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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen
Failure in Japan by David Chadwick
Shambhala, May 2007
ISBN 978-1-59030-470-9 /
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Reader Reviews from Amazon.com.
I think that readers' comments are the best, better than book reviewers whom I love each and every one, but the readers who write in to Amazon or wherever are motivated, sincere, passionate. They wrote because they wanted to. I'm going to put all the Amazon reviews here on this page, but it's a little time-consuming to do so for now I'll just put on six of sixteen. These are under the Penguin Edition. I've written Amazon and asked for them to be transferred to the Shambhala edition like they did the industry reviews which will be going up here soon too. - DC
PS - I spellchecked this - naughty reviewers!
PSS - And hey - please feel free to write in your own reader review to Amazon.com.
Here's the Amazon.com link to the Shambhala edition. cause the link above is for the old Penguin version.
Best of the foreigner-encounters-Japan books, hands down June 4,
There are perhaps fifty books about Westerners living in Japan, and perhaps fifty more about the West's encounter with Zen. Chadwick's book is by far the most appealing of these. His refusal to type- cast the Japanese he meets, his beautiful and disarming candor, and his unpredictable reactions to new experiences make this a wonderful book even for a reader who's never been to Japan, or one who has no particular interest in Zen. Everybody I've recommended it to has loved it.
Incredibly observed and written
a sad sign that such an amazing book should be out of print. This is one of
my favorite books of all times. David Chadwick chronicles some of his
experiences living in Japan, first in a country temple being refurbished by
him and a few other Japanese and American monks, and then living in a larger
city where he lives next to a monastery while teaching English on the sly.
(He intertwines the two periods in alternating chapters, so it is not a
linear story. It works much better than it should.) He has a remarkable eye
for detail; his descriptions of the birds signing, of the flora by the side
of the road, of the Japanese biting caterpillars, and of the various comical
and not-so-comical people he encounters are wonderful and help make you feel
as if you are right along side him, walking down the country road or waiting
to be digested by and pass through the Japanese bureaucracy. This is Zen in
action - not mystical philosophy, just living and fully experiencing every
day! I laughed out loud many times (occasionally so hard tears came to my
eyes), and was deeply moved by various stories, most importantly his
experiences with Katagiri Roshi, his friend and teacher who dies before the
book is over. I have thrust my copy of this book into a lot of hands over
time, and I am only sorry that it is not easily available to buy for more
people so I can share this wonderful experience with them.
It wasn't until I finished this excellent book that it occurred to me how really good Chadwick's writing is.
Presented as a first-hand account, the text is surprisingly free of personal bias. Chadwick writes about himself as a detached observer, something many authors attempt to do but few succeed at.
no disciple of Zen, but I've read this book twice and can highly recommend
it to anyone interested in modern Japanese society.
*****Very fun book to read.
really enjoyed hearing all of the author's stories about living in Japan as
an American. What was also great was that he didn't just write about life as
an American in a Zen setting, but also about the day to day bureaucracy that
he faced in Japan.
A Zen Success Story
Every Zennie at some point or other nourishes the idea of traveling to Japan to sit in a temple with other monks. The tendency is to have romantic notions of Zen in Japan, from reading various books where practice there seems more pure. (Why have the Japanese Zen people come to the West?) So naturally, we are curious about other people's experiences in Zen in Japan. Jan Willem Van De Wetering wrote a number of books about his Zen experiences, and those who read to the end of these books can detect a distinctly cynical tone, where the groundwork for this cynicism is laid in Japan.
"Thank you and ok" is written by someone with a lot more maturity and Zen insight than Van De Wetering. Chadwick had been sitting for his entire adult life before he followed his teacher to Japan; Van De Wetering went to Japan on the suggestion of a University professor. What others might consider bad experiences, or inconsistencies with Zen practice (such as Chadwick's friend Norman who is full of hate for another monk), roll off Chadwick like rainwater. It is precisely this maturity that makes this book such an interesting read.
Chadwick spends a lot of time in Japan resisting speaking on the topics that everyone expects him to talk about, such as what he likes about Japan. Yet, much of this book is devoted to just such an undertaking. What is so wonderful about this book, however, is that, for the most part, it presents anecdotes describing precisely what happened and only what happened. This leaves the readers to draw their own conclusions about these differences, or what there is to like about Japan.
It is so refreshing not to have to read some jaded American's judgmental attitudes and opinions about the Japanese. Although, Japanese people often identify strongly with their "unique" culture, many Japanese like any other people, when you get to know them, are what we would call in the U.S., "characters." You get a good sense of that in this book. This book breaks down a lot of cultural myths, and teaches people not to generalize about millions of people at a time.
But, as simple as it might seem, there is some genuine insight into Zen, which the casual reader might miss. The title "Thank you and ok" conveys the essence of Zen, as the book explains in more detail. A more earth-shattering insight comes from the final chapters of his stay in Japan. Chadwick is open-minded enough to change Zen schools and study with a master who works with riddles, after having spent his previous life just sitting. One of these riddles is whether a dog has the Buddha nature (are animals capable of enlightenment?), and while we expect the answer to this to be "yes" (in Buddhism all sentient beings have the Buddha nature), a Zen master said "mu" which literally means no. As an answer to this question though, "mu" points to the Buddha nature itself, which is beyond yes and no. Chadwick's practice consisted of asking this question in Japanese and Chadwick replying "mu." The answer was known; it was the manner of delivery that counted. As Zenkei Shibayama might say: "you yourself have to BE directly `mu'." The final advice given to him by his master was to continue to say "mu" with everything he did; work directly at it, be just it. This advice has deep implications.
A brief note about the organization of this book. As others have noted, the chronology of the book skips back and forth between times and places. If this bothers you, you can read about his experience as a monk first, and then read about his experience as a lay person since the chapters are clearly marked next to the chapter number as to time and place. If you decide to read this book a second time, and I recommend it, try reading it straight through and you will see how the organization of the book makes sense.
book is a real page turner and utterly engrossing. I give it five stars, as
it is one of the very best books of its kind.
*****Loved this book, Chadwick is
I learned more about living in Japan and what Japanese Zen is all about than from any other book I've read in 20 years. David Chadwick gives a real feeling about what its like to live in a Zen monastery and I'm very grateful to him for such a wonderful, insightful book..
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