The meaning of Chan is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which can be approximately translated into English as meditation or meditative state. In Essential Chan Buddhism, Chan Master Guo Jun carries on the legacy of his teacher, Master Sheng Yen, in what is essentially Chinese Zen. Though Japanese Zen, Chan and the Korean counterpart, Son, all share the same depth of practice and basic tenets which are rooted in Buddhism, each has its own style of delivery. Master Jun shows how Chan is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and in many ways has been informed by Confucianism and certain aspects of Taoism. For example, China, having been deeply invested in the Confucian value of industriousness, would not have supported its holy men as wandering beggars as was the practice in India - instead, early on Chan monasteries established an agrarian lifestyle that allowed their monastics to support themselves. In essence, the language of farming also became the language of meditation.
In much the same way that Master Jun provides a cultural context for Chan, he teaches its basic principles and practices in an example-rich manner that is very accessible, without bogging the reader down in a stream of Sanskrit terminology. When he does use classic terms for major concepts, like bodhicitta, he does not assume that the reader knows what it means, he tells you that it is a vow of great compassion. In fact, each chapter is short and tackles a single concept in a way that leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the material covered. Master Jun's writing style speaks volumes to the mental clarity that can be obtained through practicing Chan, so if you've been looking for a good primer on meditation but have been discouraged by more academic works on the subject, this book is an excellent place to begin.
John S @ Central