Over my Buddhist years (more or less full-time since the fall of 2007) I have, now and then, been wondering what single book (on Buddhism or otherwise) I would bring to that famed desert island where so many seem to be headed allowed to only bring one each thing: one CD, one novel, one musical instrument, one vegetable, et cetera. In other words, what book could I not live without? What book would, on its very own, meet my spiritual needs?
Over the years this book has changed. Initially, I chose a good dictionary, say The New Oxford American Dictionary, for what better reading could there be but the complete English language?
A few Buddhist books later, my priorities changed, and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words (An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon) stood up and laid claim to that desert island one book uniqueness. Bodhi does such an amazing job bringing Buddhism to life through the ancient discourses, he seeds so much truth in that volume that I though, ah, that book will see me through, no problem, no matter how long I’ll be stranded.
But as I read on, other books clamored for the “only book” position. Among them: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah — Single Volume Compilation—Ajahn Chah’s wisdom shines through on every page; Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana by Shaila Catherine—An amazingly detailed meditation manual; Early Buddhism Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight by Karen Arbel—an amazing investigation and discussion of the Jhanas; several Tibetan books then vied for the title until finally I arrived at what I now consider home: Zen.
Granted, I have not read every Zen book there is, but I have read a few and reading even more, and at this point I have settled on the one book that on its very own indeed will meet my spiritual needs. It is a compilation by John Daido Loori called the art of Just Sitting. It is a collection of, yes, priceless teachings about zazen and shikantaza, what I now see as my wide-open field of present and future enlightenment.
After years of Theravada-based Jhana practice, Tibetan-based Shamata practice, I have finally arrived at what feels, at what is, so very right for me: zazen.
Loori’s the art of Just Sitting is a jewel of a book, presenting the best advice on shikantaza I have (or am ever likely to) come across. With this book in my backpack, I can go anywhere in this (or any other) world and still carry with me all the teaching and advice I will ever need.
Yes, this is my desert-island book.