The original Buddhist writings are not very accessible to many people. They can be difficult to work through. This isn’t the best comparison, but reading the Bible in the King James Version is a strain for some people because the style and language are difficult to relate to, and may not represent a more contemporary mode of expression that people are accustomed to. In a slightly similar way, many of the Buddhist writings are difficult to digest.
The Prajnaparamita and Lankavatara Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism are good examples. Here’s one of the simpler passages from that Sutra:
“(51) There are, Mahamati, those who have fallen into the dualistic way of thinking, being unable to comprehend the truth of Mind-only; they desire to discriminate a world which is of Mind itself. Mahamati, body, property, and abode have their existence only when measured in discrimination. (52) The hare’s horns neither are nor are not; no discrimination is to be made about them. So it is, Mahamati, with all things, of which neither being nor non-being can be predicated; have no discrimination about them!”
I’m sure some people who just read that are like, “Huh???”
So, there are the original Buddhist Sutras, often difficult to digest. And, there’s the countless number of popular mainstream books that put some sort of pop-spin on Buddhism. In other words, books that cherry-pick notions and ideas from Buddhism and create their own spiritual or philosophical framework/formula with them.
Sometimes this is unfortunate because cherry-picking notions and ideas, and divorcing them of their integral foundation may result in a nice-sounding but empty and misguided viewpoint. There’s the saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.” There is a way this applies here. Sometimes the latest and greatest book about spirituality that everyone is raving about is just a remix of Buddhism, and frankly, a very bad remix.
People like Robert Thurman and Lex Hinson have made significant contributions toward making the original Buddhist writings more accessible in the west, both in translations and commentary work.
Why am I writing about this? Many Western Christians who deconstruct their faith develop an interest in Eastern Buddhism, of which their are two major branches that are generally recognized: Theravada, and Mahayana. Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. There is also often a distinction in Mahayana Buddhism between Mahāyāna Buddhism and Vajrayāna Buddhism, which includes Tibetan Buddhism and the Japanese Shingon school.
I write all of this in hopes of you considering that when exploring other religious, spiritual, or philosophical traditions, that you exercise due diligence and dig deeper than the latest book that everyone is raving about.