- Series: Tuttle Library of Enlightment
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Tuttle Pub; 1st edition (April 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804819882
- ISBN-13: 978-0804819886
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Tao of Zen (Tuttle Library of Enlightment) Paperback – April 1, 1994
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If I were a true Zen Buddhist, and I am not, I would seek refuge in the 3 Jewels, live by the Five Precepts (or Five Mindfulness Trainings as they are called by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn), practice based on the Theravada Suttas on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness and the on the Full Awareness of Breathing, and read a chapter of the Dhammapada along with the Heart Sutra everyday. Some folks wouldn't even call that Zen Buddhism, let alone Zen. However, I'm a Shia Muslim who practices Irfan (something like Sufism), so I seek refuge in Allah and my belief and practice is defined by the 5 Roots of Religion and the 10 Branches of Religion. And yet, like other non-Wahabi Muslims, I find things that I like and can use in Theravada and Zen Buddhism (and perhaps other forms of Buddhism), and well has the Lao Tse and the Inner Chapters of the Chuang Tse.
The stories about Bodhidharma and Hui-neng have always been of interest, as well as later Ch'an and Zen Masters such as Linji and Dogen, despite their somewhat different approaches to Zen. Ray Grigg touches on the stories of Bodhidharma and Hui-neng, seeking to separate myth from fact. In the second part of the book, Grigg attempts to show the relationship of Zen and Taoism for one who consider the two schools the same thing. Certainly, Taoism influenced Zen Buddhism. While I'm pretty certain that I would consider myself a Buddhist if I practiced unadulterated Zen Buddhisn, I believe there are many who would approach meditation without the "fetters" of "Buddhism". Right Action versus Right Inaction.
As noted, Griggs addresses the relationship of his two major subjects (Tao and Zen) from two angles. Part 1 of the book is subtitled "The Historical Connections", while Part 2 focuses on "The Philosophical Similarities". (Actually, the last two chapters in Part 1 start the transition from history and social backdrop to thought and spirit, with a quick diversion into the emigration of both Zen and Taoism to the West in the 20th Century.) Both of these "sub-books" use an organizational structure focused around relevant topics; this works very well in manifesting the nature of Zen and exposing its Taoist philosophical roots (perhaps "anti-philosophical roots" would be a better way to put it). However, in attempting to outline the historical and cultural forces from which Taoism and Zen evolved, this structure introduces unnecessary confusion.
Most historical treatises are structured in terms of chronology; you start in the distant past and work your way toward the present. Griggs starts you down the path of temporal development, then jumps to a different topic and might suddenly back up a few centuries. His sub-chapters represent a desultory mixture of places (e.g. Buddhism in China), personalities (e.g. Lao Tzu and Bodhidharma), and events (e.g. Taoism-A Brief History). Thus, you have a key figure or event or school of thought mentioned in one sub-chapter, only to be re-covered a few chapters later, usually without any cross-reference. And the meaning or importance of the figure or event or thought can seem inexplicably different in differing contexts.
Given this zig-zag approach, it is difficult to trace the arc of cross-pollination which occurred over many generations between Taoism and Zen, and to distill the key themes of this process. What is especially frustrating is Griggs' repeated assertion that the early Zen movements advertised and exaggerated their Buddhist Indian doctrinal heritage at the expense of the obvious Chinese Taoist roots (and also Confucian), so as to gain some kind of political advantage.
Griggs continually asserts the presence of Buddhist revisionism in Zen, but fails to explain the who, how and when of it. E.g., "Zen Buddhism's inclination has been to explain the origin of kung-an in terms of Indian philosophy"; "as with Bodhidharma, his [Hui-Neng's] relevance has been skewed by the Mahayana need to be associated with India and Buddhism rather than China and Taoism"; "Bodhidharma's purported arrival in Canton in AD 520 and his succession from the lineage of the Buddha are a pious invention of later times, when the Zen School needed historical authority for its claim to be a direct transmission of experience from the Buddha himself . . ." I never got a good answer to my question, i.e. why the C'han movement in China and the early Zen movement in Japan desired such Indian authority.
By the middle of the book, one is left with a lot of historical coincidences and circumstantial evidence regarding a strong Taoist presence and inspiration at the dawn of the Zen movement. Griggs leavens this with a sprinkling of quotes from modern writers who support his thesis that "Zen is Taoism disguised as Buddhism" (the opening sentence of the preface). And yet, the result is basically a stew that hasn't simmered long enough.
However, the true worth of Griggs' approach shines through as he starts to explain the inscrutable essence of Zen (to the degree that anyone can approach Zen via language) via the more accessible yet still profound words of the Taoist tradition. The parade of short chapters discussing fundamental notions such as oneness, emptiness, balance, paradox, non-doing and ordinariness build naturally upon one another, each new concept emerging quite logically (again, to the degree that logic has anything to do with Zen), and yet expanding beyond the reach of the previous one.
There are plenty of great quotes in "book two", both from the pen of Mr. Griggs and from a handful of commentators whom he favors (including Roshi Suzuki, D.T. Suzuki, Frederick Franck, and the de rigueur thoughts of Alan Watts). These could fill a daily inspiration calendar for many months, if not years. A quick taste: "the ordinary is immune to understanding because it cannot be placed outside human experience for examination." One more, you say? OK, try this: "Within the changing of everything, there is a pervasive stillness; within the stillness, everything changes."
I have been a "Zen reader" for over ten years, and have been actually practicing it for only two. I must say that The Tao of Zen (second half) is a very profound and beautifully written exposition of what I have learned and experienced from my practice. Really, during my whole life (given that the true Zen and the true spirit of Tao, to the degree that we can even imagine them, are a whole-life process).
The usual Buddhist expositions of Zen often seem rather harsh and rough-edged (and modern psycho-scientific approaches to it can be bland and saccharine). A Taoist exposition as Griggs provides comes much closer to touching the humanist inspiration that must lie at Zen's core, while preserving its essential vitality. I still can't say for sure after reading this book that Zen is more truly Taoist than Buddhist in origin and nature. Perhaps it's the best of both worlds.
But the Tao and Zen certainly do strongly complement each other; they add up to a whole greater than the parts. Griggs describes the Zen that I want to practice, more clearly than any other "Eastern writer from the West" that I know of. Your results may vary, but after a bumpy start, I found The Tao of Zen to be a very worthwhile experience.