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Zen Under the Gun

Four Zen Masters from Turbulent Times

Translated by J.C. Cleary

Sometimes history is cruel: a civilization starts to fall apart and a stable social order starts to unravel; upheaval and uncertainty abound. Tyrants ride high, old notions of justice vanish, and people may feel they have nowhere to turn for relief. In some ways, this is the story of human civilization.

Indeed, this is what happened to the Chinese world in the thirteenth century when the Mongol conquerors mangled China and left the Chinese social order in tatters.

This book, from one the pioneering and preeminent translators of Zen for the West, presents a selection of Zen lessons from four teachers in four successive generations whose public lives spanned a turbulent period in Chinese history. These four Zen masters were all eminent teachers, and their teaching words reflect the state of the art of Zen teaching in their time. And they are, even now, all vividly relevant.

"These four generations of Chinese masters indeed taught amid social turbulence. They persistently reinvigorated the ageless provocation to awaken, and thus "bring order to the world," including daring to admonish warlords to harmoniously care for the people. These luminous teachings, translated clearly for the first time, remain informative for our own troubled period."

– Taigen Dan Leighton, translator of Dogen's Extensive Record

"Once again, Cleary's combined expertise in Chinese history and Zen literature shines through in this highly accessible volume. Among other things, he shows convincingly that the Zen message in these teachings are timeless and that "engaged Buddhism" has always been an integral part of the true teaching, not a creation of modern Buddhists."

– Cuong Tu Nguyen, George Mason University

"When Mongol invaders conquered China over the thirteenth century, the Buddhists there had already had hundreds of years of experience developing interfaces among people of different nations, cultures, races, and religions; in responding to the world without bias. In this book, Buddhist masters of turbulent times give their greatest gift, from which all other gifts flow: their methods of mastering mind."

– Thomas Cleary, translator of The Book of the Five Rings