I'm not a Zen practitioner; I read this book because I'm interested in Japanese culture and in contemplative forms of spirituality. Having already read the author's account of his own adventures in Japanese Zen temples, "Thank You and OK!", I was prepared for a bit of a romp.
But this account of the life of S. Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and spiritual father to two generations of American meditators, is more than a series of amusing incidents as Japanese culture confronted America in the 1960s. It contains a very convincing portrayal of Japanese culture during the first 60 years of this century as well as an exhaustively researched, nuanced portrait of the father of American Zen. The book manages to keep a light tone without seeming silly, and it doesn't shy away from the pain and the stumbling blocks in Suzuki's life.
The most pleasant surprise was the depiction of 1960s San Francisco as alternative culture made the transition from the Beats to the hippies.
This is one of the most engaging books I've read in a long time. I found myself itching to get back to it, and I was sorry to see it end.
I just read this book this week and can't say enough great things about it. It blends the story of a person and a spiritual path so deftly that you will be draw in on sheer readability and enlightened about this wonderful teacher's sometimes hilarious life story (and many times lightheartedly profound) without even noticing.
I hated the author's former book and couldn't stand to read it after the first 20 pages, so it took an act of courage to pick this one up. But I am happy to say either he has learned a lot or he's had a great editor or both, because with this book, he seems like he was born to write it.
There is a wonderful sense of humor that comes from Suzuki-Roshi's life and attitude - that belies the seriousness of the topic and book. So few Zen books are really approachable for mere humans (which is not the way it should be). This book demystifies all that needs demystifying about Zen - and you will have a LOT of FUN reading it, too.