Shunryu Suzuki (鈴木 俊隆 Suzuki Shunryū, dharma name Shogaku Shunryu) (May 18, 1904 – December 4, 1971) was a Japanese Zen master of the Soto school, who played a major role in establishing Buddhism in America. The Japanese Soto-shu religious organization sent him to San Francisco, USA in 1959 to attend the needs of a small Japanese-American temple, Sokoji, in San Francisco’s Japantown.
At the time of Suzuki’s arrival, Zen had become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. San Francisco counterculturalists found Suzuki and asked him to explain Zen. Suzuki limited his explanation to an invitation to sit zazen. “I sit zazen every day here at 5:40AM,” he is quoted as having said, “and if you’re here, you can sit, too.”
The predominantly Caucasian group that joined Suzuki to sit eventually formed the San Francisco Zen Center with Suzuki. The Zen Center raised money to buy a hot springs resort, Tassajara, which they turned into a monastery. Soon thereafter, they bought a building at 300 Page Street in San Francisco’s Haight-Fillmore neighborhood and turned it into a Zen temple. Suzuki left his post at Sokoji to become the first abbot of the first Buddhist training monastery outside of Asia. A collection of his teishos (Zen talks) were bundled in the books Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. His lectures on the Sandokai are collected in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. Suzuki’s biography is captured in David Chadwick’s 1999 book Crooked Cucumber.
Notable persons among Suzuki’s students include:
- Tenshin Reb Anderson
- Zentatsu Richard Baker
- Edward Espe Brown
- David Chadwick
- Jakusho Kwong
- I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color–something which exists before all forms and colors appear… No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea.
- “Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well.”
- Hell is not punishment, it’s training.
- “So the secret is just to say ‘Yes!’ and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself, always yourself, without sticking to an old self.”
- Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.
- “When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”
- “Zazen practice is the direct expression of our true nature. Strictly speaking, for a human being, there is no other practice than this practice; there is no other way of life than this way of life.”
- Whereever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars you see. You are one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true than you can hear.
- “Take care of things, and they will take care of you.”
- “In the beginner’s mind there are many possiblilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
- “My life has been one long series of mistakes.”
- Chadwick, David (1999). . Broadway Books, New York. ISBN 0-7679-0104-5. (1st edition, hardcover)
- Suzuki, Shunryu (1970). Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Weatherhill. ISBN 0-8348-0079-9.
- Suzuki, Shunryu (1999). . University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21982-1. (1st edition, hardcover)
- Suzuki, Shunryu (2002). Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-095754-9.