A Straight Road with 99 Curves
Coming of Age on the Path of Zen
From fascination to disillusionment and back, a memoir of one man's quest for Zen and spirituality in America and Japan.
In 1971, when Greg Shepherd was in his early twenties, he left New Jersey and joined the Koko An Zendo community in Hawaii. What began as a quest for enlightenment became Greg's confrontation with his own inner demons: his need for approval, his distrust of authority, and his ego-driven fixation on achieving the profound spiritual breakthrough of kensho ("the Big K"). Later, in Japan, he struggled with prejudice and cultural rigidity and found his deeper meditations leading to actual panic attacks over fear of losing himself. Ultimately, he broke with Zen and his teachers to pursue a career in music.
This frank memoir traces Greg Shepherd's meandering path from seeker to disillusionment, and, over a decade later, his way back to Zen and inner peace. We experience Zen practice in Japan and Hawaii and meet Zen masters Yamada Koun Roshi and Robert Aitken, the "dean of American Buddhism" (who had once pegged Greg as his successor). And we understand why Zen was so appealing to the American counterculture and how its profound lessons of focus and detachment remain insightful and important.
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"Greg Shepherd has captured the fundamental conflicts on the path of spiritual search from a uniquely American point of view. This book, a Zen American Graffiti, tells a story that is at once deeply involving, instructive, and capable of touching any reader who cares about the search for meaning."
—Mitch Horowitz, Executive Editor at Tarcher/Putnam and author of Occult America
"An unusually candid, well-told, and useful tale for Zen, other Buddhist, and all spiritual practitioners, . . . a rip roaring ride: hilarious, profound and poignant at turns, and finally, quintessentially human. . . . Shepherd's story drives home the importance and often the excruciating task of personalizing Buddhist practice, rather than settling for parroting others' wisdom."
—Joseph Bobrow, author of Zen and Psychotherapy
"Greg Shepherd gives us the history of his Zen quest: the hopes and disappointments, the ego-games and awakenings of a sincere student of the Way. In being so frank about his own struggles and fantasies, Greg's personal tale becomes something more universal: the story of a generation that brought Buddhist practice to the West, opening the door to a new type of spiritual experience."
—David Loy, author of Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution