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Ambivalent Zen : One Man's Adventures on the Dharma Path Paperback – March 25, 1997

4.0 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Seeking help with his basketball game, Shainberg embraced Zen Buddhism in 1951 and was catapulted on a life-long spiritual journey. Alternately comic and reverential, Ambivalent Zen chronicles the rewards and dangers of spiritual ambition and presents a poignant reflection of the experiences faced by many Americans involved in the Zen movement.

About the Author

Lawrence Shainberg's books include Ambivalent Zen, Brain Surgeon: An Intimate View of His World, and the novels Memories of Amnesia and One on One. He has had numerous essays published in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Tricycle, The Village Voice, Evergreen, and a Pushcart Prize-winning monograph on Samuel Beckett published in the Paris Review.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Paperback Edition edition (March 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067977288X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772880
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. B. Parker on December 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Shainberg's book is great for all of the reasons given in the earlier customer reviews. I read it in one sitting on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Couldn't put it down. It is honest and very well-written. Going past Okayama, I realized what Shainberg clearly understands, you cannot be enlightened unless you can say to yourself, "I am as enlightened as I am ever going to be." Believing that may not be a sufficient condition for actually being enlightened, but it sure is a necessary condition.
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Format: Paperback
Author Shainberg's honest and poignantly absurdist true storyof a life spent in pursuit of equanimity features a lineup of teachersas fascinatingly unconscious of their distance from equilibrium as the cast of Dallas.
First, there's the father, a successful Memphis department store magnate dominating dinnertime conversation with personal existential laments. A philosophical hummingbird who dips into the wells of Krishnamurtism, KarenHorneyism, AllanWattsism, DTSuzukism, the senior Shainberg makes their teachings a peculiar confirmation of some unspecified emotional malaise, happily projecting a sense of his own failure. In fact he is dominates at business and at home, the star of his own firmament, successfully competing for the lion's share of his family's attention and sympathies, and making an apparent virtue of self doubt. And, there's a legacy to be carried forward after his death. He sends both of his sons to psychiatrists as a matter of course.
Then there's the inscrutable family psychiatrist intent on remaining the long term inscrutable family psychiatrist who, after years of analysis, on the day Shainberg quits says. . . he's been looking forward to that day ... but why the need for approval?
There's a Japanese Zen Master whose mastery has affinities with Masters and Johnson.
There's an American Zen Master real estate developer.
There's a karate master who heals long distance by telephone energy, belly to belly.
And as a foil to all this madness one true voice, from a comically and brilliantly malaproping Japanese Zen monk, whose modesty in personal expectation, Lawrence, even by the end of the book, cannot make his own. In the end there is not Zen but ambivalence, its antithesis.
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By A Customer on August 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Reads like a novel. I couldn't put it down. Every time I would nod my head in agreement, the next page would reveal a completely different way of looking at the thing. Then I would nod my head, once again. Amusing, insightful and genuine.
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Format: Paperback
Ambivalent Zen is a memoir by Author Lawrence Shainberg that describes his tangled history with the practice of Zen. This book could easily be subtitled Much Ado About Nothing because that is the conclusion I came to again and again as Shainberg described his journey through Zen. It never really provided anything but perhaps a momentary, at best, relief from the troubles of his daily life. It never offered any means of organizing his life and giving it him any sense of purpose. Nothing plus nothing times nothing equals nothing.

I will admit that this book has its moments. Shainberg uses an easy-to-read back-and-forth style, continuously shifting between his late adolescence and various periods of his adult life, as well as interspersing periods in the development of Zen practice both in the United States in the 60's-70's as well as its origins in Japan. And Shainberg's journey would make for a fun movie, so long as Woody Allen was cast as Shainberg and Pat Morita, in a version of his character from Happy Days, played Kyoto Roshi.
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First, a little background for this review. I spent 35 years searching for the truth (Who am I? Where did I come from? Is there a God? What are subatomic particles? What could explain the "observer paradoxes" in quantum mechanics? etc.). Zen helped me find everything I was searching for (it required 15 years of attentiveness). Although I ultimately left Zen behind, I am unspeakably grateful for all the help I received from various Zen Masters and other Zen practitioners I met along the way.

I read Shainberg's book when it first came out and then re-read it again this last weekend. I had forgotten how incredibly funny the book is and how honest Shainberg is in reporting his experiences. When I read it the second time, I was struck most strongly by the pernicious power of Shainberg's "monkey mind." It's hard to believe that someone could do as much zen practice as he did without his mind quietening down enough to allow a few major insights. Nevertheless, I take him at his word. It reminds me of one of my friends who told me that after meditating for two years, his internal dialogue had not diminished at all and that he had never had a single moment of mental silence. I guess some people just have bad karma. Either that, or some people just don't want to know the truth badly enough. Personally, I was eaten up by the need to understand. I felt like a rat in a trap, and the idea of dying without ever understanding the universe struck me as absolutely intolerable. I was willing to die to know the truth. Ironically, what I discovered at the end of the trip is that I had never been born! For those who are still trapped by their thinking habits, try to make sense out of that statement.
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