- Shunryu Suzuki Index  - WHAT'S NEW - table of contents

Sotan Tatsugami in Crooked Cucumber
Tatsugami cuke page

in Chapter 13 – Journeys

     Jean [Ross] and Suzuki talked about the monks she'd met who might be suitable to come to America. Her teacher at Eiheiji, Sotan Tatsugami-roshi, was open to Westerners, and there was Dainin Katagiri in the international division of Soto headquarters who'd been helpful to her. He spoke some English and was interested in going to the States. On July 3, 1963, Suzuki and Jean flew back to San Francisco, and on the sixth there was a party to celebrate their return.


     Like Jean, Grahame [Petchey] immediately warmed to the burly and friendly Tatsugami, the head of monk's training in the zendo. But Hoitsu and Tatsugami weren't able to give him enough support to counteract everything else. He felt as if he'd been thrown back several centuries. More demands were being made of him than of Jean, who had her own room and who, as a woman in her late forties, had been given more leeway.


in Chapter 14 – Taking Root


Shunryu Suzuki walked up the steps beneath the giant cryptomeria through the entrance gate at Eiheiji. Beside him towered Grahame with shaved head and black robes. They were staying in the director's quarters as honored guests. To Grahame, who had attempted three painful practice periods there as a novice monk, visiting was a pleasant alternative. He watched a new American student chanting sutras while painfully sitting in seiza in the massive Dharma Hall and sympathized with his plight.

     They visited with Tatsugami, the ino, in charge of ceremony and much of the monks' training. Once he had been the sumo champ of the monastery. He was Suzuki's age, sixty-two that year, 1966. Suzuki thanked him for being so good to Jean, Grahame, and Phillip while they were there. Tatsugami was polite and interested in what Suzuki was doing in America, but Grahame also knew that Tatsugami regarded Suzuki as an inferior, a temple priest not qualified to start a monastery.

     Next they met with the abbot and head of the whole Soto sect, the elderly Kumazawa-roshi. They quietly sipped the highest-quality green tea from fine old cups. Kumazawa asked if Grahame had a temple to go back to in America. Suzuki gave him the fund-raising brochure. "A Zen Mountain Center," it said on the cover. It unfolded into poster size and was half filled with beautiful photographs of the Horse Pasture and surrounding views—boulders amidst live oak, mountains in the clouds, a stone-bordered creek pool in shade.


     Phillip had just finished nine months at Eiheiji. His direct, emotional style had made him popular. It was hard to imagine bulky, thick-fingered Phillip in Japan, much less at Eiheiji. He had endured an enormous amount of pain, especially from long periods of sitting seiza on his shins. Everything at Eiheiji was done in seiza except for physical labor, sleep, and zazen. He had survived the tangaryo, sitting from the predawn hours till nine at night. He said they made him do two weeks of it because he only sit only in half-lotus. Phillip did fine at Eiheiji, relatively speaking, because he was who he was—difficult, but not arrogant, and lovable. He took Suzuki's advice to adjust himself to his surroundings. Tatsugami had been so mad at Phillip for leaving Eiheiji that he wouldn't come out of his room to say goodbye. "Stay at least one year," he said.


     In Japan people are raised sitting seiza. Phillip contended that it molded their tendons and bones. He'd sit two hours at a stretch in Tatsugami's chanting classes till his legs were on fire. On his first day there they made him sit like that for eleven hours in an office, the most painful experience of his life—worse than football. But he was equal to their initiations.


in Chapter 17 – One and Many

     At Tassajara in May of 1970, all this news seemed remote. Tatsugami-roshi, who had kept Jean, Grahame, and Phillip under his wing at Eiheiji, had come to lead the spring practice period at Tassajara. He was back in Japan for the summer but was scheduled to return to lead the fall practice period. While Tatsugami was at Tassajara, Suzuki had been concentrating on Page Street, but now he was back in his briar patch. Now the last of the winter's heavy snowfall was melting away on the ridge.


 May first till after Labor Day weekend in September, Tassajara's tradition of welcoming guests continued; the guests were enthusiastic about the quiet and efficient way the place was run and were full of praise for the food. There had been less meat and fish served each summer, and by the following year the guest fare was totally vegetarian, due to Tatsugami's insistence that it was improper to serve meat or fish in a Buddhist monastery. He said that the guests would understand. He was right—the food just got better. Tatsugami, as well as Katagiri, had told the men who weren't monks not to shave their heads but just to cut it short. As a result they looked a little more normal to the guests.


     Because Tatsugami had spent so much time teaching chanting and ceremony, there was a great deal of catch-up work to do on the buildings during that guest season.


