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.
food, which he brought back to share with Tanlin. But when he offered Tanlin a portion, the wounded man snapped that he could not take it up because he now only had one hand. Huike pointed out, gently, that it was no different with him. Tanlin failed to be comforted, however, and eventually fell away from the practice of Zen, complaining that his fate must be due to a karmic debt he had incurred in the past. While in the mountains, Huike was approached one day by a layman with leprosy. The
Shenxiu’s students who paid a visit to Huineng. When Huineng asked him to describe what he had learned so far, he said: “My teacher asserts that the teaching of all the Buddhas is found in one’s own mind, and that to seek the teaching outside of one’s self is the same as running away from one’s father and abandoning one’s home.” This much Huineng could agree with. But the student went on to say: “We’re taught to stop the workings of our minds, to control our wandering thoughts, and to sit in
would earn him a position within the Chinese bureaucracy. But he encountered a Zen monk who convinced him that seeking the dharma was a better use of his talents than functioning as a government official. Tanxia spent some time with Mazu but did not go through the ritual of having his head shaved or taking the precepts, which would symbolize his commitment to the life of a monk. After a while, Mazu advised Tanxia to visit Shitou. When Tanxia arrived at Shitou’s temple, Shitou saw from his hair
master stood and held up his sickle. “I bought this sickle for thirty small coins.” The monk thought the grass cutter was a fool and said, “I didn’t ask you about your sickle; I asked the way to Nanquan.” In Chinese, the expression can also mean “Nanquan’s way.” Zen Master China_Interior.indd 167 3/14/12 11:05 AM 168 CHAPTER ELEVEN “I still use it with both pleasure and profit,” Nanquan said. A folktale tells of a time when Nanquan and an attendant were traveling far from their mountain
disciples, “I’ve looked into the matter of the old woman.” Zen Master China_Interior.indd 186 3/14/12 11:05 AM ZHAOZHOU CONGSHEN 187 A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Who is the Buddha?” Zhaozhou said, “He’s in the shrine.” “All that’s in the shrine is a statue made of clay,” the monk complained. “That’s it.” “But who’s the Buddha?” “The one in the shrine.” “That Buddha has form. What is the Buddha without form?” the monk persisted. “Mind,” Zhaozhou replied. “Mind is subjective. I still want to know: