Here is a comprehensive introduction to Zen Buddhism for those who don't know how or where to begin, nor what to expect once they have started practicing. It includes the fundamentals of meditation practice (posture, technique, clothing), descriptions of the basic teachings and major texts, the teacher-student relationship, and what you will find when you visit a zendo, plus a history of Zen from the founding of Buddhism to its major schools in the West. In addition to answering the most frequently asked questions, it offers a listing of American Zen centers and resources, an annotated bibliography, and a glossary.
Jean Smith's enormously practical approach ensures that The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism will become the book teachers and students alike will recommend.
Smith, author of several anthologies of Buddhist writings, sets out in her latest work to equip the curious beginner with the basics needed to practice Zen. She successfully anticipates a novice's questions and problems by including sections not only on how to meditate but on what to expect and how to behave when visiting a Zen practice center. This book has the potential to bring Zen to a wider audience; Smith excels at providing simple, clear explanations and packs a parcel of basic information into a small book. However, this work also epitomizes some of the problems attending Zen's recent popularity in America. Smith shies away from calling Zen a religion, sugarcoating the more religious aspects of Zen practice, such as making offerings or paying respect to one's teacher, in an effort to make them palatable to the Zen consumer. She eschews literal translations of Buddhist verses for liberal ones and skims over the differences between Zen and other Buddhist traditions, leaving readers with a Zen whose complexities and contradictions have been neatly rationalized. One hopes that readers will not be disappointed by the actual practice of Zen communities after digesting the idealized portrait presented here. The book's strong point is its popularization of Zen, but here popularization flirts with oversimplification.