Zenkei Blanche Hartman is an American Zen legend. A teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, she was the first female abbot of an American Zen center. She is greatly revered, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has lived and taught for many years. This, her long-awaited first book, is a collection of short teachings taken from her talks on the subject of boundlessness–the boundlessness that sees beyond our small, limited self to include all others. To live a boundless life she encourages living the vows prescribed by the Buddha and living life with the curiosity of a child. The short, stand-alone pieces can be dipped into whenever one is in need of inspiration.
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Blanche Hartman is a wonderful, genuine woman whose heart is always open and whose ability to connect with other Zen students is extraordinary. She taught me to sew 30 years ago when I made my rakusu for Jukai, a role she performed for so many students over decades. This book is a lovely, poignant and loving expression of Blanche’s sincere humility and compassion. Her practice truly comes from her big heart and this shines forth from every page of the book. It is short, yet it is full of insight, and more importantly, wisdom.
It is divided into 3 parts: the first is a series of short passages which exemplify the keys to her Zen practice. The second is a set of Dharma talks. The third is a set of Q&A’s, which may well be the most useful and fascinating part of the book. In these, Blanche does not shy away from the difficult questions of how Zen Buddhism interacts with modern American culture. Is meditation addictive? Is abortion compatible with the Buddhist precept against killing? Does one need a teacher? How can we practice nonviolence in a world full of violence? How can we handle sexuality in the sangha, and especially between a teacher and a student? Can the « doctrines » of No Self and Rebirth be compatible with one another? What should a student who is enmeshed in an abusive marriage do, especially when there are children involved? How can one practice mindfulness when afflicted with Alzheimer’s?
All these questions are answered very straightforwardly, with compassion and warmth. Blanche does not respond in a doctrinaire or arbitrary fashion. She listens carefully and then gives a heart-felt reply. Even those who do not agree with her answers will find much to ponder in them, and will recognize the sincerity and respect with which they are endowed. I highly recommend this book. Blanche Hartman is one of the great Zen practitioners in Suzuki Roshi’s lineage. This book shows why she is so revered and loved in the community.