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Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen Paperback – October 20, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (October 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0861715098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861715091
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,282,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taxonomists rejoice: for all who have wondered about the difference between a roshi and a sensei, this book sorts these two kinds of Zen Buddhist teachers and offers lots more information about Zen schools and influences. A longtime Zen student and Unitarian minister, Ford is a sympathetic insider who knows much of his history firsthand, yet sees clearly enough to acknowledge the distortions and even abuses in the history of Zen as it came to this country. His delineations form a road map to persons and places in Zen in America. His eye is especially keen in appreciating the early teachers who brought Zen from Japan and adapted it to an audience growing in numbers and receptivity to Asian religious wisdom. End matter, including a guide to finding a teacher, is helpful; missing, however, is some graphic representation—a family tree, perhaps?—that could have summarized paragraphs of prose about lineages and who taught whom. The very existence of the book is evidence of the growth and maturation of a small but culturally significant group of what Ford rightly characterizes as religious believers. Beyond the obvious niche audience, this book holds interest for all curious about American Zen Buddhism and contemporary expressions of American spirituality. (Nov.)
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Review

"Ford, a Soto Zen priest and Unitarian Universalist minister, has put together a rich and eminently readable resource on Zen in the West. He begins with an overview of the history of Zen, then thoroughly covers the teachers who first came West, the traditions and practices they brought with them, the schools they founded, and their many successors. Ford's engaging portraits of the many personalities that make up Wester Zen today are especially interesting and can be read straight through or dipped into here and there for a satisfying taste of any one of the diverse forms the tradition is taking today." (Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)

"For all who have wondered about the difference between a roshi and a sensei, this book sorts these two kinds of Zen Buddhist teachers and offers lots more information about Zen schools and influences. [...] Ford is a sympathetic insider who knows much of his history firsthand, yet sees clearly enough to acknowledge the distortions and even abuses in the history of Zen as it came to this country. His delineations form a road map to persons and places in Zen in America. His eye is especially keen in appreciating the early teachers who brought Zen from Japan and adapted it to an audience growing in numbers and receptivity to Asian religious wisdom. End matter, including a guide to finding a teacher, is helpful [...] The very existence of the book is evidence of the growth and maturation of a small but culturally significant group of what Ford rightly characterizes as religious believers. Beyond the obvious niche audience, this book holds interest for all curious about American Zen Buddhism and contemporary expressions of American spirituality." (Publishers Weekly)

"James Ford is a charming and thoughtful guide to the who, how and why of Zen coming to the West. That's because he is a Zen master himself, with an unparalleled knowledge of the people, the big trends and the interesting details. James is a major figure in adapting Zen to America and this book will give you the inside picture." (John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (and Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy))

"In his forty-year study of the tradition, Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford has digested the 'whos and whats' of Zen, presenting a personable and readable introduction to its major players and teachings, both in the East and West. Zen Master WHO? is a friendly orientation to Zen for the new student of Buddhism, and the book's final section, in which Ford considers the future of Zen in the West, will prompt discussion among its older students." (Shambhala Sun)

"Provides a thorough orientation for the prospective student of North American Zen... in a balanced, straightforward style, peppered with enough original anecdotes to make it enjoyable, even to Zen students already familiar with the basic material." (Buddhadharma)

"At last, a book that helps those beginning Zen practice figure out who's who and how they became a Who. Zen Master Who? is a greatly useful guide, bringing together the legendary, the historical, and the contemporary in one compact, engaging read. You'll feel like an insider after reading this book." (Sumi Loundon, editor of Blue Jean Buddha and The Buddha's Apprentices)

"Zen Master Who? is a comprehensive survey of the Asian masters who first brought Zen to America and of their American students who have been empowered to carry on their legacy. It tells the story of American Zen clearly - and honestly. By telling the story of real people, with real problems and real accomplishments, Ford makes us ponder just what it is we expec from practice, from teachers and from ourselves. This is a great book." (Barry Magid, author of Ordinary Mind)

"What happened when the Bodhidharma came to the West? From an insider's perspective, James Ishmael Ford tells us stories and gives colorful portrayals of the major figures linked to the ongoing transmission of Zen in the North American continent. A respected Zen Master himself, he describes his spiritual ancestors and Dharma sisters and brothers in candid and also endearing terms." (Ruben Habito, author of Living Zen, Loving God and Healing Breath)

"Ford brings to all his work a keen mind grounded in a thorough understanding of Zen practice and the nuances which pervade its development in the Western world. His insights are clear, unbiased and aim at presenting an honest picture of the development of Zen." (Diane Eshin Rizzetto, author of Waking Up to What You Do)

