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No Beginning, No End

Updated on October 26, 2013

No Beginning No End But Always A Start

Like many of us Jakusho Kwong left the Zen center after his first visit without making a commitment to taking on the practice, but the feeling that there was something more, something to be found, did not leave as his steps led home.

Jokusho Kwong came back to the Zen center, came back to study with the little Japanese monk whose thick accent made understanding all the harder and, he did start the journey that led him to many different insights he could not have possibly foreseen at the start. Starting is really what the book is about, a reflection of his journey as told from within his many lectures that make up the book.

Kwong's first teacher and the monk who would make him his Dharma heir was Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki's book Zen Mind Beginner's Mind has been a classic staple for anyone interested in Zen since its publication in 1970. Suzuki's book is a compilation of his Zen lectures and so too is Kwong's book. Unlike Suzuki's book, Kwong's No Beginning, No End is dense with words and ideas, this can be somewhat ponderous especially to those unfamiliar with Zen and its teachings, but it is not a hindrance so much as something that slows down the experience of being in the hall and listening to him speaking while reading the book.

In the first half of the book I was able to feel the immediacy of his words as if I was sitting and listening but the second half of the book shook me out of that experience with all its words. I felt like he was talking to a group that already knew the inside scoop, the inside jokes and the intimacy that comes from studying with a particular teacher. This feeling of being on the outside is not unusual when you pick up a book of lectures by anyone, but it is disappointing that the editors did not spend more time paring down each chapter in order to make it more of an immediate experience for all readers.

If as Dogen says "enlightenment is just intimacy with all things" then overall this book succeeds more then it does not. Kwong's lectures are compelling even when dense, he is able to bring to each reader a clear understanding of the path and the teachings, this in itself is worth the price of admission. The beginner and the experienced practitioner of Zen will find much to ponder and learn from this book. Kwong's easy and caring style reminds me of Steve Hagen at times, Maybe it is the compassion that both bring to their lectures and writing that makes me see similarities, I don't know, its not important. What may be important is the teaching itself, and that Kwong's dedication and perseverance are evident throughout this volume.

I found Kwong's message of the simplicity of Zen a potent antidote to the general media's take on Zen, their continuing characterizations of Zen that includes "Zen is a puzzle" or "Zen is a deep riddle meant to keep it a secret." Kwong sums it up at the beginning of chapter 4 when talking about awaking, he says "it's always with you. whether you realize it or not." Zen is ordinary mind and I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to know intimately their ordinary mind.

No Beginning, No End

No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen
No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

The "Big Mind" that Zen Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi so poetically described in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind shines throughout this collection of talks by Kwong, a disciple and authorized successor of Suzuki's. Appropriately for someone erasing the usual dualistic lines that separate self and other, Kwong's voice is strikingly reminiscent of his teacher's, from the traditional stories and poems he cites to the same central figures of speech and simple diction he uses. The book is also organized like Zen Mind into three parts with quotes pulled out to head each chapter. It even includes 10 of Kwong's calligraphic illustrations,

 

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"enlightenment is just intimacy with all things"

Dogen

A Finger Snap

you often hear in Zen that there are 64 moments in each snap of the fingers, 64 opportunities to choose....

Are you mindful of your opportunities?

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Zazen Is:

"just to be ourselves"

Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Motto:

your ordinary mind, that is the way

this lens is sponsored in part by Wash The Bowl a Flash Fiction blog and by the blog Zen Automat a space of simple unenlightened thoughts and occasional insights that the author never even knew he knew and in all probability won't remember for very long.

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