Before ever encountering anything about Korean Buddhism, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was the first Buddhist book I ever read. It really touched something inside that didn’t even know it was waiting for this teaching. Simple, clear, elegantly profound, and centered strongly around the point that we need did to sit, above any conceptual understanding – – these impressions drove me to attempt to begin meditation within weeks after graduating from university.
I often say to people that, after graduating from following the syllabus of this professor or that for four years, the very first book I voluntarily chose to read off a bookcase was that classic. And it changed my life forever. I was really, really waiting for it.
I still only recommend reading in Zen books on very, very rare occasions. (In fact, I try much harder to dissuade people from entering the Thicket and weeds of any further conceptual understanding, much more so involving Zen!)
Yet, when pushed strongly, I’ll only suggest a reading if someone has a particular need, or can’t have access to a teacher, and asks me for some recommendation. That book is one of only three books I will ever recommend in Zen, for beginners especially. (The other is definitely Dropping Ashes on the Buddha — first and foremost as the only modern Zen book that truly stays away from conceptual understanding and delivers the student, instead, directly to “don’t know“ on each and every occasion available, and maybe The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma — Red Pine’s excellent translation.)
That’s it. But more even than any of these titles, the “book“ that I recommend with greatest vigor is the “book“ located at the end of your mind, The book so few are willing to take a real crack at.
But I always am grateful to Suzuki Roshi for having opened the doorway to Zen. You could say he was my first Teacher in Dharma. I feel profound gratitude and affection for him.