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Seeing through Zen

Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism

John R. McRae
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Seeing through Zen
    Book Description:

    The tradition of Chan Buddhism-more popularly known as Zen-has been romanticized throughout its history. In this book, John R. McRae shows how modern critical techniques, supported by recent manuscript discoveries, make possible a more skeptical, accurate, and-ultimately-productive assessment of Chan lineages, teaching, fundraising practices, and social organization. Synthesizing twenty years of scholarship,Seeing through Zenoffers new, accessible analytic models for the interpretation of Chan spiritual practices and religious history. Writing in a lucid and engaging style, McRae traces the emergence of this Chinese spiritual tradition and its early figureheads, Bodhidharma and the "sixth patriarch" Huineng, through the development of Zen dialogue andkoans.In addition to constructing a central narrative for the doctrinal and social evolution of the school,Seeing through Zenexamines the religious dynamics behind Chan's use of iconoclastic stories and myths of patriarchal succession. McRae argues that Chinese Chan is fundamentally genealogical, both in its self-understanding as a school of Buddhism and in the very design of its practices of spiritual cultivation. Furthermore, by forgoing the standard idealization of Zen spontaneity, we can gain new insight into the religious vitality of the school as it came to dominate the Chinese religious scene, providing a model for all of East Asia-and the modern world. Ultimately, this book aims to change how we think about Chinese Chan by providing new ways of looking at the tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93707-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Ama ga kobako
  5. Conventions
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. McRae’s Rules of Zen Studies
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Looking at Lineage: A Fresh Perspective on Chan Buddhism
    (pp. 1-21)

    How should we begin this discussion of Chan Buddhism? One device would be to begin with a story, some striking anecdote to arouse the reader’s curiosity. There are certainly many good possibilities within the annals of Chan. One is the account of an earnest Chinese supplicant—the eventual second patriarch, Huike—cutting off his arm in order to hear the teachings from the enigmatic Indian sage, Bodhidharma. How many times this story must have been told in meditation halls in China and throughout the world, in order to inspire trainees to greater effort! Or we could find something a bit...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Beginnings: Dieffrentiating/Connecting Bodhidharma and the East Mountain Teaching
    (pp. 22-44)

    Bodhidharma, it is said in the traditional accounts, was the third son of a great Brahman king of southern India, who left home to undertake the life of a Buddhist monk.¹ Attracted to the profundity of the Maháyána, he eventually became the twenty-eighth patriarch in succession to Śákyamuni Buddha. After traveling by sea to China in order to spread the true teachings of Maháyána Buddhism, he had the following interview with Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty (r. 502–549), who was renowned for building temples, casting images, and supporting the teaching activities of Buddhist monks:

    Emperor Wu:“What is...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Metropolitan Chan: Imperial Patronage and the Chan Style
    (pp. 45-73)

    In the first half of the eighth century, the northern Chinese cities of Chang’an and Luoyang were the greatest urban centers in the world. Chang’an had a population of over a million, a number far larger than any city in the Middle East (let alone Europe) would reach for centuries. Originally a safe military headquarters “within the passes” of the mountainous northwest, Chang’an was laid out on an extremely grand scale and in a cross-hatched design of wide boulevards running north-south and east-west. The city walls formed a nearly square rectangle enclosing a neatly ordered set of government centers, market...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Riddle of Encounter Dialogue: Who, What, When, and Where?
    (pp. 74-100)

    Passages such as these should be readily identified by most readers as quintessentially Chan-or Zen-like. For decades, we have been offered such stories as the primary means by which Chan is presented. This is especially true in the writings of D.T. Suzuki, whose most cherished methodology seems to have been to describe some aspect of Zen as beyond ordinary explanation, then offer a suitably incomprehensible story or two by way of illustration. Obviously, Suzuki’s approach captured the imaginations of generations of readers. However, while this approach substantiated Suzuki’s authority as one with insider access to the profound truths of the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Zen and the Art of Fund-Raising Religious Vitality and Institutional Dominance in the Song Dynasty
    (pp. 101-118)

    Once or twice at formal academic meetings I have introduced papers with a dramatic reading of forty or fifty book titles that include the word “Zen.” The most widely known example nowadays is Robert Pirsig’s novelZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,but this is merely one member of a very large genre. Beginning with Eugen Herrigel’s classic,Zen and the Art of Archery(which has recently become the subject of some dispute),¹ such works includeZen and the Art of the Macintosh, Zen and the Art of Windsurfing, Zen and the Art of the Internet, Zen and the...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Climax Paradigm: Cultural Polarities and Patterns of Self-Cultivation in Song-Dynasty Chan
    (pp. 119-154)

    After a forest has been devastated, whether by fire or the excessive harvesting of lumber, it immediately begins to grow back. First to sprout are quick-growing grasses, followed by wildflowers whose seeds are carried on the winds. Erosion from rainfall and runoff carve new channels in the earth, sometimes changing the topography forever, but eventually a network of roots develops to stabilize the ground. Given the variations of climate, birches or other softwoods may climb to the sky first, but they will eventually be crowded out by taller species of trees that are able to reach through to the sun....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-176)
  14. Character Glossary
    (pp. 177-182)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-204)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)