By Daniel Scharpenburg

I had never heard of Christian Dillo when I received his new book, The Path of Aliveness, so I came into this with no expectations and no ideas about him.

He lives and teaches at the Boulder Zen Center and he’s a former student of Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi. Richard Baker was the successor to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who is one of the titans in the history of American Zen.

This book is in the theme of presenting the Dharma in a new way to appeal to the masses. From the back of the book:

“Zen and Taoist Qigong teacher Christian Dillo offers a path of meaningful transformation tailored to our times. Through potent conceptual work and practical examples, he shows how to carefully examine the interrelationship between our senses, body energy, thoughts, and emotions so that we can transform our lives in the direction of less suffering and more freedom, wisdom, and compassion. This secular reconstruction respectfully plumbs Buddhist tradition—including classic teachings such as the foundations of mindfulness meditation, four noble truths, and the practice of lovingkindness—while encouraging practitioners to rely on their own embodied experience for maintaining an alive and engaged presence no matter the circumstances.”

There are many books with a similar intent behind them. Efforts to present things in a new way, to make things more secular, to bring people to the path that maybe haven’t thought about it before…these are noble efforts and the books that try this seem to have varying degrees of success.

Dillo writes a lot about disconnection.

In the modern world we feel disconnected from the world around us. This was probably true of the whole world. Buddhism teaches about suffering and the way out of suffering. Dillo frames this as feeling like you’re really alive and feeling like you’re just existing in the world. This is a message that may speak to a lot of people. He says we move away from aliveness by disconnecting from our feelings and/or hardening our hearts. I’m inclined to agree.

He says this: “Being fully alive, openness to everything life throws at us, requires cultivation—a cultivation that involves fundamental aspects of our life: how free we feel, how we are in touch with the world and ourselves—sensorially and cognitively—and how we relate to other beings. Most of all, being fully alive requires us to cultivate our ability to give and sustain attention.”

Being fully alive is allowing yourself to feel your feelings but also to have some measure of contentment.

I like this terminology and I’m really wondering if Christian Dillo’s process involved thinking of that term and building the book around it. He describes his practice as working to regain our feeling of aliveness by cultivating four things he calls, “Transformation, Liberation, Wisdom, and Compassion,” he divides the book into four sections based on these four things.

He says this comes from his own teacher Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi: “For any Buddhist practice to work, he said, We need to trust that it is actually possible in our own lives to:

  • Experience transformation,
  • Liberate ourselves from unnecessary suffering,
  • Live in accord with how things actually exist, and
  • Work for the benefit of all beings.”

The shorthand of this being: 1) transformation, 2) liberation, 3) wisdom, and 4) compassion.

That’s a pretty good way of looking at things, a pretty solid foundation to build your practice on. But I think it’s worth noting that it is designed by Baker Roshi and not necessarily a traditional teaching, although Dillo does make the case that it’s inspired by the four vows that many Zen Buddhists recite during their practice: “Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to awaken them. Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to release them. Dharma gates are innumerable, I vow to enter them. Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.”

They sound like incredibly difficult goals, but the point is to set an intention and to remind ourselves that what we are doing is not a hobby.

It’s bigger than that. He says, “The vow to reach the results needs to be sincere and wholehearted, but the actual attainment of the goals is less important than the intention itself. This shift from the reaching of goals to a commitment to the path is a defining characteristic of the bodhisattvic approach to life.”

In all, I think this is a good book and it’s well written. It’s equal parts deep and easy to understand. That being said, it’s around 300 pages and there is a lot happening in it. I don’t know that I’d recommend it to someone looking for introductory material. I’d place it firmly in the intermediate category.

The Path of Aliveness comes out May 17, 2022. You can pre-order it here, at Shambhala Publications or on Amazon.


Photo: Penguin Random House


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