This post was written in response to The Weaver of Grass' request for her readers to write about something which -or someone who- inspired them.
This book inspired me when I first read it as a teenager. I mislaid it for years and when I found it again recently, I realised it had often influenced the way I thought about things since I first read it. It did not lead me to become a Zen Buddhist, but it certainly equipped me with Zen-tinted spectacles which I found myself wearing from time to time.
What's it about? It's a collection of Zen stories, poetry, koans (the full text of the Zen classic, The Gateless Gate) and advice on meditation. What's Zen about? It is often said that Zen has been confusingly half-understood in the West and I'm not about to add to that confusion. Let's just say that Zen is not a religion (one can't become a Zennite as such). It would be more accurate to describe it as an attitude to thought.
Let the book speak for itself:
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
And, my current favourite:
A nun who was searching for enlightenment made a statue of Buddha and covered it with gold leaf. Wherever she went she carried this golden Buddha with her.
Years passed and, still carrying her Buddha, the nun came to live in a country where there were many Buddhas, each one with its own particular shrine.
The nun wished to burn incense before her golden Buddha. Not liking the idea of the perfume straying to the others, she devised a funnel through which the smoke would ascend only to her statue. This blackened the nose of the golden Buddha, making it especially ugly.
I found it quite hard to make my mind up who or what to write about. I almost wrote a post about the chap who painted this "rear view" self portrait...