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Blowing Zen: Finding an Authentic Life is available at Amazon.com

Blowing Zen: Finding an Authentic Life

by Ray Brooks

Ray Brooks describes his spiritual and musical path towards learning to play the shakuhachi 'Zen' flute in Japan.
Published by H J Kramer Books 2000,  ISBN 0915811855 [Book]
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Blowing Zen provides a fascinating and pleasantly readable account of his years in Japan with his wife Diane.  From a chance encounter with someone playing a captivating Zen flute at a Zen retreat, to international success as a recognized master of the instrument, Ray Brooks describes the various influences and serendipitous events that help him grow from 'Zen Tourist' to someone living a much more authentic life.

Through the journey there is many delightful observations on Japanese traditions, customs, and art forms.  The writing style is very clear and concrete with simple descriptions of the experiences and processes along the journey.  What commentary Ray presents concerning Zen is as he experienced it from others, as in this conversation with an elderly Zen monk:

"It is more important to clear away what isn't true or meaningful rather than spend a lifetime searching for what is true or meaningful.  This means clearing away all the rubbish and accepting without any distortion the nature of who we really are and not who we think we are."  He paused for a moment, then said, "See what you are left with after you have cleared away what isn't meaningful.  This takes a great deal of energy."

We sat contemplating the words, and then the monk spoke again.

"Many people pass through here.  All are trying to find solutions to their problems and make some sense of the world.  Their minds are jumbled with beliefs, ideas, and delusions.  They come here to meditate for hours on end.  They say it gives them peace of mind," he said.  "'Go home and find out why you have no peace with anything around you, I tell them.  'If your relationships in your daily life are false, you can come and meditate until you get calluses on your backside, but your relationships in daily life will still be false.'  They don't like to hear it, Ray-san.  They don't like it that I speak my mind to them.  They complain that I am rude and unkind, ha!  They don't come back.  They don't really want to know.  They use the great beauty of meditation as an escape.  Zen tourists, Ray-san." (pp 63-64)

  The monk goes on to give Ray some advice about his music:

"Ray-san, if you decide to study the shakuhachi seriously, you will find that as your practice deepens there may be moments of liberation.  Don't attach yourself to such fleeting trivialities.  Liberation is not the goal.  Liberation is the practice in this moment; it is in everything we do." (p. 65).

Living in the moment.  Appreciating the now.  All good advice that apparently was appreciated by Ray and is evident in the humble and joyful telling of the story.

Book reviewed by Greg Dixon
Sunday, October 22, 2000

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Subject keywords: Zen Buddhism music flute spirituality philosophy culture Japan religion art personal growth meditation