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Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki Paperback – February 8, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; Reprint edition (February 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767901053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767901055
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inspiring, funny, wise and very human.
christina m. LaGreca
Anyone interested in zen, Japanese culture, or fine biography should appreciate this book.
Charles Vekert
Even if you don't care much about Zen, this book is a pleasure to read.
Jesse Kornbluth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
Shunryu Suzuki was once asked to summarize Buddhism in a sentence. The audience laughed at the impossibility of that challenge. But the Zen master had a ready answer. "Easy," he said. "Everything changes."

Easy was the way he was. Or seemed to be. He didn't tell neophytes they needed to learn much before setting out on the Zen path. "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities," he explained. "In the expert's mind, there are few." And, later, he was equally committed to the importance of whatever you were feeling, in the moment you were feeling it. There were no hard and fast truths. For him, the secret of Zen was: "Not always so." Which is just another way to say "Everything changes."

You could almost say he didn't care about Zen. Sitting in the lotus position and watching your thoughts --- nice, but not crucial. Ditto walking meditation. "The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your life without being fooled by things," he said.

Spoken like a very American Zen master. In fact, Suzuki lived in Japan most of his life. He came to San Francisco in 1959 and died there in 1971. Twelve years in America, that's all. But in those few years, he basically established Zen practice in this country.

But forget the practice. Consider the life. There are very, very few biographies of Zen masters, mostly because that's the way they like it --- their practice is specific, geared to the student, as impermanent as smoke. Their lives erase themselves.

David Chadwick, a longtime student of Suzuki's, thought of writing this biography. He went to ask the widow's permission. Her advice: "Tell many funny stories." Chadwick followed instructions. "Crooked Cucumber" is funny often, and where it is not, the writing is playful and light.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By "paragate@neis.net" on February 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In stereotypical Zen fashion, I don't wish to say too much about this book. I'd hate to spoil any portion of it for anyone. But please read this book.
If you have already read the author's previous book, Thank You and OK, you already know what an excellent writer David Chadwick can be when he is poking fun at himself. (If you haven't read Thank You and OK, then please go get that book, too.) I was frankly surprised at what an excellent historian Mr. Chadwick was, when it came time to write entirely seriously, about someone else. Especially Suzuki, Roshi. I was a little nervous that this book might contain the type of gushing praise that has tended to be heaped upon deceased Buddhist teachers in America. But Crooked Cucumber offers a very balanced view of Suzuki Roshi, including not only stories that inspire one's admiration for the man, but also anecdotes that cause one to scratch one's head and wonder why he could be so infuriatingly fallible at times. As a result, I felt I could trust Chadwick's scholarship, and I wound up with a much more mature appreciation for this Zen "legend."
I have already said way too much. But I predict that Crooked Cucumber will wind up being regarded as one of the best Buddhist books ever written.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By "roberthalpern" on November 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Early Buddhists in India were inspired by the biographies of great teachers such as Shariputra and Ananda. For over a thousand years the Chinese have had the stories of their patriarchs, most notably Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch. All Tibetans know by heart the details of the lives of Padmasambhava and Milarepa. For the Japanese, Kobo Daishi, Dogen and Hakuin have taught many millions through the examples found in their biographies. In every age and in every Buddhist country, the great teachers have repeatedly encouraged their followers to study the lives of various lineage holders. Now, at last, Westerners can benefit from the story of a man who successfully transplanted his lineage to American soil. Chadwick's book, the first of its kind in English, is a great contribution to Buddhist literature. Future biographers of other great teachers who have taught in America, such as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama, will now have Crooked Cucumber to help them continue to record how the teachings of Buddhism are passed from one real country to another, from human teachers to human disciples. Most importantly, Chadwick has somehow enabled us to actually meet Suzuki Roshi, face-to-face. Finally, through this book, Suzuki Roshi subtly introduces us to one of his most perceptive, devoted and beloved students, David Chadwick, Suzuki's almost invisible biographer.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Charles Vekert on April 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Shunryu Suzuki in not a saint in this book, or at least he does not become one until late in his life after a lot of effort. He was, by his own admission, a so-so father and husband. He had a terrible temper and it is astonishing that someone could combine such mindfulness with such absentmindedness. The latter trait caused Suzuki's wife such a "dark night of the soul" that it brought her to enlightenment. (And no, he wasn't planning it that way--he just forgot a funeral.)
This book is a labor of love by David Chadwick, but love never gets in the way of truth.
One will also learn much of Suzuki's zen from Suzuki's own comments on things as they happen around him. Anyone interested in zen, Japanese culture, or fine biography should appreciate this book.
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