Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books Read: April

It looks like I didn't get much reading done in April.  Oh well.  I did a lot of false start reading on the Kindle (too easy to do) and I was pretty busy with other stuff.  One thing that does get revealed here is the dirty secret that I like reading and thinking about religion.  I take it a little too seriously for someone who isn't very religious. Some of what follows probably falls into the realm of cliche and for that I have to apologize.  Sorry. 

Surviving Survival, Laurence Gonzales
After reading Gonzales Deep Survival I thought I'd see what else he had written.  This book is his exploration of the aftermath of survival, PTSD, and getting back to "normal".  The point really is that there is no getting back to normal, just a readjustment and moving on.   PTSD, as he describes it, is a reasonable response to a changed situation.  If you're in a situation where you have to behave differently in order to get by or survive then you can't expect that learning to just disappear when that situation ends.  It's like a more extreme version of culture shock.  I can't say that I've ever experienced anything like the traumas Gonzales describes, but the lessons are still relevant.  Be adaptable and stay mindful of your situation and changes in it. 

Varieties of Meditative Experience, Daniel Goleman
The title hooked me I'm sad to say.  I really liked William James' Varieties of Religious Experience when I read it a few years ago for it's detached view of subjective experience, but meditation is not well served by description.  The states of mind (or whatever) that occur during meditation are simply not the point.  Meditation, as I see it, is a process, a practice, not an otherworldly experience or ecstatic state.  The two may go together, but they are not the same.  This book seems to come out of the tradition that glorifies epiphany and sees drug experience as similar or identical to that of meditation.  That's kind of like seeing steroid use and cosmetic surgery as the same as (or as good as) exercise.  It confuses the process with the product.

Religion of the Samurai, Kaiten Nukariya
It's a little silly to call a book on Zen philosophy "Religion of the Samurai".  It's like calling a book on Protestantism "Religion of the English Longbowman", but like it or not the two (samurai and Zen) are strongly connected in most peoples minds.  Really this book has virtually nothing to do with samurai, but a lot to do with Zen, or at least Zen philosophy.  Of course as Zen is not a philosophy it gets pretty clunky at times.  I got pretty bored with the sutras and the five forms and 108 earthly temptations and so on.  The specifics don't really concern me much.  I do think the anecdotes are useful though it seems like there are only really 5 or 6 and they just get repeated through all Zen texts.  Writing about Zen is an oxymororn.  You can't really do it.  It isn't something you describe or understand, it's something you do. 

1 comment:

CJ Ong, Jr. said...

"Writing about Zen is an oxymororn. You can't really do it. It isn't something you describe or understand, it's something you do."

Well put.

Thanks Matt.