Review of Zen at Work.
Les Kaye is a Soto Zen teacher who spent several decades in training, starting with Suzuki-roshi, and concurrently worked as an engineer at IBM for the same period of time. In this text he shuttles back and forth between work anecdotes and more standardized spiritual teachings (sermon-like). In doing so he intertwines threads of the theoretical and the real to illustrate how Zen contextualizes problems so they appear as they are rather than as we imagine them. The book covers a fair ground of topics, i.e., relationships, self-expression, communication, fearlessness, letting-go, emphasizing two principles; big (oceanic) mind, and no separation between subject and object.
Most Zen authors mention the need for an integration of spiritual practice and everyday life. Les Kaye has taken this recommendation one step further by illustrating how he dealt with corporate problems spiritually. This is clearly the strength, as well as the emphasis of the book; carrying water and chopping wood really are the focus of everyday practice.
It is fun to imagine that Les has a subtle sense of humor, that is, the title reads as a pun. Take it as "Men (Zen) at Work", an icon of religious effort, or read it simply as Zen brought to the marketplace.
Les Kaye's description of his work life and his practice life seems incomplete. During the three plus decades covered by this memoir-teaching, San Francisco Zen centers and IBM went through momentous changes in growth and leadership, some positive and some negative. I assume that Les Kaye wanted to restrict his description of Zen and worklife to basically positive events but a description of Zen and "real life" might demand an assessment of what makes Zen work under trying circumstances. Not every Zen manual has to describe how traumatic life can be, but Les lived through historic times for western Zen practice and I feel he has a responsibility to tell us how he dealt with it. Possibly, Mr. Kaye was never strongly concerned with these dramatic changes; raising a family and working full time are certainly involving by themselves, but if this is true he should tell us rather than leave us wondering.