Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen by Shunryu Suzuki
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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