issue 19 winter 02
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Zen's Chinese Heritage

The Masters & Their Teachings

Andrew Ferguson

Wisdom Publications 2000

$24.95/£19.95 p/b

If you read stories about the Chinese pioneers of Zen, you will know how confusing it can be not to know who is who, and how they relate to each other. This book aims to solve the mystery by covering all the major figures chronologically, over more than seven centuries, from Bodhidharma to Wumen (who died in 1260). After a good general introduction, each man (and a few women) is introduced and put into context, followed by extracts from their teachings.

Some of these are familiar: Nanyue polishing his tile, Huangbo with his blows. But many are pretty obscure, and it is particularly valuable that the book is so thorough, covering 167 people. The arrangement by generation is useful (and astonishingly tidy: three of the seven members of the 19th generation were born in 1025), since it allows you to compare different but concurrent points of view. The book also comes with a large, efficient family treeâ and chart (also available separately) that clearly shows the lineages. My only disappointment is that it stops where it does, giving the erroneous impression that Zen simply emigrated from China to Japan and left nothing behind.