Book & Product Reviews · Self Help

Designing Your Work Life

Designing Your Work Life

Summary

The book Designing Your Work Life was written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Prior to reading this book the authors had written Designing Your Life, which I read, and it peaked my interest in reading this book. I have the hard cover version of the book and it is a great example of what a high quality book should look like. The print quality and font size are excellent.  Most of us struggle with our work from time to time, and our first instinct is to bail, you know get me the hell out of here. The authors provide some techniques on how you can salvage your current job by re-framing how you look at your work, and maybe more important empowering you to make changes to your job to make it more enjoyable. I’m actually looking at a list I created from the book called the Hydra Overwhelm List and Solutions, where I looked at things that were bothering me and sucking all the fun out of my job. In this list you write down the job activity that you have issues with, a possible solution, and whether you will eliminate that activity or change it. Mind you this is only one of the many tools and techniques they offer up that help you turn misery into something approaching joy at work.

In the event that you just can’t redesign your job, or you are in a situation where you work for a complete asshole, they also offer some excellent advise on how to quit the right way, and how to move on and find a new job. They even offer up some very good advice for those of us who might be interested in being self employed. The hardcover version of the book is 292 pages, so it’s not a terribly long read and each chapter is of reasonable length.

 

What I liked about this book

If you like aspects of your job, but hate or dislike some of the things you do, then this book may provide ways that you can not only salvage your current job, but redesign it into something you really enjoy. That alone is motivation to read this book if you are struggling on a day to day basis and losing sleep over your work. The authors come from a design background, so as in their previous book they utilize design practices to approach problems. One example of a design principle they use has to do with challenging your belief and then re-framing it. For instance you might re-frame like this:

Dysfunctional Belief: It’s not working for me here.

Re-frame as: You can make it work (almost) anywhere.

 

What did I dislike about this book

Seriously there is not a lot to dislike about the book. While the technique of re-framing will help you see things in a different light, there are times when that just won’t help you in a truly miserable situation. Your employer may vehemently resist your attempts to change your job to better fit your interests. Even with that said the authors understand that there are situations where invoking the exit strategy is the best thing for your piece of mind. The chapter on Being Your Own Boss is only 23 pages long, and while it has some useful information you will need to read and learn a lot of other things that are not covered in that chapter.

 

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book to those of you who struggle with various aspects of your work. I was able through my Hydra Overwhelm List, and some re-framing techniques to address most of the things that were causing the most pain, and ultimately find greater job satisfaction. I also found the authors advice on preparing to leave an employer and find a new job very valuable. One of the hopeful things that I got out of this book was that you have more control than you think, and some of the things you felt you had no control over were simply not true. On the other hand if you love your job, you may find the book offers little, but from the statistics I have read the majority of people are unengaged or actively disengaged at work. Here are some stats from a Gallop poll:

If your workforce is typical, about one-third of your employees are actively engaged, according to a recent Gallup poll. The poll found that nearly half, or 49 percent, are disengaged while 18 percent are actively disengaged. (Mar 17, 2016)

 

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase the eBook (eBooks.com) version of this book at:

Designing Your Work Life

About the Authors

Bill Burnett
Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford, Adjunct Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford

After years of drawing cars and airplanes under his Grandmother’s sewing machine, Bill Burnett went off to the University and discovered, much to his surprise, that there were people in the world who did this kind of thing everyday (without the sewing machine) and they were called designers. Thirty years, five companies, and a couple of thousand students later Bill is still drawing and building things, teaching others how to do the same, and quietly enjoying the fact that no one has discovered that he is having too much fun.

Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford. He directs the undergraduate and graduate program in design at Stanford, both interdepartmental programs between the Mechanical Engineering department and the Art department. He got his BS and MS in Product Design at Stanford and has worked professionally on a wide variety of projects ranging from award-winning Apple PowerBooks to the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents, and design awards for a variety of products including the first “slate” computer. In addition to his duties at Stanford, he is a on the Board of VOZ (pronounced “VAWS – it means voice in Spanish) a social responsible high fashion startup and advises several Internet start-up companies.

