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Reviewed by Roberta S Hardy for Readers' Favorite
Decades ago, I read a book of Zen koans (paradoxical stories and riddles) which had such an impact on me that they have stuck in my mind with surprising clarity to this day. When I came across Wise Tales From the East, I hoped it would contain the same sort of pithy wisdom. This compendium, collected and retold by Uri Kaplan, is a collection of very short tales, some of them arising from the Zen Buddhist tradition and others from other Eastern paths such as Hinduism and Taoism. Kaplan’s book includes a useful index of each tale’s source. I found several stories that I knew in Wise Tales, including one of my favorites (The Runaway Horse). In addition, there are many stories new to me here that I hope will sink deep into my mind and provide food for contemplation in the years to come. They are all short—49 of them are packed into a scant 98 pages.
You may read these stories just as amusing folk tales, often with a twist of irony. You may also find that they have profound meaning. As Uri Kaplan points out in the book’s foreword, truth is beyond language. It can be talked about and pointed to, but “how does one express the ineffable?” (the unanswerable question at the beginning of the book). One of the joys of these wise tales is that they can easily be shared, and I expect that the stories Kaplan has collected here will illuminate many future conversations with friends. A few of the stories I loved; some of them are touching (like The Mouse King), some are nuggets of wisdom, and some are downright funny. Ultimately, what you get from Wise Tales From the East will depend mostly on your own reflection. The stories in Kaplan’s book will provide fodder for years.