Book Review: Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuna
Imagine lying on luscious green grass by a stream, under the clear sky. We know for a fact that all of us felt a sense of peace for a moment. With chaos being a constant feature of our lives, we crave and seek that moment of stillness. Good news! You don’t have to climb the Himalayas or go deep inside the forest to find it, because it’s right here within you.
Our August’s Pick
Our August’s choice for book of the month is Zen: The Art of Simple Living. Everyone has been recommending this book given the dire need for this experience in our life in the face of the pandemic and various other news. Since the lockdown extended, the importance of self-love, mindfulness is as high as that of washing your hands. In varying degrees, all of us have experienced an imbalance of sorts, but we didn’t know how to deal with it. Maybe we still don’t, which is fine, as in this book is a simple guide to get that sense of serenity and peace in your life.
The only Zen you find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring there. This could not ring truer in the teachings of the head priest of a 450-year old Zen Buddhist temple in Japan, Shunmyo Masuna. Shunmyō Masuno is a priest and a garden designer who has introduced the concept of Zen as an achievable goal to everyone. Before assuming the role of a priest, he apprenticed under famous garden designer Katsuo Saito. Often in the book, he keeps referring to small acts related to gardening as well. Masuno explains to The Japan Times, “Zen is concerned with gyōjūzaga, four cardinal behaviors: walking, standing, sitting, lying. It’s difficult to discover the essence of Zen by simply reading philosophical books, as is popular in the West. Unless people can apply the basic, active principles of Zen to their daily lives, it’s meaningless.”
The answer you seek is within
Yes, it is a philosophical one and no, it is not a heavy book. It is a light read, which takes you on a journey of realization. One thing to love about this book is that it merely points out what to do and doesn’t force you into it. These chapters act like affirmation or guides in your life you never thought you needed. It reminds you of how stepping out to watch the sunset can ease your mind. “Make space for emptiness,” he says, and he is right. Freeing our mind of the clutter is necessary and it won’t happen in some retreat, but will come from practice. What’s different is the simplicity, purity, and honesty this book is written with. Not once will you question the author’s intention. Zen is not something you can understand by reading a book, it is to be practiced, as the author says “the answer you seek is within.”
The book is divided into four parts, with beautiful illustrations, Masuno uses simple language to explain Zen concepts like gasshō (palms pressed together, an action that “fosters a sense of gratitude”) or mitate (striving to see things differently), and offers advice for actively transforming these ideas into lifetime habits. These four parts are to energize yourself, inspire confidence and courage, alleviate confusion and worries and lastly, make any day your best day. His advice is supported by Zen stories and sayings. As Masuno states in the introduction, “Zen is about habits, ideas, and hints for living a happy life. A treasure trove, if you will, of deep yet simple life wisdom.” It could just as easily be a description of the book itself. It is as simple as aligning your shoes after removing or making a delicious cup of coffee for yourself every day.
We don’t have to emphasize on how much all of us need this book. We encourage you to pick it up and experience the change yourself. You do not have to finish this in one go, take your time with it, we promise you will be a different and better version of yourself at the end. With each task, you will open yourself up to a renewed sense of peace and inner calm.
Hope you enjoy our recommendation.