Zen books as Christmas gifts
If you're looking for a book or two for a budding Zen student, you can't go wrong with these two books from Katsuki Sekida:
- Zen Training
- Two Zen Classics: The Gateless Gate and the Blue Cliff Records
Mr. Sekida has a unique East/West perspective that he brings to these books. The first book discusses how to train yourself in Zen, including posture, breathing, and an introduction to koans. In the second book he helps to translate two classics of Zen literature.
His strength in both books -- besides writing in very clear English -- is that he explains just enough background/history to at least give you a chance of "understanding" the mysterious Zen koans. For instance, one koan discusses a man putting sandals on his head and walking away. That koan never made any sense to me, but when you're told that putting sandals on your head 2,000 years ago in China was related to a funeral, you at least have a chance of understanding the koan.
So, a big thumbs up to Mr. Sekida for these two wonderful books. Mr. Sekida passed away in 1987, but I believe these books will stand as classics for years to come, and they are especially helpful if you can't work with a Zen Master locally.
After these first two books, I recommend anything by Zen Master Seung Sahn, including two great books, "Only Don't Know", and "Dropping Ashes on the Buddha." Both books contain short chapters of question-and-answer letters between this great, modern Zen Master and his students. These are also a wonderful read for any Zen student.
Other excellent books include the two by Shunryu Suzuki, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", and "not always so".
"An Introduction to Zen Buddhism" by D.T. Suzuki is also considered a classic, though I find it a little harder to read. And "Questions to a Zen Master" by Taisen Deshimaru is also very good, and probably one of the first five Zen books I purchased. This book always strikes me as different than the others, and whenever I flip through it these days it seems to make more sense than it did ten years ago when I first bought it.
In case you're wondering, I currently own almost 100 books on Zen, so while I'm not a Zen Master, I at least feel qualified to tell you what I like and what I don't. :)