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Grassroots Zen

by Perle Besserman, Manfred B. Steger

Buy the book: Perle Besserman. Grassroots Zen

Release Date: 01 June, 2001

Edition: Hardcover

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Buy the book: Perle Besserman. Grassroots Zen


Why Zazen (Meditation) Is Important

There was interesting anecdotes and bits of wisdom scattered thoughout this book. But the gist of what they had to say, the importance of doing Zazen, could have been told in a short essay instead of 163 pages. It showed creativity on their part to expand it as well as they did. Still, there are books on this subject that are better than this one.

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Clearly Zen

This is one of the best book on Zen for Westerners that I know. Along with Steve Hagen's Buddhism Plain and Simple, Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism without Beliefs, Mark Epstein's books on Zen, and Guy Claxton's The Heart of Buddhism, it offers a vision of Zen Buddhism stripped of its monastic trappings and religious attachments. This book is Zen and all spiritual practice seen clearly. (Thus, as a person who still clings to his Christian heritage, Grassroots Zen has helped me see what is worth keeping and what must be let go in Christian spiritual practice.) Grassroots Zen works because the authors have tried it all and decided to work for a community of practice that is democratic and open, one that is unafraid to leave behind the shaved heads, the abbot's rules, and the roshi's robes.

The book is organized around three basic categories: time, space, and motion. Our ways of seeing time, space, and motion, through the eyes of a persisting "self" standing at the center and peering out, deeply shape our experience of existence, our sense of who we are and what we are doing in our strange appearance on a minor planet. In approaching Zen this way, the authors are especially successful in opening up the deep challenge offered by Zen to our commonsense ways of shaping experience.

Grassroots Zen urges us to stop making existence a category and a story and to instead leave it as it is, as we find it: an extraordinary experience. Here is where the book is at its best as the authors try to speak of what the experience of living like that is like, without arguing for yet one more story among the long and dreary menu of Western accounts of enlightenment or of the quest for no-self or for the true self.

For me, this makes Zen more anti-story than story-free, a practice that constantly prompts us to observe the narratives unfolding in our head and instead to wait for, and attend to, the freedom and freshness of the never-ending story of the present moment with all of its difficulties, humor, pain, and joy.

As Basho put it in his lovely Haiku (A Haiku is included with each chapter heading): Hello: Light the fire: I'll bring inside a lovely bright ball of snow!

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