Skip to main content

Buddhism: Zen: Contemporary Masters & Teachings

Last Updated: Oct 16, 2020 4:31 PM

On this page you can find the best resources for exploring scholarly perspectives on the most important contemporary masters and teachings in the Zen tradition. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region. Resources within the gallery box are arranged from the newest to the oldest publications, left to right. The area below the gallery highlights a few recent or especially notable works selected from the gallery above.

Grounds of Koto-in, Kyoto, Japan

Above: A view of the grounds of Kōtō-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, Kyoto, Japan.
 

Photo of D.T. SuzukiDaisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870 – 1966)

A Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen (Chan) and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching or lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Ōtani University, a Japanese Buddhist school. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. As Suzuki portrayed it, Zen Buddhism was a highly practical religion whose emphasis on direct experience made it particularly comparable to forms of mysticism that scholars such as William James had emphasized as the fountainhead of all religious sentiment. It is this idea of a common essence that made Suzuki's ideas recognizable to a Western audience, who could identify with the Western esotericism concealed in it, disguised as Eastern metaphysics. Suzuki presents a version of Zen that can be described as detraditionalized and essentialized.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Shigeru Tamura. Image license: Public domain. All books in the gallery immediately below are by D.T. Suzuki unless otherwise noted.

D.T. Suzuki

This work is a classic that has influenced generations of readers and played a major role in shaping conceptions of Zen’s influence on Japanese traditional arts. In simple and poetic language, Daisetz Suzuki describes Zen and its historical evolution. He connects Zen to the philosophy of the samurai, and subtly portrays the relationship between Zen and swordsmanship, haiku, tea ceremonies, and the Japanese love of nature. Suzuki uses anecdotes, poetry, and illustrations of silk screens, calligraphy, and architecture. The book features an introduction by Richard Jaffe that acquaints readers with Suzuki’s life and career and analyzes the book’s reception in light of contemporary criticism, especially by scholars of Japanese Buddhism. Suzuki's work remains a valuable source for those wishing to understand Zen in the context of Japanese life and art.

Selected Works cover artSelected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume I: Zen by D.T. Suzuki, ed. Richard M. Jaffe. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015.

Suzuki was a key figure in the introduction of Buddhism to the non-Asian world. Many outside of Japan encountered Buddhism for the first time through his writings and teaching, and for nearly a century his work and legacy have contributed to the ongoing religious and cultural interchange between Japan and the rest of the world, particularly the United States and Europe. Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki gathers the full range of Suzuki’s writings―both classic essays and lesser-known but equally significant articles. This first volume in the series presents a collection of Suzuki’s writings on Zen Buddhist thought and practice. In an effort to ensure the continued relevance of Zen, Suzuki drew on his years of study and practice, placing the tradition into conversation with key trends in 19th- and 20th-century thought.

Suzuki Manual cover artManual of Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki. New York: Grove Press, 1999.

Here are the famous sutras, or sermons, of the Buddha, the gathas, or hymns, the intriguing philosophical puzzles known as koan, and the dharanis, or invocations to expel evil spirits. Included also are the recorded conversations of the great Buddhist monks—intimate dialogues on the subjects of momentous importance. In addition to the written selections, all of them translated by Dr. Suzuki, there are reproductions of many Buddhist drawings and paintings, including religious statues found in Zen temples, each with an explanation of its significance, and the great series of allegorical paintings "The Ten Oxherding Pictures."

Intro to Zen Buddhism cover artAn Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

One of the world’s leading authorities on Zen Buddhism, D. T. Suzuki was the author of more than a hundred works on the subject in both Japanese and English, and was most instrumental in bringing the teachings of Zen Buddhism to the attention of the Western world. Written in a lively, accessible, and straightforward manner, this work is illuminating for the serious student and layperson alike. Suzuki provides a complete vision of Zen, which emphasizes self-understanding and enlightenment through many systems of philosophy, psychology, and ethics. With a foreword by the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung, this volume has been generally acknowledged a classic introduction to the subject for many years. It provides, along with Suzuki’s Essays and Manual of Zen Buddhism, a framework for living a balanced and fulfilled existence through Zen.


