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Zen in Ten: Easy Lessons for Spiritual Growth    by Annellen Simpkins & C. Alexander Simpkins order for
Zen in Ten
by Annellen Simpkins
Order:  USA  Can
Tuttle, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Zen in Ten begins by placing the development of Zen Buddhism in historical context, beginning with the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian prince who became Buddha. A disciple named Bodhidharma is credited with founding Zen (and also martial arts) in China, and a later master named Hui-neng introduced the notion that 'the void is not a vacuum.' Further teachers introduced new approaches, including meditation, and spread the movement to Korea, Japan and the West.

The first lesson explains the intent of Meditation, describes traditional approaches (including Walking Meditations) and includes classic stories of lessons from masters. Next, Sutras are introduced as 'springboards to your own understanding', their words acting to 'awaken experiences within.' Apparently Bodhidharma's favorite was the Lankavatara Sutra which tells us that 'The waves of the mind ocean are stirred uninterruptedly by the wind of objectivity.' Sutras are described briefly here, but further exploration is encouraged.

We learn about Koans, which often seem to make no sense. Here's one that says it all ... 'A student asked a master, "What is the pure Dharmakaya?" He answered, "The flowering hedge surrounding the privy.' Lesson 4 speaks of the value of great doubts in seeking enlightenment. Lesson 5 speaks of 'Oneness with Nature' and explains how to make a Zen garden, something I plan to try soon.

Zen Arts include painting, music and poetry. Haiku masters are introduced, and various poetic forms described. Renga (linked verse) was popular at poetry parties in early Japan. Samurai wrote death poems, such as this marvellous one by Basho ... 'On a journey, ill: / My dream goes wandering / Over withered fields.' And there were Haiga, which combined a painting with a few lines of verse (I have had one for some time, and just found out what it's called).

Lesson 7 describes the tranquillity of the Tea Ceremony as performed by a Zen Master, as well as its history and the benefits of wabi (quiet simplicity) and of imperfection. Lesson 8 is on 'Zen and the Martial Arts', with a quote from Miyamoto Musashi that 'the body follows the mind.' Bodhidharma's twelve forms (used to increase energy and focus concentration) are explained, with illustrations.

We are told that practicing martial arts forms is 'moving meditation, Zen in motion' and encouraged to work on breathing techniques and to develop mushin, 'the mental quality of emptiness.' Lesson 9 talks of personal transformation and the use of humor to break through patterned thinking. Lesson 10 encourages the Zen Way in everyday life, in work and recreation, in eating, and in a general benevolence towards others.

For such a small volume, Zen in Ten packs a powerful punch. It's a great place to start for any who have an interest in Zen practice, in its history or in the arts associated with it. This is a book to read, re-read, and to use as a springboard for further exploration of Zen.

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