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Posted June 2, 2003
Ray Grigg offers an interpretation of Zen as grounded in Taoism rather than in Buddhism. His treatment is historically informed, astute, and provocative. In chapters devoted to Lao Tzu, Bodhidharma, Ch'an, Hui-neng, Nonin and Bankei, and other topics, Grigg works hard to dissociate the fresh and playful spirit of Zen from the plodding dogmatism of Mahayana Buddhism. The crux of Griggs's case is that while Buddhism seeks to escape suffering through detachment from all things, Zen is closer to Taoism in cultivating an earthy engagement with life and the Way of nature. Perhaps it is understandable why Griggs wishes to dissociate Zen from orthodox Buddhism. It is less clear whether Zen should be understood as an outgrowth of Taoism (or both as an outgrowth of ancient yoga practices in India, as Griggs suggests). The many varieties of both Zen and Taoism make establishing a tight connection between the two a daunting, if not impossible task. Why try at all? Maybe because, without Buddhism, it isn't obvious why one should be interested in Zen. With a Buddhist foundation, attaining satori or enlightenment can be seen as a way of freeing ourselves from the hopeless cycle of suffering in the world. But if Zen has nothing to do with Buddhism, then why do zazen or meditate on koans or engage in any other Zen practices? Griggs's answer might be that Taoism, with its emphasis on the natural good of 'going with the flow' of the Tao, provides a suitable non-Buddhist foundation for these practices. My own answer is that Zen needs no foundation, Taoist or Buddhist or otherwise. The fact that Zen practices bring peace of mind, calmness, and clarity is all the 'foundation' Zen needs. If that's enough to qualify Zen as Taoist, great. If not, that's okay, too. Readers unfamiliar with Zen and Taoist concepts should read something more elementary first; readers who want to take the next step will enjoy Griggs's book. When you hit humdinger sentences like, 'Nothingness and everything become the same experience as they conceptually disappear in opposite directions in one absolute,' keep reading. It's worth your while.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.