Shunryu Suzuki (1904 – 1971)

Shunryu Suzuki was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, and is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, as well as the San Francisco Zen Center which, along with its affiliate temples, comprises one of the most influential Zen organizations in the United States. Suzuki arrived in San Francisco at the age of 55 to attend to Sokoji, at that time the sole Soto Zen temple in San Francisco. Suzuki took over for the interim priest, Wako Kazumitsu Kato, and was taken aback by the Americanized and watered-down Buddhism practiced at the temple, mostly by older immigrant Japanese. He found American culture interesting and not too difficult to adjust to, even commenting once that "if I knew it would be like this, I would have come here sooner!" Kato had done some presentations at the American Academy of Asian Studies and asked Suzuki to come join a class he was giving there on Buddhism. This sparked Suzuki's long-held desire to teach Zen to Westerners. The class was filled with people wanting to learn more about Buddhism, and the presence of a Zen master was inspiring for them. Suzuki had the class do zazen for 20 minutes, sitting on the floor without a zafu and staring forward at the white wall. Little by little, more people showed up each week in the mornings to sit zazen for 40 minutes with Suzuki. The students were improvising, using cushions borrowed from wherever they could find them. The group that sat with Suzuki eventually formed the San Francisco Zen Center. Although Suzuki thought there was much to learn from the study of Zen in Japan, he said that it had grown moss on its branches, and he saw his American students as a means to reform Zen and return it to its pure meditation- and practice-centered roots. A collection of Suzuki's talks, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, has become one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Shunryu Suzuki unless otherwise noted.

Shunryu Suzuki

 

Photo of Philip KapleauPhilip Kapleau (1912 – 2004)

A teacher of Zen Buddhism in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition, which blends Japanese Sōtō and Rinzai schools, Kapleau was born in New Haven, Connecticut and became an accomplished court reporter. In 1945 he served as chief Allied court reporter during the Nuremberg trials, and later covered the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. While in Japan he became intrigued by and drawn to Zen Buddhism and attended informal lectures given by D.T. Suzuki in Kita-Kamakura. He moved to Japan in 1953 to seek Zen's deeper truth. During a book tour in 1965 he was invited to teach meditation at a gathering in Rochester, New York, and in the next year, he left Japan to create the Rochester Zen Center. After 13 years' training, Kapleau was ordained by Hakuun Yasutani in 1965 and given permission to teach, but formally ended his relationship with the latter in 1967 over disagreements about teaching and other personal issues. As a result of this breach, which prevented Kapleau from receiving dharma tranmission, Kaplan has, according to Andrew Rawlinson, "created his own Zen lineage." For almost 40 years, Kapleau taught at the Center and in many other settings around the world, and provided his own dharma transmission to several disciples of both genders. He also introduced many modifications to the Japanese Zen tradition and often emphasized that Zen Buddhism adapted so readily to new cultures especially because it was not dependent upon a dogmatic external form. His book, The Three Pillars of Zen, was published in 1965, has been translated into 12 languages, and is still in print. It was one of the first English-language books to present Zen Buddhism not as philosophy, but as a pragmatic and salutary way of training and living. Kapleau's emphasis in writing and teaching was that insight and enlightenment are available to anyone, not just austere and isolated Zen monks. Today, his dharma heirs, descendants and former students teach at Zen Centers around the world.
 
Left: Philip Kapleau, giving a teisho. Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Mind meal. Image license: Public domain. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Philip Kapleau unless otherwise noted.

Philip Kapleau

In this companion volume to The Three Pillars of Zen, Kapleau establishes guidelines for Western practitioners of Zen Buddhism, offering appealing, simple answers to the questions Westerners most often ask. Among the topics discussed in this informative, user-friendly book: "Transcendental Meditation: Who Transcends What?", "Can I Practice Zen and Be a Good Jew (or Catholic)?", "Reading About Enlightenment Is Like Scratching an Itchy Foot Through Your Shoe," and "Meditation Is an Escape--What Are You Doing to Help Society?" Kapleau's eloquence, humor, and authority make this an indispensible handbook for understanding Zen in the Western world.

