Bring Me the Rhinoceros

Cover of Bring Me the Rhinoceros.

I read this book after seeing it recommended on Twitter, and I’m glad I did. It’s an introduction to Buddhist/Zen koans, with context and interpretative options supplied for each of the koans presented. It felt like a gentle and good way to approach this general area of interest.

Reading this book was a conflicting experience for me. First off, I’ll definitely want to re-read it in a couple of months or in a year – this is a book that evolves with the reader, as dictated by the subject. I don’t always do well with books where I feel I can’t extract their meaning and put it into summaries like this one, so that on its own was an exercise in letting go.

“Letting go” is a good frame for what I usually feel when I engage with Zen ideas, and these koans made it even more noticeable than usually. While reading this book, I found myself relaxing into reality and releasing a bunch of anxieties and tension. I read it over the course of a weekend, and I took multiple naps (which is normally unheard of). I approve of this feeling and it’s definitely a contributing factor in my desire to revisit the book.

But it also made me anxious in a way. I noticed that the concept of people dedicating years of their life to a koan – as in, their regular life, not in a monastery – made me feel like I was falling behind by not doing the same. I got the feeling of being inadequate by not pursuing¹ deeper understanding. I started trying to judge my skill, deciding that I was inherently “bad at” thinking/processing/shifting. It was amusing to see, in a way – at the same time, it’s something I’ll take time to attend to.

Also, ugh, I wish words were less inadequate for the things I thought and experienced while reading this book – which is very much the point of koans, of course.

¹ I am aware of the irony, believe me.


Happiness is not an add-on to what you already are; it requires you to become a different person from the one who set off seeking it.

The point is that, in an impasse, life becomes more real and more interesting, so much so that it is better to have some impossible problems in your life than not to.