As Zen takes root in the west, new forms arise. For centuries Zen masters have tested their students with “koans” and “capping phrases.” A koan is a spiritual paradox that must be solved intuitively. A capping phrase is a trenchant comment. Both are meditative practices that reveal deeper truths about the self and, ideally, lead to enlightenment.
In Zen Traces, Buddhist scholar Kenneth Kraft plays off these practices in a new idiom. He selects passages from four sources: traditional Zen, present-day Zen, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain. When a koan-like story about a contemporary Zen teacher is paired with a pithy comment by Mark Twain, something fresh emerges.
“What is most interesting about the book is how it indicates the timelessness of writing, whether it is traditional Zen koans and capping phrases, 19th century literature, or contemporary capping phrases. It does not try to distinguish between these different sources in terms of quality and content. Instead, it indicates the power of writing, the universal nature of being human, and the timeless aspiration to find answers to life’s questions.”—Reading Religion
"In 1999, we discovered Kraft's book The Wheel of Engaged Buddhism where he mapped out a path of Buddhism in ten parts. 'Spiritual practice,' he noted, 'has to be flexible, diverse, and inventive.' He has kept his creative and spiritual flair alive with this paperback. Here koans and capping phrases of Zen masters are used to enlighten. Best of all, Kraft rubs together these pithy thoughts and phrases from traditional and present-day Zen with the sayings of Henry-David Thoreau and Mark Twain to come up with fresh portals of spiritual openness."—Spirituality & Practice
“In this lovely book, Ken Kraft provides a unique opening for American Buddhism and American wisdom in general. The reader will come to fresh and spacious new insights and enjoyments . . . Cheers for Zen in America and a deep bow to Ken Kraft!”—Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., author of The Present Heart: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Discovery
“I highly recommend this delightful book of East-West wisdom—full of surprise, insight, wit, and piercing beauty.”—Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
Kenneth Kraft, professor emeritus of religious studies at Lehigh University, is a scholar of Japanese Zen and socially engaged Buddhism. He is the author and editor of six books, including Eloquent Zen, Zen: Tradition and Transition, and Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism. Kraft holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from Princeton University, an M.A. in Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. from Harvard University.