Dave Evans
Lecturer, Product Design Program at Stanford, Management Consultant, and co-founder of Electronic Arts

From saving the seals to solving the energy crisis, from imagining the first computer mice to redefining software — Dave’s been on a mission, including helping others to find theirs. Starting at Stanford with dreams of following Jacques Cousteau as a marine biologist, Dave realized (a bit late) that he was lousy at it and shifted to mechanical engineering with an eye on the energy problem. After four years in alternative energy, it was clear that this idea’s time hadn’t come yet. So while en route to biomedical engineering, Dave accepted an invitation to work for Apple, where he led product marketing for the mouse team and introduced laser printing to the masses. When Dave’s boss at Apple left to start Electronic Arts, Dave joined as the company’s first VP of Talent, dedicated to making “software worthy of the minds that use it.”

Having participated in forming the corporate cultures at Apple and EA, Dave decided his best work was in helping organizations build creative environments where people could do great work and love doing it. So he went out on his own; working with start-up teams, corporate executives, non-profit leaders, and countless young adults. They were all asking the same question. “What should I do with my life?” Helping people get traction on that question finally took Dave to Cal and Stanford and continues to be his life’s work.

Dave holds a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford and a graduate diploma in Contemplative Spirituality from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Book & Product Reviews · Philosophy

The Daily Stoic

 

The Daily Stoic

Overview

The Daily Stoic written by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman provides a quote for each day of the year, by one of the great stoics. Along with each quote is an analysis by the authors, which is useful in gaining a better understanding of what the stoic was trying to convey. The vast majority of the stoic quotes in this book come from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. The authors not only cite who the quote came from, but also the source such as a book or letters, and each month has a theme such as awareness, problem solving, or duty. Just to give you an example, I am writing this book review on March 15th and the quote for that day is:

Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.14

Now that’s a quote that Eckhart Tolle would have been proud to have written.

What did I like about this book?

I really enjoy starting my day with a quote from one of the great stoic philosophers and this book provides that dose of wisdom and inspiration to reflect on. I happen to have the hard copy version of the book and it is a very good example of what a book should be, with each day fitting on individual pages, and excellent print quality. I even enjoy the commentary provided by the authors; it is generally spot on and adds to the experience. I don’t have any criticisms regarding this book, so let’s just skip the What I didn’t like about this book section.

Recommendation

How can you not like a book that you can read everyday, year after year, and is so incredibly inspirational. I love this book so much that it inspired me to purchase Marcus Aurelius Meditations, Seneca Letters from a Stoic, and The Complete Works of Epictetus. I highly recommend this book for anyone that has any interest in philosophy or wants to learn more about the stoics. Purchase it today, I mean now, don’t procrastinate, this is likely to be one of those top 10 books you ever read.

Namaste

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase the eBook (eBooks.com) version of this book at:

The Daily Stoic

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Stillness Is The Key by Ryan Holiday – book review

Stillness Is the Key

Overview

I recently came across the book by Ryan Holiday called “Stillness Is The Key”. I listened to this book via Audible, which took about 7 hours and is narrated by the author who does a very good job. The hardcover version of the book is 288 pages long, and can be acquired at Amazon for less than $15. I became interested in Ryan Holiday by watching some of his videos on YouTube, he has a channel called The Daily Stoic, so I thought I would check out this book. Actually he is a very popular author, media consultant, and entrepreneur appearing on many other people’s YouTube channels. He has several books that he has written and I will be reviewing another of his books in the near future.

If you are new to reading my book reviews, you will notice that I don’t provide lengthy descriptions of the content of the book. One of the reasons I do this is as not to spoil it for you, and another reason is that I am more interested in writing about what I perceive is the value of the book for the reader. You might also notice that almost every book I review on this site is one that I would recommend and that is because the name of this site is Inspirationalbookreviews.com not Wasteoftimebookreviews.com.

What I liked about this book

Everything!

Seriously this is a well written book citing very interesting stories about people like Tiger Woods, John F. Kennedy, and Mr. Fred Rogers, Winston Churchill just to name a few. Each chapter delves into a method for obtaining what he calls stillness, or maybe a sense of calm where rationale thinking can thrive. It also has a number of chapters that provide ideas on how you can enrich your life, but always returns to the theme of how to obtain stillness or in some cases how it was lost. There are also a lot of great quotes by the stoics such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. This should be no surprise if you’ve watched any of his YouTube videos, as Ryan is a big fan of Stoicism. Here is a partial list of some of the chapters in the book:

  • Become Present
  • Limit Your Inputs
  • Slow Down, Think Deeply
  • Empty The Mind
  • Start Journaling
  • Choose Virtue
  • Enough

What I didn’t like about this book

Loved it all and I just wish it could have been 1,000 pages long.

