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The Golden Age of Zen
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Golden Age of Zen, The: Zen Masters of the T'ang Dynasty
Golden Age of Zen, The: Zen Masters of the T'ang Dynasty
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Comparative Religion
Eastern Religion

Price:  $19.95

ISBN:  0-941532-44-5
Book Size:  6" x 9"
# of Pages:  280
Language:  English


This book gives a fascinating survey of the early years of Chinese Zen (Chan) Buddhism, staying focused on the movement of Buddhism to the land where Taoism and Confucianism flourished. Wu's survey, combined with interesting translations from these earliest Zen masters, reveals a time of spiritual vibrancy and powerful personalities that help explain the later developments of Zen with which western readers are more familiar.

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Detailed Description of The Golden Age of Zen

This book gives a fascinating survey of the early years of Chinese Zen (Chan) Buddhism, staying focused on the movement of Buddhism to the land where Taoism and Confucianism flourished. Wu's survey, combined with interesting translations from these earliest Zen masters, reveals a time of spiritual vibrancy and powerful personalities that help explain the later developments of Zen with which western readers are more familiar.

About the Author(s)

John C. H. Wu

Wu Ching-hsiung, also known as John C. H. Wu, was an author, lawyer, juristic philosopher, educator, and prominent Catholic layman. He was president of the Special High Court at Shanghai, vice chairman of the Legislative Yuan's constitution drafting committee, founder of the T'ien Hsia Monthly, translator of the Psalms and the New Testament into Chinese, and served as Chinese minister to the Holy See (1947-48). Wu authored and translated numerous books and articles on many subjects including Religion, Philosophy and Law.

World Wisdom is pleased to be able to offer readers a new edition of John C. H. Wu’s The Golden Age of Zen , which includes a wonderful introduction by Thomas Merton and a new foreword by Kenneth Kraft .

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Kenneth Kraft

Kenneth Kraft is Professor of Religion Studies at Lehigh University, specializing in Japanese Zen and the new field of engaged Buddhist studies. In 1984–85, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. At Lehigh, he has served as Chair of the Religion Studies department and as director of the College Seminar Program. Kraft has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, and the Stanford University Japan Center in Kyoto.

Prof. Kraft has written a new foreword to John C.H. Wu's classic work, The Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T'ang Dynasty .

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Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton ("Father Louis") was a Trappist monk, but was also known worldwide for his numerous and varied writings in many different genres, including poetry. He influenced many with his spiritual reflections as well as his works of social and political criticism. Many recognized Thomas Merton as one of the earliest and most moving contributors to meaningful inter-religious dialogue. He was both a committed Christian and one who appreciated the riches of other spiritual traditions. It seems that his prominence as contemplative monk and public thinker has only increased since his death.

The writings of Thomas Merton can be found in the following World Wisdom books:

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Reviews of The Golden Age of Zen

“This book provides a captivating survey of the early years of Chinese Zen, focusing on the movement of Buddhism to the land where Taoism and Confucianism flourished. Wu's survey, combined with illuminating translations from the earliest Zen/Chen masters of the T'ang period spanning the seventh to the tenth centuries … reveals a time of spiritual vibrancy and powerful personalities that helps explain the later developments of Zen/Chan with which Western readers are more familiar.…

“[The Golden Age of Zen] … encapsulates the spirit of Zen/Chan Buddhism in a remarkable fashion and provides the seeker with illuminating insights and reflections on the pilgrimage that leads from the unreal to the Real as established by the earliest spiritual masters of this school. It provides an essential survey of these formative years that are less known to non-specialists or those that are not students of Zen/Chan Buddhism, but no less deserve to be widely read and absorbed.… ”

—from a review by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos in Parabola

"Recommended for any collection with an interest in Zen or comparative religion."

Library Journal

"Here is a book that will do much to clarify the still very confused western idea of Zen Buddhism. It is not an apologia, not a criticism, not a purely academic history, not a romantic exercise of imaginative concordism. It looks at the great Chinese Zen Masters of the 7th to the 10th centuries A.D., and portrays them in their "Five Houses". It enables us to situate their teaching and to enjoy it in its context.…Though few Westerners will ever actually come to a real understanding of Zen, it is still worth their while to be exposed to its brisk and heady atmosphere. This book will be a good place to make the acquaintance of what can be called the very quintessence of Buddhist wisdom, in the Golden Age of Chinese Zen."

Thomas Merton (excerpt from the Introduction)

“A rich harvest of the sayings and training methods of the great Chinese Zen masters. Highly recommended.”

—Roshi Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen

“Wu’s book has long been a primary source for understanding the development of the hugely influential philosophy of Zen Buddhism by students and teachers alike. The Golden Age of Zen explores the philosophy’s history, from its early connections with Taoism to the magnificent flowering forth of the whole movement in the hands of succeeding generations of Chinese sages.”


“While never losing sight of the fact that intuition and tuition differ markedly, Wu does not allow the reader to fall into a stereotype of Zen as an anti-intellectual simplifier.…[He] is not content to list anecdotes, but provides a wealth of background details to facilitate historical understanding.”

