Opening to Oneness: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to the Zen Precepts (Paperback)
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Stop trying to become “better” by suppressing or hiding parts of yourself, and learn what it means to be fully human with this accessible guide to the core ethical teachings of Zen Buddhism.
In Opening to Oneness, Zen teacher Nancy Baker offers a detailed path of practice for Zen students planning to take the precepts and for anyone, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, interested in deepening their personal study of ethical living. She reveals that there are three levels of each precept: a literal level (don’t kill, not even a bug), a relative level that takes moral ambiguity into account (what if it’s a malaria-spreading mosquito?), and an ultimate level—the paradoxical level of nonduality, in which the precepts are naturally expressed from a state of oneness.
Full of nuance, intelligence, and compassion, the first half of the book addresses the ten grave precepts mostly from the relative level, including instructions for how to practice these precepts individually and in pairs or groups.
The second half of the book takes a deep dive into looking at the precepts from the ultimate perspective, largely through an exploration of the writings of Dogen, the thirteenth-century religious genius who founded the Soto Zen school.
At once comprehensive and innovative, Opening to Oneness will take its place alongside classics like The Mind of Clover, The Heart of Being, and Being Upright as a cherished guide to Zen Buddhist ethics.
About the Author
NANCY BAKER is the founding teacher of the No Traces Sangha in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi’s White Plum Asanga. A Dharma successor to Bernie Glassman, she is among the first fully empowered lay Soto Zen teachers. She is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College, where she taught for more than forty years. She lives in New York City.
“Nancy Mujo Baker’s lucid and intimate companion to the moral and ethical teachings of Zen offers us two dimensions: a deeply personal guide to our own individual resources for living an ethical life, including personal exercises, and also a superbly understandable exploration of the Buddhist principles of the nondual, of suchness, of true compassion. Bringing these elements together, using ordinary examples of complex ideas, Baker offers the first truly coherent study of Zen precepts. I love it!”—Pat Enkyo O’Hara, author of Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges
“This wise and brave book on the precepts is an extraordinary resource and source of inspiration about what it means to meet the world with integrity and strength. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all who want to realize a life of care, compassion, and engagement with the truth of suffering and freedom from suffering. This is the guidebook par excellence that reveals the path to oneness.”—Joan Halifax, author of Being with Dying and Standing at the Edge
“Nancy Mujo Baker’s new book, Opening to Oneness, is subtitled ‘A Practical and Philosophical Guide to the Zen Precepts.’ She could well have added the word Compassionate. While her philosophical inquiry is deep and wide-ranging, it’s her emphasis on bringing a nonjudgmental, accepting, yet brave and probing spirit to the whole of life that makes this presentation of the Buddhist precepts so refreshing and inspiring. Her intimacy with Dogen’s teachings on the simultaneity of oneness and particularity infuses every aspect of the book. She works with each of the precepts as a koan, asking us to bring awareness to the uncertainty and discomfort that come forth when we do so. Phrasing each precept as a gerund—non-killing, non-blaming—rather than as a dualistic commandment, she returns us to ourselves, in all our messy wholeness. Leaping out from the confines of conceptual thinking, we can leap into the experience of faith that makes Zen practice so transformative.”—Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat, coeditor of Eloquent Silence and Endless Vow
“This is an exceptional guide through the precepts, illuminating them in ways that bring them to life in our daily living. The author is not only a long-time Zen adept, deeply conversant with Dogen, but also a major league philosophy professor, in addition to having studied for twenty years in the Diamond Approach, all of which allow her to shine the light of several perspectives on these critical aspects of our life. She also happens to be a marvelous writer, allowing the reader to feel that they’re in the hands of a true master of thought, word, and deed, as well as insight, practice, and wisdom. It has been a long time in the making, and it feels like a grace to encounter this scintillating and galvanizing work.”—Henry Shukman, author of One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart—A Zen Memoir
“A fascinating and informative discussion, along with recommendations for group exercises, explicating the dictum that there is ‘no Buddhism without precepts.’ The section on Dogen’s approach based on unifying in all possible ways with these aspects of life experience is especially illuminating.”—Steven Heine, author of Dogen: Japan’s Original Zen Teacher
“Zen teacher Mujo Baker deftly wields her wisdom sword, finely honed through years of a rigorous spiritual journey, to help us plunge into an exploration and experience of Oneness. Using the Zen Buddhist precepts as her focus, she provides a clear and simple method to open to the parts of oneself that are instinctively suppressed and which, therefore, often lead one to oppressing others. The reader might also find themself transformed by Mujo’s engaging and succinct discourses on Oneness, nonduality, and non-separation. This book is an excellent contribution to the Zen precept literature. I highly recommend it to those who aspire to live fully their very best life.”—Wendy Egyoku Nakao, co-author of The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments
“Roshi Nancy Baker invokes Japanese Zen Master Dogen and sheds fresh light on the Buddhist precepts—not as a list of ‘shoulds and should nots,’ but as a way of awakened living, a way of opening to Oneness in all the dimensions of our lives.”—Ruben L.F. Habito, author of Be Still and Know: Zen and the Bible
“What a wonderful book. It is Nancy Baker’s gift to translate the Buddhist precepts in such a way that they become fruitful and inspiring for every person who seeks in their spiritual path for skillful means in their daily life. She offers in the second part of the book a bright view into Zen teachings, especially for Westerners.”—Anna Myoan Gamma, founder of Zen Zentrum Offener Kreis
“Baker’s fresh take on the ten bodhisattva precepts argues for their universal relevance.”—Buddhadharma