Recommendation

Go out an buy it today! This is an excellent book that I intend to read or listen to again and again. In this busy world where we are all driving ourselves crazy, this book offers the antidote to chaos. This book isn’t some self help bullshit that is intended to fire you up and motivate you to do more with your life. In fact it is quite the opposite, offering insights on how to calm yourself, focus, play, and begin enjoying your life.

 

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase the eBook (eBooks.com) version of this book at:

Stillness Is the Key

About the Author

Ryan Holiday (born June 16, 1987) is an American author, marketer, entrepreneur and founder of the creative advisory firm Brass Check. He is a media strategist, the former director of marketing for American Apparel and a media columnist and editor-at-large for the New York Observer.

Early career
Holiday began his professional career after dropping out of college at the age of 19. He briefly attended University of California, Riverside, where he studied political science and creative writing. He worked for Tucker Max, the controversial fratire author, to orchestrate a number of controversial media stunts including a boycott of Max’s work as part of a movie launch. Later, Holiday worked with Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, on Greene’s 2009 New York Times bestselling book, The 50th Law. Holiday served as Director of Marketing for American Apparel and as an adviser to founder Dov Charney. He left the company in October 2014. He has been responsible for a number of media stunts, and written extensively on the topic of media manipulation.

Writing
Holiday is the author of several books and has written for Forbes, Fast Company, The Huffington Post, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Guardian, Thought Catalog, Medium.com and the New York Observer, where he is the media columnist.

In July 2012, his first book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator was released by Portfolio/Penguin. The book tries to expose flaws in current online journalism system and catalogs the author’s exploitation of them. It debuted on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. His second book Growth Hacker Marketing was originally published in September 2013 by Portfolio/Penguin and then expanded into a print edition in 2014. The book shows how traditional marketing efforts (billboards, press releases) are no longer the most effective, and why growth hacking is cheaper and more effective in today’s market. The book was named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 10 marketing books of 2014.

In February 2014, Holiday was named editor-at-large of the Business & Technology section at the New York Observer.

Holiday’s third book The Obstacle Is The Way, was published May 1, 2014, also by Portfolio/Penguin. The book is based on the Stoic exercise of framing obstacles as opportunities. The book has sold more than 230,000 copies and was read by the New England Patriots during their 2014 Super Bowl-winning season, as well as distributed through the locker room of the Seattle Seahawks in the following offseason. The Obstacle Is the Way reached #1 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List in 2019, five years after its initial release. Two-time NBA Champion Chris Bosh listed The Obstacle Is the Way as his favorite book and added that, when his head coach Erik Spoelstra gifted Miami Heat players copies of the book, Bosh had already read it twice. During a press conference at the Masters in 2019, four-time major champion golfer Rory McIlroy said he read The Obstacle Is the Way as well as Holiday’s following book, Ego Is the Enemy, leading up to the tournament.

In 2016, he published two books. The first, Ego Is the Enemy, uses various historical figures as case studies to illustrate the perils of egotism. The second, The Daily Stoic, is a daily devotional of Stoic meditations. Both books went on to become best sellers with Daily Stoic reaching #3 overall on the bestseller list.

In 2018 he published Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue. It is about the lawsuit between Gawker Media and wrestler Hulk Hogan, as well as Peter Thiel’s involvement in the dispute. It was favorably reviewed by William D. Cohan of the New York Times, who called the book, “one helluva page-turner.”

His latest book, Stillness Is the Key, was published in October 2019.

Stoicism
Holiday, through his books, articles and lectures, has been credited by the New York Times with the increasing popularity of stoicism. He was also described as “leading the charge for stoicism,” which has been noted for gaining traction among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

 

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Atomic Habits by James Clear – book review

Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits is a book written by James Clear and as you might guess it is about ways to create habits. I happened to opt for the Audible version of this book, which by the way is narrated by the author. It’s not a terribly long read or even listening to it on Audible is less than 6 hours. The paperback version is 205 pages long and is $6 more expensive than the hardcover version on Amazon, which just doesn’t seem right.

