"Deeply involving, instructive, and capable of touching any reader who cares about the search for meaning."—Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America
"In being so frank about his own struggles and fantasies, Greg's personal tale becomes something more universal."—David R. Loy, author of Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution
In 1971, when Greg Shepherd was in his early twenties, he left New Jersey and joined the Koko An Zendo community in Hawaii. What began as a quest for enlightenment became Greg's confrontation with his own inner demons: his need for approval, his distrust of authority, and his ego-driven fixation on achieving the profound spiritual breakthrough of kensho ("the Big K"). Later, in Japan, he struggled with prejudice and cultural rigidity and found his deeper meditations leading to actual panic attacks over fear of losing himself. Ultimately, he broke with Zen and his teachers to pursue a career in music.
This frank memoir traces Greg Shepherd's meandering path from seeker to disillusionment, and, over a decade later, his way back to Zen and inner peace. We experience Zen practice in Japan and Hawaii and meet Zen masters Yamada Koun Roshi and Robert Aitken, the "dean of American Buddhism" (who had once pegged Greg as his successor). And we understand why Zen was so appealing to the American counterculture and how its profound lessons of focus and detachment remain insightful and important.
Gregory Shepherd has studied Zen since the early 1970s in Hawaii and Japan. He is associate professor of music at Kauai Community College.
Lifting its title from a paradoxical Zen statement, Shepherd, a professor of music, traces his innermost thoughts, questions, and misgivings about Zen, a branch of Buddhism, over the course of his life. He writes an achingly honest bildungsroman, in which he confronts the prideful and self-important young man he once was, who strove not only to attain enlightenment but also to be content and peaceful with himself. Because he is neither Zen Master nor monk, his portrayal of his brash younger self is a fresh and intensely human portrait compared to the perfect, innocuous paragons of peace ordinarily presented in Zen texts. Shepherd's eventual fallout with Zen, his gradual maturation, and his retrospective reflection on his younger days lead him to return to the practice and a constant questioning and re-examination of the self. Though primarily focusing on existential questions arising from the Zen lifestyle, Shepherd's memoir transcends its subject matter and serves as a poignant reminder of something more fundamental to the human condition: the continual search for validity and meaning.