i had always had a semi-interest in buddhism, derived from ecstatic readings of 'dharma bums' by jack kerouac (another must-have), but disappointed as i couldnt find 'big sur' at the bookstore a month ago, i chanced upon the religion section, and zen keys shone out on the shelf, i picked it up, read a page of thich nhat hanh's contemplative prose, and immmediately bought and took it home devouring it in my bedroom for hours. Nhat Hanhs compassionate and understanding approach to Zen Buddhism makes learning about it easy, and also very rewarding. his take, which is no ones take at all but rather the truth, about zen makes for free-minded thinking thru the eight negations, mindfullness of everyday life, and the wisdom of the zen masters in the kung-ans at the end of the book. i cannot help but be forever changed by this simplistic yet beautiful overlay of Zen Buddhism. anyone, everyone, Americans and materialism and all, MUST read this, dont lose your life in forgetfullness and apathy and be lost in worldly pursuit, be a monk.
Hardly a day goes by without a new Thich Nhat Hanh book - which is a very good thing. A Buddhist monk who fled the American War in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh leads a world-wide community centered at Plum Village in south-west France. A critic and target of both the Communist regime and the U.S. backed South, he became well-known in America and a friend of Martin Luther King and Daniel Berrigan. Just as Chinese political oppression forced Tibetan Buddhists onto the world stage, Thich Nhat Hanh's exile allowed the West to come to know Zen better.
"Zen Keys" is one of his earlier books and, unlike many others, is not a meditation text. "Zen Keys" is a serious introduction to the history and practice of Zen from the Buddha to the present. And Zen is practice. Unlike Western religions, Zen does not rely on dogma. Zen and Buddhism are methods of enlightenment, coming to know the real world. We have learned to "see" they world through reason and emotions. Reason and emotions are not bad; they are insufficient to come to know the world. "Reality, he writes, "is only reality when it is not grasped conceptually." (112)
Zen is the practice through which we come to know the world. Using some of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and other works, I have tried meditation. No, I have not attained enlightenment, but I have discovered all too many ways in which I have failed to see reality. Have I come to be a better human being because of "practice"? You'll have to ask someone else. And, yes, it is disconcerting - but so freeing - to realize that my idea of myself is a construct I've assembled over time and not who I am.
As Thich Nhat Hanh points out, Zen and Buddhism do not lead to "navel-gazing". He is a proponent of engaged Buddhism, a modern term which reaches back to one of the oldest schools of Buddhism. He writes that in living in the world we have created, "What we lack is not an ideology or a doctrine that will save the world. What we lack is mindfulness of what we are, of what our situation really is." (155)
Take that, you Communists and Capitalists!