Zen is a path to spiritual fulfilment. In order to follow it you need to be able to do two things: sit on your butt and breathe. How hard is that? Do you need to be a buddhist to do Zen? No. Zen and Buddhism are kissing cousins but they aren't married. Any Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist can study Zen without comprising his or her beliefs. There are three things that will help along the way: great faith - not faith in a Christian sense but simply a firm belief that the Zen path will lead to enlightenment; great doubt - you must be prepared to take nothing for granted and examine everything for yourself from the ground up; and great perseverance - Zen is not instant enlightenment, it takes years of constant effort. Travel the path and enjoy
This compact book, “A Thousand Paths to Zen” by Robert Allen, comes in at just under 500 pages and it contains a blend of the author’s personal insights on the topic off Zen, with a small number of thoughts from other ‘recognized’ Zen masters throughout history. The thoughts/ideas are very brief, with most of them being just a single sentence in length.
If you consider that, “Real Zen has no name. It is beyond all names. Anything that calls itself Zen, isn’t” you can see the quandary when making this topic the subject of a book. And, just as writing a book on a topic that can’t be accurately described by words is a challenge, reviewing a book with this same criteria is equally daunting; therefore, I don’t think a review delving into the validity of the individual thoughts presented by the author would serve a useful purpose. Perhaps those with far more experience in Zen would find it useful to debate the merits of each thought, but as a beginner I would merely say that a number of the thoughts resonated with me and there were countless others that led to a great deal of contemplation and introspection. A random selection of these thoughts are as follows:
“Try to get Zen and you will fail, but if you don’t try you will never get it.”
“An opinion is like a bone in an egg.”
“Just shut up for once and listen to the silence.”
“In Zen you become all new and shiny.”
“Zen is better than sitting around doing nothing.”
Also a positive note, the fact that the book is physically small and it contains thoughts that are quick to read means that it is portable and can be easily accessed whenever the reader has a few moments.
On the other side of the coin (where does one side end and the other begin?), I did not care for the fact that on some pages the font colour was similar to the background because this made the text difficult to read. Related to the content, there were numerous times when the author’s thoughts did not resonate with me in the slightest. I am not saying that I am right and the author is wrong, I am just saying that my views on Zen do not coincide with his. As one quick example, from the last quote mentioned above, I don’t believe that Zen can be “better than” or “worse than”. There were also several places where I felt that a thought was a direct contradiction to a previous thought.
Weighing the balance of positives and negatives, I can say that I did benefit from some of the thoughts in this book and it won’t be sentenced to a dusty corner in the local thrift store; it is however not a book that I will refer to frequently. Ah, now that I think of it, I seem to recall that there is a little bit of room in the glove box of my car.