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Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  1,153 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published January 5th 2011 by Harmony (first published February 9th 1999)
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Sep 18, 2011 Max rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't have heros, but Shunryu Suzuki comes close. He is as human as you and I, with countless faults, bad habits and temptations. His life shows us that we can all be a Zen master, that it doesnt require a person with perfect character. It requires hard work and dedication, it requires constant attention and patience and a beginner's mind. But these characteristics are available in all persons, including you and me. That's what I like about his teaching: it is firm, it is strict, but it always ...more
Nov 06, 2007 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despite having a deep interest in the subject matter it took me a while to get intimate with this book. This book seemed to start off like many biographies do beginning with childhood. Suzuki had a unique childhood in the sense that he had a father who was a priest and Suzuki became a monk himself at a very young age. What follows from there is a tracing of his life from his own priestly and temple duties in Japan to his eventual coming to America to spread the dharma.

I think the most striking
Sep 07, 2011 Stan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I try to limit myself mostly to fiction in my postings to Goodreads, but this is such a great book, it has to go here. I read it when it first came out, and decided to give it a second read. Suzuki Roshi's life and teaching are the ultimate Buddhist teaching. He must have been a wonderful, fascinating, and very human teacher. And in this and the other three books I have related to him (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind = the ultimate book on Buddhist practice; Not Always So = addditional great teachings ...more
Harish Venkatesan
This isn't quite a review, but rather my interpretation of some ideas in the book compared to another that I recently read about Yogic practice-- 'Autobiography of a Yogi'.


It was very interesting for me to read, in a short period of time, both Paramahamsa Yogananda's 'Autobiography of a Yogi' and David Chadwick's 'Crooked Cucumber'. The books detail the journeys of two of the greatest spiritual teachers of the last century-- two men who can each be attributed with bringing a traditional school
Apr 08, 2014 Nava rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism

I first came across Shunru Suzuki on the back cover of `beginners mind'.
In the picture he looks mischievous and has a twinkle in his eye. Looking at his image, I figure this man was doing something right and I wanted to learn from him.

That book was full of contradictions, and although I had an inkling of what he was trying to convey I wasn't sure. Reading about his life I maybe understand a bit better. The contradictions are there to blow away the cobwebs and the fixed ideas.

