Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 20, 1959, Philip Toshio Sudo was the eldest son of Japanese-American parents, Toshio and Sally Sudo. When he was in the second grade his family moved to Tokyo, where he attended elementary, junior high and high school at The American School in Japan (ASIJ). Feeling very much the displaced American, his identification with Japanese culture and eastern philosophy was a long and sometimes combative process. Sudo made frequent visits to Hawaii, stopping over as his family traveled between the U.S. and Japan. There he found a spiritual home to which he would later return to create progeny, write books and love life.
After high school he attended Macalester College in St. Paul Minnesota, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a Liberal Arts degree. He then went on to Columbia University, where he received his Master’s Degree in Journalism.
It was during his college years that Sudo developed a passion for the guitar. This was during the Punk Rock era with it’s do-it-yourself ethic and raw, untamed sensibility. He definitely could relate. Though he had studied music as a child, he now picked up the guitar with a renewed commitment, forming a series of alternative rock bands including Half a Chicken and Tokyo Mon Amour.
In 1992, Phillip Toshio Sudo married Tracy Buell. It was during their honeymoon in Japan and Maui that he reacquainted himself with the work of Miyamoto Musashi in a book titled The Book of Five Rings. This particular work became the catalyst for what became a life-long study of eastern philosophy. Finding his center in marriage, inspired by his reading, and energized by his music, the stage was set for a creative outburst that would affect so many people so profoundly.
While living in New York City, Sudo worked in publishing– including a stint at Scholastic Inc., the publisher of educational materials for young people. There he was an editor on a current events magazine aimed at high school age youth. In retrospect, one could see where his translucent style of writing might have been formed by his years writing for young people. He had the rare ability to illustrate the most profound concepts with a vitality and economy of language few writers who dabble in such lofty territory could evoke.
During this period he formed a band, Avant Garbage, with some of his colleagues in the publishing world. They performed improvisational music based on recurring themes he composed. They performed in clubs, galleries, subways, and on the streets of New York City–anywhere that sympathetic persons of a certain receptive disposition might happen by. The band particularly relished performing for the annual New York City Marathon where they would run a two and half hour non-stop musical marathon. Their musical laboratory, though, was a basement rehearsal studio on New York’s Lower East Side. It was there that Sudo began to articulate and document his unique approach to philosophy and art. Thus “Zen Guitar” was born.
Shortly after the birth of their first child, Naomi, in 1995, the Sudo family packed up and moved to Maui, Hawaii. This period was the happiest and most productive of his life. During the six idyllic years spent there, the couple had two more children, sons Keith and Jonathan. Sudo published four books explaining his understanding of Zen philosophy and how to practically apply it in life: Zen Guitar and Zen Computer (Simon & Schuster), Zen Sex and Zen 24/7 (Harper San Francisco). He also recorded a critically acclaimed album of instrumental music, One Sound One Song.
In January 2001, the family moved back to New York City. Shortly thereafter Sudo was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In Zen 24/7, he wrote a year before his own diagnosis, "We take life for granted, sleepwalking until a shattering event knocks us awake. Zen says, don't wait until the car accident, the cancer diagnosis, or the death of a loved one to get your priorities straight. Do it now." During the next 14 months, Sudo made a heroic effort to apply the lessons of living he himself taught. He was fighting to heal a battered body while continuing to do his work and be there for his family. He had “found his bliss” before the onset of illness and was dedicated to retaining its life-affirming benefits while facing life-threatening challenges. Much of this struggle was documented in a cancer journal he kept and posted on the Zen Guitar website.
Philip Toshio Sudo passed on from this life June 9, 2002 at age 42 while listening to One Sound One Song.