Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

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Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 10:46 am

Several publications, notably Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm over Critical Buddhism and Why They Say Zen Is Not Buddhism: Recent Japanese Critiques of Buddha Nature have turned me on to the recent academic discussions about Ch'an's Yogacara roots, the Lankavatara Sutra, and the apparent fact that doctrines such as Tathagatha-garbha and "Original Enlightenment" might in-fact be teachings that fly in the face of core tenets of the Buddha's teaching.

Dogen seems to neither confirm nor deny an upholding of these Yogacarin, atman-like doctrines, and according to Hee Jin-Kim (author of Mystical Realist seems to finally arrive on the anti-yogacarin side of this discussion through advocating a style of praxis and analysis that is based on using "emptiness" reconstructivley via focusing on the momentariness/impermanence of dharmas.

This discussion on Critical Buddhism and it's relationship to Zen's Yogacarin inheritance has come to the front of my mind recently, because I have become interested in the Abhidharma of the northern schools. This obviously would necessitate an acquaintance with the writings of Vasubandhu, who was a great Yogacarin scholar.

If anyone has any academic insight to offer, I would greatly appreciate it. I am simply afraid that these "Critical Buddhists" within Soto Zen Universities in Japan have basically cut themselves completely off from any reference to the abhidharma, which I would find befuddling, personally.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 16, 2013 11:31 am

Beatzen wrote:If anyone has any academic insight to offer, I would greatly appreciate it. I am simply afraid that these "Critical Buddhists" within Soto Zen Universities in Japan have basically cut themselves completely off from any reference to the abhidharma, which I would find befuddling, personally.


Abhidharma was never mainstream in either China or Japan. Even in the early centuries it was part of the scholastic traditions. That's why it has little to do with Zen. By the time of the Song Dynasty it was all the more understudied. Some scholastics in Japan would have dealt with it, but then it probably would have been pejoratively called gakumon 学問 (scholastic) or something to that effect.

Abhidharma studies in Japan are classed as Indian Buddhism. It doesn't normally fall in with Chinese scholastic traditions like Tiantai and Huayan. Zen in Japan is rooted in Chan in China.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 11:54 am

So, if you were like me, and completely fascinated by these contemporary Soto scholars who seem to be railing against Yogacara and Taoism - as if they're trying to purge Zen of what they see as non- or anti-buddhist influences...

...AND you wanted to study abhidharma,

...maybe what I'm asking would be simpler to address if I was asking how Madhyamaka scholars approach abhidharma, since I'm looking to go to northern sources that have nothing to do with Yogacara ideas of alaya-consciousness, or tathagata-garbha, and definately, definately nothing to do with "original enlightenment"
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 11:58 am

The Japanese Buddhological "critical Buddhism" movement started at least focusing on the tathagata-garbha doctrines, which they called a kind of "dhatu-vada". Only certain parts of Yogacara may fall within this scope. It's not really Yogacara per se that is the target, though. In fact, even only certain parts of tathagata-garbha doctrines may be dhatu-vada theories.

See, for example, one of the essays that set the whole thing off:


Pruning the Bodhi Tree, pg. 165 wrote:The Doctrine of Tathagata-garbha Is Not Buddhist

MATSUMOTO Shirõ

AS THE TITLE I have given this essay indicates, I do not consider
tathagata-garbha thought to be Buddhist. To demonstrate this
thesis I propose to begin with a discussion of what Buddhism
is, then to turn to the doctrine of tathagata-garbha and demonstrate why
the two are incompatible. In doing so, I am fully aware that my presentations
of Buddhism and tathagata-garbha thought represent my own
views on the matter.

...


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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 11:59 am

I should add that, at this point in my study, I'm almost tempted to (after 13 years) drop Zen and take up a Kagyu practice (I have the opportunity to join a Kagyu sangha here in Portland).

It seems like it would be less of a culture-shock because I've heard that out of the four major tibetan schools, Kagyupas emphasize practice/action.

I'm trying to figure this out, because I'm trying to trace Zen back to core buddhist principles (which seems to be what Critical Buddhists are trying to do). But it seems like the cultural accretions, taoist-influences and substantialist doctrines have become too integral and mainstreamed (your phrase) to really do that without a lot, lot of research.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 12:03 pm

Beatzen wrote:So, if you were like me, and completely fascinated by these contemporary Soto scholars who seem to be railing against Yogacara and Taoism - as if they're trying to purge Zen of what they see as non- or anti-buddhist influences...

