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PREFACE to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Huston Smith section on cuke

Changes to Preface in 2000 edtiion

see prologue to ZMBM [Beginner's Mind] - and chapter named Repitition

Huston Smith interview with many other links

Two Suzukis. A half‑century ago, in a transplant that has been likened in its historical importance to the Latin translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century and of Plato in the fifteenth, Daisetz Suzuki brought Zen to the West single‑handed. Fifty years later, Shunryu Suzuki did something almost as important. In this his only book, here issued for the first time in paperback, he sounded exactly the follow‑up note Americans interested in Zen need to hear.

Whereas Daisetz Suzuki's Zen was dramatic, Shunryu Suzuki's is ordinary. Satori was focal for Daisetz, and it was in large part the fascination of this extraordinary state that made his writings so compelling. In Shunryu Suzuki's book the words satori and kensho, its near‑equivalent, never appear.

When, four months before his death, I had the opportunity to ask him why satori didn't figure in his book, his wife leaned toward me and whispered impishly, "It's because he hasn't had it"; whereupon the Roshi batted his fan at her in mock consternation and with finger to his lips hissed, "Shhhh! Don't tell him!" When our laughter had subsided, he said simply, "It's not that satori is unimportant, but it's not the part of Zen that needs to be stressed."

Suzuki‑roshi was with us, in America, only twelve years--a single round in the East Asian way of counting years in dozens--but they were enough. Through the work of this small, quiet man there is now a thriving Soto Zen organization on our continent. His life represented the Soto Way so perfectly that the man and the Way were merged. "His nonego attitude left us no eccentricities to embroider upon. Though he made no waves and left no traces as a personality in the worldly sense, the impress of his footsteps in the invisible world of history lead straight on."* His monuments are the first Soto Zen monastery in the West, the Zen Mountain Center at Tassajara; its city adjunct, the Zen Center in San Francisco; and, for the public at large, this book.

Leaving nothing to chance, he prepared his students for their most difficult moment, when his palpable presence would vanish into the void:

If when I die, the moment I'm dying, if I suffer that is all right, you know; that is suffering Buddha. No confusion in it. Maybe everyone will struggle because of the physical agony or spiritual agony, too. But that is all right, that is not a problem. We should be very grateful to have a limited body . . . like mine, or like yours. If you had a limitless life it would be a real problem for you.

And he secured the transmission. In the Mountain Seat ceremony, November 21, 1971, he installed Richard Baker as his Dharma heir. His cancer had advanced to the point where he could march in the processional only supported by his son. Even so, with each step his staff banged the floor with the steel of the Zen will that informed his gentle exterior. Baker received the mantle with a poem:

This piece of incense
Which I have had for a long long time
I offer with no‑hand
To my Master, to my friend, Suzuki Shunryu Daiosho
The founder of these temples.
There is no measure of what you have done.

Walking with you in Buddha's gentle rain
Our robes are soaked through,
But on the lotus leaves
Not a drop remains.

FN*From a tribute by Mary Farkas in Zen Notes, the First Zen Institute of America, January, 1972.

Two weeks later the Master was gone, and at his funeral on December 4 [sic-12] Baker‑roshi spoke for the throng that had assembled to pay tribute:

There is no easy way to be a teacher or a disciple, although it must be the greatest joy in this life. There is no easy way to come to a land without Buddhism and leave it having brought many disciples, priests, and laymen well along the path and having changed the lives of thousands of persons throughout this country; no easy way to have started and nurtured a monastery, a city community, and practice centers in California and many other places in the United States. But this "no‑easy‑way," this extraordinary accomplishment, rested easily with him, for he gave us from his own true nature, our true nature. He left us as much as any man can leave, everything essential, the mind and heart of Buddha, the practice of Buddha, the teaching and life of Buddha. He is here in each one of us, if we want him.


Professor of Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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