Book Review: Everything is the Way: Ordinary Mind Zen by Elihu Genmyo Smith
From its Introduction to the last chapter, there is a tone of quiet humility in Elihu Genmyo Smith’s writing. That gives it some serious street cred when he begins the first chapter “Be still.”
Sitting is a natural slowing down of this rushing, self-centered, mind-body chattering that we often live.
A student and dharma heir of Joko Beck, the chapters are infused with her way of writing (I’ve only read ever read Joko’s teachings) and I felt this particular book as an extension of her words. Genmyo Smith explains complex ideas of nonduality and the impact on our everyday life, the Four Noble Truths and a variety of Zen practices with a light and open hand. In his way of teaching what could be trite – “Zen is being intimate, being who we are” – becomes an opportunity to explore how we build the walls of self-centered dreams and engage in avoidance of “each moment, life as it is…”
“Life as it is” does not mean that “I don’t need to practice; I’ll just go on with my life and learn what is needed.” That would be like saying, “Having food in the fridge is enough; I don’t have to prepare it and put it in my moth.” The ludicrousness of this is obvious; yet often in our life we do not see the need to make and effort to practice.”
Genmyo Smith weaves teaching from the Pali Canon, Dogen, and Hakuin, sutras and koans, his dharma talks and exchanges with students. Each chapter is unique in offering some aspect of practice and it’s often an aspect that has confounded me or seem impenetrable. I particularly enjoyed the last chapters which were devoted to Jukai, likely because I tend to be a slave to ritual. And yet, buried in a sentence down towards the end of a page was a nugget just for me:
As I said, receiving the precepts is receiving our life.
Just in this moment, on this day, I needed to hear that. Joko Beck’s voice, blended with Maezumi Roshi’s and all my teachers. It is encouraging in this moment to feel the understanding that, through the many ceremonies, I have been offered my life and perhaps it is time to receive it.
Genmyo Smith’s book is a little treasure to open over and over again. I’d recommend the paperback edition over the ebook – much better for making your life notes in the margin.
Read more on Genmyo’s blog Clouds.