Together Under One Roof: Making a Home of the Buddha's Household
by Lin Jensen
Reviewed by Chris Faatz
There are a few books that I turn to again and again for sustenance, succor, meaning. They include titles as diverse as books of sermons and Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace, books by the Christian radical Dorothy Day, and those by secular philosopher and eminent Humanist Bertrand Russell.
It's a rare thing when something is added to that small pile of important texts, but I'm thrilled to say that this summer a book's been added. It's Lin Jensen's Together under One Roof: Making a Home of the Buddha's Household.
Jensen's a rare bird, even among Zen teachers. He was born and raised in California, where he lives to this day. He grew up in poverty on a Turkey farm, spent time in the military, went to college. He's taught English, and been married twice. His life has not been easy. He approached Zen practice experimentally, and his life was changed. He's studied in both the Rinzai and Soto Zen traditions, and is currently the teacher at Chico Zen Sangha. He's also the Senior Buddhist Chaplain at High Desert State Prison, a situation that makes for some profound reflections in this book.
Jensen's the author of three previous books, including an autobiography, Bad Dog!, and a remarkable testimonial, Pavement, to the time he's spent -- an hour a day, every day -- sitting in meditation (zazen) on the streets of Chico in protest of this country's endless war in the Middle East. It's a beautiful, profound book, well worth seeking out.
All this is pretty much typical these days for a Zen teacher worth his or her salt. A few books, a provocative practice, and some great stories.
What makes Together under One Roof stand out?
It's simple, really. The essays that comprise this book, all 268 pages of them, are so deeply and movingly humane, so in tune with a joyous oneness with all that exists, and a deep sense of personal responsibility in the face of that unity, that they virtually sing. In addition, Jensen can really write. He draws from a lifetime of rich experience, from the accumulated literary and religious canons of East and West, and delivers up something that is exceptionally graceful and moving. I've read the book twice, parts of it three times, and I have no doubt that I'll visit it again and again.
Jensen doesn't so much play guru and give pat answers to typical questions as he does raise issues, provide insights into possible solutions, and then leave it to his readers to embark on the adventure of living a resolution themselves. For Jensen, life is wide open -- there are no cut and dried examples of eternal truths. The world is beautiful and profound, just as it is, in this moment -- there's nothing else. And, it's up to us to learn to live as richly and deeply and spontaneously and immediately in this moment as our makeup and training, both formal and informal, give us the strength and insight to do. In one of his essays, Jensen tells the story of how a great Zen master, Ikkyu, responded when asked what was the essence of Zen: "Attention," he said. When asked to expand on his answer, he replied "attention, attention, attention!" So it goes, and so it is.
If you want something that reads kind of like Anne Lamott's religious writing meets the Dharma and is improved ten times in that encounter, check out Together under One Roof. You will not be disappointed.