ZEN BOOKS THAT DON’T SUCK

I put a new page up about zen books that don’t suck. It’ll be a permanent link on this page. I did that for two reasons. One was that people keep asking me for recommendations on what to read. I don’t intend for this to be a comprehensive list of the good Zen books. There are a bunch I forgot that I’ll probably put up there someday, like Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen: Love and Workand a few others.

I tend to avoid answering questions about what books to read because certain people think that Zen can be understood by reading about it. But it really can’t. And yet, good books can be an important part of practice. Which is the second reason I put that page up there.

I remember early on in my study of Zen I read some book — maybe it was Buddha is the Center of Gravity by Joshu Sasaki, maybe it was someone else — anyway, this Zen teacher recommended his students to read a lot of good books. “What books are good?” his students asked. He said something like, “books that have stood the test of time.” That’s a pretty good answer. You can’t go too wrong with stuff like Shobogenzo or the Heart Sutra or the Lotus Sutra or the recorded talks of Buddha. Books like that have been around long enough that they’ve garnered a certain degree of trust. In some cases the original words themselves have been changed by later copyists and, in many cases, significantly improved in the process.

Modern books are trickier. Trends come and go. Some writers are very good at hooking into the mindset of the times and making something that sounds pretty “spiritual” when it’s really just trash.

I’ve told this story before. But once a few years ago someone wrote me and recommended some modern spiritual master’s books, which he said were “so stilling, so present.” I read some of the stuff and, indeed, I did feel the quality this guy had described as “stilling.” But I also found myself becoming kind of envious of that teacher’s amazing experiences and feeling that I was somehow inadequate because I wasn’t as “high” as this teacher wanted me to think he, the teacher, was. There was something very wrong. There are lots of “stilling” books out there. But many of them are also trying to sell you something.

I started thinking hard about books and how they fit into practice when I recently took a job as a freelance copy editor for a Japanese publisher of New Age books. I know. It sounds pretty much like selling out. But all they wanted was someone who could fix up these books so that the rough English translations matched the original Japanese. What I found, though, was that the authors could be very persuasive and that some of their often rather warped worldview began creeping into mine. One of these authors said that the Heart Sutra was full of evil Taoist spells and that chanting it could be dangerous. For about 2.7 seconds I found myself wondering if he could be right. Uh oh, I said…

Then when I was driving back from San Francisco I heard this radio show all about the first and second performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Apparently at the first performance the audience rioted. The guy who talked about this theorized that the piece was so dissonant and atonal that it screwed with people’s brains. Their brains were trying so hard to deal with sound that to them sounded disorganized that they just went temporarily crazy. A year later the piece was performed again. But this time the audience was prepared for it and they just sat peacefully and applauded at the end. Twenty odd years later the same piece of music appeared in Disney’s Fantasia , a family film for children. Kind of reminded me of what’s happened to punk rock over the past twenty years.

This got me thinking about how these kinds of stimuli can affect us. Certainly reading a book like Shobogenzo can actually alter a person’s perception of reality. Science fiction author Philip K. Dick talked about this and even experimented with it in his own books. Reading something like his books Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritchor Time Out of Jointwas as jolting to me as a teenager as any acid trip. Maybe more so. Later on Shobogenzo affected me in a very profound way as well. Of course, Dick was a paranoid amphetamine addict and Dogen was not, which also makes a huge difference. Dick had insights, but didn’t really know what to make of them.

Dogen warned against romanticizing old Zen stories where people suddenly burn all their books and devote themselves just to zazen. To Dogen these examples might have been right for those people, but that approach couldn’t be applied universally. Reading and listening to teachers does have a place in practice. It’s only when things get out of balance that there’s a problem, like when you get too into reading and listening to teachers or, conversely, too into practice alone. People who get into a teacherless Zen practice often get way too full of themselves because the ego will grab hold of absolutely anything to enrich its position, including glimpses of its own unreality. Ironic, but true.

Anyway, all of this bullshit is just to say that good books can be good for Zen practice.

Happy reading!

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44 Responses

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  1. Matt
    Matt December 5, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    “Kind of reminded me of what’s happened to punk rock over the past twenty years.”

    –ba-ZING!

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm |

    Thanks for the list of books
    helpful

  3. Uku
    Uku December 5, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    Thanks.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 1:11 pm |

    Gudo nishijima’s “to meet the real dragon” was eye opening.

