Can anyone recommend a short, clear introduction to Zen Buddhism that would give me some understanding of its history, beliefs, and practices? Many thanks.
The first book that comes to mind is, Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Soko Morinaga.
Inside the bookjacket says: Novice to Master is a modern spiritual classic--part humorous memoir, part cultural portrait, and part Buddhist teaching. Morinaga begins his story as a young student conscripted into the Japanese army at the outbreak of WWII, details his training as a novice monk, and concludes his tale from the perspective of an esteemed Zen master. His world is vastly different from our own, but Morinaga relates his experience with an almost ferocious honesty that transcends boundaries of time and culture to offer glimpses of profound truths.
Born in 1925, ordained as monk in 1948. Also served as head of Hanazono University, the primary training university of Rinzai sect, in Kyoto. He died in 1995.
I read this book in 2002 when it first came out (and have not read again since, but will some day, inevitably). I recall it being very engaging, compelling even, one of the few books I have read without breaking off to start something.....else.....before getting back to in some days, weeks, months......years........ever.......
It is in paperback now. I think it fits your requirements, although I will browse it later.......
Morinaga is the real deal........(There are some other good short introductions, but this book is in no way stuffy, academic or excessively bewildering)..........and you will probably have to order it (Amazon is my favorite.......)
The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to. The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton
My favorite introductory books to recommend for a newcomer are "Taking the Path of Zen" and "Mind of Clover" by Robert Aitken roshi. Compared to some Zen writers who might tend to be somewhat cryptic, his work is always very accessable to any lay person, even those of limited experience. However, these are mostly about actual practice rather than history.