Ambivalent Zen

A Personal Account by Lawrence Shainberg

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Shainberg first encountered Zen at the age of fifteen when his father introduced him to the writings of Alan Watts. Today he studies Zen with Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, of the Soho Zendo in New York. Shainberg is the author of One on One, Memories of Amnesia, and Brain Surgeon: An Intimate View of His World.


Roshi wears his Yankee cap to breakfast, doesn’t remove it even after we sit down. He has a large collection of hats, but he has worn this one exclusively since I bought it for him last week at Yankee Stadium. Slightly self-conscious about his shaved head, he never goes out without a hat, but the Yankee cap has the added advantage of making him look, if not like an American, at least at home in the culture. Like any Zen master, he aims to walk the streets as if invisible, attract no attention, leave no trace of himself in anyone’s mind. The robes he wears in the zendo are seldom worn outside it. He favors flannel shirts and khaki pants, Saucony running shoes, a Yankee jacket in the fall and, when the weather turns, a parka and a black woolen watch cap purchased through the L. L. Bean catalogue. In addition to hats, he collects watches and seems to wear a different one every day.

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