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Customer Review

267 of 298 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Misleading title for a possibly great book, February 3, 2007
This review is from: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice (Paperback)
I do not want to detract from this book's worth or wisdom in any way. No doubt the glowing reviews reflect the book's significance to the lives of those who have read and UNDERSTOOD it.

My only caveat is that for complete novices--like myself--the title is misleading, and therefore the book's teachings were not very accessible to me. The term "beginner's mind," as used in this work, refers to the idea of maintaining an open, childlike mind, and never acting or feeling as though one has ACHIEVED enlightenment. Be always searching, always growing.

"Beginner's mind" should NOT be taken as an indication that this is a book for those like myself who are newcomers to the study of Zen (i.e. "beginners"). Maybe you're an "old soul," but new to Zen, in which case, you may get more out of this book than I currently do.

As someone who instinctively feels that Zen has something BIG to offer me if only I can understand what the hell the books on Zen are talking about, this is NOT a good introduction. Zen terminology is thrown around as though I already know what the terms mean. The description of poses (without benefit of pictures) is confusing, and I must admit that I [shallowly?] found myself ticked off: if I couldn't figure out a stinking pose (or even get BEYOND the fact that I couldn't figure it out), how on earth was I "deep enough" to get my foot on the path to enlightenment?

For anyone who, like myself, needs something a little more concrete to get me started, something I can sink my literal Western teeth into, this ain't the book! I believe I personally need something a little less esoteric to start with, a book that bridges the gap between my VERY literal-minded Western upbringing and the much LESS literal mindset required of adherents of eastern religion/philosophy.

I also believe that if I am able to bridge that gap (using other resources), THEN I will be able to appreciate this book's teachings and will certainly come back to it.
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Tracked by 10 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 26 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 30, 2007 5:02:04 AM PDT
Dear Mr. Allen,
The fact the you admit your not getting 'IT' shows your potential. For a purly Western and secular place to start would be Mindfulness by Ellen J. Langer (she's a smart lady). But the book that helped me understand Buddhism enough to read and understand other books is The Zen Eye by Sokei-an (search for the book useing the authors name that the only way I can get it to come up). Good luck, and try to remember to be patient but persistent.


Posted on Jan 5, 2008 2:59:05 PM PST
Try "The Compass of Zen," by Seung Sahn. It was my first book on Zen, and I thought it was pretty good at explaining all the terms and basic ideas of Zen philosophy. I'm sure there are many others that are as good as this one, but I found it very helpful in my own development and I really like the "style" of Seung Sahn's teaching. Very light-hearted and direct. Give it a look. Good luck.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2010 5:32:39 AM PDT
Geekdomo says:
To be honest Buddhism For Dummies may be perfect as a really basic intro into Buddhism and Zen practice. Do not let the name insult you, it is instead a great rundown of the real basics and is SUPER easy to "get". Hope this helps.

Posted on Oct 21, 2010 8:32:57 AM PDT
J. Satori says:
You could also try "The Book" by Alan Watts.

Posted on Nov 18, 2010 8:15:36 AM PST
Mim says:
As you can see from the comments, there are many opinions on where to begin! I've found that I just began with a book long ago and continued to read. People suggested books, I found them at Amazon and other places... I don't even remember the first book I read.

I was going to suggest Buddhism Plain and Simple. As I recall it helped me "sort things out" a bit. I read comments on its site on amazon and some seemed to think it didn't offer "enough". Recommended instead, Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das. I read it long ago, as well, and it is was also helpful.

I also wish you good luck, patience, and persistence!

Posted on Jul 28, 2011 7:32:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 28, 2011 7:35:18 PM PDT
Mr. Allen,
Now, four years later, I wonder if you were able to find a good book on Zen. I hope so, and hope that exploring Zen has been productive for you. On the other hand, if Zen is still puzzling to you, that would not be surprising. I am not sure that there truly is a good way to get started with Zen, other than to find a Zen center (or teacher) and give it a try in person. You touched on the problem in your review; the very literal western mind compared to the less literal eastern mind. Plus, most experienced Zen practitioners will tell you that it is not an intellectual exercise for anybody. A book really can only give you a taste. Practicing Zen is more like practicing piano, or going to the gym. It requires the participation of your body. Practicing yoga is closer to Zen than reading about Zen. This book, ZEN MIND BEGINNER'S MIND, addresses the issue when it covers those sitting positions which had no pictures. Perhaps the lack of pictures was deliberate, and maybe the author expected you to find a teacher instead of learning from a book. (For what it is worth, The Three Pillars of Zen has such pictures, if you are unable to find a teacher.)

The truth is that Zen is very difficult for asians, and even more difficult for westerners. The cultural gap is enormous here. The truth is that I personally only know one American that actually became a committed Zen Buddhist (I have not) and fewer than ten who have a feel for it. It does require a lot of effort, and is not for everybody. Reading books won't hurt a thing, but it also won't get you there.

Posted on Aug 12, 2012 10:08:55 AM PDT
J. Davis says:
If you wish to learn the posture look it up. it is yoga sitting positions, lotus and half lotus. zen requires effort.
"to study zen is to study yourself. to study yourself is to forget yourself." one of the points of the book is that reading about zen is only to help you practice. understanding comes from practice.

I have read several books and have been sitting for several years. I keep a copy of this book close and read it like a christian would a bible; each reading feels new and fresh and I get it more or get something I didn't see before.

Posted on Oct 21, 2012 11:22:06 AM PDT
I appreciate your honesty, however, there are some things that one simply has to have personal contact with a zen master for. I don't necessarily go with the poses either, but please do remember that this book was intended for the rank beginner, and, as with a lot of other how-to books, you cannot expect to compose a symphony or build a house from an early music book or a woodcrafting book. It does take direct experience PLUS reading the guide. I believe the phrase in the title, Beginner's Mind, refers to being always fresh and new as you alluded to, but don't confuse simplicity with difficulty. The master also gave an two-word definition of Zen, that being, "Everything Changes." Best wishes.

Posted on Jun 16, 2013 6:52:54 AM PDT
Koan says:
I spent my whole life searching for the "Truth" and I found it.
1) I started with monotheistic religions, sufism and Yoga and found nothing.
2) Chance led me to Zen. I red all books available on the market. convinced that I must have a teacher, I joined the Zen center in Rochester, NY. Red their bible The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. In Session (7 days extensive sitting) everybody will attain Enlightenment. I was not satisfied with Zen.
3) Thru my continual reading I stumbled on the Tantric meditation, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness. It is the best way for meditation and doesn't try to alter your mind's forms to grasp the metaphysical.
4) Fate introduced me to the philosophy of Schopenhauer and everything became clear and the truth has been revealed.
5) The best book that really studied Meditation and Enlightenment on real, scientific and practical basis is The Will's Harmonic Motion: The Completion of Schopenhauer's Philosophy, second edition.

Posted on Jan 29, 2014 11:34:36 AM PST
amyd says:
Listening to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle on audio helps guide me into a good state and understanding.
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