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.

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