149 of 172 people found the following review helpful
A Westerner's Guide to Zen Buddhism,
This review is from: Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives (Paperback)
This book is not new material. I wouldn't say it is groundbreaking or that it changed my life. Probably because I am already acquainted with the principles of Buddhism and Eastern thinking. So I didn't find anything new here that would give me a "wow" factor like all the other reviews claim. What I did find is that it presents the ideology in a down-to-earth, real-life format, thus making it easy for one to understand how to apply the principles to one's own life. The character of Socrates, the teacher, is lovable and so well done that you really feel he's there with you. The storyline is well put together. Parts of it were taken from the author's own life and some were created, but they are seamlessly intertwined. The story flows and the book is a quick read. Millman also incorporates Plato's allegory of the cave and some zen koans within the plot to help enlighten you on some of the points that are presented. I already knew about Plato's allegory and some of the zen koans from before, they are classics, so they were not new to me but I did enjoy seeing how they were applied to the main storyline.
And now for the criticism. There were two things I didn't like about this book.
1. How little time or explanation Millman incorporates about his failed marriage and daughter. It just seems like a hiccup in his life. And that is why I believe Zen can only take you so far. I believe there is more to life than just letting everything go. What about forming relationships? What about atoning for your actions? If you hurt someone, it is not enough for you to realize it and let it go, you have to take action. At least seek forgiveness, let the person know you made a mistake and that you are sorry. Zen just seems to put you in a bubble and the truth is, we all are not solitary monks. We constantly interact with people, which brings me to point #2.
2. The author tries to breeze through the subject of altruism by making a couple of statements here and there. Apparently, learning to be a happy person by not wanting anything makes you care for others. I didn't buy it. The author doesn't really explain or give examples as to how achieving enlightenment will make you care for others. As a matter of fact, he even relates an anecdote in which he got upset when a homeless man asked him for money. He justifies his reaction buy just saying that all one has to do is just let it go. What about realizing that the anger was a result of the guilt of not giving the man any money? Again, the problem with Zen. It's great for learning how to be happy if you live in a bubble, but it doesn't give you guidelines on how your relationship to others should be. It only focuses on the self. That's kinda selfish when you think about it. There has to be more to life than just attaining your own enlightenment. What about putting that enlightenment into action by helping others and being a compassionate person?
Overall, this is a good quick read. It might be beneficial for unenlightened souls. But for those who are already on the path, it's nothing to rave about.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 25, 2011 10:45:02 PM PDT
Mike Light says:
Insightful. Thank you for posting.
Posted on Dec 15, 2011 7:34:11 AM PST
Tom Terrific says:
Rarely have I read a critique of Buddhism so concise, cogent and clear. And we so often miss what is missing in all the various self-help psychology we read because we bring all our own baggage with us. Meaning if I come to Buddhism from a Christian background I bring my presuppositions about the loving nature of God, his righteousness and his requirement that I be compassionate and caring like him. Such moral attributes are "tacked on" to modern Buddhism but are not derivable from the philosophy itself except as a form of enlightened selfishness. A Christian is taught, "Faith without works is dead."
Posted on Jan 22, 2012 11:10:55 PM PST
Alessandro Pagliai says:
if you are genuinely enlightened/self realized compassion and "altruism" naturally arise. the main thing in zen is pointing out nature of mind. when you understand who you are, you understand who other people are. The same as you. check out "Mooji" on youtube- i find him to be quite effective at pointing out nature of mind. there are other effective non duality teachers aswell that you can find on youtube. relationship practice is not excluded from zen, many circles dont focus on it, but of course there are many secs in buddhism, and many different teachers in zen. check out Shambhala buddhism - they go into it. john welwood is very awesome to look into if you interested in growth in relationship. im on chapter 2 in the book im not sure i like im into it, socrates seems very authoritative and ive noticed some fallacies he has used which kinda bugs me... for instance, to paraphraze, 'they say we all have a different path... socrates looks up at the sky and smacks his head, and im part of your path...' the context of that saying is you need to find your own path and not blindly follow what others say, its a call for the contemplative devotional path which needs intrinsic motivation to work. in this case he should not necessarily follow what socrates says but dive into it for himself. of course it doesnt seem that he has intrinsic motivation per say quite necessary for this stage of development in the path. so perhaps it is effective in this particular case. different teachings for different people depending on what they need i guess. :) wanting to hear back from you anything that organically arises, blessings.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2012 9:00:54 AM PDT
Mai C. Lee says:
Wanted to thank you for the suggestions for the relationship aspect of zen. So thanks for being so helpful. :D
Posted on Jun 11, 2012 2:07:44 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
I'd like to add some historical context to this discussion. I was visiting the Eastern section of a museum in Portland when I saw a paragraph on the wall that explained that Zen developed after the Mahayana movement as a return to individualistic self cultivation, which original Buddhism was. So perhaps while being compassionate and altruistic we need to remind ourselves to not leave our inner soul neglected?
Posted on Apr 5, 2013 10:22:45 PM PDT
David Helm says:
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2013 4:09:30 AM PDT
Why would you "come" to buddhism from a christian background?
you are saying some of the teachings in the book and the movie are "tacked on" the buddhism but are Christian?
Posted on Aug 30, 2013 9:08:16 AM PDT
John R. Gigliotti says:
Please take no offense to this comment, but you do not know enough about Zen. Zen is all about the present moment. That means making the most out of this moment by being compassionate towards yourself and others. You atone for mistakes in Zen through confession and asking for forgiveness. You don't live in a bubble when you are a lay person, like you and I. So you must be responsible for your actions and live in a healthy and happy way. That is the Zen way.
Posted on Sep 30, 2013 6:13:16 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2013 6:22:36 AM PDT
>> Again, the problem with Zen. It's great for learning how to be happy if you live in a bubble, but it doesn't give you guidelines on how your relationship to others should be. It only focuses on the self. That's kinda selfish when you think about it. There has to be more to life than just attaining your own enlightenment. What about putting that enlightenment into action by helping others and being a compassionate person?
I'm a Christian/Mormon and I can understand your point. However, I think your understanding of Zen/Buddhism is not deep enough. It's not just about yourself. I have found a lot of value in Buddhist techniques for living, not least of which is the ability to be truly present with those I love.
A person from France once told me: "It is not about giving up on love, respect and such things, in fact it is about giving and receiving without craving it. When we crave something from a loved one, we take from them without consent, instead of freely giving. It is about living life, just here and now, not for what is going to be done tomorrow. And giving love and smile, just smiling towards somebody might give them joy."
You might find this discussion interesting:
Posted on Oct 12, 2013 4:10:41 PM PDT
How could seeking a sense of oneness with other living things result in anything but fulfilling relationships? To find compassion within ourselves, we first have to spend a lot time looking inward, it's true. Once that compassion is awakened, however, really awakened, the practice of detaching oneself from material desires becomes very clear in it's value for contributing positively to society. It's only by letting go of what I want, that I will ever be capable of helping others get what they need.
I'm not enlightened, and I want many things, but I can't deny how deeply those truths run within me (and how profoundly I am now able to recognize that they always have).
Please, give the book another read. Maybe a little more slowly this time.