Bring Me the Rhinoceros

One day, Yanguan called to his assistant, "Bring me the rhinoceros fan."
The assistant said, "It is broken."
Yanguan said, "If the fan is broken, bring me the rhinoceros."

So opens a chapter in John Tarrant's book Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy.  In his newest book, Tarrant, a Zen teacher and the author of The Light Inside the Dark, tries to offer his readers an unusual path to happiness - instead of wasting the effort of striving for it, why not, as an alternative, just subvert unhappiness?

In the hectic bustle of daily life, we often spend our time hurrying, worrying, and arguing.  We complain constantly about things we feel are unfair in our life.  Despite the unstopping flow of events in our lives, we often are not able to accept changes in situations, dilemmas, and inevitabilities.  We blame our unhappiness on our misfortune, and we spend much of our precious time (and money) seeking for ways to get rid of the sadness and unhappiness that accompanies every normal life.

Author John Tarrant

Bring Me the Rhinoceros teaches us about the ancient art of Zen koans, which are stories of brief significant encounters between a Zen master and a student, and they are a means of releasing people from unhappiness.  Tarrant, a teacher of koans for thirty years, lays out fourteen of them for the reader to enjoy and learn from.  Our lives, Tarrant reveals to us, has its own koans, from which we can accept things and move on, and just, to use a cliché phrase, "let it be."  We need to stand back and really understand the problems of our lives, and Tarrant puts us in that plane.

For those fearing a book too abstract, confusing, or - heaven forbid - boring to understand, there is no need to feel afraid.  I confess that I myself had one foot in that boat, but by the end of the first chapter, I was safely out of it.  Tarrant writes in a clear, straightforward manner, and he manages to put the koans into a witty, contemporary light.  Every chapter opens in an enjoyable and mind-opening anecdote, then goes on to explain the koan behind it.  Tarrant brings the humble reader up to the high levels of the ancient Zen masters for a short, pleasant read, leaving the reader feeling refreshed, relaxed, and - could it be? - happy.  If you've got a pile of forgotten self-help tapes and inspirational books, then pick up Bring Me the Rhinoceros and see for yourself how it can really help. 

Available October 2004
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