Books to Read
closed book “The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.”
— Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), The Hero as a Man of Letters
open book
Zen Books: what's your face before your parents were born...
Paul Reps, Nyogen Senzaki, 
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki (Editors) , Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings (1994), Shambhala, ISBN: 1570620636— First published in 1957, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones introduced a generation of Americans to Zen (selling over 600,000 copies). Paul Reps presents four works that rank high in the Zen Canon: “101 Zen Stories” recounts actual experiences with Zen spanning five centuries. “The Gateless Gate” is a 13th-century collection of koans (mind puzzles) used in Zen practice. “Ten Bulls” is a 12th-century commentary on Zen Master Kakuan's drawings showing the stages of awareness leading to enlightenment. And “Centering” is a 4,000-year-old teaching from India that could very well have been the source of Zen. This book is an ideal introduction to Zen. The book cover shows Oxherd Drawing #6 “Riding the Bull Home”— symbolizing that one's thoughts have been tamed. The mental struggle is over. Playing the tunes of children on his flute, the boy rides home to harmony and peace. Avg. Review (2): 5 stars
Stephen Mitchell, 
Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn Stephen Mitchell (Ed.), Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn (reissue 1994), Grove Press, ISBN: 0802130526— Seung Sahn is the first Korean Zen Master to teach in the West. He attained enlightenment at 22 and was abbot of five temples in Seoul. In 1962 he came to America with no money and no English. He supported himself by repairing washing machines in a laundromat in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown University students who met him there found out that this Korean knew a lot about Zen. With their help, he founded the Providence Zen Center, teaching students Zen meditation, which has spread to over three dozen Zen Centers worldwide. Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is a delightful, irreverent, and hilariously funny living record of the dialogue between Zen Master Seung Sahn and his American students. The book contains dialogues, stories, Zen interviews, Dharma speeches, and letters using the Zen Master's words in spontaneous, living interaction with his students. Through the use of koans (illogical puzzles), paradox, and surprise, we see how the Zen Master leads the students to an understanding of their true self. I love the story “Plastic Flowers, Plastic Mind”— when an American disciple trashed the plastic flowers placed in front of Buddha's altar by some Korean visitors, saying that only fresh flowers could do justice to the Enlightened One, Seung Sahn told the student: “It is your mind that is plastic, the visitors offered the plastic flowers with a pure mind.” Avg. Review (4): 5 stars
Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (reissue 1989), Vintage, ISBN: 0679722971— “In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality” is one of the gems you'll find in this Zen classic. Eugen Herrigel, a German professor, taught philosophy at the University of Tokyo in the 1930s. While his wife took up flower-arrangement, he trained in archery with a Zen Master for six years. Zen in the Art of Archery published in 1953 is the account of this experience. In a short, pithy narrative (81 pages), Herrigel brings the heart of Zen to perfect clarity— intuition, imitation, practice, practice, practice, then, BOOM— wondrous spontaneity fusing self and art, mind, body, and spirit. He enlightens the reader, through parable & paradox, anecdote & answer, by showing the quest for truth that is the heart of Zen. I love the account of the Zen Master hitting the bullseye target in the dark, then splitting the first arrow's shaft with a second shot, saying “It shot! Let's bow to the Buddha.” Avg. Review (13): 5 stars
Hui-Neng, Thomas Cleary, Sutra of Hui-Neng: Grand Master of Zen Hui-Neng, Thomas Cleary (Translator), The Sutra of Hui-Neng: Grand Master of Zen (1998), Shambhala Publications, ISBN: 1570623481— Hui-neng (617-713) is perhaps the most respected and beloved figure in Zen Buddhism. An illiterate woodcutter who attained enlightenment in a flash, he became the renowned Sixth Patriarch of Zen. He is the supreme exemplar of the fact that neither education nor social background has any bearing on the experience of enlightenment. Hui-neng's teachings are characterized by their striking immediacy and by their concern with direct insight into the essential nature of awareness. The Sutra of Hui-neng is here accompanied by Hui-neng's own commentary on the Diamond Sutra in its first published English translation. My favorite Hui-neng story: When two monks were arguing whether the flag was waving or the wind was waving, Hui-neng told them “It's your mind that's waving!” My favorite Hui-neng koan: “What is your face before your parents were born?”
