Book Review: Illuminating Silence (Master Shen Yeng & Dr John H Crook)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


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Ragdoll Rating: 3/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Experienced Buddhist practitioners, people wanting insight on the Chan (Chinese Zen) path

About the Book…

The content of  Illuminating Silence comes from Master Sheng Yen, a Chinese Chan master. The book contains edited transcripts of the talks Master Yen gave over the course of two week-long retreats in Wales. The talks were given in Chinese by Master Yen, translated by a Mr Ming Yee and transcribed by Dr Crook.

What I thought…

I found this book to be difficult but interesting read. I suppose the only review I can give about this book is based in the fact that I am having such difficulty in thinking of anything – at all – to say about it.

There is a great deal to learn from this book, I am sure. I think the key problem for me is that these are transcripts, offered without external commentary. This means that if you find yourself confused or lost (as I often did) there is nothing but Master Yen’s words to guide you through it. What I’m saying is that this book is not for the faint of heart and almost certainly not for the beginner. A lot of Chinese words remain untranslated, and although there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, the unfamiliar vocabulary was hard to cope with.

It took me a long time to finish this book, nearly a month apparently, and to be honest I really don’t think I could tell you more than one thing I learned while reading it. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, I distinctly remember many occasions where my understanding of a topic was deepened or a new concept was introduced, I just can’t remember what they were. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, or perhaps I’m just too inexperienced to fully appreciate it.

A lot of time was spent dedicated to dissection of a poem, most of which was lost on me. I’m not good with poetry at the best of times, and poetry in translation…eek!

During my reading, I made a note of one line, something I almost never do. “It is not important to get enlightened quickly.” This, coupled with frequent reminder that you still have to practice even post-enlightenment stuck with me, and actually I think this message on it’s own made the book worth reading.

Final Thoughts…

This book is a tough read, and is probably much more enjoyable with an improved understanding of the topic. Perhaps I’ll read it again some day and find it more accessible.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!