To live life fully and die serenely: surely we all share these goals, so inextricably entwined. Yet a spiritual dimension is too often lacking in the attitudes, circumstances, and rites of death in modern society. Kapleau explores the subject of death and dying on a deeply personal level, interweaving the writings of Western religions with insights from his own Zen practice, and offers practical advice for the dying and their families.



In this classic work of spiritual guidance, the founder of the Rochester Zen Center presents a comprehensive overview of Zen Buddhism. Exploring the three pillars of Zen—teaching, practice, and enlightenment—Roshi Philip Kapleau, the man who founded one of the oldest and most influential Zen centers in the United States, presents a personal account of his own experiences as a student and teacher, and in so doing gives readers invaluable advice on how to develop their own practices. A moving, eye-opening work, this book is the definitive introduction to the history and discipline of Zen.


Photo of Robert Baker Aitken and Anne Hopkins Aitken​Robert Baker Aitken (1917 – 2010)

A writer and Zen teacher in the Harada-Yasutani lineage, Aitken received Dharma transmission from Koun Yamada in 1985 but decided to live as a layperson. Aitken was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1917, then was raised in Hawaii from the age of five. Living in Guam as a civilian working in construction at the onset of World War II, he was detained by the Japanese and held in internment camps for the duration of the war. In one such internment camp in Kobe, Japan in 1944 he met the scholar Reginald Horace Blyth, with whom he had frequent discussions on Zen Buddhism and anarchism. At the conclusion of the war, he returned to Hawaii and obtained a B.A. in English literature and an MA in Japanese from the University of Hawaii. In the late 1940s, while briefly attending classes at the University of California in Berkeley, California, he met Nyogen Senzaki and began to study with Senzaki in Los Angeles. It was during this period that his commitment to leftist social issues became more vocal. He remained a social activist through much of his adult life, beginning with protesting against nuclear testing during the 1940s. He became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and a strong opponent of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was among the earlier proponents of deep ecology in religious America, and was outspoken in his beliefs on the equality of men and women. In 1978 Aitken helped found the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an organization that advocates conflict resolution globally.
 
Left: Robert Aitken and his wife, Anne Hopkins Aitken. Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Francis Haar. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Robert Aitken unless otherwise noted.

Robert Aitken

 

Photo of Thich Nhat Hanh​Thich Nhat Hanh (born 11 October 1926)

A Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, founder of the Plum Village Tradition. Born as Nguyễn Xuân Bảo in the city of Huế in Central Vietnam. At the age of 16 he entered the monastery at nearby Từ Hiếu Temple, where his primary teacher was Zen Master Thanh Quý Chân Thật. A graduate of Báo Quốc Buddhist Academy in Central Vietnam, Thích Nhất Hạnh received training in Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana Buddhism, as well as Vietnamese Thiền, and received full ordination as a Bhikkhu in 1951. On May 1, 1966 at Từ Hiếu Temple, he received the "lamp transmission", making him a dharmacharya, from Zen Master Chân Thật. Thích Nhất Hạnh has spent most of his later life residing in the Plum Village Monastery in southwest France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. After a long term of exile, he was given permission to make his first return trip to Vietnam in 2005. In November 2018, he returned to Vietnam to spend his remaining days at his "root temple," Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế. He has published over 100 books, including more than 70 in English. He is active in the peace movement, promoting nonviolent solutions to conflict. He also refrains from animal product consumption (veganism) as a means of nonviolence towards animals.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Duc (pixiduc). Image license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Thich Nhat Hanh unless otherwise noted.

Thich Nhat Hanh

In September 2014, Thich Nhat Hanh completed a profound and beautiful new English translation of the Prajñaparamita Heart Sutra, one of the most important and well-known sutras in Buddhism. The Heart Sutra is recited daily in Mahayana temples and practice centers throughout the world. This new translation came about because of Nhat Hanh's belief that the patriarch who originally compiled the Heart Sutra was not sufficiently skillful with his use of language to capture the intention of the Buddha's teachings—and has resulted in fundamental misunderstandings of the central tenets of Buddhism for almost 2,000 years. Revealing the Buddha's original intention and insight makes clear what it means to transcend duality and pairs of opposites, and to touch the ultimate reality and the wisdom of nondiscrimination.

Art of Living cover artThe Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now by Thich Nhat Hanh. London: Rider, 2017.

