Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
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Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  3,330 ratings  ·  120 reviews
Zen Buddhism conveys its profound truths through epigrams, parable and brief enigmatic and often amusing stories of the masters. In addition to 101 Zen Stories, this volume contains The Gateless Gate, a collection of koans or puzzles and 10 Bulls, an illustrated account of a bull-hunt.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1957 by Penguin Books Ltd
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Zen is allusive.
Zen uses too many unnecessary contradictions.
But their hopes are that such techniques awake the deluded mind.
Nonetheless, I think people just get heady about the writings and forget how simple buddhist psychology is. Thus they get intellectual and cute and use that as another blanket of self-deception.

This has lots of fun stories, but it is not the Buddhism I am most fond of.
I must say I have been tempted by such trips though.
Interpreting the meaning of Zen is difficult at the best of times, and from what I know of it, I’m not even sure that intellectualising it is the best way to go anyway. Therefore, I’m just going to list a couple of my favourite Zen kōans from the 101 Zen Stories, and then try to explain how they affect the way in which I attempt to live my life.

The Moon Cannot be Stolen
Ryokan, a Zen Master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the...more
JT Neville
One of my all time favorites. Every copy I own is well worn. I love how the stories don't state anything, but leave it up to you to interpret. The moon can not be stolen and A Parable are two of my favorites.

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 09, 2009 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: No one.
"My review/What I learned from this book?"

I think the most appropriate answer would be "nothing".

I think it's on my shelf if you want it.
Joan DeArtemis
You do not need to be a Buddhist for this book to work its magic on you. All you need is an open mind, and the desire to find a more peaceful way to be in the world. Here is how I use this book:

Every morning, before I even get dressed, I light a stick of Japanese incense and read a single koan. I sit and meditate on that koan for some period of time (often only 5 minutes), and then I go about my day. But, I try to remember that koan, and I think about it all day. I try to find ways that this day...more
Goran Powell
A collection of classic short pieces on Zen – often no more than a paragraph or two – which offer a good insight into the enigmatic nature of Zen writing. The book begins with 101 brief Zen stories, followed by the ‘Gateless Gate’ a further collection of thoughts, anecdotes, parables and Koans (Zen puzzles) designed to attune the student’s mind to enlightenment.

The classic ‘10 Bulls’ is also featured – an illustrated account of a bull-hunt that symbolises the ascending stages of awareness – as...more
Just as the subtitle says, this book is divided into four parts, each expressing Zen Buddhist writing in a different format. I have read a fair amount of writing on or about Zen, and this is probably the only book I would strongly recommend to everyone interested. The only other book on this caliber would be The Zen Monastic Experience, but that was not about Zen literature but Zen monks' lifestyle and practice.

One of my former coworkers gave this to me as a going away gift, saying it changed h...more
Rob Errera
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a collection of Zen and pre-Zen writings compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. First published in 1957, the book remains a comprehensive and relevant introduction to Zen philosophy. According to the publisher:

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is ... a collection of accessible, primary Zen sources so readers can struggle over the meaning of Zen for themselves. It includes 101 Zen Stories, a collection of tales that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers ove...more
I first read this book almost than 25 years ago now and found it often baffling, which is the point, I suppose. Regardless of how puzzled I was, I also saw shining, wonderful beauty. There is also a good deal of humor readily grasped even by those of us who, like myself, aren't going to become Zen masters any time soon.

The book is divided into four main sections. The first is a collection of 101 Zen stories which makes up roughly half of the book. Because the stories are short, often no more tha...more
Steve Malley
Not that Zen fits in a book, but this is the best work I've ever found on the subject. The hardcover, boxed-set presentation seems a bit much for me, but maybe that's just because I still remember the battered old paperback edition I carted around everywhere until some long-ago girlfriend 'borrowed' it. There was something lovely and humble about that paperback, more fitting with the book's parables and lessons.
I have a small pocket version of this text. It is one of the few books that I read over and over again. I love the simple wisdom and the stories that make life so much more clear. I love the sayings that don't make any sense or those that do but only if I don't concentrate very hard.
Eddie Black
I read half of this 10 years ago. I gave it away as a gift to a stranger who came into the bar I worked at who i found out had cancer and who I later found out had given her copy to a friend in need.
Mar 12, 2009 David is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I like it so far..., but I'm not to attached to it.
A collection of several different writings, a must book for new students of Zen, a recommended for students of philosophy. Nice because you need not read from start to finish. You can pick this book up, read a section (except for the "The Ten Bulls") and put it down for a month (ergo, a good bathroom read for those of you who partake of that disgusting habit :-) ). The first section is a collection of short parables that can be read in any order. This is probably the most interesting section for...more
Lets ignore the silly title.

A collection of Zen writings. Some of the stories in the first version I've heard in many iterations, including Hindu ones. I'm not sure about the chronology of some of it, but some of it is clearly late, like even post ww2. Thats find though, the first set of initial stories is thought provoking, or non-thought provoking as it were.

The Gateless Gate continues on some of the ideas from the first story, and gives a good overall vibe of the teachings of Zen. Namely, acc...more
Tom Schulte
I always feel elated, wiser - "enlightened" when I read Buddhist texts. This is actually a few texts in one slim volume. Two have commentaries: "The Gateless Gate", my favorite for hints of a vast and colorful Buddhist history and the zings on the old masters, and 10 Bulls. Thanks to the latter, I finally understand the Cat Stevens album name "Catch Bull At Four".

