A thought provoking book intended, in substantial part, to promote the practice of zazen.
Gudo Wafu Nishijima is the teacher of Brad Warner, popular author of
Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality and Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye and himself a Zen master (in Nishijima's succession).
Nishijima also t ranslated, with Mike Chodo Cross, Dogen's Shobogenzo, available in 4 volumes beginning with
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Book 1
This book consists of what appears to be, based on the introduction, a "conversation" written by Gudo between a representative student of Buddhism and himself. As such, it seems oddly described as a "heart to heart chat" but it does provide Gudo the opportunity to present his teachings in a conversational format.
Some of the key topics are:
1) what religion is and how Buddhism is a "religion of action" and "an affirmation of the real world".
2) Gudo's new "understanding" of the Four Noble Truths, based on an effort to explain them in term of Dogen's explanatory style and leading Gudo to suggest that the traditional presentation of the Four Noble Truths is not what Gautama Buddha intended.
3) The importance of Dogen's Shobogenzo and following from that the importance of daily zazen done with the correct posture. Such zazen, according to Gudo, balances the autonomic nervous system and has value that medical research can confirm. So zazen is neither just mental or just physical but leads to the "dropping away of body and mind" that Dogen and earlier Zen masters spoke of. The issue of correct posture has become part of a dispute between Gudo and Mike Cross that has spilled out into their blogs on the Web. Such emphasis stands in sharp contrast to the teachings of many Chan Buddhist masters who dismissed emphasis on posture. It may also be noted that Gudo's emphasis on Dogen's authority and texts stands in sharp contrast to the teachings of many Chan Buddhist masters, Chan having evolved as a form of Buddhism that depended much less on text than other forms of Buddhism in China.
4) the importance of "establishing a will to the truth" and maintaining it.
During my first 5 years of Zen Buddhist practice, I did daily zazen with care as to posture (although never able to sit for long in even the half lotus pose so I usually used the seiza posture instead). Although a Buddhist and studying Buddhist texts also at that time, I had been led to zazen after reading David Reynolds Quiet Therapies: Japanese Pathways to Personal Growth and, as such, my initial sitting was motivated by a desire to relieve stress. Subsequently, as my study of Buddhism grew, I began to practice for religious reasons. However, I abandoned daily zazen after 5 years and have only returned to it lately. In the meantime, however, I did study and practice other forms of meditation, including, as best I could without a teacher, Dzogchen nondual awareness, i.e. practicing the view as in
You Are the Eyes of the World, New Edition
Recently I returned to Zen qua Chan Buddhism through the teachings of Master Sheng-yen such as presented in
Attaining the Way: A Guide to the Practice of Chan Buddhism
which includes not only "just sitting" but other practices such as the huatou.
Although my early zazen practice was not inconsistent with what Gudo teaches, I have found both the Dzogchen approaches and the Chan Buddhist more helpful and am currently practicing as Master Sheng-yen teaches, although admittedly guiding myself by his books. Another helpful book on Chan for me that has convinced me at this time that Chan and not any Zen such as Gudo teaches speaks better to my condition is Peter D. Hershock's
Chan Buddhism (Dimensions of Asian Spirituality) which reassures me that my current sitting that focuses less on posture is appropriate and effective Buddhist practice.
I would recommend reading this "Heart to Heart Chat..." by Gudo because it may speak to your condition. It did indeed help me to clarify what my condition is and my own understanding of Buddhism and nonduality. Gudo seems a sincere teacher although I am puzzled by why he would want to reinterpret the Four Noble Truths to support Dogen's style of explanation in the Shobogenzo: is it an effort to link Dogen more directly with Gautama Buddha and hence enhance the autority of Dogen? Personally, although I appreciate the power of some of Dogen's writing, I have found him difficult to understand, found his later insistence on monasticism not helpful, and been less confused to the extent I ignore his writings in favor of those of the Chan Buddhist teachers.
Gudo himself in this book gives the advice of reading "the writings of great teachers in the Buddhist world with whom one feels a certain affinity. In my case, I felt that early affinity to Master Dogen". I never felt an affinity to Dogen. I will continue at this time to read Chan Buddhist masters including the contemporary Master Sheng-yen whose greatness seems evident in his talks and writings.