Book Reviews · Buddhism

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: Book Review

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a collection of stories, parables and utterances designed to inspire and teach the dharma. The stories were collected together by Paul Reps who says of the book:

Old Zen was so fresh it became treasured and remembered. Here are fragments of its skin, flesh, bones, but not its marrow – never found in words.”

This book can be read straight through or dipped into at random, but wisdom and profound truths will always be found. It boasts 101 Zen Stories: everything from A Cup of Tea, to The Sound of One Hand, and No Work No Food; but also includes The Gateless Gate, a selection of mind-bending koans, and The Ox Herding Pictures, here called Ten Bulls, which depict the path to enlightenment. Finally, we have Centring, a transcript of an ancient Sanskrit manuscript still taught in India today, which could form the roots of Zen prior to the Buddha.

I recommend this book as inspiration on the spiritual path. If you’re looking for the truth, you’ll not find it written in words – not in this book, or any other. But these stories, with typical Zen humour, can kick start illumination within your mind as you search for truth of your inner Buddha.

Here is one of my favourites: Black-Nosed Buddha

A nun who was searching for enlightenment made a statue of Buddha and covered it with gold leaf. Wherever she went she carried this golden Buddha with her.

Years passed and, still carrying her Buddha, the nun came to live in a small temple in a country where there were many Buddhas, each one with its own particular shrine.

The nun wished to burn incense before her golden Buddha. Not liking the idea of the perfume straying to the others, she devised a funnel through which the smoke would ascend only to her statue. This blackened the nose of the golden Buddha, making it especially ugly.

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