Eat Sleep SitI have read many books about Zen Buddhism over the years, and have idealized what it must be like to be a Zen Buddhist monk. They sit peacefully in beautiful temples, looking out over serene ponds with cherry blossoms fluttering down around them. In the distance a flute sounds. Meals are quiet, with fresh vegetables and fragrant rice.
Kaoru Nonomura sounds a harsh wake-up call to the realities of this difficult lifestyle. He was an average person, a worker in his 30s who decided he should head off to a temple and find his way in life. He does not sugar-coat the process at all. He lays out, step by step, exactly what happened as he entered the temple and went through all of their training.
It was nothing like I had imagined - and judging by his reaction and the reaction of his fellow students it was nothing like THEY had imagined as well. For that reason alone I would consider this a must-read for anyone who wants to head down this path! The process far more resembles a harsh military boot camp than a serene search for peace.
The new recruits stand out in the freezing rain. They are screamed at. They are beaten. Kicked. Starved. They are ordered to memorize long, complicated sequences of movements and are hit if they fail. If they make the smallest mistakes their food is removed. They get only the bare minimum of food to begin with. Several students end up at the hospital for stretches of time before returning for more abuse.
Add to this sleep deprivation. They have to wake up at 1:30am to start their strenuous day, and barely tumble into bed after 10pm.
Where is the serenity? Where is the ability to find yourself, to become one with nature?
To his credit, Kaoru does not rail against the system or monastery. He simply lays out how the process works, and what his experience was. He struggles through it and survives the year. Sometimes his descriptions are quite lyrical, while at other times they are a bit dry, as he lists item by item exactly what they are allowed to eat.
Still, again, I find this to be amazingly valuable. Anyone thinking of taking this challenge on should definitely read and re-read this book several times before taking that step. Anyone else interested in Buddhism or monastic traditions will find this book amazingly useful. Heck, as someone who enjoys finding ways to reduce stress, I was simply glad I had never taken this path! Reading the traumas and trials he went through made me incredibly grateful for the quiet, peaceful life I lead, and made me want to send cards of support to the monks who are struggling through this training.
So to summarize, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend this to people who are interested in the quest for serenity and how rough that road can be. On the other hand, if you are someone who thrives on action-adventures, you might find parts of this a bit slow in parts.
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