Awakening has nothing to do with outward actions or appearances. It is only achieved by ceasing conceptualization. There is no benefit in shaving your head, taking precepts, or wearing robes. Nor is there any disadvantage if you own a home, work in the secular world, and have a spouse and children. People in the secular world who cease conceptualization awaken. Monks and nuns in monastic communities who do not cease conceptualization remain in delusion.
These are the words of Louie Wing, the fictional character author Ted Biringer brings to life in The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing. This is a masterful work that gets right to the heart of Zen. It is inspired by The Platform Sutra of Hui-Neng and provides a very direct and profound explanation of some Zen philosophy. Ted delves deep into prajna, the five ranks of Zen, and some excellent commentary on the Genjokoan. But when I say deep, I don’t mean that the book just drones on and on with complicated metaphysics. Rather, Louie Wing takes on the role of a fierce bodhisattvha, using his wisdom and teachings like Manjushri’s sword, cutting deep but precisely into the real matters of Zen.
The book provides a departure from most books on Zen you might find at Barnes and Nobles or some other such store. Rather than hold your hand while you mindfully wash the dishes, The Flatbed Sutra cuts right to the heart of the matter, revealing the path of compassion and wisdom in the Zen tradition, focusing on prajna and non-conceptualization. That’s not to say that this book is some sort of harsh, ‘hardcore’ approach to Zen either. Rather, it is styled in the fashion of the Chinese and Japanese classics from which the body of wisdom we know as Zen emerged. It is direct, but not in a know-it-all way. It is classic in its approach, yet the context that Biringer gives to Louie Wing makes the Flatbed Sutra accessible to all students of Zen.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Every student of Zen should read this book at least once; it is one I will likely keep on my shelf and come back to again and again for years to come.