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Zen at Work Paperback – Jan 28 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (Jan. 28 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517886200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517886205
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,410,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Kaye worked at IBM for 30 years as a design engineer. He studied Zen, became a Zen master and, upon his retirement, became the Abbott of Kannon Do, a Zen Meditation Center in Mountain View, Calif. Here, Kaye shares how he came to find that his workplace could become the site of his religious practice. He learned that he could shift his interest to the dynamic process of work, to the best ways of approaching tasks and relationships so that the work environment could express a spiritual, communal feeling. The being-in-the-world emphasized in Zen, Kaye found, was no different from the character traits of integrity, morality, self-discipline, willingness to learn, responsibility and perseverance which IBM encouraged in its employees. Kaye's book is an extraordinary witness to the way Zen practice can mesh with corporate culture, for the book demonstrates elegantly how Zen thinking can transform an individual's experience of the workplace.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Kaye worked in several technical and administrative positions at IBM from 1956 to 1988 and at the same time took up the study and practice of Zen Buddhist meditation. He eventually became the abbot of the Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center in Mountain View, California. The author discovered that the precepts of Zen could be expressed everywhere in daily life and that they enhanced his ability to deal with challenging situations in the corporate world. In this engaging personal narrative, he skillfully interweaves vignettes of workplace activities with expressions of Zen Buddhist philosophy. He provides an interesting exploration of the successful integration of a committed spiritual practice and daily corporate and family life. His thoughtful, understandable, and insightful presentation offers real examples of the practical application of spiritual wisdom. Recommended for larger public libraries and business collections.?Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Review of Zen at Work.

Bright side.

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.

Dull side.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I think the title is misleading. It may better be labeled "Man Becomes Zen Monk While Working in a Good Position at a Large Company." I was expecting a more generic coverage of what "American" Buddhism might be about, especially Zen and capitalism/competition or even more detail about his progress via zazen. I was also disappointed that he did not elaborate on his feelings about his master's death (he brought it up and immediately dropped it) and at his suggestion that a male Zen Buddhist would have the ability to make a woman not feel like she was "taken for granted." Enlightenment is knowing oneself and not necessarily others but in that latter point I felt he missed all that that complaint may emcompass. At that juncture the book lost me.
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By A Customer on May 10 1999
Format: Paperback
Just the right amount of yin-yang, between business and bliss; this book is a pocket tucker. There are 166 pages fraught with stories and experience from this Zen Master. Chapter's entitled--True Nature, Enlightenment at Work, and Spiritual Life, Daily Life, encompass the freedom you'll gain by imbibing in the gem of a book. A worthwhile tax deduction at the price!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Spiritual teachings in and from the marketplace July 17 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Review of Zen at Work.

Bright side.

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.

Dull side.

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.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A spiritual master piece. ...the "Yoga of Action" Feb. 5 2006
By Master Yoda - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a masterpiece on spirituality. I mean spirituality that is relevant and spiritualtiy that matters. I am an ex-IBMer myself and have been in meditation for many years. This book was the missing link in my understanding of spiritual life and professional life in an integrated whole, as varying expressions of the same grand idea that the soul sometimes knows intuitively but can't easily express.

The spirituality that is relevant has to be expressed in one's works. If we can't exercise spirituality in work, we have defeated God's purpose in our creation . Les Kaye refers to God as "Big Mind" and states all that we do has to be expression of this "Big Mind". The work-ethic that flows out of its integration with the "Big Mind" neither leads to boredom, nor to anxiety. Your work becomes your meditation, your prayer, your liturgy!

Though there is nothing new in this idea. It has been taught in many cultures. The Hindu doctrine of "Karma Yoga" ("yoga of action") , as taught in "Bhagvad Gita" , is perhaps the most comprehensive classical treatise on the idea of "Zen at Work". Similarly , many Sufis Masters in Islam have tried to teach the same idea. In Christianity, we have the writing of Brother Lawrence about practising the "presence of God" in our mundane work. So although "Zen at Work", is essentially a Buddhist idea, it does find echo in other spiritual teachings.

