Bow First, Ask Questions Later by: Gesshin Claire Greenwood What is a good way to live? This is a story of a young woman on an unconventional quest to be happy. She’ll ask her big questions anywhere—from traditional Buddhist monasteries to Kyoto nightclubs. The reader is invited along on a journey that is difficult, inspiring, sad, funny, and sincere. $17.95 - BUY BOOK
Bow First, Ask Questions Later
An adventure story about the meaning of life
Just Enough: Vegetarian Recipes from Japan’s Buddhist Temples
A vegetarian cookbook and meditation on the philosophy of “just enough.”
- This book is forthcoming from New World Library.


I’m a Zen priest, author, and teacher. This means that I’ve dedicated my life to examining the truth, figuring out a good way to live, and sharing what I’ve learned with others. This is all a fancy way of saying that I am interested in the human condition. I live and write about life as honestly as I can, which encourages other people to be brave about life and about truth too. Over and over again I’ve found that I am stronger than I think—that I am bigger than my ideas and conceptions of myself. I write so that I can share these hard-earned triumphs with you.


Excerpt from "Bow First, Ask Questions Later"

When I think of my time at Nisodo, I think of the Zen maxim, “Die sitting, die standing,” and how it perfectly encapsulates this attitude I’m talking about. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the nuns I’ve met die standing, or in the zazen posture. It’s how they live their life, and it’s how I want to live mine too—fearlessly, and by fully engaging with each moment, with “steady attention to reality here and now.” Whether or not I marry and have children, live with a family or in spiritual community, I want to do it with a straight back, on my own two feet. This is what “die sitting, die standing” means to me—not a morbid fixation with death but full commitment to all circumstances and moments, including death.

The first month I was at Nisodo, a senior nun told me, “People say the abbess is a man because she’s strong, professional, and doesn’t show her emotions. But remember that she’s not a man. She’s her own woman.” I think it’s important to share representations of spiritual women who are their “own women.” There are many ways of being a woman, and I want to tell the stories of women who die standing.

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Gesshin Claire Greenwood

Gesshin Claire Greenwood is the author of Bow First, Ask Questions Later: Ordination, Love and Monastic Zen in Japan. She has been practicing Vipassana and Zen for over 12 years. An ordained Zen priest, she spent over 5 years in Japan, training in monasteries, studying, and teaching. Alongside James Ford, she is involved with Blue Cliff Sangha, and leads Buddhist retreats throughout California

An avid cook, dog lover, and sometimes collage maker, she blogs intermittently at

Her next book, a vegetarian cookbook and meditation on the philosophy of “just enough,” is forthcoming from New World Library.
Gesshin is currently completing her master’s in East Asian Studies from the University of Southern California.

"Gesshin Greenwood is the real deal. That’s what makes this book so valuable. It’s rare that someone from the West does any of this stuff, rarer still when they write about it, and yet even more rare that their writing is as good as Gesshin’s is. This is a truly unique document of a truly unique lived experience. "
  • Brad Warner
  • author of Hardcore Zen and Don't Be a Jerk
"A delightful personal account of cultures clashing in the midst of authentic Zen training. Trained in Japan and with some of the most important teachers of the day, Gesshin Greenwood breathes a fresh breath into an ancient way. This is a book for the beginning and for those of us well into the way. I highly recommend it."
  • James Ishmael Ford
  • author of Introduction to Zen Koans
"Bow First is a witty, wise, engaging story about a young woman’s experience of Zen practice in Japan. What could possibly go wrong when an attractive 20-something California girl meets the mundane and the ecstatic in both the zendo and the Kyoto night scene? We soon find out, as the author freely shares her personal struggles with sex, love, money, power and women’s rights—all in the context of her Zen practice."
  • Grace Schireson
  • author of Zen Women
"Only a fierce and brilliant woman could have produced this deliciously written account. It's honest, genuinely helpful, and earnest without sentimentality. Punchy and eloquent, Gesshin Greenwood sets a new standard for cool.” "
  • Bonnie Myotai Treace
  • author of Empty Branches
"“When the reader is ready, the right book comes along; Bow First, Ask Questions Later is that book. With rigor, honesty, hilarity and joy, Gesshin shows us how to grapple with the great matter of life and death—as well as with lesser matters, like capitalism, sexism, religious dogma, sex, love, fashion and Kyoto nightclubs. The result is an inspiring book that I couldn't put down, even when I’d finished reading it.”"
  • Ruth Ozeki
  • author of A Tale for the Time Being
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