Book Review: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers

Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers
Written by Perle Besserman, Manfred Steger
Published by Wisdom Publications
To be published January 1st, 2011

I really enjoyed reading this book. At times I felt like I was watching a Three Stooges marathon with all the stick slapping, poking and antagonism. There were more than a few times that I laughed quite loudly, so much so, those around were wondering what the heck I was laughing at. These guys,seemed more like comedians than Zen masters, which made their wisdom that much more palatable.

I have to say, this book has opened my eyes a bit to a better understanding of Zen. There were parts of Zen, still are a few, that I didn’t get. After reading about guys like Ikkyu, who for lack of a better description, stuck their fists in the air to the Zen institution, I now see it as a revolution. To me, all Buddhist thought is revolutionary, but the Zen these guys follow seems to come at it from a different angle.

“Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers” is a series of commentaries on some nonconforming, “eye-gouging” characters. From Layman P’ang to Rinzai, Bassui to Ikkyu, Bankei to Hakuin and Nyogen Senzaki to Nakagowa Soen the discourses written here on each master are not only enjoyable, but this book is an easy, quick read. If you don’t chuckle at least a couple time, you need to re-read the book.

Although each character is quite unique, there is one core thing that all have in common, and that they all bucked the trend of the Zen institution at the time. They all rebeled against the rituals and the shininess of traditional Zen and created something transparent. They stripped all the “shit” as many of them called it, and just concentrated on what the Buddha himself taught.

I look forward to delving a bit deeper into some of these master’s teachings. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers” and believe you will too.

One Comment

  1. Zen Buddhism’s rhetoric surrounding rituals and its relationship to practice is interesting. While the anti-ritual attitude often appeals to many modern people, it’s important to note that throughout history the anti-ritual rhetoric was usually accompanied by strict ritual observance.

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