The following conversation is from a 1979 radio interview of Roshi Philip Kapleau conducted by Lex Hixon, a scholar and author who hosted the program “In the Spirit” for 17 years. After four decades, its themes are still relevant today.  –The Editors

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1912, Philip Kapleau briefly studied law, then learned court reporting. He went to Germany as Chief Court Reporter of the first Nuremberg Trial in 1945; in 1946, he covered the Tokyo War Crimes Trial in Japan. There, he discovered Zen Buddhism and began attending lectures by D. T. Suzuki. Later, back in New York, Kapleau renewed his acquaintance with Suzuki, who was teaching Zen at Columbia University; but Kapleau rejected Zen’s primarily intellectual treatment and returned to Japan in 1953 to seek its deeper truth. Back in Japan, Kapleau used his court skills to record interviews with Zen teachers, teachings, and even dokusan, traditional intimate meetings between teachers and students, for his book The Three Pillars of Zen, published in 1965, the same year he was sanctioned as a Zen teacher. One of the first books to reveal the details of Zen practice, it has remained in print ever since.

In 1966, he returned to the United States and established the Rochester Zen Center, where he founded his own lineage and taught for 20 years. Today, Roshi Kapleau’s descendants are teaching around the world; his many books on Zen include Awakening to Zen and Zen: Merging of East and West (originally titled Zen: Dawn in the West). He died at the Rochester Zen Center from complications of Parkinson’s disease in 2004.

Lex Hixon: There is an unusual sense of silence as I sit down to talk with Roshi Philip Kapleau here in the Rochester Zen Center. Do you suppose we can make a radio interview like this?

Roshi Philip Kapleau: You know, it’s said, Lex, that silence is more appropriate to Zen than speech. Now, where would that leave us?

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