Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: This Truth Never Fails, by David Rynick

This Truth Never Fails is a new and fresh book newly published by the Buddhist-orientated Wisdom Publications. It is divided into four parts, each one representing one of the four seasons, hence its subtitle A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons. As such, it is a series of reflections on all of life's vagaries - as experienced by David Rynick, the author. In these Zen-orientated observances, he explores the relevance of Zen Buddhism to everyday life, referencing his personal history as a way of making concrete what many books only represent in the abstract. It is, therefore, a work centered upon the Zen notion of everyday mind, in that our ordinary mind is the gateway to our underlying Buddha nature.

"[But] the point of Zen not about perfecting the art of sitting still. The real-time complexity of our everyday lives is where our most challenging (and rewarding) practice takes place. Zen does not offer a magical escape from the ups ad downs of our lives. However, as we learn to meet what is arising with curiosity and compassionate, the quality of our ordinary lives is transformed."
(This Truth Never Fails, pp.2-3)

Neither does Rynick avoid his own human imperfections, recognizing them, even honoring them, as part of his Zen experience. He writes beautifully in one section of his nostalgia for when his infant daughter would play with him for hours, accepting that she is now an adult, but also allowing a sense of loss to manifest at the same time. In this respect, David Rynick is an engagingly honest writer, and the reader is quite naturally led to much empathy with his sentiments. He is no macho Zen master barking imperatives and admonishments to his audience - at least not in this book!In the following extract, the author writes about his daughters Melissa and Rachel, and their cat, Mullein:

"We were heartbroken when Mullein died in Melissa's arms ten years later [after getting the cat].
Our daughter Rachel - who was three or four at the time and was already turning out much better than the cat - was heartbroken too.
I still like the idea of practicing loving by beginning with what is around us - the rocks and trees, the desks and sinks, the dogs and cats.
Other human beings, especially ones we really care about, are so complicated and challenging that we would do well to get all the practice we can."
(Ibid. p.66)

Another laudable quality of this work is Rynick's prose, which is lovely. It has a smoothness to it and warmth that complements its beauty, all of which makes This Truth Never Fails a delight to read. Whereas so many books on Buddhism are rather dry, leaving the reader knowledgable but not necessarily more compassionate, Rynick encourages his reader to open up to life and those around them. This tenderness infuses the whole work, meaning that each of its often pithy reflections connects the reader with this life, bringing along with it a hint of Zen.

"This dark December morning, I sit in my comfortable writing chair next to the radiator with a cup of tea and a blanket. My white laptop warms my top, and my green bought-in-Oregon hat covers my bald head top. The radiator hisses for a few moments, then begins its soft expansive pinging, I feel the faint sense of warmth on my cheek. My fingers do their exquisite tap dance on the keyboard. I don't really know how they do it and I appreciate their functional wisdom that is not owned by the person that I imagine myself to be"
(Ibid. p.94)

The book's strengths, then, are in its homely wisdom, reflecting the truth of Zen in normal life. There is much in it about family, feelings, aging, pets, birthdays and Christmases. All this is in the constant context of Zen, though, and therefore becomes a teaching, rather than simply a collection of memories. It is not a work full of references to Zen masters and their weird and wonderful sayings and doings, and it is almost completely free of any Zennish jargon. These are, on the whole, much to the author's credit. If, however, you are looking for a book to inspire an awakening of Zen in you, this may not be it. Better to read either of the famous Suzukis (Daisetz or Shunryu), or perhaps the old masters like Huang Po and Dogen. On the other hand, as a book to help one reflect upon everyday life, infusing it with a sense of openness and compassion, it is of great value. And who knows, maybe just this much will be enough to allow Zen to shine forth.

Title & Author : This Truth Never Fails, by David Rynick
Publishers      : Wisdom Publications
Page Count    : 248
Price               : $10.77 (on
ISBN               : 1-61429-008-3

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