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Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans Paperback – May 25, 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rodmell Press (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1930485255
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930485259
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,268,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Nicholas Aalders on August 10, 2010
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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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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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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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Ive known Richard Shrobe for years and could be a bit prejudiced, but I enjoyed this book and his prior two books. He was a boyhood friend of my husband, Ronald S. Finck, and both played jazz together in NY. First in Connecticut and then in NYC. I always turn to Richard's books when I have a difficult life question where I need an answer.
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I am a 15 year Zen student and tend to not read books anymore. A sangha member recommedned it to me, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the writing and approach to koans. It is one of the many Zen books that I started, but did not quite finish. Not sure why.
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