A memoir of Zen study in the 1970s.
There are many books showing how the Zen experience translates into the West, but this debut book by Shepherd (Music/Kauai Community Coll.) is as much about falling away from the path as following it. When he came to meditation during the latter stages of the hippie era, it was during a time of drugs, hedonism and excess. A long-distance runner with a more ascetic older brother (who adhered to the path and has become a Zen monk), the author came to his practice with a combination of innocence, idealism and competitiveness. “I would be a Zen Man extraordinaire, of this I was certain,” he writes of a path that would take him from his native New Jersey to a meditation community in Hawaii and a more dedicated, disciplined commitment in Japan. When he arrived there, he thought of the "Eightfold Path as Easy Street or the Yellow Brick Road. It would take several more years, but I would gradually go from wide-eyed naivete to gimlet-eyed disenchantment. For now, though, I was drowning in milk and honey.” The milk curdled as he grew increasingly resentful of being considered a “foreign weirdo” by so many Japanese, who felt that Zen was their birthright and that for an American to practice was like “a dog trying to master verb conjugations.” Shepherd also discovered that as the meditation practice might help him dissolve the ego, it was leaving him with nightmares and neuroses. Ultimately, he took a different path as a music professor, where meditation has continued to enrich his life.
Shepherd’s experience with Zen is not everyone’s, but it should prove helpful to those struggling with spiritual practice.