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Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life Paperback – November 11, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

<p >“John Tarrant is one of the most interesting minds in American Buddhism. He weaves his deep immersion in Buddhist practice, Western psychology, and the arts into a unique yet completely authentic story of the Zen life and its mysteries.”—Melvin McLoed, editor-in-chief, the Shambhala Sun <p >“You’ve never read a Zen book like this before. Having digested the traditional koan literature, which he has taught for many years, Zen teacher John Tarrant cheerfully goes beyond it. His koan re-tellings read like postmodern short fiction, complete with anti-heroic characters, visible scenery, and attitude. Rather than the usual Zen mystique that treats koans as arcane meditation objects, Tarrant discusses them as open secrets that actually matter for our lives here and now.”—Zoketsu Norman Fischer, poet and Zen priest; author of Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls

<p >“Bring Me the Rhinoceros is one of the best books ever written about Zen.”—Stephen Mitchell, translator of Gilgamesh: A New English Version <p >“Here’s a book to crack the happiness code if ever there was one. Forget about self-improvement, five-point plans, and inspirational seminars that you can’t remember a word of a week later. Tarrant’s is the fix that fixes nothing because there is nothing to fix. Your life is a koan, a deep question whose answer you are already living—this is the true inspiration, and Tarrant delivers.”—Roger Housden, author of the Ten Poems series <p >“Every life is full of koans, and yet you can’t learn from a book how to understand them. You need someone to put you in the right frame of mind to see the puzzles and paradoxes of your experience. With intelligence, humor, and steady deep reflection, John Tarrant does this as no one has done it before. This book could take you to a different and important level of experience.”—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul <p >“John Tarrant’s talent for telling these classic Zen tales transforms them magically into a song in which, as you read, the words disappear as the music continues to echo in your mind and make you happy. Mysteriously, like koans.”—Sylvia Boorstein, author of Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake

From the Inside Flap

"Bring Me the Rhinoceros is an unusual guide to happiness and a can opener for your thinking. For fifteen hundred years, Zen koans have been passed down through generations of masters, usually in private encounters between teacher and student. This book deftly retells fourteen traditional koans, which are partly paradoxical questions dangerous to your beliefs and partly treasure boxes of ancient wisdom. Koans show that you don't have to impress people or change into an improved, more polished version of yourself. Instead you can find happiness by unbuilding, unmaking, throwing overboard, and generally subverting unhappiness. John Tarrant brings the heart of the koan tradition out into the open, reminding us that the old wisdom remains as vital as ever, a deep resource available to anyone in any place or time.
"Here's a book to crack the happiness code if ever there was one. Forget about self-improvement, five-point plans, and inspirational seminars that you can't remember a word of a week later. Tarrant's is the fix that fixes nothing because there is nothing to fix. Your life is a koan, a deep question whose answer you are already living--this is the true inspiration, and Tarrant delivers."--Roger Housden, author of the "Ten Poems series
"Every life is full of koans, and yet you can't learn from a book how to understand them. You need someone to put you in the right frame of mind to see the puzzles and paradoxes of your experience. With intelligence, humor, and steady, deep reflection, John Tarrant does this as no one has done it before. This book could take you to a different and important level of experience."--Thomas Moore, author of "Care of the Soul and "Dark Nights of theSoul
""Bring Me the Rhinoceros is one of the best books ever written about Zen. But it is more than that: it is a book of Zen, pointing us to reality by its own fluent and witty example. John Tarrant has the rare ability to enter the minds of the ancient Zen masters as they do their amazing pirouettes upon the void and, with a few vivid touches, to illuminate our lives with their sayings."--Stephen Mitchell, author of "Gilgamesh: A New English Version
"This book's straightforward honesty, clear writing, and destabilizing insight have a profound effect. John Tarrant does indeed bring on the rhinoceros and a host of other powerful but invisible creatures, ready to run us down when we refuse to acknowledge the fierce, awkward, and beautiful world we inhabit"--David Whyte, author of "Crossing the Unknown Sea
"John Tarrant's talent for telling these classic Zen tales transforms them magically into a song in which, as you read, the words disappear as the music continues to echo in your mind and make you happy. Mysteriously, like koans." --Sylvia Boorstein, author of "Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; Reprint edition (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159030618X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590306185
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no end to the making of books; Amazon exists for that, and it's great to learn how to, say, repair a window.

