Zen Vows For Daily Life, by Robert Aitken
I want to make it clear at the outset of this review that I am not endorsing the author’s approach or the book’s contents. This is a volume that was promoted as a new book by my local library and being someone who has previously been a resident in a majority Buddhist country and a critic of the approach of Buddhism as a whole, I thought it worthwhile to demonstrate my critical approach to American Buddhist perspectives like this book offers . To be clear, I found much in this book to criticize, as I expected to. On the other hand, I was impressed by the honest admission of the author that the Buddhist worldview he was practicing and promoting was in clear hostility to biblical truth. Given the way that the author attempted to appropriate a great deal of objectionable trends in the contemporary intellectual world, the author’s clear admission that Christianity and its call for God’s kingdom to be set up on earth was antithetical to his own worldview was a pleasing admission that certainly made me appreciate the author’s honesty if not the contents of his writing or thinking.
As a whole, this book is a short one of less than 100 pages, and so the task of reading the book is not particularly challenging. That said, these contents do get a bit monotonous after a while. After a thoughtful introduction by a Buddhist named Thich Nhat Hanh that appears designed to give the book credibility to those who are within the Buddhist reading audience aimed at by this book, the contents of the book shows the late Aitken writing a large quantity of short poems that amount to personal vows and self-affirmations that range from efforts at positive self-talk after having difficult times in the monastery to dealing with traffic and avoiding meaningless sex and smoking and use/abuse of alcohol. A lot of the poems use technical Buddhist language reflective of religious practice, and the author is assuming that he is writing to an insider audience, although he helpfully includes a glossary at the end so that the terms of Zen Buddhism practiced by the author are at least defined rather than merely assumed as part of the reader’s knowledge. This does not make their contents more easily agreed with, but certainly better understood.
Overall, the author’s unawareness of the self-contradictory nature of his worldview can be contrasted with his admirable awareness that it it is contrary to Christianity. On one page the author asks himself for help in realizing the meaninglessness of life, but then criticizes meaningless sex and appears to desire an understanding of what is meaningful of life, not aware of the contradiction. The author attempts to burnish his Buddhist thought with references to pop psychology and leftist peace activism, even as he considers himself to be the real authority in his life, as he gives honor to no Creator or Lord. In this self-regard in the face of the meaninglessness of life, the author demonstrates the true nature of his hostility to Christianity, a desire to be his own authority and to live according to the dictates of his wicked and self-deceived heart, rather than to understand the truths of existence and give honor and glory where he ought to. One could pity and have compassion on the author if he was not attempting to encourage other people to follow his misguided quest into error and to seek to be deities on their own terms and to deny the existence of the One whose dictates he cannot bear to follow.
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