     He was lecturing on the Sandokai (Unity of One and Many), a thousand-year-old Zen poem that Tatsugami had included in the morning service. In this and other ways Suzuki was giving his blessing to the new forms that Tatsugami had instituted, and giving them more life and relevance as well. He had attended years of lectures by Kishizawa on the Sandokai; now he was undertaking to shed some light on that scripture. (He would use the phrases "things-as-they-are" or "things-as-it-is," depending on whether he was speaking from the viewpoint of multiplicity or oneness, form or emptiness.)


     Suzuki explained how the Sandokai was written in China to clarify then-current misunderstandings and to elevate the dialogue among bickering factions. There was a parallel at Tassajara, in that Suzuki and Tatsugami had quite different approaches, and there had to be room in students' minds to include them both.


in Chapter 18 – The Driver


     Katagiri was at Tassajara translating for and assisting Tatsugami and hating it. To him Tatsugami represented everything he disliked about Zen in Japan. Katagiri saw the old man as imperious, condescending, and caught up in ritual. He wanted to get away from being the perennial second string. He loved and respected Suzuki, but it was a little hard on him to live and work constantly with people who, perhaps blinded by cultural differences, seemed to regard Suzuki as a flawless master.


At the board meeting there was talk about Tatsugami, who had led the previous three practice periods and had been invited to do the next one. Tatsugami was controversial. Some students had warmed to him, others tolerated him, and a couple of students had left. He had guided Tassajara from a communal to a monastic style as much as he could, on the Eiheiji model.


     Tatsugami was treating the place as his own. He still saw Suzuki as a temple priest who didn't have the training to run a monastery. To him Suzuki didn't deserve such authority, but he himself did, having been ino, the priest in charge of monks' behavior and ceremony, for thirteen years at Eiheiji. In a meeting at Eiheiji during the time Richard was a monk there, Tatsugami bragged to his colleagues and assembled monks about his monastery in America. Richard, who had originally invited him to come, let it pass until
Tatsugami had finished. Then he stood up and thanked him for his kindness in being Zen Center's guest teacher.


     Suzuki had made it clear to Richard in Japan that he didn't appreciate Richard's having invited Tatsugami to come to Tassajara in the first place; but he didn't complain to other students. Tatsugami definitely had his good points, and Suzuki did keep inviting him back. Tatsugami was like a choreographer who had taught the troupe the basic steps and rules of the song and dance, freeing Suzuki to work further with some students on fine points and essential spirit. Maybe Tatsugami had put a bit too much emphasis on ceremony, but Suzuki said his influence would be good "if you watch Tatsugami-roshi's practice carefully, with your mind open to learn something." It would not be so good "if you see him with your mind based on a gaining idea. Then what you learn is the art of Zen. It is not true Zen."


     Suzuki had let Tassajara evolve into something unlike anything that existed in Japan, but Tatsugami didn't necessarily appreciate this vision. It would disturb Dan Welch, who was often translating for him, when Tatsugami would say in an offhand manner that Suzuki's Zen was weak. Suzuki said he only taught what he knew, which was zazen. Similarly Tatsugami taught what he knew, which was Eiheiji's monastic form. But even if Suzuki wasn't completely pleased with Tatsugami's influence, the fox in him didn't mind a bit of confusion and doubt for his students to deal with.


     Suzuki clearly wanted Katagiri to stay. At the board meeting that May, the two problems converged. Suzuki used the leverage of the board meeting to ask Katagiri to please stay and help. He was being more verbal and definite than ever before. Katagiri was resisting. Then one by one all the board members, who were also students, told Katagiri what he meant to them, how much they loved him and wanted him to stay as a coteacher with Suzuki. It was heartfelt and tearful.


     Then Suzuki played his trump card. He asked Katagiri to lead the fall practice period and said he'd disinvite Tatsugami—a serious slight which would surely end Zen Center's relationship with him. Katagiri made a countermove, saying, "Okay, I'll do it, but only if you come down to Tassajara and help me." Suzuki agreed, and suddenly Katagiri was back and Tatsugami was gone.


     In Japan, Grahame visited Tatsugami. He kept to himself that he didn't like what he'd seen of Tatsugami's influence on Tassajara. Tatsugami told Grahame that he planned to retire at Tassajara and showed him a photograph of the attendant whom he'd ordained at Tassajara—an attractive young woman. It was obvious that they were very close. He said that each trip he brought more of his belongings and left them there. Someday soon he would go and not return, except to occasionally visit his wife and son, to whom he would leave his temple in Japan. But none of that was to happen. Soon Tatsugami would get the letter withdrawing the invitation, which surely would break his tough heart.


     When Tatsugami had first arrived in America, Suzuki met him with some students at the airport. As they watched him walk off the plane in his traveling robes, swaggering with confidence, Suzuki said, "I can see how much he's going to suffer here."


in Chapter 19 – Final Season


He might have looked at his students through his dying eyes and thought, as when Tatsugami landed, "You have no idea how much you're going to suffer."