An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

By D. T. Suzuki
Read by David Rintoul
4 hours 31 minutes

This is the classic account of Zen from the first major authority to inform the West of the details and practice of this form of Mahayana Buddhism. D. T. Suzuki (1870-1966). And despite its age, and the widespread adoption of Zen by Western society in the past century, it remains an important and authentic source for theory and practice. Zen originated in China where it was known as Cha’an, and though Suzuki’s discussion concentrates on its Japanese form, he gives his subject an historic perspective. He explains how Zen became perhaps the single most unusual development of Buddhism, moving far from its Indian origins. Intense, arduous and even seemingly odd practices, rather than theory and philosophical discussion, proved its bedrock underpinned often by charismatic teachers with uncompromising teaching styles. The purpose was to develop satori, insight into the nature of things, which was only attainable through personal experience, rather than by learning. The route was often counter-intuitive, and the explanations and implications often beyond logic. In Japan, Zen developed into two major schools. Soto, founded by Dōgen (1200-1253) concentrated on formal seated zazen (meditation; and Rinzai, given new impetus by Hakuin (1686-1769), which uses the Koan – a phrase or question intended to propel the exponent into the experience of satori. Such phrases as ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ have become a by-word for the koan. In his sound and straightforward exposition of classical Zen, Suzuki discusses the nature of Zen Buddhism in nine chapters, asking ‘What is Zen’ ‘Is Zen Nihilistic’, ‘Illogical Zen’ before expressing his particular interest in Rinzai. He closes his account with an insightful chapter ‘The Meditation Hall and the Monk’s Life’ which describes the traditional training up to the time of the writing (1930s) of this book. The practice of Zen has moved on considerably since then, especially since its adoption in the West, including a broader attitude towards non-monastic practice. But Suzuki’s Introduction has stood the test of time.

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