Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Strange Coincidences of Life

I recently read the book, The empty mirror : experiences in a Japanese Zen monastery by Janwillem Van de Wetering.

It was an ok book. The author traveled to Japan in the 1950's to learn about Zen Buddhism and live in a Zen monastery. From my reading, my view is that he did not learn much. It seems he was feeling the interest in Zen based on it's new popularity within the new 50's lifestyle of beatniks and others.

Although I understand how difficult life is in a Zen monastery, the author clearly did not want to partake fully in the requirements of the Zen monastery. He gave a hint of this in the book by revealing how he often slept in late or pretended he was sick in order to avoid the daily early morning zazen sessions. My feeling is his slacking was probably much more then he revealed in the book.

Here is something strange or bizarre. I finished reading the book about July 1st or 2nd 2008. On July 5th, I decided to look the author up in Wikipedia. As you can see from the Wiki article, the author had just passed away the day before on July 4th 2008. Just one of those bizarre little coincidences in life I guess.


  1. Wow, that is strange. Would you recommend the read?

  2. No, I wouldn't. My favorite book about foreigners living and practicing at a Japanese Zen temple was the book Living and Dying in Zazen. This book really made me wish I was there and could meet the Zen teachers described in the book.

    Here is my post about that book:


  3. Hello Jon,

    I saw your comment on my site - it is surprising you read the book at the same time as I did for a second time, and that you also blogged about it... so the coincidence you speak about is even larger!

    As you can see from my post, I have a greater appreciation for the book than you, although I admit it is flawed as it ends too abruptly, without a satisfying conclusion. But I think it is an honest account of one man's struggle to find the meaning of life via Zen and I would certainly recommend it to others. The truth is not easy to find and Zen is hard and difficult.

    As Dutchmen tend to do, the author is rather modest if not depreciative about his own abilities and efforts. My experience with my countrymen is that you should not further subtract but rather add a bit to get the real picture! Anyway, the whole life and also the other writings of Janwillem van de Wetering were heavily influenced, if not totally formed, by his experiences of Zen in the late fifties.

    I am now starting on his second Zen book, "A Glimpse of Nothingness," but I will also try to get "Living and Dying in Zazen" by Arthur Braverman you recommend above - thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Thank you for the comment Ad. I also thought the book ended too abrubtly.

    I also understand how difficult it must be to live and practice in a Zen monastery so for the author to remain there for as long as he did does show dedication.

  5. "Living and Dying in Zazen" is one of my favorites too - I forget how many times I have read it. Oh, to live in a park making pine needle tea and grass leaf flutes...

    I'd also recommend Soko Morinaga's "Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity".

  6. Chris.

    Yes, I read it twice back to back. After reading the book, I wished I could visit Sodo Yokoyama in the park as well.

    Thank you for the recommendation. I will look for it.