THE EMPTY MIRROR: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery by Janwillem van de Wetering

THE EMPTY MIRROR: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As a straightforward, modest account of a young Dutchman's year-and-a-half stay in a Japanese Zen monastery, van de Wetering's book will deflate chic, romanticized Western notions about Oriental religions. Engaged in the proverbial soteriological quest, van de Wetering rejects philosophy and turns to Zen as a more immediate sort of profundity. He soon discovers that Zen offers no dramatic revelations, no ""gales or collisions"" of the spirit. In the monastery, his metaphysical speculations are discouraged, even punished. His stay is, in many respects, traumatic. He is permitted only four hours of sleep a day; for one week he must endure the excruciating torment of the lotus position for fifteen hours a day; he learns to graciously accept a daily beating; he undergoes countless humiliations due to problems of language and custom. And he discovers that this quest for meaning is doomed precisely because it is a quest. After being directed to look into a mirror to find his real face, he can succeed in doing so only when he sees that the mirror is empty, like the Zen master whose story he recounts, he learns to ""perform the most astounding feats. If he slept, he slept, and if he ate, he ate."" The year-and-a-half is recalled with ambivalence -- affection, resentment, and confusion. But the book effectively documents one man's authentic confrontation with his own myths.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 1973
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin