First a disclosure: I’m a friend of the author’s. But I will give you an honest report, as is appropriate for a book about a way of sincerity. This is a book about Tim Burkett’s life on the path of Zen Buddhism as it illuminates the path for others to learn from. The book mixes copious and wonderful stories from his experiences with his famous teacher, Suzuki Roshi, from Tim’s own life as a Zen student and teacher, and from the Buddhist and allied traditions to create a well-woven narrative that is simultaneously teaching, autobiography, and remembrance of another.
I’m not a Zen adherent so there are aspects of the book that I didn’t resonate with. But nonetheless I felt myself elated to be reading it. Mainly it was because as I read the first few chapters I felt like I was reading a book unlike any I had read before. In fact, it wasn’t that the book was so unique—in it’s themes, say—but that reading it didn’t feel like reading a book at all. It felt like a direct encounter with a person. The book is the testament of someone who has digested a way of life so thoroughly that there feels like little Zen teaching in it that isn’t carried in Tim’s own voice and personality. You sense—though it’s embarrassing to even say it outright—an achievement of a life. And it was immensely refreshing and heartening to bear witness to it.
It’s also an achievement of an editor. The three themes are woven beautifully together so that the multiple purposes of the book are in harmony with each other pretty near completely.
These are the pleasures that readers will derive. In addition, it is a very penetrating presentation of the Zen way, particularly in a contemporary American context. I think both Zen students and those unfamiliar with Zen will learn a great deal from this book.