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

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Short 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. Synth 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 Zen offers 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 and koans. In addition to constructing a central narrative for the doctrinal and social evolution of the school, Seeing through Zen examines 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. ...more

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Comments

Alex

Absolutely loved this book. McRae does a fantastic job illuminating (pun intended) how the historical Chan record is developed. Not a book many faithful Zen followers might like, but the goal of the study is to understand how "tradition", especially in early Chan, develops. He makes an interesting analysis of different well-known Chan texts (i.e. Platform Sutra) and connects the evolution of their ideas through the centuries. If anything, the final part when he develops some hypothesis around th Absolutely loved this book. McRae does a fantastic job illuminating (pun intended) how the historical Chan record is developed. Not a book many faithful Zen followers might like, but the goal of the study is to understand how "tradition", especially in early Chan, develops. He makes an interesting analysis of different well-known Chan texts (i.e. Platform Sutra) and connects the evolution of their ideas through the centuries. If anything, the final part when he develops some hypothesis around the jump of Chan from the Tang era into the Song, feels weaker compared to the rest of the book. In all honesty, McRae himself acknowledges the same at the end of the book and calling for more research around that period. All in all, a very nerdy book, but if you're into Zen and how its history, fiction, transmission, and legends got forged, this might be an interesting book to read.


Jessica Zu

I just started reading this book and I am already very impressed by the scholarly critical thinking behind every word of it. It's a must read for all Chan practioners as well as all Chinese Buddhists. Cool realism is the key to constructive understanding of all things. It is funny to notice that how those Chan masters on the one hand preaching about "seeing things as they really are", then on the other hand romantize their own tradition. Just finished reading it today. Very impressed. Especially I just started reading this book and I am already very impressed by the scholarly critical thinking behind every word of it. It's a must read for all Chan practioners as well as all Chinese Buddhists. Cool realism is the key to constructive understanding of all things. It is funny to notice that how those Chan masters on the one hand preaching about "seeing things as they really are", then on the other hand romantize their own tradition. Just finished reading it today. Very impressed. Especially about his suggestion on whether and how Chan is used to keep women and other Buddhism practitioners out of the power system of Chan and of Chinese society. In some sense, it explains where my resentment toward Chan comes from:)


Natalie

Finished this up while catching some zzz before my flight back to the states. It's taken me awhile, but I found this book easily readable. As an amateur, I can't speak for the scholarship, but I got the feeling that there was room for a lot more depth...? Anyway, I always looked forward to picking up this book, finding Prof. McRae's writing style very engaging and easy to understand. I'll definitely read it again. Finished this up while catching some zzz before my flight back to the states. It's taken me awhile, but I found this book easily readable. As an amateur, I can't speak for the scholarship, but I got the feeling that there was room for a lot more depth...? Anyway, I always looked forward to picking up this book, finding Prof. McRae's writing style very engaging and easy to understand. I'll definitely read it again.

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