    Seung sahn’s “dropping ashes on the Buddha” is great. Ten years and 2 copies later I may actually get some of it!

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 1:15 pm |

    As far as deciding on a zen teacher. You’ve got to ask yourself one question:
    ‘Do I feel lucky?’
    Well, do ya, punk?

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm |

    like the new header on the blog. it’s kinda gay but we don’t care about that sort of thing round here.

    GAY PUNKS GONE WILD!! Yeah!!

  7. alan
    alan December 5, 2008 at 2:04 pm |

    I was glad to see you give a mention to Joko Becks book. I keep re-reading her writing, so of course I feel she is one of the good Zen writers.

    Some of the points that Brad brings up in his two books are explored in greater detail in Becks writing, so I feel that the two can compliment each other.

    After all, Zen writers should all be writing about their understanding of the truth.

    That understanding should vary from on writer to another.

    But the underlying truth should be the same.

    At least that’s how this writer understands it.

    Or maybe I should just stop sniffing my own ass.

  8. Tracker
    Tracker December 5, 2008 at 2:44 pm |

    Nice to see that my favourite Zen book is on your list.

    Happy shitting!

  9. Mike H
    Mike H December 5, 2008 at 3:18 pm |

    A Scannner Darkly – Dick’s Anti-Drug SF and typically twisted. The closing page is a list of people he knew who died or went mad through drug abuse.

    We can remember it for you wholesale published in one of his short story collections. Questions about whether memories are real and how can we be sure. Nothing like the film “Total Recall”.

  10. Jinzang
    Jinzang December 5, 2008 at 5:10 pm |

    My favorite Zen book is Han Shan’s autobiography. I’ve got the translation by Charles Luk and must have read it a dozen times. There’s an abridged version on the web that’s pretty good. I’m also very fond of “Instant Zen,” a collection of sayings by Foyan translated by Thomas Cleary. There’s also The Platform Sutra, though I couldn’t say whose translation is best. And reading Read Pine’s “Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma” makes me think the distance between Zen and Tibetan Buddhism is not so large.

  11. Rick
    Rick December 5, 2008 at 6:17 pm |

    My list is quite short: Shunryu Suzuki’s books, Brad’s books, and Charlotte Joko Beck’s books. One other one I liked was entitled “Living and Dying in Zazen” by I can’t remember the name of the author right now.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 6:38 pm |

    RIP PKD, ya wrote some really fun shit.

    Glad to see Zen and the art of baking cookies didn’t make the list, phew! – I was worried you’d gone soft.

    Try reading Stanislaw Lem’s stuff, if you haven’t. His work isn’t so amphetamine and pink-god-light riddled. Just what were those insights Philip K had anyways? Maybe a post related post would be good.

  13. Ichabod
    Ichabod December 5, 2008 at 6:49 pm |

    I have yet to read a Zen book that didn’t have something good in it. Maybe I’m just a lucky punk.

  14. mtto
    mtto December 5, 2008 at 10:33 pm |

    Hey local/regular Hill Street people,

    please check the other site.

    Thanks,
    John

    P.S. I read lots of Buddhist books. I agree that the old ones are a good place to start, and continue. I seem to work backwards, like from SD&SU; to Shobogenzo to the Lotus Sutra. SD&SU; being a commentary on Shobogenzo and Shobogenzo has one chapter entirely devoted to the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra is long.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 6, 2008 at 4:22 am |

    Donna Rockwell: I read your books.

    Charlotte Joko Beck: Oh you read. Well, give up reading, O.K.?

    Donna Rockwell: Give up reading your books?

    Charlotte Joko Beck: Well, they’re all right. Read them once and that’s enough. Books are useful. But some people read for fifty years, you know. And they haven’t begun their practice.

    … or as B.M. Buddha boy says, “sit down and shut up.”

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 6, 2008 at 4:39 am |

    ..and (sorry adoring groupies), quit writing books, articles, blogs and, yes, anonymous pissy posts like this one. If you are at this site, the phone has rung. Now hang up. The bell tolls for you too.

  17. Rico
    Rico December 6, 2008 at 1:42 pm |

    Is it zen to have a favorite book?

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 6, 2008 at 2:46 pm |

    “Opening the Hand of Thought” by Kosho Uchiyama is a great book that doesn’t suck!

  19. Flor de Nopal Sangha
    Flor de Nopal Sangha December 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm |

    What?! No Thich Nhat Hahn?!