What I liked about this book:

The premise behind the book is that the small (atomic) habits you adopt in your life have a major impact on your happiness and success in life. The author explores the psychology that underlies the adoption of a new habit and provides a number of proven approaches to adopting them. The author claims that it is not how long you have been working on a new habit, but instead the number of repetitions. An example would be say I want to take up playing guitar and once a week I practice playing guitar, so over the course of a month I would have put in 4 repetitions. Contrast this to practicing every day and over the course of two weeks I have practiced 14 times. Another interesting tip was to start very small or as the author says make it easy. With this method you would perform a new habit as little as 2 minutes. Now anyone can do a new habit for 2 minutes, but the psychology here is that it makes it easier to stick with it starting out with these small intervals. Anyone can run, practice guitar, workout with weights, keep a journal, or meditate for 2 minutes. What happens over time is you begin to extend that time period as you have already established a habit. Let’s say I go to the gym and start out doing 2 minutes of exercise, pretty soon you say well I took the time to get dressed and drive to the gym, maybe I can do more. The idea here is that I didn’t try to take a monumental leap from not working out to working out for an hour, and I will be less likely to quit before my workouts become a full fledged habit. There are many more techniques explored in this book that I won’t go into that will help you establish and stick with any new habits that you would like to adopt in your life.

What I didn’t like about this book:

While I was very interested in how to build new habits, I was also interested on how to get rid of some of my bad habits. While the author has a chapter on eliminating bad habits, much of that chapter is focused on creating good habits, so I didn’t get a lot of insights on how I might eliminate a bad habit. About all that was said is understand the negative ramifications of a bad habit and focus on the benefits of getting rid of it. Been there, done that!

Recommendation:

Overall I would give this book a thumbs up! There are so many good techniques for building a habit in this book that you are bound take something away from it that you can use yourself to create new habits. The author also goes into great detail on not only how to create a habit, but how to make it stick. One of the assertions the author makes is that it is much more important to learn to love the process or system that you are pursuing than just setting goals. While goals are great, they are not doing. It is more important to take action and fall in love with the idea of gaining some form of mastery than whatever the goal might be. The book did inspire me to pursue some new habits for myself which include:

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase this book at:

eBooks.com

Atomic Habits

Audiobooks.com

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

About the Author James Clear:

Hi there, I’m James Clear. I’m an American author, entrepreneur, and photographer. I’m also the guy behind JamesClear.com (naturally).

This website is the home of my life’s work. I write about habits and human potential. The central question I’m trying to answer through my work is, “How can we live better?”

In order to answer that question, I uncover the latest scientific research and explain it in a way that you can easily understand and actually use. As I share these science-based ideas for living a better life, I like to showcase the habits and rituals of athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs. By analyzing the stories of top performers from many different fields and understanding proven scientific principles, we can start to tease out the common characteristics that make these people the best at what they do.

My specific focus is on self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

I believe the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there. If you get yourself sorted out, then that is one less person for the world to worry about. You’ll be in a position to contribute rather than consume. You will add order rather than disorder.

I write about the art and science of how to live better. Science because I am concerned with the root causes of our behavior and the data behind high performance. Art because I want to figure out how to apply these ideas and put them into daily practice.

But I don’t merely write about things. Along the way, I like to try out the concepts for myself as I experiment with building better habits as an entrepreneur, writer, and weightlifter. In the end, my work ends up being one-part storytelling, one-part academic research, one-part personal experiment. It’s a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, hard-earned wisdom.

Source: https://jamesclear.com/about

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – book review

The Fountainhead

Overview:

The Fountainhead was written in 1943 by Ayn Rand who has to be one of my top 5 authors. I have read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged another Ayn Rand novel several times. More recently I have both books available on Audible. There are several key characters in this novel, but the most notable is Howard Roark who is an architect. Howard is the focal point of the book for his individualist character and the love he possesses for his work. As with Atlas Shrugged this novel pits the individualist (capitalist) against those that feel there is little meaning to life and everything should be shared (socialist). Like all of Ayn Rand’s novels there is this good vs. evil plot being played out, or you might look at it as conventional vs. innovative when referring to the central theme of architecture. I won’t give away the details of the plot or how it ends, but I can guarantee you will enjoy reading or listening to this book.

If you have Audible beware that this is a very long book and is over 32 hours. The narration is incredible as the narrator changes their voice for various characters, making it much easier to listen to. Ayn Rand does an incredible job of creating compelling characters with all their virtues and flaws. As I mentioned the key character Howard Roark is what the author would call the ideal man. A man of virtue, dedicated to his work, and idealistic.

