Zen Master Yunmen is a masterwork for anyone interested in the history and nature of a tradition that defies both.

 

By Ty Phillips

How does one accurately describe the nature of Zen?

We can, of course, delve into its origination in China as the great Chan tradition, the influential patriarchs, its migration into Korea, Vietnam and Japan and the traditions that blossomed there. But that’s little more than a history lesson. History is valuable, but it does nothing to describe the true nature of a thing.

Urs App offers us both history and insight into the Chan tradition by being both a biographer and interpreter of the great Chan Master Yunmen. His covering of the life and teachings offers us just as much of a look into the life of the master as it does into the nature and meaning of his teachings and the nature of Chan as a whole.

Zen Master Yunmen: His Life and Essential Sayings is a readable scholastic work of breathtaking simplicity. Urs gives us a lesson in insight just as much as he does on the tradition itself.

Zen Master Yunmen is a masterwork for anyone interested in the history and nature of a tradition that defies both. Like all great teachers, Urs takes us on a journey that makes the mundane gripping—a feat hard to do in a tradition that thrives on removing all and yet offering all.

One of the most striking sections of the book was the offering on the use of koans. A koan is a nonsensical riddle that forces the observer to be aware of the nature of self in order to take the meaning and offer it back to the master. Over the generations, many students have struggled with the koans given by their teachers, and many authors have struggled to put into writing what they hold; like a master of both words and wisdom, Urs delivers.

I was refreshed and enlightened by his book. It will be a tool I’ll often use as I try to wrestle with my own insights on the nature of self and awareness. In my own statement, I recall a section from Yunmen:

“Someone asked Yunmen, ‘Though this is constantly my most pressing concern, I cannot find any way in. Please, Master, show me a way in!’

The Master said, ‘Just in your present concern, there is a way.'”

 


Photo: (source)

Editor: John Lee Pendall

 

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