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on February 7, 2004
This book is, in fact, probably the very best introduction to Zen Buddhism for Americans. It is short, informal, yet well written.
Shunryu Suzuki, the author of this book, is not of the same school of Zen as D.T. Suzuki, who wrote many more books and is probably better known. Shunryu was of the Soto school of Zen, while D.T. belonged to the Rinzai school.
To the beginner, the differences might seem small. Both schools practice sitting meditation, called zazen. But Rinzai puts more emphasis on the experience of Satori, which I will not explain here (and is hardly explainable, anyhow). Soto Zen, and Shunryu in this book, emphasizes just sitting and practicing zazen. He does not dwell on Satori, in fact, I don't even think he mentions it.
In any event, I highly recommend this book as an introduction to Zen. Shunryu tells you about real Soto Zen practice -- not history, or theoretical concepts. It can be read in an evening, and can be re-read for years.
You can later proceed to other books on Zen; by D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Christmas Humphreys, or others, including John C. H. Wu. Thich Nhat Hanh is very popular too, and has written many books. He is Vietnamese, while both of the Suzukis were Japanese. I believe that Nhat Hanh is of the Soto school, but I could be wrong. Most other authors should be avoided until you are more familiar with Zen. (Beware especially of the shallow, even flippant, Zen books, which usually begin with the words "Zen and the ..." They have little value.) Just remember that Zen Buddism has two main schools: Soto and Rinzai. Also, Zen is a special form of Buddhism -- kind of like Quakers being a special form of Christianity -- and is not necessarily representative of Buddishm as a whole.
Zen was heavily influenced by Taoism. So if you really want to go deeper, consider getting a translation of the Tao Te Ching -- I highly recommend the version by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo, but the translation by John C. H. Wu is good and very popular, plus he is Chinese by birth.
Finally, both Shunryu Suzuki and D.T. Suzuki definitely agree on one thing; Zen is about practice, not about books or even about ideas. Zen is not a philosophy. If you really want to understand Zen, then you will need to find a Zendo (meditation center or temple) and a teacher. And sit!
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on July 22, 2015
After I had bought (and read ) this book , I had ordered others from amazon. NONE of those others were as simple and easy to comprehend as this one. You may want to check out the others, but you might find that you will like and appreciate this book more. Fully recommend.
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on February 23, 2004
So much of religion is tedious and unnecessary theological exposition, clergymen and laypeople arguing over historical accounts or trying to decide whether adherents should be allowed to worship this or that. This kind of prosaic religion is not really religion at all because it is not directed toward that which is ultimately true and real. But Shunryu Suzuki, in an attempt to show us what it truly means to see and experience the world to our fullest potential, deftly side-steps almost everything that we normally associate with religion, including worship, philosophy, and moralizing. This is, of course, in the spirit of Buddhism and, in particular, Zen with its rigorous and practical emphasis on pure and simple meditation.
This book is a compilation of talks given by Suzuki to his American Zen students. While reading, I can just imagine the Zen master sitting there baffling every possible expectation that they had of their own practice. After all, you never know what a Zen master will say or do next and Suzuki is no exception. Most ironic is his ability to illogically defy logic and somehow come out on top every time. When confronted with the skeptic's hammer of reason, Suzuki counters with his Zen sledge-hammer, crushing the comparatively puny weapon of duality with his sweeping monistic blow. Actually, his is more of an empty blow--not really a blow at all. This naturalness is what makes Zen so appealing.
After finishing the book, I tried to sit and think of what I'd learned. What I found was that I couldn't really say anything. For anything that I could say about Zen is bound to be wrong. Suzuki does not offer philosophy or theology...he offers a way of life. I think, if I had to sum up his entire attitude, I would say "just sit." That is, just meditate. It is rather odd when you think about it, all this talk over "nothing special." On more than one occasion I've turned the book over to look at his photograph on the back cover. It is almost as if everything you'd ever need to know is in that face. He seems to be saying, like a long-lost acquaintance: "What? You know me."
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on July 6, 2004
This book will not answer either of those questions. Therefore it should get 0 stars. However, I think it deserves 5 stars.
Religious or philosophical traditions are among the most difficult to pass from one generation to the next without bollixing up the original spirit of the tradition. When Siddhartha experienced enlightenment 2500 years ago, did he envision all the crazy schizms, sects, misinterpretations, and frauds that would ensue as a result of his teachings? YES. But he decided to teach his experiences anyway.
To many, religion is all about dogma or exactly how to practice it. If you don't kneel correctly at the right time of day or cut a fart in the middle of silent meditation, then you are a permanent failure and can never achieve the perfection that your guru/god is trying to teach you.
Others abandon religion entirely, and say that you should reject any dogma that tells you what to believe and how to think. Organized religion is just a perpetual Multi-Level Marketing scheme, where the only way to be successful is to convince everyone else that you've found the truth and get them to pass it on. Evangelical Christianity is obviously the best example of this, but some people see elements of it in all religions, and they have a point.
