I often think of Zen books as something like the fourth treasure, combining with the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha treasures in a handy, go anywhere package.
As a newbie to Zen practice, I’ve only scratched the surface of the countless titles available, but feel my practice has benefited immensely from what little I have read.
My work/life situation means I can only physically attend the Zendo every other week, and having the collective wisdom of countless practitioners from literally centuries is something that has really supported and bolstered my practice. Especially having so many titles now available in eBook and audiobook formats, multiple titles can be carried very easily, making travel and long journeys an opportunity for contemplation and learning.
Some titles that stand out on my list are Suzuki Roshi’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, Uchiyama Roshi’s “Opening the Hand of Thought” and various titles by Brad Warner. All excellent in and of themselves and containing a lifetime’s worth of practice material.
One author and teacher in particular however holds a special place in my heart, and that is Charlotte Joko Beck. I came across Joko’s first book “Everyday Zen” as my introduction to Zen practice and was inspired, intrigued, perplexed and a little intimidated.
After “Everyday Zen”, I reached straight for her second book, “Nothing Special”.
These two books became the basis of my beginner sitting practice. Her emphasis on a consistent, steady, down to earth practice, and her acknowledgment of the difficulties this type of practice involves kept me on, and coming back to the cushion, even when not sure exactly what I was doing there (spoiler alert, I’m still not sure 😁).
Many a time when about to wriggle, scratch an itch or abandon a sitting, I would almost hear Joko’s voice sternly saying, “Don’t move! Pay attention! Do the work!”
I’ve read Joko’s books numerous times now and often it feels as if I’m reading a totally new book. As my practice deepens, so it seems the depth of teaching contained in the pages deepens, with new details and revised understanding of previously read details discovered with each passing.
Joko emphasis the importance of Sangha and really stresses the importance of regular Sesshin and so was instrumental in my search for fellow practitioners that led me to the StoneWater Sangha.
I’m eternally grateful to Joko and all similar teachers who have given us the gift of their experience and wisdom in written (and now also audio) form, and look forward to discovering new titles, and of course, re-reading Joko.