12 June 2008

Chan Buddhism: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality

Chan Buddhism has become paradigmatic of Buddhist spirituality. Known in Japan as Zen and in Korea as Son, it is one of the most strikingly iconoclastic spiritual traditions in the world. This succinct and lively work clearly expresses the meaning of Chan as it developed in China more than a thousand years ago and provides useful insights into the distinctive aims and forms of practice associated with the tradition, including its emphasis on the unity of wisdom and practice; the reality of "sudden awakening"; the importance of meditation; the use of "shock tactics"; the centrality of the teacher-student relationship; and the celebration of enlightenment narratives, or koans.

Unlike many scholarly studies, which offer detailed perspectives on historical development, or guides for personal practice written by contemporary Buddhist teachers, this volume takes a middle path between these two approaches, weaving together both history and insight to convey to the general reader the conditions, energy, and creativity that characterize Chan. Following a survey of the birth and development of Chan, its practices and spirituality are fleshed out through stories and teachings drawn from the lives of four masters: Bodhidharma, Huineng, Mazu, and Linji. Finally, the meaning of Chan as a living spiritual tradition is addressed through a philosophical reading of its practice as the realization of wisdom, attentive mastery, and moral clarity.

There's much helpful history here. Did you know that in one Buddhist university, Nalanda, there were at least 10,000 students and 2,000 faculty in residence by the 7th century. That in 707 as much as 80% of the total wealth of the Chinese empire may have belonged to Buddhist organizations and, as such, been untaxed? That in the 8th century, 1 out of 85 Chinese were either a Buddhist monk or nun? That between 755 and 764 A.D. two-thirds of all Chinese either died or were missing (missing to where?). That it was the persecutions of Buddhists that led to Chan's special place as a surviving Buddhist teaching, because it depended much less than on Buddhist teachings on the texts that were to a large extent destroyed during the persecutions.

Purchase "Chan Buddhism: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality" Here.
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