An indispensible guide to koans, teaching the reader about the importance of lineage, the practice of “just sitting,” and koan practice as paths to awakening.
“This marvelous book opens the treasure house of Zen and yet, happily, does not dispel its mystery. James Ford, an excellent storyteller and longtime Zen practitioner, presents a detailed and beautiful description of the craft of zazen, including “just sitting” and various forms of breath meditation—but focuses primarily on koan introspection.
The power of koans, these 'public cases' from China, has never ceased to enrich my own experience of Zen. They are a medium of exploration of the history, culture, and view of Zen, but most importantly are a medium of awakening.
James Ford is fundamentally a koan person, and for this, the book is particularly rich, opening the practice of koans in a splendid way. I am grateful for his long experience as a teacher and practitioner of this rare and powerful practice. Since the word koan has found its way into popular English usage, I am grateful too for the more nuanced and fertile view of koans that Ford presents. His definition of the word is telling: “a koan points to something of deep importance, and invites us to stand in that place.”
He has also has created a wonderful translation of the Heart Sutra, Zen’s central scripture—and carefully opens up the heart of the Heart Sutra through scholarship and practice. Rich in textual sources and woven throughout with the perspectives of contemporary teachers, Introduction to Zen Koans sheds new light on ancient teachings. Through it, the reader will discover the importance of lineage, the traceless traces of the Zen ancestors, and the places of “just sitting” and koan practice as paths to awakening, as the great doorways into Zen.” —from the foreword by Joan Halifax
“Introduction to Zen Koans is an intimate invitation into a beloved Zen teacher’s loving family and his boundless love of practice. The book is an expression of intimacy itself. What a delight!”
– Koshin Paley Ellison, editor of Awake at the Bedside and Guiding Teacher of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care
“A natural story-teller, Ford speaks from the intimacy so necessary in Zen practice. He weaves into these accounts his own poetic sensibility, and generously quotes the comments and insights of many of his peers. His simple, clear instructions for how to sit lead organically to the explanation-defying essence of Zen, which is embodied in the language of koans—and the reader is encouraged to awaken to and actualize this ordinary yet extraordinary Mind.”
– Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat, Abbot of Zen Center of Syracuse, editor of Eloquent Silence
“This excellent introduction is flavored with the wisdom and love of a seasoned Zen practitioner who has spent a lifetime investigating and activating the depth and breadth of who we truly are. Capturing the voices of the Ancestors to contemporary Zen teachers, Roshi James Ford invites us into the intimacy of our very own lives through the way of the Zen Buddhist koan. He deftly captures both the broad landscape of Zen training and the subtle confounding intricacies one is likely to encounter.”
– Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Abbot of ZCLA, co-editor of On Zen Practice