Though Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, died in 1971, his influence lives on, as books by his students—and his students’ students—continue to roll out. Among the latest: No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen (Harmony Books, March, $18.95, cloth) by Jakusho (Bill) Kwong Roshi, one of Suzuki’s earliest students and one of his two designated heirs (transmission was cut short by the master’s death). This is Kwong Roshi’s first book, illustrated with his calligraphy and based on dharma talks delivered at his Sonoma Zen Center in Santa Rosa, California, and affiliate zendos in Poland and Iceland.
No Beginning is intended to be a companion piece to Suzuki Roshi’s classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The format is similar: short chapters, each headed by a pithy quote, organized into three sections roughly paralleling the process of awakening through Zen practice. Kwong’s teachings, in their intimacy and simplicity, evoke Suzuki’s sensibility.
The voice, however, is Kwong’s own. Alongside traditional Zen teaching tales are personal stories drawing on his forty years of Zen practice, as well as lessons from family and contemporary life. The anecdotes about Suzuki Roshi are fresh and illuminating; as Thich Nhat Hanh points out in his foreword, Kwong’s abiding love for his teacher is evident throughout. No Beginning may not achieve the iconic status of Zen Mind (which has sold over a million copies since its publication in 1970), but it is a pleasing introduction to Zen life, and to a wise and unassuming teacher.
Kwong Roshi’s editor, poet Peter Levitt, brings the perspective of his own longtime Zen practice to the process of making art in Fingerpainting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom (Harmony Books, May, $21.00, cloth). “Creative acts . . . [bring] us face to face with our true nature,” Levitt notes.
Another teacher in Suzuki’s lineage, Zen monk and poet Norman Fischer—co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center from 1995 to 2000—looks at what it means to be mature in Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up (Harper San Francisco, May, $23.95, cloth). Asked to mentor four adolescent boys in the Zen community, Fischer met with them over a two-year period. Together, they explored qualities that define maturity—responsibility, experience, self-acceptance, love, stability, strength—as well as spiritual practices that might help one achieve it, from active listening and forgiveness to meditation and chanting. Like Fischer’s three-year-old Everyday Zen Foundation, the focus here is on bringing the dharma into daily life, for as broad an audience as possible.
Longtime practitioners may wish for a deeper investigation of such a complex subject—or at least more on what the Buddha thought. Fischer identifies maturity—growing into “the fullness of our humanity”—as the fruit of spiritual practice, but offers few specifics for cultivating it: “There is no last word. Maturity must be contemplated by each of us thoughtfully, and through action, as our lives unfold.” This may be the book’s ultimate wisdom: It raises that all-important question “What are we supposed to be doing with this life?” but in true Zen fashion, leaves us to find our own answers. A book, after all, is only a finger pointing at the moon.
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