Taoism, Ch'an, and Original Zen
A beautifully compelling and liberating guide to the original nature of Zen in ancient China by renowned author and translator David Hinton.
Buddhism migrated from India to China in the first century C.E., and Ch’an (Japanese: Zen) is generally seen as China’s most distinctive and enduring form of Buddhism. In China Root, however, David Hinton shows how Ch’an was in fact a Buddhist-influenced extension of Taoism, China’s native system of spiritual philosophy. Unlike Indian Buddhism’s abstract sensibility, Ch’an was grounded in an earthy and empirically-based vision. Exploring this vision, Hinton describes Ch’an as a kind of anti-Buddhism. A radical and wild practice aspiring to a deeply ecological liberation: the integration of individual consciousness with landscape and with a Cosmos seen as harmonious and alive
In China Root, Hinton describes this original form of Zen with his trademark clarity and elegance, each chapter exploring in enlightening ways a core Ch’an concept—such as meditation, mind, Buddha, awakening—as it was originally understood and practiced in ancient China. Finally, by examining a range of standard translations in the Appendix, Hinton reveals how this original understanding and practice of Ch’an/Zen is almost entirely missing in contemporary American Zen, because it was lost in Ch’an’s migration from China through Japan and on to the West.
Whether you practice Zen or not, taking this journey on the wings of Hinton's remarkable insight and powerful writing will transform how you understand yourself and the world.
— from the book jacket
Praise for China Root:
China Root is an utterly engrossing account of the deepest treasures the Zen/Ch’an path can open up, as it leads us into the manifest-yet-hidden wonders of who we really are. Hinton writes as very few can, not only as a scholar, practitioner, and translator but also as a poet—something the old artist-intellectuals of China would surely have appreciated. His deep understanding of the Taoist roots of Ch’an shine a light on the Zen practice of today, taking us back in a thrilling way beyond the Japanese rigor and aesthetics, beyond the mythical T’ang Dynasty flourishing of Ch’an’s great ancestors, back to its Taoist roots in the first millennium BCE—and even beyond them, into the mists of its paleolithic origins. It is here, back in its true roots—which also happen to be the deepest aspects of our life—that Hinton beautifully makes clear our participation in a generative cosmos, a constantly manifesting, burgeoning Presence, even while it never ceases to be a primordial Absence.
Oddly perhaps, in spite of Hinton’s expert parsing out of missteps in the translation and transmission of this Dharma to the West, I can’t help feeling I’ve just read a staggeringly good account of the modern Zen training a contemporary Japanese-based lineage led me through. Be that as it may, this thoroughly gripping book pulls together various threads of David Hinton’s prior work into one powerful, concise masterwork. May it echo through modern zendos for decades to come.
—Henry Shukman Roshi, author of One Blade of Grass: A Zen Memoir
Shambhala (Sept. 2020)