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Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen Hardcover – May 28, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (May 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060197854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060197858
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If you can imagine Zen Existentialism, Not Always So is it. Part instruction manual for Zen practice and part philosophical meditation, Shunryu Suzuki's teachings emphasize being-in-the-world. He does not point toward a singular enlightenment-event as a burst into higher consciousness. Rather, he suggests a more experiential enlightenment that finds meaning in a full awareness of the present. For example: "If you go to the rest room, there is a chance for enlightenment. When you cook, there is a chance for enlightenment. When you clean the floor, there is a chance to attain enlightenment."

Shunryu Suzuki was an important emissary of Zen Buddhism to the United States. Establishing a Zen center in San Francisco in the 1960s, he attracted many noted pupils, including this book's editor, Edward Espe Brown. In fact, Not Always So is Brown's collection of Suzuki's teachings during his last years, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

No doubt some readers will want to wrestle with the often paradoxical nature of Zen teachings. And those from the Western philosophical tradition may find vast differences between the Western system that takes its cue from Descartes' cogito and the Eastern one that emphasizes the destruction of the ego. Says Suzuki: "It is just your mind that says you are here and I am there, that's all. Originally we are one with everything." While the book does not wrestle with cultural-philosophical differences, it is nevertheless a good introduction to Zen. Suzuki's teachings tend to flow from simple stories, usually drawn from his own experiences. It's almost entirely free of the jargon that clutters many books on Buddhism, and the teachings are communicated with clarity and brevity. --Eric de Place

From Publishers Weekly

Contrary to Zen's principle of "nothing special," Brown (The Tassajara Bread Book; Tassajara Cooking) has indeed produced something very special: an edited collection of talks by beloved Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, who died in 1971. It is impossible to overestimate the sustained impact of Suzuki's 1970 classic, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a world-renowned bestseller. Brown, ordained by Suzuki in 1971 after six years of study under him, has edited transcriptions that both read well on the page and capture the style, humor and solid grasp evident in the first volume. But this is no Zen Mind sequel, and will prove highly valuable to anyone, rank novice or zazen master. These 35 talks, delivered shortly before Suzuki's death from cancer, sparkle with simple freshness and familiarity: "Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well. The Buddha's teaching is not about the food itself but about how it is grown, and how to take care of it." Suzuki's messages are like deceptive pools of water, shimmering with surface possibilities that provoke stronger swimmers to aim for the depths. Suzuki, too, beckons us to the deeper reaches of learning, becoming "a wise, warm-hearted friend, [and] an unseen companion in the dark." Again we are blessed with more of his superb vision.
- an unseen companion in the dark." Again we are blessed with more of his superb vision.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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I first read this book 10 years ago when I began sitting.
Mathew Catanghal
This book is great for a beginner and great for ANYONE INTERESTED IN ZEN.
Joshua Shoemake
This second book of talks seems just as good as the first.
Bill Butler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Swing King on March 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
When you think of Zen Buddhism, chances are the first name that comes to mind for you may be Roshi Shunryu Suzuki. His bestselling book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," has remained a monolith in the area of Zen literature for years, and rightly so. The title of this particular book captures the ongoing paradox of Suzuki's teaching style, stemming from his often used phrase, "It may be so, but it is not always so." What this means is that people so oftentimes cling to their own understanding to the point where they cannot flex or learn anymore. We might become experts without even knowing it, even experts on not being an expert. This is possible. Yet everything changes in our world, that includes even truth. In order to help this world as well as ourselves, we must be willing to bend some and let go of our linear thinking.
Life is a process of learning. But learning alone is simply not enough. There isn't a good practice or a bad practice, there is only practice. That means you, "vow to save all beings suffering everywhere." That's not good or bad. That's your job. Roshi Suzuki helps each and everyone of us step into the world that is eternally present and free from all opposites. Where everything we encounter is, "Just like this." Only that. Every action leads to understanding, so please don't separate anything; this is Roshi's most precious gem he has left behind for all of us. Buddhist life is just life. It's going to work, caring for the garden, and taking a walk. I do hope you'll buy this book so you may step into the world of practice as stated by Suzuki here, because it's the key to all of the happiness humanity can ever know. The happiness of no happiness. Hopefully you understand that point. As Korean master Seung Sahn would likewise state, "Only go straight." Enjoy this book.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Danny Parker on April 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
Can we accept ourselves and our lives just as they are? That is what Shunryu Suzukis asks us to consider in this wonderful book. The slim volume is a lovely successor to "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind" imploring us again to slow down, let our true nature find its expression in meditation and stillness. And then we can find our way in life-- feeling our way along-- supported in our expansive magnificence, and encouraged by our very limitations.

"One day, something wonderful will happen..." Here is the expression of Zen in a modern teacher who came to America to share a quiet enlightenment.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Austin Gallaher on June 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This new collection of talks by Shunryu Suzuki is astonishing. They are perhaps more profound and more beautiful than those of Zen Mind,Beginner's Mind. These talks have the feel of a beloved friend returning after many years --ready to continue the simple but beautifully profound conversation about the nature of being human and the practice of living in the true world.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Professor Goatboy on September 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful collection of beautiful, pithy, unpretentious and very brief Zen talks. It's not just for a beginner; it's for any Zen student of any Zen lineage (and I'm writing as a Zen student from a different tradition than Suzuki-Roshi's). You know how a lot of Zen books don't seem to have "it"? This one's got it. Without a single extra word.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Bill Butler on August 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is another series of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki who died
in 1971. He seems to have been the greatest Zen Master in the
occidental world to date. The first series of talks is in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" which came out in 1970. This seems to be the most inspirational book in Zen of our time. Please buy both
of these treasures. Please don't buy these two books (or one if
you already have "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind) if you believe that
this book will teach you zen formally. The author makes it clear
that you need a teacher. But once you have one, these two books are the most inspirational books that you can have. I guess that
the most practical is still "The Three Pillars of Zen" by Roshi Kapleau. This second book of talks seems just as good as the first. I don't know why Zen Center waited 32 years to print it.
Nevertheless, it is a real treasure. Please don't treat this great man's teaching as basic. He implys in this book that just sitting can lead you to seeing the source of all phenomena. So
this is not a "cute" book. It's quite deep. Thank you.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Quaker Annie on May 31, 2005
Format: Paperback
I think of this book as a treat to carry about.

Each chapter is short and refreshing, and ends with his "Thank you"...

I have many things to encourage myself to practice, this is one -when first I got it, I used it as a breakfast treat, allowing myself to read just one of the very short chapters in the morning, then meditate.

He makes me laugh and smile and be.

Now I need to read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (I often do things backwards).

Thank you.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. Bonoff on September 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Edward Espe Brown as done graceful justice to these powerful teachings of Suzuki roshi. Mr. Brown himself is a wise teacher and gifted editor here. His presentation of these pearls to us is a gift and this book belongs on the bookshelf of many practitioners and seekers. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. If you have an opportunity to spend time with Mr. Brown, please thank him for me.
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