Zen Questions - Robert Allen - With Illustrations by Andre Sollier
This is a really nice book. I’d bought it, carried it home and read it all within an afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It happened to be soon after I’d returned from speaking at a conference in Iran. The presentation I gave focussed on achieving change through being, not doing, and the power of not knowing and questioning. Hence it was the title that drew me into purchasing the book. Whether serendipity or not, this book provides an illuminating and engaging introduction to the principles of Zen, and is a book that I shall enjoy returning to.
If you’ve know little of Zen or have touched on the subject but found it difficult to fathom, then this could be the book for you. Easy to read, it feels as if written by someone who is both sensitive to the questions you may have, and able with a delicate and often humorous touch to communicate what could otherwise be difficult ideas to capture.
The prime difficulty in describing Zen is that until it is understood there is little to describe, and once understood there’s little need to describe. The challenge is almost to describe the space between objects without finding oneself distracted into describing the objects themselves. Anyway before I demonstrate how difficult a description of Zen may be, let me assure you that Robert Allen does a very good job of giving the ideas sufficient shape to allow your own understanding to grow and take over. In the introduction he describes the challenge faced by the writer. ‘People with some understanding will criticise because he has said too much, while newcomers will feel he has been deliberately obscure.’ I think he gets the balance just right.
Robert describes Zen through numerous simple very short stories, many at first glance seem to say little, but their secret is that they prompt you to think, in essence this is Zen in practice, the act of questioning. In addition the book has sufficient pointers that readers who understand and wish to progress further will find the signposts they need including guidance on zazen, a technique to help develop your Zen understanding.
‘You unlearn more until you reach don’t know. This is not ignorance; this is real knowledge.’
Complimenting the text is a liberal sprinkling of wonderful black and white sumi-e paintings which themselves reflect Zen principles.
All in all a very rewarding read, and one that will certainly prove very valuable on my change journey. Will it prove valuable on your journey? Well that’s the first question you must ask. If you read the book the answer will quickly become clear to you. For those for whom the answer is yes, it might help your journey take a new direction. I highly recommend that you explore your answer.
July 29 2005.