Wednesday, August 29, 2007

'Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings'

by D.T. Suzuki

Pub. 1956, some essays published previously 1949-55
Paperback, Three Leaves Press- Doubleday, 359 p.
(Book #37 for 2007, Banned Book Challenge - Book 5, Japan Challenge - Book 4)
The greatest writings of the twentieth century’s foremost authority on Zen are here brought together to form the most accessible and definitive overview of Zen philosophy available today. The collection includes a basic historical background as well as a thorough overview of the techniques for Zen practice. Each of the essays included here goes far beyond other sources for its penetrating insights and timeless wisdom.
Based on this book and the other book on Buddhism I read earlier this year, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t get Buddhism, especially Zen. I tend to be fairly logical and this seems to be the antithesis of Zen, so maybe I need to just accept that fact. The other book was frustrating in its repetition and almost condescending way of writing. This book also had lots of repetition, which seems to be an essential method of Zen, but it was written in a much more authoritative, educated voice. A bit too scholarly for this reader though. While the text was never annoying like in the other one, many of the essays simply lost me as he tried to delve deeply into the ‘essence of Zen’ and I have to admit that I skipped a bit during the last 100 pages. Except for the very last chapter, my favourite, that addressed the influence of Zen on Japanese culture, such as haiku, painting, tea ceremony. It’s those aspects of Japanese culture that have always fascinated me and maybe where I should direct my reading in future, rather than attempting to understand the Buddhism behind them.
Overall, the book started well but I struggled to finish it. It seems that Suzuki's writings are well respected so I do believe it’s my personal inability to grasp Zen rather than a particular failing on his part. I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone new to Buddhism but perhaps someone looking for a more in-depth look would appreciate it.
One final note. This was my final selection for the Banned Book Challenge. (Really!) According to The Forbidden Library:
Challenged at the Plymouth-Canton school system in Canton, Mich. (1987) because "this book details the teachings of the religion of Buddhism in such a way that the reader could very likely embrace its teachings and choose this as his religion." The last thing we need are a bunch of peaceful Buddhists running around. The horror.
My Rating: 2/5
"Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom."

“Zen is like drinking water, for it is by one’s self that one knows whether it is warm or cold.”


  1. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t get Buddhism, especially Zen.

    I am so glad to hear someone else say this! I dabbled in Buddhism a few years ago, but in the same way, I just never quite got it the way I thought I would.

  2. It's sad that they would ban a book just because someone might actually embrace the ideas behind it. Especially something like this.

  3. Nyssaneala,
    Well you're not alone. I'm ever so slightly more informed but not in any substantial way. Maybe one day it'll all suddenly make sense! :P

    Isn't it? I love the comment at The Forbidden Libarary:
    The last thing we need are a bunch of peaceful Buddhists running around. heehee!


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