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Thread: Books on Zen I can use.

  1. #1

    Books on Zen I can use.

    I just want an opinion on the following books as to their usefulness, with the stress on usefulness, to beginning and continuing Zen/zazen practice. I'd be grateful for the opinion of anyone who has read these books.

    I was going to buy and read Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen, but I've received mixed reports about this book; that being so, yes, I know that there is only one way to find out what it's like and that's to read it but I'd like further opinions.

    What I really want is a book that gives me practical advice or instruction in how to practise. To that end, I was also thinking of buying Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy by Katsuki Sekida. Has anyone who has read this book got an opinion as to its merit as a good practical guide to Zen/zazen practice?

  2. #2

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Hi!

    There's a recommended book list here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=889

    The top two books, "Zen mind, beginner's mind" and "Opening the hand of thought" are truly inspirational, even though they are not manuals as such. Very honest, very insightful.
    I haven't read it but many find "Sit Down and Shut Up" to be a good, no-bullshit "manual".

    Personally, I have avoided Three Pillars, even though it's the only book I've found that has been translated into my language. Philip Kapleau in my opinion did much good in spreading Zen to the west, but he's from a different lineage (Harada-Yasutani) with a different practice and reading too much about that tradition with its focus on Koan introspection, Kensho, Satori etc may be confusing things and creating obstacles more than helping IMHO. Kapleau is also not a dharma heir of Yasutani Roshi, even though he got permission to teach, so the Kapleau line starts with him. I'd say the safest bet would be better to stick to the recommended books!

    But you don't really need a manual for Zazen. If you go though all the videos in the "Zazen for beginners" section (viewforum.php?f=20) and "Vital points of 'Shikantaza' Zazen" (viewforum.php?f=23), then that is all you need in my opinion.

    Gassho,
    /Pontus

  3. #3
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Three Pillars is interesting from a historical and cultural point of view, but it's not the type of zen we practice at Treeleaf. I read it many years ago, and was turned off by the attitude toward practice it presented: it made practice seem like running a marathon.

  4. #4

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    "Opening the hand of thought" helped my practice more than any other book I have read, truly can't recommend it enough.

    I like to read both this and the other mentioned book "Zen mind, beginner's mind" every now and again as the longer I practice the more I feel I get from these books, reminds me to keep my beginners' mind :wink:

  5. #5
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by graeme
    "Opening the hand of thought" helped my practice more than any other book I have read, truly can't recommend it enough.
    Seconded. It's on my to be reread stack in fact.

  6. #6

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Hi there - Pontus gives good advice.

    I totally scrambled any 'beginners mind' when I joined Treeleaf by reading a crazy amount of books (unfortunately not the first two on the list ops: )
    I've gone back to the excellent teaching videos provided by Jundo and Taigu - and realise that by not methodically going through them, at the start, I missed the odd one
    that would have explained what I needed to know - or an issue that was holding me back.

    I would just like to thank the patience of the teachers here - because I can see now how they are having to explain over and again information that is clearly
    given on the site regarding Zazen - and I wonder at the resistance within myself of keep returning to unnecessary blocks to practice :roll:

    Gassho

    Willow

  7. #7
    Senior Member Ekai's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    The Zen books I plan on reading will be in accord with the Treeleaf's book club however I want to add sutra study. There are so many books I want to read but too little time. I have not read "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" but I would love to dive into it one day.

    Gassho,
    Ekai/Jodi

  8. #8

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Hello!

    It depends on what you are looking for. The view from the mountain is the same, though we all take different roads to get to the top. Both of those books are great. But here at Treeleaf, we practice a very refined form of Zen, where all that is unnecessary has been shed, leaving only the bright diamond of Reality. So, basically, we read practical books that deal with everyday life. You can't wrong with Suzuki. Even the dude's grocery list was enlightened :mrgreen: . And, if you're ready for it, Joko Beck. She showed me how utterly practical a life of Zen can really be. Oh, and as someone here already said, Opening the Hand of Thought is a must. So clear, so practical, Kosho Uchiyama will never disappoint.

    The usefulness of a book depends upon the needs of the reader. Read anything you like. No rules here. Whatever goes in will come out. The greatest book you can read, as you continue sitting, will be the story of your own life. Every day a new page, a new twist.

    gassho
    Greg

  9. #9

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    The good thing with Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is that it's just a compilation of talks. You can just read a page or two every now and then. Jump in anywhere! Sometimes I didn't get what the heck he was talking about, but when I returned to that same chapter a year later, sometimes it makes a whole lot more sense (and sometimes, according to Jundo, what may sound very profound may just be Suzuki Roshi's bad english!) I'm starting to hate my current book since a year back, Mysterious Realist... A good book, but one you have to put some effort into I'm afraid... :wink:

    /Pontus

  10. #10

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by ghop
    But here at Treeleaf, we practice a very refined form of Zen, where all that is unnecessary has been shed, leaving only the bright diamond of Reality.
    I knew it! :mrgreen:

  11. #11

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Many words of wisdom here.
    Priceless pointings.
    Sure Pontus and Greg. Fully with you.

