|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
A comment in
11/09/99--Rick Levine's letter of August 11, '99. [Terrific letter with
lots of juicy comments--and errata that I got to the publisher in time.
See Errata to check out all those
Dear David -
You nailed it! Fabulously well-done. You got the forest and the trees. Anyone who tells you different is just jealous. From the reviews: "HE'S NOT NEARLY AS DUMB AS HE LOOKS, NOT NEARLY!! . . . Years ago I visited the "Van Gogh at Arles" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. At the gallery entry I stood behind two elderly women who were looking at one of the large featured canvases. I overheard them . . ., "Look, whaddya gonna say? It's a great painting. I, personally, I'd have done the sky a little different but it's a great painting." In that spirit, without invitation, I'm going to tell you some of my thoughts while reading through the book
# 1904 - Also the Birth year of E. Conze, Nancy Wilson Ross, Lloyd Reynolds.
# How about a map so I can track "Japan" more closely.
[Yes, yes, I must do that.--DC]
# P. 173 (re: Gary Snyder and Ruth Fuller Sasaki_ - This comes from private correspondence from G.S. to Phil Whalen, now archived at Reed College (few people know this) and read by me with great interest around 1968: "For private information - not to be gossip - I am most fed up with Ruth Sasaki (anti-Semite, anti-poetry, anti-openness, anti-sex)." "Roshi, like I, is simply a victim, poor man, of Mrs. Sasaki's Satanish designs on Western Civilisation for giving her a sad Protestant childhood." "I got Mrs. Sasaki to admit in so many words that Japanese organized sectarian Zen is 9/10ths fraud and always has been." "Mrs. Sasaki is a rabidly orthodox follower of Rinzai transmission." "Mrs. Sasaki is just a dab looney (sort of power crazy or something)." "Two colleagues and I resigned from the Zen Institute, so I am out of work. But I feel great. Mrs. Sasaki is evil man.".
# P. 194 - "picked up teacup like baby bird." Do you know the photo in which he's holding a teacup in zazen mudra? [Yes--will try to get it on the photo gallery of cuke.com in time.--DC]
# P. 229 - "would jump off a cliff . . . ." There was a book in the office library (@ Tass.), to the left of the door as you walked in called "A History of Secret Societies." - It had this image - a leader demonstrated a point to his companion by making a sweeping "down" gesture to a distant figure on a cliff. The remote figure plunged to his death.
# P. 273 - Grahame's comment to Kapleau is a good take-home message, much of the story "in a nutshell."
# P. 324 - My old friend Sam was there that summer and told me T.D. asked a question - I don't remember it all but it included the words "I feel like a fish swimming in and out of an ocean of death . . . . "
[Errata] P. 324 - You say "prone" and maybe you really mean it, but I picture her "supine" (I've never seen anyone prone in the zendo).
12/68 - Lecture at Sokoji. A belligerent fellow asks "isn't this world the mouth of hell?" Roshi answers at some length to the effect it ain't. Later, leaving the hall, roshi stops in front of the guy, smiles, bows, says goodnight to him.
8/69 - Roshi's lecture @ Tass. "By 25 you should lay the foundation of your life. Before 40 you have the face your parents give you. After 40 you have the face your practice gives you. By 40 you are selfless with great effort and begin helping others; after 60, very little effort."
Somebody: "Sometimes I get lethargic and discouraged about life and practice . . ." Roshi: "This is good . . . all practice has these moments."
There is double difficulty for new students. Older students should help new students, make practice easier for beginners. There is also double difficulty for old students.
Somebody at the back of the zendo: "I can't count my breaths well and I give up after five minutes. What should I do? May I consider my posture?" Roshi: "This is not my problem." From the rear: "Oh my God!" Roshi laughs.
[Errata] # P. 328 - It's fifteen blocks from Page to Bush on Laguna, not counting the alleys . . .
# P. 340 - Ken Sawyer and I did tangaryo alone together for 5 days, early June '70. Some time in the middle Suzuki-roshi came in with some older students (Lew Richmond among them) to practice something on the altar with the Mokugyo. They talked for a few minutes. As they walked out Roshi leaned between us and whispered "Sorry to disturb you." That was the only non-disturbing thing that happened that day.
