Great Doubt: Practicing Zen in the World (Wisdom Publications, 2016)
Great Doubt is a valuable handbook that deserves close study by Chan/Zen teachers and practitioners. It highlights the essentials of practice by bringing to life the words of Chan Master Boshan (1575-1630), and details the correct view, attitude, and method in order to avoid common pitfalls. This is not a book to just casually read. It must be understood through genuine practice. With great simplicity, wisdom, and warmth, Jeff Shore has offered us a wonderful opportunity to bring the teachings of Boshan to life. The rest is up to you, the reader. Savor this book — it is truly a gem — and resolve the “great doubt” in your life.
— Guo Gu, Chan teacher in the tradition of Sheng Yen, author of Passing through the Gateless Barrier
As a Rinzai Zen master and professor of Zen in the Modern World at Hanazono University in Kyoto, no one is more qualified than Jeff Shore to comment on the real meaning and significance of great doubt. Aimed at the modern reader, the translations are deep, direct, and clear. Jeff does not stop at a scholarly analysis of old texts. No, he brings the texts to life and confronts us with our very own questions. Do not look for answers in books, not even this book. Let this book help you cut to the heart of the question at hand, the question of your life here and now.
— Muho Noelke, Abbot of Antaiji Sōtō Zen Temple, Hyogo, Japan
Zen teacher Jeff Shore has translated Boshan’s exhortations on Great Doubt. Boshan’s words are meant, not for beginners but for you, the advanced practitioner—for you who “sits self-satisfied in your quiet hole,” “praising yourself for your superior understanding.” Boshan knows precisely, “You’re not really living nor are you finished dying.” Teacher Jeff Shore provides not only a lucidly clear English translation, he also provides a commentary driving Boshan’s words home. He is talking to you.
— Sôgen Victor Hori, Rinzai Zen scholar-monk, author of Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Zen Koan Practice
“Great doubt requires our urgent attention.” It is so refreshing to see the word “urgent” when presenting Zen practice!
Jeff’s commentary covers well both awakening and the function that can only be actualized when true breakthrough has taken place. Today, we rarely encounter such finessed emphasis. Let me stress that this urgency, this “longing for longing” (Herrigel), CAN be created, supported and fed. We see examples of such cultivation where Zen practitioners take care of dying people.
Genuine teachers inspire this urgency with Dharma talks, encourage it with ego-searing one-on-ones. It is possible to grow stagnant, even in the middle of challenging training. If it is hard training, we may feel we are achieving something simply by dealing with difficulty. Renewed urgency to truly resolve the great doubt holds an energy that fuels clarity. Without this urgency and resolve, it is much harder to enter the necessary depth.
As it says on the wooden han which is struck to announce the time of day in the monastery: “Great is the matter of birth and death. Life slips quickly by. Time waits for no one. Wake up, wake up – don’t waste a moment!”
— Chisan Priscilla Storandt, Zen nun
How can we get in touch with our deepest longings and truly resolve our most fundamental (life-and-death) questions, the real questions underneath all of our struggles and turmoil?
Jeff Shore is both a layman living in the world and a Dharma successor to Zen master Fukushima Keidô, former head abbot of the Rinzai Zen headquarters of Tôfukuji in Kyoto. Jeff Shore embodies decades of experience actively helping people all over the globe to focus and resolve their deepest doubts.
Chinese master Boshan’s (1575–1630) Exhortations offers insightful and extraordinarily precise guidance on the way: “truly a lifeboat for this degenerate age, a direct path for beginner’s mind.” Jeff Shore brings the message home: “Who among us has not made the mistake of taking mere intellectual understanding for realization?” In this meticulously researched translation, Boshan and Jeff Shore team up to help us focus, work through and resolve, once and for all, what really matters. This transforms our lives.
First published in Zen circles, I am excited that this potent and important work is now made available to a wider audience.
— Sozui Stefanie Schubert, Zen nun from Germany
This important volume conveys a part of traditional Zen that often gets lost in the West: great doubt. Boshan clarifies how Zen practice, when lacking this existential impasse, can end up focusing on pleasant or helpful mental states and fail to engage with the fundamental problem of life and death. Jeff Shore’s excellent translation and commentary benefit from his decades of committed Zen practice in a Rinzai monastery in Kyoto.
— Christopher Ives, author of Imperial-Way Zen
In this handy volume, Jeff Shore once again revitalizes our understanding of the old Zen adage to the effect that, “The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening.” Through his excellent translations and insightful commentary of classic writings by the late Ming dynasty Caodong school monk, Boshan, Shore demonstrates his vast experience and expertise about Zen texts and training that makes him a leading modern scholar and eminent practitioner.
— Steven Heine, Zen scholar, author, and translator
Japanese Zen practitioners have found among seventeenth-century Chinese and Korean Zen texts many useful compendia of classic Zen teachings. Reading these works such Japanese Zen luminaries as Hakuin, Suzuki Shōsan, and, in the twentieth century, D. T. Suzuki discovered comprehensive overviews of earlier continental Zen teachings, concrete instructions for practice, and sources of inspiration. In this book, Jeff Shore translates two sections from one of these Ming dynasty works, Boshan Wuyi Yuanlai’s Boshan canchan jingyu (Boshan’s Exhortations for Chan Practice). Jeff unpacks Boshan’s terse “Exhortations for Those Who Don’t Rouse Doubt” and ”Exhortations for Those Who Rouse Doubt” to provide a practical guide for students of Zen.
Working as a lay Zen student for more than two decades, Jeff passed through the complete, orthodox Rinzai koan system, ultimately receiving permission to teach koan Zen from his master at Tōfukuji in Kyoto, Japan, Fukushima Keidō rōshi. He thus is one of very few Europeans or Americans to be so thoroughly grounded in Rinzai Zen. In his previous books, Being Without Self: Zen for the Modern World and Zen Classics for the Modern World, Jeff delved with clarity into a range of topics in Zen practice and introduced a variety of important Zen texts. In the book at hand, Jeff brings his deep understanding to bear on Boshan’s text, giving cogent guidance to Zen students on how to maintain vital, focused, and thoroughgoing practice. This collection of upbeat, insightful, and inspiring lectures on Boshan’s text is a rich resource for all Buddhist practitioners.
— Richard M. Jaffe, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University, Author of Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism and General Editor of the Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki
The question of life and death – the essence of the “great doubt” that Zen speaks of – has been the motivating force behind Buddhist meditation since the time of Shakyamuni. Yet too often meditation becomes an attempt to silence doubt by abiding in pleasant states of mind, by suppressing the thought processes, or by the many other ways of avoiding direct confrontation with the source of our suffering. Part of the solution is understanding what “doubt” truly signifies in Zen; without such understanding even doubt itself can become a hindrance to practice.
In Great Doubt, Jeff Shore, one of the few Westerners to complete the traditional Japanese course of monastic koan training, presents a lucid translation of a classic Chinese text on the true nature of doubt, with clear – and inspiring – commentaries based on his own experience as a student and teacher. It will be a valuable addition to any Zen meditator’s bookshelf.
– Thomas Yuho Kirchner, translator of Entangling Vines: A Classic Collection of Zen Koans