...AND you wanted to study abhidharma,

...maybe what I'm asking would be simpler to address if I was asking how Madhyamaka scholars approach abhidharma, since I'm looking to go to northern sources that have nothing to do with Yogacara ideas of alaya-consciousness, or tathagata-garbha, and definately, definately nothing to do with "original enlightenment"


"Northern" Indian or "Northern" East Asian?

The "northern" Abhidharma is the Sarvastivadin and related systems, eg. the Kasmiris, Gandharins, etc. As Abhidharma, they don't do things like alaya- per se. But, of course as it is well known, the Sautrantikas such as Srilata / Kumaralata did pave the way from Abhidharma back to sutra as main pramana, and then (especially via bija theories) to Yogacara alaya ideas.

None of that really has much to do with tathagata-garbha, which is, as posted above, the main target of the critical buddhist people.

Early Madhyamaka approach Abhidharma to refute its svabhava and other related doctrines. Both of these already took place before any Yogacara or Tathagata-garbha theories appeared, so again, not much influence. Though of course later Madhyamaka scholars, especially those within hybrid systems (eg. Yogacara-Madhyamaka, blah blah blah) did have to take the newer Yogacara and then Tathagata-garbha ideas into account in their systems. Just see someone like Haribhadra as a good example.

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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 12:05 pm

Beatzen wrote:I should add that, at this point in my study, I'm almost tempted to (after 13 years) drop Zen and take up a Kagyu practice (I have the opportunity to join a Kagyu sangha here in Portland).

It seems like it would be less of a culture-shock because I've heard that out of the four major tibetan schools, Kagyupas emphasize practice/action.

I'm trying to figure this out, because I'm trying to trace Zen back to core buddhist principles (which seems to be what Critical Buddhists are trying to do). But it seems like the cultural accretions, taoist-influences and substantialist doctrines have become too integral and mainstreamed (your phrase) to really do that without a lot, lot of research.


If you want to "trace Zen back to core buddhist principles", then wouldn't the obvious move be back through Chan (in the context of other Chinese to Japanese schools), and that through into early Chinese Buddhism, and back into Central Asia, and then India?

Oh, hehe, you want to do all this "without a lot of research", huh? Good luck! :tongue:

Or, you could just go with a fairly contemporary Chinese approach to Buddhism, which would likely involve a cut down of classical Chan to slide over closer to India (be that Abhidharma, Yogacara, Madhyamaka, or whatever...) Works for me!

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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 12:07 pm

Huifeng wrote:The Japanese Buddhological "critical Buddhism" movement started at least focusing on the tathagata-garbha doctrines, which they called a kind of "dhatu-vada". Only certain parts of Yogacara may fall within this scope. It's not really Yogacara per se that is the target, though. In fact, even only certain parts of tathagata-garbha doctrines may be dhatu-vada theories.

See, for example, one of the essays that set the whole thing off:


~~ Huifeng


At least for someone with a scholarly understanding as vague and under-stimulated as my own, the very fact that scholars like Matsumoto have (in my own mind) cast doubt on orthodoxy in Soto zen... is enough to legitimate their writings. It was compelling to see Soto scholars as apparently respected as they are kind of shake things up. One of the things about the tibetan lineages that I respect is that they seem to actively nourish their students' intellectual curiosities/understandings.

Definately not my experience practicing under Zen teachers, even masters. I almost get the impression that the four Senseis/Roshis that I have practiced under and questioned, have absolutely no time for questions that are even remotely philosophical, but then again, I guess that is a stereotype of a zen master, isn't it
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 12:12 pm

Huifeng wrote:
Beatzen wrote:So, if you were like me, and completely fascinated by these contemporary Soto scholars who seem to be railing against Yogacara and Taoism - as if they're trying to purge Zen of what they see as non- or anti-buddhist influences...

...AND you wanted to study abhidharma,

...maybe what I'm asking would be simpler to address if I was asking how Madhyamaka scholars approach abhidharma, since I'm looking to go to northern sources that have nothing to do with Yogacara ideas of alaya-consciousness, or tathagata-garbha, and definately, definately nothing to do with "original enlightenment"


"Northern" Indian or "Northern" East Asian?

