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Home > Teen Books > Master of Zen

cover of Master of Zen
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Master of Zen: Extraordinary Teachings from Hui Neng’s Altar Sutra
translator & editor: Tze-si Huang
illustrator: Demi
Subject(s): Approx. Grade Level

Zen Buddhism

8 – 9 / Lexile measure: 870L)

Format: Size / page count:


8" × 10" / 224 pages

ISBN: Date available:


August 2012




One day in 7th century China, an illiterate woodcutter named Hui Neng (638-713 A.D.) walked into a bustling marketplace. He heard someone reciting a sacred Buddhist scripture called The Diamond Sutra, and instantly awakened to his deep spiritual nature. Later, he became the Sixth Patriarch of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, and, some would say, the true father of Zen Buddhism as we know it today. The collection of his discourses is known as the Platform or Altar Sutra; it contains the inspiring autobiography and extraordinary teachings of this “Master of Zen.”

Recognized as one of the greatest masterpieces of Buddhist literature, the teachings of Hui Neng have brought joy and inspiration to countless people since they were first written down in the seventh century. As a founding father of Zen, his profound, yet simple, teachings speak from the fullness of an enlightened heart and mind. This very unique and accessible book brilliantly provides the aesthetic ambience of Zen by combining the inspiring text with “Zen style” black and white artwork on every page by award winning illustrator, Demi.


  • Winner in the “Religion: Buddhism” category of The USA “Best Books 2012” Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
  • Silver Midwest Book Award for “Religion/Philosophy”

Reviews (hide/show)

“From instant enlightenment to conscious departure, the Sixth (and last) Patriarch of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, Hui Neng, is the subject of Master of Zen. From the seventh Century AD, these stories, illuminating the Buddhist ‘middle way,’ come to life with fresh translations by Tze-si Huang, a native of China and long-time Buddhist; black-and-white line drawings accompany the text on facing pages, illustrated by Huang’s wife, noted children’s book illustrator, Demi.

“The deceptively simple, though not necessarily easy, text and drawings trace the wisdom journey of Hui Neng in the ‘Altar Sutra.’ As the story begins, monks appear after his birth and offer a name: ‘Hui,’ meaning ‘to apply the great dharma (universal law) in order to help all beings,’ and ‘Neng,’ meaning ‘the ability to spread Buddha’s teaching to the world.’

“Although poor and untutored, Hui Neng came into enlightenment in a marketplace when he overheard a monk chanting the Diamond Sutra. He inquired into the text and ended up traveling to a distant monastery. There, uneducated though enlightened, his presence caused problems. Although recognized and acknowledged by the Fifth Patriarch (of the Zen lineage that started with Bodhidharma, who is considered the First Patriarch), it was at night, and in secret, and Hui Neng was then sent away.

“The stories of his travels and meetings with those seeking enlightenment are laced with Hui Neng’s wisdom, aphorisms, lessons, and gathas, or verses. Readers can stand in the shoes of seekers who don’t fully comprehend the teachings. The question is, will clarity eventually dawn for present-day readers, as it seemed to for seekers back in seventh-century China?

“Falling into duality seems to be the problem, which Hui Neng addresses: ‘If they ask you about non-being, answer with being; if they ask you about the ordinary, answer with the holy. These two ways mutually depend upon each other, creating the principle of the middle way. Follow the same way with all questions, then you won’t lose the principle.’ He continues, ‘My teaching is non-dual, so is the mind. The way is pure without any forms…Your mind is Buddha.’

“This volume offers bare bones context for those not already familiar with the Zen Buddhist tradition, and so will hold greatest appeal to those who have some background. Still, it’s an inviting introduction for all spiritual seekers to drop deeply into the lessons of an enlightened master, considered the ‘father’ of Zen.”
Bobbeye Middendorf, from a review in ForeWord Reviews (online)

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