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A classic, engaging introduction to Zen
on May 2, 2005
More than any other known source, this series of essays (including the other two companion volumes) have probably done the most to put Zen 'on the map' - in the Western world. In some quarters - at least, it has become fashionable to regard D.T. Suzuki as 'passe' - a bridge builder, whose work has now reached its 'sell-by' date. While I can see why some people might feel that way - if training with a Roshi, or tired of 'reading too much' - Suzuki's 'essays' continue to have relevance for people making their first dip into the world of Zen.
In one sense, you could say that Suzuki wants to say too much, and the 'purists' may fault him for it. But he was good at his job - and knew exactly how to write about such things for a Western audience, saying enough to entice them and whet their appetite, then drop them in at the deep end! His way of doing this was lively and engaging. Suzuki was a good communicator (he had an American wife, which certainly helped. Beatrice Lane Suzuki was an accomplished student of Buddhism in her own right) - and, in some respects, Suzuki was more successful than some of the roshis teaching in the West. He wasn't trying to sell you an institution, but pointing to the 'treasure house' we must all find, for ourselves.
One thing is worth noting about Suzuki's 'essays.' For the most part, the anecdotes he has presented were taken from the T'ang masters in the Dentoroku (Chuan Teng Lu). You get a pretty fair spread of teaching-examples, and they are not all from masters in the Rinzai (Lin-chi) lineage. In the T'ang, there was no such sharp division between the Zen schools and in that sense, Suzuki's account has a freshness about it.
Suzuki will not bog you down with laboured academic digressions. He was rather slap-dash about footnotes - and as such, you get the very 'marrow' of Zen teaching. Suzuki had his foibles - but, he remains the 'grand old man of Zen' who whetted our appetite. These essays have life in them yet! Digest Suzuki. You wont regret it!