BOOK REVIEW: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers.

I am breaking my ango silence to bring you a review!

Somehow I got on the cool guy list and received an advance readers copy of this book...  

Ha! Like I'm an advanced reader or something!

Oh, not what they meant... OK.

The introduction to this book is really inspiring. I am partial to "Rebel Zen"tm anyway so that is no revelation. I did cringe a bit at a slight stink of secular poly ticks I caught in there though.

The first chapter is about Layman P'ang. I think it gives a good overview of the guys character.  I read a good book with a lot of stories attributed to him that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about him.

Chapter two is about that old shit stick Rinzai, and gives a wonderful social/historical setting for his life and times. The record of Rinzai ought to be read over and over by any zen wanabe. But don’t think that if you go around calling people shit sticks that you are free, your just another zen poser with a contrived act.

Chapter three is about Bassui, and I am really grateful for this chapter because I had not read much of him in the past. But it turns out he was ordained in the lineage of Dogen, had a tendency towards being a hermit, and eschewed scriptures and pomp & circumstance of monastic life and favored Zazen... I think I would like to read this guys record.

Chapter four covers Ikkyu, I thought I had heard enough about Ikkyu, but this book devotes quite a few pages to the man. I can say after reviewing it I give him a 70-80%.

Chapter five, Bankei, Another old master who's works I have not been intimate with and after reading a bit about him I see why. It is a shame. Bankei's death poem may be one of the best ever. That said, a teacher like Bankei may not be what we need today, although they way I see it he already has plenty of imitators.

Chapter six, the demon Hakuin. I can't seem to write the guys name with out putting "The Demon" in front of it.

But since a good friend told me I had a bit of a demon nature, I suppose he is in good company. Still, I pretty much detest how his heirs have perverted the Koan tradition... Oh well.

Chapters seven and eight were about a couple of 20th century masters Nyogen Senzaki and Nakagowa Soen and the chapters were a bit anti climactic. But the epilogue might be pleasing to some.

My overall impression of this book is that it gives an informative historical overview of some of the greats of Zen... Be they radicals or not. I am not sure if I go along with the premise that they were radicals at all personally, but maybe that is just me. I think they were just these guys, you know...

The good news is that this book is well written and a pretty quick read.

Which for me provided a nice break between the Lotus Sutra and Baizhang's Monastic Instructions.

Go ahead and click the greed button...  Or even better click on those links and buy some of those books....  Especialy the Bassui one, then send it to me...



Al said...

Hey Jordan,

I'm interested in how Hakuin's heirs have misconstrued koan practice. I've been diving into this topic lately and would like to know your thoughts.



真行  said...

Hey! Its good to see your face. And great that you've got some reading material coming your way.

In the news here, just got an order of My Green Tea in... Let's hope I don't botch it in the brewing...

Thanks for the review!


真行  said...

Heck, in my rush to get to a meeting, I forgot to check the follow-up box and I'd like to hear your answer to Al's question, provided you have the time and opportunity to respond.

Just checked and see you guys are in the Philippines.. May your experience be better there than last time..


SlowZen said...

Hi Al,
There are no fixed answers.

All mu best.



They have Wifi set up on the mess decks, so that is allready an improvement over last time.

Your water should be between 140-170 degrees, warm the pot amd cups first. place the tea in the vessel, anbout a tablespoon per (strong) cup, less if you desire a weeker cup. Gently add water over the leaves and make a circular motion with the pot in hand for about 30 seconds. Fill the cups gradualy pausing to slowly all water perhapse a third of a cup at a time.

SlowZen said...

Ugh, messed this up " Fill the cups gradualy pausing to slowly all water perhapse a third of a cup at a time."

Should read: Fill the cups slowly and distribut the tea gradualy about a third of a cup at a time per cup.

The idea here is as the tea leaves the pot it will be at varying strenght, so if you fill one cup and then another one will be too strong and another too week.

The middle way is best!

真行  said...

Tried it this morning. It's wonderful, so simple, this tea. No bitter or metallic after-taste at all. If there's one thing I'll have to get used to, its waiting for the water to cool sufficiently, though pouring the water from cup to cup seems to be a nice way to do that...

We have Bassui's Mud and Water at the Zen Center. I've liked the segments I've heard in taped teishos... My pile of reading material is growing faster than I can keep up with though it seems. Lately, I've been reading Opening the Hand of Thought. (I've previously only read segments.) Wish I had 'known' Uchiyama so well during the celebration of his death day at Antaiji. Oh well...

Thanks for your instruction!

Sean said...


Glad to read your update. That book sounds intriguing. I myself feel a little swamped as far as Dharma studies, but it sounds like that book could serve to open up my perspective, some.

Regarding Bassui and books, I'd like to as some questions:

- Should the Mud and Water book be addressed to the 31st MEU's FaceBook contact address? If it was, would it make it to the ship?

- Will they accept a book shipment from Amazon.com shipside? I know it probably makes sense if they would, but I felt I should ask.

- Who should be listed as the addressee? (Not sure if "Gunny Jordan" would be accurate enough)

If it would be more appropriate, I see that I could send an email from my dot-army-dot-mil addy to your dot-usmc-dot-mil addy. I'm just not aware of your last name, here, Gunny.

Not wanting to sound gushy about it, I just think that that the Mud and Water book is a great collection of teaching by revered Bassui, and I'd be happy to take the opportunity to have Amazon.com send a copy of that book.

In mud and water,

- Sean

SlowZen said...

Hi Sean,
Thanks for the offering.
But I can not ethicaly accept gifts from a junior service member.

Somewhere in the South China Sea,

真行  said...

That's good cause I already got you a copy -- too say thanks for recommending Antaiji.

Take good care of yourself out there!


SlowZen said...

And the giving compleats the circle... or something like that.

Thanks G!

真行  said...

Gee, you're welcome!

Thanks for looking!