently avoided or escaped unless they're identified and explained for what they really are.
BG: What are the implications of improving people's ability to conquer?
TC: That also depends. Improvement of people's ability to conquer irrational fears, ambitions, and vanities might help them. People might benefit from this if they are being made to suffer needlessly, if they are being induced to act upon, or to act out, the fears, ambitions, and vanities of others who are adept at manipulating human weaknesses to exert influence and control. Then again, even if some tactics are so deeply hidden as to remain invisible, simply being realistic about the costs of conflict can sometimes calm people down long enough to reconsider their options. In any case, the reason, clarity, and emotional state of the person involved are always going to factor in, and objective conditions are also affecting most people's minds at any given time.
BG: Is there anything in the texts that dictates who its users can be, or are they as open to "patriarchal authoritarians" – a category you're quite critical of in your work – as to those who combat them?
TC: In terms of access, the only strategic text I've translated from Chinese that is really encoded in the original is The Master of Demon Valley, which I've translated into ordinary language in Thunder in the Sky. This was more secret, and more highly prized, but also more dangerous for the would-be sorcerer's apprentice in search of power. It explains the dynamics of certain marketing ploys that are still commonly used in commerce and politics, however, so its defensive and liberating potential is quite considerable if employed for these purposes. As with any science, the results of strategic studies will reflect differences in the abilities and intentions of the parties concerned, as well as differences in circumstances.
If anyone's worried about authoritarians getting this knowledge, it's too late, by thousands of years. How do you suppose they got their power in the first place? Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always tried to acquire and reserve knowledge and information for their own purposes, and that's precisely why it's important to make this knowledge public: to counteract the dangers inherent in monopolization.
BG: Officially imposed ignorance and prejudice have reached a new pinnacle in this country since 9/11. Are there lessons to be gleaned from the priests and mystics who have dealt with repressive regimes in the past?
TC: In today's context as well as any other, we need to consider the underlying mechanisms of ignorance and prejudice, including the purposes for which they are fostered. Thinking of today's situation as unique will inhibit our ability to take lessons from past precedents or to perceive predictable futures. We could potentially benefit from studying the reactions of all classes and conditions of people to repressive regimes, not just certain groups.
As for priests and mystics, one thing history tells us is that people called priests have also acted as agents of repressive regimes, and people called mystics have also acted as escapists in the interest of personal peace of mind. Then again, there have also been priests who brought order from chaos, and priests who led wars against repressive regimes, and mystics who have left great legacies of science and art, and mystics who labored and suffered in the world for the sake of others.
When we get past labels and ideologies and see what people really are and actually do, we are in a position to ask ourselves what lessons we can derive from events. And then we can ask ourselves if we're able to make any use of these lessons. When it comes to appointing other people to do our thinking for us, we've had the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing for so long that we sometimes forget why it's there.
Daniel Burton-Rose is the China correspondent for Counterpunch.