The Zen Book – Daniel Levin
“What is suffering? The desire for things to be other than they are. What is contentment? Accepting everything as it is.” – From the book

Creator of the insightful Zen Cards, author Daniel Levin has been involved in religious studies for more than 25 years and is now following a call to the solitary practice of Zen. In his latest offering, Mr. Levin shares wise sayings and stories based on the Zen experience. Filled with serene, full-color photographs by Jerome Alfred Johnson, The Zen Book is a 242-page hardback designed to remind you of things you already know.

Among the more brief passages you’ll find in this Zen treasure include:

“Find the way that is yours, even if it means walking where no one else has gone before. Have the courage to find your own way, regardless of what those around you say.”

“The world is a mirror: What we see is who we are.”

“Who knows when your final day will come? In the course of a moment, everything you know could change. Live today the way you would if you knew it was your last one on Earth. Dance more, criticize less, love more, and never be ashamed.”

“Money, fame and fortune may further us in our time here, but what of it will remain at the end of our days? Find what will remain.”

“Be thankful for anyone in your life who’s a problem. They’re your teachers, for they show you where you truly stand. A great saint once said to a disciple who came to him complaining about someone else: ‘He is your greatest blessing. In fact, if he were not here, it would behoove us to go out and find one like him.’”

“The morning glory opens with the light and closes with the dark, but the Zen Mind opens to everything.”

On the glossy pages of The Zen Book, Mr. Levin imparts meaningful insights, profound stories, and sage wisdom pointing to ways to end all suffering. I especially liked the stories involving teachers, monks, students, and frogs (yes, frogs!). Many are surprising, eliciting a hearty laugh. But after the laughter, the implication of the story sinks in, providing yet another perspective to life and ways of living. In fact, many of these stories illustrate that things aren’t always what they seem and that perspective is truly everything.

One of my favorite stories depicts detachment, and is about a holy man who was glorified by the whole town as a being who lived his life with purity and dignity. A beautiful young girl lived next door and became pregnant. Her parents were furious and demanded to know who the father was. The girl initially refuses to tell them, but then reveals that the holy man was the father. The outraged parents went to see the holy man and told him what had happened. He answered, “Is that so?” He had totally lost his reputation and after the baby’s birth, the grandparents demanded he take care of the child. He did so happily, finding everything the baby needed. After some time, the young girl couldn’t live with herself and told her parents the truth: the father was a young man in the village. The astonished parents went to the holy man, begged for forgiveness, and asked for the child back. His reply? “Is that so?”

I was especially touched by Mr. Levin’s story about his daughter Elisa who has developmental delays. As one who also has a child with developmental delays—and having experienced a great amount of suffering resulting from the stories I tell myself about the situation and trying to somehow “fix” it all—the author’s words had even more significance to me.

The Zen Book is a beautiful collection of wisdom and photographs leading readers to the “Zen Mind”—the “beginners mind” that sees all things as if for the first time. If you’re looking for an attractive, inspirational, life-affirming book—especially as a gift—The Zen Book would make a wonderful addition to any library. 

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Content copyright © by Janet Boyer. All rights reserved. This review was written by Janet Boyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission.