The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery

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Overview

Seen by many as a contemporary classic, Janwillem van de Wetering's small and admirable memoir records the experiences of a young Dutch student—later a widely celebrated mystery writer—who spent a year and a half as a novice monk in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, author of Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, has written, The Empty Mirror "should be very encouraging for other Western seekers."

 

It is the first book in a trilogy that ...

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Overview

Seen by many as a contemporary classic, Janwillem van de Wetering's small and admirable memoir records the experiences of a young Dutch student—later a widely celebrated mystery writer—who spent a year and a half as a novice monk in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, author of Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, has written, The Empty Mirror "should be very encouraging for other Western seekers."

 

It is the first book in a trilogy that continues with A Glimpse of Nothingness and Afterzen.

 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This small and memorable memoir records the experiences of a young Dutch student who spent a year and a half as a novice monk in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery . . . What makes this account extraordinary is that the book contains none of the convert's irritating certitude."--Time Magazine

"What is accessible is the day-to-day description of life, of the monks themselves and of the others he met, of the jokes they played and the food they ate, of the moments of satori, the explosive moment of an understanding surpassing understanding."--Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nearly 30 years ago, van de Wetering, who would later achieve fame as a mystery novelist, published The Empty Mirror, about his experiences at a Zen monastery in Japan in the mid-60s. In 1975, he published a sequel, A Glimpse of Nothingness, about his stint at the Moon Springs Hermitage in Maine. Now the author has written a follow-up, AfterZen, told from the perspective of an aging soul who dropped most formal Zen practice years ago but still carries an abiding respect for the gut truths of the teaching and for at least some of its teachers. Much of the book has the air of the classic Zen saying, "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him": with humor and occasional crankiness, van de Wetering knocks koans, meditation and some of the trappings of the monastic Zen life. There are many flashbacks, to Japan, to his American experiences, to meetings with fellow ex-students, and the book has a somewhat chaotic feel, rather more like life than art. Throughout, van de Wetering's voice is sincere, if iconoclastic. Those looking for composed wisdom should read Basho; those looking for an honest memoir by a perhaps wise man will find this to their taste. One Spirit alternate. (June) FYI: Also in June, van de Wetering's two earlier books, which have been out of print, are being reissued by St. Martin's/Dunne; Empty Mirror: $10.95 paper 160p ISBN 0-312-20774-3; Glimpse: $11.95 paper 192p ISBN -20945-2). Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312207748
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/1999
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,198,839
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Janwillem van de Wetering has lived with his wife on the Maine Coast for twenty years, but before that he lived literally all over the world —Holland, South Africa, London, Japan, South America. He is the author of a successful mystery series.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted April 7, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is the perfect book for any American who is considering spe

    This is the perfect book for any American who is considering spending serious time in a Japanese Zen monastery. Mr. van de Wetering narrative begins with his arrival at the front door of a Kyoto monastery to start an 8 month visit, and ends with his departure two years later. He does a wonderful job in describing the intensity of serious Japanese style Zen, the many and varied characters at the monastery, and his eventual disappointment at not attaining ‘enlightenment’ despite the guidance of the masters and other students. All of this is presented in the skillful and amusing style found in van de Wetering’s other books (in particular in his great book ‘Afterzen’). What I found most intriguing in ‘The Empty Mirror’ was that the monasteries, or at least this one, used techniques similar to what elsewhere might be called brainwashing…participants are sleep deprived, nutritionally deprived, under constant pressure to conform in dress and behavior, living in a very hierarchical community and having no possessions to call your own. And all the sitting and rough food take a serious toil on the body, too (van de Wetering describes the many health problems brought on by extended Zen practice to the digestion system, along with hemorrhoids). Of course, this emphasis on losing one’s individual identity is consistent with the Zen thesis that there is no ‘I’ who suffers and that by understanding our mind, we can put physical discomfort aside. But it’s one thing to read about this concept, and another thing to spend 2 years in a place that puts it in practice. I’m glad I read the book, both for the joy of reading Mr. van de Wetering’s lively style of writing, but also to convince myself that I have no desire to spend extended time in a Japanese Zen monastery. The periodic visits to a monastery while having a day job, as described by Brad Warner (‘Hardcore Zen’ and ‘Sit Down and Shut Up’) are more my style.

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