Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Folk Stories of Zen

"Folk Stories of Zen" number 46 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

"Koans are the folk stories of Zen... They are deeply instructive and transformative, and they are destroyed by explanation." Aitken advocates the traditional view and modalities. Just yesterday I was exposed to a slightly non-traditional koan practice.

My two very favorite podcasters, Vince and Ryan over at BuddhistGeeks, recently interviewed Susan Blackmore. Dr. Susan Blackmore is a British psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences. Not just an academic, Susan has been a Zen practitioner for over 20 years.

Susan Blackmore 

The BuddhistGeeks talked with her about her's latest book Ten Zen Questions. This book takes ten questions/koans, some traditional and some with a modern twist, and Susan explores one of two treatments. The first is to take the question and sit with it in a traditional seven day sesshin with her teacher where together they explore that particular question. In the book she describes and journals on that experience. In the second treatment she uses her garden shed to create a three day or so personal solo retreat exploring only that specific question.

Now what is so nontraditional about this approach is that at the beginning of the sesshin, the teacher hands out a sheet of paper with a few questions/koans and each participant chooses one. This is different from my experience. She has a blog setup to discuss her book and the process at Sounds like fun. Susan has fun in the interview and looking at her pictures on her website, she obviously lives on the fun side of life. Susan was a TED presenter in 2008 and presented a talk on memes.

I'm considering a Kindle to help with my dharma study. Being able to search across my collection of Zen texts, being able to load PDFs, built in dictionary and reference, these are game changing tools. Books are cheaper and lots of classical Zen texts are already available.

Do you have a Kindle? Are you considering a Kindle?


  1. Hey Will,
    No Kindle here... Yet. I considered one briefly but here is the thing. There is something sensual about holding a book in the hands that a Kindle lacks. The feel, smell, and sense of holding a book is part of the experience. Think about reading a book on the computer or on a handheld. Just not the same experience. Oh, yeah, I am a book junkie.

  2. Jordan, I'm a recovering book junkie. I've jettisoned the vast majority of my old books. I've realised that making a library and 'hoarding' books in not in keeping with how I see my precepts. I still keep reference books. But one thing I notice is that I have never read a book twice. Even reference books, besides my atlas, my dictionary and a few cookbooks, I don't even look at the reference books I have.

    My books have become a collection of stuff representing my attachments. Fewer books, fewer attachments. I donate almost all my dharma books to our sangha library trusting that they will provide someone else a spark. They do nothing for the world just sitting on my book shelf.

    A Kindle would hide all the physicalness of a book fetish but still ultimately represents my clinging and attachments.

    Thanks friend, for talking me down from that cliff. That was a close one.

  3. On the other hand, as a fellow book junkie, and very early adopter of Kindle 1, I feel it is ever so much kinder to Mother Earth that the vast majority of books I read are electronic. I read so many books, and of such an eclectic collection, that I was never convinced that my freely-given-away books ever really found someone else who cared to read them. Look at your local used bookstore. Shelves and shelves of musty, dusty forsaken tomes hoping someone will come along and, once again experience their feel, smell, and the sense of holding them. It's not going to happen, no matter how romantic we want to be about books. Come to find out, it is not the object/book I love, it is the information they contain, it is the opportunity to get out of my mind's habitual thought patterns and see the world from a different perspective. I feel I can do that, with the least imprint on Mother Nature, by reading on my Kindle. By the way, I have yet to meet a Kindle owner that wasn't thoroughly taken by the ease of using a Kindle for reading, for research, and, until you try you'll never realize, for the ergonomics. - Kathy

  4. Kathy, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Now I'm back on the cliff's edge.

    I never really thought about what happened to the books I gifted my friends and sangha library. I'm sensing that they are probably collected by their new owners just I would have in the past. This is sad.

    You make a great point that it is not the physicalness of the book that matters but the connections made in mind and Mind. The information contained and the expanded awareness are the cheese not paper.

    True environmental costs are hard to quantify. The physical Kindle and its infrastructure (both Amazon Corporation & cellular connectivity) have huge environmental costs. Taking just the paper, I doubt a life time of books adds up to more than a tree or two. Newspapers maybe a couple of more. Really the problem is all the diesel and plastics and pollution in the various processes of both the paper book and the Kindle.

    Thank you Kathy.