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The Three Pillars Of Zen

Updated on February 17, 2014

My Review

In 1953 an American business man goes to Japan to find out what Zen is all about. if you think the premise sounds like it might have been ripped from a dime store detective novel you're partly right.

A story as old as recorded history, disenchanted with life's hustle and bustle, dragged down by the day in and day out drum beat that had become his life Philip Kapleau decides to sell his possessions and moves to Japan to study Zen. Kapleau's decision ended up having a huge impact that helped usher in Zen teaching to the West.

Philip Kapleau takes us on a journey into Zen using a descriptive narrative full of color and intrigue. He populates the first part of the book with his own doubts that can seem a bit silly to someone reading this book 50 years after it was written. But when you settle in, the doubts mirror our own as we search for answers in life. Kapleau is all too human while at the same time possessing a gigantic internal courage.

Kapleau uses numerous meetings (called dokusan ) between the Zen teacher and the pupil to showcase the struggles and the successes each of us may go through on a journey of meditation (Zazen). The stories are unusual in that writings like these are rare in Zen and usually not showcased for public consumption.

In The Three Pillars of Zen Kapleau uses the unorthodox approach (unorthodox in Zen that is) of sharing enlightenment experiences from several people practicing meditation, including many of his own hits and misses on that journey. Zen does not emphasize enlightenment as a goal as much as many in the west may think. In Zen as in most Buddhist groups they believe that everyone already possess enlightenment and that chasing after it will not open the door quicker and may in fact lock it shut.

Kapleau repeats lectures by one of his teachers Haku'un Yasutani and he introduces the reader to may historical figures from Zen. The book is an easy read but may not be for those who have just a passing interest in Zen. If you are deeply curious about Zen then I highly recommend this book as an entry to the world and teachings of Zen.


Dogen saw Zazen as " the gateway to total liberation"

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In what is seen there must be just the seen

In what is heard there must be just the heard

In what is sensed there must be just the sensed

In what is thought there must be just the thought

Buddha

Three Pillars...

stop a moment to share a thought

Unfolding of Zen in my life can be glimpsed at Zen Automat - A blockheads attempt to understand Zen but who most certainly doesn't understand Zen. Where's the door out of this place anyways?

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