The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monasteryby Janwillem van de Wetering
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,/i>… See more details below
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.
- St. Martin's Press
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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.