On Reading Zen Books

Let me say a little something about reading Zen books…. A lot of people wonder is it appropriate? Zen practice is about direct experience. It’s not reading somebody else’s experience of Zen.

It’s getting on the mat, doing zazen, looking into my own mind. Does book reading have a role to play?

Roshi Kapleau used to say, famously…: “the best Zen book is the one that makes you close it and go sit.” And that’s good. I agree with that. But sometimes it doesn’t mean that you read two pages and then you’ve got to stop and do zazen or you’re wasting your time.

We have a lot of blocks and wedges, as the old Chinese masters used to say, in our selves that affect our practice, and that cut us off from reality, from the bare experience of our lives. Sometimes it helps to read and to get some insight into these things and and be encouraged on our in our practice.

So everybody has to figure this one out for themselves. This is a koan for each one of us. Does reading help me in my practice? Am I doing too much? Am I doing too little? I wouldn’t obsess about it and worry too much.

If you find a book and you find it inspiring, then go right ahead. But do get to the mat as well. Because that’s where it really, that’s where the real action is.

~ Sensei John Pulleyn, Sept. 19, 2021