Dokusan with Dogen:
Timeless Lessons in Negotiating the Way
by Barbara Verkuilen Firethroat Press

"Spiritual practice in the Buddhist sense means taking all the experiences in our life—good times and difficult times—and learning to use each of them as an instrument of our awakening."

As an ardent student of Zen, Barbara Verkuilen often felt drawn to the ancient, prolific writings of Dogen, a renowned thirteenth-century Japanese Zen master. Throughout the years she received guidance and instruction from a variety of contemporary teachers, was ordained as a Zen priest, and ultimately co-founded the Midwest Soto Zen Community, based in Wisconsin. Yet, Verkuilen always returned to Dogen's poetic words in an effort to see how to "Negotiate the Way."

In the ten essays of Dokusan with Dogen, the author artfully discerns her favorite master's teachings in an attempt to demystify various elements of Zen thought and philosophy. From the mindful practice of "just sitting" to the concepts of non-attachment, selflessness, and distinguishing greater and lesser miracles, Verkuilen guides us with a gentle literary voice and hand along an old, but relevant spiritual path.

While Dogen's influence is clearly at the center of her writing, Verkuilen generously references several other Zen masters, and creatively infuses her work with Zen lore, metaphors, and charming "mondos," the recorded exchanges between a master and student in Zen literature. A short glossary of Buddhist terms also helps readers navigate the writings and lessons. Verkuilen's book is not a scholarly work about Dogen, but rather a personal reflection of the master's influence on her own Zen life path.

Zen Master Dogen once wrote that "The study of the way does not rely on knowledge and genius or cleverness and brilliance. It is an easy thing." Herein, Verkuilen's invaluable reflective musing, will perhaps make our own journey that much easier.

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