“The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi,” by Susan Moon

This book is hilarious. It’s a very gentle parody of the Zen tradition, mostly following a “problem page” (advice column) format, but also including Susan Moon’s encounters with her alter ego, the eccentric Zen Teacher, Tofu Roshi.

Tofu Roshi is Abbot of the No Way Zen Center in Berkeley, California. For his day job he manages the Next to Godliness Laundromat across the street. Susan Moon has worked as his assistant for many years.

Here’s an extract:

Dear Tofu Roshi:
I am easily distracted by noises while I am sitting meditation. The other morning, somebody was trying to start a car just outside the meditation hall window.

Sixty-three times they tried! The few times the engine actually turned over, it seemed as though the whole hall held its collective breath, until the engine would die again. I came out of there a nervous wreck, and arrived at work grinding my teeth and cracking my knuckles. My boss said “You seem a little tense. Why don’t you take up meditation?” How can I achieve inner peace?
– Distractible

Dear Distractible:
It has been said that the birdsong outside the meditation hall window will not disturb us when we understand that we are the bird and the bird is us. We face, admittedly, a greater challenge in becoming one with the car that will not start.

Think of your arms and legs and wheel, your eyes as headlamps, your belly as a carburettor. The cushion on which you sit should extend two inches beyond the rim of the rear tires. Rest the left front hubcap gently on the right front hubcap.

Tofu Roshi is the only master who has attained true ignorance and offers profound and funny wisdom on topics that range from how to get a cat to sit on a zafu to what to do when your mind suddenly goes quiet and you can’t plan your shopping trips during meditation.

Anyone in danger of taking their meditation practice too seriously must read this book.

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