Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki

This book brings tears to my eyes. Not because it’s sentimental, not because it’s Zen, but because reading this book reminds me of my own teacher.

That’s quite an accomplishment: writing about a spiritual teacher in a way that brings to life the relationship between student and teacher – which is where the real work is done.

Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki is about the man who gave ‘just sitting’ a positive connotation. In fact, I think the way people in the West think about meditation is due mostly to the way Shunryu Suzuki taught it. Just sitting.

I started out that way and have since moved on to another style of meditation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the pioneer spirit and genius of the man who managed to take the essence of Zen and bring it West.

Among Buddhologists the kind of Zen that Shunryu Suzuki taught is considered only half Buddhism. It is good to be reminded that to teachers like Shunryu Suzuki Japanese Buddhism had lost much of its soul, getting lost in ritual and hierarchy.

Although I am not a Zen Buddhist I find myself at a loss for words – which is appropriate given that Zen is supposed to be beyond words.

Let me leave it at this: Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki is a great book to read if you want one of the following:

  • To understand the history of Zen in the West and it’s relationship to Japanese Zen
  • To understand something about the teacher-disciple relationship
  • To understand how meditation works (and prepare you for the hard work)
  • Get inspired to start practicing in whatever tradition fits you best
  • Did I mention it’s fun and hard to put down?

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