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.
abstract. Monks spent as much or more time analyzing the sutras as in meditating. Their faith had become theoretical rather than grounded in the experience of awakening, what the Japanese would later term kensho (ken, “seeing into or understanding something”; sho, “one’s true nature”). Nor was Buddhism a single system any longer. Competing theories and interpretations of the sutras led to a proliferation of schools, including the establishment of two broad traditions: the conservative Theraveda
born.” As soon as he heard these words, Ming also attained awakening. He bowed before the younger man, saying, “Besides this, is there anything else? Are there other secret doctrines?” “Nothing I’ve said is secret. If you look within, you’ll find all the secrets within your own mind.” “I spent many years on the East Mountain,” Ming said, “but was unable to realize my self-nature. Now, thanks to your guidance, I realize it in the same way that one who drinks water knows whether it is hot or cold.
discussion, telling the monks, “It’s neither wind nor pennant that moves; rather it’s your own minds that move.” When the temple master, Yin Zong, overheard this encounter, he was impressed by Huineng’s authoritative manner and invited him to describe the teachings he brought from the Master of the East Mountain. “My master had no special teaching,” Huineng said. “He stressed only the need to see into one’s true nature through one’s own efforts.” After this, Huineng established himself at the
haven’t missed an opportunity to show you how to study mind.” “In what way, sir?” “When you brought me a cup of tea, didn’t I drink it? When you bowed to me, didn’t I return the bow? When did I ever neglect instructing you?” Lungtan sat for a moment with his head down. “If you want to see it,” Tianhuang snapped, “see it directly! When you just think about it, it’s lost!” With those words, Lungtan came to awakening. He asked, in marvel, “How does one maintain it?” “Live in accordance with
bewildered monk persisted. “It isn’t thought.” After receiving transmission from Shitou, Weiyan traveled to Mount Yao (Yaoshan) west of Lake Tungting in Hunan; from his residence there, he acquired the name by which he is most commonly known. Like many Zen practitioners, he sought to live in anonymity as he deepened his understanding of the dharma. His needs were modest. When he first came to the mountain village, he requested the use of an abandoned cattle barn, which was where he resided. But