But in the "wisdom" category, 99% of books merely engage the old chattering mind, and you just end up with new noise. Nothin' wrong with that, but somehow, Tarrant does something different when he writes, and I come away smiling deep, breathing freer, paying closer attention to my wife, my tasks, the wind battering the tree limb against my window. I shake my head again and again at how much I'd been missing. Sometimes, this shift persists for hours.

Hey, reader: you've earned a brief reprieve from worry and other secret babble. Don't miss this one; it may take you home to the core.

And I, after reading way too many books, don't know how he does it.
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Koans are gateways for a Zen practitioner to realize Buddha nature. John Tarrant's book is a pleasant introduction to some of the "Greatest Hits" of Koans, adding one new one of Australian aboriginal origin. (Tarrant is a Tasmanian.)

The form of realization that Tarrant focuses on is the one-ness of all things. Over and over he describes the experience of realization as perceiving all things as glowing with presence and meaning, accompanied by the feeling of certainty that you are all things and that all things are you. He makes it seem as if that specific experience - should you ever get there - is the end of suffering, the beginning of the potential for true happiness.

The initial Kensho (realization) experience is, in general, a shallow one. If you place too much emphasis on it and get stuck in the initial experience of one-ness there's a "zen stink" associated with that condition. It takes years to internalize and broaden the initial realization to the point where you can be called "realized". Even a long-ripened realization can be seriously incomplete. Tarrant and also Yasutani roshi, Eido Shimano roshi, Genpo Merzel roshi (among many others) are cases in point that being realized - even deeply realized - doesn't necessarily make you a good person, a happy person, a smart person, a compassionate person, or someone who does not suffer or cause others significant suffering.

John Tarrant broke with Aitken roshi's Diamond Sangha in 1999 due to a well-publicized dispute about unethical behavior. Readers of this book should learn more about that split to understand who Tarrant is in the Zen world. See the link to a PDF on Matthew T.
Read more ›
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By eShu on December 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book sneaks up on you.

When I first came across "Bring Me Rhinoceros" in a favorite used bookstore I thought "The nerve of John Tarrant! How dare he try to explain what is essentially unexplainable!" I flipped through it, read a couple of passages here and there and put it back on the shelf.

But some of the things I read stayed with me. And after a few months, I found myself wanting to explore the book more. So I broke down and bought it.

As I read the book, I realized Tarrant is not trying to explain the koans at all.

He first presents each as they were originally written (translated into English, of course). Then he explains the history and historical environment around them, which can sometimes be important to their understanding. Finally, he relates a personal experience around working with the koan.

And like the koans themselves, Tarrant's words slowly creep into your thinking. And sometimes they contain brief flashes of enlightenment. But the book definitely has expanded my own practice and study of the koans.

But don't take my word for it. Like all good koans, this book is best experienced for yourself.
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Format: Paperback
Other than this, there are very few books available to entertain those who are already awakened. There is little for the mind here so the book will be greatly misunderstood by most people. It is written from Being so every word is unconditional love. It is packed with gems and "truth" sufficient to make me aware of patterns used by masters to awaken others.

I've always admired Zen's single focus of awakening people. The writings demonstrate the deep intelligence (not cleverness) of koans and how they can stress the mind from three dimensional thinking into four dimensional paradoxical experiencing. The process may take a year or more so don't expect results from reading this book.

The only other book I know of that gives such a wonderful experiential example of awakening is Byron Katie's "A Thousand Names for Joy". If you have already surrendered to reality, this is a book you'll love.
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HAND ME THE RHINOCEROS is a brilliant little book on Koan practice in Zen. Koans are little riddles ("What is the sound of one hand clapping?") the contemplation of which can cause an enlightenment experience.

Tarrant illustrates a number of Koans with a series of chatty personal tales. There's nothing of the esoteric in Tarrant's writing. These obscure epigrams are attacked in a straight-ahead manner that both illuminates the nature of Koan study and (less importantly) provides some guidance to the answer.

Whether the reader is an experienced Zen student used to working with Koans or the rankest newcomer to the cushion doesn't matter. BRING ME THE RHINOCEROS will bring you to a clearer understanding of the Great Matter.
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