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  • The Zen Reader
  • Edited by Thomas Cleary
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781590309469
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The Zen Reader

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Founded by Bodhidharma centuries ago in China, Zen and its teachings have since spread widely, exerting a tremendous cultural influence not only across Asia, but also the modern West. To this day, Zen inspires young and old, from all walks of life, to see the world with fresh eyes—beyond our usual assumptions and prejudices.

This compendium of a thousand years of Zen teaching presents the essence of the tradition through stories, sayings, talks, and records of heart-to-heart encounters with Zen masters. The great expositors of the tradition, whose voices are recounted here, encourage us to let go of our clinging and intellectual grasping, and to open ourselves to embrace reality exactly as it is.


Questions are endless, and answers are inexhaustible: if it’s a matter of curing illness, it doesn’t take a donkey load of medicine.

What does that mean? When sages of yore passed on a word or half a phrase, it was something they did only because they had no other choice. If you talk a lot about different points of view, that is contrary to the essence of the Way.

Indeed, the subtlety is beyond all images; the principle unifies all methods. Even while presenting many approaches, the light is hidden in the absolute.
So it seems that the Way depends on the mind’s awakening; it is not in words. Continuously evident, it has never been cut off. Not belaboring the mind, turn your own light around for a while. Daily activities are completely included—how can opposition stand?

Therefore it is said that the whole universe is just an illusion, unless you immediately realize the vehicle of truth and attain the mystic path all at once, forgetting all about subject and object, arriving at basic unminding, seeing through worldly troubles, understanding gangs of devils. If you effectively understand thus, it will make you happy for life. If you still don’t understand, it’s just because you yourselves are avoiding it.


Solitary Shining

If people who study the path are intending to concentrate on Zen, they should only concentrate on the Zen of the “solitary shining of a lone lamp in the hall of nirvana.” Do not set up specific periods, hoping to awaken to the path within a certain time. That is laughable.

This Zen has no trouble and no pain: the only important thing is to step back and trust completely; hang your pack high and break your staff. Stiffen your spine, and be like wood or stone inside, and like open space outside.

Suddenly the tub of lacquer comes apart, and the five clusters and eighteen elements are washed clear and clean; all beings are suddenly liberated.

Once you have seen this highway, it is not the place to stop: when you arrive at clear understanding of universal truth, only then will you find true and false, right and wrong, clearly distinguished in every case. This is called insuperably great independent spiritual mastery.

Thomas Cleary

About Thomas Cleary

Thomas Cleary - The Zen Reader
Thomas Cleary holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. He is the translator of over fifty volumes of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Islamic texts from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Pali, and Arabic.


"One of the foremost contemporary translators of classical Buddhist and Taoist literature."—Library Journal

"There is no doubt in my mind that Thomas Cleary is the greatest translator of Buddhist texts from Chinese or Japanese into English of our generation, and that he will be so known by grateful Buddhist practitioners and scholars in future centuries. Single-handedly he has gone a long way toward building the beginnings of a Buddhist canon in English."—Robert A. F. Thurman, Tricycle

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