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An Introduction to Zen Buddhism Paperback – January 13, 1994
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While expounding on the basics of Zen, Suzuki is always quick to respond to questions the reader might have. He dedicates an entire chapter to countering the oft-heard argument that Zen is nihilistic. The final chapter covers daily life for Zen monks, giving Westerners a glimpse of what is common knowledge for Japanese (or was several generations ago).
The book is not perfect, however. Suzuki covers only the Rinzai school of Japanese Buddhism, leaving the Soto school out in the cold. Also, like any Japanese Zen scholar, he tends to do a little Theravada bashing, claiming that it is "primitive" and unrefined.
D.T. Suzuki was a professor of Buddhist studies, and not a Zen adept himself, so it is important to also read an account of Zen from a personal and practical angle, to complement Suzuki's scholarly approach. For that, I recommend QUESTIONS TO A ZEN MASTER with Taisen Deshimaru.
This is a knock-off with just three chapters instead of nine, and it looks like somebody made it at the local copy-shop.
Note: I saw the bad reviews for the kindle edition, but assumed that was a format issue and the paperback would be okay.
Suzuki's "Introduction to Zen Buddhism" helped a lot to open the door to Zen Buddhism and philosophy and to wet my appetite to learn more about it. To a westerner eastern philosophy can be pretty tough to digest, so I was always a bit suspicious about western authors explaining eastern philosophy. After learning about Suzuki's life he was definitely credible to me. Another important aspect about his books is that he wrote them in English himself. All too often excellent books from far eastern sources got messed up by mediocre or pretty bad translations.
The only things I did not like about this book, something also found in a number of other books of this kind, is the too lengthy introduction. However written by a famous and very knowledgeable man (from the west) it did not contribute lot to the book's subject.
Something else I missed after re-reading the book after more than 20 years is the fact that there is no real practical advice on how to get started with Zazen the proper way.
"Introduction to Zen Buddhism" is not an easy read (like many Zen books), but it has definitely become one of the more important Zen books in my library.
The introduction is written by Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, who tells us, that the oriental concepts of Tao, satori, and the Buddhist concept of kamma are so different from Western ideas that it is difficult to translate. Yet he gives his highest recommendations to this volume -- no small matter, from one such as he is... a world famous psychiatrist and psychologist. The Zen texts say "enlightenment" is a natural occurence, and that it is a state of insight into the nature of self. Jung tells us it is a state of "spiritual reality", that 'satori' is a psychic occurence. It is a state of 'seeing things differently', a state of "consciousness of the consciousness" ... It is associated with "becoming whole" ... a spiritual experience that is part of consciousness ... but more expansive. Jung considers it is duty to tell Westerners -- it is "the longest of roads" -- "difficulties strew the path" -- "trodden by only a few of our great men" -- it remains for most -- "a beacon on a high mountain, shining out in a haze future". [p.27]
D.T. Suzuki in his "Preliminary" describes the two paths of Buddhism, the Lesser Vehicle and Higher Vehicle. "Personal experience is everything in Zen." [p.33]"No amount of meditation will keep Zen in one place." [p.41] He provides chapters on "nihilistic zen", "illogical zen", and "zen a higher affirmation". Practical zen, koans, and acquiring '"satori" or a new viewpoint' are well documented with fine examples. For a book of *only* 132 pages the breadth, width and depth of detail is astonishing. The author proves to be a master of his subject, indeed, no one else can whet the appetite of a beginner and have them searching to know more. This is the best gift a writer can provide -- this author provides us his *very* *best*. Erika Borsos (erikab93)