I picked this book up in a college town's bookstore while visiting my sister. Sometimes I will just pick up a handful of books in the Eastern Philosophy section, and see what I get when I take off my blindfold. On the car ride home I was unsure while glancing over it if I was going to like this one or not. The back speaks of "...Zen sages who were alcoholics, the two natured personality of Zen Masters who enjoy sex and cowboy movies..."-I personally found this description of the contents after having read it, frankly completely off base.
This book is about a Zen student's adventures from Japan, back to Amsterdam, to the United States-where this book takes place for the most part. It could be any Zen community really, it shows what it is like working with others in a very accurate manner. He writes with a direct simplicity-he is not wordy, just says it how it was. Now did I agree with everything he had to say about Zen? Not at all, but the important thing is I was asked a lot of questions while reading this book. And that's what any good book can do above all else, is ask questions-rather than saying, "here, agree with me."
A passage of his book that provided myself with a lot of insight goes as follows,
"A Chinese allegory tells how a monk sets off on a long pilgrimage to find the Buddha. He spends years and years on his quest and finally he comes to the country where the Buddha lives.
He crosses a river, it is a wide river, and he looks about him while the boatman rows him across. There is a corpse floating on the water and it is coming closer.
The monk looks. The corpse is so close he can touch it. He recognizes the corpse, it is his own.
The monk loses all self control and wails.
There he floats, dead.
Anything he has ever been, ever learned, ever owned, floats past him, still and without life, moved by the slow current of the wide river.
It is the first moment of his liberation."
This book is brilliant in all places, it shows some struggle with inner questioning. A wrestling with the author's own cleverness. It almost feels like a diary. One that just so happened to have been written while having a stay with a Zen community. I believe you will come to appreciate this book a lot.