Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Zen Life Book Review

I wanted a book about Zen. If you look around, there are very many. Problem is that most of the books one finds are about learning and doing Zen. There are primers, manuals, story collections with fables such as The Hermit and the Long Tailed Rooster (never heard about that one? I just made up the title). Though valuable, I didn't want any of these; I didn't want to practice, become a monk or become enlightened or at least not at this point. What I wanted was a book that looked at Zen from the outside. What I wanted was more of 'this is', rather than a 'how to'; a window into the practice if you will. I was about to settle with a documentary or video from YouTube when unexpectedly I found just the book I wanted in my dad's very own library.

The Zen Life is a small book written in English by native authors. It is divided into two parts. The first one consists of 101 black-and-white photographs taken at Empuku-ji monastery that illustrate the ordinary activities of a Zen monk coupled with very brief explanations. The second part looks at the former and gives a more extended commentary. The photographs are top notch and capture the essential elements clearly. One can tell that these were taken by a pro. It doesn't take much to flip through the hundred and, guess what, this is a good thing. Looking at the pictures can serve as a quick relaxation treatment.

The explanation section covers a great deal of ground. It centers mainly round the monks' daily practices, from zazen to eating and sleeping, but it also addresses zen monasticism in the context of society at large. This part is written by a psychologist and the rational or philosophy of each facet is briefly treated upon. Some calendar events are also explored.

If you are in the position of wanting to know, but do not want to practice, this is a good book that can satisfy your interest.

As a runner-up there's
Asking About Zen: 108 Answers by Jiho Sargent

For intro practice and philosophy try:

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

In closing, a nice project to consider is to contrast what happens here in The Zen Life with the experience of the Carthusians in the documentary film Into Great Silence (recommended!). 


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