Provides eighty-one lessons on attaining enlightenment and peace of mind.
Anyone who has read Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu will find much that is familiar in this book. They will also find much that is strikingly new and different, so much so that one doubts very much that this book could have been written by Lao Tzu (always supposing that such a person actually existed). The book seems fairly obviously to be the work of much later thinkers, which isn't to say we should dismiss it because of that.
Although certain of its ideas are, in terms of philosophic Taoism, perfectly orthodox, others are highly unorthodox, but ALL are beautifully expressed. Brian Walker has a wonderfully lucid style, and despite the unorthodoxy of certain passages, it seems to me that a book like this can only do good.
It brings to the West a wisdom that many more people would benefit from being exposed to, and for a certain kind of reader it might prove more approachable than even Stephen Mitchell's marvelous reworking and adaptation of the 'Tao Te Ching.'
Although I can understand the objections of the purists, I don't seen any harm being done, particularly if newcomers were to follow it up with a reading of either, or preferably both, the 'Tao Te Ching' and Chuang Tzu.
Chapter 10 immediately caught my attention. Here is the opening with my obliques to indicate line breaks:
"The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle : / Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses, / it swings from one desire to the next, / one conflict to the next. / If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life. // Let this monkey go..." (p.13).
It would be difficult to argue against the orthodoxy of this wonderful poem, a poem that describes the human dilemma so well, since Hakuin (1686-1769), one of Japan's greatest Zen Masters, actually painted a picture of such a scene and inscribed the following poem on it:
"The monkey is reaching for the moon in the water / Until death overtakes him he'll never give up. / If he'd let go the branch and disappear in the deep pool / The whole world would shine in dazzling pureness" (Sasaki, 'The Zen Koan,' page 132).
Clearly both of these writers were in total agreement about the nature of the human dilemma, and it would not be too difficult to find many other parallels.
I think Walker has given us a wonderful book, and I doubt very much that its residue of unorthodoxy will bother those readers for whom the book is intended. In fact it seems to me that its brilliant development of certain perfectly orthodox ideas more than makes up for whatever elements of religious Taoism it may contain.