Tuesday, October 5, 2010
'Zen Training' by Katsuki Sekida
Buying it was very out of character for me because, as I've probably noted in this blog somewhere, I avoid modern texts on Zen. I find too many of them to be recycled hippy-isms, thinly veiled New Age delusions masquerading as Zen, or meaningless ramblings written by frauds to whom Zen is big business. I believe Zen is practiced by doing zazen, pure and simple, so in my opinion reading books, going to retreats, being a vegetarian, etc. is all just 'window dressing'.
As a result, I've kept my Zen reading to minimum. That's been tough, because when I get 'into' something I'm typically a voracious reader on the subject. But in the case, I've sternly restrained myself. I have the koan collections mentioned above, a slender volume of works attributed to Bodhidharma, some haiku by Basho, and a few translations of ancient texts. That's about it! Not saying my way is the best way or anything, but I'm setting the stage for how hard it would be for a modern book to cut through my formidable mental alarm systems and cynicism (but it's not cynicism if it's true, right?!).
Simply put, this book is amazing! Many things I've learned through zazen are woven into this text, so it's clearly an authentic person writing a legitimate treatise on Zen. Some key terms mentioned in Zen texts are described in a very straightforward manner. While I haven't yet appreciated the hardcore physiological passages on breathing, the focus on the tanden is dead on. Interestingly, this focus mirrors what I have always been instructed to do in my martial arts training.
For anyone reading this that is thinking about trying Zen out, I would not recommend this book to you (not at first). A person new to Zen might inadvertently use the text as a 'how to' manual or adopt its content with a dogmatic attitude, neither of which was the author's intent (or would move your work in Zen in the right direction). Rather, I think it's best to read it after spending some time in zazen and figuring things out for yourself. After you have some experience, this book would then have a positive impact.
For me, Zen Training has provided some valuable guidance and compiled many key concepts I have found to be important into a single volume. While this doesn't make me interested in checking out additional modern works, I'm certainly thrilled to be proven wrong about my blanket dismissal of modern Zen texts. This is a very thoughtfully written book by someone who clearly has spent a great deal of time practicing Zen.