In this book, Janet Jiryu Abels traces the life stories of twelve Chinese Zen masters who, together, shaped what was to become known as Zen's Golden Age. She presents their biographies, describes their teachings, and shows how their lives and teachings can inspire those who practice Zen today. The book is a presentation of ancient Zen insight vividly relevant for the twenty-first century, addressing both the needs of both new and longtime Zen practitioners. Its singular distinction is in bringing Zen history, ancestral teachings, and present-day application of those teachings into one work.
Although the book is based on scholarly sources and historical records, Abels stresses the humanity of these Zen ancestors, showing that they were not formed from a generic mold but were individuals with quirks, senses of humor, heartfelt enlightenment experiences, varied ways of living, and unique ways of expressing Zen. She tells their stories in a lively, accessible manner, shedding light on their paradoxical teachings with clarity and simplicity. She also shows that they all faced the same challenges that Zen practitioners face today.
Interwoven among the stories and teachings are Abels' own insights into the dharma of Zen, as well as practical applications and encouragements that readers can bring to their individual practice of the Way. These insights are based on her more than ten years as a Zen teacher. She is the founder and co-resident teacher of Still Mind Zendo in New York City.
Janet Jiryu Abels is the founder and now co-resident teacher, with Gregory Hosho Abels, of Still Mind Zendo in New York City, and the guiding teacher of Plum Blossom Zendo in Pittsburgh. She received dharma transmission as a Zen teacher in the Soto White Plum lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 2000. She is a certified Bio-Spiritual Focusing teacher, and is a member of the White Plum Asanga as well as the Lay Zen Teachers Association.
"By personalizing Zen lineage masters including Bodhidharma, Mazu, Guishan, and Xuefeng, these seemingly untouchable mystics are situated anew in a practitioner's narrative of Buddhism."
"Abels writes about the Zen Ancestors with clarity and a depth of knowledge that comes from long practice and study. Her rich and succinct descriptions of the lives of the Zen ancestors will help many find their own way into the Zen path."
– Andy Ferguson, author of Zen's Chinese Heritage
"Janet Abels walks hand-in-hand with the ancient Chinese Zen Ancestors. She brings alive their struggles and triumphs on the road to awakening. Through Abels' excellent narratives and her own deep understanding, she has revealed the profound teachings of these great masters for present-day students of the Way."
– Gerry Shishin Wick, author of The Book of Equanimity
"In this enlightening work, Abels shares the lives and teaching of 12 Chinese Zen masters during a period which has come to be known as Zen's Golden Age. She successfully captures and conveys their idiosyncrasies as ancestors and the breadth of their skills as spiritual mentors."
– Spirituality & Practice
"Janet Abels has given us a strong presentation in spirited prose of the lives of the founding teachers of Zen Buddhism during China's Tang Dynasty. She clearly presents the personalities of these teachers, their place in history, and the individual's contribution to Zen practice."
– Father Robert Kennedy, Roshi
"Abels has an easy way of bringing us into deeper relationship with the hit parade of luminaries from Zen's Chinese founding. Telling their stories and putting them in historical context, she invites us again and again to see their lives as our lives, their stories as our stories. A book of inspiration and challenge for all of us who are interested in clarifying the great matter of being a human being."
– David Rynick, author of This Truth Never Fails
"A delight...This is an excellent book of teachings with clear insight evident which should help many on the path. Those unfamiliar with the stories will delight in the narratives of these masters and the sparkling, engaging style Abels brings to these tales. There is over a thousand years between the masters and us but they are still alive and teaching us and I'm sure they will continue for another thousand years."