The Art of the Sentence: Shunryu Suzuki

Curtis White

I have no favorite sentence, but I do have a favorite kind of sentence. It is the sentence that in a stroke convinces me that it inhabits an alternate, and beautiful, universe, and that our own world is nothing but a sustained fraud.

I find a lot of these in Buddhist literature where the writer is so concentrated on saying something from the inside of Buddhism that at first the sentence seems to make no sense at all. For instance, Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“There is no problem.”

Once he’s written enough of these sentences, so that he has not so much described Buddhism as surrounded it, then suddenly you see that he has demolished the real world and given us what Buddhism gives back to us in compensation, our true nature.

Recently, I’ve been reading the journal of Delacroix. He writes with similar purposes (isn’t Romanticism the West’s fumbling effort to reinvent Buddhism?) but with a more European complexity, as if the purpose of a sentence were to surround something that is otherwise unthinkable:

“What makes men of genius or rather what they make, is not new ideas; it is the idea–which possesses them completely–that what has been said has still not been said enough.”


“It is in using the language of one’s contemporaries that one must, as it were, teach them the things that this language does not express.”


Curtis White is a novelist and social critic. His most recent book is The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature. His essay on reading Dave Hickey can be found in the current issue of Tin House.