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The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery Paperback – April 15, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“This small and memorable memoir records the experiences of a young Dutch student who spent a year and a half as a novice monk in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery . . . What makes this account extraordinary is that the book contains none of the convert's irritating certitude.” ―Time Magazine
“What is accessible is the day-to-day description of life, of the monks themselves and of the others he met, of the jokes they played and the food they ate, of the moments of satori, the explosive moment of an understanding surpassing understanding.” ―Los Angeles Times
Top Customer Reviews
In some ways, the book provides a basic introduction to the Zen precepts and the monastic way of life. After all, when he was writing it, there were very few books on Westerners practicing Zen. So in some ways, this book covers ground that many more recent, more popular books have covered.
However, this book is full of surprises for people who might have a one-dimensional view of monastic life. There is peaceful meditation, but there are also arguments among the monks. Van de Wetering apparently expected to transcend human life in the monastery, but inside, he found the same problems as outside. He also found his own need to escape, to occasionally go out for a beer. It's a central paradox most readers who practice Zen will sympathize with; we want tranquility, but suffering is so darn interesting. Sometimes this paradox, as van de Wetering presents it, is hilarious. Traditional Zen stories can be vulgar, and so can contemporary Zen stories. We, like the author, must reflect on our expectations and assumptions to see what is really there
Jan-san (as the author is called by his fellow monks) is totally honest in his account of his stay in Japan. His monastic life is mixed with occasional days off visiting brothels and eating food outside the monastary gates, while within its walls, the monks and master crack jokes, goof off, watch TV and share cigarettes.
Empty Mirror can at times be disillusioning, but only in the best way possible: the author approaches his new surroundings and genuine attempts at truth-seeking with that wonderful Western virtue of skepticism. A quick, memorable book that reads as much like a novel as it does a memoir.
There aren't many dates in the book (or I wasn't paying enough of that kind of attention to notice them), but I think he stayed at the monastery for more than six months and less than two years. His descriptions of the time are interesting, funny, warm, vivid, and all sorts of good words like that (and also rather dark, mordant and/or grouchy in tone, often frustrated, impatient, dissatisfied). He did not find the answers to life's problems, his knees hurt alot, he misunderstood the head monk and Zen master frequently, and he (like the other residents of the monastery) cheated and broke the rules with impressive frequency.
The writing is spare and specific; this is the story of what one particular set of months in one particular monastery were like. Any broad conclusions about The Meaning Of Zen Training or anything else are left pretty much entirely to the reader.
The author left feeling that the whole thing had perhaps been a failure; but the master said "now you are a little awake; so awake that you will never fall asleep again". Which altogether is more satisfying, I think, than perky converts describing how happy and fulfilled their new meme complex has made them.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A great read. A must for anyone interested in Buddhism.
I ordered the sequel to this book.
His writing style is fantastic
I read this book 20 years ago, and I recently had the desire to read it again. This is an excellent book! Enough said.Published 7 months ago by James Bishop
Like a series of letters written to home from someone spending their first summer at an overnight camp. Very raw and unpretentious. Read morePublished 12 months ago by DR.H
This is a simple account of JEs stay at a monastery. It's very readable,interesting, well written. I enjoyed the experience.Published 16 months ago by searching
Entertains. I could connect with the main character. The ending left me feeling dull.Published 22 months ago by Deborah Purdy
One of my favorite if not my all-time favorite books. I don't even know how many times I've re-read it and given it away (matter of fact, I've had to buy it a ridiculous amount of... Read morePublished on August 17, 2014 by Frank Miller
The book was in great condition and came promptly. The story is very good. Very satisfied.Published on August 14, 2014 by Kerry Kowalchuk
I enjoyed this book. A quick read that gave me some insight into the Zin way of living.Published on August 7, 2014 by M. Griffith