Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen


Zen Master Who? is the first-ever book to provide a history of Zen's arrival in North America, surveying the shifts and challenges to Zen as it finds its Western home. With the exception of parts of Rick Field's How the Swans Came to the Lake, there has been no previous attempt to write this chronicle.

James Ishmael Ford begins by tracing Zen's history in Asia, looking at some of Zen's most seminal figures--the Sixth Ancestor Huineng, Dogen Zenji (the founder of the Soto Zen ...

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Zen Master Who? is the first-ever book to provide a history of Zen's arrival in North America, surveying the shifts and challenges to Zen as it finds its Western home. With the exception of parts of Rick Field's How the Swans Came to the Lake, there has been no previous attempt to write this chronicle.

James Ishmael Ford begins by tracing Zen's history in Asia, looking at some of Zen's most seminal figures--the Sixth Ancestor Huineng, Dogen Zenji (the founder of the Soto Zen school), Hakuin Ekaku (the great reformer of the Rinzai koan way), and many others--and then outlines the state of Zen in North America today. Clear-eyed and even-handed, Ford shows us the history and development of the institution of Zen--both its beauty and its warts.

Ford also outlines the many subtle differences in teachings, training, ordination, and transmission among schools and lineages. This book will aid those looking for a Zen center or a teacher, but who may not know where to start. Suggesting what might be possible, skillful, and fruitful in our communities, it will also be of use to those who lead the Zen centers of today and tomorrow.

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Editorial Reviews

Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
"Ford, a Soto Zen priest and Unitarian Universalist minister, has put together a rich and eminently readable resource on Zen in the West. He begins with an overview of the history of Zen, then thoroughly covers the teachers who first came West, the traditions and practices they brought with them, the schools they founded, and their many successors. Ford's engaging portraits of the many personalities that make up Wester Zen today are especially interesting and can be read straight through or dipped into here and there for a satisfying taste of any one of the diverse forms the tradition is taking today."
John Tarrant
"James Ford is a charming and thoughtful guide to the who, how and why of Zen coming to the West. That's because he is a Zen master himself, with an unparalleled knowledge of the people, the big trends and the interesting details. James is a major figure in adapting Zen to America and this book will give you the inside picture."
Shambhala Sun
"In his forty-year study of the tradition, Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford has digested the 'whos and whats' of Zen, presenting a personable and readable introduction to its major players and teachings, both in the East and West. Zen Master WHO? is a friendly orientation to Zen for the new student of Buddhism, and the book's final section, in which Ford considers the future of Zen in the West, will prompt discussion among its older students."
"Provides a thorough orientation for the prospective student of North American Zen... in a balanced, straightforward style, peppered with enough original anecdotes to make it enjoyable, even to Zen students already familiar with the basic material."
Sumi Loundon
"At last, a book that helps those beginning Zen practice figure out who's who and how they became a Who. Zen Master Who? is a greatly useful guide, bringing together the legendary, the historical, and the contemporary in one compact, engaging read. You'll feel like an insider after reading this book."
Barry Magid
"Zen Master Who? is a comprehensive survey of the Asian masters who first brought Zen to America and of their American students who have been empowered to carry on their legacy. It tells the story of American Zen clearly - and honestly. By telling the story of real people, with real problems and real accomplishments, Ford makes us ponder just what it is we expec from practice, from teachers and from ourselves. This is a great book."
Ruben Habito
"What happened when the Bodhidharma came to the West? From an insider's perspective, James Ishmael Ford tells us stories and gives colorful portrayals of the major figures linked to the ongoing transmission of Zen in the North American continent. A respected Zen Master himself, he describes his spiritual ancestors and Dharma sisters and brothers in candid and also endearing terms."
Diane Eshin Rizzetto
"Ford brings to all his work a keen mind grounded in a thorough understanding of Zen practice and the nuances which pervade its development in the Western world. His insights are clear, unbiased and aim at presenting an honest picture of the development of Zen."
John Daishin Buksbazen
"Apart from Rick Fields' classic How the Swans Came to the Lake, reportage on the history of Zen in the West has tended to center on one or at most two traditions, e.g., Japanese Soto and Rinzai schools. James Ishmael Ford has instead taken a broad perspective, covering not only the Japanese and Chinese pioneers and influences but also extending his coverage to Korean, Vietnamese, and the syncretic Harada/Yasutani lineages. I found his clear account of the Korean Kwan Um school's Dharma transmission model to be especially interesting. Informal in tone and extensive in coverage, Zen Master Who? should prove both informative and absorbing reading for a new generation of Zen students and teachers alike."
Publishers Weekly
Taxonomists rejoice: for all who have wondered about the difference between a roshi and a sensei, this book sorts these two kinds of Zen Buddhist teachers and offers lots more information about Zen schools and influences. A longtime Zen student and Unitarian minister, Ford is a sympathetic insider who knows much of his history firsthand, yet sees clearly enough to acknowledge the distortions and even abuses in the history of Zen as it came to this country. His delineations form a road map to persons and places in Zen in America. His eye is especially keen in appreciating the early teachers who brought Zen from Japan and adapted it to an audience growing in numbers and receptivity to Asian religious wisdom. End matter, including a guide to finding a teacher, is helpful; missing, however, is some graphic representation a family tree, perhaps? that could have summarized paragraphs of prose about lineages and who taught whom. The very existence of the book is evidence of the growth and maturation of a small but culturally significant group of what Ford rightly characterizes as religious believers. Beyond the obvious niche audience, this book holds interest for all curious about American Zen Buddhism and contemporary expressions of American spirituality. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780861715091
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications MA
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James Ishmael Ford is a senior guiding teacher of Boundless Way Zen. James has been a student of Zen Buddhism for over forty years. He is also a senior Unitarian Universalist minister serving at the First Unitarian Church of Providence and a member of both the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. He lives outside Providence.
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