1. Charles B. Jones, School of Theology and Religious Studies The Catholic University of America Jonesc@cua.edu 2. Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism. By Albert Welter. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, 334 pages, ISBN: 978-0195175219, US $55.00 (cloth).
On page four of Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism, Albert Welter identifies the shibboleth that constitutes the implicit target in the investigation that is to follow: Zen propagandists and apologists in the twentieth century sold the world on the story of Zen as a transcendental spiritualism untainted by political and institutional involvements. The world, even the academic world ensconced in a tradition of skeptical inquiry, often reveled in this clever artifice. Enthralled with the Orientalist fantasy of a suprarational, mystic wisdom that transcended the supposedly mundane, superficial logic of Western dualism, Zen came to represent a true spiritual purity, untempered by the passage of time and the vagaries of place. This should sound familiar to readers who, like myself, were first exposed to Zen literature by popularizing Western works such as Paul Reps's Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a work so unquestioning of its sources that it leaves the names of its Tang dynasty Chinese protagonists in Japanese form. Reading books such as this, and even later, more scholarly studies such as those of Heinrich Dumoulin, one might get the impression that the Chan tradition was the creation of meditating monks living in small rural communities whose depth of enlightenment, gained through the "direct transmission" of the Buddha-mind from their masters, enabled them to break all conventional boundaries and use "crazy wisdom" to enlighten others. Freed from all needs and wants, they remained aloof from political power, following the examples of the first Chinese patriarch Bodhidharma and his lineal successor, the sixth patriarch Huineng, who refused to kowtow to the wealth and power of emperors and refused all secular honors, keeping their religious attainment free from the taints of the world.