Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thai Buddhism: Land of the Buddha?

Thai Buddhism: A load of balls?

Living in Thailand gives a western Buddhist the opportunity to see Buddhism as an established part of a country's culture, as opposed to a minority interest as it is in the West. However, this is often a mixed blessing. For, while there is much to impress someone interested in how Buddhism manifests at a national level, there are also many aspects of Thai Buddhism that can leave the onlooker bemused or even disheartened. Examples of this are corrupt monks, corruption of the Buddha's teachings, and a populace obsessed with self-benefitting merit-making activities almost to the exclusion of actual Buddhist practice. We will take a closer look at each of these criticisms below, in turn.

Corrupt monks are a common news item in Thailand. Stories abound of monks banking donations to monasteries for personal profit, sometimes amassing fortunes that they and their families can spend upon themselves. Whilst this may seem reasonable to westerners used to evangelical Christian preachers who earn fortunes through TV performances, the rules for Buddhist monks are clear that they should not earn a penny (or baht) from their monastic duties. Indeed, monks are not supposed to even touch money, the more disciplined ones having laypeople handle monastic funds on their behalf. And it's not only the monkish cheats who are caught up in such greed, for it is a common sight to see monks in shops buying anything from furniture to iPhones with wads of cash in their robes.

Some Buddhists claim that it is difficult or even impossible in the modern, money-driven world to not carry some cash around, and that as long as it isn't to excess, it's okay for monks to handle money. However, monks that follow the patimokkha (the rules for Buddhist monks) get by without ever touching a coin, a note or a cheque - so it most certainly is possible, with the help of laypeople. It's worth noting here that laypeople should be willing to assist monks in certain areas, such as supplying food, robes, medicine, & shelter (usually a monastery). Along with these basic requisites, it is also permissible to offer whatever one wishes as long as it isn't likely to distract a monk from his monastic vocation. And here's the rub: in their rush to make merit for themselves, Thai laypeople will thrust just about anything at monks that they think will earn them more merit. Cell phones, computers, and cars are some of the more expensive items a monk can receive from a generous layperson.

The Buddha's teachings accepted as orthodox in Theravada Buddhism (which is primarily found in Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia & Sri Lanka) are called the Pali canon in English. In the original Pali language, which is the ancient Indian tongue in which they are recorded, they are known as Tipitaka, and are considered the earliest extant Buddhist teachings by many scholars. In these texts, which are many times the length of the Christian Bible, we find what Theravada Buddhists consider the actual words of the Buddha. However, when we compare the basic Buddhist teachings therein that promote peace, goodwill, mindfulness, & wisdom, with the commonly-held beliefs of Thais, there are gaping inconsistencies. 

Buddhism , as presented by the Buddha in the Pali canon is a path to freedom from suffering. The further we move along this path, the less suffering we create, until we realize nirvana and suffering is ended completely. This path, known as the noble eightfold path, in essence does not contain any superstitious elements, and is not concerned with supernatural beings such as gods or demons. It is a practical guide on how to live our lives based on morality, meditation & wisdom. Generosity is a precursor to practicing the path, and is associated with making merit for the future. It is believed that by doing good things, such as giving things to monks (as mentioned above), a person will store up good results from such action (karma). The problem is that most laypeople in modern Thailand pretty much only make merit, and don't bother to develop morality, meditation or wisdom: making merit is the easy option. It's akin to a Catholic 'sinning' all week, confessing their sins to a priest, and then doing all the bad stuff again until the next confessional.

This concern with making merit almost to the exclusion to practicing the eightfold path is somewhat disheartening to Buddhists committed to the path. In addition, the belief in supernatural beings that concern mosts Thais also distract from walking the Buddha's path to enlightenment. Gods, demons, ghosts, & spirits of various descriptions are depicted in Buddhist temples, homes, & schools, not to mention books, TV shows, films & comics. That Buddhism encourages its followers to consider the triple gem of the Buddha, his teachings & the community of enlightened ones as the focus of inspiration & devotion seems to get lost in this supernatural mix. Moreover, superstitious practices often take precedence over more purely Buddhist ones like reciting the Buddha's teachings or meditation. These include the wearing of amulets, magical rituals & praying for assistance, which are all criticized in the Pali canon.