Avg. Review (1): 5 stars
Chao Chou, James Green, Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu Chao Chou, James Green (Translator), The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu (1998), Shambhala Publications, ISBN: 1570624143— Chao Chou or Joshu (778-897) was one of the great Chan (Zen) masters of Ancient China. Many of the best-known koans originated with Joshu. Although Joshu's life itself is an embodiment of the Zen ideal, it was his particular ability to express the true nature of enlightened mind in a pithy and succinct fashion that made his teaching so influential. His sayings and dialogues have been preserved in the Zen literature as timeless and potent expressions of the experience of enlightenment. Included here is the first complete translation of Joshu's sayings, lectures, questions & answers, dialogues, poems, as well as records of his pilgrimages. There is a short biography and a glossary of Zen terms. I love the story when a disciple complained about having no time, Chao Chou said: “You are being used by the 24 hours, but I'm using the 24 hours every day.” And he did so wisely for 120 years, always purifying his mind like a fresh mountain spring. Make Chao Chou your mentor and be awakened. Avg. Review (2): 5 stars
Dogen, The Wholehearted Way: Translation of Ehihei Dogen's Bendowa Dogen, The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Ehihei Dogen's Bendowa (1997), Edited by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, translated by Shohaku Okumura & Taigen Daniel Leighton, Charles E Tuttle Co, ISBN: 080483105X— Zen Master Dogen's Bendowa is one of the primary texts on Zen practice. Transcending any particular school of Buddhism or religious belief, Dogen's profound and poetic writings are respected as a pinnacle of world spiritual literature. Bendowa, or “A Talk on the Wholehearted Practice of the Way,” was written in 1231 and expresses Dogen's teaching of the essential meaning of zazen (sitting meditation) and its actual practice. Included in the book is an extensive, down-to-earth, and entertaining commentary by Uchiyama Roshi, an important modern Japanese Soto Zen master. Carl Bielefeldt, Stanford University Zen scholar, says: “A fine introduction ot the spirit of Zen, both past and present. Dogen's famous text on Zen practice comes alive... The translation well captures both the sense of Dogen's original text and the clarity and humanity that have made Uchiyama Roshi one of the most attractive Zen teachers today.” Avg. Review (1): 5 stars
Waddell, Wild Ivy, Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Hakuin, Norman Waddell (Translator), Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin (1999), Shambhala Publications, ISBN: 1570624356— Hakuin Zenji (1686-1769) is a towering figure in Japanese Zen. A fiery and dynamic teacher and renowned artist, he reformed the Zen Rinzai tradition, which had fallen into stagnation and decline in his time, revitalizing it and ensuring its survival even to our own day. Hakuin emphasized the importance of zazen, or sitting meditation, and is also known for his skillful use of koans as a means to insight: the most famous of all koans, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is attributed to Hakuin. This is the first English translation of Hakuin's intimate self-portrait. It includes reminiscences from his childhood, accounts of his Zen practice and enlightenment experiences, as well as practical advice for students. The book's four chapters: Authentic Zen: Danger of False Teachings, Post-Satori Practice, Reflections on Do-Nothing Zen, and Zen Sickness. The book includes numerous Hakuin drawings— my favorites are “A monk setting out on pilgrimage” (cartoon-like figure) and “Monk on a Bridge” (pen & ink shrouded in a mist). Learn from this 80-year old Zen master on your way to illumination. My favorite Hakuin story. Avg. Review (1): 5 stars
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1972), Weatherhill, ISBN: 0834800799
A respected Zen master in Japan and founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, Shunryu Suzuki has blazed a path in American Buddhism like few others. He is the master who climbs down from the pages of the koan books and answers your questions face to face. If not face to face, you can at least find the answers as recorded in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a transcription of juicy excerpts from his lectures. From diverse topics such as transience of the world, sudden enlightenment, and the nuts and bolts of meditation, Suzuki always returns to the idea of beginner's mind, a recognition that our original nature is our true nature. With beginner's mind, we dedicate ourselves to sincere practice, without the thought of gaining anything special.
