Excerpted from "Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen." Copyright 2002 by San Francisco Zen Center. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins.

After many years of Zen practice in Japan, Shunryu Suzuki came to the U.S. in 1959 and played an influential role in introducing the Western world to Zen Buddhism. He established the San Francisco Zen Center in 1962 and later wrote 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind,' which has become a modern spiritual classic. He died in 1971. "Not Always So" is a collection of lectures from the last years of his life.

Sitting meditation, or "zazen" is the fundamental spiritual practice of Zen Buddhism. Unlike other forms of meditation, zazen does not require that practitioners focus on any object or concept, but involves sitting without movement and concentrating on one's breath. Although zazen is a way to expand consciousness and deepen an understanding of the self, it is not considered a means to an end; a moment of zazen is itself a moment of enlightenment.

My practice [when I was young] was what we call stepladder Zen: "I understand this much now, and next year," I thought, "I will understand a little bit more." That kind of practice doesn't make much sense--I could never be satisfied. If you try stepladder practice, maybe you too will realize that it is a mistake.

If we do not have some warm, big satisfaction in our practice, that is not true practice. Even though you sit, trying to have the right posture and counting your breath, it may still be lifeless zazen, because you are just following instructions. You are not kind enough with youself. You think that if you follow the instructions given by some teacher, then you will have good zazen, but the purpose of instruction is to encourage you to be kind with yourself. Do not count your breaths just to avoid your thinking mind but to take the best care of your breathing.

If you are very kind with your breathing, one breath after another, you will have a refreshed, warm feeling in your zazen. When you have a warm feeling for your body and your breath, then you can take care of your practice, and you will be fully satisfied. When you are very kind with yourself, naturally you will feel like this.

A mother will take care of her child even though she may have no idea how to make her baby happy.

Similarly, when you take care of your posture and your breathing, there is a warm feeling in it. When you have a warm feeling in your practice, that is a good example of the great mercy of Buddha. Whether you are a priest or a layperson, this practice will extend to your everyday life. When you take the utmost care of what you do, then you feel good.

[9th century Zen master] Tozan Ryokai attained enlightenment many times. Once when he was crossing a river he saw himself reflected in the water and composed a verse, "Don't try to figure out who you are. If you figure out who you are, what you understand will be far away from you. You will have just an image of yourself." Actually, you are in the river. You may say that is just a shadow or a reflection of yourself, but if you look carefully with warm-hearted feeling, that is you.