In the introduction to this investigation, it was mentioned that there is much to impress someone interested in how Buddhism manifests at a national level. The above observations may have led the reader to despair at this prospect, possibly thinking it impossible amidst all the stuff described. However, this would be untrue. For, while it is this writer's opinion that Buddhism at large in Thailand is in a pretty sorry state of affairs, hope remains. Two examples of this are personified in the monkish figures of Ajahn Chah & Ajahn Payutto. The latter is a highly-respected scholar monk that has been working in Thailand for several decades, writing books about Buddhism based on the Pali canon. He skillfully relates these teachings to the modern world without ever losing contact with the canon's principles and the layperson's commitments and the monk's rules.

The second monk mentioned above, Ajahn Chah, was a forest monk that established a meditation monastery in his home province of Ubon Ratchathani (where this author has lived for the past six years). He was an idiosyncratic teacher that combined adherence to the monk's rules, as with Ajahn Payutto, with an individualistic interpretation of the Buddha's teachings centered on meditation & mindfulness. He also started monasteries for foreigners in both Thailand and across the world, inspiring people of many nationalities to take up the robe, including the wisely known & loved American monk Ajahn Sumedho. Both Ajahn Chah & Ajahn Payutto are examples of how Thai Buddhism can live up to the high standards of the Pali canon. there are many others also.

So, whilst Thailand is not bereft of living Buddhist inspiration, it also contains much to be avoided. In this sense it is a warning that institutionalized religion so often (if not always!) deteriorates into a pale reflection of the teachings that it originally grew from. Corrupt monks & forest monks; corrupted teachings & meditative wisdom; superstitious merit-making & the noble eightfold path. It's all here in Thailand, the 'land of smiles.' And, like those smiles, all is not as it at first appears; a Thai can give you the most beautiful big smile while thinking inside, "What a jerk!" Other smiles are most genuine, and can often be traced back to an origin in Buddhist teachings. Living here is a wonderful, confusing, sometimes frustrating experience. But, with patience & perseverance, one can locate the true teachings of the Buddha in living colour (especially shiny gold).

For more on Ajan Chah, including free ebooks, click here: Wat Nong Pah Pong
To read some of Ajahn Payutto's works, click here: P.A. Payutto

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins

I recently finished reading the British scientist Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. In it, the Darwinian biologist decries theistic religion as being more trouble than its worth, inspiring conflict, bigotry, and ignorance. He cites many examples for each of these points, including the 9/11 attacks to illustrate God-inspired violence, anti- gay tirades by evangelical Christians, and the Creationist denial of the science-backed theory of evolution. He criticizes fundamentalists of any faith who take their scriptures as absolute truth inspired by God, rejecting scientific evidence in favor of dogmatic belief.

Dawkins criticizes those religionists that fill gaps in scientific knowledge with God, giving the example of the as yet unexplained evolution of the eye - although this can be accounted for to a currently limited degree. In a kind of simpleton’s logic, many theists claim that because the eye’s evolution isn’t yet completely detailed, it must have been God that designed and made it! This is a sort of variation on the “God works in mysterious ways” declaration of religionists who can’t explain certain aspects of their own faith.

‘The God Delusion’ also criticizes scientists that believe in God, seeing them as not accepting the full implications of scientific knowledge, instead ignoring those aspects of it that contradict the belief in a supreme deity. In contrast to this, Dawkins promotes a quest for truth that involves open-minded investigation before the facts. So, how does Buddhism fare in all this?

Dawkins himself does not consider Buddhism in the same class of religion as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, seeing it as more of an ethical system or philosophy of life. Indeed, Buddhism is only mentioned three times in the whole book, about the same number of times as Hinduism, and Dawkins doesn’t give a definite opinion on either of them. This appears to be so because as the author admits himself, coming from a traditionally Christian society, he doesn't know much about religions like Buddhism. Never heard of research, Richard? In light of this, I’ll reflect on the ways he writes (and criticizes) monotheistic religion and compare this with Buddhist teachings.

Regarding Dawkins’ criticisms of monotheism summed up above, let’s take a look at Buddhism. Does the Way of the Buddha promote conflict, bigotry, and ignorance as the British biologist says is found in the Bible and the Koran? Well, the Buddha promoted pacifism of course – as did Jesus Christ in the New Testament, arguably – so from the earliest Buddhist texts it appears that it does not promote violence. Regarding bigotry, Buddhism is a famously tolerant faith, the Buddha himself sometimes credited with advising people not to convert to Buddhism but to retain their original faith where appropriate. As for ignorance and deliberately turning a blind eye to any facts that contradict one’s beliefs, the Buddha taught us to investigate for ourselves whether his teachings are true (see below). Indeed, ignorance, or avijja, is seen as the cause of our suffering, and is to be banished with the light of insight.

