on 27 December 2011
Review by Brenda Liddy
John Daido Loori (June 14, 1931 - October 9, 2009) was a Zen Buddhist rôshi who served as the abbot of Zen Mountain Centre, located in the Catskill Mountains in Mount Tremper, New York. .
This book would of benefit to more advanced students, as you would need to be familiar with the koans and the various sutras referred to. However it still an accessible book, packed with wonderfully insightful teachings. The book is divided into three parts, "Mountain Gate, Solitary Peak and Valley Spirit." It also contains a useful glossary. The chapters are based on Dharma talks, which he delivered to his students in the Zen Centre. Daido Loori referred to the discourses as "dark to the mind but radiant to the heart." In the first chapter, he stresses, "Meditation is the core of our practice. Our activity---in body practice, liturgy practice, academic study, training positions, work practice---all arise from the stillness that develops in the zendo. He also refers to Zen as "Descending into the cave of the blue dragon". In Catholicism the mystics refer to the dark night of the soul. He does not mince his words and I can endorse this as well when he points out the "Only those who break through the extremity of this sheer darkness can have the great joy of being true master of their own experience."
In the second part, we are launched into Dogen's "The Mountain and Rivers Sutra," which is laden with metaphor. He comments that to "understand this talk of mountains and rivers we need to understand `no separation'.
In the third part, Daido Loori returns us to the market place and you will find something useful in each of these chapters, whether you a therapist, a soldier, a housewife, or a photographer. I enjoyed chapter 18, "The Art of Seeing" which was based on an arts retreat on `mindful photography'. I will end with my last recommendation, an anecdote about a Zen Master who was asked the archetypical trick question and of course replies with what Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, refers to as `a bit of blinder'. When asked to `Take the melon without using your hands,' he replies `Hand it to me without using your hands.' Pure genius! Wish I could say things like that!