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Living Zen introduces us to the simplicity, naturalness and depth of beauty found in Zen Buddhism. It is an invitation to look at life afresh, from the perspective of this profound spiritual tradition.
Living Zen has only one aim: to encourage us to take a longer and closer look at all that is around us in the hope that once we have developed a more intense insight we will grow to cherish and nurture this earth and its inhabitants. By living Zen we learn to acquire a heightened awareness. For Zen sharpens our senses and intensifies our powers of perception and so enriches all our experiences. Even everyday events take on a new meaning. The ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary; the extraordinary becomes an everyday experience.
To achieve this insight we first have to understand more about ourselves. When we practise Zen we embark on an inner journey of self-discovery - a journey that leads to a deeper understanding not only of our minds but also of our concept of reality. Through Zen meditation we eventually learn to penetrate the core of our existence so that finally we can see the true nature of our inner selves and the things around us.
Zen teaches us how to become free of the deceptions of the mind and to recognize the full potential of our lives. It is only when we achieve this clarity that we make the breakthrough and realize one of Zen's amazing truths: that how we see ourselves is how we see the universe. For Zen leads us to the ultimate realization that our own human life force and the life force of everything in the universe - whether it is a planet, a mountain, a river, a tree, a plant, a person, an animal, a fish or aninsect - are one and the same.
For many of us today, Western philosophy seems incapable of explaining the real meaning of life or of fully satisfying our deepest spiritual desires. But Zen, with its original perspective, shows that if we really want to penetrate the inner truth we must become free of the life-long conditioning and preconceptions that have restricted and shackled our minds.
In the Western world we have learned to look at things in a way that we regard as logical. We believe that everything in existence has a twofold nature, which we divide into categories such as mental and physical or good and evil. However, this doctrine of dualism on which our logic, philosophies and religions are based does not exist in Zen. What is more, if we examine Zen with a dualistic mentality we will find it confusing and irrational. That is because it is not logical - if anything, it is the antithesis of the dualistic way of thinking. Western logic teaches us to call black black and white white. But Zen refutes this rigid adherence to reasoning. This is not to say that Zen is contrary to common sense; nor is it beyond comprehension. It simply offers us a new, more intuitive understanding of the way we live our lives - free from a dichotomous approach of logic and from the separation of the "self."
This perception of a new reality leads to Zen's precious gift of freedom - freedom from delusions of the ego and from opinion and prejudice. Above all it gives us freedom of the spirit and mind. Zen wants our thoughts to be clear and unobstructed in everything we do, so we can open ourselves to the full extent of its profundity.
It is for this reason that in Zen practice there are no parameters. No limits, cardinal doctrines or philosophies are imposed on the mind. Zen is free of religious dogma and sacred tenets that limit our thinking or inhibit our actions. However, it is not the aim of Zen to undermine established beliefs or challenge traditional religious teachings. All it asks is that we live our lives with compassion, creativity and a deep respect for all living things.
When we trace the history of Zen back to its beginnings, we can see its close connection with nature. The Buddha's teachings that we should respect all life, the naturalistic ideals of Taoism, which shaped Chinese Zen (Ch'an), and the appreciation of the Japanese for the natural world all combined to give Zen its essential affinity with nature. From the outset, Zen scholars recognized
that nature and human creativity were synonymous. The two were considered part of the natural order of the universe - and it was through nature's intense images that many Zen-inspired artists sought to express its living energy, inspiration and wisdom. For in Zen, art that depicts nature is considered an affirmation of life.
The Zen masters understood that nature lives in us and that we live in nature. For them nature was the "greatest cathedral," and they strove through their work to open our eyes to the magnificence of the universe so we would revere and respect it for all time. In this age of environmental destruction, this book, in its own small way, endeavors to continue the mission of these ancient artists by encouraging a greater understanding of Zen's asceticism and by advocating its innate relationship with nature.
Through my photographs on the following pages I have attempted to see beneath the surface in order to capture the "spirit of Zen" and illustrate its sometimes elusive and abstract nature. These images are designed to go straight to the centre of the object to reveal its inner beauty and truth. Through my words I have tried to explain, in the simplest terms, the essence of Zen and its fundamental convictions. But be aware that this is not intended as a definitive work on this subject. There is a wealth of literature that can explain more fully its intimate workings and wisdom. And above all, in your search for enlightenment, keep in mind the Zen axiom that the real truth can often be written about but never properly expressed. Instead, it must be directly experienced.
It is therefore my hope that when you open this book you will also open your mind. For it is my deepest wish that the images and words in this book inspire you to take a look at the world from a different viewpoint and in time you will discover the riches and rewards of living Zen.
living zen every day
zen design and architecture
cultural and social influences
the guiding principles
design and architecture
objects and adornments
the zen garden
a brief history
sand, stone and water
the great within the small
the tea garden
the moss gardens of kyoto
zen gardens for today
learning from the lotus
bamboo: the blessing from heaven
the ways of zen
the ways of zen
chad-o: the way of tea
shod-o: the way of writing
kad-o: the way of flowers
koh-d-o: the way of incense
the infinite unity of the universe
Author Biography: Michael Paul, a writer and photographer, is an authority on Zen gardens and Japanese tea gardens. He has written magazine articles about the subject, has lectured extensively, and has traveled throughout Japan, China, and other countries in the East. He currently lives in London.
Posted January 5, 2001
Living Zen is my first exposure to the way of Zen. It covers a variety of aspects with enough depth to peak your interest. Beautifully accented with related photography, this book is a joy to explore.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.