In troubled times, there is an urgency to understand ourselves and our world. We have so many questions, and they tug at us night and day, consciously and unconsciously. In this important volume, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh—one of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world today—reveals an art of living in mindfulness that helps us answer life’s deepest questions and experience the happiness and freedom we desire. Thich Nhat Hanh presents, for the first time, seven transformative meditations that open up new perspectives on our lives, our relationships and our interconnectedness with the world around us.

Lifetime of Peace cover artA Lifetime of Peace: Essential Writings by and about Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh et al, edited by Jennifer S. Wills. New York: Marlowe & Co., 2003.

This book draws on dozens of sources to collect the very best writing by and about Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. This timely collection is both a political and spiritual handbook which encompasses all of Thich Nhat Hanh's major themes—mindfulness, love, truth, compassion, and peace on earth. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing the monk's lifelong efforts to encourage peace and reconciliation around the world. This important collection not only presents Hanh's writing about his experiences during the Vietnam War and excerpts from his journals, but also collects a range of other highlights, such as his advice for those entering into meditation practice and his unique insights into Buddhist and Christian theology. But above all, this collection is a timely and thought-provoking examination of the nature of peace.

Fragrant Palm Leaves cover artFragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962-1966 by Thich Nhat Hanh. London: Rider, 2000.

This book reveals a vulnerable and questioning young man, a student and teaching assistant at Princeton and Columbia Universities from 1962-1963, reflecting on the many difficulties he and his fellow monks faced at home trying to make Buddhism relevant to the people's needs. We also follow Thich Nhat Hanh as he returns to Vietnam in 1964 and helps establish the movement known as "engaged Buddhism" - starting self-help villages, a new university, a Buddhist order, and many other efforts for peace. This book is regarded by many Vietnamese as Thich Nhat Hanh's most endearing book. This extraordinary translation offers Western readers a glimpse into another time and into the mind of a great thinker and activist. It gives a model of how to live fully, with awareness, during a time of challenge and upheaval.


Seungsahn Wikimedia photoSeungsahn (1927 – 2004)

Seungsahn Haengwon, born Duk-In Lee, was a Korean Seon master of the Jogye Order and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen. He was the seventy-eighth Patriarch in his lineage. As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience. Seungsahn implemented the use of simple phraseology to convey his messages, delivered with charisma, which helped make the teachings easier to consume for Western followers. Some of his more frequently employed phrases included "only go straight" or "only don't know". He even went so far as to call his teachings "Don't Know Zen", which was reminiscent of the style of Bodhidharma. Seungsahn used correspondence between himself and his students as a teaching opportunity. Back-and-forth letters allowed for a kind of dharma combat through the mail and made him more available to the school's students in his absence. This was another example of his skillful implementation of unorthodox teaching methods, adapting to the norms of Western culture and thus making himself more accessible to those he taught. He was a supporter of what he often termed "together action"—encouraging students to make the lineage's centers their home and practice together. He was conferred the honorific title of Dae Jong Sa in June 2004 by the Jogye Order for a lifetime of achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates "Great Lineage Master" and was bestowed for his establishment of the World Wide Kwan Um School of Zen. He died in November that year at Hwagaesa in Seoul, South Korea, at age 77.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Joan Halifax. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Seungsahn unless otherwise noted.

Seung Sahn


Daido Roshi portraitJohn Daido Loori (1931 – 2009)

A Zen Buddhist rōshi who served as the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order, and CEO of Dharma Communications. In addition to his role as a Zen Buddhist priest, Loori was an exhibited photographer and author of more than twenty books. Loori was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and raised Roman Catholic. As a child he loved photographing things, once using his family's bathroom as a makeshift dark room. As an adult, he distanced himself from Catholicism and explored a variety of other religions. Then, in 1971, he attended a workshop given by the photographer Minor White. Loori came to study photography under White until his death and also learned meditation from him. In 1972 Daido Loori began his formal Zen practice, studying in New York under Soen Nakagawa and then in California under Taizan Maezumi Roshi. In 1980, Loori purchased 230 acres in upstate New York which today serves as the site for Zen Mountain Monastery. In 1983, he was made a Zen priest by Maezumi and in 1986 was given shiho (dharma transmission) by him. In 1997, he received dharma transmission in the Harada-Yasutani and Inzan lineages of Rinzai Zen as well. According to author Richard Hughes, this made Loori "one of three Western dharma-holders in both the Soto and Rinzai schools." Loori was a professional nature photographer, having once exhibited his work at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, New York and published his photographs with Aperture and Time-Life. His book, Hearing with the Eye: Photographs from Point Lobos, features Loori's abstract nature photography interwoven with commentary on Teachings of the Insentient by Eihei Dogen.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Rachael Romero. Image license: Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported. All books in the gallery immediately below are by John Daido Loori unless otherwise noted.

