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Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn Paperback – February 18, 1994
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From the Back Cover
Consisting of dialogues, stories, formal Zen interviews, Dharma speeches, and letters using the Zen Master's actual words in spontaneous, living interaction with his students, Dropping Ashes onthe Buddha is a fresh presentation of the Zen teaching method of 'instant dialogue' between Master and student that, through the use of astonishment and paradox, leads to an understanding of ultimate reality.
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I'd be lying if I said I was able to figure out the various kong-ans, but I'm sure I'm not the only one (I wish there were answers to these riddles, BUT that's probably asking for way too much). However, I did notice that even though I didn't understand the kong-ans that certain things did make more sense as the chapters went on... So, by the end of the book, you have a slightly better understanding than you did at the beginning. This book definitely needs to be reread. Some stories are just plain funny, some are puzzling, and some have a story to tell. *It seems that every other page someone is getting hit hard, hahaha... It's a good thing that hitting is a sign of affection from student to teacher. I've never read a book even close to something like this - it makes you wonder how amazing this man was in person. I subsequently purchased another book from Soen-sa, "Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake". I want to see how this one fares as well.
I'm hesitant to take a stab at this BUT, if I had to write something that I learned through these pages:
Naturally scriptures, holy reading and their corresponding history are very important (so is growing up and learning all the necessary skills we need to survive in this crazy world). Additionally vital is at some point in our life, we have to stop thinking we know everything. Human beings today are at a point where we just think our way through life. We think we have an explanation for everything --- I think, I think, I think.... We forget our true nature of just feeling or experiencing `things as it is'. Instead of simply experiencing something right in front of our eyes --- we sit, stare, try to break it down and explain it all... With all of this going on, we fail to realize that this precious moment is fleeing from us... What should we do? We must drop everything - `put it all down' and realize these things staring us in the face, every second of every day. We have to lose our overactive mind, and just see with our eyes what is in front of us - appreciate it for what it is, and experience it for all it has to offer...
I can honestly say that after reading this book: what I thought I knew - I DON'T KNOW...
When I first read this -in 1979 - it was like: I've never seen anything remotely like this. I had read 2 or 3 Zen books previously - they seemed interesting but "normal" - whereas this was anything but normal. Only decades later -helped by Seung Sahn's later "Compass of Zen" and some about the Chinese and Korean antecedents - do I see how this fits.
You can read this for the ideas, or the stories, or for the history (as a record of the arrival of a new religion from a very foreign shore). And for practise: his colorful:English expressions (only go straight-don't know) are like "seeds" for meditation, aids to "cut off all thinking". So I found this useful as a meditation guide even though it does not give anything like formal instruction (the group's web site does, though).
This is maybe more useful as a "second" book on eastern spirituality - after a "first" more conventional one. It also some tolerance for certain types of questions: when you see objects are they outside your mind or inside? (But these are meditation seeds, not philosophical treatises.). That's how I came to it - and found it fresh and compelling and unexpected.
'Dropping Ashes on the Buddha' gives an excellent description of Zen teaching, and the mindsets that come with different levels of understanding within the framework of Zen. It engages in active puzzle solving, using both ancient parables, humor and dharma speeches to convey how to use this puzzling to cut off thinking, and achieve a quieting of the mind. I give it five stars, because it gently explains, in plain English, some very subtle points of experience and understanding that have taken hundreds of masters many years to articulate. It is an enjoyable reading experience, despite the circular and repetitive nature of Zen teaching. I have read this book over and over, at different points in my life, and I have learned many things from it.
I would recommend this book to beginners interested in Zen, and to people who have followed the path for a very long time. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in what Zen has to offer insofar as peace and the prospect of letting go are concerned.