But what gives force to this book is not the originality of the idea, but the originality of the interpetation of this idea in the contemporary corporate milieu, enriched by author's own life long experience at the Big Blue. We are the instruments of God, the "Big Mind", for his sacred task of creation. Creator is creating with us and through us. If our sprituality comes in the way of this divine task of creation, for whatever reason, then obviously we have betrayed the spiritual purpose that we were created with. This is a vital idea that all serious spiritualists/meditators need to grasp. Spirituality that makes us hide from our 'worldly' responsibilities is a false spirituality. If you have absorbed spirituality properly, then the falseness of dichotomy between 'spiritual' and 'worldly' immediately becomes clear. Both are in reality expressions of each other, when rightly understood.

Zen at Work teaches us how to make ourselves the intruments of the Divine Creator, by removing our ego from the way, so that the "Big Mind" expresses its peace, harmony and majesty through us. Let go of the 'small mind', i.e. ego, so that the "Big Mind" flows spontaneously through us. This is the kernel of this great book. When we let the "Big Mind" express through us, then all our worries, anxieties and boredom - that are sometime natural products of our unfeeling capitalist evironment- also disappear. The work , however mundane and tedious, becomes an expression of union with the divine. The 'hot Buddha', the 'cold Buddha', the 'home Buddha', the 'temple Buddha'...,and yes, the "WORK Buddha'!

Thank you Les Kaye for this "great gift" from the "Big Mind".
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Decent, But Not Best in Class Sept. 23 2009
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If spirituality is to be taken seriously, I think it has to be related to contemporary everyday life, including 'work'. In that regard, I've previously read the following two books which specifically relate Zen/Taoism to work:

- The Tao of Personal Leadership by Diane Dreher
- Real Power by James Autry

I found these books to be enlightening and enjoyable, so it made sense to next try Les Kaye's book. The result was that, though Kaye's book does surely contain some wisdom, it failed to really engage me, so I didn't really gain or grow much by reading it.

The main problem seems to have been the book's presentation. First, I found the overall organization of the book to be fairly haphazard and fragmented. Second, the writing (at the level of sections, paragraphs, and sentences) didn't have the crispness and clarity of the other two books I've mentioned, so I wondered how mature Kaye's understanding really is. I acknowledge that the shortcoming may be mine, especially given that Huston Smith has praised this book, but I'll stick with my guns since I have other books to compare with, plus I've generally spent plenty of time studying Zen and Taoism over the years.

Since other people have praised this book, and since I got at least a little bit out of it also, I do think it's worth considering by people interested in this topic. But I find the other books I've mentioned to be considerably better, so I can only rate this book three stars by comparison, and I can't strongly recommend it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Zen practice at work - simple and direct Dec 17 2007
By Chris B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Let me first qualify this by noting that I am a Zen practitioner, so many of the teachings and practices were already familiar to me. And my love of this book is entirely from that point of view: this book is a great help to me, but I don't know if it's helpful for non-Zen practitioners. With that said...

I've practiced for a couple years, doing sitting meditation, chanting, reading sutras, kong-ans, etc. And sometimes, I've found it difficult at times to truly attain stories about some Zen master or monk who had some great insight several hundred years ago due to a circumstance involving an errant cow, a circumstance at a Buddhist monastery, or a funny incident while begging for scraps in some little village. It's fair to say I don't find myself in those situations (much), and it would certainly be convenient if Buddha had become enlightened in 1995 while working at Microsoft - the context of his teachings would be much easier to grasp.

This book helps to bridge that gap. Within just the first few pages, I could tell that the author had attained great insight into practicing Zen in the corporate environment. His explanations of how sitting meditation, right-now mind, and compassion relate to work answered a number of questions I had also pondered. And his explanations were direct and simple. The "meat" of the material is covered within about the first 30 pages. In fact, most of the remainder can be referred to randomly from time to time, like a collection of individual topics.

Practice, practice, practice. Keep a don't-know mind. Save all sentient beings. And thanks to books like this, you don't stop just because you're in a cubicle :)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
For a work environment, Zen is NOT a 4 letter word April 5 2008
By Leslie K. Hodge - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is an amazing journey through a high tech world, with juxtaposition with the author's spiritual world. While I will probably never dive as deeply into zazen as a spiritual practice, the author teaches how spiritual practice can actually facilitate a healthier and more productive work environment. This book reiterates the divine flows through all of us... even stubborn geeks who think they know it all. A true enlightenment experience!


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