Recommendation:

As you can probably tell I loved it. There is nothing in this book not to like and while it is a substantial investment in terms of the time to read it (752 pages), you will not be disappointed. Due to the quality of the narration and the fact that it is a novel, where much of it consists of dialog it really lends itself to the audio book format. If you choose to listen to it on Audible the version I listened to had Christopher Hurt as the narrator. While the underlying theme in this novel is philosophical, it is also entertaining and most of the characters are somewhat complex, making it fun to read.

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase this book at:

eBooks.com

The Fountainhead

Audiobooks.com

Fountainhead

A little bit about the Author

(source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand)

Ayn Rand born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum; February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American writer and philosopher. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she named Objectivism. Educated in Russia, she moved to the United States in 1926. She had a play produced on Broadway in 1935 and 1936. After two early novels that were initially unsuccessful, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. In 1957, Rand published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own periodicals and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.

Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism and rejected altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights, including property rights. In art, Rand promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and classical liberals.

Literary critics received Rand’s fiction with mixed reviews and academia generally ignored or rejected her philosophy, though academic interest has increased in recent decades. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings. She has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Stop Doing That Sh*t by Gary Bishop – Book Review

Stop Doing That Sh*t

I believe this is the latest book by Gary John Bishop and it’s called “Stop Doing That Sh*t“. If you read my book review of UnFu*k Yourself you know how much I enjoy Gary’s writing. UnFu*k Yourself was focused on our internal self talk and the author provided 8 rules or tenants for living a better life; helping you to begin steering your ship in the right direction. This book Stop Doing That Sh*t takes us in a different direction. Mind you it doesn’t invalidate what Gary Bishop wrote about in UnFu*k Yourself, but after listening to it a couple times it really complements it.

As I mentioned I’ve listened to this book a couple times now and found it fascinating and of course very entertaining. Gary John Bishop has a great Scottish accent and a no holds barred style of writing that gives it to you in a raw language that is easy to interpret. Basically I think his style and because he narrates the book himself make it a great candidate for an audio book. So what is this book about? Gary makes a case that the past is driving all your current and future behavior. I know at first I balked at this as I pride myself as someone who cares little about the past and rarely thinks about it. You might think the past has no hold over you, but think about what your believe and the way you act and you begin to understand that the past is running your subconscious mind. It dictates what you value, your relationships, what you think about money, and causes you to repeat behavior patterns, mostly the shitty ones.

For myself I started to realize while I don’t consciously think about the past it has molded me for both good and bad. He goes on to elaborate on the three saboteurs:

  1. You
  2. Them
  3. Life

So what you think about yourself and your limitations, how you view other people, and your outlook on life. The remainder of the book provides some insights on how you can address these three saboteurs and make some constructive change in  your life. I won’t spool it for you, but the last couple chapters give you some insights into how you can start to turn things around.

I highly recommend this book, and I recommend reading or listening to it at least a couple times, because it takes a while to really understand and come to some acceptance of the premise. You might just begin to understand how much you are sabotaging your own life and more importantly why.

Namaste

 

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase this book at:

eBooks.com

Stop Doing That Sh*t

Audiobooks.com

Stop Doing That Sh*t: End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life Back

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Review

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a book by Shunryu Suzuki a Japanese author and Zen Master. I have been studying Zen Buddhism for the past year or so and attempting to sit in the Zen meditation style of Zazen. Having read a number of books on Zen, with some of them bordering on boring me to death, I felt compelled to write a book review on Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

I have listened to the Audible version of this book probably 20 times now as I find it so simple and at the same time so profound. For those of you who like Audio books this one is narrated by Peter Coyote who does an excellent job, making it a joy to listen to. Instead of the somewhat severe dogma and focus on enlightenment, Shunryu Suzuki focuses on just practicing and provides many hints on good practice and bad practice. One of the interesting themes in the book is the idea that you should not have a goal for your practice. You should not be driven by some ego or feeling that my practice is to achieve something, instead you should just practice. This may be counter intuitive for many of us who view Zen as a path to enlightenment or something we can tell our friends and families about with some idea that we are better than everyone else.

According to Shunryu Suzuki there is no one way to practice and there is no school of Zen Buddhism that is superior to any other. In fact he states that at his temple he does not consider them to be a particular school of Zen; they are just Buddhists. I think you will find this book extremely refreshing compared to something like the 3 Pillars of Zen, which is a fine book but is so prescriptive as to seem unattainable for us mere mortals. As a hard copy book I believe it is less than 150 pages, and as an Audible book it is about 3 hours long. Don’t let the brevity of this work dissuade you from checking it out.