The "northern" Abhidharma is the Sarvastivadin and related systems, eg. the Kasmiris, Gandharins, etc. As Abhidharma, they don't do things like alaya- per se. But, of course as it is well known, the Sautrantikas such as Srilata / Kumaralata did pave the way from Abhidharma back to sutra as main pramana, and then (especially via bija theories) to Yogacara alaya ideas.

None of that really has much to do with tathagata-garbha, which is, as posted above, the main target of the critical buddhist people.

Early Madhyamaka approach Abhidharma to refute its svabhava and other related doctrines. Both of these already took place before any Yogacara or Tathagata-garbha theories appeared, so again, not much influence. Though of course later Madhyamaka scholars, especially those within hybrid systems (eg. Yogacara-Madhyamaka, blah blah blah) did have to take the newer Yogacara and then Tathagata-garbha ideas into account in their systems. Just see someone like Haribhadra as a good example.

~~ Huifeng


In reading that, I'd say that I'm personally interested in the Early Madhyamaka. My understanding of Dogen's view on causality (i'm saying my own) is one that pivots on emptiness in order to postulate simultaneous arising of cause and effect. It's actually become central to me, regardless of what nagarjuna and other early scholars did to refute simultaneous arising. To me, it's perfectly rational and, even as upaya, can help two arrows meet in mid-air.

[edit] branching from that, didn't the indian ancestors debate at-length about the existence of time. I have a feeling like tibetans see the Zen concept of time as more nihilistic than anything else.
Last edited by Beatzen on Thu May 16, 2013 12:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 12:12 pm

Well, I'm off to finish off reading Jizang's old locus classicus, <The Mysterious Meaning of the Three Treatises>, Madhyamaka Chinese style (which is very, very Indian). May give me some fodder for my hermeneutics class tomorrow afternoon, as Charles Wei Hsun Fu and Gadamer have worn thin...

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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 12:16 pm

I wasn't saying that I didn't want to study, I was trying to imply that I don't know where to begin.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 16, 2013 12:21 pm

Is 'critical Buddhism' read anywhere outside academic Buddhology?

Actually one essay that I discovered that might be relevant is Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. It makes a pretty good case for the precursors of Yogacara in the earliest stratum of the teaching. I think the mystical "mind-only" tendency in Buddhism is a facet of the teaching from the outset, but that it only appeals to certain mentalities. Not everyone is amenable to that kind of understanding.

How this ties into abhidharma is not so clear. As I understand it, Vasubandhu wrote his exegesis of the abhidharma before converting to the Mahayana whereupon his teaching diverged from his earlier one. I don't think any of the Mahayana sees the abhidhamma as the last word, so to speak, on account of 'all dharmas being empty'. This doesn't mean that the abhidharma analysis is not valid, but it is not seen as the final word. I recommend The Central Philosophy of Buddhism by T R V Murti for a good analysis of how the Madhyamaka developed as a critical reaction to abhidharma.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 12:28 pm

Murti is just so old...

One of his general lines of argument is that Madhyamaka is a counter to Abhidharma; citing Nagarjuna for the former, and Vasu's 'Kosa for the latter; problem is, the Kosa is later than Nagarjuna...

And then argues that early Buddhism is basically just represented by the Pali Nikayas. He's not the only one, a large number of scholars who only read Indic languages have this problem. They ignore all the other material extant in Chinese, such as the Agamas (or other material such as the Mahasutras), the actual Abhidharma texts (rather than commentaries on commentaries of Abhidharma -- like the Kosa), and earlier versions of Madhyamaka in Chinese such as *Pingala's commentary and the Upadesa. When one actually reads all this, one finds that a lot of the arguments in stuff like Murti are pretty flimsy at times.

It is very source biased. Not to mention biased on the whole kind of Hegelian thesis --> antithesis --> synthesis idea of historical develop of thought, which was still very popular post WWII. ;)

It is old scholarship. Like reading Stcherbatsky and trying to argue that the Buddha taught some kind of theory of elements -- how wrong was / is that? Too much 'Kosa, and ignoring other stuff.

But how does that relate to the critical Buddhism thing, anyway?

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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 16, 2013 12:32 pm

But the source materials are two thousand years old. I know that a lot of people say Murti is a romantic idealist, and out-dated, so on, but I still think he does a good job of presenting the development of Madhyamika in its historical context. Besdies, I have tried reading Garfield's books and various others since but they didn't do a lot for me. I am going to try Jan Westerhoff's next.