# 6/70 - Roshi brought a book to lecture, opened the book and the cloth covering at the beginning, never referred to it during lecture; closed and covered it at the end, then took questions. - "Roshi, why did you bring a book to lecture?" - "My teacher told me to always study before giving a lecture even though it won't help."
# 7/70 - I wore my mala around my neck to zazen. Roshi put the kyosaku down beside me, took the beads off, laboriously folded them into 3 rings, put them on the empty zafu beside me, picked up the stick, hit me hard, twice on each side, put the stick down, lifted my beads and very carefully put them back on me. Several minutes later he came back and straightened my head. "Keep your chin in . . . Don't forget . . . okay?"
[Errata]# P. 341 - " . . . and now the fare was totally vegetarian." That didn't happen till '71 - I was the guest breakfast and dinner cook during summer '70 (that was the last summer in the old kitchen). My menu notes include "Cassoulet de mouton." (Sort of like pork and beans.)
"Boeuf Bourgignon" On 7/1 - "Red simmered Park on egg noodles." 7/11 - "Sweet and sour dead corpse of cow." Incidentally, on 7/11/70: David Chadwick speaking about my poached eggs to the ravenous dishwashers, "You wouldn't want to eat that shit." And later, the kitchen, dishwashing and waiter crews sitting in the dining room eating. David sitting alone in the opposite corner of the room, softly asks, "Please pass the gomashio."
On 8/29/70 @ 3PM - check cakes in oven. 4:30 - cut broccoli into spears/measure brown rice (this word off page on 5/11, bottom) 5:00 Fish - salt/flour/egg wash and cornmeal 6:15 Boil the rice 6:20 Steam the broccoli 6:30 Deep fry the fish
# P. 344 - ("Alan Marlowe and Roshi") They were moving a rock - roshi made a comment about some aspect of it. Alan, noting a rounded shapely contour, said, "Yes, and it has a nice bottom too . . ." Roshi smiled and said "I know what you're talking about . . ." (Alan told me.)
# During July '70, as guest cook my schedule was off-kilter. I was alone in the bath not knowing it was Roshi's time to bathe. I leaned on the back wall of the plunge and realized I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought about disappearing or drowning, and felt guilty like Lenny Bruce ("Okay, okay! We did it . . . we killed Jesus, it was my Uncle Marty, I found the note down in the cellar."). Roshi walked down the plunge steps, genitals covered by a cloth, leaving the water perfectly still. "It's very clean," he said. He glided over to an insect that was struggling on the surface. With two hands he lifted it out and splashed it to safety out of the tub. (This is not a "he's so saintly that he saves insects" story.)
Note on margin of letter, 7 of 11: This is in response to just now (3:50 AM, 8/11) discovering your web site . . .[see discussion of whether Trungpa came in '70 or '71 in Errata. Looks like I was write in the book. But I almost changed it.--DC]
# - Trungpa was at Tassajara during June 1970, prior to the 18th, after the 13th (my journal doesn't lie). And he gave zendo lecture. Note in margin: (Also the Korean guy - ? Saenim - came and did zendo lecture. Hot summer. There was an earthquake of which he seemed to take no notice.)
# P. 364 - (Portland) On 7/16/70 I had dokusan with Roshi @ Tass. "Ask the office . . . maybe we will send an experienced student there to help you. Ask the office . . ." We had a great communal Zen house in Portland (Jim and Layla, Jackie Warshall, Teresa Palmer, Pat McMahon, Barbara Young, Debby Green, others).
It was a 11/2-day sitting at an Arts Center after a Friday night lecture @ Reed. I helped make a lot of the organizational/logistic arrangements. Barbara Young's boyfriend, "JC," the oldest among us at 30, said, "Thank you for all the work you're doing . . . some of us think you're running around a bit much." Yep.
# P. 365 - "No, I am a Zen Master . . ." That's interesting. Reb and Roshi stayed at the home of Rowena Leary (Pattee). She told me this: One evening, returning home after his pain began, roshi was obviously feeling awful but maintained his bearing. Crossing the threshold his shoulders sank and he all but collapsed. He said something quite like this: "Now I can be a little child, I don't have to be a Zen Master."
