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Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,426 ratings  ·  74 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 of ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published February 8th 2000 by Harmony (first published February 9th 1999)
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I’ve just read 400 pages about a Buddhist monk? The subject matter seems like a snoozer, yet I was riveted. I had read two of Suzuki’s dharma books, which reveal something of his kind personality, but this biography which surveys his long training as a monk in Japan and his subsequent removal with his wife and son to America is a pleasure and a heartbreak.

American Zen has the advantage of not being weighed down by 15 centuries of tradition such as Suzuki Shunryu Suzuki went through in pre-WW2 Ja
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 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
Guttersnipe Das
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read "Not Always So", a book of Suzuki-roshi's teachings, so many times that it was finally just a pile of papers, with neither covers nor spine. I sought out this book hoping for more news of Suzuki, more dharma. As a long-term resident of Japan, student of this era, and earnest if hopeless dharma student, I expected to find many reasons to disapprove!

But, no, this is simply an astonishingly good book: as a glimpse at Japan before and during the war, as a record of the coming of Zen to Ameri
Sep 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Maurice Halton
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An insightful biography of a twentieth-century Japanese Zen Buddhist cleric whose experiences of Japanese imperialism and the USA 1960s cultural rebellion as characterised by the “beat generation” seem to have reinforced his philosophy of nonduality as well as confirming his faith in Zazen – the practice of sitting meditation. The book also reveals Shunryu Suzuki’s human failings; his occasional outbursts of emotion, especially when his students failed to grasp the essence of his teaching; “just ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Connie Kronlokken
What a wonderful visit with Shunryu Suzuki. Chadwick has paired all the stories he could find about Suzuki with Suzuki's own words, illustrating his teaching. A life rooted in physicality. Suzuki was always either cleaning something, sitting zazen or working in his garden. With little talk and more action, Suzuki created the long-lasting Zen Center, Tassajara and Green Gulch Farms in northern California. His teaching, wary of absolutes and religious feeling, is very much home to me.
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
May 08, 2014 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Kathy Nieder
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Sarah McAleer
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best spiritual biographies ever - insight into the life of a rare spiritual pioneer in America - Zen Master Suzuki Roshi.
Susan Oleksiw
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Chadwick's biography of Shunryu Suzuki is an intimate and affectionate portrait of his teacher that attempts to show the zen master in full. The reader sees Suzuki's occasional impatience and frustration along with his devotion to his students; his failures as a parent as well as his attempts to rectify his mistakes; his willingness to follow along with ambitious plans as well as his failure to head off errors of omission that might have made things flow more smoothly. Nevertheless, the story of ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sitting zazen takes patience. So does this book. In the end, both are worth the endeavor.

The first half, based on the author's interviews with key people in Suzuki-Roshi's early life in Japan, seemed a bit tedious. By the second half, however, everything rolls. The inimitable lovability of this Zen master comes through. The characters--reflecting the author's personal experience of them--become more real, and Suzuki-Roshi's accomplishments during his short time in America (roughly 12 years until
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book. Chadwick was a student of Suzuki and this is clearly a heartfelt story for him. The first half or so deals with Suzuki’s life in Japan before he came to America and gives a good feel for what life was in that era for a somewhat small time Zen priest in Japan before, during and after World War II; the second half for the most part is the history of the founding and early years of the San Francisco Zen Center, up to Suzuki’s death.

Chadwick clearly admires Suzuki to the po
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
After having read "Not Always So"; I thought this book would have more teaching in it. But, because is is an autobiography, it was more about Shunryu Suzuki's life. It was most moving, the difficulties and trials that he went through. And I want to thank Shunryu Suzuki for bringing Zen teaching to America!!! Because I am a mental health counselor, I especially appreciate it. I am also in a Meditation/Spiritual Group with Zen teachings. This book was a great way to get to know the teacher behind ...more
Naomi Ayala
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Early in the book, I felt bogged down by the narrative and almost gave up. At one point I felt that, if I'd personally known Suzuki, the b00k may have held more meaning for me. That feeling, however, faded as I became enwrapped in learning about the details of Suzuki's amazing life journey and his teaching. This is an intimate and balanced portrait. I finished not only deeply grateful for having read this book but also for the amazing amount of research that clearly went into its making. Thank y ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really insightful biography of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's life. Not a literate masterpiece, but it does cover an incredible amount of detail, from his early life in Japan to his founding of the San Francisco Zen Center and the Tassajara Retreat. He was not taken very seriously by his peers in Japan, but his success in the United States really surprised everyone. It provides an insight into the state of Zen Buddhism in Japan.
Scott F
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book, the detail and scope is fantastic. It functions both as a biography of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and also as a book on the path of Zen to the West during the last century. There are many passages included from Suzuki Roshi's lectures which are very good to read and it's just a very nice book that is clearly very dear to the author, David Chadwick, who studied at the San Francisco Zen Center under Shunryu Suzuki and Danin Katagiri. THis book is thoroughly recommended and is ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A delightful and charming biography. It was particularly interesting to read about how Zen Buddhist was established in the West, in comparison to what I know of the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism in the west. I laughed out loud on many occasions while reading this, and have taken away some particularly pithy and humourous teachings.
John Stepper
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lovely. Gave me a greater appreciation for the man and his teachings, and a deeper understanding too. It humanized Suzuki, showing his imperfections in many stories, and that somehow makes him and his teaching even more accessible.
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was a very interesting and entertaining view into a great man's life. I would definitely tell others about this wonderful book.
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: shambhala
Incredibly moving biography of an incredibly important human who brought Zen to the West. Feeling very tender after reading this. Thanks, Roshi! <3 ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Refer back to it often
Apr 30, 2014 rated it really liked it

But there is no need for you to seek for anything. You have plenty, and you have just enough problems. This is a mysterious thing, you know, the mystery of life. We have just enough problems, not too many or too few.

Here we have the biography of Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese Zen master who popularised Zazen in the West in the 1960s, written by one of his disciples. I haven't read many books on Zen - only Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's T
Mar 06, 2013 added it
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
Jun 14, 2014 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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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