Zen Entry Points
5***** A Good Entry Point Indeed
As every student knows, there’s a great difference between being a deep expert and being a good teacher. The difference is that a good teacher is not only a deep expert but also has two other things as well. The first is genuine compassion for the struggles of a beginner. The second is a determined and skillful effort to help. Paul Schubert is indeed a good teacher. His deep experience derives from his decades long practice of Zen. This book provides ample evidence of his compassion, determination, and skill in helping.
Schubert provides a most useful mixture of nuts and bolts instruction, to-the-point quotations from the Zen literature, and a nuanced understanding of pitfalls encountered along the way (and what to do about them). Prospective students from time to time have asked me the best book to get started in Zen. This is always perplexing; some books are very much focused on the techniques of meditation but fall short in terms of inspiration, wisdom, or meaningful connection with the centuries-long traditions of the Buddha-Dharma. Others throw the emphasis on Zen literature or related philosophy but spend too little time on how to get on with it. Zen Entry Points strikes a most useful and potent balance. It is now the book that I will suggest first when a prospective student is asking for a good guide for entering the world of Zen practice.
5 ***** There when you need it
This book is especially valuable when questions or issues arise about a Zen meditation practice. Very often, after the initial stage of practice, things get a little sticky. Doubts and questions arise which discourage and derail many people. Zen Entry Points seems to be intended for intermediate practitioners (i.e. most of us) or people just starting out. It is organized as a ‘skip around’ book so you can go to a section of interest at the moment. This really makes it useful. The book is organized in three sections. The first section on building and maintaining a sitting practice is exceptionally clear about different issues that can be experienced after meditating for a while. Such problems are not uncommon and can lead to a sense of driftlessness. This section provides guidance and suggests methods to address them. The section outlining different Zen teaching methods provides background which is generally not discussed. The second section presents Buddhist teachings. The excerpts provided go beyond the standard colloquial presentations, so that there is a real feel for how they were presented. The explanations are clear and presented with examples. The third section presents Zen teachings as they have developed over time. These topics are presented carefully and, unusual for a Zen book, are supplemented by direct quotes from earlier teachers in order to present a range of perspectives rather than just the author’s understanding. For example, many speakers use the term ‘Way’ and the listener may not be clear about the meaning. Here there are 5 different teachers’ perspective so that the reader can begin to have an understanding of what the intent of the term is. Further, all of the quotes are referenced so the interested person can dig deeper. This is a level of documentation which reflects the depth of the book There are some surprising stories and asides which add to the fun of the skipping around. In summary, this book offers insight into practice areas of concern and is available when you want or need them
5 *****Supportive Lessons for Newcomers and Experienced Practitioners
Given the voluminous literature on Zen and the difficulties of explaining this practice, I am appreciative of how clear Paul Schubert presents the ideas. Though so far, I have started in a traditional way at the Introduction, I like the fact that Zen Entry Points is organized so I can dip in and out of it.
Schubert begins with an artic-explorers analogy to show how goals, hopes, and faulty maps led to problems in exploring the unknown. The artic-explorers analogy is valuable because it is a reminder to check to see if I am coming to something new (i.e., Zen practice) with as much curiosity and openness as I am capable of. It reminds me that my set of expectations and judgements will color what I see and throw me off course. This book is an excellent aid to begin to look with fresh eyes.
I like the many stories. The story about the two shepherds and their two flocks was a helpful way to ponder working with the mind during meditation. The numerous stories illuminate the concepts, making the ideas resonate more deeply in an enjoyable way. I look forward to continuing to read, study, and use Zen Entry Points.
I am glad I read this book! Even if you are not a serious student of Zen (no one could accuse me of being one), Zen Entry Points is an illuminating and interesting book. I have sometimes struggled to really grasp some of the concepts (and sometimes the point) of Zen and this book offers a refreshing and highly enjoyable, enlightening reading experience. Rather than just providing dry explanations of what can sometimes be complicated and difficult to understand concepts, Schubert employs a variety of methods to make them both comprehensible and meaningful. The book is replete with wonderful Zen stories (e.g. “The Caged Bird”) that really make you think. (It would be worth reading this book for the stories alone!) He effectively uses many quotes from both original teachers and scholars, sometimes providing commentary and sometimes simply allowing the voices of the great teachers, themselves, to speak. Schubert demonstrates a skillful sensitivity in his choices about when to explain something and when to allow the quotes to stand on their own. He thoughtfully offers some comparisons and contrasts from these sources, allowing the readers to determine which voices speak most clearly to them. He also uses helpful analogies from science and literature. Although he is a very experienced teacher of adult Zen students, Schubert mentions that this book was inspired by his Zen courses for college level students. I wish I had been one of them!
