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Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  8,143 ratings  ·  260 reviews
When Zen Flesh, Zen Bones was published in 1957 it became an instant sensation with an entire generation of readers who were just beginning to experiment with Zen. Over the years it has inspired leading American Zen teachers, students, and practitioners. Its popularity is as high today as ever.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a book that offers a collection of accessible, primary Z
Paperback, 216 pages
Published September 15th 1998 by Tuttle Publishing (first published 1957)
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Sanjay Gautam
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's one of my all time favorites. I have read and re-read this book countless times. And I absolutely loved it every time I read! Zen Flesh and Zen Bones is a compilation of zen koans, and stories.

A Koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning; and provoke enlightenment.

What is the sound of clap by one hand?

From a rational or intellectual perspective, it’s not easy to make sense of such a puzzle. Some
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, favourite
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
Jul 15, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
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.
Hákon Gunnarsson
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism, zen, non-fiction
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a collection of three zen works, 101 Zen Stories, The Gateless Gate and Ten Bulls. And one chapter from the pre-zen Rudrayamala Tantra. I think this is probably a good book for people that are interested in Zen Buddhism, and I do like reading it, but I don’t think I got a lot out of it.

The first two works are Zen koans. I enjoy reading those, some I find funny, others interesting and understandable (which most likely means I got them wrong), but there is always a part of
Feb 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
JT Neville
May 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most influential books in my life. A treasure if you read it at the right time.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Oh my god, this crap gets tiring really quickly. That which is up is down. That which is down is up. The pinecone is not a raspberry, unless the raspberry is also a pinecone. Does my fart have the Buddha nature? And so on.

It reads like Monty Python you're meant to take seriously. "No, no -- it's not gibberish. It's DEEP."

I think part of the problem is that it's so old. These stories are from another culture, another time. So it becomes a little self defeating.

"Here, read this ancient Japanese
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: spirituality
This was a strange one. I found the Zen tales at times amazing - one sent shivers down my spine and utterly stopped my mind. The rest of the time I was puzzled, bemused and oddly infuriated!

I loved the Kashmiri Shaivism text at the end - beautiful, concise, a lifetime's worth of wisdom teachings :)
Oct 06, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Master Okama shows his student a walking stick.
-Master: What is this?
-Student: A walking stick?
Master Okama cuts off the student's hand.
-Master: Go away and darken my towels no more.
Commentary: There is no stick. There is no hand. Whoever sees this clearly will play golf with Buddha today in The 34th Heaven.
Mar 12, 2009 is currently reading it
I like it so far..., but I'm not to attached to it. ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a great collection of Zen writings, which may or may not enlighten you on the subject. It did contain classic Zen stories and koans, and I really enjoyed reading it.
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
People in these stories are so human and you are amazed by their depth of character, their charm, their sense of humor, their gracious and big-heart attitude. Thankfully the book can be browsed online on:

First story is so beautiful as it discusses those who come asking you a question only to use you as a sound board and in reality they don't want to hear anything else. I also love the story of that nun who challenged that swooned monk to act on his love if
James Joyce
I remember being quite inspired by this book, but details are sketchy. I'll have to give it a re-read, at some point. ...more
Chetan Narang
I finally understand why people like Alan Watts and Osho used to rave about this book being one of the best books on Zen. It’s a marvellous collection of ancient Zen texts - short, meaningful and often amusing stories, parables and conversations; and much more!

An absolute delight!
Joan DeArtemis
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen
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
18th book of 2020.

An interesting collection of Zen writings, including:

101 Zen Stories - Such as:

A great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack the enemy although he had only one tenth the number of men the opposition commanded. He knew that he would win, but his soldiers were in doubt.
On the way he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told his men: 'After I visit the shrine I will toss a coin. If heads comes, we will win; if tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand.'
Nobunaga ent
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Start anywhere and begin losing. It feels so healthy after a while. Thank you.
Atul Pandey
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Either it's the simplicity or my immaturity ....some of the stories resonated but others just flew by still i haven't internalized but i will give time for the seed to mature !! ...more
Jacob Robertson
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One does not move without zen in that zen moves within you.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you want to dive into actual stories of Zen masters, to understand what they think, what their experience is, you'll read this one more than once. ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book has in one way or another whispered itself into American culture with its Zen stories and pithy teachings. The very first story we get is a cup too full – how are we to receive when we are filled with opinions and beliefs.

Another classical story from this collection is of the two monks walking down a path and one helps a lady. After a while the other monk asked the first why he touched the pretty lady, and the first monk replies, I left the girl back there, "are you still carrying her
Goran Powell
Dec 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: zen
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
Jan 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Admittedly: I would NEVER have picked this book up on my own. Never. But one of my good friends at school gave it to me to read and told me it was one of his favorites. We are in the habit of talking about books a lot and reading similar things so I read this as an act of friendship. As a Christian, there is an immediate, significant worldview dissonance with Zen/Buddhism so there's really no way this reading could have gone well for me. But just generally speaking, I found it to be a very unenj ...more
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jenifer  R.
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am not a student of Zen, but I enjoyed this collection. I recently took it on a bike tour with my partner, and we read from the 101 Zen Stories and The Gateless Gate together in the evenings. What we read left us both in a state of wonder and curiosity - and sometimes laughter and puzzlement. There aren't any interpretations in this book. No philosophical musings, no preaching or teaching. There are stories of book burnings, cat heads, irritable nuns, clueless intellectuals, and stingy artists ...more
Mark Darrah
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes less is more.

This collection of stories, koans, and teachings provides a glimpse of Zen to English readers without adornment. Elegant and confounding in its simplicity, this book shares the experiences of Zen, stages of awareness, and mind puzzles to prompt awareness beyond words. The editors have wisely refrained from attempting to draw universal conclusions providing their insights or personal directives.

The book is a treasure. It's only 224 pages long but provides material for a li
Steve Malley
Jan 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Bernie Gourley
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wisdom
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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85 likes · 13 comments
“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?”
“If the feet of enlightenment moved, the great ocean would overflow; If that head bowed, it would look down upon the heavens.
Such a body has no place to rest. . . .
Let another continue this poem.”
More quotes…