  20. doug rogers
    doug rogers December 6, 2008 at 7:09 pm |

    Used to get the Cleveland station here in South Western Ontario. Loved Ghoulardi!

  21. Shobu
    Shobu December 6, 2008 at 10:23 pm |

    You should have a list of “Zen books that DO suck”
    That would be awesome.

  22. Blake
    Blake December 7, 2008 at 6:43 am |

    HA! I heard that segment on NPR. I heard that segment on NPR. Whoever edits that show does a great job.

    I like “Dropping Ashes on Buddha” as well. It’s a good’un.

  23. Mysterion
    Mysterion December 7, 2008 at 10:44 am |

    Delivery estimate: February 5, 2009

    “Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma”
    Brad Warner; Paperback; $10.17

    You are still on the path, kid…
    And I am STILL begging funds to get a Dogen Sangha space for you (Temple Association) somewhere, even IF it is behind a gas station on E. 14th Street. NOTHING will happen without your participation, I am just exploring options…

    60 (soon) 61 year old fart…
    (and living with it, day-to-day)

    Ga-sho-nuff
    Cha-Ryu

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 7, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    Mysyerion
    Sounds like there have been and are a number of us in different locations doing our best to help get somethin’ goin’ for the Bradster.
    He’s extremely concerned about cults and seems to be wondering if he could ever find he has become caught up in one. You know,wake up some morning and ask himself ‘is this my beautiful cult?’
    Brad is honest about his questions of everything. It is painful, those of us who don’t have so many questions about things, to see someone struggle like this. But his struggle is worth it and I’m rooting for him
    Teachers, zen ones after all, most clearly demonstrate to the rest of us that practice is for all your life, forever and that teachers don’t have any “pass” getting them out of anything.

  25. Jinzang
    Jinzang December 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm |

    The Numata Translation Center is making several translations of important Zen texts available online in pdf format, including volume one of Nishijima and Cross’s translation of the Shobogenzo.

  26. ratboy
    ratboy December 7, 2008 at 5:24 pm |

    The Recorded Sayings of Layman Pang

    Master Yun men

    Sayings and Doings Of Pai Chang

    The Zen Teaching of Huang Po

    The Record of Lin Chi

    Swampland Flowers

    Platform Sutra of Hui Neng

    Instant Zen / Waking up in the Present

    The Blue Cliff Record I & II

    The Lankavatara Sutra

    The Diamond Sutra

  27. Stephanie
    Stephanie December 7, 2008 at 6:20 pm |

    I’m looking forward to your new book, though the cover art leaves something to be desired… And Sit Down and Shut Up has finally grown on me–I couldn’t get into it for a long time.

    Joko Beck is indeed amazing–I come back to her books again and again. Her student Ezra Bayda writes books with a similar focus and style that I have also found useful. I find that Pema Chodron has a similar “vibe” as Beck as well–she writes about the real nitty gritty of day-to-day experience that makes her books among those that come off of my shelf the most frequently. Beck and Chodron both address some of the deeper emotional tangles of our lives with clear, compassionate, but unsentimental language. And Chodron’s teacher Chogyam Trungpa is also one of my favorites–regardless of his personal foibles, I think he may be the most brilliant Buddhist teacher to set foot on American soil ever since the Dharma started coming over here. He takes it a lot deeper than the average Buddhist teacher, but yet manages to write about things from a very grounded perspective.

    Of course Katagiri and Suzuki are good resources. I second the folks that have mentioned Seung Sahn. I think he may be the funniest Buddhist teacher there ever was.

    Other books I’d mention are John Tarrant’s The Light Inside the Dark, which interweaves Buddhist teachings, myth, and pop culture to elucidate the tensions and challenges of the spiritual path, Lin Jensen’s excellent, dark, and poignant memoir Bad Dog!, Stephen Batchelor’s Living With the Devil, which gives a nice and clear approach for a more modern way of understanding old Buddhist stories, John Daido Loori’s The Eight Gates of Zen, The Art of Just Sitting, and The Heart of Being, which are both mystical and practical, Uchiyama’s Opening the Hand of Thought, and Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, the book that first got me into Buddhism. Ajahn Brahm’s book Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond is a great resource if you’re looking to deepen the concentrative aspects of your sitting practice. Philip Martin’s The Zen Path Through Depression is a warm and helpful resource for those who struggle with depression. Bob Thurman is one of my favorite Buddhist speakers and writers–he’s not likely to appeal to those allergic to metaphysics, but I find his enthusiasm and intellect inspiring and engaging.

