“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.” – Suzuki Roshi
Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, and is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia (Tassajara Zen Mountain Center). Suzuki founded San Francisco Zen Center, which along with its affiliate temples, comprises one of the most influential Zen organizations in the United States. A book of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, has become one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West:
“In Japan we have the phrase “shoshin”, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.”
At the time of Suzuki Roshi’s arrival in the United States, Zen had become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. Particularly influential were several books on Zen and Buddhism by Alan Watts. Word began to spread about Suzuki among the beatniks through places like The San Francisco Art Institute and The American Academy of Asian Studies, where Alan Watts was once director. Zen Priest Wako Kazumitsu Kato had done some presentations at the Academy and asked Suzuki to come join a class he was giving there on Buddhism. This sparked Suzuki’s long held desire to teach Zen to Westerners, something he had thought about ever since an encounter he had had with a British woman in Japan as a young man.
Watch Below: Suzuki Roshi Explains the Basics of Zazen (Zen) Meditation
Book to Hang Out With: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
So begins this most beloved of all American Zen books. Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line. In a single stroke, the simple sentence cuts through the pervasive tendency students have of getting so close to Zen as to completely miss what it’s all about. An instant teaching on the first page. And that’s just the beginning.
In the forty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern spiritual classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics—from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality—in a way that is not only remarkably clear, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page.
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