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Nine Headed Dragon River Paperback – May 1987


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc (May 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877734011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877734017
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,465,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
ON an August day of 1968, returning home to Sagaponack, Long Island, after a seven-month absence in Africa, I was astonished by the presence in my driveway of three inscrutable small men who turned out to be Japanese Zen masters. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 Aug 1998
Format: Paperback
I read this book four years ago on the path back to zen after 16 years away from serious practice. Three facets of this jewel of a book stand out in memory. Firstly, Matthiesson's story of his wife's illness and death was truly affecting. At the same time, his own openings and softenings in zen practice were a call to me from something very deep. You could call it a three-hanky beginning to the reading of Mathiesson's tale of zen, zen journeys and the world he sees around him. Secondly, the birds are everywhere. PM's observation and description of those creatures which punctuate our lives with their song and flight sharpened my looking and hearing at the time and still do. Thirdly, the journal of the Japanese pilgrimage and stories of his Japanese roshi were full of flavour and feeling. Many thanks to Mr. Mathiesson for this book. Read it if you love zen, birds, Japan, a true true story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By "johnarkle" on 29 May 2002
Format: Paperback
Matthiessen's prose is clear and his story compelling. His Zen journals, from 1969 to 1982, tell the story of his Zen journey, without any of what the author might describe as, the breathless prose of the sincere seeker, but with great humility, depth, simplicity and beauty. Whether you like biograpy, travel books, or are interested in Zen or Buddhism, do yourself a favour and buy this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Feb 2000
Format: Paperback
I can't believe that I found only one other review of such a unique, inspirational book as this. I first travelled to Nepal on the strength of The Snow Leopard. This book places the aforementioned in context and gives an eye-opener to what zen practice really involves. Peter Mathiessen manages to relate the tragedy of his wife's death with a piquancy that I've rarely read elsewhere. His journey thereafter towards zen is compelling. I doubt whether Mathiessen really rates among the greatest writers (but then who alive does?) but this is a great story. If you have an interest in life, then this is for you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Bray on 26 Jan 2003
Format: Paperback
If Snow Leopard left you wanting more - buy this. It blends the story of the loss of his partner, his own journey into zen, and the history of Japanese and Californian zen. Fabulous.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 19 reviews
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Touching, strong and beautiful 3 Aug 1998
By pdksun@hawk.igs.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book four years ago on the path back to zen after 16 years away from serious practice. Three facets of this jewel of a book stand out in memory. Firstly, Matthiesson's story of his wife's illness and death was truly affecting. At the same time, his own openings and softenings in zen practice were a call to me from something very deep. You could call it a three-hanky beginning to the reading of Mathiesson's tale of zen, zen journeys and the world he sees around him. Secondly, the birds are everywhere. PM's observation and description of those creatures which punctuate our lives with their song and flight sharpened my looking and hearing at the time and still do. Thirdly, the journal of the Japanese pilgrimage and stories of his Japanese roshi were full of flavour and feeling. Many thanks to Mr. Mathiesson for this book. Read it if you love zen, birds, Japan, a true true story.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Spiritual autobiography and document of American Zen 8 Aug 2001
By Algernon D'Ammassa - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is core reading. It may even be the equivalent, for American Zen Buddhism, of Thomas Merton's SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN - although there are no signs Matthiessen will later distance himself from his autobiography, as Merton did.
As a spiritual autobiography, it is magnificently compelling. It is some of Matthiessen's finest prose, and he writes with complete openness about the cruel death of his wife, Deborah Love (who became a Zen student while he looked on skeptically, only later trying zazen for himself), his own demons, and his practice without imposing on the reader. It is a fine model of autobiographical writing.
It is also a valuable document of the planting of the Zen seed in America. Matthiessen begins as a student of Eido Shimano Roshi in New York, and provides a truthful and valuable portrait of that sangha as they built the Dai Bosatsu monastery and established one of the major places of Zen training in the United States. Later, Matthiessen becomes a student of Bernard Glassman and the portrait of their friendship as well as the beginning of their student/teacher rapport is such a gift.
Finally, this provides maybe the best portrait in print of what it was to sit retreat with Soen Roshi, the Japanese roshi and renowned haiku artist who defies brief descriptions. (Other accounts do exist: to some extent in ENDLESS VOW, a collection of Soen's haiku; and in the New York Zen Studies Society's SOEN ROKU.)
This is highly suited for people already practicing, but Matthiessen provides plenty of background material on Zen Buddhism as well as his own introduction to the practice, such that any general reader can appreciate and enjoy this marvelous work.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Simply the Best Book on Zen Buddhism 1 Feb 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I believe this work by Matthiessen is simply the best written, most accessible and enlightening work on Zen Buddhism out there. For those who disagree, please post your own recommendation. It's a huge challenge (if not a Mission Impossible) to write a powerful, poetic and insightful autobiography on Zen Buddhism. We are very fortunate to have someone of Matthiessen's genius to introduce Zen to the Western world in a such powerful way. I am very grateful to the author for this treasure of a book.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
"Do not be amazed by the true dragon."---Dogen 12 Sep 2006
By Konrei - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Peter Muryo Matthiessen is an eclectic man. Best known for his lyrical prose classic THE SNOW LEOPARD (excerpts from which make up the central portion of this book), Matthiessen has founded a well-known magazine ("The Paris Review") written fiction (AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD, FAR TORTUGA), and on such varied non-fiction subjects as Great White Sharks (BLUE MERIDIAN, the inspiration for JAWS), Native American issues (IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE), East African conservation (THE TREE WHERE MAN WAS BORN), Long Island fishermen (MEN'S LIVES), and on the art of authorship itself in ZEN AND THE WRITING LIFE.