The first book is 101 Zan Stories and introduces the "dance like no one is watching" attitude and simple wisdom, such as in "My Heart...more
"Zen Flesh" is a solid compilation of short Zen stories, anecdotes, and koans. The first part of the book, "101 Zen Stories" has a lovely range, and will give even a novice reader a good taste of Zen. The second part, The Gateless Gate (or "Mumonkan"), is the classic compilation of Koans, beginning with "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Because some of the koans contain cultural references that require some explication, you might be better off reading the same material in Yamada's version ( http:...more
Feb 16, 2009 Eric added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zen
Eh. :-)

The 101 Zen Stories are mildly entertaining, but if you randomly read Zen stuff on the net, it gets a bit repetitive. Gateless Gate, venerable book of koans chock full of incomprehensible Zen gibberish. What worries me is that I may never understand it. What worries me more is that somebody I actually might. It's not just a matter of "illogical". Illogical, I can deal with. My problem with the GG is that it's really quite simply incomprehensible, wtf, does not cohere. One random, non-sequ...more
Michael Forstadt
ZEN FLESH, ZEN BONES is a wonderful source-book of Zen writings and its precursors; the stories within are thought-provoking, enlightening, even amusing and occasionally outrageous. Critics claim that Zen teaching is deliberately obtuse, often to the point of the ridiculous. Perhaps, but I don't believe such teachings are always to be taken so seriously. ZEN FLESH, ZEN BONES is a mosaic of seemingly trivial parts that, as a whole, arrives at a useful portrait, a gestalt, of Buddhist philosophy....more
Al West
Flesh and Bones, all there is really, not! As one practices Zen Buddhism one finds the zen or Buddha nature we are all imbued with is available if we ahead the flesh and bones to find the essence of our existence. Happiness is not a part of it, sorry! This book remains a cornerstone in the understanding of zen today. Not a comic book read for sure but well worth the life of practice it opens to the participant. Older than Christianity and Islam - zen does not carry the dogma of a man in pajamas...more
Munkhbayar Baatarkhuu
No beauty, but mind games, strongly recommended for those who is interested in knowing. Not living. Paul Rep has raped zen. The book Gateless gate which is included in this book was really annoying one - especially Mumon's comments. One can get a little grasp of what is zen from this book, but not the accurate one. By the way Vigyan Bhairava Tantra is also included in this book. I didn't get the idea of longing for cutting the chain of birth and death. Enlightenment, or zen or, some others - the...more
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is the most coherent survey of Zen Buddhism I've ever found. I've read about twenty or so. The language of Zen Flesh is sophisticated, never insulting the reader. Of course you have already reflected on transience! On transcendental experience ... or non-transcendent ... because there is none! The book's rare clarity probably earns its coherence of language by being firmly rooted in Western philosophical categories; hence the subject is intelligible -- even enjoyable -- to u...more
Mike Romoth
The absolute best! I have read this book at least fifty times. I buy copies and hand them out to all the young artists and travelers I know. This collection of different spiritual aphorisms, epigrams, jokes, and stories provides the reader with a lifetime of wisdom to contemplate. The mysterious philosophy of Zen is laid out for all to decipher from the original words of the monks who passed along these very human and humane stories for hundreds of years. So much vision and wisdom crammed into s...more
Tommy Tong
fun and good to have near the commode
I picked this book up because a punk band I followed had borrowed the title for one of their EPs. It came at a fortuitous time. I was burning out on existentialism; not able to finish a book anymore. This crowbarred me our of my inertia. Was it understandable? It was impenetrable. Of course it's meant to be, no? Something in it, though, dovetailed with my naive understanding of existentialism. From this starting point, I am still today reading books on zen and philosophy, so I guess I owe it, an...more
"When you are not saying good and you are not saying not-good, where is your true self."

The first section is made of stories.
The second section, "The Gateless Gate," is a collection of koans.
The third section is "Ten Bulls" and includes artist renderings.
The last section, "Centering," is my favorite

Seems like a book one Zen can only appropriately be rated with "No" and "Yes" to each rating category.

Accessible - 1 & 5
Must Read 1 & 5
Kept My Attention - 1 & 5
Important - 1 & 5
This is a pretty good collection of short Zen stories, in three parts: 101 Zen stories, ‘Gateless Gate’ (Mumonkan), the Ten Bulls paintings with explanations and a translation of the Sanskrit Kashmir Shaiva text Vijnana Bhairava, which offers 112 ways to the experience of True Self.

Personally, I don`t think the Shaiva text belongs in this book and that we can place an equality sign between Zen and Kashmir Shaivism. Nevertheless, it is an interesting and meaninfull spiritual text. Overall, a good...more
You have wondered about the sound of one hand clapping? Or about whether the dog has Buddha-nature? You are not likely to find the answer in this book--but you may find a more productive way to think about the question (as Trinity said to Neo, "It is the question that drives us").

In addition to being a handy collection of many of the classic koans of Zen Buddhism, this book includes a good selection of thought-provoking anecdotes about some of the people in Zen's history.
Bernie Gourley
Great bathroom reading for those times you want to contemplate lessons of the mind and right living. It is arranged in tiny vignettes and dialogues. The book is densely packed with insight.

Many of the little stories will be familiar such as "The Muddy Road" (I put her down on the road, why are you still carrying her.), "A Cup of Tea" (You can't fill a cup that is already full.) "Trading Dialogue for Lodging" (gestalt of meaning / distorted perception)

Highly recommended.
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“14. Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unble to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carriedher over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?”
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