Friday, 1 April 2011
"Living and Dying in Zazen": Arthur Braverman (book review by Chris Faiers/cricket)
Living and Dying in Zazen:
Five Zen Masters of Modern
By Arthur Braverman
First edition, 2003
*widely available on Amazon in new & used editions
This book was kindly gifted to me by Theodore Tsaousidis, the steward of Snow Lion Meditation Shop (
, across from Pape subway station) at Purdy Country LitFest #4 last summer. Toronto
Arthur Braverman could be a personal alter ego – he went to
Japan in June of 1969 to study Zen, while that same month and year I resisted the draft for the Vietnam War and ended up living in . London, England
To his credit, Braverman is hardly present in what could have been a self-indulgent biography. Instead, he thoughtfully presents the life histories of five very different Zen teachers:
Arthur was fortunate to quickly connect with a temple abbot, Kosho Uchiyama, who accepted and encouraged this sixties wave of questing neophyte Westerners. Through Braverman’s unobtrusive observations the reader learns of the two main schools of Zen. There is the more laid-back Soto sect, which three of the Zen priests follow, and the hard-assed and militaristic Rinzai sect.
Interestingly, for me the most appealing of the teachers was the laywoman Zen teacher and artist Moto Ikebe.
The core of Japanese Zen, repeated by each of these teachers, is the practice of zazen: sitting = meditation. “Nobody doing nothing” is how one of the teachers expresses this.
When Braverman discusses this with one of his friends, the seeming pointlessness of “just sitting”, his Western friend comprehends that in our human situation, perhaps being harmless, just ‘doing nothing’, is a far loftier goal than the seeking and striving which is endemic to our modern world.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Buddhism, particularly Japanese Zen Buddhism. Buddhism is the fastest growing spirituality/religion in the West, and Braverman’s thoughtful account gives us insight into the Zen experience through the lives of his teachers, as well as through his personal insights gained in lifelong practice of Zen.
*** I hope to soon do a posting of my personal reflections on this book, its influences on me, Zen Buddhism, and possibly some insights into the direction Buddhism may take as its practice evolves in North America (“
”). It is my belief that our First Nations shamans experienced states of consciousness very parallel with Buddhist meditation. Turtle Island
Lifelong haijin (haiku poet) and meditator, steward of
retreat ZenRiver Gardens