    Just another reminder-pointer:

    A book, as great as it is, doesn't exist apart from the scenery of the reader's mind.
    In other words: you are doing nothing but reading yourself.
    Most people are unaware of this.

    A useful book???

    The book of love, of reality. Here and now. All around-inside-in-between.
    Pages are made of breath, words as moments. Suchness and even not... too intellectual to be such.
    When thoughts don't give birth to thoughts
    When thoughts arise freely from being and return to being
    the book is red
    the reading only
    no book left

    just

    just

    ...



    gassho



    Taigu

  12. #12
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    I never dive too deeply into books anymore. I read them a couple of pages at a time. I keep a copy of Zen Mind Beginners Mind at my desk, used mainly for bathroom breaks. I've worn out my copy of Sit Down and Shut Up, good read. I spend 8 hours at my desk, pop in here from time to time, keep wzen.org on in the background, sometimes I listen, mostly it's background noise.

    What I find is, if I have time to read, I have time to sit. So I sit. And I don't need words.

  13. #13

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    I've read tons of Zen books over the years, but only kept a few when we purged the book clutter a few months ago:

    Both Suzuki books (Zen Mind & Not always so)
    Both Beck books (Nothing Special & Everyday Zen)
    Beyond Thinking (Dogen edited by Tanahashi)

    I figure this is enough to contemplate for a good many years. I read the Kapleau book early on, but - in retrospect - it only heightened my delusions of 'enlightenment' experiences.

    My opinion is that you might want to focus on sitting (and reviewing the excellent 'newbie' videos posted elsewhere in the forum!) rather than reading if you are relatively new; the world of zen literature may help some, but my experience is that it will muddy the water as much as clarify it.

    Full disclosure: I am planning on joining the next book discussion, though...

  14. #14
    Senior Member Koshin's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    A book, as great as it is, doesn't exist apart from the scenery of the reader's mind.
    In other words: you are doing nothing but reading yourself.
    Most people are unaware of this.
    Thank you Taigu, I am (was?) one of those people, never saw from that point of view before ops:

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    A useful book???

    The book of love, of reality. Here and now. All around-inside-in-between.
    Pages are made of breath, words as moments. Suchness and even not... too intellectual to be such.
    When thoughts don't give birth to thoughts
    When thoughts arise freely from being and return to being
    the book is red
    the reading only
    no book left
    Beautiful, and simple, Thank you again

    Gassho

  15. #15

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by graeme
    "Opening the hand of thought" helped my practice more than any other book I have read, truly can't recommend it enough.
    I agree 100%. The is the best manual on zazen, IMHO.

    Additionally, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I think Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki (not to be confused with Dogen's better known larger work the Shobogenzo, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye) is one of the most inspiring collections of talks on Zen practice. I find myself returning to it again and again.

    Best of all, it's available online for free.

    http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/common_ ... index.html

  16. #16
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Well, a couple years ago I read Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen and Zen: Dawn in the West (an old used copy; I think it's been re-titled since). What people say here about Kapleau is true, but I have found from time to time that he could explain things in a way that just--BAM--made total sense where other writers didn't. I'd spend a little time with parts of his books at the library, maybe.

    I'm currently re-reading Shunryu Suzuki's Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. It's a great collection of talks on the Sandokai, which we chant here at the 4-hour zazenkai every month. A lot of good stuff about the relative and the absolute (of course. )

    Gassho

    Jen

  17. #17

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Althought it was not recommended by anyone here (at least not DIRECTLY) I´m reading two books "some people told me about here-and-there". The first one is "Zen Mind, Begginer´s Mind", by Shunryu Suzuki and the latter is "Everyday´s Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck.

    Two different styles, reading Suzuki seems to be like hearing a japanese sensei formally talking, so much information in little words... reading Joko´s like being on a workshop with a great student from a japanese teacher who - becaming a teacher too - could "transform" these "traditional ideas" using a more next-to-ocidental language to express them to us... using everyday concepts and feelings. These books are helping me in constructing the base of my everyday practice, clarifying it and giving me insights on what Zen may be and how can I follow this way, and along with this Sangha, are precious helps for begginers like me.

