In the introduction to Essential Zen, the editors remark in very Zen-like fashion that this book cannot rightly claim to represent anything "essential" at all about their subject; for how can mere writing bring readers to the heart of a teaching that lies "outside words and letters"? The essential Zen in book form, they say, would "more likely consist of blank pages; a reader fills them in. Or not."
But what a blessing that Tanahashi and Schneider, like others in Zen's long and prolific literary tradition, have nonetheless decided to spill a little ink and attempt to point toward that which cannot be told. In this lively little volume, they bring together some treasures of classical and contemporary wisdom that capture the enigmatic soul of Zen. Included are familiar works from classical masters--haiku by Japanese poet Basho, stories from philosopher Dogen, poems by Chinese recluse Hanshan, and koans and meditations by monks and nuns dating from the 5th century. And placed alongside "on equal footing" with the works of venerated Asian teachers are writings by contemporary Westerners--from poet Gary Snyder to students from Zen centers around the United States and Europe--emphasizing the fresh spirit or "nowness" of the tradition. At turns deeply serious, poignant, and humorous, the selections cover a wide range of concerns, from the inevitability of death to the importance of environmental stewardship. But all have in common a rootedness in the physical present while recognizing its fleeting nature; there is a freedom, they seem to say, that comes in appreciating but not clinging to the things of this world. Each piece is presented "clean," without accompanying commentary, but the editors' excellent endnotes give valuable biographical information and background on unfamiliar concepts. More than an accessible introduction to Zen for Westerners, this is a collection to be read for its insight into what it means to be human in a changing world. --Uma Kukathas
From Library Journal
Like many Zen texts, this book begins with a mild apology for the irony of creating yet another collection of words for something that claims to exist outside the realm of words. Once this has been said, however, the compilers dig into the subject with great enthusiasm, creating an eclectic collection that draws from the most familiar classic texts to contemporary musings. How often, for instance, would you find Leonard Cohen juxtaposed with Dogen? The arrangement is often inspired, with creative chapter headings that complement the selections and sometimes cast them in a new light. This is the kind of book that you can keep nearby, open at random, and be pleasantly surprised by over and over. The equal time and attention given to the growing body of significant teaching from contemporary masters and practitioners keep the collection fresh; with its firm grounding in the classic texts, it brings Zen alive to the present moment. Highly recommended.
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Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll., N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.