Ambivalent Zen: A Memoir

Ambivalent Zen: A Memoir

by Lawrence Shainberg
     
 

This is a memoir of spiritual ambition, and of the wisdom, disappointment, and antic harrowing comedy that follow in its wake. Introduced to Zen at the age of fifteen by his father, Lawrence Shainberg becomes a sometime devotee of the vision that promises freedom, challenges ego, and aims desire toward the ultimate state of no desire at all. As basketball addict,… See more details below

Overview

This is a memoir of spiritual ambition, and of the wisdom, disappointment, and antic harrowing comedy that follow in its wake. Introduced to Zen at the age of fifteen by his father, Lawrence Shainberg becomes a sometime devotee of the vision that promises freedom, challenges ego, and aims desire toward the ultimate state of no desire at all. As basketball addict, Shainberg's first failed impulse is to apply Buddhism to the mind, which defeats him when he steps onto the court. Later, as a novelist and journalist, Shainberg sees his work inspired and blocked by similar inclinations. Every taste of clarity is followed by its opposite. Again and again he is reminded that Zen is nothing more than total embrace of our impermanence. Shainberg's pilgrimage takes him from the books of Alan Watts, J. Krishnamurti, and D. T. Suzuki to psychoanalysis, karate, and, eventually, the arduous practice of sitting meditation-zazen. Along the way he encounters a number of teachers who fancy themselves Zen masters, and finally, in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, a Japanese master who seems the valid incarnation of all that he's been seeking. The Zen he offers is concrete, unromantic, and demystified.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shainberg's involvement with Zen Buddhism began at the age of 16 in 1951, when he met guru Alan Watts; three years later he took a trip to Indian sage Krishnamurti's spiritual center in Ojai, Calif. His interest in Asian wisdom was spurred by his father, a prosperous Memphis chain-store owner who turned away from traditional Judaism to Zen and Krishnamurti's teachings. Moving to New York's Greenwich Village, Shainberg, a novelist and nonfiction author, studied with Japanese Zen masters from the early 1970s on, practicing meditation, trying to overcome fears and ingrained habits to attain enlightenment. As this poignant memoir's title suggests, Zen discipline brought bliss, frustration, moments of absurdity as well as transcendence as he coped with writer's block, a crumbling marriage, unsatisfying psychoanalysis, karate lessons and a truncated career as a Zen monk-in-training. His luminous self-portrait makes us feel Zen as a lived experience. (Jan.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Shainberg, a skillful writer of both fiction (Memories of Amnesia, British American Pub., 1988) and nonfiction (Brain Surgeon, LJ 6/1/79), turns his attention in this memoir to his lifelong interest in Zen. The result is a personal picture of his involvement with spiritual disciplines and American Zen groups. Some of the passages stand among the best of their kind in terms of conveying the actual experience of various aspects of Zen training. As the title implies, Shainberg's practice of Zen has been beset with a certain hesitancy, and while this ambivalence, as well as many of his other experiences, will ring true to American practitioners, readers new to the subject may find themselves put off by the strength and subtlety of his generally negative assessments. The failing of this book is that we never glimpse the positive fire that motivates Shainberg to return to Zen practice again and again and, ultimately, to embrace it. Nonetheless, his work is recommended for libraries with strong collections in this area.-Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., N.Y.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679441168
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/13/1996
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.13(d)

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