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Long Quiet Highway: A Memoir on Zen in America and the Writing Life

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2001

    A Poignant if Flawed Look at the Quest for Relationship

    Long Quiet Highway suffers from the same dis-ease and the same potential that disturb most of our lives. Where Goldberg has had sufficient time to digest her past, her writing communicates humor, perspective and a sense of hope. When she tackles subjects that are still confusing and disorienting to her, her expressions become muddled, extreme and clouded by her particular neuroses. So when Goldberg is reflecting on her early writing and spiritual life, connecting that to her growing-up years, she communicates well what it means to be on a spiritual quest. Her stories about her experiences with the Llama Foundation, teaching elementary school social studies, and even her early years in Katagiri Roshi's sangha (spiritual community) ring with a certain solidity of perspective and the authenticity that come from experience that is well-digested. When she attempts to describe the complex nature of her attachments to Katagiri, Goldberg quickly loses her center. Her writing becomes vague, extreme and narcissistic. I hesitate to write too critically of this tendency, because it is, I believe, natural and inevitable. The looseness of her thinking and the clouded nature of her perspective are, after all, only to be expected in the wake of such a difficult loss. The thing that motivated me to write this review had most to do with the fact that Goldberg appears to want to claim the neurosis as the revelation. So she states, in both the book and the subsequent interview (given sometime after the taping of the book's reading) that Katagiri intends to appear to her in bodily form (his last words are, 'I'll see you.'). She allows the publisher's interviewer to lead her down the path of sensationalism, to make a great deal of ghosts, visions and supernatural experiences. She remains silent with regard to the abundant expressions in Zen teaching about how such experiences are to regarded ('just keep sitting,' says one master to an eager student, 'and those visions will cease to bother you.') She is determined to finish the quest to be ordained in Katagiri's lineage, apparently as some sort of effort to preserve a living connection to this all-too flawed human being (Katagiri evidently engaged in sexual liaisons with his students, a practice Goldberg can condemn in other spiritual leaders but one she seems to want to minimize in her own teacher). Practice is seemingly now for and about her beloved Roshi. Instead of being able to kill the buddha in order to realize true buddha nature, she seeks to preserve her dead teacher in a kind of state of suspended readiness to bless her efforts toward achieving enlightenment. There is a great deal to affirm in Goldberg's quest, in her effort to establish a practice in which one engages in that 'one thing, no matter what else is happening.' Unfortunately, in the end it seems to be the illusions created by grief that are exalted instead of the quest for enlightenment. Much is affirmed about Zen and spiritual practice that is in direct contradiction to abundant teachings by the Zen masters themselves. No doubt there will come a time when Goldberg's loyalty and diligence in spiritual practice will provide her with much-needed perspective on this experience. She will, perhaps, come to the realization that the vision of the Roshi by the cash register has nothing to do with her 'great effort' as she now asserts. Until that time, however, the assertions made about Zen practice and Zen mentoring found in this work ought to be taken with a very large grain of salt.

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