NINE-HEADED DRAGON RIVER (the title comes from the eponymous river in Japan, the site of a major Zen monastery) is the record of Matthiessen's exploration of, and inner journey toward, Zen Buddhism, a journey which began in earnest after the death of his wife Deborah Love, from cancer in the early 1970s.

Divided chronologically into three sections, "Rinzai Journals," "Excerpts from THE SNOW LEOPARD," and "Soto Journals" (Rinzai and Soto being the preeminent sects of Zen), NINE-HEADED DRAGON RIVER is an intensely personal document which also reflects the variegated mind of it's creator.

In "Rinzai Journals," Matthiessen discusses both his emotional travail at the lingering death of his wife and the increasing role that Zen played in his life at this time under the tutelage of Eido-roshi, and other teachers. Although Matthiessen and Eido-roshi eventually parted ways, Matthiessen refuses to indulge the muddy mundane, and intelligently avoids demeaning either his teacher or his spiritual experience by discussing the reasons why. By neither treating anybody like holy men or dismissing them as charlatans, thankfully Matthiessen leaves the reader with an unprejudiced and untainted view of Zen.

Matthiessen spends much time discussing the evolution of American Zen, from its roots in the early twentieth century, through 1950s Beat Zen, and beyond. This reviewer found it interesting that although Matthiessen had direct contact with many of the major figures of American Zen, he never mentions Alan Watts, a major writer on Zen subjects, by name---though he does mildly but pointedly deride self-seeking popularizers, an accusation often flung at Watts in his lifetime.

"Excerpts from THE SNOW LEOPARD" are diary entries from the time of Matthiessen's walking trek to a remote Buddhist lamasery on the far side of the Himalayas. The writing here is simply luminescent. The reader is referred to THE SNOW LEOPARD in its unabridged version for a fuller experience.

"Soto Journals" is ostensibly about Matthiessen's travels to Japan, his energetic pupilage under Taizan Maezumi-roshi (where again, Matthiessen focuses his attention on the positive, eschewing a discussion of the details of Maezumi's sadly untimely death) and Bernard Tetsugen Glassman-roshi, as well as his meetings with various other Zen roshis at numerous monasteries. "Soto Journals" is also a recounting of the history of Zen as a school of thought and a discussion of its exponents, particularly Eihei Dogen (c. 13th century) who developed zazen (sitting meditation) into the art form that is so central to Zen practice.

Both the dedicated practitioner and the Zen-curious need to read NINE-HEADED DRAGON RIVER, which has been called the best book available on American Zen, and comes highly recommended by this reviewer.

Peter Matthiessen is presently roshi at the Ocean Zendo in Sagaponack, New York, and Senior teacher at the Southern Palm Zendo in Boca Raton, Florida, both Zendos of the White Plum Lineage under Maezumi (1931-1995), Matthiessen having become a major exponent of Zen himself.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Clear and compelling - a must buy 5 Jun 2002
By Genryu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Matthiessen's prose is clear and his story compelling. His Zen journals, from 1969 to 1982, tell the story of his Zen journey, without any of what the author might describe as, the breathless prose of the sincere seeker, but with great humility, depth, simplicity and beauty. Whether you like biograpy, travel books, or are interested in Zen or Buddhism, do yourself a favour and buy this book.
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