    There was a Zazen Manual book I´ve buyed here in a Temple, written by a well-known Zen nun, Coen Sensei, but as far as I know, it is only available in portuguese, so...

    For me, the best book (still I can´t read it the way I want - yet) emerges from Zazen practice, all those ideas and suddenly the silence. A book without words...

    Gassho,

  18. #18

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by ghop
    Hello!

    It depends on what you are looking for.
    I'm looking for books on practice. Practical books, that's I why I am tending towards books like Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. The philosophy, in my view, needs to follow hard on the heels of the practice, but practice comes first.

  19. #19

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    If you're strictly interested in practical books on zazen try Zen Meditation in Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen who is a wonderful teacher that I have been very fortunate to sit with at ZCLA.

  20. #20

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    "Meditation Now or Never" by Steve Hagen is about as practical as they come :smile:

  21. #21

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Then again, Zen is not a method, not about learning to meditate:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dogen, in Fukan-Zazengi (translation by Cross/Nishijima)
    What is called sitting-zen, sitting-meditation, is not meditation that is learned. It is the Dharma-gate of effortless ease. It is the practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha's enlightenment. The laws of the Universe are realized, around which there are no nets or cages. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger before a mountain stronghold. Remember, true reality spontaneously emerges, and darkness and dissipation vanish at a stroke.
    Gassho,
    Pontus

  22. #22
    Member Seona's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by Foursquare
    I'm looking for books on practice. Practical books, that's I why I am tending towards books like Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. The philosophy, in my view, needs to follow hard on the heels of the practice, but practice comes first.
    I really like The Eight Gates of Zen: A Program of Zen Training by John Daido Loori. He also wrote Bringing the Sacred to Life: The Daily Practice of Zen Ritual which I believe I've seen Jundo recommend in the past.

    I have both books and I really enjoy them.

  23. #23
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by graeme
    "Meditation Now or Never" by Steve Hagen is about as practical as they come :smile:
    I've read one of Steve Hagen's books, and it is very simple and practical. But I got the feeling that it was _too_ simple; I don't know why. I should go back and read it again.

  24. #24

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Hi,

    Zen and all Buddhism come in so many flavors ... All ultimately the same perhaps, but very different in viewpoints and approach. So, the person new to Buddhism and Zen is left very confused by all the different books claiming to be a "Guide to Zen" or "Introduction to Buddhism" recommending often very very different things! Even "Soto" and "Shikantaza" folks can be quite varied in approach among themselves ... everyone like a cook with her own personal recipe for chicken soup!

    So, I also recommend some books about some of the different flavors of Zen!

    Although already a little dated even for being just a few years old (2006), this is a discussion of all the many different lineages, their individual histories and flavors of Zen found in North America (I think Europe is not well covered, though there is some discussion of most of the lineages shared by North America and Europe such as the Deshimaru Line, Buddhist Contemplatives/Shasta Abbey, White Plum etc.) ...

    • Zen Master Who? by James Ford (Look for Jundo Cohen on page 140, pre-Treeleaf days! plug plug ) **
    http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Master-Who-Pe ... 559&sr=8-1
    Also, these are some articles I posted awhile back ... though they paint with a very very TOO broad brush:

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=1757

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=1704

    and

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=1729

    The comments about "Three Pillars of Zen" are true I believe. The books had great influence because it was so early (one of the few books on the subject 50 years ago), but it presented a view on Zen Practice and 'Kensho' that is not usual even in Japan and represents a group ... named "Sanbokyodan" ... that is tiny is Japan but has had a HUGE and disproportionate influence in the West through groups such as the White Plum and Diamond Sangha! You can read a bit more here, and in the "ONCE BORN TWICE BORN ZEN" article I linked to above.

    viewtopic.php?p=32957#p32957

    Several of the other books mentioned ... such as those by John Daido Loori and John Daishin Buksbazen are from the White Plum, and present a view of Soto practice often much closer to Rinzai (and especially Sanbokyodan) in flavor. Even their descriptions of "Shikantaza" can sometimes be very much colored by that flavor (and again, it all varies from teacher to teacher and book to book even just within the White Plum and such!).

    The Soto/Rinzai hybrid of the White Plum and other lineages derived from Maezumi Roshi, Harada-Yasutani line and the Sanbokyodan can be just very different (even if ultimately the same) from the Shikantaza practice we encourage here. So, I do typically guide folks to our "Recommended Book List" here, with books for newer folks marked with ** . Yes, Uchiyama Roshi's books are wonderful and very much represented (Okumura Roshi of the same Lineage too).

