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Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace (Compass) Paperback – January 8, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this exquisite primer on Zen Buddhism, author and ordained Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams is not trying to convert African Americans into a new religion. Instead, she is simply presenting Zen principles and practices that emphasize living a life of grace and self-acceptance. Having faced the daily challenges of growing up black in America, she is especially adept at showing how these Zen principles apply to the African American experience. "People of color are especially in need of new ways and new answers to the separation and fear we face each day," Kyodo Williams writes. "It wouldn't be a stretch to say that as black people, more than most groups in this country, we live our daily lives with the distinct taste of fear in our mouths.... While the principles offered here are not an antidote to the underlying reasons for our fears, they can give us a different way to approach them."

Kyodo Williams offers a savvy yet tender voice as she walks readers through the basic principles of Zen. It's hard to resist her invitation to take on the numerous sensible vows that lead to enlightenment, such as staying true to the warrior spirit while "committing ourselves to practicing good." The bottom line is that this is a book about claiming the strength, compassion, and integrity that dwell within everyone. And although it speaks to the particular needs and trials of the African American community, readers of all colors and walks of life will find this an irresistible invitation. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Compatibility with other traditions is an unsung strength of Buddhism. Here, ordained Zen priest Williams makes a compelling case for African-Americans to embrace this practice that originated far from their fundamental roots on the continent of Africa. Although she does not advocate that African-Americans replace their traditional religions with Buddhism, she does believe that Zen's practical approach to ordinary life can help them, noting also that Buddha was a brown-skinned person. Williams, who is African-American, quite comfortably employs black vernacular, balancing such light moments with meatier discourses on the particular history and weight of blackness. Williams's primary thrust, however, encompasses the basic whats, hows and especially the whys of Buddhism. Under her effective touch, such concepts as Bodhisattva Vows, Pure Precepts and the Eightfold Path become accessible possibilities for a better everyday life. Postures and procedures round out this unassuming primer that squarely embraces Zen (meaning "meditation"). With subtle persuasion and highly readable prose, Williams advocates that a "warrior spirit" of truth and responsibility is a good fit for people who "want to know how to be here in this life and be okay just as we are." She has reached well beyond her stated audience, for to whom does this not apply? (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Compass
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140196307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140196306
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"being black" is not all that it seems. Angel Williams has eloquently expressed in her a book a statement of the revelance of Buddhism for African-Americans. She clearly lays out the foundational philosophical principles of Buddhism and shows how it can be adapted in African-American lives. All of us want to live in fearlessness and grace. Williams explains an alternative pathway for this to finally unfold.
"Being Black" is a book that should have been written years ago. Buddhism in the United States has all to often been seen as the repository of white intellectuals. Very few African-Americans were in its fold and Buddhism wasn't considered as an other option for the spiritual growth of Blacks. Angel Williams has opened the door to the Dharma and the invitation is out to come and explore Buddhism. She is not preachy nor does she disrespect other religious traditions. You are provided another way of viewing and developing your spirituality.
I thoroughly enjoyed her book and hope others will follow in examining, exploring and digesting its contents. Of special note are the varied resources and web sites that can be accessed to give you even more information. Her chapter on meditation and the varied postures is a gift well worth opening.
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By A Customer on June 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The book was a gift in every way. Ms. Williams has demystified the East and made Zen down to Earth. As an African- American woman, I've been searching in vain for a spiritual home. Thanks to Ms. Williams, I think that I've found one. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for guidance on her/his spritual path.
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Format: Hardcover
Rarely are we able to look into the life of a person who is as honest and sincere in the telling of their story. This book goes far beyond the how to of ZEN and fixes its sights on the why. She manags to articulate her defining moments and bring the reader in to draw parallels in their own experience. I literally laughed and cried throughout this book. It is not often that we are able to see a black person in their full spectrum of human being. This book is in direct contrast of popular cultures simplification of the African American.
A Mexican-American male's perspective
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Format: Hardcover
Being an over 40 African American male dipping and dabbing in Zen for several years I read with Ms. Williams book with pride and anticipation, not to mention a small bit of skepticism. My skepticism being, how could she focus on being Black and still be true to Zen belief? But just as I thought, being Black had to take a back seat to her Zen way of life and principles. Ms. Williams did a great job in keeping the focus on the fact that she was a Black Woman mostly through pass experiences and tribulations. Responding to events with the knowledge and wisdom she possessed during that time in her life.
After a few chapters it became evident that she realized the time had come in her life to move beyond the personal heartache of racism and injustice in America. That Zen could allow her to be in it, but not of it. Minimizing the sting and ugliness of racism from a purely personal phenomenon to a universal sickness in the one. No longer being totally consumed, but living a wisdom that is much greater then the screen or projector. She did a wonderful job of introducing Zen in a basic and simple manner. A format that should help African Americans or anyone else that is looking for a path.
I rated this book a 3 only because I had read the outcome before opening the cover. The outcome being that yeah we can talk about Blackness and the hardships endured, but once introduced to the wisdom of Zen. You have no choice but to move the debate from the centricity of I to the universality of we.
Ms. Williams keep up the good work and I pray and meditate that the African American Zen community continues to grow.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found "Being Black:Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace" to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

The Book is written in a language that is clear,to the point, and easy to understand. Free from the "psycho-babble" that some books on Buddhism tend to be bogged down with, 'Being Black..." is written in such a way that I felt the author empathized with other Black people who find themselves alone on the Buddhist path and in life.

Sharing in the problems we as Black people sometimes face in our family and social settings.Touching on the negative self talk that we sometimes indulge in.Showing how we can be our own worst enemies at times.

Don't get me wrong-anyone and just about everyone can benefit from reading this book, regardless of race or spiritual path.

It teaches,inspires,comforts,and is even entertaining in some parts.

I highly recommend this book to all who are on a spiritual quest to improve their lives.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Learning about what being a Buddhist means from someone who is not a white academic is very liberating. Too much has been written from a very narrow, academic, view point. The academic perspective is important but the actual lived experience of humans, all humans and all beings, is one of the aspects of Buddha's teachings. Angel Kyodo Williams brings the perspective of a Black Woman whom is also a teacher of the Dharma to the general reader. She also reaches out to minorities who are too often, whether white buddhists are aware of it or not, shunned from participating in the life of many American Sanghas. The religious background of many Blacks in the United States is that of being Southern Baptist. Kyodo williams addresses how this background informs her experiences in the US, with various Sanghas and with Buddhism, specifically Soto Zen Buddhism, in particular.
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