Making Zen Your Own: Giving life to twelve Key Golden Age Ancestors

Author: Abels, Janet Jiryu

Publisher: Boston: Wisdom Publications

Publication date: 2012

Number of pages: 189

Reviewed by: Patrick Kundo

Janet Abels is a Dharma successor to Roshi Robert Kennedy so I was first of all interested in reading this book as it was from a Dharma sister but it turned out to be much more than that.  Throughout my training and as a teacher I have often wanted to know more about the lives of some of the great masters to whom we are so frequently referred.  Janet of course refers to the fact that they are all men but also that “they are individuals with interesting quirks, senses of humour, heartfelt enlightenment experiences, varied ways of living, and unique ways of expressing the Dharma.  She goes on to point out that, “it was their humanity that could teach s as much as the words they spoke.  It was their humanity that brought their teachings to life, gave the teachings freshness and above all offered encouragement.  Being familiar with their humanity allowed me to know with confidence that if they could do it, so can I, so can you – so can we!”   This has been a really encouragement for me and the book has enabled me to feel part of the lives of these great teachers from the past and on whose shoulders we stand.  They cease to be remote and alien figures but to be truly encouraging friends.

Perhaps you will be encouraged to purchase the book when you hear that the twelve figures include: Bodhidharma, Huineng, Mazu, Shitou, Guishan, Linji, Zhaozhou, Dongshan, Deshan, Xueffeng, Yunmen and Fayan.

I want to end this with another quote from Janet that seems such a good admonition after the varied and intimate material revealed in her book:

“But how do we thank them?  How do we thank or Zen Chinese ancestors? What do we say?  We don’t say anything.  The best tribute we can give them is surely the one they would have wanted. ‘Make the Dharma your own,’ is what they say to us. ‘Practice, don’t give up, and trust yourself, for the Dharma lives on in you.!  And I might add that this is the way that we can thank Janet as well.