Practice of Early Ch’an – Sources

by layman k

This year I have began a study of the early practice of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in China. My interest in this is not in revealing any sort of lost “true” practice or any notions of “purity” but in understanding the core of Ch’an. In the cases where there is a historical record it seems that religions often arise around a fairly simple core set of notions and practices and over the years accrue additional ritual and practices. This is probably essential for any belief system to thrive as it generalizes it’s practice to appeal to a wider audience.  In some cases these additional practices can become the primary focus and the core of the system is sidelined. This has not been the case with Ch’an – as Zen is practiced today meditation remains at the center as it did from the beginning – but it has indeed accreted a wide variety of practices from other traditions. Just what was the set of practices that were used in the beginning and what were the important ideas and texts in early Ch’an is what I wish to explore in these posts.

Most of the sources that really explore early Ch’an are more on the scholarly end of the spectrum.  There is a lot of fascinating information in this material but it definitely is different from a practitioners perspective. My goal here is to try to tease out of these more scholarly examinations actual practice and thought.  Since I am unable to go to the original sources and am not a scholar myself this can be thought of as a meta-study of these scholarly sources. But my eye is always that of one engaged in practice within the Rinzai Zen tradition. This post is my bibliography of the material that  I am currently engaged with. This post will be updated with further sources as the study continues.

Note: The titles are affiliate links to the books on Amazon excerpt where noted.

1) Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings
by Andrew Ferguson
Published by Wisdom Publications; Expanded edition (March 9, 2011)
ISBN-10:0861716175 | ISBN-13: 978-086171617

2) The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen (Philip E. Lilienthal Book)
by Jeffrey L. Broughton
Published by University of California Press, September 21, 1999
ISBN-10: 0520219724 | ISBN-13: 978-0520219724

3) The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism)
by John McRae
Published by University of Hawaii Press, February 28, 1987
ISBN-10: 0824810562 | ISBN-13: 978-0824810566

4) Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism (Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studies)
by John McRae
Published by University of California Press, January 19, 2004
ISBN-10: 0520237986 | ISBN-13: 978-0520237988

5) Early Ch’an in China and Tibet (Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 5)
Edited by Lewis R. Lancaster and Whalen Lai
Published by  U C Regents March 1, 1983
ISBN-10: 0895811529 | ISBN-13: 978-0895811523

6) Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism, No 4)
Edited by Peter N. Gregory
Published University of Hawaii Press, May 1, 1987
ISBN-10: 0824810880 | ISBN-13: 978-0824810887

7) The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary
Translated and commentary by Red Pine (Bill Porter)
Published by Counterpoint, February 12, 2013
ISBN-10: 1619020998 | ISBN-13: 978-1619020993

 8)  The Lankavatara Sutra, A Mahayana Text
Translated by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Original Edition Published in London in 1932.
Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo (1923).
Published in Internet by ©,  May 2004, 2005. (Rev. 2)
For free distribution only.

 9) Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra
by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Published by Munshirm Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd (January 1, 1998)
ISBN-10: 8121508339 | ISBN-13: 978-8121508339