Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Zen and Japanese Culture - Book Review

Book Review

Title: Zen & the Japanese Culture

Author: Daisetz T.Suzuki
Translated by Momo'o Kitagawa,
Published: 2005
Format: Hardcover
Pages 238
Publisher: Kodansha International, Tokyo, Japan.
Price: 1800 yen
ISBN: 4-7700-4026-1

Review by JapaneseCustomer.com

Copyright, 2009.All rights reserved

One step closer to enlightenment

The purpose of the book is to explain how Zen, (Zen Buddhism), the practice and philosophy have influenced Japanese culture. The author has a deep knowledge of Zen its origins and history and how it came to Japan from China where it is called Ch'an. I assume that the author is a Zen master as there is no author information provided. Suzuki explores how Zen came to Japan and how it was shaped by Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism and Buddhism. The authors view is to describe the history of the philosophy, the key users, how it was practiced, refined and its impact on Japanese culture as we see it today. Suzuki writes to provide a broad overview of the topic and sprinkles, quotes, historic tales and detailed insights that allow the reader to get a closer view of Zen, what aspects appealed and how the Japanese have refined it.

The book is structured into six chapters covering a range of topics including a preliminary to the understanding of Zen, general remarks on Japanese Art culture, Zen and the samurai, Zen and swordmanship, Zen and the study of Confucianism and lastly Zen and the Tea-cult.
The author's style is quite free flowing and shares a range of ideas, themes and topics. In some cases delves deeper into points of interest and sometimes loses the reader with idea and topic jumps which are hard to follow and understand. As with any translation it is hard to really judge the original idea in its true form, so one must allow a broader assessment of the topic and content.

It is aimed at those readers looking for a deeper meaning to Zen and I believe it does help to get a better understanding of the topic. Does it achieve it's goal, yes by slowly circling the topic and forcing the reader to read between the lines for the deeper meaning. An art form in itself.

Personally, I found the book informative particularly on the history aspects of tracing the philosophies roots and evolution over time. Chapters discussing its use by samurai, relation to swordmanship and the tea-cult were most enjoyable as they gave concrete examples as to how and why Zen was accepted and applied. Did I get closer to Zen? Yes, I think so!

It will be of interest to those who have an interest in Zen, Japanese culture and enlightenment. The book awakened an urge to seek more information on the topics raised. A sign of a good book.

Best quote in the book, "It was therefore, natural for every sober-minded samurai to approach Zen with the idea of mastering death"

Rating 4/5 ****


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