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Empty Mirror
Janwillem van de Wetering
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Empty Mirror

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  985 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
A small and admirable memoir that records the experiences of a young Dutch student who spent a year and a half as a novice monk in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery.
Mass Market Paperback, 0 pages
Published April 2nd 1981 by Pocket Books (first published 1973)
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(showing 1-30)
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Tristan Laurillard
I read this book at precisely the right age. As adolescent, with no knowledge of anything. It hit me hard, and zen became part of my blood and bones.

Now, almost 20 years later, I still consider this book to have had more influence on me than any other.

It changed the course of my life. I re-read it every 4-5 years. And when friends want to know more about me, reading this book is one of the things to do.

Do not expect higher wisdom from this book. Rather, it is like cleaning the lenses of your
Karan Bajaj
Jan 31, 2016 Karan Bajaj rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meant to put in 5 stars, not 2! Loved the book :)
William Burr
Dec 03, 2014 William Burr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. As someone who meditates a fair bit, I really appreciated his honest account of his struggle with the rigorous Zen technique. Not to mention that I got comfort from knowing that I'm not the only person for whom meditation has caused hemorrhoids! Yes, he is quite honest.
It's really interesting to find out what Japan was like in the late 50s. Also, fascinating to learn about the mysterious, non-sensical, and yet seemingly incredibly wise Zen practitioners. I can't imagine being h
Dec 13, 2008 Rickeclectic rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Folks interested in Zen, Japan or Van de Wetering
Shelves: about-meaning
Van de Wetering is a very interesting fellow. He grew up in Nazi controlled Amsterdam as a youth and the atrocities there apparently had a major affect on his outlook on life and the meaning of life. He wrote a series of very good mystery novels, some very interesting illustrated children's stories (some with a buddhist theme) and some non-fiction (or only slightly veiled) accounts of his study of zen.
This book is about his life at a zen monastery, one of the few Westerners there at the time. I
Nov 09, 2012 Rich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it's important for us starry-eyed westerners to have our high falutin 'buddhist ideals' debunked by very honest reports from seekers who have gone before us. This does that in spades. If you've ever thought spending time in a zen monastery must be a beautiful, high-level experience and that all zen monks must surely be highly enlightened and compassionate individuals with all the answers, please read this book. At the end of the day, you've still got to work it out for yourself, and ther ...more
Hardcover Hearts
Just fantastic.

This was given to me as a gift from Aunt Alex, and I am so grateful. It is such a unique story- a Dutchman who moves to Japan to live in a Zen monastery and study Buddhism. Being someone who has always wanted to do that, I found this very enlightening. I enjoyed this in the same lines as David Chadwick's "Thank You and Ok!: An American Zen Failure in Japan". Both looked at not only the rigors of the Zen monastic life, but also the social constructs of being a westerner immersed i
Jun 01, 2011 Vi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zen-buddhism
Jan-san has traveled the world and has arrived into Kyoto, Japan to be taken in by a Zen master. He does not speak a word of Japanese and has no contacts in Kyoto with this monastery. Somehow through sheer will, he becomes adopted and promises to stay at the monastery for at least 8 months to learn his master's ways.

This narrative from a Westerner trying to learn Japanese culture and also a new way of behaving is equal parts enlightening and humorous. One extremely humorous moment involves him
Dec 19, 2008 Tonya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provides good insight into the life of a Zen monastery and some basic information on Zen teachings. I gained a lot of insight from reading this book but I was not impressed with the book's ending. I was a little dissappointed to see that th author just left the monastic life after all he had been through during his time at the monastery.

Dec 05, 2014 ania rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Not only has one to do one's best, one must, while doing one's best, remain detached from whatever one is trying to achieve."

"'Maybe,' the master said, 'but I want to go to the cinema NOW.'"

What is the sound of one clapping hand?
Show me the face you had before your parents were born. Show me your original face.
An interesting personal account of a westerner's year spent in a Zen monastery in the 1950s. This is the first such book I've read, and I learned plenty from it, as well as enjoyed it. De Wetering did a good job of balancing autobiography and introspective/personal development narrative writing with observations and descriptions of life in a zen monastery.
Apr 17, 2016 Jane rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Try this: Spend one and a half years in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery. Follow only some of the rules, and find ways to get around the ones you don't like. Focus on succeeding, attaining, and getting what you want, based on your own ideas of what you think you should get or deserve. Leave abruptly, having had a nearly completely "unsuccessful" experience on every level. Lesson learned?
Sumanth Ƀharadwaj
"What is first seen as a loss is now seen as a gain. For he finds solitude, not in far off, quite places; he creates it out of himself, spreads it around him, wherever he may be, because he loves it and slowly he ripens in this tranquility. For the inner process is beginning to unfold, stillness is extraordinarily important." (P. 67)

Excellent read while walking your Path.
Mar 29, 2015 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zeer interessant reisverslag van een Nederlander die in het midden van de 20e eeuw een zenklooster in gaat. In die tijd waren er nog maar enkele buitenlanders die dat deden, waardoor je het boek los kunt lezen van de moderne hypes als mindfullness.
Dec 29, 2007 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very funny and very moving.
The writing is a slightly clunky but the story was fascinating to me. I learned a great about Buddhism through a Westerner's eyes and found myself drawn to learn more about Buddhism.
Mar 06, 2007 Davin rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanisme, zen
A westerner's take on Zen, Japan, and life in a Kyoto Rinzai monastery in the late 50s or early 60s. Far more down to earth than you might think. This is more of a memoir than a new age book.
Elizabeth Schurman
I like all books about spiritual adventure. This one has as its advantage the unusual perspective of a European going to Japan to study right after World War II. And that it ends (spoiler alert!) without the author having any enlightenment or big experience, just being told by the master that he has begun the process of waking up.
Oct 30, 2013 Vineeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(I'm giving it five stars out of five. That said plz don't think I'm giving this book an 'It was amazing!' rating like the hoverlink would have you believe. All my ratings are just out of five and I'd rather not have 'it was amazing' 'really great' 'i liked it' and blabla attached to it. Yes, I'm a silly goose about these things. But captions matter!)