How it relates to Beatzen's question is the outline it provides of how the Madhyamika developed as a critique of the earlier schools and the abhidharma.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 12:40 pm

I can't believe how fixated I have been on this stuff.

I'm thinking about why I want to know what I want to know, and now that I reflect, and seeing the dead-ends here,

I can see where Robert Thurman says "we just give up" and accept emptiness and relativity.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 16, 2013 12:41 pm

jeeprs wrote:But the source materials are two thousand years old. I know that a lot of people say Murti is a romantic idealist, and out-dated, so on, but I still think he does a good job of presenting the development of Madhyamika in its historical context. Besdies, I have tried reading Garfield's books and various others since but they didn't do a lot for me. I am going to try Jan Westerhoff's next.

How it relates to Beatzen's question is the outline it provides of how the Madhyamika developed as a critique of the earlier schools and the abhidharma.


It's not about source materials being two thousand years old, arguing that a 5th century text was the target of criticism for a 2nd century text defies most usual ideas about historical influence, no? Nagarjuna refutes Vasu before Vasu is born? :thinking:

And so many statements that Murti calls the "Copernican revolution" or Madhyamaka / Nagarjuna can actually be found in pre-Nagarjuna / pre-Mahayana material like the Agamas or actual (non-commentarial) Abhidharma treatises. If one pokes around in the Chinese sources, these are not at all hard to find. It ain't no "revolution"...

So, it's very hard to say that his development of Madhyamaka in historical context is accurate either, when one ignores all others sources other than Sanskrit and Pali.

More recently, viz this, Joe Walser's Nagarjuna in Context does a far better job. I have a few gripes with some of his stuff, a few misreadings, but avoids most of these mistakes by reading all the material available. No doubt this too will be superseded at some point, but it's maybe the best for now.

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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Astus » Thu May 16, 2013 1:06 pm

If you want to trace back Zen to India, I recommend the following route:

Song Dynasty Chan (this is where everything got a final a mature form with all the lineages, transmission texts, rhetoric, etc.) - Yongming Yanshou, who fought against the arising (and winning) Chan style and taught a combined approach, influenced Korean and Tangut Chan, eventually became prominent in China as a Pure Land patriarch and so in Chinese Buddhism in general - the Hongzhou school of Mazu and the Heze school of Zongmi (the sources of mature Song Chan and Yongming's Chan, respectively) - Shenxiu and Shenhui, the so called northern-southern debate

That is for Chan history in big steps. You can find that for Zongmi and Yongming the Huayan teachings had great influence, while for Shenxiu and the Northern School it was more Tiantai influenced in terms of meditation. Shenhui made the radical turn, basically reducing Shenxiu's teachings to sudden enlightenment and focusing on the Diamond Sutra and prajnaparamita teachings in general. However, Shenxiu was first in teaching a new style of Buddhism, which could be called a transformation of Tiantai sudden teachings. So, to eventually get back to India, one should look into the Tiantai school that was influenced by Sanlun, Kumarajiva and early Yogacara texts (but in its tathagatagarbha/dharmadhatu-oriented interpretation); so generally early Chinese Buddhism and prominent texts like Awakening Mahayana Faith.

If you want to skip all of the above then just look at the sutras usually referred to in Chan texts. On the one hand there are "apocryphal" works that already have a "Chan flavour" (e.g. Surangama, Vajrasamadhi, Perfect Enlightenment), and there are Indian works (e.g. Lankavatara, Mahaparinirvana, Vajracchedika, Vimalakirti). Instead of trying to identify some "philosophical school" as the source of Chan, the sutras themselves can serve as a good basis to find the roots. In the pre-Song Chan works there are often some level of apologetics preset where they try to prove how Chan is truly the essence of Mahayana. And there are people like Yongming Yanshou who try to prove to Chan people that the sutras already contain all the teachings they think are "beyond words and letters".
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 16, 2013 2:54 pm

Huifeng wrote:One of his general lines of argument is that Madhyamaka is a counter to Abhidharma; citing Nagarjuna for the former, and Vasu's 'Kosa for the latter; problem is, the Kosa is later than Nagarjuna...


I imagine he was aware of this. I personally wouldn't do it myself, but then I don't see it as a fatal flaw, either, because they are both representative foundational texts for later developments. Vasubandhu's work is a compilation of various theories and ideas, many of which would have been around when Nāgārjuna was active.

