The Way of Zen

Walmart # 559563114

The Way of Zen

Walmart # 559563114
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<p>An understandable, inspirational and spiritually rewarding exploration of Zen Buddhism</p>

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The Way of Zen, by Alan W

The Way of Zen, by Alan W. Watts is a scholarly popularization of Zen Buddhism, written in 1957. It has the bibliography, notes and index of a scholarly book, but the looser style of a book written for real people. In the author's opinion, Zen cannot be understood in a purely literary or scholarly method. The author is, therefore, a participant observer. He attempts to put it within a context understandable by the Western mind, I think he is successful in that attempt. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part gives us the context for Zen. The background and history includes information on how the Eastern mind-set differs from the Western mind-set and how this informs the study of Zen. He discusses the Chinese tradition of Tao (the Way), Buddhism in general, and how they joined to create Zen. The second part of the book is about Zen principles and practices; empty mind, still body, contemplating koans (sayings), and creating art in stillness. In the beginning, Watts reminds us how much our conventions and mind-sets informs our understanding. When we say the word fist, it is a noun, a thing. It is not a part of our body or an action we have chosen to take. Thus we can ask "what happens to my fist [noun-object] when I open my hand?"(p.5). Because our conventions are different from Asian conventions it is difficult to study Zen using translated Asian texts. We are missing the context. "... so that one who thinks in Chinese has little difficulty in seeing that objects are also events, that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities." (p.5) It then takes pages of examples, explanations, quotations and analysis to get the feel of Tao and wu-wei. Wu is non or not, wei is action, doing, striving, busyness or grasping. Other concepts from the Tao are also expressed. The next chapters deal with India's religious background, Buddhism, how Buddhism changed when it became accepted in China, and the beginning of Ch'an (China) and Zen (Japan). The book goes gingerly, step-by-step along the path of understanding, yet it never condescends. In Watt's words, the difference between Zen and other meditation traditions of Buddhism is the feeling that "awakening" is quite natural and possible to attain in this lifetime, at any moment. Your regular family life and duties can continue to be fulfilled while you experience the "thunderous silence" of enlightenment. The second part of the book, the principles and practices of Zen are understandable because of the context explained in the first part of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this old friend for this review.

I'm not a huge Watts fan

I'm not a huge Watts fan - usually too esoteric for me. But this is a great introduction into Eastern Philosophy. He discusses several major currents in Eastern religious philosophy - from Taoism, Hinduism, the different 'brands' of Buddhism to finally Zen. What I found astonishing about the book is that it does not merely explain - or not explain - but rather give a feeling of what Zen is all about - in true Zen fashion. I keep rereading this one, just to remind myself of its profound insights.

Even though Watts was ver

Even though Watts was very early on the Zen bandwagon, he recogized that Americans needed a)a good historical introduction to the subject and b)a way to bring that history into their context. He does both.

A concise history that ta

A concise history that takes great pains to distance the subject matter from traditional western readings of Zen and Buddhism, and in so doing, detach the practice from exoticism, nihilism or anti-intellectualism. He also makes very clear that the zen experience is not to be used propositionally in any deductive argument for ethics, theology or metaphysics. Phenomenology and the study of the unconscious have given way to analysis and science since this was written, but it still holds up well.

I found this to be more d

I found this to be more difficult than I expected, though there were parts that switched on light bulbs for me. I liked the last chapter best, about Zen art. Much of the book refers to the impossibility of explaining Zen or attaining enlightenment with verbal instruction, so the concept of using art, such as paintings, poems, ceramics & gardens, to put us on a path to understanding makes sense. I feel I understand better how Zen is reflected in art.
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