This is a very enjoyable short read. I don't think it was completely honest recount and I feel confident that the author bsed in some places, but t
This book purports to tell the story van de Wettering's experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery. But the more I read this book, the more I realized how much poetic license he takes to fill space. The dialogue felt forced, even manufactured. And many stories seem to be made up completely. At one point he tells a story of his father asking him and two of his friends what professions they wanted to pursue, and it plays out like one of Aesop's fables. The first friend says he wants to be a businessm ...more
Jenifer Mary Rune
Feb 08, 2014 Jenifer Mary Rune rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short and easy read. I picked this up while doing a month long meditation retreat. I don't practice in the Zen tradition but can appreciate a lot of what the author goes through in his experience in the monastery.

You sort of have to laugh at - and admire - his determination to know the purpose of life. In his naivety there is a rare genuineness of character. To be a seeker, like the author, is to be unselfconsciously sincere. It is this quality that leads him to monastery in Japan, and furthe
Mindy McAdams
Jun 10, 2011 Mindy McAdams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhist
A young Dutch man goes to live in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan (in the early 1960s? I think it was around then). He tries hard (for the most part) to practice as he is expected to practice, but he undergoes a monumental struggle. He's restless. He focuses on the pain of sitting zazen. He thinks a lot. But he sticks it out for more than a year.

Although well-written, this book is not fun to read. Sometimes I wanted him to quit complaining. Sometimes I wanted him to leave. Sometimes I wanted t
Mohammad Ali Abedi
The one thing I liked about this memoir of a Danish guy in a Japanese monastery was that it was not wide-eyed, romantic look. The Danish beatnik finds his way to a monastery because of his dissatisfaction of life and his look for the Answer to all his problems and depressions and it is not the enlightenment path he was hoping for. This makes the memoir more likable, seeing that life in the monastery isn’t as holy and pure as we imagine it to be.

Life in it is more boring than life changing. They
Dec 04, 2010 Kapila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mindfulness
"The empty mirror," he said. "If you could really understand that, there would be nothing left here for you to look for."

Dear Amma, Of all the people I can think of who would appreciate this book, I think you would, the most. This man who wrote this book was on a journey to find meaning - a little lost soul with a tremendous spirit of adventure and great determination and independence; in other words, someone just like you. You would love his story, and the stories he tells within his story. Ma
Dec 11, 2016 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very quiet book. It is a collection of stories that give details of the author's time in a Zen monastery. Each chapter is a story, mixed with koans and the personal stories of other monks. It is very well told, I couldn't wait to get back to the book every day. There are interesting i.e. "lightly" bizarre characters. The immensely wealthy gay dude, the stoic Western musician, the passionless master who doesn't do much, and my favourite, the master who achieves Satori through sex. I want to mee ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Z rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, 2014
"You are such a nitwit you will probably enter Nirvana by mistake," jokes a fellow meditator about van de Wetering. It is exactly this quality that makes the writer - confused, well-meaning, honest and direct in that typically Dutch way - so endearing. This is a gem of a book for anyone who has engaged with meditation or Buddhism at any point and has even the most meagre sense of how bewildering the path can be, how stark the seeming contradiction between what you are and what you think you shou ...more
I'm re-reading this trilogy of non-fiction (mostly) memoirs about the author's youthful experiences with Zen. I was practicing Zen in the seventies when I first discovered these books by the popular Dutch mystery writer. For me the chief merits of the books are his disavowal of the excessive earnestness that most westerners bring to their study and practice of Buddhism. Jan was a serious apprentice in a Japanese monastery, and observed the realities of monastic life. He suffered in his pursuit o ...more
Jul 04, 2013 Lachlan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book. Jan comes from his native Amsterdam to move into a Zen monastery in Japan during the 1950's.

In my humble opinion, Jan was ill-prepared for his stay in the monastery. He seems rather deluded, and totally unwilling to break his old habits and frame of mind. He cannot let go and throw himself in Zen training; he is strongly attached to his ego. As a result he suffers considerably, but with little to show for it.

This certainly acts as an interesting counterpoint to roma
This goes to prove that you should read a trilogy in the order in which it was written, both because the author matures in the course of time and because if you get it backward, some of the punches are telegraphed, but I was at the mercy of the Inter-library Loan System and read what I got first. Van de Wetering seems less composed and also less cogent in this volume than in the second volume. More obscure. Perhaps because he was younger and things were indeed less clear to him. It is, neverthel ...more
Jul 17, 2007 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: westerners interested in Buddhism, people interested in Zen Buddhism
This book is an interesting first hand account of a Dutch man living in a Japanese Zen Monastery as a lay practitioner for over a year.

It provides good insights into practicing and following a religion in a different culture. Especially westerners romanticizing and wanting to practice Zen Buddhism.

This book also had interesting insights into Buddhism period the end.

I read it while I was traveling in the Netherlands by myself decompressing after a hard semester. I thought it was appropriate as it
Apr 11, 2013 Yerkiddingright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Yerkiddingright by:
Shelves: japan
This is a story of a Dutchman who visits Japan in 1958, arriving without language skills or much else other than an introduction to a Zen master and his Buddhist temple. The content is very everyday, gritty and down-to-earth, and I think that's the right way to approach the Buddhist religion. I sympathized very much with Janwillem's very painful efforts to sit properly and still (sazen style) for hours on end, with his long inflexible Western legs.
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