Astus wrote:Actually Zen itself has a huge literature that can be used just like other sutras and treatises.
The Indic literature, however, is far more consistent and coherent.
Chinese Chan literature is often quite vague and requires extensive interpretation. Just reading it literally, it makes little to no sense without understanding all the symbolism and allusions. As a form of literary study it is rewarding, but I don't see it providing much insight into the workings of the mind and reality. Someone might argue otherwise, but I'm just stating my opinion on the matter.
I like early Chan literature (the Tang Dynasty treatises attributed to Bodhidharma and the Seven Gate Treatise
for instance), but I don't see much value in Chan records of patriarchs, which forms the bulk of Chan literature, and gong'an
. After taking courses on it and even translating it, I've come to have a low opinion of it. Huayan, Tiantai, Sanlun and so on produced far more readable and logical works, perhaps because they were looking to emulate their Indian counterparts.
With Indic literature you often just need to understand the technical vocabulary and it is fairly straightforward after that. Abhidharma and śāstra can be terse, but it is logical and coherent. If something doesn't immediately make sense, you can be assured it is not a puzzle or paradox. The authors normally had a meaning they wished to convey and as such there should be a coherent meaning to be understood.
With Chan literature you can often read it any number of ways and come to an intuitive, personal interpretation. This might explain the success of such literature in English translation as compared to, say, Abhidharma. The latter demands more intellectual rigour, which in a climate of anti-intellectualism that is so common amongst western Buddhists, will often not be encouraged.