There are at least three reasons that I strongly suggest this book.
Firstly, Zen: Suzuki is the first one who introduced the idea of Zen to the West and he contributed a third of all the literature on Zen Buddhism solely. Being a Zen Master and also a diligent scholar, no one could be more appropriate to write English essays on the topic of Zen. His words are extremely simple but enlightening. In contrast to western scholars, he liked using short stories to illuminate the idea of Zen rather than dwelling on abstract concepts, an indicator of traditional Oriental wisdom. As Zen is not transmissible via words, Suzuki led us to various ways of achieving Zen, such as swordsmanship and Haiku. A good idea indeed! Zen is not abstruse and Chinese people are too practical to indulge in metaphysical thinking as Indians do. Meditation is necessary but not the only way to Zen. Whatever one is doing, eating or cooking, sweeping or walking, as long as we are in the right state, Zen is with us. Another interesting topic would be the difference between Zen and Taoism as these two are deeply intertwined. To me, I’d rather use these two words, Zen and Tao, interchangeably. Who cares the name?
Secondly, Japanese culture: it is risky but reasonable enough to presume that most Chinese are interested in Japanese culture, which derives from Chinese culture while remains different in some aspects. It might be true that modern Japanese are doing a better job in conserving traditional Chinese culture. Well, I have no idea whether it is worth sticking to traditions as this world is always full of irony—what is despised today may be cherished tomorrow and culture is even more vulnerable to vicissitude. It is impossible to break away from neither Chinese history nor Chinese philosophy when we explore Japanese culture. Suzuki adopted the Zen approach to depict the Japanese character through swordsmanship, art of tea, Haiku and love of nature. Suzuki’s comparison between Chinese and Japanese characters is one of the best I have ever read. He said, ‘The Chinese mind is practical enough, but frequently it aspires to break through all the barriers that keep it within the rules of conventionalism; but the Japanese mind is so attached to the earth that it would not forget, however mean they may be, the grasses growing under the feet.’
Finally, DT Suzuki: the whole reading experience is utterly rewarding and I believe Suzuki has transformed my whole being without any exaggeration, but I can only name a few changes, such as a clearer understanding of Zen and life. This is the best thing about reading: through one book, a reader falls in love with the author and rediscovers himself with the help of another being. It seems the author understands us more than we do, and we find another voice which could better express our thoughts. Suzuki is definitely one like that to me. He is a sage, a guru, a Zen master but also a well-read scholar. I was amazed by his clarity in summarizing the Chinese character: ‘The Chinese people are, no doubt, just as patriotic and full of nationalistic pride as any other nation; but they are more practical than sentimental, I imagine, more given up to positivism than to idealism. Their feet are glued to the earth. They may occasionally gaze at the stars, for those are very beautiful to look at, but they never forget that they cannot live even for a day separated from mother earth. They are, therefore, attracted more to Chu His’s philosophy of social order and utility than his idealism and emotionalism. In this aspect, the Chinese differ from the Japanese.’
What makes DT Suzuki a truly Zen master? Read the following words and you may have a taste of Suzuki’s wisdom. ‘The epistemology of Zen is, therefore, not to resort to the mediumship of concepts. If you want to understand Zen, understand it right away without deliberation, without turning your head this way or that. For while you are doing this, the object you have been seeking for is no longer there. This doctrine of immediate grasping is characteristics of Zen. If the Greeks taught us how to reason and Christianity what to believe, it is Zen that teaches us to go beyond logic and not to tarry even when we come up against “the things which are not seen”. For the Zen point of view is to find an absolute point where no dualism in whatever form obtains. Logic starts from the division of subject and object, and belief distinguishes between what is seen and what is not seen. The Western mode of thinking can never do away with this eternal dilemma, this or that, reason or faith, man or God, etc. With Zen all these are swept aside as something veiling our insight into the nature of life and reality. Zen leads us into a realm of Emptiness or Void where no conceptualism prevails, where rootless trees grow and a most refreshing breeze sweeps over all the ground.’
Thanks for introducing DT Suzuki and teaching us Theravada meditation, you opened another world for me.