Korean Zen: A Reader’s Guide

People in the West widely associate Zen with Japan—so much so that the Japanese word Zen has entered the English vocabulary as the common word of choice when referring to the tradition. And to some extent, the tradition is also well known for its Chinese roots. But less known is the extraordinarily rich and unique Zen heritage from Korea (there known as Seon). Although there are precious few resources on the Korean Seon tradition in English, Shambhala Publications is pleased to offer several books that highlight Seon teachings and the gifts they have to share with us all.

The Kwan Um School of Zen is without a doubt the most prominent Korean Buddhist tradition in the West. Brought to the United States by renowned Zen Master Seung Sahn in the early 1970s, the Kwan Um School has since become one of the largest Zen communities anywhere in the Western world. Zen Master Seung Sahn developed a reputation for a markedly direct teaching style, and his unadorned language and piercing insights are truly carried through in his writings. These are but a few of his many books.

Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake: Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn

A great starting place to get an overview of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s particular style of Zen teaching—often delightfully humorous and always to the heart of Zen.

Only Don’t Know: Selected Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn

Another great starting point, here Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teachings are seen in the personal and intimate form of letters between himself and students.

The Compass of Zen

Intended for a broad audience, this book from Zen Master Seung Sahn sheds light not just on the Zen tradition but on the very essence of Buddhist teaching.

Ten Gates: The Kong-an Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn

Koans, or kong-ans in Korean, are a traditional and vital teaching tool in many Zen schools, and this explication of kong-ans from Zen Master Seung Sahn does much to reveal the powerful wisdom they can help to awaken.

Don’t Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen

This clear and accessible overview of the Korean Zen tradition from Richard Shrobe, a senior teacher at Chogye International Zen Center in New York City, reveals the central teachings of the Korean Zen and how they can be of benefit to not only Zen students but truly anyone seeking spiritual understanding.

A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego

The great Zen teacher known as T’aego is a giant in the history of Korean Zen, and he had a highly influential role in the development of what would become the predominant form of Korean Buddhism. A master synthesizer of a wide range of Buddhist teachings, this translation of T’aego’s writings from J. C. Cleary is a rare window into the foundations of one of Korea’s most significant Zen traditions.

Minding Mind: A Course in Basic Meditation

This book of classic Buddhist texts on meditation, translated by Thomas Cleary, is also of note for containing teachings from Chinul, perhaps the most pivotal figure in the history of Korean Zen. It also contains a wealth of meditation teachings from some of the Zen tradition’s most beloved and important luminaries.

We hope that these books provide a window into Korea’s immense contributions to Buddhist philosophy and culture both in Asia and the West—beyond contemporary politics.