Sunday, March 20, 2011

Don't-Know Mind

I find that some of the best Zen books are the least known. The Three Pillars of Zen never resonated with me; it felt too dry and cerebral. Perhaps it had to do with Kapleau's criticism of Alan Watts, the man whose work first introduced me to Zen. The same goes for Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. The first time I read it, it went right over my head. After several rereads and years of practicing, I can now appreciate the classic because I can view it in the context of practice, but as a beginner I was lost.

A fun title I recently stumbled upon was Richard Shrobe's Don't-Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen. Shrobe, a student of Korean legend Seung Sahn, is a Zen teacher in the Kwan Um lineage. In this light, fast-paced read, Shrobe explores the Korean practice of questioning, or not-knowing. Not knowing, the act of letting go of fixed views, in the spirit of Nagarjuna's Madhyamika, is central to the Korean Zen lineage and hwadu study (see my last post on the subject). It frees us to act spontaneously in the ever-changing, uncertain reality we live in, and to appreciate the myserious wonder of this Buddha world. Shrobe's warm and good-humored prose draws readers in and easily acquaints them with the practice of not-knowing, the signature of Korean Zen.

I find that too often Zen students relegate their studies to Japanese and Chinese sources, overlooking the rich Korean tradition. Though less known to Westerners, Son (Korean Zen) possesses just as impressive of a body of literature and practice as its Zen and Ch'an counterparts. And in Don't-Know Mind, Shrobe does a great job of introducing readers to Son's unique approach and contribution to Zen.

I highly recommend this book as a primer for anyone interested in the Korean Son tradition, or in Zen in general. It acts as an excellent supplement for any student of Buddhism. Give it a try.

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