A lot of discourses on philosophy tend to concern the function and gist of ideas, and moreover their application, rather than being textual studies with strict attention to chronological developments. This can end up being essentialist, but then at the end of the day some people are interested in the function rather than the source of ideas.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Beatzen » Thu May 16, 2013 3:43 pm

Astus wrote:Song Dynasty Chan (this is where everything got a final a mature form with all the lineages, transmission texts, rhetoric, etc.) - Yongming Yanshou, who fought against the arising (and winning) Chan style and taught a combined approach, influenced Korean and Tangut Chan, eventually became prominent in China as a Pure Land patriarch and so in Chinese Buddhism in general - the Hongzhou school of Mazu and the Heze school of Zongmi (the sources of mature Song Chan and Yongming's Chan, respectively) - Shenxiu and Shenhui, the so called northern-southern debate


So I should look for Ch'an in Song Dynasty-period? Is it wrong that I have a feeling that the schools and masters you're listing are part of traditions unrelated to Caodong/Soto?

Not that I really understand the differences between the Northern and Southern Ch'an schools, apart from Hui neng's rejection of the Nothern school's adherence to tradition, academic study and ritual.

Astus wrote:You can find that for Zongmi and Yongming the Huayan teachings had great influence, while for Shenxiu and the Northern School it was more Tiantai influenced in terms of meditation.


[I would look into this on my own, but I don't even know where to look.]

Basically, Indrajala is somewhat spot-on just above. I want to trace the non-Dhatu-vada elements of Caodong/Soto back to India. Maybe even find some early Mahayana texts that support this "Critical Buddhist" movement.


Astus wrote:Instead of trying to identify some "philosophical school" as the source of Chan, the sutras themselves can serve as a good basis to find the roots. In the pre-Song Chan works there are often some level of apologetics preset where they try to prove how Chan is truly the essence of Mahayana. And there are people like Yongming Yanshou who try to prove to Chan people that the sutras already contain all the teachings they think are "beyond words and letters".


I agree with you, I'd like to find sutras that don't espouse dhatu-vada, but I'm too poorly-read to know which ones don't.

That's another thing. I really am over this anti-language thing in Zen. I was excited when I read Hee Jin-Kim (In "Dogen on Meditation and Thinking") saying that Dogen saw language/thoughts as having a sotereological use if seen as props in a progressive dialogue between delusion and enlightenment. Another thing is, is if that were true of Dogen and not some University of Oregon professor's half-baked interpretation (only funny if you know anything about Eugene, Oregon) then to whom is Dogen an heir to in that kind of thinking? Because this denial of language seems so pervasive in japan and china.
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Re: Contemporary Soto criticism of Yogacara (and Taoism)

Postby Astus » Thu May 16, 2013 4:38 pm

Beatzen,

Dogen is an heir to Song Buddhism (there's little need to specify as "Caodong Chan" as it's not much different from Buddhism in general) and Japanese Tendai. But both are quite far from the Indian sources. There are a couple of Dogen studies you can look into, if you are interested.

Steven Heine: Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote It
Steven Heine (ed): Dogen: Textual and Historical Studies
Taigen Dan Leighton: Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra

other related studies:
William M. Bodiford: Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan
Jacqueline I. Stone: Original enlightenment and the transformation of medieval Japanese Buddhism
Robert E. Morrell: Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report

About the early times of Chan, these two works by John R. McRae are very good:

Seeing through Zen: encounter, transformation, and genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism
The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chʻan Buddhism

If you want a better understanding of Chan and its connection to Chinese (and Indian) Buddhism you may look into these books:

Song era:
Peter N. Gregory, Daniel A. Getz, Jr.: Buddhism in the Sung
Morten Schlütter: How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute Over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China

Early times:
Robert H Sharf: Coming to Terms With Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise
Peter N. Gregory: Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought
Peter Gregory: Traditions of meditation in Chinese Buddhism
Robert E. Buswell: Paths to liberation: the Mārga and its transformations in Buddhist thought
Robert M. Gimello, Peter Nielsen Gregory: Studies in Chʻan and Hua-yen

On language you might like this:
Youru Wang: Linguistic Strategies in Daoist Zhuangzi and Chan Buddhism: The Other Way of Speaking
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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