Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Story of Chinese Zen - Huai-Chin Nan, Nan Huai-Chin
Nan presents the development of Zen thought in China as influenced by Chinese culture?meaning primarily literature and politics?and also highlights the influence of Taoism and Confucianism on the particular form Buddhism took there. Nan is at his best when discussing specific Zen teachings. But he often does not present enough background on Chinese history and literature to enable the reader easily to follow his thoughts on their influence. Also, Nan's preference is clearly for Mahayana Buddhism over Theravada, which he refers to with the pejorative term Hinayana (lesser vehicle). The book would be best used along with other books that present Chinese history, such as Heinrich Dumoulin's two-volume Zen Buddhism: A History of India and China (Macmillian, 1988-89). Recommended as a thorough presentation of several aspects of Zen in China, as long as the library has some books on Chinese history to provide background.
The Story of Chinese Zen begins with the premise that the climate during Shakyamuni's founding of Buddhism in India ultimately influenced the differences behind Hinayana and Mahayana thought, practice, and methods of seeking realization. From there - beginning with its transmission to China - Master Nan outlines the Zen School, exploring influences on the development of Zen before the early T'ang dynasty, different means of studying Zen and pursuing "the heart and goal of Zen". He explores the relationship between Zen and neo-Confucianism and the inseparability of religion and Zen from Chinese literature and philosophy, especially Taoism.