The Secrets of Buddhist Meditation
382 pages, 6 x 9
4 b&w illustrations
Release Date:31 Jan 2022
Release Date:31 Jan 2021

The Secrets of Buddhist Meditation

Visionary Meditation Texts from Early Medieval China

University of Hawai‘i Press

In the early 400s, numerous Indian and Central Asian Buddhist “meditation masters” (chanshi) traveled to China, where they established the first enduring traditions of Buddhist meditation practice in East Asia. The forms of contemplative practice that these missionaries brought with them, and which their Chinese students further developed, remained for several centuries the basic understanding of “meditation” (chan) in China. Although modern scholars and readers have long been familiar with the approaches to meditation of the Chan (Zen) School that later became so popular throughout East Asia, these earlier and in some ways more pervasive forms of practice have long been overlooked or ignored. This volume presents a comprehensive study of the content and historical formation, as well as complete English translations, of two of the most influential manuals in which these approaches to Buddhist meditation are discussed: the Scripture on the Secret Essential Methods of Chan (Chan Essentials) and the Secret Methods for Curing Chan Sickness (Methods for Curing).
Translated here into English for the first time, these documents reveal a distinctly visionary form of Buddhist meditation whose goal is the acquisition of concrete, symbolic visions attesting to the practitioner’s purity and progress toward liberation. Both texts are “apocryphal” scriptures: Taking the form of Indian Buddhist sutras translated into Chinese, they were in fact new compositions, written or at least assembled in China in the first half of the fifth century. Though written in China, their historical significance extends beyond the East Asian context as they are among the earliest written sources anywhere to record certain kinds of information about Buddhist meditation that hitherto had been the preserve of oral tradition and personal initiation. To this extent they indeed divulge, as their titles claim, the “secrets” of Buddhist meditation. Through them, we witness a culture of Buddhist meditation that has remained largely unknown but which for many centuries was widely shared across North India, Central Asia, and China.

The Secrets of Buddhist Meditation is an exacting and exemplary piece of scholarship in every respect. It converses critically with current work on Indian Buddhist literatures and newly discovered manuscripts, the genesis of ‘apocryphal’ Chinese Buddhist scriptures, the transmission and translation of Indian Buddhist ‘sutras’ in early medieval China, and revisionist writing on the formation of Chan and other schools of Chinese Buddhism. Moreover, it does so with extensive immersion in the latest scholarship in all of these areas. Daniel Stevenson, University of Kansas
Unquestionably, this book is a great contribution to our knowledge of medieval Chinese Buddhism as a whole. Eric Greene’s work is clearly of a very high standard. Stefano Zacchetti, University of Oxford
Eric M. Greene is assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University.
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