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The Circle of the Way


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A comprehensive, accessible guide to the fascinating history of Zen Buddhism--including important figures, schools, foundational texts, practices, and politics

About the Author

BARBARA O'BRIEN has been practicing Zen Buddhism since the 1980s. She works as a journalist, reporting primarily on religion in America. She is the author of Rethinking Religion- Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World and has written about Buddhism for many outlets including, The Guardian, Tricycle, and Lion's Roar. She blogs about whatever is on her mind at her personal blog, The Mahablog (


"A comprehensive history of Zen Buddhism written by and for Zen practitioners in an inviting, accessible style. It features many of the classic, sometimes hilarious stories that make the Zen tradition so rich."--Dale S. Wright, author of What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?, Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism, and co-editor of a series of five books on Zen history

"Whenever I want a succinct, trustworthy, well-researched exploration of a Buddhist topic, I go to Barbara O'Brien's work. In this wonderful offering, we receive a much-needed history of how Zen came to be what it is today. In her deft way, O'Brien balances traditional narratives with historical scholarship, telling a story that one trusts immediately to be thoroughgoing. The Circle of the Way is another example of O'Brien's great gift for synthesis and scholarship, and a tremendous gift to everyone interested in the Zen way."--Bonnie Myotai Treace, founding teacher at Hermitage Heart Zen and author of Winter Moon: A Season of Zen Teachings "Barbara O'Brien's wide-ranging account of Zen history is conveyed with a master storyteller's ability to keep the forest from getting lost in a myriad of trees. Wearing her scholarship lightly, she blends just the right amount of skepticism about her hagiographic sources with a deep appreciation for the Dharma."--Barry Magid, author of Nothing Is Hidden and Ending the Pursuit of Happiness "The Circle of the Way is a wonderful addition to a Zen library. This book manages to educate without lecturing, to address controversy without attack, and to cover an old topic in a refreshing and humorous way. An amazingly clear explanation of what parts of the history have previously been accepted but should be questioned, as well as those that have now been verified."--Grace Schireson, author of Zen Women and Naked in the Zendo

"Finally! A clear and concise introduction to Zen Buddhism. The Circle of the Way fills a long-standing need for a simple, straightforward explanation of where Zen comes from, what the foundational teachings are, and how they coalesce as a school of Buddhism. O'Brien loves the subject but never lets it take itself so seriously as to miss the lively mix of Zen's internal contradictions and its profound teachings. This is a wonderful book."--James Ishmael Ford, author of Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons

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