Reading Zen: Some Books of Relevance to a Student of Zen Meditation & Koan Introspection

Reading Zen: Some Books of Relevance to a Student of Zen Meditation & Koan Introspection December 22, 2016

Whalen Chair small

I’ve just submitted the second draft of my current book, the Language of Dragons, to my publisher. Then my editor (curse you, sir) asked for a bibliography of the books I consulted in writing it. I’m moderately confident these are the larger majority of books I at least held in my hand while working on it.

The book will be about Zen meditation with some focus on koans, and all of it contextualized within a larger reflection on Zen practice. I recall how when I first began the study of Zen in the late 1960s there was hardly anything to read. However, in the ensuing years a wealth of literature has emerged on this subject. So, from almost nothing we now need curation. There is a great deal out there and not all of it is actually useful, while some of it is completely misleading.

But, with some sorting there are treasures of guidance in between the covers of many books. So, here you go, a small gift for those who would like a list of this sort, addressing the life of Zen, the container, zazen, and koan introspection.

And, yes, Gary Larson was an important reference…

Language of Dragons


Aitken, Robert. (translator with commentary). The Gateless Gate: The Wu-Men Kuan (Mumonkan). San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1990.

  Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1984.

  Taking the Path of Zen. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1982.

Anderson, Reb. Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press, 2001.

Austin, James. Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Batchelor, Stephen. Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2010.

Bayda, Ezra. Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2002.

Bielefeldt, Carl. Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.

Boshan (translated and introduced by Jeff Shore). Great Doubt: Practicing Zen in the World. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2016.

Broughton, Jeffrey L and Elise Yoko Watanabe. (Translators) The Chan Whip Anthology: A Companion to Zen Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Buksbazen, John Daishin. Zen Meditation in Plain English. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2002.

Buswell, Robert. The Zen Monastic Experience. Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Caplow, Florence & Susan Moon. The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

Cleary, Thomas (Translator). Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2000.

(Translator). Book of Serenity. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1990.

Cleary, Thomas & J. C. Cleary. (Translators) The Blue Cliff Record. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1992.

Cook, Francis H. (translator). The Record of Transmitting the Light: Zen Master Keizan’s Denkoroku. Los Angeles, CA: Center Publications, 1991.

Dogen, Eihei. (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi). Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1985.

Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: a History. 2 volumes. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1988, 1990.

Ferguson, Andy. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2011.

Ford, James. If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012.

  Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2006

Ford, James Ishmael & Melissa Myozen Blacker. Book of Mu: Essential Writings on Zen’s Most Important Koan. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2011.

Gu, Guo. Passing Through the Gateless Barrier: Koan Practice for Real Life. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016.

Habito, Ruben, Living Zen, Loving God. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

Hakuin Ekaku. (translated by Norman Waddell). Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave: A Zen Miscellany. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009.

(translated by Norman Waddell). Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin. Boston, MA:  Shambhala Publications, 1999.

(translated by Norman Waddell). Zen Words for the Heart: Hakuin’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1996.

Heine, Steven. Dogen and the Koan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shobogenzo Texts. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Heine, Steven and Dale S. Wright. The Koan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hori, Victor. Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003.

Jaffe, Richard, Neither Monk Nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Kapleau, Philip. The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1965.

Kennett, Jiyu. Zen is Eternal Life. Emeryville, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1976.

Kirchner, Thomas Yuho. (translated and annotated) Entangling Vines: A Classic Collection of Zen Koans. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

Larson, Gary. The Complete Far Side. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014.

Leggett, Trevor. The Warrior Koans: Early Zen in Japan. London: Arkana, 1985.

Leighton, Taigen Daniel, with Yi Wu. (translators) Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1991.

Loori, John Daido. (editor) The Art of Just Sitting: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza. Somerville, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2002.

Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2007.

(editor) Sitting With Koans: Essential Writings on the Practice of Zen Koan Introspection. Somerville, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2006.

McRae, John R. Seeing Through Zen: Encounter, Transformation and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.

Macinnes, Elaine. The Flowing Bridge: Guidance on Beginning Zen Koans. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2007.

Magid, Barry. Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen and Psychotherapy. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans. Somerville, Ma: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

Maezumi, Taizan and Bernie Glassman. On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, & Mind. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2001.

Miura, Isshu and Ruth Fuller Sasaki. Zen Dust: The History of the Koan and Koan Study in Rinzai (Lin-chi) Zen. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966.

Rizzetto, Diane Eshin. Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion. Boston, Ma: Shambhala Publications, 2005.

Sekida, Katsuki. Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. New York, NY: Weatherhill, 1975.

Seung Sahn. Only Don’t Know: The Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn. San Francisco, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1982.

Ten Gates: The Kong-an Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2007.

Sheng Yen. The Method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2008.

Shattering the Great Doubt: The Chan Practice of Huatou. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2009.

Shibayama, Zenkei. Zen Comments on the Mumonkan: The Authoritative Translation, with Commentary, of a Basic Zen Text. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1984.

Shrobe, Richard. Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press, 2010.

Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2010.

Ta Hui. (translated by J. C. Cleary). Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2006.

Tarrant, John. Bring Me the Rhinocerous: And Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy. New York, NY: Harmony Books, 2004.

Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.

Uchiyama, Kosho. Opening the Hand of Thought: Approach to Zen. New York, NY: Arkana, 1993.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1967 (reprint, original 1911)

Yamada, Koun. (translated with commentary). Gateless Gate. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1979.

Zen: The Authentic Gate. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2015.

Warner, Brad. Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth About Reality. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2003.

Wick, Gerry Shishin. The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koans. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Yampolsky, Philip B. (translator, introduction, notes). The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1967.

(The song was selected from a number found at this siteThe picture accompanying this list is of the poet and Zen priest Philip Whalen, of course, reading…)

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