What of fundamentalism in Buddhism? Do Buddhists take the Buddhist scriptures literally, as absolute historical facts that must be believed in, say as many Christians view the Bible, or Muslims the Koran? Well, some may well do this, but generally speaking Buddhists are encouraged to see ancient Buddhist texts as a set of teachings to reflect on to develop wisdom regarding the impermanent, unsatisfying, and selfless nature of all phenomena. Whether the Buddha actually said or did exactly what it says in the Buddhist scriptures isn’t really the point, therefore. These texts are to be used skillfully and wisely, not clung to dogmatically.

The book contains many more criticisms of theistic religion than the main points reflected on above, many of them controversial, such as the claim that children should not be indoctrinated into their parents' religions. Indeed, Dawkins claims that we shouldn't accept the labeling of child as being Christian, Muslim etc. anymore than as being Republican, Democrat or Communist. An interesting point to reflect upon for any Buddhist. Elsewhere, his stance appears somewhat belittling of religious people, and he seems to take great pleasure in ridiculing them. This contentious nature of the book, and Dawkins' overtly negative attitude to religion in general, has led to much criticism in return. Thankfully, Buddhism encourages us to adopt a somewhat more compassionate attitude to other people!

One way or another, The God Delusion has inspired a lot of reflection in this Buddhist, encouraging the exact kind of investigation into the facts that Dawkins (like his hero Charles Darwin) has based his scientific career on. This investigative spirit is totally in line with the Buddha’s teaching regarding it as ehipassiko, inviting investigation, as opposed to blind belief. For this alone, the book has been a wonderful read, prompting the continued search for the truth of the way things are – the Dharma. I thank Richard Dawkins for this, as well as the Buddha, who has inspired millions of people through the centuries to see the truth for themselves.

‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins is available both online and in bookstores worldwide.

On the Buddha's advice to investigate religious claims for ourselves, see the following: Reflection: The Kalama Sutta

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bill Clinton & Buddhism

Recent reports that former US president Bill Clinton has turned to Buddhist meditation are both fascinating and tantalizing. Apparently, he has taken up the cushion in order to help with a heart condition and the stress that affects it. Mr Clinton has had two heart operations in the past decade, so this is no frivolous undertaking, but a serious attempt to improve his health. Moreover, the recognition that only a holistic approach to his condition which takes into account both mental & physical factors is an important lesson that he appears to have learnt. That a man that formerly had 'his finger on the button' now meditates under the tutelage of a Buddhist monk begs the question, "What if an acting US president were to become a Buddhist?"

Just imagine how a meditating Buddhist president might respond to the Middle East conundrum, or US gun laws, or gay marriage legislation. After spending twenty to thirty minutes in meditation every morning, wouldn't this president be cool & compassionate in their approach to world affairs such as Third World debt relief and global warming? Surely having calmed his mind, such a president would think twice about committing American armed forces to invade another Muslim country. (Mind you, wouldn't any American president do as much after the struggles in Afghanistan & Iraq? Don't be so sure…) And poor Americans across the fifty states could look forward to a more sympathetic White House administration, ready to dish out the dollars to those in need.

How different things might have been if President Assad had taken up Buddhist meditation not long after inheriting his dad's premier position in Syria. No awful suppression of his own people, ordering the torturing, raping & murdering of them in a desperate bid to retain his grip on power. No support of terrorism in the neighboring states of Lebanon & Israel, enabling extremists to bomb innocent bystanders in their bloody thirst for dominance. And certainly no ruthless extermination of Syrian dissidents; a meditating dictator always has time to negotiate peaceful solutions to his subject's grievances!

Enough of all this tongue-in-cheek banter. A far as is known, no incumbent US president has been a meditator, and if one was, it's unlikely that they would admit to it, as this would not exactly endear them to the millions of Bible Belt Christians. "Friggin' Buddhist in the White House? I'd rather have the Pope!" And, even if a meditating politician made it into the highest office in America, would they allow it to affect their decisions regarding crucial domestic & international issues? No way, Buddha! Truth is, the kind of person driven to be US president - or any other country's president - is unlikely to be the type of person to take up meditation whilst in office. And, if later they did start up crossing their legs, it would have to be something pretty terrible to get them to do so.

