I decided I was being a bit curmudgeonly about what “spiritual type” books I’ve read. When I first started getting into Zen stuff, I went through a few years where I did read a number of those kinds of books. It’s been a long while since I’ve really read much in the way of Buddhist or Eastern philosophical literature outside of Shobogenzo, which I’ve read a whole bunch of times. The books on the Eastern religions section of my shelf these days tend to be reference material for when I’m working on my own books. I mean, I can’t rattle off the 12-fold chain of cause and effect or even the Noble 8-fold path off the top of my head. I prefer looking them up in books to the Internet. Although the Internet is far quicker & easier. When I do use the Internet as a source, I usually double check with a trusted reference book if what I’m writing is gonna go into print. If it’s just for the blog, sometimes I go with what I find on line.
In the end, all of the useful things I’ve learned about Zen and Buddhism came from actually doing Zazen, not reading about it. Or they came from face-to-face talks with my teachers. Books can be OK. But you really, really will not learn Zen from a book. I know you’re sick of hearing that.
ANYWAY. I’m gonna sit here for a few minutes & try to recall some books I read way back when I was just getting into Zen and make a few comments on them. Here we go.
ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND by Shunryu Suzuki. A great book. Still in print. Go buy a copy.
THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau was one of the first Zen books I ever read. At the time I found it very interesting. But looking back at it now, I think that book kinda messed me up. It’s full of romantic descriptions of various people’s Enlightenment Experiences. These had me longing to get one of those for myself. I even thought I’d had them a few times. Alas, no dice.
COMMENTARIES ON LIVING by J. Krishnamurti. Actually I read a ton of Krishnamurti. But I remember this series best. I thumbed through a copy at somebody’s house or a bookstore or somewhere a few years back and thought it was still OK. Krishnamurti was definitely on to something. His philosophy is pretty decent. The only trouble I have with him is that, apparently, allegedly towards the end of his life it seemed like he might have started to believe all that stuff about him being the World Teacher or the reincarnation of Buddha. It was sad to hear that. Maybe it’s not true. I hope it’s not.
ZEN FLESH, ZEN BONES by Paul Reps. Cotton candy.
THE ZEN DOCTRINE OF NO MIND by DT Suzuki. I know I read this. But I can’t remember a thing about it. I do recall that I read it while I was working at a paint factory near Chicago. I was one of only two Whities on the factory floor. Everyone else was Hispanic. The other gringo was about my age. But I looked considerably younger. So they called him “gringo” and me “gringito.” One of the girls there was really hot. I tried to strike up conversations with her. But it was so noisy you had to scream over the machines. Not a very good way to deliver a pick-up line. So nothing ever came of that. And those are my memories of the only DT Suzuki book I ever read.
BUDDHA IS THE CENTER OF GRAVITY by Joshu Sasaki. I stil have this & have read it at least five times. It’s a good book. You can’t find it anywhere anymore, though. Too bad. Sasaki is Rinzai. Some of my best friends are Rinzai…
CUTTING THROUGH SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM by Chogyam Trungpa. I know I liked this one at the time I read it. But this was before I knew about Trungpa. He was apparently a pretty nasty guy, even by his own admission. Basically he partied hardy and drank himself to death, the story goes. I’ve heard he used to tell students that they should learn from his teachings in his books rather than from his behavior, as if the 2 were completely separate. I used to believe that could be true. I don’t anymore. Then again, I love Ted Nugent’s music even though I can’t agree with his lifestyle. Cat Scratch Fever!!!!!
EASY JOURNEY TO OTHER PLANETS by His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Prabupada was the head of the Hare Krishnas. I read a bunch of his books. Plus his authorized biography. I used to have a pretty handsome collection of his stuff. They were all incredibly well printed & highly attractive. But, forgive me Lord Krishna, I never could get much out of his philosophy. I kept my copy of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, though.
BE HERE NOW by Ram Dass. I loved this one when I first read it. It’s also the reason I took LSD — and nearly lost my mind for good and all one Summer night. The book strikes me now as a big advertisement for drug abuse. I know it tries not to be. Or rather, it pays lame lip service to trying not to be. But, in the end, I think pretty much everyone who reads the thing ends up wanting to get high and experience the “beatific vision” Ram Dass claims to have had while wasted out of his gourd. Drugs suck. They are absolutely useless as far as any pursuit of the Truth is concerned. I’m afraid I will never budge on this position. So send your e-mails about how Enlightened you got on peyote to someone who won’t think you’re an idiot.
That’s all I can think of right now. Everyone asks me about Alan Watts. I’ve never read anything by him. If I come up with a few more, I’ll write ’em up later.