David Chadwick's biography Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, is a flip-book of glimpses of a monk who, like a snowflake triggering an avalanche, brought one form of Buddhism to thousands of Americans when he came to the United States in 1959. And also like an avalanche, the cascade that Suzuki created spread and slowed and eventually settled the landscape into a new stability.
Crooked Cucumber follows Suzuki from his birth in Japan (1904) to his death by cancer in California (1971). The book is is full of anecdotes and encounters, many funny, many tragic. Suzuki stops by the highway to relieve himself and drops his false teeth down the embankment. He orders a double-meat hamburger at a fast-food joint and then trades it for a grilled cheese sandwich that his vegetarian companion has started eating.
And there are a plethora of delightful paradoxes. For example:
Even "Not always so" was not always so. It wasn't offered as a formula to cling to.
"There is no question," a student said, "because there is no answer. Whatever you say will not always be so. So I will just sit."
Suzuki shook his head.
"No?" the student said. "But you said ..."
"When I said it, it was true. When you said it, it was false."
I've dipped into Cucumber and read chunks; some day perhaps I'll plow linearly through it. Then again, maybe not. Suzuki himself rarely talked much about his life. When a student asked permission to print biographic material, Shunryu Suzuki said, "I'm not interested. I have no accurate record of my life, and I don't want any."