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Ambivalent Zen: One Man's Adventures on the Dharma Path

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  128 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Seeking help with his basketball game, Shainberg embraced Zen Buddhism in 1951 and was catapulted on a life-long spiritual journey. Alternately comic and reverential, Ambivalent Zen chronicles the rewards and dangers of spiritual ambition and presents a poignant reflection of the experiences faced by many Americans involved in the Zen movement.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 25th 1997 by Vintage (first published January 13th 1996)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  128 ratings  ·  17 reviews


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Daniel Warriner
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent, entertaining and, dare I say, enlightening memoir by Lawrence Shainberg that I've been meaning to read since it came out in 1995. Took me so long to get around to it because Zen and its philosophy—its contradictions, like "perfect imperfection," maybe, but not maybe, maybe—stuff like that, twist up my mind and confound way worse than this sentence likely does for you. Had I read the book when it came out, I would've long ago realized I'm not alone. Though while I've barely scratche ...more
David Guy
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
After sesshin this year, I felt an urge to read books about Zen (usually I want to read anything but), not dharma books, but memoirs of Zen experience. First I turned to a book that only a sideways look at Zen, by a man who practiced reluctantly, Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia by George Crane. Then I reread, for the third or fourth time, my all-time favorite memoir of spiritual practice, Ambivalent Zen, by Lawrence Shainberg.

Shainberg has published fiction and non-fiction, inc
...more
Marshall
Apr 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was such a fun and fascinating book. I was ambivalent about Zen myself, but I committed myself to it for six months and decided it's not for me, so I thought this would be a good memoir to help me make sense of my experience. Indeed, there were many concerns I had that were confirmed from reading this book.

Zen is very strict, even dogmatic, and it is laser focused on eraticating ego. It certainly makes one wonder what it would be like to really commit oneself to this practice in a serious w
...more
Kate
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An honest (even bracing!) and humorous memoir that endears Larry S. to me and also, even, helped my meditation on the cushion. Watch out for your mind! should be posted like a road sign at all zendoors.

I can't share his love of Beckett, but that is beside the point.

Shainberg lets us see and feel how his meditative accomplishment and his humannness are inseparable and always bothered by trying to be inseparable. Many Dharma memoirs fall into the pit of overemphasizing the folly of the author, t
...more
Craig Bergland
Simply outstanding! I found myself drawn into the story as if it was a novel and identified with the author's ambivalence around teachers and authority figures and people's willingness to surrender to authority figures even when their behavior doesn't seem to justify it. I found his time with Bernie Glassman fascinating and and at the same time disappointing, and was left with the nagging feeling that his real teacher was right under his nose all along. Perhaps there is something about the desir ...more
Rich Lindner
Jun 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very honest warts and all memoir of one man's struggles with his Zen practice. ...more
Kelly McCubbin
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shainberg has a strange and deft touch in this memoir of his life through a succession of teachers.
No one that I've read has captured the relentless struggle and courage of maintaining a Zen practice. If you think such a practice is relaxing, please read this book before you step into the Zendo. Neither have I read an account more insightful about the pitfalls of teachers with egos of troubling proportion.

This is not to say that these teachers aren't earnest in their beliefs. They are both since
...more
Lizzie
Jul 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, read-in-2008
This is a spiritual autobiography by a cranky, neurotic Zen student. He starts with descriptions of his father, another spiritual seeker who was reading Krishnamurti and Buddhist books and going to an analyst in the late 40s. Encouraged, he pursues his own spirituality through Zen, martial arts, monastic and lay Buddhist practices.

I found his descriptions of Bernie Glassman's Zen organization in New York in the 60s interesting - it sounds like Glassman fell into the same megalomania that Richar
...more
Scott
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
This takes a different approach from most Zen books - it's much more of a memoir of the author's life, in which Zen practice plays a huge part, than a discussion of the usual Zen issues. Which is totally refreshing.

Shainberg got involved with Zen in the early 50s and over the course of the next four decades (the book ends in the mid 90s) practices with and meets a number of well known figures in the Zen world, and his portraits of them here are not all flattering, so there's a bit of a "Shoes O
...more
Carrie
Feb 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
I'm newly exploring Zen--this book made me a little worried(not enough to stop exploring)but mostly left me feeling a huge distaste for the author. I feel like the book ended abruptly. I'm sure there's something very "Zen" about the way he wrote the book, and meant to make it unsettling, but I was just left cold. ...more
Reader
Nov 14, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was recommended as a resource to learn about meditation and zen, but what I really took from it was the frustrations and dangers that come from the "process" of seeking. As a memoir, it was certainly entertaining, but with a level of detail that was sometimes aimless and unnecessary to get the story across. Perhaps a student of Zen Buddhism would take more from it than I did! ...more
Emma
Aug 28, 2008 marked it as did-not-finish
it was a good book, i just found others i became obsorbed in.
Briana
May 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shainberg is very sympathetic and I love memoir, but by the end I was annoyed with him. The book was very good nonetheless.
Brett
Oct 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shainberg paints a balanced picture of the life of a spiritual seeker. This book has equal parts cynicism and encouragement for those on the Dharma path.
Clintweathers
A somewhat cynical, though entirely realistic, memoir of what life in a contemporary Zen sangha is like.
Peter
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended by my brother, an interesting memoir by a guy who thinks staring at a wall for 14 hours a day is a vacation. Enjoyed it.
Hollis Fishelson-holstine
I put this aside while reading another spiritual and when I started it again, I decided it was too 'sniveling' and self-pity and gave up on it ...more
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