Novice to Master (Hardcover) - Praise

An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity


154 pages, 5 x 8 inches


ISBN 9780861713196

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eBook Bundle (PDF, epub, mobi)


ISBN 9781614290209

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“A spiritual autobiography by an accomplished master of Zen, and also a compelling story of coming of age in post-war Japan. One can’t help but be drawn to the genuine tone of Morinaga’s voice and his sense of humor.”—Shambhala Sun

“Marvelous and a complete inspiration! I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. Just eat it up like chocolate!”—Joan Halifax, PhD, Head Teacher, Upaya Zen Center

“I’m a real fan of Novice to Master. This wise and warm book should be read by all.”—Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

“The student-teacher relationship has never come alive more on the page. Morinaga’s story is a touching portrait of struggle and growth, evidence that the path to liberation is not a solitary one. We should all be so fortunate as to learn from the examples of idiocy in our own lives.”—Paul W. Morris, editor of

“Sometimes a book comes along with a title that dares you not to pick it up. In the case of Novice to Master, it was the subtitle—‘An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity.’ Morinaga’s telling of his life from youth in Japan’s army during World War II to becoming a Zen master is direct, blessedly free of jargon, and sprinkled with universal spiritual observations. There are passages that had me laughing out loud; others inspired serious reflection. Remarkable: pithy, profound, inspiring, and joyous.”—Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Excellent daily reading for a practitioner looking for something inspiring to send him or her back to the mat with renewed enthusiasm for the Buddhadharma.”—Zen Bow

“Part memoir, part wisdom resource, Novice to Master provides a lively and enlightening overview of Zen, and wonderful anecdotes on the poignance of living in the present moment.”—Spirituality and Health

“What I have done is only this,” he says. “When it was my turn to work in the kitchen, I have given everything I’ve got to working in the kitchen.” His story begins with a first awakening to his mortality when he is drafted into WWII. After the war, he finds that what he thought was real is not. What follows is a nearly 50-year personal journey, from young novice to respected master, that finds him living a ‘succession of realizations of my own misunderstanding and idiocy.’ It’s a touching story of phenomenal growth, wisdom, and—although he never owns up to it, of course—enlightenment. A wondrous tale.”—NAPRA ReVIEW

“A real gem.”—Peter Alsop, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

“From orphan to abbot, Morinaga tells his life story in this highly interesting volume. Before his death in 1995, he was the leader of Daitokuji Monastery and was also head of Hanazono University, a primary training facility for Buddhist monks. Finding himself completely adrift in his early 20s at the catastrophic end of World War II, Morinaga Roshi turned to several Zen temples for food and shelter, but he finally found these and a life’s path at Daishuin Temple in Kyoto, Japan. In the opening chapters, Morinaga Roshi details his initial inner conflicts and describes his teacher Zuigan Roshi, who told him in their first conversation that he must believe in something again: his teacher. The second section, ‘Training,’ is a fascinating, up-close look inside a Zen monastery, where the day begins at 3 a.m. and may not end until 1 or 2 a.m. The final section (‘Master’) is by far the most sublime, for here rolls forth the accumulated wisdom of the unmanageable boy now grown into full stature as an esteemed abbot. The considerable grace here owes a large debt to the apparently effortless translation by Attaway Yamakawa, so that Zen’s aphorisms glide home to hit their marks. The volume instead has a soft poignancy and a certain presence within a tale well-told.”—Publishers Weekly

“I was touched by Morinaga’s stories of his own life—as a child, a student during WWII, a young monk surviving on a few grains of barley, and a teacher himself. He speaks of his own experiences of loss and depression, and of working with others who are suffering and afraid. I feel him reaching out in compassion to me, the reader, concerning my own fear of dying, my fear of living. His modest and cheerful voice encourages my own Zen practice.”—Susan Moon, editor of Turning Wheel and author of The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi

“A moving story of somebody, much like you or me, who discovers for himself the timeless value of Zen. Morinaga’s direct wisdom bubbles through the pages. His book has considerable appeal for modern and Western man. Brilliant.”—Tom Chetwynd, author of Zen and the Kingdom of Heaven

“Zen lives! Proof is in this book, which is full of vivid and delightful stories from Morinaga Roshi about his years of training and teaching in Rinzai Zen in modern Japan. Here are the typically enigmatic and profound Zen lessons in life.”—Wes Nisker, author of Crazy Wisdom

“Unpretentious, poignant and insightful. Artfully written and translated, Novice to Master weaves personal narrative together with key concepts of Zen doctrine, shedding light on Rinzai practices. Young people discovering Buddhism will find Morinaga’s stories challenging, particularly his reflections on impermanence and death.”—Sumi Loundon, editor of Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists 

“Novice to Master never hits the audience with unsubtle proselytizing. Written with gentle good humor that takes aim at his own failings without finding errors in others, the book serves up the most subtle form of enlightenment.”—New York Resident

“Editor’s Choice. If Novice to Master were just the story of being a monk at Daitokuji, it would be worth reading. But it is far more. It is the story of a man’s devotion to getting it—whatever it may be. It is a codex on the worth of such a pursuit.”—RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities

“A Librarian’s Choice selection! Morinaga describes his struggles and joys with an honesty that transcends boundaries of time and culture and offer glimpses of profound truth. A truly inspiring book for those looking for spiritual meaning in life.”—National Library Board of Singapore

“This classic biography is a wonderfully readable and sometimes very funny expose of the human condition. A warm and wise book.”—Mandala: A Tibetan Buddhist Journal

“An engaging book with great appeal [and] an irresistible title.”—Kai Han, the newsletter of the Albuquerque Zen Center