The information for Not Always So comes from the later lectures of Shunryu Suzuki and is compiled by one of his students, Edward Espe Brown. It is a companion piece to Suzukiís first book, Zen Mind, Beginnerís Mind, which was published in 1971 and quickly became an authoritative volume on Buddhism. With Suzukiís passing in December of 1971, Brown has done a valuable service by choosing and editing the best of his speeches which otherwise would be lost to future students of enlightenment.
Suzuki uses plain language mixed with humor to bring the hazy ideas of Zen into focus for those new to the precepts of that way of life. There is a comforting feeling of his leading the reader gently by the hand through unfamiliar territory. Without the prodding and pushing associated with some gurus, this trip into self-exploration is a pleasant one. He manages to make the reader feel as if his teachings are a revelation that has been under the surface of their consciousness just waiting for him to awaken it.
To the casual observer, Zen Buddhism may seem restrictive and regimented, but Suzuki explains it in such a way that the rules become guidelines on the path to freedom of thought and action. An invaluable part of the practice of Zen is the feedback a student receives from his or her teacher. According to Suzuki, the idea of a ďmistakeĒ made by a student does not really exist in a true teacher. While it may technically a mistake, it is at the same time an expression of the student's true nature. It is vital for the teacher to understand and respect the student's true nature. This reverence for the true nature of a person is a welcome relief from the required conformity of most religions and makes Zen Buddhism a comforting haven for many.
While the reader may not rush out and become a practicing Buddhist, the book provides many valuable lessons on the art of slowing down and enjoying life instead of rushing pell-mell through it oblivious to its beauty. Overall, Not Always So provides evidence that Shunryu Suzuki was a master at gentle guidance of souls seeking spiritual fulfillment. As such, the world has lost an invaluable teacher.