Ray Brooks

Blowing Zen:
Finding an Authentic Life

A Review by Bruce Jones

To say much about the content of the book would be to spoil it for the eventual reader (not to mention that Brooks tells his own story much more entertainingly than I could). Suffice to say that Brooks' experiences with the shakuhachi in Japan are the sort that those of us who ocassionally fantasize about studying there spin into our day-dreams.

The shakuhachi provided Brooks with a passport to people and aspects of Japanese life usually closed off to Westerners. His play took him, not just into the shakuhachi community, but into the homes and lives of Japanese for whom the traditional arts are still meaningful and who were surprised and pleased by Brooks' study.

Aside from the shakuhachi enthusiast reader, the experiences with the shakuhachi Brooks relays in the book, along with his minor forays into Zen philosophy, make the book an interesting read for people unfamiliar with the shakuhachi. Zen, the martial arts and oragami are fairly well known outside Japan. The shakuhachi is far less well known, even among Western musicians. Books that make it more understandable to Westerners are also likely to attract more of us to the shakuhachi.

Brooks' experiences also make *Blowing Zen* a useful read for the non-playing partners of shakuhachi enthusiasts in that he gives a clear, if a bit thin, exploration of what one goes through while learning a traditional art form from another culture. If your significant other is like mine, more interested in European culture and golf than honkyoku, sankyoku and in the restuarants in LA's Little Tokyo, it's nice to have someone else help explain the more esoteric aspects of the shakuhachi, particularly when they do that explaining as well as Brooks.

Back to my own thoughts about the book. A few years ago I gave up reading books by Westerners on Zen philosophy (to paraphrase Muso Kokushi, it's better to practice a little than read a lot - and I practice as little as anyone:-). These days I mostly like two kinds of books on Buddhism and Zen: the poetry of Zen - east or
west, Ikkyu and Ryokan, Harrison and Budbill - and the first person accounts of Westerners who've "gone off" on Zen in one fashion or another. Not Zen philosophy, but Zen travelogues (cf. *The Accidental Buddhist* - D. W. Moore). I like the voice of experience that speaks understandably close to my ear.

Brooks' *Blowing Zen* is one of these books (notwithstanding the fact that he labels himself a "zen tourist"), made considerably more interesting by the fact that Brooks didn't set out to explore either Zen or the shakuhachi. He's a bit more like someone who decided to go for a stroll, learned that a hiking staff made walking easier and then discovered (in both senses of the term) himself on a pilgrimage.


Read a Reviews of Blowing Zen by
Robert Jonas

Rob Winike

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