Chan Buddhism

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University of Hawaii Press, 2005 - Religion - 173 pages
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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.


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My experience is that one has to read maybe 5 or 6 books before finding one that is good. This is one is good. Hershock's writing is creative, interesting and to the point. His presentation of Chan is scholarly yet accessible...unlike many other scholarly works that seem to ramble or get soooo scholarly that only another scholar can make heads or tails of the text. As usual, there is an initial history of Chan. But Hershock's history is far more illuminating than most. This leads into a presentation of a few of the more notable figures of Chinese Zen (Chan)... Budhidarma, Linji, Huineg... with really wonderful philosophically well-versed commentaries. When one is interested in a field of study, it is important to be able to distinguish writers and thinkers who exemplify the core sensibilities of that field. When I was studying C.G. Jung, I found certain writers who seemed to hit the nail on the head (Edward Eddinger, Mari Von Franz, for instance) and others who either seemed to spin off in bizzar directions of their own, or who just didn't have the organizational/journalistic skills to expound the nature of the work involved, and caused me enless knots I had to unravel later on. This is no different. You need to find someone whose writing you can trust so you can relax a little and spend your time struggling to understand what he is saying instead of trying to ferret out what needs to be tossed out the window (and initially, you don't know what needs to be tossed out the window). Peter Hershock, like David Loy, is for my money is someone whose writing you can trust. So I highly recommend this little book. Mike Staples 

Selected pages


The Buddhist Roots of Chan
Differences in Indian and Chinese Cultural Contexts
Early Developments in Chinese Buddhism
The Early History of the Chan Tradition
Exemplars of Chan Homegrown Buddhas
Chan Practice as Philosophy and Spirituality
Chan Now? Why and for Whom?
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Page xiii - ... the final version of the book. Finally, I would like to thank my Buddhist teachers.

About the author (2005)

Peter D. Hershock is coordinator of the Asian Studies Development Program at the East-West Center.

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