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Thread: Two books on the history of Zen

  1. #1

    Two books on the history of Zen

    I just got two new books, Zen Buddhism: A History, India & China, and Zen Buddhism: A History, Japan, by Heinrich Dumoulin.

    http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Buddhism-H.../dp/0941532895

    http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Buddhism-H.../dp/0941532909

    I'd always wondered about the history of Zen Buddhism, and these books seem to go into much detail.

    Dumoulin was a Jesuit theologian, and, like many of his order, was interested in other traditions.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Dumoulin

    I have a friend in Paris who is a sinologist, and who has shared many books written by French Jesuits about Chinese thought and history. Now, Dumoulin doesn't have the Zen cred - he doesn't practice Zen - but these books have gotten good reviews for their strictly factual content.

    I was wondering if anyone else had read them.

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  2. #2
    Hi Kirk

    I bought these books at the beginning of the year. Have finished volume one and currently on the Dogen chapter in volume two.

    I really like them, although can by no means remember all of the names and traditions, but it gives me a better overview of how the Zen pieces fit together and who was who, when and where. The two introductions by contemporary Zen scholars in each book are important to read to understand how things have changed since Dumoulin's time and how the books are academically dated. No fault of Dumoulin himself but scholarship has moved on.

    In a way it made me sad to read about how the mythology of Bodhidharma and Hui-Neng, among others, is just that - mythology. Doesn't mean there isn't power in their stories but good to know what we actually know about them (i.e. very little!) as well.

    Most people still seem to suggest these books as a good basic primer on the history of Zen even if they now need to be topped up with more contemporary works to bring us up to date with the most recent ideas about how it unfolded.

    Enjoy!

    Gassho
    Andy

  3. #3
    Hello,

    One's mythology is another's raft

    parasangate, bodhi, svaha!


    Gassho,
    Myosha
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  4. #4

  5. #5
    Hello Kirk,

    DuMoulin is great if you read it as a summary of the status quo of how most traditional Zen sects wanted to view their own history at the time of DuMoulin's writing the book.

    My favourite Mythbuster (if you don't want to go and read Morten Schlutter's stuff) is the following:

    http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-through...ng+through+zen


    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen

  6. #6
    Hi,

    Yes, Dumoulin is now a bit dated, and considered rather romantic in tone. It is as Hans said. Here is a review you may find interesting, almost as long as a book itself ...

    http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2466

    I also found this interesting review comment, although I cannot access the original ...

    Reviews of Zen Buddhism

    "The decision to reprint of Heinrich Dumoulin’s classic study of Zen history, according to one of the original translators, James Heisig, “was not an easy one to make.” As a friend of mine said, '”I’m not sure what that tells us about the state of Zen studies in the West, but good luck with your review!” The problem lies, as Heisig warns us, in the explosion of Western scholarly work on Zen from the moment it appeared in English translation in 1988 that made Dumoulin’ study vulnerable to criticism. The problem was not that it soon became dated after its publication. It is also the fact that the entire methodological underpinnings to Dumoulin’s approach to his history came under a hermeneutics of suspicion by Bernard Faure, John McCrae and others among a new generation of Zen scholars.

    So why read it, let alone review it? The new edition is valuable because of the fascinating introductions by John McRae and Victor Hori. For his part, McRae sees it as “an excellent reference work” that still should not be read as an authoritative history of Zen given advances in the field. Hori’s introduction, by contrast, is more sympathetic, arguing that critics who see Dumoulin “as a nave historian who let himself be beguiled by Zen into promoting its deceptive self image” are being unfair as he told the history of Zen from the insider’s point of view. The remainder of Hori’s essay is a spirited attack of McRae’s critique of Dumoulin’s “romanticized image of Zen.” What both introductions do is to place the current controversy over the history of the field, methodological approaches, the insider/outsider problem, etc. before the reader for critical reflection. The result is a perfect framework for assessing not only the strengths and weaknesses of Dumoulin’s book, but also the state of the field of Zen studies."
    —Mark MacWilliams, Religious Studies Review
    Yes, Bodhidharma, Hui-heng are myths, paradigms, the creation of later writers in large degree. But powerful paradigms they are!

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-27-2014 at 03:57 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post
    Hello Kirk,

    DuMoulin is great if you read it as a summary of the status quo of how most traditional Zen sects wanted to view their own history at the time of DuMoulin's writing the book.

    My favourite Mythbuster (if you don't want to go and read Morten Schlutter's stuff) is the following:

    http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-through...ng+through+zen


    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Thanks Hans - have just ordered this (half-price used copy on Amazon).

    Gassho,

    Willow

  8. #8
    Hey, I had earmarked that copy!

    The early bird catches the half-price Zen history book!

    Gassho
    Andy

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