Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice
782pp. July 2010
Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice
Author: Hori, Victor Sogen; Editor: Hori, Victor Sogen; Translator: Hori, Victor Sogen;
Zen Sand is a classic collection of verses aimed at aiding practitioners of kôan meditation to negotiate the difficult relationship between insight and language. As such it represents a major contribution to both Western Zen practice and English-language Zen scholarship.

In Japan the traditional Rinzai Zen kôan curriculum includes the use of jakugo, or "capping phrases." Once a monk has successfully replied to a kôan, the Zen master orders the search for a classical verse to express the monk’s insight into the kôan. 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.

For the scholar, Zen Sand provides a detailed description of the jakugo practice and its place in the overall kôan curriculum, as well as a brief history of the Zen phrase book. This volume also contributes to the understanding of East Asian culture in a broader sense.

Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture Series
Published in association with the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Nanzan University
"Zen Sand is a thorough and excellent piece of scholarship that will, I suspect, be the standard English-language work on jakugo for many decades to come. No serious student or practitioner of Zen will want to be without a copy." —Religious Studies Review 31:3 (2005)

"Not only a well-documented and meticulously researched, comprehensive sourcebook. . . . It also succeeds superbly in setting the record straight and clarifies some widespread but misguided notions about Zen." —Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 31 (2004)

“This book is definitely the most important English-language work on the history of capping phrases and contemporary Rinzai practice. It is also useful in that it allows students to acquaint themselves with numerous Chinese allusions and classical stories. Even for general readers, this book offers unique opportunities to ruminate on each beautiful phrase, especially while sipping a cup of green tea.” —Journal of Buddhist Ethics

"The best scholarly book on actual Zen practice in Japan to appear in recent decades." —Journal of Chinese Religions 31 (2003)

"This beautiful volume is recommended unreservedly. It is a major contribution to Western zen for academics and practitioners alike." —Zen Book Reviews

"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 kôan study. Enriched by Sôgen Hori’s detailed introduction, which clarifies the function of the phrases in Zen practice and does much to dispel misunderstandings of kôan work, Zen Sand is certain to become a valuable resource for Zen students everywhere." —Harada Shôdô, Sôgen-ji Temple

Author: Hori, Victor Sogen; Editor: Hori, Victor Sogen; Translator: Hori, Victor Sogen;
Victor Sôgen Hori, who was ordained in Japan as a Zen monk in 1976, is currently associate professor of Japanese religions in the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University.
Read the introduction (PDF).

Introduction: Capping-Phrase Practice in Japanese Rinzai Zen

1. The Nature of the Rinzai Kõan Practice

2. The Steps of Kõan Practice

3. Literary Study in Kõan Practice

4. The Kõan and the Chinese Literary Game

5. The History of Zen Phrase Books

6. Guide to Conventions and Abbreviations


Four-Character Phrases
Five-Character Phrases
Six-Character Phrases
Seven-Character Phrases
Eight-Character Phrases
Nine-Character Phrases
Ten-Character Phrases
Eleven-Character Phrases
Twelve-Character Phrases
Thirteen-Character Phrases
Fourteen-Character Phrases
Fifteen-Character Phrases
Sixteen-Character Phrases
Seventeen-Character Phrases
Eighteen-Character Phrases
Nineteen-Character Phrases
Twenty-Character Phrases
Twenty-One-and-More-Character Phrases