Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen

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9780060197858: Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen

Practicing the True Spirit of Zen

Not Always So is based on Shunryu Suzuki's lectures and is framed in his own inimitable allusive, paradoxical style, rich with unexpected and off–centre insights. Suzuki knew he was dying at the time of the lectures, which gives his thoughts an urgency and focus even sharper than in the earlier book.

In Not Always So Suzuki Roshi once again voices Zen in everyday language with the vigour, sensitivity, and buoyancy of a true friend. Here is support and nourishment. Here is a mother and father lending a hand, but letting you find your own way. Here is guidance which empowers your freedom (or way–seeking mind), rather than pinning you down to directions and techniques. Here is teaching which encourages you to touch and know your true heart and to express yourself fully, teaching which is not teaching from outside, but a voice arising in your own being.

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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

About the Author:

The Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was an unassuming, much-beloved spiritual teacher. Born the son of a Zen master in 1904, Suzuki began Zen training as a youngster and matured over many years of practice in Japan. After continuing to devote himself to his priestly life throughout the Second World War (when priests often turned to other occupations), Suzuki came to San Francisco in 1959. While some priests had come to the West with "new suits and shiny shoes," Suzuki decided to come "in an old robe with a shiny [shaved] head." Attracting students over several years, Suzuki established the Zen Center in San Francisco, with a training temple at Tassajara-the first in the West. After a lengthy illness, he died of cancer in December 1971.

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