Book Review


By Christmas Humphreys

(The Theosophical Publishing House) $5.95

--By Upasaka Kuo Tsun Dinwiddie


In A Western Approach to Zen, Christmas Humphreys focuses on a problem he first made apparent in 1960 when he published Zen Comes West. Humphreys asks, "How should the earnest Western student of Zen approach its goal, Zen experience, and its 'maturing' and application to daily life thereafter?"  Before confronting this problem directly, Humphreys outlines Buddhist fundamentals and defines essential terms apparently learned primarily from Japanese Zen Sects. He goes on to suggest reasonable and practical ways for the Western man in society to draw closer to the Absolute.

For Humphreys, Buddhism reached its highest expression in the Japanese school of Rinzai Zen, which aims to destroy dualities through the shattering force of the koan. Since, he maintains, it is not possible to employ these techniques in the West because of the dearth of accomplished masters a more practical method is to employ the intellect to its fullest in such way that one is lifted beyond false conceptions and is prepared for a 'break-through' to the Absolute.

In the chapter "Buddhism and God" Humphreys does well in clarifying the idea of God to be a psychological crutch used on the path toward Enlightenment. Making reference to Jung, Huxley, Levy-Bruhl, Eckhart and Buddhist scriptures, Humphreys places the function of the idea of God and the structure needed to support such an idea in a clearly pragmatic view.

The innumerable paths to the Absolute have been well described in Indian, Chinese and Japanese Buddhist literature—all treating the human experience as universal. Humphrey’s real contribution here in A Western Approach to Zen is not so much a new approach to the Goal but an interpretation of the Way in Western terms, taking into account obstacles not encountered in the East that the Western student of Zen will have to surmount.

His section "Experiments in Zen" is a Western answer to the Eastern koan. A series of increasingly more profound questions probing the degrees of one's attachment and the answers from pupils of the Zen class of the Buddhist Society of London make interesting reading.