    I like pulling koan collections off my shelf sometimes–the main ones I use are the Blue Cliff Record, the Gateless Gate, the Book of Serenity, and the Collected Sayings of Zen Master Joshu. I love the concise and insightful way many of them have of summing up Dharma teachings. And I still really need to get the other three volumes of Nishijima and Cross’s Shobogenzo translation…

  28. Matt
    Matt December 7, 2008 at 11:01 pm |

    Speaking of books, anyone on here use swaptree? http://www.swaptree.com

    You can swap books, DVD’s, games and cd’s. I’ve had pretty good luck, only had one person outta ten screw me over so far.

    It’s free, you put in the books you want, then enter the books you have to trade via the books isbn. They find a match for you, only have to pay for postage.

  29. David
    David December 8, 2008 at 7:47 am |

    “People who get into a teacherless Zen practice often get way too full of themselves because the ego will grab hold of absolutely anything to enrich its position, including glimpses of its own unreality. Ironic, but true.”

    Teachers and their students are immune to this???

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 8, 2008 at 9:24 am |

    everybody knows that a punk is a fag/at least that’s what it used to mean/not sayin, i’m against anybody’s lifestyle/cuz i’m a les-bian!!

  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 8, 2008 at 9:56 am |

    “People who get into a teacherless Zen practice often get way too full of themselves because the ego will grab hold of absolutely anything to enrich its position, including glimpses of its own unreality. Ironic, but true.”

    “Teachers and their students are immune to this???”

    No. I can assure you they are not. Some of the most arrogant people I’ve practiced with have been zen students with ‘official’ transmitted teachers.

    The ego will grab hold of anything to bolster itself, including experiences of egolessness, but this happens with or without teachers, as you rightly observe.

    Strange that Zen teachers are always insisting that you ‘must’ have a zen teacher, isn’t it? Many even compete with other teachers by comparing themselves and putting other’s down. (“You get 50% more enlightenment with our brand!” “Only McZen offers real zen in a box. The others just don’t measure up.” Good thing teachers are without ego and are so ubiased.

  32. Stephanie
    Stephanie December 8, 2008 at 6:58 pm |

    To play Devil’s advocate–

    Dick had insights, but didn’t really know what to make of them.

    Is that true?

    What Phil Dick did with his insights was create brilliant art that defied the relegation of the genre he was writing into trash fiction, wrote books that made countless people think and feel and question. He created an entire universe in his struggle to make sense of his own mind and was never content with someone else’s answers or descriptions. William Blake said, “I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man’s.” Many people with brilliant, forceful minds have struggled with addiction in the attempt to tame the beast. Not a pretty life, but one that can be admired as heroic. Not for the addiction and flaws but for the fight underneath them.

    Does the average Zen practitioner know what to do with his or her insights?

    When I think about the majority of people I’ve met at Zen centers or encountered in online discussion groups, it seems the majority are yuppie types who want to find something that makes their blasé, conformist, 9-5 lives seem deeper than they are. The unity of sacred and profane becomes a concept that acts as a spiritual sedative. This seems especially true in Soto. That’s the thing about ‘stillness’–it has no virtue in and of itself; the only virtue in being able to calm the mind is that calming the mind can be helpful in attaining deeper insight. Like Bob Thurman has said, some Zen types put themselves into this completely dull mental state and think they’ve become enlightened. It’s all a bunch of inane horseshit.

    Not that I’m saying in the quest for truth one has to suffer madness or deviate from social norms just for the sake of doing so. I would define Zen with a favorite phrase of Dogen’s: turning the light of the mind inward. Taking the seeing eye as the object of vision. I think this starts as simply as by asking questions. Sitting zazen becomes a more refined form of this basic activity: one places one’s own mind into the lens of one’s curiosity, starts asking if one can really believe one’s thoughts. What is this? When not idly upheld as a Zen cliche, but really, really asked, this is a powerful question. What in the fuck is all of this?

    Is everything really perfect as it is? Is that enlightenment, to believe such a thing? Things are exactly as they are, but yet they are malleable. Imagination places the shovel in our hands or the warm blanket on our neighbor’s shoulders. One of Nietzsche’s last acts was throwing his arms around the neck of an old cart horse. Should we pity his wretched decline into madness? Or might we wonder at what moved him? What broke the boundary between him as the observer of the horse’s as-it-is-ness to allow him to participate in that horse’s life for just a moment?