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=889

    NOW LET ME EMPHASIZE: Just because folks cook chicken soup in various way, does not mean that there is only one good way. Far from it. Many many delicious ways to cook soup suitable to different tongues.

    Gassho, J

    PS - I have never read "Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy by Katsuki Sekida", apparently written back in the 70's by a Japanese lay practitioner. I will order it and have a look. I also need to look back at Steve Hagen's books, as it has been a long time since I read through them.

    PPS - Some books and readings are necessary in this "way beyond words and letters" ... to explain a bit about the history, techniques and teachings. However, just don't fall into the books, get lost in your head ... and learn to find the stillness and silence that shines right through all the words and letters! It is all the difference between simply reading cookbooks ... and actually cooking and tasting the chicken soup!

    PPPS - My comments on Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's books such as "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind" ... and how some of the puzzling "Zen mystery" in his words might just be from his very broken English combined with the nature of his native Japanese language (you should hear me and some of the resulting "mysteries" when I give a Zen talk in Japanese! ops: ) is here ...

    viewtopic.php?p=52199#p52199

  25. #25

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by Foursquare
    ... I was also thinking of buying Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy by Katsuki Sekida. Has anyone who has read this book got an opinion as to its merit as a good practical guide to Zen/zazen practice?
    Just my two cents here; I read it about half way though and put it aside, because to me it was too intellectual, to much theory for me. It might have its place though, and my opinion does not mean it could not be great for other.
    Thanks for your practice
    _()_
    Myoku

  26. #26

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    I agree with what everyone has posted. I think early consumption of mass quantities of books may be a natural step into practice, especially when looking at how intellectually (or at least information addicted) our culture is. We want to be able to get what we want from a google search or wikipedia lookup. But what's awesome about this practice or anything that takes total investment is that you won't find quick answers.

    I was reading vast amounts of zen books, even when I didn't totally understand them; I hadn't sat one lick of zazen. At one point, I remember reading "Finding the Stillpoint" by Daido Roshi which spoke about the actual practice. I was shocked that Zen is actually a practice of meditation. hahhahah I always thought it was this really deep philosophy. The book was good, although I prefer Shikantaza as we practice here vs. breath counting. I'm not arguing one is better over the other (not that I'm an authority to make such an argument anyway) just that the spaciousness and freedom (I don't know if those are the right words) of our practice here is nice (and sometimes not so nice but it fits).

    But to echo other posts, it is about actual practice and so what if you don't do it right... what's right? Anyway, the point is consistency, just sit. The beginner zazen series by Jundo and Taigu is really, really well done btw. So from a true beginner... read a little bit, sit a little bit.. keep it light and easy. Don't worry so much. Before you know it, sitting will just be another thing you do on a daily basis, like brushing your teeth. Even if you don't feel like doing it, if you can step back from that and literally not care what you don't want to do and just sit there.. you can do it.

    Gassho,

    Risho

  27. #27

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I've read one of Steve Hagen's books, and it is very simple and practical. But I got the feeling that it was _too_ simple; I don't know why. I should go back and read it again.
    I know what you mean, with the other books I mentioned I can revisit and get something more from them, I think I 'got' Steve Hagen's ones on the first read. 'Buddhism Plain and Simple' was just what I needed to read a good while ago though

    I think I've been getting a bit too book-heavy with zen recently, thanks to all those giving the reminder to just sit!

    _/_

  28. #28

    Re: Books on Zen I can use.

    Hi,

    I want to clarify my comment on "White Plum" and Maezumi Roshi's Lineage, and its relationship to Sanbokyodan and the hard "Kensho or Bust" flavor seen in "Three Pillars of Zen." I sat with a White Plum group for many years, and a dear mentor (Dosho Cantor) is a White Plum priest.

    What I want to say is that, over the decades, the White Plum has also gone off into 100 different subflavors, and many teachers with very different "feels" for what they are doing. In general, I have the feeling (as an outsider) that they have generally softened or moved on from the "Kensho or Bust" and hard approach of the Harada-Yasutani tradition somewhat.

    In fact, for all traditions ... Soto, Rinzai and the hybrids ... awakening and "seeing one's True Nature" are vital, but all one aspect of an ongoing practice of polishing the timeless jewel that needs no polishing (i.e., it is not "Kensho and that's the end" ... rather, all is always just the beginning). In all traditions, no matter how much they emphasize or deemphasize the "push" for "timeless Kensho moments", the bottom line is ... See one's True Nature, and move on.

    I have to run out now, and write quickly ... but I hope my meaning is clear.

    Gassho, J

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