March 23, 2005


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Zen To Go: Bite-Sized Bits of Wisdom, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur (Sasquatch Books, 2005, 217 pages)

How appropriate to get your Zen this way.

Jon Winokur (author of The Portable Curmudgeon) has pulled together a batch of quotes about Zen and he presents them here straight up, no commentary save a brief book-wide introduction.

This makes perfect sense because, as Winokur and at least one quotee point out, Zen is like a finger pointing at the moon. The finger is not the moon nor can it touch the moon.

And what benefit would there be to dissecting the finger?

How nice, then, that Winokur presents only the pointers themselves, he sets them on the page and backs away, leaving it to us to follow their lead and gaze moonward.

Open Zen to Go at random and see what you get. There are quotes from Buddhist masters and quotes attributed to “The Buddha” but there are also quotes from non-Buddhists, or at least people not officially known as Buddhists, who just happen to have expressed sentiments that fit Zen.

There’s Einstein and Socrates and Edgar Allan Poe; there’s Luke and Matthew, and Saint Paul saying “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Even some movie characters are quoted.

You might flip open to Wittgenstein saying, “That the world is, is the mystical,” or you might flip open to Donald Rumsfeld’s famous riff about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

You might be surprised to find McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc here (“It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun.”) but of course you won’t be surprised at all to see baseball guru Yogi Berra.

The book is organized into topics like “Reality,” “Self” and “Time;” the section on “Death” contains perhaps some of the most penetrating comments, their sources ranging from Montgomery Clift to Leonardo da Vinci. And Winokur’s opening essay on “Zen Abuse” deserves wide attention. A

— Lisa Parsons

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