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  • A Critical Survey of Works on Zen since Yampolsky
  • Steven Heine

Introduction: 1967-A Very Good Year

The year 1967 was indeed a very good year in the development of Zen Buddhist studies on both sides of the Pacific, as evidenced by the publication of two monumental works that forever changed the course of scholarly approaches to the history of Zen. In Japan, Yanagida Seizan issued what has remained the single most important book on the formation of early Zen writings in China, cast in a social-historical context, Shoki Zenshū shisho no kenkyū (Study of the historical writings of the early Chan school). This work lifted studies by Japanese scholars out of the traditional sectarian approach to Zen scholarship and into the arena of contemporary critical theoretical studies by challenging many of the myths and fabrications as well as highlighting the sheer creativity and inventiveness that characterized the self-definitions of the early Zen school.

Meanwhile, in America, Philip Yampolsky, who worked with Yanagida on translation projects-and, along with his Japanese colleague as well as Masatoshi Nagatomi and Stanley Weinstein, among others, helped train a generation of Western scholars-produced a translation with a substantial historical introduction and handy bilingual critical edition of one of the main Zen texts, the Platform Sutra by sixth patriarch Hui-neng. While by no means the first solid Western piece of academic work on Zen in an era still dominated by the popular writings of D. T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, and Eugen Herrigel, as well as European scholarship by Demiéville, Gernet, and Zürcher, Yampolsky set a new standard for what a translation and book-length study in the field should accomplish. His work has for years been widely read and consulted by specialists and nonspecialists alike. It was in 1967 that the page was turned, and mature Zen Buddhist studies was born.

It is not surprising to find that both books, while still well distributed, have been criticized for an out-of-date or old-fashioned approach, especially for unintentionally supporting a romantic, idealized view of Zen masters and ideology that the historical method they represented was supposed to be critiquing and undermining. Nevertheless, their impact will remain strong and continue to cast long shadows over other recent and future publications that struggle to capture the spirit of innovation and evoke the originality and authority of Yampolsky and Yanagida. After forty years of absorbing the impact of these works, now is a good time to assess what has been accomplished in the ensuing decades in addition to what has not yet developed or [End Page 577] failed to develop; that is, the strengths and weaknesses, achievements, and lacunae in the field of Zen studies.

What follows consists of two interconnected parts: a short essay that sums up critically the state of the field and what the student can expect to find available, and a selected bibliography upon which it is based. The bibliography in the second part is a selected list of the major works on Zen in the West, primarily by American scholars since the time of the seminal publications cited above. Several guidelines were followed in the selection process. First, the list is intended to be representative of more advanced scholarship and thus limited in scope rather than comprehensive or exhaustive. My apologies go in advance to scholars and their works that may have been inadvertently left out. In addition, I extend an invitation for constructive feedback and suggestions about what is missing or overlooked so that the list can be improved. Second, the list focuses primarily on books-monographs, collections, and translations-although several articles as well as a few unpublished dissertation titles and an important online resource are included, particularly in cases when a prominent scholar's work or a subfield is best represented that way.

Third, the list is organized into several categories and subcategories. Following a short list of works from the years leading up to 1967, the bibliography continues with two "breakthrough" categories for monographs and collections. The notion of breakthrough used here refers to works that in their own way created at least a mini-revolution by opening up a new area...


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