by Daniel Scharpenburg


A student asked what kind of practices Suzuki could advise us to do in order to keep ourselves pure.

He said, “Zazen practice. There is no secret.”

I didn’t know what to expect when this book came in the mail: Zen is Right Now by David Chadwick and Shunryu Suzuki.

Suzuki has been dead for 50 years and he has a new book.

Who is Shunryu Suzuki Roshi? He was a Zen teacher who came to the United States at the end of the 1950s and taught here until his death at the beginning of the 1970s. He only lived and practiced here for 12 years, but he left a big impression. He founded the San Francisco Zen Center and he had many students. He wrote a book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and it’s considered a classic. It is an important book and one that still gets recommended as the best introduction to Zen Buddhism even though around 50 years have passed since it’s publication.

That’s not exactly right. His students transcribed his talks and turned them into a book. This is what happened with several of these old teachers. People like Chogyam Trungpa, Seung Sahn, and the Dalai Lama have all had books that were put together by their students.

This book is the same situation. David Chadwick put this book together, and also wrote a biography of Suzuki Roshi called Crooked Cucumber.

This book is a collection of quotes and very short stories about Suzuki Roshi. It can easily be read in a single afternoon.

If you want some light zen reading, I think it’s a good book to get. If you want just to get some information on what it was like to be around this great master, I think it’s a good book for you too. It’s especially made for the super-fan. Even now, I suspect, there are people who have never met him who think of Suzuki Roshi as their teacher. That’s the way things are sometimes when a teacher has an incredible impact. Anyone that feels that way should buy this book. They’d probably feel very moved by it.

There are some stories in this that I had heard before and others that I hadn’t.

A student said to Suzuki that it seemed to them we need to have some amount and asked, “But how much do we need?”
Suzuki answered, “just enough so that you don’t step in front of a bus,”

This simple question and answer tells us a lot about Suzuki Roshi. A student that was clearly overthinking about zen and what it all means asked a question. The response contains wisdom, but also Roshi is clearly having fun with it.

Here’s another one:

A student asked Suzuki, “What is enlightenment?”
“Enlightenment?” Suzuki said. “I think you won’t like it.”

The student really wants an easy answer, but there’s not one. But Roshi can show him some wisdom anyway.

Here’s one more:

A student asked, “When does my life express the dharma and when does it not?”

Suzuki answered, “Your life always expresses the dharma.”

That’s a really important message. Sometimes we tend to think we’re doing our spiritual practice when we’re on the cushion or at the temple. But our practice isn’t limited to that. The spiritual journey is a part of our whole lives, even when we think it’s not.

So, this book is little, easy to carry around, and there is a lot of wisdom in these short stories and quotes. I highly recommend it to anyone that’s interested in Zen. Rare is the teacher that no one has anything bad to say about. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was that teacher and we can still learn a lot from him 50 years after his passing.


Photo: Shambhala Publications


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