The book moves slow
Patrick Santana
Who hasn't read and loved Suzuki's classic, BEGINNER'S MIND? So who was the man and his life that led to that great book? CROOKED CUCUMBER pulls back the curtain and gives us a window on the human being that was Shunryu. The upside: Chadwick's story humanizes Suzuki. We see how this great master was no super-being: he was temperamental, lashed out, was abused as a kid, had depressions, and everything else. It's eye opening to read biography for this reason: helps break up the myths we carry abou ...more
Sep 29, 2009 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I guess I was finally ready to read this biography of Shunryu Sukuki who brought Zen practice to anglo americans. Beautifully written, no hero worship...just the story of an ordinary Japanese zen monk who came to the US, San Francisco, to be a priest in Japantown temple...and history, culture and 60s combustion all collided to create SF Zen Center. His life (3 marriages, tragedies, dissatisfactions, WW2 in Japan) is so compelling. Though I've read and reread Zen Mind Beginners Mind many times, t ...more
Jun 18, 2013 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best spiritual biographies ever - insight into the life of a rare spiritual pioneer in America - Zen Master Suzuki Roshi.
Sarah McAleer
Jun 15, 2011 Sarah McAleer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Full of detail of the life of the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center. Reading this book is like watching a movie.
Mar 13, 2017 Satnamas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome book. My view on all of these Zen priests and masters has drastically changed. Before it wasn't realistic, I used to think that any zen master practices real zen and that they are human beings without faults. Well, this book surely changed my whole perspective. Suzuki's biography and life stories, teachings really made a huge shift on me and helped me regain the confidence in the practice. Suzuki is not all in some sort of way special! He was just ordinary and yet he has achieved so much ...more
Crooked Cucumber is kind of an ugly duckling story. Suzuki was a bit of a progressive in Japan. During the war it wasn't safe to be against the emperor or voice disagreement, but he was vocal about the things Japan could do if it were at peace. He had a group of thinking friends and he was very dedicated to the practice of Zazen or sitting meditation. It was foreordained that he be a Soto Zen Priest and carry on after his father retired. Although he gained some success in this, he was in a backw ...more
Sep 14, 2011 dario rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hablar de un maestro zen y él apenas se consideraba un simple ser humano?
Que siendo él todo un maestro zen, apenas le hablara -durante el transcurso de las décadas- del budismo a sus hijos?
Es posible dicha conducta, dicha perspectiva, dicha actitud?
Cualquier budista practicante aseverará que es normal. No obligar a otros respecto de sus creencias (Ashoka, siendo rey, no estableció como religión oficial de estado al budismo, siglos atrás), afirmar a más no poder la humildad ("tu enemigo usualment
Jun 14, 2014 Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Reid by: Patrick
I won't overpraise what amounts to a very good book of zen and Buddhism as practiced. This un-guru is completely human and flawed, bumbling even, but with a particularly keen dream and determination to spread the practice to fertile American ground. His real world screw ups are pretty significant, but he does at least one thing right, with persistence, humor and real human connection, which is really just to be himself and share his hard-learned wisdom of self and emptiness and a lifetime of con ...more
Barry Lancet
Mar 05, 2012 Barry Lancet rated it it was amazing
This intriguing biography charts the rise of one thread of Japanese Zen Buddhism in the United States through the story of the “other Suzuki.” Shunryu Suzuki is known to countless readers as the author of the modern spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. He began his studies in a rigid monastery in Japan, and realized his only chance to practice Zen as he believed it should be practiced was to flee to the United States. Eventually, he was sent by his order to establish a temple in San Fran ...more
Ryan Kovacsik
Feb 16, 2015 Ryan Kovacsik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable biography about the life and zen teachings of the Soto Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi. An educational and fascinating glimpse into some of the history of religion in Japan, especially Buddhism, specifically Zen, and what it was like to grow up and live in Zen monasteries as a monk in the early to mid 20th century. Also got a strong feeling of the overall emotional climate in Japan through the second world war. Getting a feel for what it was like as Zen was just taking off in Amer ...more
An honest, informative, inspiring, and highly readable biography of a fascinating and wise man. I enjoyed this book so much! I didn't know much about Shunryu Suzuki beyond "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind", but after having read this, I really have a sense of who he was, deep down as a human being, and the magnitude of his wisdom and his importance within the teaching of Zen Buddhism. I would easily recommend this book to anyone, regardless if they were interested in Zen or not, simply because it is su ...more
Charlie Sanjaya
Feb 11, 2016 Charlie Sanjaya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Crooked Cucumber is the book that recovers my barely existent spiritual life. As a biography, this book does not merely successfully tell the interesting life of Suzuki-roshi, one of the most important figure who plants the seed of zen buddhism in American soil but also full of many lessons worthy to be contemplated in life. It was not unusual for me to stop in the middle of my reading to appreciate the beauty of the lesson I learnt from Suzuki-roshi.