Day to day life becomes our Zen training, and we discover that “to study Buddhism is to study ourselves.” And to know our true selves is to be enlightened. Avg. Review (27): 4.5 stars
The Clouds Should Know Me By Now Red Pine & Mike O'Connor (Editors), The Clouds Should Know Me by Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China (1998), Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 0861711432— “Deep among ten thousand peaks I sit alone cross-legged / a solitary thought fills my empty mind / my body is the moon that lights the winter sky / in rivers and in lakes are only its reflections” is one of the poems by Han-shan you'll find in this beautiful book of poetry. This unique collection presents the verse of 14 eminent Chines Buddhist poet monks. I love this book's spacious page layout with the original Chinese poem cascading downward like a mountain cliff and the English translation flowing horizontally like a river. The poet-priest Norman Fischer said: “Meditation is when you sit down and do nothing. Poetry is when you sit down and do something.” That something or om-thing which these poet monks have done is opening our mind to vast vistas of tranquillity so we are transported as if by magic to a small creek side inn surrounded by lofty pine and misty clouds. Come in and enjoy nature's splendor and serenity as you cozy up to this luminous book. Avg. Review (1): 4 stars
James Austin, Zen and the Brain James H. Austin, Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness (1998), MIT Press, ISBN: 0262511096— What are the peak experiences of enlightenment? How could they profoundly enhance, and yet simplify, the workings of the brain? James Austin uses Zen as the opening wedge for an extraordinarily wide-ranging exploration of consciousness. In order to understand which brain mechanisms produce Zen states, one needs some understanding of the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain. Austin, both a neurologist and a Zen practitioner, interweaves the most recent brain research with the personal narrative of his Zen experiences. The science is both inclusive and rigorous; the Zen sections are clear and evocative. Along the way, Austin examines such topics as similar states in other disciplines and religions, sleep and dreams, mental illness, consciousness-altering drugs, and the social consequences of the advanced stage of ongoing enlightenment. I love Roshi Kobori's insight on the slow process of compassion, likening it to the ripening of a persimmon— “sharp and astringent at first, but warmed by the autumn sun it begins to sweeten.” Here's nature's lesson to us that we must pass through some bitter life experiences before tasting heavenly bliss. An awesome book illuminating the Zen mind with neuroscience. Avg. Review (11): 4.5 stars
David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber: Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki (1999), Broadway Books, ISBN: 0767901045— Since the publication of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind in 1970, the influence of Shunryu Suzuki has grown extensively. His followers have long hungered for a full portrait of this extraordinary individual. David Chadwick, who studied with Suzuki at the San Francisco Zen Center from 1966 until Suzuki's death in 1971, has interviewed his mentor's family, friends, and disciples and was granted full access to Japanese and American archives. This book begins with Suzuki's earliest days in Japan, where his teacher nicknamed him "Crooked Cucumber," claiming Suzuki was too absent-minded and dim-witted to ever become a successful priest. Chadwick follows Suzuki through his new life in San Francisco amid the cultural upheaval of the '60s, creating a context for his refreshing and profound teaching. Brief, illuminating chapters, with previously unpublished talks and correspondence, convey the down-to-earth message of a man who continues to transform countless lives. I enjoyed the anecdote of a 23-year old Chadwick sitting with 50 black robed fellow students listening to Suzuki's lecture. During the Q&A period, he asked: “I've been listening to your lectures for years, and I really love them... But I must admit I just don't understand... Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?” Everyone laughed. He laughed. Nobody expected him to answer it. But Suzuki did answer. He looked at Chadwick and said, “Everything changes.” Avg. Review (9): 5 stars
Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Computer: Mindfulness and the Machine Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Computer: Mindfulness and the Machine (1999), Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 0684854090— Zen teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Look at the finger and you'll miss the luminous moon. Zen is only a guide to the truth, not the truth itself. Let the arrow on your computer screen remind you of a finger pointing to the moon. With the proper frame of mind, all things become a guide to the truth, from a flower to a rock to a computer screen. The truth assumes infinite shapes and forms. Our challenge is to realize the truth wherever we look. Anyone who has ever cursed a computer will benefit from this book with its soothing approach to living calmly amid the constant upheavals of new technology. In a simple, easy-to-read style, Sudo shows how the ancient principles of zen apply to the modern science of bits and bytes, helping computer users deal with everything from computer crashes to major life changes. Divided into ten concise chapters, the book includes a user's guide to mindful computing and features “The Seven Rules of Zen Computer.” Quotes from Pascal, Einstein, and Bill Gates illustrate the links between Western science & Eastern philosophy. Filled with zen stories, samurai maxims, and beautiful artwork that combines Japanese brush painting with digital imagery, Zen Computer shows us how the interface between the traditional and technological can be found right here, right now. The reader will enjoy Sudo's meditation on the symbols at the top of the ten numerals of the keyboard from “!” (Awaken! Do it! Now!) to “)” (closure or the moon's rebirth). I love Sudo's concluding page, pensive & poetic— “When the day is done, / Go to your resting place. / Empty everything— / No work, no play / No nothing. / Sleep in the arms of the Great Mother, / Dream under the gaze of the Great Father. / In love, the two will make one again— / Through you, who smiles / The contented smile of a newborn, / Awakened.” Read this book. Meditate. Be awakened! Avg. Review (1): 5 stars

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