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Nine-headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, 1969-82 Hardcover – 9 Oct 1986

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 9 Oct 1986
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; First Edition edition (9 Oct. 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002715090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002715096
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 17.3 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,747,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

" Very few writers have the courage, inner experience, and literary technique to take us into the reaches of mystic awareness. Matthiessen has; his prose is among the finest of our time— at once sensual and austere, sinewy, yet full of warmth, eloquent yet reverent, polished clean by silence and awe. "Nine-Headed Dragon River" is a clear gift to us from a complex man who has schooled himself to speak of central things with a most honorable exactitude." — Andrew Harvey, "Vogue" " Remarkable, memorable nonfiction. Matthiessen's prose is as strong and pure as ever." — Duncan Spencer, "Washington Post"

"Very few writers have the courage, inner experience, and literary technique to take us into the reaches of mystic awareness. Matthiessen has; his prose is among the finest of our time—at once sensual and austere, sinewy, yet full of warmth, eloquent yet reverent, polished clean by silence and awe. "Nine-Headed Dragon River " is a clear gift to us from a complex man who has schooled himself to speak of central things with a most honorable exactitude."—Andrew Harvey, "Vogue"

"Remarkable, memorable nonfiction. Matthiessen's prose is as strong and pure as ever."—Duncan Spencer, "Washington Post"
"Peter Matthiessen's book embodies the spirit of Zen in America."—Hakuyu T. Maezumi, Zen Center of Los Angeles

"Very few writers have the courage, inner experience, and literary technique to take us into the reaches of mystic awareness. Matthiessen has; his prose is among the finest of our time--at once sensual and austere, sinewy, yet full of warmth, eloquent yet reverent, polished clean by silence and awe. "Nine-Headed Dragon River " is a clear gift to us from a complex man who has schooled himself to speak of central things with a most honorable exactitude."--Andrew Harvey, "Vogue"


"Remarkable, memorable nonfiction. Matthiessen's prose is as strong and pure as ever."--Duncan Spencer, "Washington Post"
"Peter Matthiessen's book embodies the spirit of Zen in America."--Hakuyu T. Maezumi, Zen Center of Los Angeles --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Peter Matthiessen, distinguished novelist, naturalist, journalist, and explorer, was born in New York City and has been a commercial fisherman and charterboat captain. He participated as a diver in the worldwide search for the great white shark that culminated in his book "Blue Meridian " and in the film "Blue Water, White Death. " His fiction includes "Race Rock; Partisans; Raditzer; At Play in the Fields of the Lord, "which was nominated for a National Book Award; and most recently "Far Tortuga. " His nonfiction includes "The Tree Where Man Was Born, " which was nominated for a National Book Award, "The Snow Leopard, " which won a National Book Award in 1979, and "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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: HASH(0x9ae72aa4) out of 5 stars 25 reviews
55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4538dc) out of 5 stars 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.
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cb9abc4) out of 5 stars 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.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b0b8d38) out of 5 stars 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.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b01fe64) out of 5 stars "Do not be amazed by the true dragon."---Dogen 12 Sept. 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
HASH(0x9abd518c) out of 5 stars 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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