Using vignettes and anecdotes from his own life - as well as quotations drawn from sources as varied as the Bible, Yiddish aphorisms, and stand-up comedy - Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford shares the gifts won over his lifetime of full-hearted engagement with the Zen path. "I've found myself broken open," Ford says, "and found in that opening my fundamental connection to the whole world."
What's more, If You're Lucky, Your Heart Will Break breathes new life into the Buddhist ideas of karma and rebirth - as well as the Buddhist precepts of ethical action - and finds for them kinship in other spiritual endeavors. Even the most cynical of hearts will find resonance in Ford's compassionate presentation of basic human truths.
Musing on topics related to awakening, koans, and ethical principles, Ford (Zen Master Who?), a Zen Buddhist priest and Universalist Unitarian minister, uses personal anecdotes, traditional Buddhist stories, and biblical references to illustrate his ideas. The discussion of what he calls "liberal Buddhism," as opposed to traditional Buddhism, is informative; the former applies reason and humanism to this ancient tradition rather than accepts teachings as a given. For example, he critically examines the concepts of karma and rebirth and argues for a "deep agnosticism." Ford finds his own justifications for ethics in "natural law," and explicates his version of a moral code in detail. His advice can be down-to-earth and practical, such as his hints for finding a good Zen teacher. Unfortunately, the writing is marked by frequent clich s ("The awakened person is one with the flow of cause and effect") and uninspired generalities ("There is something of a tragic cast to our lives"). In a crowded field of works by Buddhist meditation masters and writers of the Zen essay, Ford's work is of moderate interest for his perspective on one of the emerging styles of American Buddhism.