    I think that one of the things that makes punk rock so powerful is that in its less jejune manifestations it expresses not rebellion for rebellion’s sake, but what those of us feel who don’t buy it, who can’t buy the shit they’re selling us. Like you’ve written in your books, punk rock and Zen are both about questioning everything. But to truly question everything, we have to be willing to let go of everything, to follow where our questions lead.

    Some people ask deeper questions, and ask them harder. Some people are content with a few lines of the mental equivalent of cotton candy. Zen is precious because it offers tools that the sincere can take up in the quest to get beyond their beliefs. How in the fuck can I know what is really going on when my mind is so full of such stupid thoughts?

    One of the things that makes the old koan stories appeal to me is the relentless fire of the asking and struggling with truth that some students show in them. I’ve met few people in the Zen world who have any such passion. They’re more interested in proving some point to themselves, or getting status with other people, or any number of things that are ultimately beside the point. At some point, one has to let go of that and stop trying to chain themselves to another person’s system. For the suffering and imperfection of his life, I think Phil Dick embodies that a lot more than the majority of people I’ve encountered in the world of Zen.

    Are the people who “know what to do” with their insights the ones who calmly and quietly fall into the lockstep of another person’s drumbeat? The ones whose lives are orderly and as soft as warm towels right out of the dryer? The people who frame their insights in the language of others’ traditions and norms? Or the ones who create and create so beautifully and powerfully that their words, rather than enslaving others to numb ritual, enliven and inspire people who in turn are moved to listen to their own creativity, their own questions, and take them seriously?

    I know who my heroes are…

  33. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm |

    you write a lot
    I write less, but more frequently
    think of play dough–roll it flat and thin, now place it over your hand and let your fingers ’emerge’ from it: all of life is just like this, everything ’emerging’ out of the universal play dough.
    Think of cookie dough.
    Make all kinds of shapes and put different kind of sprinkles and frosting and such on the very very different shapes: everything is just like this: made out of universal dough, all emerging, appearing to be separate and different, but really all one cookie dough.
    you’re bright, intellectual this is great, it’s where you ‘shine’
    now take that away. Imagine yourself oxygen deprived and now operating on a fraction of your brain cells.
    You are still ‘you’ And now, when you brush your teeth or brush your hair, you’re doing it with all the brain cells you’ve got: you aren’t intelectualizing this stuff anymore
    you’re living it
    with the entirety of your being
    you
    and the hairbrush
    and the bathroom sink
    and the blob of toothpaste
    that didn’t get shmushed around in your mouth, and didn’t go down the drain with the spittle

    It is hard to get the intellectual mind to be quiet, so you give it something to do.
    a koan, say
    and let it chew away on the koan
    the koan, the koan, the koan
    the koan is like a spiky punk pacifier for the buff brain that is always looking in the mirror while it does its ‘reps’
    so the koan
    the koan the koan the koan the koan

    don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of the use of or the effect of the koan
    it’s not for everyone
    because not all brains are alike

    but for the brain that could use some koan work,
    nothing else will do
    AND, yes, you need a teacher

    so let’s all be grateful to each other for finding the practice suitable to our needs
    so we can do this thing:
    discover our true self
    who we really are
    and
    save all sentient beings

    these aren’t just pretty words
    these are fact

    Really

    Brad doesn’t use this kind of language
    I don’t blame him
    Brad focuses on zazen
    and he is absolutely right to do so

    It is far better not to get caught up in conceptualization
    and use of words
    automatically brings conceptualization.

    Just remember the words are standing in for what there are no words for

    it’s play dough
    all
    the
    way
    down

    You aren’t just ‘one’ with ‘it’
    you, one, and it aren’t different or distinct from each other

    mazeltov!

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 8, 2008 at 11:00 pm |

    I’d like to say thanks to Brad for starting with his list of books that don’t suck. I like the books like Uchiyama’s and Kwong’s, that confess some personal moments along with what I consider amazing advice, or even Chadwick’s biography of Suzuki that reveals the personal moments (and we can read other authors for the amazing advice).

    I wrote to a teacher to say how glad I was for the pictures in the back of “Three Pillars of Zen”, and I received back a caution that Kapleau never intended to imply that anyone could learn Zen out of a book. I wonder, like Dogen, why there is something to learn; however, practice is enlightenment, Dogen came to this.

