Saturday, August 6, 2011

Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai By Shunryu Suzuki, Mel Weitsman, Michael Wenger





This book is billed as a sequel to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki's classic collection of talks on Zen, but it stands on its own considerable merits as an eloquent, humorous series of lectures on the Sandokai, an eighth-century poem central to the Soto Zen tradition. These lectures show Suzuki, head priest of Tassajara monastery in California until his death in 1971, using his line-by-line exposition of the poem to illuminate what it means to practice Zen Buddhism. He stresses the simultaneity of the relative and the absolute, skillfully using words to direct his listeners toward understanding, all the while emphasizing that words are merely fingers pointing at the moon of enlightenment. Suzuki's devaluation of the verbal frees him to embrace humor and paradox as teaching methods; his examples range from ancient Chinese stories to anecdotes about weeding in the Tassajara garden and encountering an earwig. Readers of his previous book will be familiar with his earthy, clear, intense style. This book also conveys the texture of monastery life; it recounts 12 consecutive talks and includes the question-and-answer sessions at the end of each talk. These exchanges offer some of the most fascinating parts of an already excellent book, as they explicate some of the unclear points and illuminate the indirect yet confrontational quality of traditional Japanese Zen teaching.

















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