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The Circle of the Way

A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World

Barbara O'Brien



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12 November 2019
A comprehensive, accessible guide to the fascinating history of Zen Buddhism--including important figures, schools, foundational texts, practices, and politics.

A comprehensive, accessible guide to the fascinating history of Zen Buddhism--including important figures, schools, foundational texts, practices, and politics.

Zen Buddhism has a storied history--Bodhidharma sitting in meditation in a cave for nine years; a would-be disciple cutting off his own arm to get the master's attention; the proliferating schools and intense Dharma combat of the Tang and Song Dynasties; Zen nuns and laypeople holding their own against patriarchal lineages; the appearance of new masters in the Zen schools of Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and later the Western world. In The Circle of the Way, Zen practitioner and popular religion writer Barbara O'Brien brings clarity to this huge swath of history by charting a middle way between Zen's traditional lore and the findings of modern historical scholarship. In a clear and often funny style, O'Brien parses fact from fiction while always attending to the greatest interest of contemporary practitioners--the development of Zen doctrine and practice as a living tradition across cultures and centuries.

Imprint:   Shambhala
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm, 
Weight:   368g
ISBN:   9781611805789
ISBN 10:   1611805783
Pages:   256
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

BARBARA O'BRIEN has been practicing Zen Buddhism since the 1980s. She works as a journalist, reporting primarily on religion in America. She is the author of Rethinking Religion- Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World and has written about Buddhism for many outlets including, The Guardian, Tricycle, and Lion's Roar. She blogs about whatever is on her mind at her personal blog, The Mahablog (

Reviews for The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World

A comprehensive history of Zen Buddhism written by and for Zen practitioners in an inviting, accessible style. It features many of the classic, sometimes hilarious stories that make the Zen tradition so rich. --Dale S. Wright, author of What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?, Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism, and co-editor of a series of five books on Zen history Whenever I want a succinct, trustworthy, well-researched exploration of a Buddhist topic, I go to Barbara O'Brien's work. In this wonderful offering, we receive a much-needed history of how Zen came to be what it is today. In her deft way, O'Brien balances traditional narratives with historical scholarship, telling a story that one trusts immediately to be thoroughgoing. The Circle of the Way is another example of O'Brien's great gift for synthesis and scholarship, and a tremendous gift to everyone interested in the Zen way. --Bonnie Myotai Treace, founding teacher at Hermitage Heart Zen and author of Winter Moon: A Season of Zen Teachings Barbara O'Brien's wide-ranging account of Zen history is conveyed with a master storyteller's ability to keep the forest from getting lost in a myriad of trees. Wearing her scholarship lightly, she blends just the right amount of skepticism about her hagiographic sources with a deep appreciation for the Dharma. --Barry Magid, author of Nothing Is Hidden and Ending the Pursuit of Happiness The Circle of the Way is a wonderful addition to a Zen library. This book manages to educate without lecturing, to address controversy without attack, and to cover an old topic in a refreshing and humorous way. An amazingly clear explanation of what parts of the history have previously been accepted but should be questioned, as well as those that have now been verified. --Grace Schireson, author of Zen Women and Naked in the Zendo Finally! A clear and concise introduction to Zen Buddhism. The Circle of the Way fills a long-standing need for a simple, straightforward explanation of where Zen comes from, what the foundational teachings are, and how they coalesce as a school of Buddhism. O'Brien loves the subject but never lets it take itself so seriously as to miss the lively mix of Zen's internal contradictions and its profound teachings. This is a wonderful book. --James Ishmael Ford, author of Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons

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