Red Pine in New York Review of Books

Red Pine, aka Bill Porter, has a couple of new books underway in various stages of completion. An article in the New York Review of Books runs down his latest activities, including the receipt of a Guggenheim grant, which is so well deserved.

In the NYRB article, he was asked by a Chinese man to explain what is Zen:

“Zen is like a cup of tea,” he replied “On one level you can see the teacup and you can admire it. You can look at the tea and admire it and its flavor. But then you have to drink it. When you drink it you have the real cup of tea. But what is it? It’s gone: it’s the memory of the taste, the sensation in your mouth.

“China has a great Olympics program but not everyone in China should train for six hours a day. Likewise, being a hermit is not for everyone. It’s like spiritual graduate school.

“You spend most of your time chopping firewood and hauling water. This becomes part of your practice. Many people go in the spring and leave in the autumn. They don’t have the spiritual practice to sustain them during the winter.

“A man, somewhat perplexed, stood up: “You are a westerner, of course, and in the United States Christianity is the main religion. But you practice Buddhism. Can you explain why?”

“Porter paused for a few seconds, sensing that the man might be one of China’s burgeoning ranks of Christians. Then he said, “Christianity asks you to believe in things that you can’t see: that there’s a god, that he had a son and so on. In Buddhism there is that too—there’s a paradise and so on. But in Zen Buddhism it’s mainly about your mind and your heart. You believe in something that is in your heart. That is something not abstract but real.”

Porter has completed a book on the Silk Road, and he’s working on another travel book about early Chinese poets.

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