A story of bravery and false starts, The Autobiography of a Zen Monk candidly recounts the author's development from a highly mischievous Japanese boy into a world-renowned Sensei (Teacher) of Zen. While countless memoirs exist written by Zen students and teachers, few are as engaging and as tantalizing as Taisen Deshimaru's. Looking back at his early life, growing up in Japan, from the viewpoint of his status as a Zen teacher in Paris, the author reflects on his earliest misadventures--from defacing a valuable painting of Bodhidharma as a child, to turning the "Zen stick" on a young monk during a retreat. Adventures abound with stories about alcohol and women, during his student years, and his activities during World War II in working for the arms industry in Malaysia, where he was sympathetic to the underground freedom movement.
This first English-language translation of Taisen Deshimaru's autobiography will be prized for its clear and honest documentation of this great master's life. Many people all over the world have been influenced by Deshimaru's Zen teachings, especially his book on Zen and the martial arts. This memoir fills an important gap in our knowledge of his teacher, Kodo Sawaki's influence on the world of Zen. The story of how Deshimaru met Sawaki as a boy, even slept in the same room with him, and later received monastic ordination is the story of a lifelong friendship of two extraordinary characters in the history of modern Zen.
Deshimaru's influence extends beyond Zen practitioners, though, especially in those interested in the martial arts, as he touches on his martial arts experience as a young man and offers a look into the master's early training.
Additional interest extends to historians who recount the supposed "scandals" of Zen masters' participation in the war effort. Although Deshimaru's viewpoint is decidedly subjective, he was intimately acquainted with priests and generals alike, and approaches the difficult subject with a refreshing lack of judgmental disdain which counterbalances many other more lopsided works.
Translator, Richard Collins, a longtime Zen practitioner, and currently the Abbot of the New Orleans Zen Temple, is a literature scholar and author of several books including No Fear Zen, Hohm Press, 2014. His knowledge of the subject matter and his finesse with language combine to make this book a delightful read for those who appreciate well-written memoir.
Autobiography of a Zen Monk, Taisen Deshimaru (Author), Richard Collins (Translator), Hohm Press, Paperback, 215 pages, $21.95