My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My copy of The Tao of Zen has a bit of a story. When writing my paper on Heidegger and Haiku I’d been looking everywhere on the Web for Taoism, Zen, and pages that would help me understand Eastern Philosophy. It wasn’t that I had no idea about what Taoism or Zen were. My interest has been long-lived to say the least; I’ve owned the I Ching and Tao Te Ching (or Lao Tzu) a few years now and have generally messed around with the ideas from time to time. That doesn’t mean however that I necessarily understood the point these books and texts were trying to make.
Then I found The Tao of Zen. “Zen is Taoism disguised as Buddhism. When twelve hundred years of Buddhist accretions are removed from Zen, it is revealed to be a direct evolution of the spirit and philosophy of Taoism.” I had felt at times that dogmatic Buddhism was somehow foreign to the Chinese environment but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. This sounded perfect!
I found a single used copy of The Tao of Zen on eBay and promptly bought it. It came all the way from the US, complete with underlining and side-notes in Chinese! I wonder who might have owned it previously and then decided to give it away to some online bookshop or whatever its trip might have been.
This book did everything I thought it would and more. It finally “cleared” the different concepts and beliefs of the various “Eastern Philosophies”, if such a thing is even possible in the end. It’s obvious that while yes, Buddhism does have a strong religious element in it that is sometimes not attributed to it by us Westerners, Taoism and especially Zen have only had such an element implemented by contemporary oversight. This book shows that, at their core, not only Tao and Zen are speaking of the same things, they ARE, more or less, the same thing.
The first part of the book shows the cultural and historical connections of Tao and Zen throughout the millennia, linking the traditions using citations and alternative readings of classic texts. To be honest I could not follow it very much, though it inspired confidence in me that Mr. Ray Griggs knows his stuff. The second part was a whole different story. It, too, inspired me. But the kind of inspiration you find when you read things you feel are essentially true, that have shed the veil off your eyes, that are, even though Taoism rejects the insignificant truth that can be conveyed through language it, words that ARE connected to some greater truth.
The Tao of Zen, by connecting the two, has taught me the fundamentals of both: Wordlessness, Selflessness, Softness, Oneness, Emptiness, Nothingness, Balance, Paradox, Non-Doing, Spontaneity, Ordinariness, Playfulness, Suchness. Each a concept and a chapter of the book filled with wisdom. Now I know what I must un-know. Now I can say with all honesty that this philosophy is something very wonderful and special that sounds true to my heart, a worldview that is fully compatible but totally absent from the Western world and, sadly, by extension, the lands that gave birth to it.
This book is so dense in deep meanings I could not grasp it all at once, so I’m sure I’m going to read it again, and again, and again, if only as a reference to Tao and Zen. It’s a rare book and one that I definitely want to keep. Whoever might want to read it however — and I think that everyone might find some kind of worldly connection in it — is free to borrow it from me. I’ll be more than happy to share the deep and elusive stuff cramped in this beautiful little tome!