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Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Teaching of Shunryu Suzukiby David Chadwick
Synopses & Reviews
Our mind should be free from traces of the past, just like the flowers of spring.
High winds blew across the green hillside, driving rain into the storm doors of Shoganji, an obscure Japanese country temple, when on May 18, 1904, Yone Suzuki gave birth to a baby boy. Her husband, Sogaku, the priest of the temple, gave his first-born son the name Shunryu, using the written characters for Excellent and Emerging, a rather formal Buddhist name full of high expectations.
It was the year of the dragon, the thirty-seventh year of the reign of Emperor Meiji. Fierce battles were being fought on the plains of Manchuria between Imperial Japan and Czarist Russia, and Sogaku was preparing the main hall of Shoganji for yet another young soldier's funeral, as Shunryu had his first taste of life in a small tatami room.
Cherry trees interspersed with shrub bamboo lined the steep road up to Shoganji, a small four-hundred-year-old temple on a hill above the village of Tsuchisawa, on the edge of the city of Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture. From the temple ohaka--a peaceful sanctuary where the ashes of local families and prior abbots were interred below weather-worn stone markers--there was a commanding view of Sagami Bay, which opens into the Pacific with Tokyo Bay to the northeast. Kamakura, the ancient political and Buddhist center, lay at the edge of the green and blue vista. Shoganji's handsome grass thatch roof could be seen from afar, surrounded by forested mountainsides, just beyond the smoke of Yokohama's burgeoning industries.
As a child, Shunryu Suzuki was called Toshitaka--Toshi for short. Toshitaka is the old Japanese way of pronouncing the characters that make up Shunryu, with a softer and more casual feeling. Toshi grew up playing around the temple with his older half brother from his mother's first marriage, Yoshinami Shima. When he was three his sister Tori was born, and at six he acquired another sister, Aiko. Toshi was small yet strong, eager to learn, impatient to do things before he was old enough, sensitive, and kind but prone to quick bursts of anger. And he couldn't keep track of anything. Schoolwork and books, caps and coins--whatever it was, he'd leave it at home or at school, wherever he wasn't.
Toshi began his six years of compulsory education in April 1910, when he was almost six. It was at school that he became aware that his family was uncommonly poor. Most people wore zori, straw sandals with a dividing cord between the first two toes. When the cord broke on one, children would throw away both. Toshi would take the good ones home and make new pairs. Unwilling to spend money on a set of hair clippers, his father would shave Toshi's head like his own. All the boys at school had short-clipped hair, but not shaved heads.
Lean and proper, approaching fifty, Butsumon Sogaku Suzuki was old to be having his first son. Priests of the Soto school of Zen had only begun taking wives a few decades earlier, encouraged strongly by a government bent on diminishing the power of the Buddhist clergy. The practice was easing in, though it was not yet permitted by the Soto school. At first families had to live outside the temples apart from the priests, but by 1904 it was beginning to be acceptable for families to live in. There were no family quarters at Shoganji; they slept in the buddha hall, the room us
Shunryu Suzuki is known to countless readers as the author of the modern spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.This most influential teacher comes vividly to life in Crooked Cucumber, the first full biography of any Zen master to be published in the West.To make up his intimate and engrossing narrative, David Chadwick draws on Suzuki's own words and the memories of his students, friends, and family.Interspersed with previously unpublished passages from Suzuki's talks, Crooked Cucumber evokes a down-to-earth life of the spirit.Along with Suzuki we can find a way to "practice with mountains, trees, and stones and to find ourselves in this big world."
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