In Nothing Holy about It: The Zen of Being Just
Who You Are (2015), Tim Burkett compiles insights and reflections on a
lifetime of Zen practice. Guiding teacher of the Minnesota Zen Center and a licensed
psychologist, Burkett illuminates Zen wisdom with personal narratives,
anecdotes about his well-known Zen teachers Shunryu Suzuki and Dainin Katagiri,
and reflections on poetry, parables, koans, art, and 60’s pop music.
The book is
divided into five parts, ordered in an intuitive way which roughly parallels
the various stages of experience as one continues a Zen practice: Part 1, Commitment to the Unknown, illumines the
first step for any serious practitioner—confronting and practicing in the midst
of uncertainty; Part 2, Calling in the
Shards, focuses on the honest, unflinching look inward to which commitment
leads; Part 3, When Snow Falls, It Falls
on Everything, addresses continued practice through life’s hardships, using
discomfort and even pain to cultivate more equanimity; Part 4, Staying on the Track—Even when the Sun Rises
in the West, encourages practitioners to stick to their commitment as the
mind continues to awaken to life beyond the small self; and lastly, Part 5, Time Dissolving into Timelessness,
concentrates on seeing the world as it is, as timeless and undifferentiated—not
through ratiocination but through stillness and openness developed through an
authentic Zen practice.
The book is
replete with insights and entertaining moments, and in them Suzuki—author of
the influential Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
and one of the most influential Zen teachers in the West—shines brightest as an
animated, funny, fully human Zen master, complete with flaws and
eccentricities, capable of delivering the Dharma even in unlikely moments.
instance, Burkett relates a dream he had about Suzuki rolling, acrobat-like, into
the dojo, passing two gigantic and surreal “Zen guys” sitting “like great
mountains and taking up the whole zendo” (220). Suzuki, a tiny man brimming
with joy and full of ease, tumbles around these stoic figures, smiling,
beckoning Tim to join him, to experience the true happiness of life.
like all stories in the book, contains a potent message: living Zen means
living authentically, joyously, being exactly who you are rather than striving
to be something you are not.
At one point
in Part 4, the section of the book focusing on continued commitment, Burkett
interprets cosmic bodhisattvas—traditionally objects of devotion in some
Buddhist lineages—as essential archetypes within us all and useful to Zen
practitioners: Maitreya, the icon of hope and intentionality, inspires us to
stay on the path of practice even through pain and hardship (205-06); Manjusri,
the bodhisattva of beginner’s mind, is practice itself which naturally cuts
away “old ideas, opinions, and patterns” and keeps new patterns from developing
(207); Avalokiteshvara, the spirit of compassion unstuck in time and form, is
our naturally compassionate self which is “wholeheartedly present” once we
embody the spirit of Manjusri (208-10); and Samantabhadra, the bodhisattva of
great activity, is wholehearted engagement (211) in whatever we do. Through
stories and examples, Burkett brings down to earth these abstract, greater-than-life
figures and encourages us to see ourselves and our developing practice
reflected in them.
provocative statement in Burkett’s title, Nothing
Holy about It, reveals its practical nature steadily throughout the book:
when we make some things holy, then the rest becomes unholy. Zen, rather than
dividing, rejecting, and accepting, uses everything, includes everything, is
intimate with all of existence, without boundary. Burkett points to the
here-and-now, to this moment, as the universe, and we can care for it as we
care for ourselves if we open up to it through practice. Zen means being just
who we are, with open hearts, neither good nor bad, neither holy nor unholy: simple,
unadorned, joyous, every day.
Nothing Holy about It is an engaging, thoughtfully
structured collection of wisdom and stories recommended for practitioners
intent on deepening their understanding of Zen and for anyone interested in
understanding the practical, here-and-now Zen way of life.
Tim. Nothing Holy About It: The Zen of
Being Just Who You Are. Shambhala, 2015.