Recommendation

There is a lot of joy in listening to or reading this book. Each page will bring new insights into your mind and will inspire your own Buddhist practice, especially if you have an interest in Zen. I loved this book so much that when I get off track in my life, I listen to it again and it helps to center me and gets me back on my cushion to meditate. As you might be able to tell I highly recommend this book. I hope you will take a leap of faith and purchase this book and subsequently enjoy it as much as I have.

 

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase this book at:

eBooks.com

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

About the Author

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunry%C5%AB_Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki (鈴木 俊隆 Suzuki Shunryū, dharma name Shōgaku Shunryū 祥岳俊隆, often called Suzuki Roshi; May 18, 1904 – December 4, 1971) was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, and is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia (Tassajara Zen Mountain Center). Suzuki founded San Francisco Zen Center which, along with its affiliate temples, comprises one of the most influential Zen organizations in the United States. A book of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West.[1][2][3]

Shunryu Suzuki was born May 18, 1904, in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, Japan.[4] His father, Butsumon Sogaku Suzuki, was the abbot of the village Soto Zen temple.[4] His mother, Yone, was the daughter of a priest and had been divorced from her first husband for being too independent. Shunryu grew up with an older half-brother from his mother’s first marriage and two younger sisters. As an adult he was about 4 feet 11 inches (1.5 m) tall.[5]

His father’s temple, Shōgan-ji, was located near Hiratsuka, a city on Sagami Bay about fifty miles southwest of Tokyo. The temple income was small and the family had to be very thrifty.[4]

When Suzuki entered school he became aware that his family was very poor. Suzuki was sensitive and kind but prone to quick bursts of anger. The other boys ridiculed him for his shaved head and for being the son of a priest. He preferred staying in the classroom to playing in the schoolyard, and was always at the top of his class. His teacher told him that he should grow up to be a great man, and to do this he needed to leave Kanagawa Prefecture and study hard.

Apprenticeship

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In 1916, 12-year-old Suzuki decided to train with a disciple of his father, Gyokujun So-on Suzuki.[4] So-on was Sogaku’s adopted son and abbot of Sokagu’s former temple Zoun-in. His parents initially thought he was too young to live far from home but eventually allowed it.

Zoun-in is in a small village called Mori, Shizuoka in Japan. Suzuki arrived during a 100-day practice period at the temple and was the youngest student there. Zoun-in was a larger temple than Shōgan-ji.

At 4:00 each morning he arose for zazen. Next he would chant sutras and begin cleaning the temple with the others. They would work throughout the day and then, in the evenings, they all would resume zazen. Suzuki idolized his teacher, who was a strong disciplinarian. So-on often was rough on Suzuki but gave him some latitude for being so young.

When Suzuki turned 13, on May 18, 1917, So-on ordained him as a novice monk (unsui).[4] He was given the Buddhist name Shogaku Shunryu,[4] yet So-on nicknamed him Crooked Cucumber for his forgetful and unpredictable nature.

Shunryu began again attending upper-elementary school in Mori, but So-on did not supply proper clothes for him. He was the subject of ridicule. In spite of his misfortune he didn’t complain. Instead he doubled his efforts back at the temple.

When Shunryu had first come to Zoun-in, eight other boys were studying there. By 1918, he was the only one who stayed. This made his life a bit tougher with So-on, who had more time to scrutinize him. During this period Suzuki wanted to leave Zoun-in but equally didn’t want to give up.

In 1918 So-on was made head of a second temple, on the rim of Yaizu, called Rinso-in. Shunryu followed him there and helped whip the place back in order. Soon, families began sending their sons there and the temple began to come to life. Suzuki had failed an admissions test at the nearby school, so So-on began teaching the boys how to read and write Chinese.

So-on soon sent his students to train with a Rinzai master for a while. Here Shunryu studied a very different kind of Zen, one that promoted the attainment of satori through the concentration on koans through zazen. Suzuki had problems sitting with his koan. Meanwhile, all the other boys passed theirs, and he felt isolated. Just before the ceremony marking their departure Suzuki went to the Rinzai teacher and blurted out his answer. The master passed Suzuki; later Shunryu believed he had done it simply to be kind.

In 1919, at age 15, Suzuki was brought back home by his parents, who suspected mistreatment by So-on. Shunryu helped out with the temple while there and entered middle school. Yet, when summer vacation came, he was back at Rinso-in and Zoun-in with So-on to train and help out. He didn’t want to stop training.

