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Teachers: Suzuki Roshi

Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Zen priest belonging to the Soto lineage, came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of fifty-five. He was impressed by the seriousness and quality of "beginner's mind" among Americans he met who were interested in Zen and decided to settle here. As more and more people joined him in meditation, Zen Center came into being and he was its first abbot. Under his tutelage, independent branch groups were formed in Los Altos, Mill Valley, and Berkeley, and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and the City Center were acquired. Soon after his death his wish for Zen Center to have a farm was fulfilled when Green Gulch Farm in Marin County was purchased. Although an obscure figure on the Japanese Zen landscape, he is one of principle founders of Buddhism in America. Suzuki-roshi, as his students called him, died in December of 1971.

 

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Zen Mind Beginners Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is a transcription of juicy excerpts from Suzuki Roshi's lectures. From diverse topics such as transience of the world, sudden enlightenment, and the nuts and bolts of meditation, Suzuki always returns to the idea of beginner's mind, a recognition that our original nature is our true nature. With beginner's mind, we dedicate ourselves to sincere practice, without the thought of gaining anything special. Day to day life becomes our Zen training, and we discover that "to study Buddhism is to study ourselves." And to know our true selves is to be enlightened. -

Not Always So

These 35 talks, delivered shortly before Suzuki's death, 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.

Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness

An eloquent, humorous series of lectures on the Sandokai, an eighth-century poem central to the Soto Zen tradition. Suzuki Roshi uses his line-by-line exposition of the poem to illuminate what it means to practice Zen Buddhism. He stresses the simultaneity of the relative and the absolute, skillfully using words to direct his listeners toward understanding, all the while emphasizing that words are merely fingers pointing at the moon of enlightenment. Suzuki's devaluation of the verbal frees him to embrace humor and paradox as teaching methods; his examples range from ancient Chinese stories to anecdotes about weeding in the Tassajara garden and encountering an earwig. This book recounts 12 consecutive talks and includes the question-and-answer sessions at the end of each talk. These exchanges offer some of the most fascinating parts of an already excellent book, as they explicate some of the unclear points and illuminate the indirect yet confrontational quality of traditional Japanese Zen teaching.

Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki

David Chadwick, editor

In Zen Is Right Here, Suzuki Roshi's teachings are brought to life powerfully and directly through stories told about him by his students. These living encounters with Zen are poignant, direct, humorous, paradoxical, and enlightening; and their setting in real-life contexts makes them wonderfully accessible.

Suzuki Roshi gave profound teachings that were skilfully expressed for each moment, person, and situation he encountered. He emphasized that while the ungraspable essence of Buddhism is constant, the expression of that essence is always changing. Each of the stories presented here is an example of this versatile and timeless quality, showing that the potential for attaining enlightenment exists right here, right now, in this very moment.

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