Book Club Discussion | Single White Monk

Single White Monk by Shozan Jack Haubner is a prescient book—not only for its teachings, which are deeply rooted in real-life stories and the humble wisdom that comes from making mistakes and learning to face them, but for its lack of pretension around issues involving sexual abuse and all the opinions, hurt, and life-changing consequences that can, and do, go on because of a scandal. As this is something that is highly relevant in our current socio-political climate, this book has a lot to offer.

If you’re reading along, please comment at the bottom of this guide and let us know how you connected to Single White Monk.

Questions for Discussion

  • Two main themes of the book: the coexisting of opposite forces—how good and bad can and do exist together in one world—and death as an integral part of life we can’t and shouldn’t ignore.
  • What is the meaning of truth? Can there be an objective truth? In the intro, he calls the book “personal mythology.” How does that filter your perception of the events in the book?
  • Is the author a likable character in his own book?
  • How do you understand the idea of True Love?
  • Which of the stories stood out to you or connected to you? Why?
  • The author mixes humor and absurdity with the serious. How did his writing style work for you?
  • The sexual harassment and abuse aspect is very socially relevant right now. Everyone seemed to have a different view of Roshi and his actions, some wanting to condemn him completely, some just wanting an apology, some saying that the apology made them feel invalidated.
    • Haubner thinks that Roshi’s actions were completely wrong, but he loves and respects his teacher. He takes in every part of Roshi as a person, a human, showing he may not be perfect and we might not like or agree with every part of him, but he can still be influential and worth listening to. Do you identify with the author’s view on this? Or have a different reading?

Notable Quotes

“Why is there something rather than nothing? Nothingness makes so much more sense.” (2)

The concept of True Love: “a new self is being conceived, arising, and passing away every instant.” (2)

“Zen practice however, teaches you to completely be yourself—if you don’t who will? Someone’s got to hold down your corner of the universe, and no one else is qualified.” (14)

“Underneath all carnal desire is a wish to know the world, to claim it not for yourself, but as yourself. Sometimes, a bad mistake, consciously made, can teach you this better than a good rule unconsciously followed.” (64–65)

“There’s a natural balance, a dance, between embracing and releasing: turning your surroundings into yourself, like the tree that absorbs carbon dioxide, and turning yourself into your surroundings, like the same tree releasing oxygen. This is what Buddhists call the Middle Way.” (69)

“We are never more than a breath away from the home we share with the entire universe.” (70)

“When there is no death (and there is nowhere where there is no death, except maybe vampire novels), there are no risks, and life is utterly meaningless.” (74)

“But if something can be taken from you, was it ever truly yours to begin with? It occurred to me that the harder we search for something permanent in this world, the more ephemeral and disposable are the things we find, and the more we find ourselves simply searching for the sake of searching, moving for the sake of moving. We are a culture running away from death.” (103)

“He taught me that you cannot be something other than yourself, no matter how enlightened you pretend to be, and so you must manifest yourself fully, each and every moment; you must bring all your subterranean selves, all your thoughts and feelings, no matter how grim and unbearable, to the surface, and to completion—dissolving them through your connection to the world around you so that a new pure self, and a new world along with it, can arise the next instant.” (111)

“If no one talks about something that everyone knows is happening, then each and every person must bear the whole burden of the collective secret him- or herself. What began as a problem becomes nightmare that turns, without outside intervention, into a demon.” (143)

“The inhale and the exhale are opposites working in harmony to complete each other—like man and woman, birth and death, darkness and light. Together they make up the breath of life.” (196)

Afterword

“You don’t need to be great. You need to be complete. You can be complete whether you are working a shitty job at Walmart or you are a world-famous writer. Just walk the path of True Love. When you grapple with life’s deepest problems openly and honestly, the ego melts. It dies. There is no such thing as a fixed state of happiness. We face challenges, and in order to pass through them we must die a little, or a lot, and be reborn.” (206)

“Old age, sickness, and death. Our lot, as individuals and a species. If everyone will one day be no one, then we are only temporarily separated right now. Our true home is no home, together. The Zen master Rinzai said, ‘Before brightness is manifest, darkness is bright.’ Everything contains its opposite. Nothing exists apart from anything else.” (208)

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