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Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen [Paperback]

Shunryu Suzuki
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 15 2003

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.

In a beautiful companion volume to Shunryu Suzuki's first book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, this is a collection of thirty-five lectures taken from the last three years of Suzuki's life that has been masterfully edited by Edward Espe Brown, bestselling author and one of Suzuki's students.

In Not Always So Shunryu Suzuki voices Zen in everyday language, with humor and good-heartedness. While offering sustenance -- much like a mother or father lending a hand -- Suzuki encourages you to find your own way. Rather than emphasizing specific directions and techniques, his teaching encourages you to touch and know your true heart and to express yourself fully.

Wise and inspirational, Not Always So is a wonderful gift for anyone seeking spiritual fulfillment and inner peace.


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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Contrary to Zen's principle of "nothing special," Brown (The Tassajara Bread Book; Tassajara Cooking) has indeed produced something very special: an edited collection of talks by beloved Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, who died in 1971. It is impossible to overestimate the sustained impact of Suzuki's 1970 classic, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a world-renowned bestseller. Brown, ordained by Suzuki in 1971 after six years of study under him, has edited transcriptions that both read well on the page and capture the style, humor and solid grasp evident in the first volume. But this is no Zen Mind sequel, and will prove highly valuable to anyone, rank novice or zazen master. These 35 talks, delivered shortly before Suzuki's death from cancer, 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.
- an unseen companion in the dark." Again we are blessed with more of his superb vision.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Shikantaza, our zazen, is just to be ourselves. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roshi Will Always Be Present March 2 2004
Format:Paperback
When you think of Zen Buddhism, chances are the first name that comes to mind for you may be Roshi Shunryu Suzuki. His bestselling book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," has remained a monolith in the area of Zen literature for years, and rightly so. The title of this particular book captures the ongoing paradox of Suzuki's teaching style, stemming from his often used phrase, "It may be so, but it is not always so." What this means is that people so oftentimes cling to their own understanding to the point where they cannot flex or learn anymore. We might become experts without even knowing it, even experts on not being an expert. This is possible. Yet everything changes in our world, that includes even truth. In order to help this world as well as ourselves, we must be willing to bend some and let go of our linear thinking.
Life is a process of learning. But learning alone is simply not enough. There isn't a good practice or a bad practice, there is only practice. That means you, "vow to save all beings suffering everywhere." That's not good or bad. That's your job. Roshi Suzuki helps each and everyone of us step into the world that is eternally present and free from all opposites. Where everything we encounter is, "Just like this." Only that. Every action leads to understanding, so please don't separate anything; this is Roshi's most precious gem he has left behind for all of us. Buddhist life is just life. It's going to work, caring for the garden, and taking a walk. I do hope you'll buy this book so you may step into the world of practice as stated by Suzuki here, because it's the key to all of the happiness humanity can ever know. The happiness of no happiness. Hopefully you understand that point. As Korean master Seung Sahn would likewise state, "Only go straight." Enjoy this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite! Aug. 16 2002
Format:Hardcover
This is another series of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki who died
in 1971. He seems to have been the greatest Zen Master in the
occidental world to date. The first series of talks is in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" which came out in 1970. This seems to be the most inspirational book in Zen of our time. Please buy both
of these treasures. Please don't buy these two books (or one if
you already have "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind) if you believe that
this book will teach you zen formally. The author makes it clear
that you need a teacher. But once you have one, these two books are the most inspirational books that you can have. I guess that
the most practical is still "The Three Pillars of Zen" by Roshi Kapleau. This second book of talks seems just as good as the first. I don't know why Zen Center waited 32 years to print it.
Nevertheless, it is a real treasure. Please don't treat this great man's teaching as basic. He implys in this book that just sitting can lead you to seeing the source of all phenomena. So
this is not a "cute" book. It's quite deep. Thank you.
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By SkyMind
Format:Hardcover
One of the most insightful books I've ever read. Even so, I didn't understand some of it. His teachings seem multidimensional, fluid, and sometimes difficult to pin down. His emphasis on the present everday life is also unique among the Zen books I've read. Example: "When you observe the precepts without trying to observe the precepts, that is true observation of the precepts." Others devote many pages to what Suzuki expresses so succinctly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Correction Dec 27 2002
Format:Hardcover
The prequel to this book is Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. I mentioned it improperly in my previous review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Suzuki to Brown to you Sept. 2 2002
Format:Hardcover
Edward Espe Brown as done graceful justice to these powerful teachings of Suzuki roshi. Mr. Brown himself is a wise teacher and gifted editor here. His presentation of these pearls to us is a gift and this book belongs on the bookshelf of many practitioners and seekers. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. If you have an opportunity to spend time with Mr. Brown, please thank him for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read it Sept. 2 2002
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful collection of beautiful, pithy, unpretentious and very brief Zen talks. It's not just for a beginner; it's for any Zen student of any Zen lineage (and I'm writing as a Zen student from a different tradition than Suzuki-Roshi's). You know how a lot of Zen books don't seem to have "it"? This one's got it. Without a single extra word.
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