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Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans Paperback


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Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans + The Gateless Gate: The Classic Book of Zen Koans + Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rodmell Press (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1930485255
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930485259
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Richard Shrobe (Zen Master Wu Kwang) is the guiding teacher of the Chogye International Zen Center of New York, and has been teaching in the Kwan Um School of Zen, the largest Zen organisation in America, for over twenty-five years. Shrobe is a certified Gestalt psychotherapist and instructor with a master's degree in social work. He now lives in New York with his family, and has a private practice in psychotherapy. He is the author of Open Mouth Already a Mistake, and Don't-Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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True failure is failing in every sense, but one can fail with grace.
Midwest Book Review
This is one of the good Western books on the subject of koans and Master Wu Kwang brings our ancestors' words to life.
Nicholas Aalders
This book will service anyone who has struggled with these ancient cases and comes highly recommended.
Adam Kō Shin Tebbe

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Aalders on August 10, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Master Wu Kwang has provided us with a very useful book. He unravels words and shines light into dark places with his insight into the structureless structure of the koans he has chosen. His wisdom and compassion are inspiring; the delightful personal anecdotes he weaves into his commentary are like sunlight on clear water. This is one of the good Western books on the subject of koans and Master Wu Kwang brings our ancestors' words to life.

Of great practical benefit in opening our moment by moment hearts to the practice of loving kindness, this book is also a wonderful inspiration for sitting, and a treasured guide to effortless effort on the cushion.

I recommend this boook to all serious koan students.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Harold Rail on July 29, 2010
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it must be difficult to write about koans because their very nature is non conceptual - but Elegant Failure does it -- elegantly! The nuances and stories behind koans are interesting and illuminating.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rugger Burke on June 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For thousands of years, Zen teachers have used koans (or kong-ans) as a teaching tool to awaken the mind of Zen students. Often described as riddles or paradoxes, koans are, as pointed out by the author "viewed as encrypted capsules of spiritual wisdom that can be penetrated only by those of special ability or after many long years of difficult struggle."

The simplest koans ground your thought: the sky is the sky, the mountain is the mountain.

Intermediate level koans strip away conventions (like naming): the sky is the mountain, the mountain is the sky.

The most provocative koans point to a greater understanding of the four aspects of the Zen universe (existence, nonexistence, both existence and nonexistence, and neither existence nor nonexistence): there is no sky or mountain, you are a blade of grass.

The author of Elegant Failure takes up the challenge of explaining more than twenty classic koans -- classic referring to koans tormenting students since at least the 13th century, with names like Yen-kuan's Rhinoceros Fan, San-sheng`s Golden Fish Who Has Passed Through the Net, and Tung-shan's Three Pounds of Flax.

He presents each koan, breaks down its historical relevance and then attempts to unravel its meaning. Many of the koans, as he explains, rely upon the reader to understand idioms of the Chinese language. Take, for example, Yen-kuan's Rhinoceros Fan. An English speaking reader wrestling with the koan would not likely know that Rhinoceros is interchangeable with the word "ox" and that the word ox is an allusion to the mind. Likewise, "fan" refers to permeation or sometimes(!) complications and "broken" refers to an enlightened experience.

Reading the book, I came away more frustrated with and allergic to koans than ever.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Adam Kō Shin Tebbe on December 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
Koans, or kong-ans as they are called in the Korean tradition, have eluded many Zen practitioners since their inception. Richard Shrobe, also known as Zen master Wu Kwang in the Kwan Um School of Zen, has recently authored a book on these enigmatic exchanges between masters and disciples in the book Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans. Derived from three important texts--The Blue Cliff Record, The Book of Serenity and the Wu-men-kuan, Shrobe has selected twenty-two cases supplemented with commentary from various Dharma talks he has given. Shrobe selected this group of kong-ans for their qualitative ability to assist those engaged in a meditation practice and, with more than thirty years of experience working with kong-ans, we can say he is an authority on the subject.

I certainly belong to that category of folks for whom koans have remained relatively obscure. Wu-Men himself, the compiler of the Wu-men-kuan, spent some six years of his life struggling with Joshu's MU. Some koans come very easily to us and others will elude us for years, perhaps an entire lifetime. Something Shrobe does masterfully in this work is found in his ability to make these ancient cases applicable and accessible by we the modern, Western reader. Were kong-ans bound by space and time they would have no relevance to us in our current practice. The commentaries which he provides us with offer wonderful insights in to the sometimes multi-layered facets of these enlightened exchanges, done in a manner that does not in any way spoonfeed the reader or `answer' what only we ourselves can find manifest in our lives, anyway.
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