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Entering Zen Paperback – April 13, 2011
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About the Author
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Howard holds a doctorate in English Literature from Syracuse University, where he studied with Donald Justice, Philip Booth, and William Wasserstrom. Before his retirement in 2006, he taught literature, writing, classical guitar, and Buddhist meditation at Alfred University. For the past four decades he has contributed poems, essays, articles, and reviews to leading literary journals here and abroad, including Poetry, the Sewanee Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Shenandoah. The author of ten books, he has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Milton Dorfman Prize in Poetry and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives with his wife, Robin Caster Howard, in the village of Alfred, New York.
Top Customer Reviews
While never drifting into cliches or gliding into the ether, Howard's commonsense, steady, and alert gaze at what he sees from the vantage point of a retired professor of English in upstate New York reveals the insights he has gleaned from decades of "just sitting"-- and from moving about his neighborhood and writing for his small-town paper what he sees that can help readers learn more about Zen, and perhaps to take up some of its practices for themselves. With this collection, what first appeared in the local paper and on his "One Time, One Meeting" blog can be consulted easily, and returned to frequently for inspiration and stimulation.
I first found out about his essays via a web search for images of a fountain pen to accompany a blog entry of my own. His piece, on how a fountain pen's disassembly taught one about the Heart Sutra teaching that "form and emptiness" define each other, stuck with me, as a lover of pens (mine was canary while his was plum, the same Sailor brand as it happened) and as someone starting to learn about Zen when I happened upon the website. Since then, for over two years, I've followed these pieces as they've appeared every other week.Read more ›
This familiar question came to mind when I received my copy of Entering Zen, Ben Howard's most recent collection of essays (these first appeared on Ben's blog, One Time, One Meeting).
At first, I thought the cover image was a painting done in a magical-realist style. But the credit describes it as a photograph.
What about the orange smudge on the left margin? What about the blank street signs? And what's that brownish rectangle on the back of the sign post? The image appears as one thing but then shifts into something else.
As it turns out, the cover image beautifully presages the essays in Entering Zen.
These short, finely-crafted pieces often begin with a literary reference or some artifact of daily life, and then pivot imperceptibly to encompass the world of practice and self-study. First one thing; then another. I frequently went back to an essay (they're short) in an effort to discover how Ben managed this graceful dance, just as I studied the cover image in an effort to understand its magic.
Here's a simple, abbreviated example of how an essay can pivot from one place to another (from the essay entitled, "Taking Care"):
"If you have lived in America for the past two decades you have almost certainly been enjoined to "take care" . . .
The wisdom of Zen . . . resides in everyday life - or, in this case, in the commonest of American expressions. So may I suggest that when you hear that expression, you regard it not as an empty cliche but as wise and timely advice."
Of course, by offering you a string of excerpts, I have stunted and betrayed the elegance of Ben's essay. So do yourself a favor and read the entire essay on Ben's blog.Read more ›
Howard's essays are typically inspired by an observation. Howard contemplates commonplace things -- the fountain pen he writes with, the ice dam on his roof, the oak tree in his backyard, the guitar music he plays, a poem that resonates, a casual remark or phrase that strikes his imagination. Howard then invites us to join him in contemplation. "If you have ever noticed," he often begins, referring the reader to some phenomenon that has caught his eye, then the reader, too, might just discover for himself the deeper truth which Howard is about to reveal.
Those truths are the small truths we can observe along with him and verify for ourselves. They are the pith and heart of Zen -- attentiveness, fresh observation, radical unmediated inquiry -- "just this." Each essay cuts right to the living heart of Zen. Howard guides us as a spiritual friend -- wise, knowledgable (without ever being pedantic), kind-hearted and witty. These finely wrought essays reflect decades of work toiling in poetic vineyards -- they are the epitome of grace and transparency.
Along the way, Howard drops useful suggestions about meditation, instructs us on Japanese aesthetics, helps us to appreciate the Japanese tea ceremony, and introduces us to some fine American, Irish, Chinese and Japanese poetry.Read more ›