A GLIMPSE OF NOTHINGNESS: Experiences in an American Zen Community by Janwillem van de Wetering
Kirkus Star

A GLIMPSE OF NOTHINGNESS: Experiences in an American Zen Community

Email this review


This is the second and last installment in a Dutch businessman's search for enlightenment-and it may well be the most down-to-earth account of the Zen discipline ever written for Westerners. Having grappled with the physical aches and spiritual frustration of meditation in a Japanese monastery (The Empty Mirror, 1974), van de Wetering now visits an American Zen community where his former fellow disciple, Peter, presides. Peter is a refreshing sort of Master, at once contemporary and unworldly. He greets an overly ascetic new arrival by serving him a screwdriver (confiding that it ""loosened him up"") but takes no interest in the author's theory that Buddhism is the wave of the future (""Buddhism here, Buddhism there. What does it matter. . . ?""). Van de Wetering himself has loosened up a bit--enough to dispose of the koan that has nagged him for years in short order and to quickly use up several more (like Kleenex, as the Old. Master used to say). But, satori or not, the man still can't help looking for a definition of Buddhism. Here and now awareness--while washing dishes, chopping wood, or sharing his roommates' steady diet of turkey backs--seems to be the answer; then Peter foolishly drives his truck into a ditch and shrugs off the lapse as irrelevant. It appears that Zen can only be described in terms of what it is not, though the perils of that approach are vividly personified by a rich American writer who attends one meditation session, pompously announces his discovery that ""nothing matters,"" and drives off in his Mercedes. Somewhere along here the author's understanding leaps ahead of his ability to verbalize it and he begins to resort to metaphors, parables and imaginary catechisms, though his everyday candor and frequently bruised ego are still very much in evidence. Claiming to have just ""scratched the surface"" van de Wetering clears away thickets of intellectualization and mannered inscrutability and gets down to the ordinariness of Zen. Even those who normally reject spiritual trips (and ""religious"" books) as godawful bores will fred this dogged, bourgeois seeker hard to ignore.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 1975
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin