3 out of 4 stars
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We all want to be fulfilled and happy in life. As easy as it sounds to achieve, we seem to be struggling to achieve fulfillment. Even when we achieve a goal, we are continuously dissatisfied and want more. What is the cause of this disease? In Zen Play: Instructions on Becoming Fully Alive, Brenda Shoshanna applies principles of Buddhism revolving around Zen practice in helping with this situation. Zen practice involves living "a direct and wholehearted life." Through this practice, the author presents key elements, which are koans, revolving around statements, questions, and situations that we experience often without giving much thought to them. How can these koans provide the clarity we need to come out of our suffering and live a fulfilled life?
The author has done well in breaking down a lot of complex issues that affect us when it comes to finding peace, commencing by identifying our insatiable nature and the poisons (greed, anger, and ignorance) that we must overcome. In six easy-to-understand sections, Brenda Shoshanna covers several aspects of life that are very relatable on different levels, and there are a lot of exercises that encourage us to search deep within ourselves for answers without looking at what the next person is doing like we often do. These exercises were included at the end of each chapter as "Zen Play Points," and I thoroughly enjoyed participating in them, especially in the chapters on knowing the different aspects of the authentic self.
Brenda Shoshanna has a lot of experience in this practice, and she also went further to include wisdom from a few Zen masters that she has learned a lot from, including Master Rinazai, Zen Teacher Joko, Eido Roshi, and more. A key element of applying the lessons in this book is experiencing everything, enjoying these experiences, and understanding that there is a reason for all of your experiences. For example, the koan "Let the Bitter Be Bitter and the Sweet Be Sweet" encourages us to accept what life brings to us and not avoid bitterness, as the more we fight our pain, the worse we feel, and the more it is drawn to us. The koan "WHERE IS KYOTO? WHERE ARE YOU?" also warns against living in a fantasy world by hoping to be in the best situations, instead of experiencing the actual moment we are in and living a full life.
Most of these koans definitely opened my mind to a different way of thinking and responding to life’s challenges. Nevertheless, there were a couple of them that I still had issues with, one of them being the "Please lend me a helping hand" koan that urged us against trying to help people. While the author explains the significance of this koan, I still have my reservations and find this koan difficult to adhere to.
Furthermore, I found a few errors while reading, and even though the book seemed professionally edited, an extra effort could have been put into eliminating the errors I found. Apart from these issues, the book was a perfect and enlightening read. Therefore, I rate Zen Play: Instructions on Becoming Fully Alive three out of four stars. Readers who are open-minded and seek to live a fulfilled life will greatly benefit from this guide.
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