Props also should be given to David Chadwick
Wendy G
Oct 28, 2013 Wendy G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only complaint about "Crooked Cucumber" is that it tends to deify Master Shunryu Suzuki; the author repeats the same kinds of "Suzuki had this mystical effect on people and they were so moved" kind of trope. I know it is easy to do this with Zen Masters, but it gets exhausting in the text. Otherwise, I loved reading this personal and practice history of the great modern teacher of Japanese-style Zen Buddhism. Suzuki's "Not Always So" and "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" are two of my favorite book ...more
Sep 20, 2015 Abhishek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Biographies unlike autobiographies are hard to pin down. A complete stranger to the subject can come across as too hands off while a close confidante can come across as biased. This book tries to balance the latter position by presenting scenes through eyes and memories of many people but still it carries a sense of hero worship about its subject, which is not unfounded. The world is a better place because of this writing. All seekers and especially zen and life fans will find it inspiring and i ...more
Stephen Milano
So, if you are into some great observations and memories of Shunryu Suzuki, (from one of his students) than this is an enjoyable book. Some good glimpses into the father of American Soto Zen Buddhism.
Ray Noyes
Nov 15, 2016 Ray Noyes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an old favourite of mine that never ceases to fascinate me. Suzuki's story is an inspiring one for anyone studying Zen, especially Soto Zen. His well-known Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is given a fresh context by this biography. Suzuki not only brought traditional Zen to San Francisco, he managed to adapt it to Western tastes without diluting or distorting its fundamental base. He trod in the path of Yasutani Roshi but resisted the use of koans, focusing uniquely on Zazen as his practice. A ...more
Kathy Nieder
This book was recommended to me by a friend and it kept my attention. Suzuki lead an interesting life and died much too young. The book would have been tighter and more interesting by being 50 - 100 pages shorter. Mr. Chadwick included administrative details of Suzuki's life as well as observational details that were unnecessary to the story and interrupted the flow. He should have better explained the difference between different sects of Buddhism, as Suzuki's students studied under different m ...more
Jan 16, 2011 Nate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism, zen, biography
I learned a lot about this Zen Buddhist priest's life, vision, and his relationships with masters, family, students and disciples in Japan and then later in life, in America. A flawed but humble individual who really embodied the tradition that he was devoted to. I found a lot of similarities in his exposition of Zen practice with aspects of monastic-influenced Christian prayer and attitude toward creation. Zen also has a lot of application to the 12 steps. Very engaging book.
Aug 22, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it's been 10 years since I read this book, but I remember enjoying it very much. Zen Mind, Beginner Mind was always my favorite book about Zen Buddhism and I felt this biography added a dimension to Susuki's talks like nothing else could. There always seems to be the tendency to make religious figures larger than human life, but when we can successfully appreciate human wisdom without elevating it beyond what it is, it can have a healthier and more powerful impact.
Mar 26, 2016 Johnny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s said that the sign of a true master is that they are constantly reaffirming their humanity. Suzuki-roshi was a truly genuine master and Crooked Cucumber reaffirms his humanity throughout while simultaneously capturing the spirit of his deep wisdom. One of the most balanced and finest biographies of a spiritual teacher that I’ve read, of any tradition. Also an important chronicle of the history of Buddhism in America.
Enrique Valdivia
May 30, 2010 Enrique Valdivia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a fan of biographies generally and a recent devotee of zazen, it comes as no surprise that I like this book quite a lot. Suzuki is depicted warts and all, an all too human man of his times who was at times a poor husband, father and friend. His gifts it seems were his ability to connect with the Americans he met in San Francisco in the 60s and render the dharma in eloquent English making it accessible to a new Western audience.
Feb 20, 2015 Liliana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great story well told about the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in the United States. First half is Japan and second half is America. Non-jargony exploration of Zen and its history. I enjoyed it and a lot of things about Zen Buddhism started to make more sense. Also about the founding of Tassajara monastery on the West coast. Recommended.
Jan 30, 2012 J rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
I read Chadwick's first book and loved it, so I sought out his other books. I hadn't really heard about Sunryo Suzuki before. After reading this, I feel like I met him, though briefly. Watched him perform a service or conduct a zazen session. I can't reconcile the different sides of the man, of course, but Chadwick is good at presenting the inconsistencies and letting them sit.
Ed Emmons
Oct 28, 2012 Ed Emmons rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A vivid account of the reality of zen student/master. The relation to WWII as a monastic is presented with minimal bias, showing Suzuki's humanity. Helpful to realize that all people held in high regard do have similar feet of clay.
Apr 23, 2012 Naomi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism, sfzc
David Chadwick does it again! Masterful storytelling, and wonderful insight into Suzuki Roshi's life and teachings. A gem of a book, packed with teachings and wisdom. I thoroughly enjoyed Chadwick's presentation of the subject.
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David Chadwick (born 1945) grew up in Texas and moved to California to study Zen as a student of Shunryu Suzuki in 1966. Chadwick was ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1971, shortly before Suzuki's death. He assisted in the operation of the San Francisco Zen Center for a number of years.

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