5***** To understand "No breath of zazen is ever wasted," read this book!
I have been a casual reader of books on mindfulness and meditation. With the same attitude I began reading Paul Schubert’s, “Zen Entry Points,” but this is not a casual read. Rewards are big here, more depth than any book I have read on Zen and its practice. It has become a daily visit. It is like going home to get wisdom from Mom and Dad; always safe, always a comfort. More important, it is consistently insightful and informative. Schubert’s book is impeccably meaningful. It has become a fixture on my reading table.
Like books of great poetry, it never fails to reward and enlighten. This book is consistently changing my life.
Let me be more specific. Open it to any page. Wherever one lands, important, actualized information is the gift. Examples:
i. Chuang Tzu’s story of “The Fog That Lived in the Well” (Introduction): “…an experience arises which reveals that there is something larger than what is known… Nothing is absolute though, so from another perspective, life is what it is and either contentment or exploration is fine.”
ii. (page 34): “No breath of zazen [meditation practice] is ever wasted. Practice takes us in the direction of experiencing our life… there is no such thing as progress. How can there be if practice and realization are one? This is the perspective of zazen as life itself.”
iii. (Page 65): “The Buddha is addressing the question of ending suffering and some types of discussions would not be helpful. That is lesson one… there is no response made, there is no concept to grasp. In this sense, no verbal response becomes an expression of emptiness and impermanence. A reminder that life is activity… Silence is vast. Normal perspectives are limited to a familiar view. Silence is a space where all views can be considered.”
iv. (Page 101): “The Dali Lama has said that he is grateful to the Chinese for giving him the opportunity to love his enemies ‘as our most precious spiritual teachers’ as they are often called because they help us to develop our spiritual practice to cultivate equanimity even in the face of adversity… An enemy is the greatest teacher of altruism.”
v. (Page 138): “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity shows that time slows as an object approaches the speed of light… physicists state that space is not an empty void, but that particles are always coming into existence and leaving existence… These scientific statements are additional indications that all phenomena are interconnected and impermanent even at the sensory level. The Sanskrit word ‘ksana’ means instant or moment, the shortest possible time… In Zen teaching, there is much emphasis on being present and mindful in the moment… The ‘present right-now’ can be experienced as the moment of co-dependent origination before conscious thinking occurs… The moment is our life. It is also the life and expression of the universe. When it is experienced, all beings are saved and suffering ends. The direction of Zen practice is to experience this right-now moment by moment.”
vi. (Page 175): “In the Buddhist sense, karma is the force generated by a person’s actions which has ethical consequences contributing to the manifestation of a future event. Karma may be positive or negative… The major action of karma is ignorance, which is not knowing reality as it truly is. On the other hand, egoless actions, such as those performed by enlightened beings, without desire or attachment, do not produce karma.”
vii. (Page 211): “Zen Perspectives in Art… Basho (1644-94) was a great poet and Zen Practitioner. He stated his principle in writing poetry very clearly: Go to the pine tree if you want to learn about pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the subject and do not learn… if your feeling is not natural—if the subject and object are separate—then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit.”
I have been reading “Zen Entry Points” for about a month. The depth of reward is consistently great. Important knowing is its gift to my life and living. This enlightenment is relentless. Here, in “Zen Entry Points,” I am finding information helping me wend through life and living, moment by moment.
Finally, I wish to thank Paul Schubert for his appendices, bibliography, and endnotes, which speak to the depth of knowing that Mr. Schubert, a Zen sensei, brings to this book. This book is necessary reference if one wishes to understand the basis, and basics, of Zen practice.
I've been practicing Zen for about 15 years now and have read just about every book on the subject available. The problem is that most books on Zen are either too simplistic for long-time practitioners or too complicated for those new to Zen. Sensei Paul Schubert's Zen Entry Points hits the sweet spot between these two extremes. Beginners will get a comprehensive tour of Zen, its practices, history, and main figures. Those with a more thorough background in Zen literature will be amazed by how much more there is to learn about this tradition.