John Daido Loori

 

Sheng-yen (1931 – 2009)

A Chinese Buddhist monk, religious scholar, mainstream teacher of Chan Buddhism, and the founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain, a Buddhist organization based in Taiwan. During his time in Taiwan, Sheng Yen was well known as a progressive Buddhist teacher who sought to teach Buddhism in a modern and Western-influenced world. In Taiwan, he was one of four prominent modern Buddhist masters, along with Hsing Yun, Cheng Yen and Wei Chueh, popularly referred to as the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Taiwanese Buddhism. Born as Chang Baokang on January 22, 1931 in Nantong, Jiangsu near Shanghai in mainland China, he became a monk at the age of 13. During the Chinese Civil War, he went to Taiwan in 1949 by enlisting in a unit of the Nationalist Army out of necessity. After leaving the army, Sheng Yen became recognized as a Dharma Heir in both the Linji and Caodong traditions and became a monk again in 1959. From 1961 to 1968 he trained in solitary retreat in southern Taiwan at Chao Yuan Monastery. Sheng Yen became a lecturer at Shan Dao Monastery in Taipei, then completed a master's degree (1971) and doctorate (1975) in Buddhist literature at Rissho University in Japan. At the time Sheng Yen was the only major Buddhist figure in Taiwan to have earned a doctorate from a reputable foreign university. He became abbot of Nung Chan in Taiwan in 1978 and founder of the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture in New York City in 1979. In 1985, he founded the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies in Taipei and the International Cultural and Educational Foundation of Dharma Drum Mountain in 1989. Sheng Yen taught in the United States starting in 1975, and established Chan Meditation Center in Queens, New York, along with Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush, New York in 1997. He also visited many countries in Europe, as well as continuing his teaching in several Asian countries, in particular Taiwan.
 
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Sheng Yen unless otherwise noted.

Sheng Yen

The Thirty-seven Aids to Enlightenment are a set of fundamental teachings of Buddhism in the form of a list. The list’s seeming simplicity belies the fact that it is actually a kind of road map to enlightenment for anyone who follows it with diligence and sincerity. The Thirty-seven Aids comprise seven groups of practices conducive to awakening. Each of the seven groups is itself a list of enlightenment factors, which add up to a total of thirty-seven. Master Sheng Yen’s down-to-earth teachings take the reader on a progression through each of the practices, illustrating how they relate to the reader’s own path toward enlightenment.

This is an inspiring guide to the practice of Chan (Chinese Zen) in the words of four great masters of that tradition. It includes teachings from contemporary masters Xuyun and Sheng Yen, and from Jiexian and Boshan of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Though the texts were written over a period of hundreds of years, they are all remarkably lucid and are perfect for beginners as well as more advanced practitioners today. All the main points of spiritual practice are covered: philosophical foundations, methods, approaches to problems and obstacles—all aimed at helping the student attain the way to enlightenment.

In this classic work of spiritual guidance, the founder of the Rochester Zen Center presents a comprehensive overview of Zen Buddhism. Exploring the three pillars of Zen—teaching, practice, and enlightenment—Roshi Philip Kapleau, the man who founded one of the oldest and most influential Zen centers in the United States, presents a personal account of his own experiences as a student and teacher, and in so doing gives readers invaluable advice on how to develop their own practices. A moving, eye-opening work, this book is the definitive introduction to the history and discipline of Zen.

Pathway on grounds of Koto-in, Kyoto, Japan

Above: Another view of the grounds of Kōtō-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, Kyoto, Japan.
 

More Masters, More Teachings