These Zen talks focus on koans that illuminate fundamental issues of the spiritual life. While koans may be said to be uniquely Zen, in Roshi Kapleau's talks they become as familiar, everyday, and relevant as the questions we ponder—in one form or another—all our lives. Why was I born? Why must I die? How can I find an end to suffering?
The book has three main sections. As Zen begins with the Buddha's life and enlightenment, the three teishos (talks) in Part One are each drawn from an incident in the life of the Buddha. Since Zen in the West is a lay movement, not a monastic one as it is in Japan, Part Two presents koans and commentary drawn from the lives of three great lay figures in Zen. Part Three contains five teishos on traditional koans that reflect fundamental concerns common to all of us, man or woman, monastic or lay, Buddhist or otherwise: What is the road to enlightenment? What will happen to me when I die?