Edward G. Kardos,
Zen Master Next Door
(Humanics, 2009)

Edward Kardos has a simple but profound prescription for improving our lives: be where you are, not in the past or in the future. Just live in the present moment and you'll pretty much be OK.

In Zen Master Next Door, he writes small parables demonstrating his idea. In each, a person who has wandered off the track encounters someone in his daily life who has stayed on the path. By learning a life lesson from the person on the path, the strayer is able to correct his own misstep.

A cynical fundraiser for a major university learns to love life again by befriending a man he believes is going to make only a small donation to the school. By changing his emphasis from his career to his daily life, he becomes a better man and learns that people are more important than donations. After he learns that lesson, the man he thought was poor leaves a small fortune to the school in his will.

That story illustrates Kardos's major premise, which, as he phrases it, is that our collective humanity, or wisdom, teaches us like any priest, rabbi, preacher or Zen master. His book amply demonstrates his thesis and also shows the importance of stories as an organizing and learning device in our lives. All of his characters learn from stories as do we when we read his.

A man learns to overthrow his and his family's dependence on electronic devices after an encounter with an Amish teacher. Another man takes to stopping by a bar for happy hour where another drinker convinces him that living in the now is what counts. Like all good teachers, Kardos aims to teach by parables, and that is both the strength and the weakness of his book. He never preaches or judges -- in fact, he counsels against judgment over and over -- but two things quickly become apparent: one, while the author does not lecture us, his teacher characters lecture the learners in the stories. People don't discover; they are told and then they get it. And two, the stories all have the same basic formula so that after a while a sameness seeps in.

Still, if you're new to this sort of material, Kardos makes the journey painless. If you are familiar with it, it's nice to have it related in fictional form for a different perspective.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

23 January 2010

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