Zen Reading

EnsoZen
Calligraphy by
Kanjuro Shibata XX
"Enso" meaning
Circle. Strongly
Associated with Zen

I have often been asked about what books to read about Zen.  Many practitioners would say that it is the practice and not books that will make a difference, but I have found many Zen books to be of great value and inspiration.


In my experience, reading books, when coupled with zazen (Zen meditation), creates a "pathway" that begins to penetrate through the barriers put up by (some would say subconscious) mind that lead ultimately to spiritual enlightenment.

The value (particularly) of Zen books is that they can be challenging as well as informative. Even something read, that you do not agree with, can act as a catalyst to trigger a response that can cut through belief-systems, and expose underlying insights.

There are two books written by the late Roshi Philip Kapleau that in my opinion are not only very informative on the subject of Zen itself, but reading through the pages can be inspiring and very motivating to anyone following the Way of Zen.

The first is The Three Pillars of Zen where the Roshi explains in detail the practice of Zen and what it is possible to gain from it.  He writes,  "[In zazen] the mind is freed from bondage to all thought forms, visions, objects and imagining and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe,"

Being almost 400 pages long and split into 3 parts, The Three Pillars of Zen is packed with information, with anecdotes and quotes from Zen Masters throughout history to interactions and lectures given to modern day westerners. Although I found The Three Pillars interesting to read from cover to cover, to this day, I often read single chapters or paragraphs for inspiration

The second book by Roshi Philip Kapleau  is Zen, Dawn in the West, an excellent companion book to The Three Pillars of Zen, and it draws upon Roshi Philip Kapleau’s experience from delivering seminars, workshops and lectures in Zen.

Where the Three Pillars of Zen provided instruction in the method of Zen Buddhism, Zen Dawn in the West reflects on the effect that Zen practice has had on American and European students, outlining their reactions from probing questions to doubts in their ability to reach enlightenment. This is followed by individual unique descriptions of transcending the everyday, thinking mind and realising enlightenment.

Although I have owned both of these books since the early 1980s, they can still be purchased on Amazon quite reasonably.  If you hover and click or tap the titles above, they will take to Amazon’s site.

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