The Rinzai Zen Way

A Guide to Practice

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Meido Moore
  • Boulder, CO: 
    Shambhala Publications
    , March
     2018.
     224 pages.
     $16.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781611805178.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Meido Moore’s The Rinzai Zen Way is a manual for aspiring Zen practitioners that skillfully negotiates the tension between the book’s function as a guide for those readers embarking on the first steps of Zen practice on their own and Moore’s understanding of Zen as a practice that fundamentally requires a teacher. The book’s first section, “Understanding the Rinzai Zen Way,” situates Zen in relation to other schools of Buddhism and the “Abrahamic faiths” (20), explains some of the dispositions shaping Zen practice, and describes the functions of Zen cultivation. A longer second section, “Practice,” instructs the reader in relaxation, meditation, chanting, bringing practice into daily life, finding a teacher, and being a student. Moore is a teacher in the lineage of the Japanese master Ōmori Sōgen. Readers familiar with Ōmori’s Sanzen nyūmon (Shunjūsha, 1972) or its English translation, An Introduction to Zen Training (Kegan Paul International, 2003), will note that Moore shares Ōmori’s emphasis on embodiment. The brilliantly detailed instructions Moore provides for increasing one’s capacity for seated meditation and what to do with one’s body and breath while in meditation distinguish The Rinzai Zen Way from other classic North American introductions to Zen. At the same time, Moore shares with writers like Shunryū Suzuki and Robert Aitken an appealingly direct style, unpretentious and warm. 

This is not a book bent on finding an academic audience: Moore tells the reader that he intends to approach even some of the more philosophical material in the book’s first half “from an everyday, practical standpoint” (21), and more than once points out the limits of an intellectual understanding of Zen. There are places where the academic reader might suggest that the book’s arguments would be enriched by some engagement with scholarship in Buddhist studies. Scholars of pre-modern Japanese Zen, for example, might balk at the book’s potted history of Buddhist traditions, which culminates in an identification of Zen as affirming the ekayāna or “one vehicle” and its “complete” approach to Buddhist practice, without mentioning Kegon or Tendai Buddhism as key sources for the development of the notion of a unifying single vehicle. They might also critique Moore’s assertion that Zen’s “hierarchy of vehicles is never to be used as a sectarian or triumphalist formula” (14), given that ranking systems linked to the idea of a single vehicle have long been used by Buddhists precisely to discredit sectarian rivals. Scholars of modern Zen in Japan and North America, likewise, might chafe at the book’s appreciation for the way of the sword, given the legacy of modern Zen’s support for Japanese militarism. And scholars of Buddhism and race and Buddhism and gender might push back against the book’s suggestion that when “we find ourselves seemingly oppressed,” we should remember “that we ourselves are responsible, at least to a certain extent, for the way we experience our lives” and “we always have a choice … to accept ownership” of those lives (44)—for my own part at least, I wondered who this unmarked “we” might be. 

It is also true, however, that The Rinzai Zen Way stands to enrich the academic study and teaching of Zen in numerous ways. Let me mention just two, both related to Moore’s focus on what he calls “psychophysical kamae,” or postures of the mind and body (87). First, while his emphasis on direct experience and his reading of some elements of the Buddhist ritual repertoire as symbolic ways of working with internal mental states fit comfortably within the frame of Buddhist modernism, Moore’s reading of the person as a complex interweaving of “mind, body, and subtle energetic system” (49) points backward to pre-modern and early modern Zen. The connection Moore makes between enlightenment and vitality, his understanding of training and ritual as providing yogic tools for working with the subtle energetic system, and his refiguring of mind-to-mind transmission as “face-to-face energetic transmission” requiring the student to “‘catch’ the vibration” of the teacher (51) all depart from the usual modernist emphasis on the psychological. The book thus offers a provocative entry point for thinking about meditative experience, and an illuminating point of departure for thinking about Zen in relation to other Asian treatments of the subtle body.

Second, for those teachers who are interested in bringing meditation practice into the university classroom, The Rinzai Zen Way offers both a valuable set of resources and sounds a useful note of caution. The breathing and visualization exercises laid out in the chapters on relaxation and meditation are accessible for beginners and are precisely and clearly described in a way that might allow an instructor to use them with students without inadvertently assuming the role of Zen master. Moore is careful, as he explains, to include only exercises that are “safe for you to try on your own” (86), and he suggests that some of the practices described can have simple health benefits “even if you do not practice Zen” (111). On the other hand, these caveats themselves raise some questions about what it means to experiment with meditation in a religious studies classroom. If our classroom meditation is secular and not religious, then what purpose does it serve as a tool for teaching students about Buddhism? And if our classroom meditation is religious and not secular—in the sense that it generates a particular set of affects in our students, or what Moore might refer to as transformations in their subtle energetic systems—then what does it mean to bring that practice into the university classroom?

For readers interested in sitting down and beginning a meditation practice, The Rinzai Zen Way offers lucid instruction, good advice, and encouragement. For readers interested in intellectual and conceptual understanding, this wonderfully readable book gives us much to think about.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley is Assistant Professor of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Meido Moore Roshi was a disciple of the lay Zen master Tenzan Toyoda Rokoji, under whom he endured a severe training in both Zen and traditional martial arts. He also trained under Dogen Hosokawa Roshi, and later under So'zan Miller Roshi. All three of these teachers are in the lineage of the famous Omori Sogen Roshi, perhaps the most famous Rinzai Zen master of the twentieth century. Meido serves as abbot of Korinji, a monastery near Madison, Wisconsin, and is a guiding teacher of the international Rinzai Zen Community, traveling widely to lead retreats.

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