and the Art of Anything

Third Edition

By Hal W. French
Illustrations by Marianne Rankin

Copyright © 1999, 2001, 2009 by Hal W. French, Illustrations Copyright © 1999, 2001, 2009 by Marianne Rankin
All rights reserved.

170 pages (includes 16 illustrations and bibliography) ISBN 0963923188,
Softcover, $14.95

If shelf and cerebral space allowed for only one book on personal spirituality, self-knowledge, or improvement, it could easily be Dr. Hal French’s Zen and the Art of Anything.

The Star Reporter, Columbia, S.C.


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From Chapter 8: Thriving and Surviving

     We each...face a common, leveling challenge: How to survive your own death? Can you? This is the ultimate koan which each of us must penetrate. Once more, many persons are tutored by hope of personal survival in some realm where all wrongs shall be righted, all suffering healed. This self that I know here shall stay intact to inherit rewards such as “Eye hath not seen, neither ear heard.” It is wonderfully compelling, perhaps most of all to those who have suffered the most.
     There’s really no quarrel with this; compassion, loving-kindness, dictate a profound feeling for what meets the needs of people in need, an equally profound respect for our varied survival strategies. No dogma here. But the voicing, perhaps, of an alternate model which Buddhism in general and Zen specifically may suggest. Like the concept of sunyata or the formula, Nirvana=Samsara, it conveys a “goal-less goal,” not one of ego-fulfillment but of ego-transcendence.
     The Buddha’s silence on the subject of an afterlife is compelling: “These are questions which do not lead to edification. Work on reducing suffering.” There are immediate tasks that compel our attention, here and now. The other concerns indicate my attachment, still, to personal craving, even to the extent that I am obsessed with my need to live forever.
     But consider: why does my sausage-encased ego insist that it must live in perpetuity in this particular package if life itself is to hold any meaning? Does that seem egocentric, presumptuous, and even arrogant? When Jesus spoke of finding your life by losing it, is this part of what he meant? Or as Shunryu Suzuki observed: “To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment.”
     Use the wave analogy again. By some incredible miracle, the vast ocean of time has borne me up to its crest for this miniscule moment. I look around, revel in all that I see, feel the spray in my face, elated by the majesty, the enormity of creation, grateful beyond belief to be alive. And then, all my days distilled into this one rising instant of supernal awareness, all my life breaths compressed into one full-swelling of my lungs, I exhale, in the most complete letting go that I have ever known, and sink, in certain confidence and trust, into the depths. The ocean of time and space, which has borne me up, will receive me now unto Itself. All the “special” qualities, the fictional uniqueness of my separate selfhood, are now dissolved. It is my truest homecoming. I survive, then, in the larger sense, precisely as I yield my need to survive, I thrive, ultimately, as I overcome my striving.
     The Zen master Ryoken conveyed in his death poem this image:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld
the changing scene of autumn.
I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines
     and cedars when no wind stirs.

     It is enough.


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