Zen Buddhism: A History
(vol. 1)

Vol 1: India, China, Tibet

Heinrich Dumoulin trans. by J. W. Heisig, Paul Knitter with new Introductions by John R. McRae and Victor Sōgen Hori

Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2005.

These two volumes represent a newly revised and greatly expanded edition of Heinrich Dumoulin’s acclaimed history of Zen Buddhism, first published over 30 years ago. It has been updated to take into account the wealth of historical research that has gone on in the intervening years, insuring its place as a standard reference work in the field. Its more than 850 pages of carefully documented scholarship represent a lifetime of work.

This the first volume treats Zen from its roots in ancient Indian Buddhism and Yoga to its flowering in China under the influence of Taoism and Confucian thought. Dumoulin not only introduces the imposing personalities of Zen Buddhism, among them Shakyamuni, Hui-neng, and Lin-chi, but also discusses the various expressions of Zen in the art and culture of India and China.

The second volume focuses on Zen in Japan, tracing its development from the time of its arrival through to the modern period.

A series of appendices provide chronological tables, genealogical charts, and a comprehensive bibliography.

The present edition is a new reprint that includes special Introductions by John R. McRae and Victor Sōgen Hori.

….a necessary addition to any library and will certainly replace its earlier edition as the standard work in the field.


The new edition is valuable because of the fascinating introductions by John McRae and Victor Hori. For his part, McRae sees it as “an excellent reference work” (1: xxxix) that still should not be read as an authoritative history of Zen given advances in the field. Hori’s introduction, by contrast, is more sympathetic, arguing that critics who see Dumoulin “’as a naïve historian who let himself be beguiled by Zen into promoting its deceptive self image’ are being unfair as he told the history of Zen from the insider’s point of view (2:xiii). The remainder of Hori’s essay is a spirited attack of McRae’s critique of Dumoulin’s ‘romanticized image of Zen.’ What both introductions do is to place the current controversy over the history of the field, methodological approaches, the insider/outsider problem, etc. before the reader for critical reflection. The result is a perfect framework for assessing not only the strengths and weaknesses of Dumoulin’s book, but also the state of the field of Zen studies.

Mark MacWilliams, St. Lawrence University