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Thread: Book Review: The Circle of the Way -- A Concise History of Zen

  1. #1

    Book Review: The Circle of the Way -- A Concise History of Zen

    A Unique and Valuable Book for New and Old Zennies: The Circle of the Way - A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World

    This book fills a very important niche, and I would like to encourage all Zen folks, the rather new or very experienced, to read it. For people new to Zen and wanting to know about its history and origins in India, China and Japan, the book provides an extremely well-researched yet easy to read, reasonably short but amazingly comprehensive, serious in content while very often fun and funny, wide ranging introduction to Zen's roots and development right down to modern times and Zen's coming west. It is a serious history book, yet not a heavy read.

    However, even for long time Zen practitioners, the book is chock full of fascinating information, perspectives and summaries of the latest research on our history and practices, and even someone who has read 1000 Zen books and sat Zazen for decades will learn quite a bit I feel. (I did.) The author, whom I consider to be one of the most reliable sources of information about Zen and other Buddhist traditions through her many blogs, feature writings and articles (someone whom I have read for many years via a variety of Buddhist websites and magazines) really knows her Zen stuff.

    The book is also quite unique in presenting the Soto Zen Buddhist approach to practice quite fairly and accurately, and side-by-side with its presentation of Rinzai Zen ways and other flavors of our traditions, showing the commonality and contrast. She also knows the face of Zen that transcends all differences and time. Perhaps none of the books of prior generations, such as the two volume "A History of Zen Buddhism" by Father Dumoulin, the works of D.T. Suzuki and the like, managed this quite as well. Also, those books are now quite out of date and rather parochial in scope, while this new volume presents the results of current scholarship and a more objective and factual understanding of Zen's roots. It is unique in being quite honest (unlike those other histories which often lacked the latest information, and could be a bit romantic in their style) in presenting a candid and open take on our history which seeks to separate fact from fiction or myth, historical event from mere legend or doubtful claim, discussing both light and shadows. She is also honest about gaps in our knowledge and the questions about which people disagree. It is refreshing. Nonetheless, the author, Barbara Hoetsu O'Brien, is a long time practitioner herself, and thoroughly honors and cherishes our ways, holding them in the greatest reverence. She has been around the Buddhist block. Thus, Barbara somehow succeeds in presenting a modern and honest take on Zen's past while celebrating and loving the beauty of this Way.

    I highly recommend this book to all without reservations, and I hope everyone will read it soon.

    Gassho, Jundo


    Last edited by Jundo; 12-18-2019 at 03:26 AM.

  2. #2
    I have been reading this book because I saw you spoke highly of it on the internet and I am enjoying the read. Thank you.


  3. #3
    Thank you, Jundo.

    It sounds as if this book fills in a much needed gap in the current Zen literature. Dumoulin's two volumes are dated and long and a concise history of Zen, from the Buddha onwards, based on current scholarship is a very good thing.

    Anyway, it is on my Christmas list, so here's hoping!

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  4. #4
    I just heard you give this a "plug" on the podcast with Kirk a few minutes ago and I made a note to get it. Thanks for the recommendation.


  5. #5
    Glad to hear your positive review, Jundo, This is next in my queue.

  6. #6
    I'm half way through it and agree with Jundo's Review. I really like her writing, very no nonsense with humor when appropriate. It's easy reading in a topic that could be difficult.👌

    gassho, Shokai🙏
    合掌 仁道 生開 - gassho, Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    日々是好日 【nichi nichi korego nichi】Every Day is a Good Day!!

  7. #7
    Thanks you, Jundo. It's on my very long wish list.

    Sat today, lah
    求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  8. #8
    Thank you, Jundo

    Kaidō (皆道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything that I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  9. #9
    I might have skipped that one, since I've been reading so many books lately, but thanks to your review it moved to my "Must Read" list - thank you!



    no thing needs to be added

  10. #10

    No merit. Vast emptiness; nothing holy. I don't know.

  11. #11
    Member Getchi's Avatar
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    May 2015
    Between Sea and Sky, Australia.
    Strange enough, i was reading this just a few days past.

    Very good, and worth the effort.


    Lent A Hand.
    Nothing to do? Why not Sit?

  12. #12
    I've also ordered, I've been looking for a book like this for a while.




  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by EnlistedHipster View Post
    I've also ordered, I've been looking for a book like this for a while.



    I'm in the same boat Neil! I have often wanted to take a bigger dive into the history of Zen. Frankly, I know very little about it.

    Thank you for the recommendation Jundo . The Kindle Version on Amazon is available!




  14. #14
    Finished reading it. Just don’t ask me the sequence of folks for the past thousand years or so

    I found the history fascinating.


  15. #15
    On my list, but I'm waiting in the hope that the price will come down a little.
    Satwithyoualltoday lah
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Meitou View Post
    On my list, but I'm waiting in the hope that the price will come down a little.
    Satwithyoualltoday lah
    Just got the Amazon Kindle version to read on phone, $12

  17. #17
    Bought it!

    I'll read it as soon as I finish with my current book


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

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