Which brings us back to Mr Clinton. If the stories are true, and he is now using Buddhist meditation to live a longer, healthier & happier life, this is good to read. May it help him achieve those goals. Moreover, although he has started meditating too late to affect his time in office, he is still a widely liked & respected man that many take notice of. In his example, the world may have a public figure that inspires an interest in Buddhist meditation, and hopefully other aspects of Buddhism too. As to Buddhist presidents, it is worth noting that recent rulers and army generals of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand in all likelihood genuinely considered themselves Buddhist. And look at the atrocities they committed in their countries. They should have spent more time on the meditation cushion.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Haiku: Keen and Clear

Cresent moon warped
keen and clear
(Issa, 1763-1827)

First snow - 
just enough to bend
the narcissus leaves
(Basho, 1644-1694)

On the mandarin duck's wings
a dust of snow - 
such stillness!
(Shiki, 1867-1902)

Cold moon - 
the gateless temple's 
endless sky
(Buson, 1716-1783)

Unable to wrap it
and dropping the moon
the winter rain
(Tokoku, ?-1960)

How warm -
the shadows of withered trees
stretching out their arms
(Tei-jo, 1900-1988)

There's nothing
he doesn't know -
the cat on the stove
(Fusei, 1885-1979)

The above haiku have been excerpted from a wonderful book by Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto & Akira Yamamoto, a review of which can be read here: Review: Haiku, An Anthology of Japanese Poems

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reflection: Kalama Sutta

Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' - then you should abandon them.
(Buddha, in the Kalama Sutta*)

The Kalama Sutta is a text from the Pali canon (Pali: Tipitaka), that enormous collection of discourses and other teachings ascribed to the Buddha & his early disciples. It is sutta number 3.65 from the Anguttara Nikaya section of the canon. In its contents, we have a teaching that is particularly appropriate for the modern age, with consumer spirituality and a plethora of religions all vying for our attention. Moreover, it contains advice that is the opposite to what we would find in most of the world's religions; we should know for ourselves the efficacy of a spiritual teaching, rather than accepting it from an external authority. The sutta also denies that to benefit from the Buddhist life we must believe in an afterlife or rebirth: wether we do or we don't is not the point, because Buddhism is about the here and now, and the benefits of practicing it can be experienced by each of us in this very life.

The sutta opens with the Buddha wandering into the town of Kesaputta, inhabited by the Kalama people. There, he is asked to help them to discriminate between the various teachings that spiritual teachers that visit Kesaputta, for they are confused by the contradictory doctrines that have been taught them. Rather than instructing them in his own teaching as an alternative to the ones that they have already heard - and in the process confusing them even more - the Buddha gives them good reasons why they should not believe, including "This contemplative is our teacher." This would seem to bar the Buddha from teaching them, and his next step in the discourse is therefore most original - he proceeds to ask the Kalamas what they think is skillful & unskillful behavior. They affirm that greed, ill will & delusion are to be avoided, whilst their opposites are to be cultivated. The Buddha then states that if someone lives a life of non-greed, non-ill will & non-hatred, the following four assurances will be known:

If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world. This is the first assurance he acquires.

If there no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease - free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble. This is the second assurance he acquires.

If evil is done through acting, still I willed no evil for anyone. Having done no evil action, from where will suffering touch me? This is the third assurance he acquires.

But is no evil is done through acting, then I can assume myself pure in both respects. This is the fourth assurance he acquires.

What is amazing here is the second assurance. This is because it admits the possibility that there is no rebirth & no fruit of action (karma). Often considered essential doctrines of Buddhism, how can the Buddha here allow for these ideas to not exist? Well, the Buddha taught not to instill belief in a bunch of concepts in his followers, but so that they might use his teachings to reduce or end suffering. Gaining the first or second assurances above lead to a reduction of suffering, and ultimately towards enlightenment. It doesn't really matter if we believe in something or not, but rather that we experience the results of practicing a good life; hence, the Buddha doesn't try to convince the Kalamas of what they cannot possibly know - rebirth & the fruit of action - but skillfully guides them to an understanding of the practical benefits of Buddhist practice.

