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The Way of Zen Paperback – Illustrated, January 26, 1999
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- Item Weight : 8.6 ounces
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375705104
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375705106
- Product Dimensions : 5.17 x 0.51 x 7.96 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated Edition (January 26, 1999)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #8,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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just buy the printed version and enjoy the feel and smell of paper and ink.
Anyone interested in the history and development of Zen practice (through it's roots in Taoism and Buddhism) as well as its principles and practice (in natural life and in the arts) should look no further than Alan's book. He presents ideas that are as frustrating as they are revelatory. The kind of ideas that you must not grasp to grasp. Ones that are grown of spontaneity rather than created by trying. It's fun to think about, fun to read, and offers plenty for an eventual reread as well. I loved it.
'Awakening almost necessarily involves a sense of relief because it brings to an end the habitual psychological cramp of trying to grasp the mind with the mind, which in turn generates the ego with all its conflicts and defenses. In time, the sense of relief wears off–but not the awakening, unless one has confused it with the sense of relief and has attempted to exploit it by indulging in ecstasy. Awakening is thus only incidentally pleasant or ecstatic, only at first an experience of intense emotional release. But in itself it is just the ending of an artificial and absurd use of the mind.'
Trying to explain Zen in particular is arguably much more difficult than trying to explain Buddhism in general. However, Alan Watts managed to convey Zen in a way I could grasp. I would guess Zen can never be truly understood, but at least now I know what Zen is, how it differs from mainstream Buddhism, and how much it has influenced Japanese and Chinese culture.
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He keeps repeating that Westerners find Zen thought baffling, but his explanations for why this is are not altogether convincing. This is possibly because he believes that in the West we think serially, using language (in our heads), rather than adopting the more holistic thought processes of the East. This view of Western thought is now rather dated - we all think holistically - so in fact Zen is closer to Western thought than he claims.
Also he struggles to clarify Zen morality. There is a sense in which the "no thought" approach evades morality entirely, which he tells us, but he does not go on to address the issue of how Zen adherents can commit violent and savage acts (the Samurai etc) with equanimity: No thought can equal No responsibility.
Nevertheless, Watts does succeed in presenting a complex subject to Western readers, in a book peppered with insightful observations.
Here are just three:
"the Mahayana is not so much a theoretical and speculative construction as an account of an inner experience."
"It [Zen] does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes."
"one does not practice Zen to become a Buddha; one practices it because one is a Buddha from the beginning–and this “original realization” is the starting point of the Zen life."
This is the book for anyone interested in achieving a greater level of understanding of Buddhism and Zen in particular.
Altogether a good introduction.