Frank J. Hoffman, West Chester University

“Dr. Wu’s [The Golden Age of Zen:] Zen Masters of the T’ang Dynasty presents a thorough exposition of the watershed period in China from which developed everything we’ve come to know as Zen, both East and West. Students of Buddhism will find this book to be a rich source for understanding this significant period of Zen history.”

John Daido Loori, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery

"This book is a rare treasure, proof of the possibility to clarify the profound understanding of Taoism and Zen in their essential relatedness in a warm, poetic, non-academic prose. It reached me on my 94th birthday, moved me by its gentle wisdom, comparable to Daisetz T. Suzuki’s Essence of Zen Buddhism and his quintessential essay 'Self the Unattainable,' which he wrote at the age of ninety. I will return to Dr. Wu’s The Golden Age of Zen many times in the months or years still allotted me.”

Frederick Franck, artist and author of The Zen of Seeing and Messenger of the Heart: The Book of Angelus Silesius

"The Golden Age of Zen is a repository of Zen lore culled from the classic texts of Chinese Zen (Ch’an). When Westerners first encountered the strange Zen dialogues and antics that had been treasured in East Asia for a thousand years, there seemed to be more madness than method. Now we realize that the masters were communicating with exceptional directness and freedom in a language of awakening. Today, across vast spans of time and culture, they are still teaching us."

Kenneth Kraft, Lehigh University, and coeditor of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism (with Stephanie Kaza), author of The Wheel of Engaged Buddhism: A New Map of the Path, and others

This reprint of The Golden Age of Zen, a modern classic of Zen studies originally published in 1967, will be welcomed by many on the spiritual path. John C. H. Wu (1899–1986) was one of the most extraordinary Chinese of his generation. Statesman, academic, translator, interpreter of Chinese culture, and above all a pilgrim on the path, he experienced both inner and outer worlds, both past and present, to a remarkable degree. In China he served as judge and law school dean and was principal writer of the Nationalist Chinese constitution, all during China's terrible years of war and revolution.

Later, dividing his time between Taiwan and the United States, he taught at Seton Hall University and wrote extensively on Chinese culture. He became a Roman Catholic shortly before the age of forty and served as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-48.

His Christianity, however, was not mere dogmatism. Rather, it served as a vehicle for the generous and mutually enriching exchange between Eastern and Western spirituality that was his most influential vocation of all. He translated the Psalms and New Testament into Chinese (using Tao for Logos, or Word, in John's gospel) and the Tao Te Ching into English. He was a great friend of the no less ecumenical Trappist Thomas Merton, and of that supreme apostle of Zen to the West, D. T Suzuki. The present volume is enhanced with a preface by Merton and the correspondence between Wu and SuZuki.
The Golden Age of Zen concerns the Zen masters of the T'ang period (618–906 C.E.). Then Zen, or Chan, was fresh, exciting, and innovative. It was both counter cultural and cultural, the former in its spiritually iconoclastic mood and in the willingness of its monks to work with their hands and endure relative poverty, unlike others content to live very well from endowments; and it was culturally assimilative because of its radical commingling of Taoism and Buddhism to create a remarkably new, but very Chinese, kind of Buddhism.

Wu's golden age was the era of the celebrated stories of students suddenly enlightened when told to wash their dishes after eating or upon a teacher's unexpected shout or blow. At the same time, Zen thinkers like Huineng and Huang-po developed subtle philosophical positions based on the One Mind or original unstained nature, the Buddha-nature, in all beings—though always with the caveat that it is not through words and concepts that it is known, but when it is seen as, say, the cypress tree in the front yard, or in the pain of one's nose after a master has twisted it.
This world is wonderfully captured in John Wu's book, which is at the same time a tribute to a splendid modern master who entered, among other gates, the gateless gate of Zen. Highly recommended.

Robert Ellwood, Bashford Professor of Oriental Studies Emeritus at the University of Southern California and vice President of the Theosophical Society in America. From a review in Quest Magazine Jan-Feb 2005

Table of Contents for The Golden Age of Zen


    Introduction: A Christian Look at Zen by Thomas Merton

  1. Zen: Its Origin and its Significance

  2. Bodhidharma and His Immediate Successors

  3. Hui-Neng The Sixth Patriarch

  4. Hui-Neng’s Fundamental Insights

  5. Ma-Tsu Tao-I

  6. Pai-Chang and Huang-Po

  7. Chao-Chou Ts’ung-Shen

  8. Outstanding Masters in the Lineage of Shih-t’ou

  9. Kuei-Shan Line-Yu: Founder of the Kuei-Yang House

  10. Tung-Shan Liang-Chieh: Founder of the T’sao-Tung House

  11. Lin-Chi I-Hsuan: Founder of the Lin-Chi House

  12. Yün-Men Wen-Yen: Founder of the Yün-Men House

  13. Fa-Yen Wen-I: Founder of the Fa-Yen House

  14. Epilogue: Little Sparks of Zen

    Correspondence with D. T. Suzuki


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Zen: Its Origins and SignificanceThe Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T'ang DynastyWu, John C. H. Buddhism
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