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Ambivalent Zen : One Man's Adventures on the Dharma Path Paperback – March 25, 1997


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Vintage Depart edition (March 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067977288X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772880
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Seeking help with his basketball game, Shainberg embraced Zen Buddhism in 1951 and was catapulted on a life-long spiritual journey. Alternately comic and reverential, Ambivalent Zen chronicles the rewards and dangers of spiritual ambition and presents a poignant reflection of the experiences faced by many Americans involved in the Zen movement.

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Customer Reviews

It is honest and very well-written.
R. B. Parker
Perhaps this is because he didn't want to sound too bitter, but it sounds too careful, too thought out.
K. E Hart
I read Shainberg's book when it first came out and then re-read it again this last weekend.
Robert G. Harwood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Parker on December 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Shainberg's book is great for all of the reasons given in the earlier customer reviews. I read it in one sitting on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Couldn't put it down. It is honest and very well-written. Going past Okayama, I realized what Shainberg clearly understands, you cannot be enlightened unless you can say to yourself, "I am as enlightened as I am ever going to be." Believing that may not be a sufficient condition for actually being enlightened, but it sure is a necessary condition.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Harwood on January 23, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, a little background for this review. I spent 35 years searching for the truth (Who am I? Where did I come from? Is there a God? What are subatomic particles? What could explain the "observer paradoxes" in quantum mechanics? etc.). Zen helped me find everything I was searching for (it required 15 years of attentiveness). Although I ultimately left Zen behind, I am unspeakably grateful for all the help I received from various Zen Masters and other Zen practitioners I met along the way.

I read Shainberg's book when it first came out and then re-read it again this last weekend. I had forgotten how incredibly funny the book is and how honest Shainberg is in reporting his experiences. When I read it the second time, I was struck most strongly by the pernicious power of Shainberg's "monkey mind." It's hard to believe that someone could do as much zen practice as he did without his mind quietening down enough to allow a few major insights. Nevertheless, I take him at his word. It reminds me of one of my friends who told me that after meditating for two years, his internal dialogue had not diminished at all and that he had never had a single moment of mental silence. I guess some people just have bad karma. Either that, or some people just don't want to know the truth badly enough. Personally, I was eaten up by the need to understand. I felt like a rat in a trap, and the idea of dying without ever understanding the universe struck me as absolutely intolerable. I was willing to die to know the truth. Ironically, what I discovered at the end of the trip is that I had never been born! For those who are still trapped by their thinking habits, try to make sense out of that statement.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Reads like a novel. I couldn't put it down. Every time I would nod my head in agreement, the next page would reveal a completely different way of looking at the thing. Then I would nod my head, once again. Amusing, insightful and genuine.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sitter on December 12, 1997
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tackles his spiritual search w/ alternating humor and seriousness--was a book I couldn't leave half finished.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By sbr02@gnofn.org on August 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
Author Shainberg's honest and poignantly absurdist true storyof a life spent in pursuit of equanimity features a lineup of teachersas fascinatingly unconscious of their distance from equilibrium as the cast of Dallas.
First, there's the father, a successful Memphis department store magnate dominating dinnertime conversation with personal existential laments. A philosophical hummingbird who dips into the wells of Krishnamurtism, KarenHorneyism, AllanWattsism, DTSuzukism, the senior Shainberg makes their teachings a peculiar confirmation of some unspecified emotional malaise, happily projecting a sense of his own failure. In fact he is dominates at business and at home, the star of his own firmament, successfully competing for the lion's share of his family's attention and sympathies, and making an apparent virtue of self doubt. And, there's a legacy to be carried forward after his death. He sends both of his sons to psychiatrists as a matter of course.
Then there's the inscrutable family psychiatrist intent on remaining the long term inscrutable family psychiatrist who, after years of analysis, on the day Shainberg quits says. . . he's been looking forward to that day ... but why the need for approval?
There's a Japanese Zen Master whose mastery has affinities with Masters and Johnson.
There's an American Zen Master real estate developer.
There's a karate master who heals long distance by telephone energy, belly to belly.
And as a foil to all this madness one true voice, from a comically and brilliantly malaproping Japanese Zen monk, whose modesty in personal expectation, Lawrence, even by the end of the book, cannot make his own. In the end there is not Zen but ambivalence, its antithesis.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. Hunt on September 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
I've read lots and lots of memoirs by Westerners on their experiences with Buddhism, but for me none are as well written and wisely perceptive as this. Shainberg has an unusual ability to report honestly and vividly on both his inner life and the behavior of his teacher. He doesn't try to be profound nor funny nor eloquent, but his account ends up having all these qualities.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 16, 1997
Format: Paperback
I have laughed with relief since picking up this book. Similar doubts, questions, revelations, joy, pain and peace have entered and left my practice. Every person interested in buddhism should read this book on their "adventures on the Dharma path."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ryan on November 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Ambivalent Zen is the tale of a man's search for some form of release; a way to calm himself in order to overcome his problems. At a young age, Shainberg hears about the concept of Zen and thinks that it might help his basketball game. However, it seems to distract him more than anything. This doesn't stop him and he continues along his path following the spiritual and philosophical books his father had read and presented to the family at the dinner table. He eventually discovers D.T. Suzuki and the practice of zazen.

Ambivalent Zen not only shows us Shainberg's path along the Zen trail, it also allows us to see the beginnings of how Zen grew in the U.S. The main thing I find I like the best however are his interactions with his last teacher, Kyudo Roshi. Kyudo Roshi seems to always have a simple answer which is never dull. I think this is a good book for anyone to read, but obviously those who have an interest in Zen would get more out of it.
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