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Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen Paperback – June 2, 2009
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
That being said, the essays are short and wonderful and even though I didn't "get" all of them, there were a lot of great little nuggets inside. For the price, this book is packed with great stuff, I'm just not sure it's for beginners.
And he presents the warm heart of his master in a logical and progressive ordering of a few of Suzuki's lectures.
After 30 years of daily meditation (15 in the style of Monk Dogen) and always failing to reach calmness of mind in every session,
a book like this gives a nugget of hope.
specifically, on page 6 of the Chapter on "Calmness of Mind," it offers:
"Exhaling, you gradually fade into emptiness--empty, white paper."
This is as clear as it gets;
the essence of the connection between breath, body, mind and emptiness.
Thank you very much.
Other concepts are also explained nicely.
Suzuki explains the meaning of the koan of "Jumping Off the 100-foot Pole,"
starting at page 16. (Myself, I've never really understood this one. I've always pictured myself reaching the top of the Pole and then trying to decide what to do next.)
Suzuki explains that this is precisely where I make my big mistake--stopping at the top of the pole and thinking. He says that the secret is just to say "Yes!" and jump off from there--forget the top of the pole and extend your practice.
One last example:
In the Chapter "Stand Up by the Ground" (page 139)
Suzuki explains "Immo,"
which can also mean a questioning, "What is this?"
A very subtle point here.
"What" or "It" is both something very definite ( "What" is "it"? may refer to that specific table right over there, and at the same time something beyond description and comprehension, maybe this table has only one leg and functions more like a chair and is merely drawn by an artist to symbolize some basic human emotion.)
Oh boy, my mind really runs wild with kind of "stuff."
Maybe Ed Brown will write a new book, giving his own commentary on these concepts.
Didn't Zen successors always write commentaries on scriptures?
Well, maybe "not always so."
Yet this book is like a Zen scripture.
Thank you very much Mr Brown.
Reading his words, one realizes he was anything but common. He had a way of condensing the seemingly complex matters of life and spirituality down into brilliantly concise, eye-opening statements.
He presented hundreds of short talks during his time in California, of which this and other of 'his' books are condensations. Not all of his words and ideas hold you perfectly entranced, but the gems are hiding in there, and well worth the searching.
If you are looking for a guide back to infinite being - Suzuki Roshi is one of the few in which you can have absolute trust and confidence.