Saturday, October 4, 2014

Three Pillars of Zen book review

If you ever take up Zen, there's a hidden benefit: you really don't have to learn much. Just sit, focus on your breathing or your koan if you have one, and not much else. This makes it easy to get into. Zen is notoriously refractory to philosophy so there's no accumulation of knowledge that has to be learned to practice. In fact, knowing more may be a hindrance and knowing less might be part of the key. (The only other field I've seen something parallel is futures trading: knowing more doesn't necessarily mean better results). That said, one might get some benefits by learning how others have made it, their, goals their experiences. Some of these are gathered in the Three Pillars of Zen. 
source:; liverleaf 3 taken by Magnus Rosendahl
As said this is not required reading. This is more like a guided tour through the mechanics of enlightenment and a showcase of experiences of others on their way to it. If the Zen Life shows Zen from without,  Three Pillars take a more intimate inside view. It could be divided into roughly three non-continuous parts. The first consists of a series of talks of by a Zen master of different practice aspects. These are followed by transcriptions of from the private interviews (dokusan) between the seeker and the master. The second is a small collection of letters from the monk to those who have sought him for guidance and from a girl who went through the higher stages in just a few days. The last part contain sample accounts of present day seekers who who have achieved enlightenment written in their own hand. Each section is prologued by the author with general context and concepts. There's a brief annex on practice troubleshooting, but I did not find it terribly useful (better Meditation for Dummies). A welcome addition is the glossary as sometimes terms sometimes get jumbled up.

My favorite part is the private interviews where the seekers try to make sense of their koans. This single part is the next best thing (I feel) to getting hold of a flesh and bone master who's willing to take you on. Feedback’s the name of the game. My other favorite section was the diary of the American businessman seeker in the third part; his account is so close at home that one can relate to him and so clear that I can picture a short film being made out of it.

Recommended, yes, for the inner look and for the clear view of the whole field.

(If you are a Catholic, some, perhaps all, meditation practices might be harmful to you spiritual life. Check out Women of Grace or read what Sue Brinkmann has to say by googling her)

(After a brief hiatus for this year's Halloween special, I'll come back to close this series on meditation with another review)


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