    In practice, I find I’m only looking for the pieces that are necessary at the moment; I wish I had been able to better express that to my friend who cautioned me about books.

    I have a webpage (“The Mudra of Zen”); it’s about the position of the hands in zazen, and significance of the lotus.

    Thanks for the inspiration; yours, Mark

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 8, 2008 at 11:01 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. David
    David December 9, 2008 at 8:19 am |

    “AND, yes, you need a teacher”

    Why is this so?
    Since you write so well, I would be grateful to know why; especially if you yourself have ridden this question all the way to the last bus stop. Thank you.

  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm |

    David, if that question was directed to me, I’d like to first thank you very much for asking- I can only guess at what you may have gone through to be moved to put a question like that.

    I can say that I had my own experience that I thought was my break-through without a teacher, although I was greatly inspired by Kobun Chino Otogawa’s lectures at the Santa Cruz zendo in the early ’70’s. You can read about what followed for me at http://www.kobun-sama.org, under anecdotes; thirty years of trying to make sense of my experience and get on with my life, essentially. My take was that I would write down how I did it so others could learn from it; at first I didn’t realize that I was writing for myself, now I know that I am always writing for myself.

    If you want to have a weird experience, go vegan for awhile and then when you start eating a little protein again, follow your breathing for a whole day; probably helps if you fooled around with hypnosis. You can check my webpage (sorry the link didn’t work) just google “zen mudra”.

    I don’t know if a teacher would be helpful to you or not. Most of the ones I trust say they think of themselves as my friend, not my teacher.

    thanks, if that question was not directed to me, I’m embarassed!gassho, Mark

  38. David
    David December 10, 2008 at 9:04 am |

    Mark,

    I thought I was addressing my question to the anonymous poster that I took the quote from (“AND, yes,you need a teacher”). The writer seemed to be so positively certain in the expression that I was wondering what kind of experience gives rise to such certainty? Thanks for your remarks anyway. Perhaps I was really addressing the question to you.

  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 10, 2008 at 10:02 am |

    hey, David, I see that remark now, I kind of skipped over that entry, I couldn’t find a thread but maybe you did. Love that “McZen, 50% more!” stuff- yers truly

  40. ratboy
    ratboy December 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm |

    “I wrote to a teacher to say how glad I was for the pictures in the back of “Three Pillars of Zen”, and I received back a caution that Kapleau never intended to imply that anyone could learn Zen out of a book.”

    Mark, I studied zen under Kapleau roshi and he indeed intended that you could learn zazen from his book. For most zen teachers, zen is much more than simply learning to practice zazen, though. As a beginner, I was told that I could practice zazen without a teacher but should not attempt to work on koans.

    And Stephanie, that was an awesome post. I agree 100%. Thanks.

  41. Rich
    Rich December 11, 2008 at 12:26 pm |

    TO MEET THE REAL DRAGON by Gudo Nishijima, is the great transcendent Zen book, the supreme Zen book.

    Ok, maybe that description is a little over the top, just read it for yourself.

  42. DivineMediocrity
    DivineMediocrity December 11, 2008 at 3:27 pm |

    Goodness, you’ve made it so easy… I mean, they’re all just listed right there… and PK Dick is listed in addendum! Sheesh, I’d best get started 🙂

  43. Rich
    Rich December 12, 2008 at 11:01 am |

    My life is just so boring compared to Phil Dick and all the great ideas and thinking going on in this blog -) One of my actions today happened spontaneously, later I viewed it as incorrect and understood a better way to deal with the situation. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to make amends with the other person involved and act correctly in the future. This thinking is just for the benefit of the acting. Now I will put it down for awhile, and do what I need to do.

  44. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 14, 2008 at 7:23 pm |

    My thanks to Ratboy for the insight into Philip Kapleau’s intention.  I find myself pondering your sentence, “For most zen teachers, zen is much more than simply learning to practice zazen, though.” I wonder if Zen can be taught one person to another, at all; seeing someone ride a bicycle inspires us to learn to ride, but does someone else actually teach us to ride, or must we teach ourselves somehow? Shunryu Suzuki spoke of how if we are not disturbed by the sound of a bird when we are reading a book, the sound enters our heart, we become the bird, and the bird reads the book. If a bird sits zazen, what is the “much more” that we will learn from a teacher, I wonder? ok, ok, I take your point, which is most Zen teachers believe that Zen is much more than zazen, although I guess I disagree.

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