Is there a middle ground? I think so, even though it's sooo easy to slip to one side or the other. My goal is to find inspiration in different traditions, understand and respect them, and also to explore the elements that I don't agree with (Judeo-Christian-Islamic fundamentalism, for example). What can I do to build a bridge between myself and people with these beliefs?
I find that reading works such as Zen Mind, Beginners Mind nurture that middle path. It doesn't give step-by-step instructions for achieving perfection, but by walking with Shunryu Suzuki for a few hours and listening to his conversation you get a glimpse of what it means to be alive and aware of what's happening around you. You don't learn Buddhist dogma (whatever that is), and you don't learn how to reject all other religions or philosophies, you just get to enjoy reading the words of a kinder, gentler person. To you he is giving the gift of his thoughts which you can either take and use or reject and go look for something else.
If you feel that this book is new-age trash or baffling mumbo-jumbo, I hope you're able to find whatever's right for you and that it enriches your life accordingly.
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on September 8, 2014
I had been aware of this book since the 1960's. Never got around to reading it. It is very deep and profound. Not to mention a bit mind-blowing in its content.
As a practicing Buddhist, I could grasp some of the stuff. However, some of it was downright mind-bending. This is a book one would need to and want to read over and over.
I purchased the hard-cover edition, because I knew I would want to keep it for a long time. Though it is written by a Zen monk, it is a book that all interested in Buddhism can appreciate.
I would not recommend it for beginners. However, for anyone with some knowledge of Buddhist practice and wisdom, it is a must read.
Tony R. (Toronto).
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on January 3, 2000
A whole lot of zen - though don't be fooled, for a short and highly recommended book with 'beginner' in the title it's not as crisp and accessible as it appears. Those bent on buddhacide, especially the purist soto crowd, will find the concession of clarity a worthwhile trade for the authenticity of this oral transcription. (Or, if nothing else, by the end you'll have read 'This is a very, very important point' enough times to bludgeon buddha unconscious.)
But if you're curious and just looking for a good book to learn about zen, you've got a beginner's mind already -- don't need a book to see that! Save the lesson of the 'beginner's mind' for when you think you know it all about zen. a better start: find kapleau's '3 pillars of zen', it looks fat and heavy but concisely lays zen open with unparalleled vigor and humor.
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on March 21, 2004
Every time I pick up this small book to read a short chapter or two, Shunryu Suzuki's words are as fresh and new as if I've read them the first time. And I come away thinking of life, not in our society's terms of goal-oriented productivity, but in terms of the quality of my self-expression, the sincerity of my behavior in the present moment. In that respect, the author's view of zen practice is not of a process whereby one can arrive at enlightenment, but as a way of being deeply in touch with what is going on right now. And through-out he reveals how precious and sacred the present moment really is. I highly recommend this book; it is a tribute to life itself.
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on April 5, 2004
After having read this book, I can say that I throughly enjoyed it. The style of writing is easy to follow, and often I would just sit and read loseing all track of time. I would like to point out that this isn't "pop-buddhism." Zen is not understood in the exact same way. Hunt around through yoru fav. search engine, and you'll find quickly how they differ. In closing I would also like to say that while I did throughly enjoy this book, I will probably be re-reading it at some point to pick up on things I may have missed.
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on May 29, 2004
filled with enlightening points and ideas to provoke thought and inspire meditation practice, Zen Mind, Beginners' Mind is the most effective book on zen I've ever read, and I've read plenty of books on the subject. Also, be sure to check out Kaplau's "The Three Pillars of Zen," which takes a more direct approach to expaining the practice of zen and does so magnificently. Five Stars for both!
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on February 5, 2004
This book ... of all books about Zen, makes it perfectly clear that the whole purpose of Zen is to help you see reality more clearly ... that is all. However, *that* is saying a lot ...
One of the interesting features of this book is the author was a direct descendent of the 13th C. spiritual master, Dogen. However, the author does not write based on this relationship -- instead, he writes based on his *experience*. The book is well organized into three parts, "Right Practice" (action) and "Right Attitude" (frame of mind) adn "Right Understanding" (self-explanatory). The author describes how posture, control, breathing, mind waves and mind weeds affect our reality when practicing 'zazen'. No matter what arises in the mind we need to continue our efforts ... the power lies in our ability "to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable." This is one huge pronouncement ...
While it is considered "nothing special" to meditate in this manner ... the ability to track one's mind and release duality occurs with "right practice." Repetition and maintaining a "single-mindedness" is the effort that brings results --"cultivating one's spirit" one can attain equanimity and overcome many obstacles.. The overall effect is to communicate and express one's self from a point of truth. One begins to realize how effort, energy, and outcome arise from moment to moment ... *IF* there is a sense of being driven to attain "enlightenment", perhaps, the practice driven by "karma" and one is wasting their time. The direction of effort needs to be pointed within ... developing readiness, mindfulness, without a true sense of a goal. It is difficult but that seems to be the true art of zen practice. Discovering a weed is a treasure for zen students ... because that is an opportunity for learning and growth to occur. Highly recommended book. Erika Borsos (erikab93)
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