In school Suzuki took English and did quite well. A local doctor, Dr. Yoshikawa, hired him to tutor his two sons in English. Yoshikawa treated Suzuki well, giving him a wage and occasional advice.

Higher education

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In 1924 Shunryu enrolled in a Soto preparatory school in Tokyo[4] not far from Shogan-ji, where he lived on the school grounds in the dorm. From 1925 to 1926 Suzuki did Zen training with Dojun Kato in Shizuoka at Kenko-in. He continued his schooling during this period. Here Shunryu became head monk for a 100-day retreat, after which he was no longer merely considered a novice. He had completed his training as a head monk.

In 1925 Shunryu graduated from preparatory school and entered Komazawa University, the Soto Zen university in Tokyo.[4] During this period he continued his connections with So-on in Zoun-in, going back and forth whenever possible.

Some of his teachers here were discussing how Soto Zen might reach a bigger audience with students and, while Shunryu couldn’t comprehend how Western cultures could ever understand Zen, he was intrigued.

On August 26, 1926, So-on gave Dharma transmission to Suzuki.[4] He was 22.[4] Shunryu’s father also retired as abbot at Shogan-ji this same year, and moved the family onto the grounds of Zoun-in where he served as inkyo (retired abbot).

Later that year Suzuki spent a short time in the hospital with tuberculosis, but soon recovered. In 1927 an important chapter in Suzuki’s life was turned. He went to visit a teacher of English he had at Komazawa named Miss Nona Ransom, a woman who had taught English to such people as the last emperor of China, Pu-yi, and more so his wife, the last empress of China, Jigoro Kano (the Founder of Judo), the children of Chinese president Li Yuanhong, and some members of the Japanese royal family. She hired him that day to be a translator and to help with errands. Through this period he realized she was very ignorant of Japanese culture and the religion of Buddhism. She respected it very little and saw it as idol worship. But one day, when there were no chores to be done, the two had a conversation on Buddhism that changed her mind. She even let Suzuki teach her zazen meditation. This experience is significant in that Suzuki realized that Western ignorance of Buddhism could be transformed.

On January 22, 1929, So-on retired as abbot of Zoun-in and installed Shunryu as its 28th abbot. Sogaku would run the temple for Shunryu. In January 1930 a ten’e ceremony was held at Zoun-in for Shunryu. This ceremony acknowledged So-on’s Dharma transmission to Shunryu, and served as a formal way for the Soto heads to grant Shunryu permission to teach as a priest. On April 10, 1930, at age 25, Suzuki graduated from Komazawa Daigakurin with a major in Zen and Buddhist philosophy, and a minor in English.

Suzuki mentioned to So-on during this period that he might be interested in going to America to teach Zen Buddhism. So-on was adamantly opposed to the idea. Suzuki realized that his teacher felt very close to him and that he would take such a departure as an insult. He did not mention it to him again.

Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Upon graduation from Komazawa, So-on wanted Shunryu to continue his training at the well known Soto Zen temple Eihei-ji in Fukui Prefecture. In September 1930 Suzuki entered the training temple and underwent the Zen initiation known as tangaryo. His mother and father stayed on at Zoun-in to care for his temple in his absence.

Eihei-ji is one of the largest Zen training facilities in Japan, and the abbot at this time was Gempo Kitano-roshi. Prior to coming to Japan, Kitano was head of Soto Zen in Korea. He also was one of the founders of Zenshuji, a Soto Zen temple located in Los Angeles, California. Suzuki’s father and Kitano had a tense history between them. Sogaku had trained with Kitano in his early Zen training and felt that he was such a high priest due to familial status and connections. Shunryu did not see this in Kitano, however. He saw a humble man who gave clear instruction, and Shunryu realized that his father was very wrong in his assessment.

Often monks were assigned duties at the monastery to serve certain masters. Shunryu was assigned to Ian Kishizawa-roshi, a well known teacher at the time who had previously studied under two great Japanese teachers: Sōtan Oka and Bokusan Nishiari. He was a renowned scholar on Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, and was also an acquaintance of his father from childhood.

Kishizawa was strict but not abusive, treating Suzuki well. Suzuki learned much from him, and Kishizawa saw a lot of potential in him. Through him Suzuki came to appreciate the importance of bowing in Zen practice through example. In December Suzuki sat his first true sesshin for 7 days, an ordeal that was challenging initially but proved rewarding toward the end. This concluded his first practice period at Eihei-ji.

