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Bow First, Ask Questions Later: Ordination, Love, and Monastic Zen in Japan

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  70 ratings  ·  11 reviews
What happens when a free-spirited, modern American girl goes on a spiritual quest into structured, traditional Japanese Zen life?

Gesshin Claire Greenwood was a liberal, free-spirited American girl who found meaning and freedom in disciplined, traditional Japanese Zen life. However, she came to question not only contemporary American values but also traditional monastic one
Paperback, 264 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Wisdom Publications
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I have only recently become aware of Gesshin Claire Greenwood’s work, both through her blog ( and because I read her more recent book “Just Enough” ( That was when I realized I was absorbing all her material in the wrong order, but whatever. I liked what I read, so I got a copy of “Bow First, Ask Questions Later” – and I admit I got very excited when I realized Brad Warner had written the foreword. He's yet to recommend a ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bow First, Ask Questions Later is a memoir by Gesshin Claire Greenwood, a white woman from San Francisco, who ordained as a Zen monk in Japan at the age of 24 years. She talks about her experiences in the monastery, as a student, as a teacher, as a questioner. And she does so with openness and humor.

Simply running down the table of contents was fun, and yes, the book is named for one such chapter. It implied that I would be brought on a spiritual journey and would laugh along the way.

I loved thi
Jonna Higgins-Freese
The main thing I took from this was a better understanding of the perspectives and practices of the Zen priest I know who was trained in Japan. Basically, Zen training in Japan appears to be an even more extreme form of the long-term hazing that happens to graduate students. I don't get it, and I'm not convinced it's a helpful or positive thing. This was solid and the author has potential, but I thought the quality of the insights, and the incisiveness of the prose in which they were presented, ...more
Danny Martin
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I saw her interviewed on you tube, on Brad Warner's (Zen Monk) Hardcore Zen show, and thought she was interesting, and has had an interesting journey. Read the book, and, as I hoped, it was in fact, an interesting tale of how she became a Zen monk / Nun, living in two different Monasteries in Japan. The challenges, and fluctuation from happiness to frustration, to joy, was a pleasant testament to authentic vulnerability.
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’ve waited many years for a book, and more importantly, an author who could speak to me about the uncertain path of this life. I cannot adequately explain the impact of this book. I can only say that it affected me initially at a visceral level, in the gut. Like having cold water or a blast of heat hit me. Then I felt it reach my chest and heart, which is where it has stayed. I feel now a new joy and calm acceptance without diminishing or quenching the thirst of the search.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"What about the great matter of life and death? What can I take with me when I die?"

This is in the category of spiritual memoirs; I loved following Gesshin Claire Greenwood's journey, and her honest thoughts as a zen practitioner. I'm still thinking about the questions she raised.
Alexis Colton
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. I appreciated her views on feminism with respect to monastic life. Don't think I'm cut out to be a zen nun.
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honest and Heartfelt

A good read that feels more like a discussion. Though I would have like more detail in some areas, this book touched me in its honest and humble prose.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. My mom.and I shared it for a read and it proves a wonderful discussion about the spirit and love.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I felt this book needed a bit more time to settle, which is why I'm giving it three stars. It felt like a work still in progress, both materially and philosophically: the Big Questions she considers aren't ultimately still up for debate - but our, and her, response to them is - and the structure of the book felt inconsistent.
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May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written, and an enjoyable read. I found a little bit too "light". Anecdotes from her life intermingled with contemplations on Buddhism and life, but both topics stopped without going the full length. Possibly a reflection of the fact that a lot of the writings started out as blog posts?

Regardless, what's there is valuable and enjoyable, and definitely a perspective and experience that is difficult to find elsewhere.
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Gesshin Claire Greenwood is the author of Bow First, Ask Questions Later: Ordination, Love and Monastic Zen in Japan. An ordained Zen priest, she spent over 5 years training in Japanese monasteries, and is currently the youngest American authorized to teach Zen.

An avid cook, dog lover, and sometimes collage maker, she blogs intermittently at Her next book, a ve

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