Over some 13 centuries of development, Zen Buddhism, especially in its Japanese form, has accumulated a certain amount of cultural and organizational baggage--the robes, the shaved heads, the stern master, the rituals. Some Zen masters will tell you, though, that you can drop the baggage and still travel comfortably. Husband-and-wife team Manfred Steger and Perle Besserman studied first under the cultural weight of Japanese Zen, then with the light-footed lay master Robert Aitken. As Westerners, they found the freedom from tradition liberating. They brought this creative freedom into a group under their own direction, which they call Grassroots Zen. Retaining only the bare bones of Zen--meditation, retreats, interviews, koan--Steger and Besserman return to an early Chinese manifestation of Zen in which lay people got together to meditate as a community. Like vipassana, this form of Zen is heavy on the meditation, light on the ritual; long on the community and short on the impulsive individual. Grassroots Zen, Steger and Besserman say, is a goalless practice that rewards incalculably by bringing every aspect of one's life into balance. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Married university professors and authors Steger (Gandhi's Dilemma: Nonviolent Principles and Nationalist Power) and Besserman (The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism) name and describe a phenomenon that is occurring all over the country: relatively small, democratically run groups of Zen Buddhist practitioners are banding together and sustaining a sangha, or community, free of the hierarchy and formality of the monastery. After conceiving this way of practice with the Princeton Area Zen Group, the members discovered that they were actually operating within an old Chinese tradition (ts'ao-pen ch'an) wherein "without official sanction from Buddhist priests and beyond the monastery walls... like-minded men and women gathered together to sit in meditation." The authors assert, "We eliminated monastic robes and tonsure [head shaving], as well as every vestige of militarism and male dominance inherent in Japanese Zen training." They also prescribe how to hold on to what they perceive to be the essential elements: zazen (formal sitting meditation), sesshin (silent meditation retreats), dharma (talks by teachers), koans (verbal puzzles that provoke insight) and dokusan (student-teacher interviews). In Zen practice "nothing special" can mean a kind of ideal, but compared to the flood of fine Buddhism books now available this is also "nothing special" in the more commonly applied turn of the phrase. Ultimately, it offers not much more than a new name for the heart of a hallowed practice.