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The Compass of Zen

4.30  ·  Rating Details  ·  285 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
The Compass of Zen is a simple, exhaustive—and often hilarious—presentation of the essence of Zen by a modern Zen Master of considerable renown. In his many years of teaching throughout the world, the Korean-born Zen Master Seung Sahn has become known for his ability to cut to the heart of Buddhist teaching in a way that is strikingly clear, yet free of esoteric and acade ...more
Paperback, 394 pages
Published October 28th 1997 by Shambhala (first published 1997)
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Siddhartha by Hermann HesseThe Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIVZen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu SuzukiWhen Things Fall Apart by Pema ChödrönPeace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
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6th out of 49 books — 15 voters

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Community Reviews

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Feb 03, 2010 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism, religion
Don't know!
Aug 17, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, 1990s
Excessively readable and informative, this book is full of fun Buddhist stories and jokes to help clarify the meaning of various sutras and the differences between types of Buddhism. This is probably the most accessible book about Buddhism I've read to date.
May 17, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it
This is one of the best books on Zen Buddhism that I have read. The author, Zen master Seung Sahn writes in a witty and humorous style which I believe is an integral part of Buddhism, and although I am not a buddhist I believe that he captures the spirit of the religion. One of the reasons that I typically steer clear of these sorts of books is the tendency for the authors to hide behind meaningless sentences that "sound good" in order to "grab the reader's attention". None of that here. Instead ...more
Timothy Covel
Sep 15, 2015 Timothy Covel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Tempted to review the book as "Not good, Not bad. Don't know". I now understand why this came so highly recommended, and now i will likely be suggesting it to others. Each section, which together give a comprehensive introduction to a wide picture of zen, is concise without being dry and is very accessible to a lay audience. This is one that I will be keeping out for reference, as well as further study of the Ten Gates kindly included in the appendix.
Jul 25, 2014 Jonn rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen
I'm torn on this book. On the one hand, it contains probably the most concise and comprehensive breakdown of the major area of Buddhist teaching (Hinayana, Mahayana, Zen) I've read. In this respects, it is without doubt one of the best overall books about Buddhism and Zen I've read. It's obvious Seung Sahn really knows what he's talking about, and I liked how he focused on teaching what the function of true understanding is about: helping others. A lot of Zen books (and teachers) seem to miss th ...more
Sep 22, 2012 Rich rated it really liked it
A very good teacher with a wonderful way with words. His key teaching of don't know mind is absoulutely wonderful and that should be the key take away for zen practitioners. I also really liked his description of zen, where all other religions and practices involve describing and explaining something like a watermelon, where as zen just says take a bite - wham - that's watermelon - only you can experience it just like that, no need for talk or thinking, just take a bite! That's really cool and s ...more
Mindy McAdams
Sep 06, 2013 Mindy McAdams rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhist
Zen Master Seung Sahn (biography) was brought up as a Christian in North Korea before World War II. Later he became a Buddhist monk in South Korea. He was ordained in 1948.

Some time later, he visited the United States, and subsequently he decided to move here and teach full-time. I never met him (he died in 2004), but people who knew him well have told me he was an amazing teacher. (You can find some videos of him teaching on YouTube.)

This was the first book about Buddhism that I really studied
Feb 28, 2010 Megan rated it really liked it
I am very lucky: books line the walls of my bedroom. (Not only that, but the books sit on gorgeous shelves made by my husband-- perfect altars for our prized objects). Anyway, most mornings I wake up and lie for a few minutes, scanning titles until my eyes fall on one in particular, and today it was The Compass of Zen. I loved this book, which I read about four years ago, because it was an engaging but lighthearted introduction to Buddhism. Books on theology are not usually my first pick (St. Th ...more
Kristin Funk-neubauer
Mar 22, 2014 Kristin Funk-neubauer rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
There are certainly a few parts of this book that are worth ignoring, but overall it manages to talk about the experience of Zen and of human life more clearly and accurately than just about any other book I can think of. I am deeply grateful for Dae Soen Sunim's practice and teaching!
Apr 03, 2016 Tom rated it it was ok
Better than "Zen: The Authentic Gate". But if humankind want to evolve, go further, science is solution. IMO.
K. M.
Mar 21, 2016 K. M. rated it it was amazing
Must read. Words do no justice.
Kev cordeiro
Jul 15, 2011 Kev cordeiro rated it really liked it

Excellent if you're interested in the progression of thought from Hinayana to Mahayana Buddhism and an interesting introduction to Zen. Some people will find Zen Buddhism to be complete and utter nonsense, but it is only when one begins the ending chapters that it all really begins to tie together. I would highly reccomend this book to my more serious friends.
Mar 14, 2014 Joan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wisdom
Marvelous book. Warm, compassionate, funny, clear.
Martin Sefara
Feb 19, 2008 Martin Sefara rated it it was amazing
A handy overview of basic concepts of Buddhism including Theravada and Mahayana branches. Interesting for anybody wondering about Buddhism or practicing according to any tradition. If you were to read one book on Buddhism I would recommend this one. Valuable source of inspiration for students of Zen.
R. August
A rough outline of several major themes in Buddhism. Alright if you already know what he's talking about, less useful to those who pick up the book cold. A good supplement, but not very useful or insightful for much more.
Jun 14, 2014 Pedro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very comprehensive and insightful introduction to Zen and Buddhism. It has also enriched my Christian practices.

What am I? Only don't know...
Needham B
Jun 12, 2007 Needham B rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: seekers
if I was stranded on a desert island with only one book, this would be it. It has everything you need to know about life within its pages.
Dec 06, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen
best guide to rationale and practice of zen I have so far read.
Sep 28, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, helped a lot (^_^)
Tyler marked it as to-read
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Jun 20, 2016
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Piotr Morajski rated it it was ok
Jun 19, 2016
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“Someone once asked me, “Soen Sa Nim, do you believe in God?” I said, “Of course!” The person was very shocked. “You are a Zen teacher. How can you possibly believe in God?” “I believe my eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—why not believe everything? I believe this green tree, the blue sky, a barking dog, the smell of incense—why not believe in Buddha or God?” So, you can believe in everything. Believing in everything means realizing that you and everything are never separate.” 1 likes
“Most people are like this. Something they have made in their minds over and over again strongly prevents them from having a complete life. They are desperately trying to get out of a suffering realm that they have made themselves by becoming blindly attached to sensations. But it doesn’t work that easily. The simple reason for their difficulties is that they don’t understand impermanence. This is the path of human beings’ suffering. Everything in this world happens by natural process. You make everything, so you get everything, which means you get some kind of suffering. “I don’t like getting old.” “Oh, my relationship with him ended. I feel so miserable.” “I hate being sick like this.” “I don’t like him.” “I can’t believe my grandmother died.” We all suffer. But if you correctly attain this insight into impermanence, then you can take away these Eight Sufferings. If you don’t understand that all things are impermanent, however, then you become easily attached to things that must eventually pass. As a result, you cannot take away your suffering, and you only continue to make more suffering for yourself and for this whole world.” 1 likes
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