This has implications for us today. If we are empiricists, as many people are at this time, then we need not see a conflict between Buddhist teachings and current scientific understanding. The more supernatural elements of the Buddha's teaching do not have to be believed in for the benefits of the Buddhist life to be felt. How different to other religions that have supernatural beliefs at their core, requiring faith in things that may never be seen or known, such as the soul, a god, heaven & hell. So, if you find the idea of karma and its consequences hard to swallow, or the notion of rebirth in this world or another off-putting, fret not, for the Buddha doesn't require you to do so to be a Buddhist! Returning to the words of the sutta, the Buddha has more to say on the person devoid of greed, ill will & delusion:

And this ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed…this unaversive person, not overcome by aversion, his mind not possessed by aversion…this undeluded person, not overcome by delusion, his mind not possessed by delusion, doesn't kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person's wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.

The person without greed, ill will, or delusion won't indulge in certain acts because they go against that person's nature. If we are without greed (which includes lust), then we will not go after another's wife, take what is not given, nor lie to cover up such actions. If we are without ill will, then we will not kill other living beings nor tell lies to hurt other people. And if we are without delusion, we will not be confused about such issues. Living thus, we have access to levels of calm and assurance that dispel any feelings of guilt - because there's nothing major to feel guilty about. 

This is both for the "long-term welfare & happiness" of both the one that practices this way and those that they come into contact with. The calm & assurances mentioned above illustrate benefits for the practitioner, but there are some positive results for others, too. Obviously, if someone refrains from killing living beings, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, or lying, society benefits. They are a positive member of their community, contributing to the peace, safety, & happiness therein. And this gives further benefit to the practitioner also, because other people are more likely to be kind & honest in their dealings with such a person than with someone that kills, steals, takes other's partners, and/or lies. There is another way that both practitioner - or 'disciple' of the noble ones - and other living beings can benefit from his or her life, which is described below:

Now, Kalamas, one who is a disciple of the noble ones  - thus devoid of greed, devoid of ill will, undeluded, alert, & resolute - keeps pervading the first direction [the east] - as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth - with an awareness imbued with good will…with an awareness imbued with compassion…with an awareness imbued with appreciation…with an awareness imbued with equanimity. 

This is a kind of contemplation or meditation promoted by the Buddha in the Pali canon in many places. It is not the most well-known one, which is called anapanasati ('mindful breathing'), but is nevertheless a set of powerful exercises to benefit both meditator and others. There four variants to this meditation, each one focusing on one of four 'divine abodes' (brahma-vihara), which are good will, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. Whether or not one believes the 'vibes' of such exercises is somehow spread to other beings or not, there are real benefits to be had from them. Not only feelings of calmness & assurance described above can come from an "awareness imbued" with goodwill etc., but also a blissful joy can fill the person meditating thus. (This writer knows this from practicing the first of the four brahma-vihara.)

When one cultivates these four positive mind states over time, they overflow into one's daily life. Not only will one feel happier and more content, but others will sense the positive feelings coming from one, whether in those 'positive vibes,' or simply in one's words & deeds. For who will not appreciate someone without greed, ill will, or delusion, someone full of good will, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. Such a person is a force for good in the home, at work, and in society at large. Moreover, although the Pali canon states that these states cannot lead to enlightenment, they can lead to someone reaching other valuable meditative states, that can be built on through practicing other meditations such as mindful breathing.

So, in the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha presents us with a way of life potentially suitable for everyone, that doesn't dogmatically cling to doctrines, but instead promotes the lessoning of greed, ill will & delusion through basic moral undertakings and practice of meditation. There is no need to mention belief, gods, demons, heavens, or hells in this - if one does not believe in them because one finds no proof to do so, then this doesn't effect one's ability to lead a moral, meditative life that benefits both one & other living beings. The Kalama Sutta is a wonderful set of teachings that we can learn much from through its study & application in our lives. It is particularly suitable as way into the Buddhist teachings for modern-minded people, and we Buddhists that are more empirical in our outlook, will do well to reflect upon it and share it with like-minded people. The full translation of the Kalama Sutta by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (bless you!) can be accessed by clicking the link below. May all beings be happy!

*Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas" (AN 3.65), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 29 August 2012, . Retrieved on 25 January 2013.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, by D. T. Suzuki

"No amount of reading, no amount of teaching, no amount of contemplation will ever make one a Zen master. Life itself must be grasped in the midst of its flow; to stop it for examination and analysis is to kill it, leaving its cold corpse to be embraced."
(An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p.102)

Born in Japan in 1870, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 貞太郎) is the man often credited as introducing the West to Zen Buddhism, through his many books and essays, written in both Japanese and English. He also wrote on Shin Buddhism and Christian mysticism, as well as translating major Mahayana Buddhist and Daoist scriptures into English for the first time. As a professor, he lectured in many universities around the world and resided at Otani University in Kyoto, Japan for many years. He tirelessly promoted Buddhism in both Japan & the West until his death in 1966. His legacy still lives on through those people that he met and influenced through his work. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism is one of the more famous works of the late Suzuki, and it is the most concise description of the subject this reviewer knows of, or at least of the Rinzai sect of Zen that Suzuki ascribed to. As such, it cannot be bettered, introducing its reader to satori, koans, and those incredible Zen masters. Here's an example of his skill in writing of Zen, a notoriously difficult subject to put into words:

"The truth is, Zen is extremely elusive as far as its outward aspects are concerned; when you think you have caught a glimpse of it, it is no more there; from afar it looks so approachable, but as soon as you come near it you see it even further away from you than before. Unless, therefore, you devote some years of earnest study to the understanding of its primary principles, it is not to be expected that you will begin to have a fare grasp of Zen."
(Ibid. p.13)

The whole point of Zen practice is to experience satori, or awakening, which is the initial glimpse of enlightenment. This comes after a long period working with a koan (a kind of Zen riddle), a practice Suzuki describes with great skill in this book. A student is given a koan by his Zen master, with which he or she must grapple until they see its true meaning, which is also the meaning of Zen. Examples of the koan given in the book include "When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?" (Ibid. p.74) and "The cypress tree in the courtyard" (Ibid. p.76). Of the koan, Suzuki writes:

"Ko-an literally means 'a public document' or 'authoritative statute' - a term coming into vogue toward the end of the T'ang dynasty. It now denotes some anecdote of an ancient master, or a dialogue between a master and monks, or a statement or question put forward by a teacher, all of which are used as the means for opening one's mind to the truth of Zen. In the beginning, of course, there was no koan as we understand it now; it is a kind of artificial instrument devised out of the fullness of heart by later Zen masters, who by this means would force the evolution of Zen consciousness in the minds of their less endowed disciples."
(Ibid. p.72)

As to the efficacy of Suzuki to communicate the essence of Zen, this reviewer can attest to his superb skills in this area, especially in relation to the current volume. Many, many moons ago, as I sat reading An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, something peculiar and wonderful happened: 'I' saw what Suzuki was getting at. I put the first-person singular in apostrophes here because at the heart of that experience there was no 'I' present. there was the book, my hands grasping it, the room that I was sat in, but no 'I.' Sunlight poured through the white net curtains, but it wasn't this that gave an illumined quality to the room, it was the light of satori that shone so bright. In that moment - which is this moment - awareness was one with the room, the book, and with the long-deceased D.T. Suzuki. (For the full article, click here: Daisetz Suzuki, Satori, & 'I')

"Zen thinks we are too much of slaves to words and logic. So long as we remain thus fettered we are miserable and go through untold suffering. But if we want to see something really worth knowing, that is conducive to our spiritual happiness, we must endeavor once for all to free ourselves from all conditions; we must see if we cannot gain a new point of view from which the world can be surveyed in its wholeness and life comprehended inwardly."
(Ibid. p.31) 

The book also includes sections on Zen's illogical nature (described above) and whether it is nihilistic or not, as well as a somewhat less cerebral chapter on the life of a Zen monk. The latter is an important addition to the work which denies the interpretation of Zen as a kind of libertine hedonism. In it, Suzuki illustrates in his usual concise manner the simple, disciplined, and moral life of a Zen monk in training. The role of the Zendo, the meditation hall, is also a feature of this final part of the book, with the author waxes lyrically in its praise. What is wondrous here, however, is the direct, and - as Suzuki puts it - "radically empirical" (Ibid. p.102) understanding that is satori that lies at the heart of this book, and if you fancy knowing this for yourself, this reviewer wholeheartedly recommends that you read An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. Kwatz!

For more on Daisetz Suzuki, please click here: D. T. Suzuki

The above book is published by Grove Press (1994) in the US, and by Rider (1991) in the UK.