Zen Masters Of China: The First Step East
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Zen Masters of China presents more than 300 traditional Zen stories and koans, far more than any other collection. Retelling them in their proper place in Zen's historical journey through Buddhist Chinese culture, it also tells a larger story: how, in taking the first step east from India to China, Buddhism began to be Zen.
The stories of Zen are unlike any other writing, religious or otherwise. Used for centuries by Zen teachers as aids to bring about or deepen the experience of awakening, they have a freshness that goes beyond religious practice and a mystery and authenticity that appeal to a wide range of readers.
Placed in chronological order, these stories tell the story of Zen itself, how it traveled from West to East with each Zen master to the next, but also how it was transformed in that journey, from an Indian practice to something different in Chinese Buddhism (Ch'an) and then more different still in Japan (Zen). The fact that its transmission was so human, from teacher to student in a long chain from West to East, meant that the cultures it passed through inevitably changed it.
Zen Masters of China is first and foremost a collection of mind-bending Zen stories and their wisdom. More than that, without academic pretensions or baggage, it recounts the genealogy of Zen Buddhism in China and, through koan and story, illuminates how Zen became what it is today.
there are none who have attained what you have attained,” he added. “Instead of striving to open their mind’s eye, they seek only to accumulate merit in hopes of obtaining a more auspicious rebirth in the future. If they heard that a layman, an illiterate lad at that, had achieved awakening, they wouldn’t believe it, and they might do you harm. Or they might come to lose respect for the teachings of Buddhism altogether. So for a while, you and I will keep this secret.” Huineng agreed to do as the
Chinese and Sufis have much in common with jokes, and some are indistinguishable from them. The surest way to ruin a joke is to try to explain why it is funny, and the surest way to obscure the teaching in these stories is also to try to explain them. Most jokes are funny because the words describing the situation can be interpreted in two quite contradictory ways. For example, the following notice appeared on a church bulletin board: “Thursday at 5:00 p.m. there will be a meeting of the Little
“Why not?” Zen Master China_Interior.indd 118 3/14/12 11:04 AM YAOSHAN WEIYAN AND HIS DESCENDANTS 119 “I won’t say.” After the visit, as they were returning to the monastery, Jianyuan was very disturbed and demanded, “Tell me, alive or dead. If not, I’ll strike you down!” “Strike me or not, I still won’t tell you.” Jianyuan was unable to restrain himself, and he struck his master. Daowu did not strike back, but it was such a breach of etiquette that he told his student, “If others learn
the Tang and Song dynasties as well as of Japan, and continue in the records of the Zen Zen Master China_Interior.indd 15 3/14/12 11:02 AM 16 PREFACE teachers of more recent centuries, including those pioneers who brought the tradition to the world outside of Asia. The spread of the teaching has been steadily eastward. It has been said that Zen (Chan in Chinese) is the product of the encounter between Indian Buddhism and Chinese culture, especially Daoism and Confucianism. From China,
Lushan—himself an admirer of Yang Guifei—had China’s most powerful army garrisons under his control, and, responding to growing popular discontent with Yang Guozhong, he rebelled in 755, declaring himself emperor. An Lushan’s troops took over the capital city with relative ease. Xuanzong’s armies blamed the emperor’s infatuation for their defeat, and, in retaliation, they killed both Yang Guifei and her brother. A civil war then raged for eight years, claiming a staggering thirty-six million