"He's big Suzuki, I'm little Suzuki."
In the literary world, Shunryu Suzuki has always played second fiddle to D.T. Suzuki. With David Chadwick's biography of this extraordinary man, Shunryu Suzuki will take his rightful place as one of the progenitors of American Buddhism. Chadwick, a long-time student of Suzuki's, takes us back to Suzuki's childhood, his entry into monastic life at age 13, subsequent trials with his ornery master and in the notoriously strict Eiheiji Monastery, as well as life as a houseboy with a British tutor to the Chinese emperor, marital tragedies, and the political minefield of World War II while he served as abbot of his own temple. The overarching theme of Suzuki's teaching is practice--in a community setting--and when he takes over a temple of aging Japanese Americans in San Francisco, his practice begins to attract younger Americans. The second half of Crooked Cucumber relates the phenomenal growth of the San Francisco Zen Center and becomes a biography of the growing community and its members, inasmuch as the center was Suzuki's life. A monk who was thought to be as useless as a crooked cucumber, under the pen of Chadwick turns out to be a brilliant, witty, tireless patriarch of American Zen. --Brian Bruya
From Publishers Weekly
From 1959 until his death in 1971, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki taught the principles and practice of Zen Buddhism to receptive audiences in San Francisco. In 1961, Suzuki founded the San Francisco Zen Center, where he taught hundreds of students hungry for the master's words on Zen. Chadwick, who studied with Suzuki from 1966 to 1971, collects stories from the master, or roshi's, many students about Suzuki's life and work and weaves them into a lively biography. Chadwick follows Suzuki's life from childhood in Japan to the tumultuous '60s in San Francisco. Drawing upon archival material in Japan and America, he peppers his account of Suzuki's life with generous quotes from the roshi's lectures, many of which are published here for the first time. When Chadwick asked Suzuki's widow for permission to write this book, she exhorted him to "tell many funny stories" about her husband. For example, when Suzuki became a monk at the age of 13, his master called him "Crooked Cucumber" because he seemed too scatterbrained and dull witted to be a Zen priest. Suzuki's master once remarked that he thought Suzuki would have very few disciples, and, as Chadwick notes, it was only when he came to America that Suzuki began to attract a large following. Another "funny story" Chadwick tells is that when people would confuse Shunryu Suzuki with the Harvard professor D.T. Suzuki, the roshi would say simply, "No, he's the big Suzuki, I'm the little Suzuki." Chadwick's biography provides a generous glimpse of the humanity and message of one of the great spiritual teachers of the modern world.
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