Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Review: Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen; Shunryu Suzuki, 2003

Much as I would have liked it to, this book just didn't do much for me.

A collection of transcribed and edited talks given by Shunryu Suzuki, a prominent teacher in American Zen, the material here was delivered unscripted to students at intensive meditation retreats, marathon sitting sessions which cause a lot of physical and emotional discomfort for more than a few students. Not unsurprisingly, the themes of many of the talks are persistence, endurance, focus, and concentration.

The things Suzuki has to say are worth saying, especially in the context of a sesshin or ango. But collected together here they have little coherence. You might find a thought-provoking or inspiring idea, but you can't go back to the text to find more explanation or deeper analysis. It's a book of aphorisms, like a thought-a-day calendar. It's probably best read in small bits, which I tried, reading two or three each morning, much the same as I read what was for me a more inspiring text, Stephen Batchelor's Living With the Devil.

I've read a few books on Buddhism and Zen. I've been practicing mediation for a number of years. I've been to a couple of Zen retreats. Maybe it was just the mood I was in while reading this. Maybe if I go back to it in a couple of years I'll find it inspiring. I hope it does something for you.



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