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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


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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    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Very interesting and good information

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Love Zen. Big Fan of Phil Jackson

    • profile image

      toddko 5 years ago

      Very good source of information on zen. If you really want to know, please read it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thanks.. it's awesome!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for writing the review. It seems to be a very interesting book!

    • Maria-Zuzeena profile image

      Maria-Zuzeena 6 years ago

      Thanks for writing the review. It seems to be a very interesting book!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Good information about zen. Like the Tao, that which can be named is not. Nice lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @julieannbrady: Feng Shui has continually proved to be totally inneficient. In studies made with feng-shui masters and people who justed pretended to be, the results were the same.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 7 years ago from London

      30 years ago this was the book that introduced me to Zen practice, and to finding my my teacher Roshi John Garrie. Totally life changing.

    • Zen Automat profile image

      Zen Automat 7 years ago

      @LoKackl: For me Zen opened my eyes to the simplicity of reality... glad you could stop by.

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      First introduced to Buddhism by a Tibetan Buddhist and found Zen Buddhism more in tune with my self. Both have sooo much to offer Westerners like me.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      I am embracing all that is Zen and Feng Shui too! Continuously seeking improvement ...

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      What a great lens. I'm adding to my lensmaster module in my zen horse lens. :)

    • gmarlett lm profile image

      gmarlett lm 9 years ago

      Another interesting book for my list. Great lens, welcome to the Squidoo All-Stars Group!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Hi, Sonia.

      I was just going to go looking for lenses on Zen to invite to Empowerment & Enlightenment, and here you are! How perfect that you found me first. :)

      I have not read the book yet, but I like the approach of presenting it as a personal journey.

    • patinkc profile image

      patinkc 9 years ago from Midwest

      Welcome to the Buddhism Group. Nice to have a book about Zen.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      hey this looks like a great book, will have to check it out

    • profile image

      tdove 10 years ago

      Wow this stuff really makes you think.

    • profile image

      simpleway 10 years ago

      Sonia, thanks for stopping by and leaving both the nice comments and the book suggestion I look forward to reading it.

    • sonia simone profile image

      sonia simone 10 years ago

      Very cool lens! I'll add my very favorite book on Zen, a biography of Issan Dorsey called _Street Zen_.