Exploring CultureThe Tao of Zen

Available from Amazon.comby Ray Grigg
Paperback, 357 pages
Published by Charles E Tuttle Co
Publication date: June 1, 1994


Taoism? Buddhism? Zen? Zen Buddhism?!?

Ever get lost trying to untangle these terms? Well, you are not alone in the confusion.

Ray Grigg's The Tao of Zen provides a valiant effort to untangle the terms and can help you understand the confusion. The book, in an appropriately indirect way, also provides a sense of how Tao and Zen can be experienced in everyday life.

The main thesis of the book is provided in preface:

Zen is Taoism disquised as Buddhism. When twelve hundred years of Buddhist accretions are removed from Zen, it is revealed to be a direct evolution of the spirit of Taoism. indeed, the literature known as the Lau Tsu and the Chuang Tzu begins a continuous tradition that can be followed through the Ch'an of China to the Zen of present day Japan. The formative writings of Taoism are essentially the teachings of Zen.

The Tao of Zen is organized into two parts:

Part I Taoism and Zen: The Historical Connections
Part II Taoism and Zen: The Philosophical Similarities

Part I provides a well balanced history of how we arrived at the apparent oxymoron contained in the term 'Zen Buddhism'. Ray Grigg uses a combination of ancient texts, quotes from academic commentators, and his own knowledge of the subject to explore his thesis in a clear and accessible writing style.

Part II provides a close comparison of key concepts as they are understood and practiced in Zen and Taoism. The terms are:

  • Wordlessness
  • Selflessness
  • Softness
  • Oneness
  • Emptiness
  • Nothingness
  • Balance
  • Paradox
  • Non-Doing
  • Sponteneity
  • Ordinariness
  • Playfulness
  • Suchness

Always the author is mindful that both Zen and Taoism appear to defy description:

Using words is risky for processes that distrust words. Therefore, any exploration of Taoism and Zen must offer the caveat that anything that can be said about them is incomplete, misleading, and largely wrong. Since there is no wordlessness without words, no selflessness without self, no softness without hardness, any word that is used also implies its opposite. Any resolution of opposites must still include those opposites. Any oneness requires the recognition of separateness, and any wholeness requires the recognition of parts. So Taoism and Zen are systemless systems that include both the is and is-not; the Way is both known and not-known. One uttered word of explanation is wrong, but silence is not enough. (Page 185).

If silence is not enough for you, The Tao of Zen can provide much insight into Zen and Taoist philosophies.

Reviewed by Greg Dixon
October 14, 1997


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All Materials Greg Dixon 1998. Last Modified September 18, 1998.