More stuff like Zen koans?
February 9, 2017 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a couple of major stressors right now and probably for a while. Zen koans (specifically The Gateless Gate) have provided me a lot of happiness over the years in little doses for reasons I can't explain. Have other bite-sized pieces of orthogonal thinking or non-thinking given you comfort?

The Gateless Gate is one of my favorite things. Especially Hyakujo's Fox and Joshu's Bowl. Same with "if you meet the Buddha on the road to enlightenment, kill him." I am an atheist, in therapy, well-medicated, and in good physical health.

Gödel Escher Bach tickled this need, but it was so relentlessly didactic, and it required sustained attention to remember what you'd already read and incorporate it into the current chapter. The Gateless Gate is also didactic by design but doesn't give a damn whether you actually learn from it. This aspect is what makes the former unhelpful and the latter helpful for me, I think.

I don't want to make a serious study of Zen or practice of meditation. Guided meditations are great at putting me to sleep, but I need something for during the day. Almost like a mental check-out at a moment's notice. Doesn't have to be Buddhist or Zen or any particular thing. I recognize that this request is actually very NOT Zen.

Thank you in advance.
posted by radicalawyer to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know why I think this would help you, but I think you should check out Richard Feynman. Start with just some of his yummy quotes, but then consider Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. It's way out in left field from what you actually asked, but I think it might scratch your itch, not least because he was a damn genius and generally really sweet.
posted by janey47 at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You may enjoy Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies
posted by thelonius at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

seconding oblique strategies
posted by lescour at 11:16 AM on February 9, 2017

Have your read David Eagleman's Sum. Forty Tales from the Afterlives.? Wonderful book and scratches a similar itch for me. There's an excerpt linked on the same page
posted by merocet at 11:20 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is going to sound weird, but the children's book Zen Shorts really helped me through some rough times.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:07 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy the poetry of David Budbill, such as his Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse.
posted by Jahaza at 12:19 PM on February 9, 2017

I had a friend who did a great little daily email called the Daily Tao which was useful. He doesn't do it any more but you can look for other versions of this (they usually tend not to last long because of takedowns) this Tumblr is one. Also a big yes to oblique strategies.
posted by jessamyn at 1:26 PM on February 9, 2017

Yep, sounds like a job for the Tao te Ching. Try Ursula Le Guin's clear, canny, and insightful version.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:14 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts" series are definitely not for everyone, but worth looking into.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 7:04 PM on February 9, 2017

Nisargadatta's "I Am That", an anthology, with every section stand-alone. It's a spiritual classic.

The first time you read it, it's almost completely opaque, yet a foxy elegance can be glimpsed, if only intuitively. As you let it stew, and revisit over the long run of years and decades, it becomes part of you and a shift occurs. Each reread of a given section reveals greater depths of truth, so it has the lozenge-like quality of koans.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:38 PM on February 9, 2017

Shunryu Suzuki "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" (PDF)

Because the translation of the talks seems to have a rhythm and that 'otherness' that lulls into 'aha'.
When, four months before his death, I had the opportunity to ask him why satori didn't figure in his book, his wife leaned toward nne(sic,lol) and whispered impishly, "It's because he hasn't had it" ; whereupon the Roshi batted his fan at her in mock consternation and with finger to his lips hissed, "Shhhh! Don't tell him!" When our laughter had subsided, he said simply, "It's not that satori is unimportant, but it's not the part of Zen that needs to be stressed."
posted by zengargoyle at 1:05 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have a look at There Are Two Errors in The The Title of This Book.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:36 AM on February 10, 2017

Have you seen 101 Zen Stories? There are also a number of similar koan style things in the back of Stephen Mitchell's Tao Te Ching, although for some reason I can't find any of the excerpts online.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2017

Some of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations might scratch the koan itch. Also, not so much bite-sized, but Borges' short stories always comfort me, probably in a similar way (something to do with the world being big, me being small, and minds being vast). Funes the Memorious is one of my favorites, and touches on some Gödel Escher Bach themes.
posted by materialgirl at 3:12 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ooh, also maybe Rilke's Duino Elegies (must be translated by Stephen Mitchell)!
Who has twisted us around like this, so that
no matter what we do, we are in the posture
of someone going away? Just as, upon
the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, he turns, stops, lingers–,
so we live here, forever taking leave.
— The Eighth Elegy
posted by materialgirl at 3:28 PM on February 13, 2017

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