book coverThe Upside Down Circle

Zen Laughter

Zen Master Gilbert


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ISBN: 0-931892-18-X, 184 pages, 5.5 x 8.5, paper, $14.95

What is Zen? Zen is a realization of Absolute Reality ... which is life, the Source. You are Zen, but not the personal you as provided by ordinary mind.

Many books available today translate centuries-old verbal exchanges between monks and Zen Masters. These stories depict monks asking questions that seem simple and understandable. Yet the answers they received from the masters were often irrelevant, illogical, and confusing.

To break habitual thinking patterns, Zen Masters often give their students a koan, a question which cannot be answered logically. This twist in normal thinking often becomes a catalyst for the person to enter into a new relationship with his or her own thinking process. One then experiences the immediacy of the present moment - the flow of life - without resistance.

Since this world is constantly changing - and we realize nothing is permanent - the fluid teachings of Zen are eminently adaptable to our Western world, as Zen Master Gilbert illustrates so artfully in these "teaching cartoons."

His main character, Unk, seeks truth and happiness. But time and again, he merely bumbles his way from one confusion to another, mistaking the moon in the water as reality. With the help of his friend, Pepito, and his teacher, Master Woof, Unk eventually learns that when ordinary little mind is free to see clearly, the real moon has merely been hidden by clouds of concepts. Only when he climbs the mountain and views the whole panorama, can he truly laugh at all the little clouds of worldly entanglement and glimpse, perhaps for the first time, the exquisite beauty and natural freedom of all life.

"Today, as we become more interested in modern approaches to developing creativity and intuition, it is rewarding to find a book inspired by the richness of the ancient Zen meditation tradition that speaks so directly to these interests.

"With a gentle smile and sometimes with a hearty laugh, Zen Master Gilbert points beyond the confines of our habitual views and established institutions. His unique style of teaching is an integration of original artwork, commentary and humor that is at once light-hearted and enjoyable.

"Just beneath this innocent-looking surface, though, The Upside Down Circle contains teachings of the profoundest order. Perhaps this book will lead you, too, with a laugh or a gasp, to knowings and feelings that open in time like flowers in gardens somehow outside the limitations of conditioned awareness." Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

Table of Contents

The Quest


Unk is about to experience what to him is a search for enlightenment. He views this experience as a self-initiated quest, and he feels that if he is successful, he will become a true knower - a sage.

This very attitude is rooted in the notion maintained in the logical mind that all problems must be solved by the intellect. Behind this notion lies the effort to objectify everything, including oneself, and to carefully assemble these objectified bits into a whole and complete truth. However, the objective world is merely a mind creation.

Logical mind is very illogical about its own constitution. It sees itself as an object, a conceptualization of itself as provided by the bits and pieces of its own conceptualizing. Thus, the one called 'Unk' is an illusion living the illusion of an objective reality. He is the 'great pretender,' the self-notion that feels that he can modify this life-dream according to his own designs. All this is part of the fantasy.

Therefore, Unk has to awaken from the notion of being Unk. The truth of Unk is not 'thingly.' There is nothing to be found (no thingly thing) nor anyone to find it. The unfindable is what Unk is, and this unfindable is the found. So no matter how assiduously Unk looks within, he can never see the seer.

The truth is that Unk wants to live for his own pleasures and gain. His seeking only strengthens his conviction that he is a distinct and separate being moving toward goals objectified in his mind as being 'out there.' Yet, the burden and the binding that are constantly present when this objectified pseudo-self predominates can never produce freedom. So, for Unk to seek Zen through conceptualization is an exercise in futility. It is merely another form of objectification.

Many of us have been entertained by the antics of the 'Muppets' as they appeared on television. If Unk could realize that he is being lived, as are these little figures, then perhaps he would stop trying to write the script for this great appearance, and his True Nature would stand unimpeded.

The goal is not a goal, nor is it not 'not a goal.' Knowing is the key, and all logical or conceptual efforts are ego manifestations.

The unattainable must be attained; the unknowable, known. But not by you or me.

Effort must be effortless, a simple fulfilling of that which is. Not a description - just a fulfilling.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1988, 2004

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