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4.3 out of 5 stars34
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 26 March 2016
I love this book. It's very practical and straightforward. You should definitely read it. Six more words required. Two more.
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on 4 October 2002
This is a really wonderful book - putting Buddhist principles into real life. I can't recommend it highly enough.
My only complaint is it didn't define properly what sesshin and zazen were. I think these should have been discussed for the lay person as I was on holiday when I read it without access to an internet to look these things up.
I always like to have memorable reads on holiday to add an extra special flavour, and this book definately provided this.
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on 16 January 2016
Marvelous book with lots of wisdom on each and every page. Could change your life.
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on 4 April 2013
This book introduced me to the principles behind Zen, without the mystique and superstition of Buddhism. Charlotte is completely matter-of-fact and understandable, a lovely Californian who approaches Zen from a Western position.

Anyone interested in religion should read the two books, "Nothing Special" and "Living Zen"
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on 5 December 2008
Before I had read this book, I would have liked to have had some background on Joko Beck and the type of Zen she represents; that's what I'll try to do in this review.

When the 'first wave' of Zen teachers came across to the West - like D.T. Suzuki - the emphasis was very much on the more intellectual aspects of Zen, to the exclusion of many of the more difficult, disciplined aspects of Zen as it actually existed in Japan. So when Westerners actually went and trained in Japan they encountered this disciplined element, and found it actually to be a crucial part of the training. And although Joko Beck didn't go to Japan, her Zen is part of this second wave, along with e.g. Philip Kapleau.

It is not to be radical to suggest that this second wave of Zen over-corrects the lack of discipline in the first wave. It also emphasises the 'ordinariness' of Zen, to the exclusion of its more intellectual and obviously spiritual elements. While this is certainly in line with a lot of Zen teaching, it is not the whole story. Dogen, for instance (the founder of Japanese Soto Zen), is very much an intellectual, akin perhaps more to Meister Eckhart than to say Philip Kapleau. So the emphasis on everyday discipline, to the active exclusion of the more spiritual, intellectual elements of Zen, is not quite as authentic as it would like to be.

This has two main repercussions in the book. First, Joko Beck shows a real antipathy towards anything she perceives to be overly intellectual or high-falutin. While this IS in line with Zen's rejection of e.g. academic study for its own sake, in Joko Beck it becomes a straightforward assertion of ignorance (for its own sake!). This can be illustrated with a quote from her Foreword to 'Ordinary Mind' by Barry Magid: "Over time...the student sees that the answers to her life...don't lie in some mystical la-la land but in her own mind and body..." (pX) To dismiss a student's mystical aspirations as a "la-la land" is plainly not in line with the mystical element that is certainly present in Zen (think of D.T. Suzuki's "Buddhist Mysticism"), not to mention the fact that this is hardly a productive way to deal with any illusions a student might have about Zen practice. While I appreciate that this is not Beck at her best, this quotation does betray a tendency towards oversimplification, and to confuse Zen mindfulness of what exists, with mechanically paying attention to what exists.

The other damaging tendency in Beck is her penchant for speaking with a tone of complete authority. Since what she is saying is just "obvious" to her, from her standpoint of ordinary (enlightened) mind, no space is left to dissent from her goading imperatives. This is religious orthodoxy at its worst, speaking not at the level of doctrine (as do many Christian fundamentalists, for example) but of everyday experience. The 'right' way of being is to 'just accept reality', whereas the 'wrong' way of being is to 'think' about reality. Presumably mindfulness itself - the mindful awareness of the thing, as opposed to the mechanically separate thing that Joko Beck asserts - would be just such a thought!

Saying that, all the positive reviews that this book has evidently received must have something in them. Certainly Joko Beck does have a certain wisdom. The book is probably useful for self-defining 'ordinary' people who don't want to be stretched intellectually. But if you think you're of a sensitive psychological makeup, or have an inclination towards thoughtful reflection, this book is liable to get into your head! I have found the work of Stephen Batchelor (for example) to be much more useful in this respect, so perhaps you could look there.
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on 15 November 2015
Enlightening. But in a down-to-Earth way.
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on 5 April 2016
This is my kind of Zen.
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on 19 September 2008
I bought this book as a last chance for Zen,having been bamboozled by other books written on the subject.I am so glad i took the chance on it.Charlotte Joko Beck blows away the air of mystery surrounding Zen and indeed life itself.This book is a breath of fresh air and deserves a place on anyones bookshelf.It shows with pure simplicity that you dont have to wear robes and shave your head to walk the path of Zen
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on 26 March 2009
Nothing here to rock your socks off, just plain, simple, honest truth.

I first read this as a yoga teacher interested in other approaches to taking practice into everyday life. As I read at that point I found the book interesting but thought it was pretty straightforward fare.

About halfway in I joined a Zen group and began Zazen practice. My opinion of this book's benefit then leapt tenfold as I realised how insightful CJB is, and how skilful she is at getting her points across in very simple ways.

Essential reading for Zen practice!
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on 3 March 2009
Very helpful: not needlessly difficult or obscure, but straight to the core. We bought it ten years ago: it is indeed a standby for everyday life.
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