International Book Awards—Religion: Eastern | Top Award
Nautilus Award | Gold
Benjamin Franklin Award | Silver
Independent Book Publisher's Award | Bronze
Named One of the Best Books of 2021 — Spirituality and Practice Magazine
“An intriguing, challenging crash course in Zen Buddhism.” — Kirkus Reviews
"A generation-defining rendering of one of the great Zen Buddhist scriptures." — Spirituality and Practice
For centuries, The Blue Cliff Record has stood as one of the preeminent scriptures of the Zen Buddhist tradition in China, Japan, and Korea. However, until now there has been no published commentary by a contemporary Zen Master to assist readers in understanding its counterintuitive and sometimes baffling teachings.
The Garden of Flowers and Weeds draws on contemporary scholarship and the author’s extensive experience with Zen in order to offer new insights for sophisticated students who are hoping to uncover the secrets of the koan tradition. At the same time, The Garden is jargon-free and uses personal stories to appeal to readers who are new to Buddhism. The theme of the book is simple: Accepting the unenlightened self with all its flaws is the most profound form of enlightenment.
Even with this clarity, finding a path into these old Zen stories is a challenge. They are designed to be roadblocks to intellectual understanding. Using personal memoire, the oral teachings of Zen, and meditation instruction, The Garden assists the reader in approaching the dialogues as spiritual exercises. The Blue Cliff Record contains an explosive power, but you can only access it by integrating its wisdom into your everyday experiences. As Zen Master Nanquan said, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”
“These commentaries are original, authentic, and insightful—a valuable addition to what is so far available. I appreciated the direct, personal, and emotionally honest voice. No speaking gnomically from on high! The Garden of Flowers and Weeds will fill a major gap in what’s available to students.” — Zen Master Barry Magid, founding teacher, Ordinary Mind Zendo; author, Nothing Is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans
“The Blue Cliff Record is the major collection of koan narratives in the Zen Buddhist tradition, and Matthew Juksan Sullivan has spent many years contemplating the meaning and significance of each of the one hundred cases or, as he puts it in the commentary to #81, searching in the weeds for the Elk of Elks who escapes every arrow. With its concise but highly informative and illuminative historical comments and contemporary reflections on the koans, in addition to a useful introductory essay, this book will be of great interest to all teachers and practitioners of Zen who wish to learn more about the classic writings, regardless of their particular style of training.” — Prof. Steven Heine, author, Chan Rhetoric of Uncertainty in the Blue Cliff Record: Sharpening the Sword at the Dragon's Gate
“A gift from a Korean Zen lineage, these Blue Cliff Record koans are succinctly rendered, pared down to gleaming white bones in life-giving commentaries. Through the clear eyes and deft hands of Zen Master Matthew Juksan Sullivan, you will meet yourself in koan after koan, each one challenging you to enter the portals of your very own life as only you can. The Zen Ancestors’ heart wisdom rendered here is a sharp blade, cutting through thick layers of self-absorption and propelling you into the immediacy of benefitting the lives around you.” — Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Abbot Emeritus, Zen Center of Los Angeles; co-author, The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments
“Old Zen Buddhist stories are confusing! These short dialogues and slices of life from ancient China, called koans, have been baffling Zen students for centuries. And that’s kind of the point. They’re meant to express a special sort of logic that develops from years of meditative practice. Even so, often modern English-language commentaries on the koans just add confusion on top of confusion. Not so with Matthew Juksan Sullivan’s book The Garden of Flowers and Weeds. He provides clear, straightforward commentaries that explain the references to ancient literature that we in the West have not been exposed to and helps make sense of these stories without destroying the poetry and mystery of them. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to study the Zen koan literature.” — Brad Warner, author, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality
“A well-researched book which tries to make this collection of koans accessible and relevant to a wider public. It also succeeds in bringing the freshness and immediacy of Chan/Seon/Zen.” — Martine Batchelor, Women in Korean Zen
“How wonderful to have a new translation of the one hundred koans of The Blue Cliff Record. Matthew Juksan Sullivan’s translation is exceptionally clear and reads well. His commentaries on each koan honor the tradition while making each koan relevant to everyday life in the twenty-first century. Highly recommended for all Zen practitioners and those interested in Zen teaching.” — Zen Master Richard Shrobe, author, Don't-Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen and Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans
“I cannot slander him and say he walks with the ancients. I cannot praise him and say he does not walk with the ancients. Matthew Juksan Sullivan writes from an intimacy with the fundamental matter to encourage the reader to read that way too. The core is to inquire into the self, to shamelessly do as a reader what my new brother Matthew does as a writer. Hui Neng indicated that when regarding the sutras you should let them read you, rather than you reading them. Here is a guided opportunity to do the same with The Blue Cliff Record.” — Zen Master Jok Um (Ken Kessel), guiding teacher, New Haven Zen Center, Hwa Um Sa-Orlando Zen Center, Gateless Gate Zen Center, and Cypress Tree Zen Group
“Matthew Juksan Sullivan, using an accessible twenty-first-century approach, shows us that a ‘don't-know mind’ is our original nature and rests at the heart of our all-too-brief sojourn on this planet. Sullivan compassionately demonstrates that our attempt to secure the everchanging phenomena that characterize our life as both fruitless and pointless.
“If you consider yourself a sincere student of ‘What am I?’ this book is destined to be a valuable resource tool on your journey.” — Zen Master Ji Haeng (Thomas Pastor), founder and Abbot, Zen Center of Las Vegas