THE EIGHT GATES OF ZEN: Spiritual Training in an American Zen Monastery John Daido loori Dharma Communications: Mount Tremper; NY, 1992. 270 pp., $12.95 (paperback).
“THERE IS NO TEACHER on the face of the earth who can actually give you anything, and there is nothing that you need to receive, because each one of us is already complete and what we seek is not outside ourselves.” With this basic Buddhist assumption, John Daido Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, takes to task the paradoxical activity of writing a complete practice manual on how to realize our inherently existing Buddha nature, now! Keeping within the American Zen literary genre of Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and his own teacher’s (Taizan Maezumi) series on Zen Practice, American-born Zen master Loori skillfully teaches what cannot be taught-how Westerners in the context of American culture can actually walk the Buddhist path of liberation here and now.
Page after page, Loori convincingly demonstrates in lucid and concrete terms that the recipe for awakening and actualizing our unfabricated original nature has been accurately transmitted from sixth-century B.C.E. Bodhgaya to the Catskill Mountains of the twentieth century. The Eight Gates of Zen is a very direct, immediate, and personal account of the specific kind of spiritual training being carried on at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York. The book appears to be living testimony that the flower of Buddha’s enlightened inspiration has crossed the Pacific Ocean unsullied and taken root in American soil.
The actual eight gates described by Loori are eight traditional areas of training, consisting of (1) zazen, or formal instruction and practice of Buddhist meditation; (2) Zen study, or face-to-face instruction with a teacher; (3) academic study of Buddhist history, philosophy, and psychology; (4) liturgy, or study and application of rites and rituals as a direct revelation of our minds; (5) precepts, or ‘right action,’ marked by the continual application of moral and ethical training; (6) art practice, marked by the exploration of both traditional and Western Zen arts; (7) body practice, which emphasized the integration of body and mind embodied by martial arts, and lastly, (8) work practice, which reveals Zen in everyday activities, epitomized by the wellknown Zen aphorism: “If enlightenment is not where you are standing, where will you look?”
Loori provides an excellent description and explanation of the Zen koan system, which serves as the literal guardian at the gate of each developmental phase of the Zen path. Koans are paradoxical or nonsensical statements, often in the form of a direct question, that the Zen master poses to the student. Loori suggests that our mortality is itself the fundamental koan that must be answered, not as a question in the head, but as a challenge of the heart. Like the call of the mythological hero’s journey, koans must be responded to with one’s whole body and mind, or else the “call to adventure” is never begun and a psychological wasteland ensues.
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