In September 1931, after one more practice period and sesshin at Eihei-ji, So-on arranged for Suzuki to train in Yokohama at Sōji-ji. Sōji-ji was the other main Soto temple of Japan, and again Suzuki underwent the harsh tangaryo initiation. Sojiji was founded by the great Zen master Keizan and had a more relaxed atmosphere than Eihei-ji. At Sōji-ji Suzuki travelled back to Zoun-in frequently to attend to his temple.

In 1932 So-on came to Sōji-ji to visit with Shunryu and, after hearing of Suzuki’s contentment at the temple, advised him to leave it. In April of that year Suzuki left Sōji-ji with some regret and moved back into Zoun-in, living with his family there. In May he visited with Ian Kishizawa from Eiheiji and, with So-on’s blessing, asked to continue studies under him. He went to Gyokuden-in for his instruction, where Kishizawa trained him hard in zazen and conducted personal interviews with him.

Sometime during this period Suzuki married a woman who contracted tuberculosis. The date and name of the woman is unknown, but the marriage was soon annulled. She went back to live with her family while he focused on his duties at Zoun-in.

Suzuki reportedly was involved with some anti-war activities during World War II, but according to David Chadwick, the record is confusing and, at most, his actions were low-key.[6] However, considering the wholesale enthusiastic support for the war expressed by the entire religious establishment in Japan at the time, this fact is significant in showing something of the character of the man.

San Francisco Zen Center

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
On May 23, 1959, Shunryu Suzuki arrived in San Francisco to attend to Soko-ji, at that time the sole Soto Zen temple in San Francisco. He was 55.[4] Suzuki took over for the interim priest, Wako Kazumitsu Kato. Suzuki was taken aback by the Americanized and watered-down Buddhism practiced at the temple, mostly by older immigrant Japanese. He found American culture interesting and not too difficult to adjust to, even commenting once that “if I knew it would be like this, I would have come here sooner!” He was surprised to see that Sokoji was previously a Jewish synagogue (at 1881 Bush Street, now a historic landmark). His sleeping quarters were located upstairs, a windowless room with an adjoining office.

At the time of Suzuki’s arrival, Zen had become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. Particularly influential were several books on Zen and Buddhism by Alan Watts. Word began to spread about Suzuki among the beatniks through places like the San Francisco Art Institute and the American Academy of Asian Studies, where Alan Watts was once director. Kato had done some presentations at the Academy and asked Suzuki to come join a class he was giving there on Buddhism. This sparked Suzuki’s long-held desire to teach Zen to Westerners.

The class was filled with people wanting to learn more about Buddhism, and the presence of a Zen master was inspiring for them. Suzuki had the class do zazen for 20 minutes, sitting on the floor without a zafu and staring forward at the white wall. In closing, Suzuki invited everyone to stop in at Sokoji for morning zazen. Little by little, more people showed up each week to sit zazen for 40 minutes with Suzuki on mornings. The students were improvising, using cushions borrowed from wherever they could find them.

The group that sat with Suzuki eventually formed the San Francisco Zen Center with Suzuki. The Zen Center flourished so that in 1966, at the behest and guidance of Suzuki, Zentatsu Richard Baker helped seal the purchase of Tassajara Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest, which they called Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In the fall of 1969, they bought a building at 300 Page Street near San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood and turned it into a Zen temple. Suzuki left his post at Sokoji to become the first abbot of one of the first Buddhist training monasteries outside Asia. Suzuki’s departure from Sokoji was thought to be inspired by his dissatisfaction with the superficial Buddhist practice of the Japanese immigrant community and his preference for the American students who were more seriously interested in Zen meditation, but it was more at the insistence of the Sokoji board, which asked him to choose one or the other (he had tried to keep both roles). Although Suzuki thought there was much to learn from the study of Zen in Japan, he said that it had grown moss on its branches, and he saw his American students as a means to reform Zen and return it to its pure zazen- (meditation) and practice-centered roots.

Suzuki died on December 4, 1971, presumably from cancer[7].

Publications
A collection of his teishos (Zen talks) was published in 1970 in the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind during Suzuki’s lifetime.[8] His lectures on the Sandokai are collected in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, edited by Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger and published in 1999.[9] Edward Espe Brown edited Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen which was published in 2002.[10]

A biography of Suzuki, titled Crooked Cucumber, was written by David Chadwick in 1999.[11]