Zen Books Reviewed
Throssel Hole Press is an offshoot of the Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, located in northern England, near Hexham, Northumberland. The abbey was founded by the Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett, an English woman who was ordained in Malaysia in the Theravada tradition, and subsequently studied Sōtō Zen in Japan, where she became a rōshi. She was the founder of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, an international organization of groups led by priests of the Sōtō lineage in Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. In 1970 she began the first abbey, Shasta Abbey, in northern California, where she was the abbess until her death in 1996.
Reverend Master Daishin Morgan is a disciple of Jiyu-Kennett and has been a Zen monk for thirty-six years and abbot of Throssel Hole since 1982. (At Throssel Hole Abbey, all ranks and both sexes are addressed as 'Reverend' and are referred to as monks and priests.) The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, of which Throssel Hole is a member, describe themselves as being in the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition (Ts'ao-Tung Ch'an in China and Sōtō Zen in Japan) and Buddha Recognizes Buddha is firmly in that tradition, drawing heavily on the teachings of Sōtō founder, Dōgen Zenji (1200 – 1253).
Dōgen taught that enlightenment is not something to strive for at some future time but an ever-present reality, that zazen (meditation) is an expression of the inherent Buddha-nature in all of us. The purpose of zazen is not to attain enlightenment but to allow enlightenment to express itself. As Morgan puts it, in zazen, “the wish [for enlightenment] and awakening are indivisible.” (p 17) Morgan continues:
Sōtō Zen teaches us that enlightenment is not something we acquire — it is the ever-resent nature of reality. ... We are not deluded beings who need to be remade into Buddhas. We are Buddhas from the beginning, but unless we awaken to our Buddha nature we will continue to create suffering for ourselves and others. (ibid)
Morgan warns that to seek anything at all from zazen is “to miss the wonder of it”. (p 7) To look for something in zazen is to turn zazen into an illusion. The non-dual nature of Buddhism means that there cannot be a path or journey from delusion to enlightenment: “To imagine we have attained something is as much a barrier as imagining we have not”. (ibid) Yet, as Dōgen wrote in Genjo-koan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point):
As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings.
This is one of the fundamental teachings of Dōgen and Daishin Morgan reiterates this throughout his book. The teachings in this book are refreshingly and uncompromisingly grounded in the teachings of Sōtō Zen as explicated by Dōgen.
As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death.
Buddha Recognizes Buddha is broken into thirteen short chapters dealing with practice with headings such The Wish for Enlightenment, Faith, Endless Training, of Values and Views and Cause and Effect. A further five chapters are given over to commentaries on The Scripture of Avalokiteswara, The Scripture of Great Wisdom, Sandōkai, The Most Excellent Mirror — Samādhi, and Dōgen’s Fukanzazenji: Rules for Meditation.
There are only a handful of teaching books by modern teachers I could recommend to Zen students. Shunryo Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind for Sōtō Zen and The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau for an insight into how Zen is practiced, are perennial favourites. For kōan practice, Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air by John Daido Loori is a useful guide. Beginners in Zen practice often find Robert Aitken’s Taking the Path of Zen a clear, simple introduction to Zen practice. Now I can add Buddha Recognizes Buddha by Daishin Morgan to the list. This book is useful not only for beginners, but for those who have had many years of practice. It is sometimes easy for experienced practitioners to forget some of the fundamentals of the practice. A timely reminder now and then, in language that does not assume ignorance of the basics, is welcome. I think Daishin Morgan’s book is just that; a return to the basics but with a depth that will satisfy those who have practiced Zen for a number of years.
If I have a criticism of the book, it is about the chapter Face-to-Face Transmission, a chapter regarding the student-teacher relationship. While there is nothing here that I fundamentally disagree with, given the scandals that have arisen about inappropriate behaviour by some Zen teachers, I feel that something should be said about how to find a suitable teacher and what to do when a teacher behaves in a non-Buddhist manner. Morgan presents a somewhat idealized version of a Zen teacher which is no longer acceptable in the modern Western context. Whether Zen masters were ever as righteous as history paints them is a moot point; today we know that many are not and too many Zen students have been hurt badly by some teachers. A word or two about what to look for in a teacher and what to do when things go off the rails would be most useful.
Also, although I realize that this group is based on Japanese
Sōtō Zen and therefore refers to the ancient Chinese Ch'an teachers using the Japanese form, I do think it time we in the West recognized that the ancient masters were Chinese, not Japanese, and gave respect to their Chinese heritage by including their Chinese names in either Wade-Giles or the more modern Chinese pinyin in brackets or as a glossary at the rear of the book. Although there are many Japanese Zen terms commonly used in the West (such as the term Zen itself), there is no real reason to perpetuate the culturally inappropriate usupertion of Chinese names in Western Zen practice.
I like this book. I like the way Morgan hammers away at the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism — non-duality, zazen as an expression of enlightenment, non-attainment, the Buddha-nature in all of us — and brings these fundamental points home to our daily life, our daily practice. With the caveats above, I think many will find this a most useful book and I can recommend it.
This book can be purchased through the Throssel Hole Bookshop.