# Portland. Sasaki-roshi came to Reed and gave a very spirited lecture. Lloyd Reynolds came. I asked him what he thought. "It was wonderful! But, I like our Suzuki-roshi." Some time in '69 Lloyd had a private visit with Suzuki-roshi in San Francisco. "Is it growing fast enough?" asked Lloyd. Roshi laughed, threw up his hands, said, "Too fast!" Lloyd asked Roshi if he recalled Rowena who had practiced brush painting in Portland and had studied Zen in SF. Roshi answered with the gesture of a single Sumi brush stroke, pantomiming the brush, the ink, and the paper. Lloyd had a vibrant painting of Rowena above his living room fireplace. He often referred to it to illustrate one of the Canons of Chinese art: "CHI YUN SHENG TUNG." (Heaven's breath resonates in life rhythm.)
# P. 372 - (Yoshimura). Tassajara sesshin lectures by Yoshimura 9/70. "There were a lot of schools in those days and they laid their trips on each other. And Buddha, practicing with the ascetics, tried to get high and probably did get high."
"Like my robes for example. If I took them off you'd say, 'Hey, Jap!' even if you don't think so."
"I find tonight that my head doesn't work right, sitting sesshin. So tonight I'll sing a song. Mostly geisha girls sing it today, though it's 200 years old. I don't play with geisha girls lots but a roshi at Eiheiji who taught it to me I think does. On the 4th night of Sesshin there, like tonight, he took me to his room and sang it saying it would make the pain go away."
"Good and Evil is preceded by a decision. If you decide to play tennis, play tennis, and believe in tennis. You will be far out right on, no more goof-off."
# P. 389 - Ryuho Yamada ("he loved the communal aspects" . . .) To me in conversation 10/19/71: "Tassajara will become a commune but gradually. Suzuki-roshi says so."
[Errata]# P. 390 - The paragraph @ Stunkard, Suzuki, and jaundice ain't entirely accurate. Jaundice is a lemon pie that can be sliced variously. The most important distinction may be painful vs. painless jaundice. Another is obstructive vs. inflammatory. (Inflammatory includes "infectious" hepatitis although the latter is an antiquated term - it would be more accurate to say "viral" hepatitis.) The most common cause of obstructive jaundice is gallstones, such as Roshi had during March '71. The most common cause of painless obstructive jaundice is cancer. Itching may occur in any of these conditions and in itself is not particularly useful in seeking a cause. I don't doubt that Dr. Stunkard accurately suspected cancer. But with the information you've armed Dr. Stunkard and the reader with at this point it's a touch romantic to suggest that he "first realized Suzuki had cancer" (p. 393). I suspect he had all the impressions of the sickroom (profound weight loss, general frailty, awareness that this had all been going on for some time, and Roshi's general comfort) as well as subliminal impressions.
[Errata]#P. 394 - Shouldn't it be the Zen Studies Society?
# P. 398 - I sat next to Yasuko at dinner. She kept one hand scrupulously covering her mouth as she ate with the other.
In those times you would know when Roshi was in the (now) Founder's Hall because his cane would be carefully leaning into a corner of the door jamb to the right of the entry when he was in.
[Errata]# P. 402 - Kachin, you idiot! Kachin!! CHIN CHIN KACHIN Thirty years I work on that piece and you fuck it up.
# 12/71 - After his death that morning everyone from the sesshin, and everyone living in the building, was invited to enter the room and bow to Roshi, one by one.
This is a work of great excellence which speaks to me very personally. You've written a superb biography and the best imaginable first chapter in a history of Zen Center. May it be read for 10,000 years. (I would not be surprised.) From where I stand as an avid participant from '68-'91, and still stand as failed faithful practitioner this is how I would like to be told the story. How about doing '71-'83? - It has not been rendered yet despite several admittedly short attempts.
[I get asked this a lot and my answer is always "No! Never!" Anyway, Michael Downing is doing a book on ZC history that will be interesting to see when it's done.--DC]
Well-done, David-san, well-done!
I hope you're doing okay, Rick (First Benji of Zen in America - 72 c Reb)
P.S. Dr. Conze thought you were " a touch strange."
[Yes. He didn't like my questions. And thanks Rick for a great and helpful letter.--DC]
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