Eight Essential (and Brief) Zen Texts

Recently I was reading Yamada Mumon’s Lectures on the Ten Oxherding Pictures. A wonderful book, I commend it to anyone interested in the Zen way. Although, actually, this entry is in fact a pointer to a bouquet of brief, but essential Zen texts. All this inspired by a mention in the preface to Yamada Mumon’s book how in Japanese (Rinzai) Zen the “Oxherding Pictures” are collected with three other brief texts as the Zenshu Shiburoku, “The Four Texts of the Zen Sect.”

These are:

Ten Oxherding Pictures by Kuoan Shiyuan

Affirming Faith in Mind by Sengcan (Which is available together with several other texts cited here in the Boundless Way Zen Liturgy book)

Song of Awakening by Yongjia Xuanjue

Zazengi by Eihei Dogen

These really are significant texts for anyone interested in Zen. (And they don’t even take long to read, although they are worth endless revisits…) Not long after reading this I mentioned the list to my friend Victor Lapuszynski, an old Zen hand, who said he’d seen another list which did not include Dogen’s Zazengi, but did include:

Identity of Relative and Absolute by Shitou Xiqian

Song of the Jeweled Mirror Samadhi by Dongshan Liangjia

And Vic added how he really, really likes, and would add to any bibliography of brief Zen texts:

Song of the Grass Hut by Shitou Xiqien

Finally, somehow it seemed to me inappropriate to have such a list of brief texts without including that text from the Prajanaparamita Cycle which seems to be chanted at nearly every Zen event, the Heart Sutra.

Annie Walks on to the Stage
On the Preservation of the Species: A Mind Bubble on Earth Day
Do Not Deny, Do Not Forget
He Drew A Circle
  • Fred

    Left out a couple of really essential pieces I believe:

    Seeing Through Zen by John McRae will provide some excellent insights into the (non)history of Zen.

    For a more contemporary investigation, any of Stuart Lachs essays on-line will prove quite eye opening indeed Best wishes, Fred

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkeymind James

    Contemporary commentaries, Fred. This is a list of important primary texts.

    But if we’re going contemporary commentaries, I’d throw in my own history of Zen in (mostly) North America, “Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen.” Not the worst thing out there…