"Apart from Rick Fields' classic How the Swans Came to the Lake, reportage on the history of Zen in the West has tended to center on one or at most two traditions, e.g., Japanese Soto and Rinzai schools. James Ishmael Ford has instead taken a broad perspective, covering not only the Japanese and Chinese pioneers and influences but also extending his coverage to Korean, Vietnamese, and the syncretic Harada/Yasutani lineages. I found his clear account of the Korean Kwan Um school's Dharma transmission model to be especially interesting. Informal in tone and extensive in coverage, Zen Master Who? should prove both informative and absorbing reading for a new generation of Zen students and teachers alike." (John Daishin Buksbazen, author of Zen Meditation in Plain English)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Moskowitz on January 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Before I start reading a book I don't know if I'll be moved to write a review. But when I find myself making notes in the margins as I read (as I did with this one), there's a good chance that I'll review the book to help others decide if the book will be useful to them.

James Ishmael Ford's fine book "Zen Master Who?" is worth reading if you want a bit of information about who's who in the Western Zen Buddhist world, how it got the way it is and where it might be heading.

It's written in three parts. The first restates what he calls the Buddhist founding "myths". The second tries to to give us a feel for the story of the people who brought Zen to the West from China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, concentrating a bit more on Japan, as to-date the Japanese have had the most visible impact on establishing Zen in the West. The third and shortest part discusses the directions in which Zen in the West may be headed.

My most serious criticism? I felt that Ford's description of the last few generations of Zen Masters was not even-handed. I didn't appreciate how the serious character failings (e.g., inappropriate sexual relationships, substance abuse, financial misdeeds) of some Zen Masters were described in some depth while others were only mentioned in passing and those of many others (including his teachers) were omitted completely.

In the same vein, he glosses over the critical discussion of what "enlightenment" means in the context of unethical behavior by simply saying that Zen Masters are not perfect masters, not "gurus" and are subject to the same desires and temptations that all of us face.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. Giesey on January 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
Among the rash of current historical/biographical Zen offerings, James Ford's Zen Master Who stands out as one of the more informative and certainly one of the most enjoyable reads. He starts with a focused reprise of the key historical Zen myths, and includes not only the thematic essentials but also by anecdote gives these stories a human dimension. He then moves on to his main subject, profiling a prodigious number of notable individuals and trends in recent and current Western Zen evolution, in a style both informative and enjoyable to read. Ford's wry humor, insight and compassion are apparent on every page, and the effect is engagingly conversational and personal. Another unique element of this book is the summary and discussion of the implications of all this material; where it might be leading us, and where we might try leading it. Not surprisingly, given that Ford is not only a Dharma heir but also a Unitarian Universalist minister, he evokes some intriguing possibilities for a liberal Western Zen of focused practice combined with committed social action, in a community of responsible and open-minded mutual support and self-determination. Altogether a lively and thought-provoking work.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mccormick on December 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
I found this book a very useful and entertaining survey. It covers the most seminal figures of the East Asian Zen traditions that are now found in North America and there is a very clear exposition of the practices of shikan taza (just sitting) and koan introspection. The capsule biographies of the many men and women who were instrumental in establishing Zen in North America were very interesting and really helped me to understand who was who, what was what, and most importantly of all what is out there now for someone who wants to take up Zen practice. The last part of the book goes over important issues concerning the continuing adaptation of Zen outside its original East Asian setting. There is also an appendix containing advice on what a beginner should look for in a Zen teacher, which I think would help save many people unecessary grief. All in all it is a great book for beginners, and even those who have been involved in Zen for awhile might find this a helpful summary and overview of the many traditions (including Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese lineages that are now in America in addtion to the Japanese lines which themselves crisscross).
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By R. Seth Kircher on April 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
To provide a truly useful and in depth survey of Zen in the West - especially since this book was written by a practicing Zen teacher - more thought and care should have been given to producing it. For those of you who have been practicing Zen for some time, you may notice a lack of balance in terms of the detail including the praises, criticisms or suspicions that Ford levels against those he includes in his survey. On the other hand, for those of you who are new to Zen and perhaps interested in finding a bonafide Zen teacher, I would not be surprised if you got to the end of this book and decided not to pursue Zen at all. Where Ford seems to praise ancient or recently dead masters, his persistant criticism of contemporary leaders and centers makes Western Zen as an institution appear largely disfunctional and/or suspect. Furthermore, very little reference material is provided within the book which at the very least might make one wonder where and how this Roshi obtained the information he used produce it. Finally, the last chapter of the book, which includes recommendations on how to find a qualified Zen teacher, seems ill-placed considering the book's hidden thesis: That there are maybe one or two Zen teachers and/or Zen centers in the United States that are not marked by some scandal or question surrounding the authenticity of this or that teacher's dharma transmission. Curiously, James Ford appears to have survived his own survey completely unscathed. But don't take my word for it, find out for yourself!
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