The Zen Monastic Experience

THE ZEN MONASTIC EXPERIENCE combines the rigorous research and no-nonsense approach of fine academic writing with the depth of understanding and inside knowledge of one who knows his subject matter first-hand. Before Robert E. Buswell, Jr., began his academic career, he spent five years as a Son (Zen) Buddhist monk at Songgwang-sa (Piney Expanse Monastery) in Korea. Much of this work is based on his own experience.

Buswell examines his subject clearly and thoroughly, discussing the history of Buddhism in Korea, the conduct of meditation practice, the relationship of the laity with the monastery, the training of monks, the support division of the monastery (which provides for the day-to-day functioning of the monastery so that meditation monks can devote themselves to their practice), the monastic hierarchy and the duties of the officers of the meditation compound, and the daily and annual schedules of the monastery. In “The Practice of Zen Meditation in Korea, he discusses kanhwa (koan) practice, a meditative practice in which a monk continually concentrates on a single phrase uttered by a past Zen master in order to enter into the state of mind held by that Zen master when the phrase was originally uttered.

Buswell also debunks various commonly held misconceptions about Zen. For example, he refutes the idea that Zen practitioners scorn the study of Buddhist texts, and he emphasizes that, although enlightenment can occur in an instant, that instant is generally the culmination of a long period of tremendous effort and discipline.

This fine work also includes translations of the principal chants used in Korean monasteries, a “Glossary of Sinitic Logographs,” an excellent bibliography, and an index.