Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch. 16
If you want to be a circle, you must first be a square.
Back in San Francisco things were humming. Suzuki's students were an active presence at Sokoji all the time, in the zendo, kitchen, and office. Yvonne Rand, Zen Center's full-time secretary, shared an office with Katagiri. Yvonne was a Stanford graduate. She had met Virginia Baker at a weaving class a couple of years earlier and had become fast friends with the Bakers. Before working for Zen Center, she had taught math at a private school. She was married, had two children, loved plants and animals, had a natural tendency to help people, and at thirty years old was efficient and sharp. She was one of those people who Suzuki said were older students the day they arrived. Once she met Suzuki, Yvonne was happy to handle Zen Center's secretarial tasks for a pittance, just to be around him. It was an exciting time to be there, at the birth of a monastery. Yvonne became a board member virtually overnight too.
Richard would come into the office, joke around, get an update from Yvonne, and then be off to Tassajara. Claude was managing five rented apartments across the street, where zazen students lived and ate communally. Newcomers, mainly in their twenties, were finding their way up the Sokoji steps to learn about Zen. With all this activity, the rift between Suzuki's zazen students and the overwhelmed Japanese-American congregation widened.
There were plenty of hippies and young people of various descriptions appearing in the San Francisco streets and the Sokoji zendo. Life at Zen Center was too formal and disciplined for most of them. Doctrinal disputes were common. The air was full of ideas about what was spiritual or what was Zen. The word had a glamour to it and tended to be used freely, as in, "That's very Zen." People were making Zen into whatever they wanted. A psychedelic periodical called the San Francisco Oracle had reprinted the Zen Center's Heart Sutra chant card with an overlay of a naked woman lying across it. Zen seemed to be the coolest thing going. Zen Center often acted as an antidote to that assumption--with the silence, stillness, and alertness of zazen, the almost military crispness of the group sutra chanting, the disciplined atmosphere in the clean building, and the subdued dress and short hair of the older students.
"Man, you guys are uptight," said a long-haired, colorfully dressed young college dropout smelling of patchouli oil. "The real Zen's on the street, dancing and getting high. Anyway, your teacher can't be enlightened. He shaves his head, which means that he had to have the idea, 'I'm going to shave my head,' which means his mind wasn't in the clear light."
One student had spearheaded a drive to start a zendo in the Haight-Ashbury. He'd shown Katagiri a proposed space in the Straight Theater. Katagiri was used to hippies, but this was right in the middle of their scene. He told Suzuki that he didn't think the sort of discipline that was needed to study Zen could be sustained there.
Students had been talking to Katagiri and Suzuki about psychedelics since 1965. Of the two, Suzuki took it more seriously. Many students who'd come to him in the past few years credited psychedelics with awakening their interest in Buddhism. He was aware that Richard Baker had organized the first major LSD conference in the U.S. at the University of California extension in San Francisco. The student who was promoting the idea of the Haight-Ashbury zendo urged Suzuki to try LSD, and finally Suzuki took a capsule of the not-yet-illegal substance from him. A week later he decided to flush it down the toilet. A reporter for the biggest underground newspaper in the area interviewed Suzuki at Tassajara; after five minutes of talking about LSD, he gave up trying to find out what Suzuki's position was. He said that the best he could come up with was that Suzuki didn't seem to think it was relevant to anything.
A Stanford professor told Suzuki that many college students were smoking marijuana all the time and taking LSD. Maybe it was good in some ways for them to experiment, but it was interfering with their studies. What did Suzuki do about this problem? "Oh, nothing," said Suzuki. "I just teach them how to sit zazen, and they forget about those things pretty soon."
Suzuki would occasionally mention that he did not want people to come to the temple while high. At the wedding of a couple who were involved in the psychedelic scene, he said, "Our way is not to seek some deep experience. We accept ourselves just as we are. We do not take drugs. It is superficial." On the whole, though, he seemed quite unconcerned about drugs and alcohol. He saw more pernicious attachments among his students. When he spoke on the precept forbidding consumption or distribution of alcohol or intoxicants he sometimes gave it a surprising interpretation. "This means don't sell Buddhism," or, "This means don't try to give people some medicine, don't boast about the superior teaching of Buddhism. Not only liquor but also spiritual teaching is intoxicating."
Allen Ginsberg had come to be recognized as the poet laureate of the Beat and a hero of the hippie movement. He had met Suzuki a few times in the early days at the Academy and around Japantown, then later at a major Berkeley poetry conference that Richard had organized. In 1963 Ginsberg took an extensive trip to Asia, during which he investigated Hinduism and Buddhism. In Kyoto he visited Ruth Fuller Sasaki's temple and sat zazen with his old buddy Gary Snyder for six weeks at Oda-roshi's temple in the Daitokuji complex. He was delighted with this first experience of zazen and a little miffed at Snyder for not introducing him and Kerouac to zazen years before, when they visited Snyder's Horse Pasture Hermitage in Marin County, one of the first zendos in the West. Upon his return to America, Ginsberg meditated at Sokoji a few times in the fall of 1963. It was a little restrictive for him; he liked to hit cymbals and spontaneously chant and sing Hindu songs during his meditation, but he was always appreciative of Zen Center practice and from time to time he recommended that people go there.
On January 14, 1967, Ginsberg and Suzuki met again. Some students had brought Suzuki to the Human-Be-In in Golden Gate Park, where tens of thousands of hippies, fellow travelers, and the curious gathered to celebrate, dance, get high, and enjoy the sunshine. As usual, Okusan had tried to stop him, saying he should rest, but it was a free Saturday afternoon and some students were begging him to go, so he did. Suzuki was welcomed on the platform, where he sat with Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, and the poet Michael McClure, among others. A young woman handed him a god's eye, a multicolored, hexagonal religious symbol on a stick, allegedly American Indian in origin. After a while he passed it on, and someone else gave him a flower. He sat there with the flower and enjoyed the flower children, the music, and the idealistic speeches. He was there when Owsley, the manufacturer of Clear Light Acid, parachuted in. After a while Suzuki excused himself and was taken home. Gary Snyder told Ginsberg it was significant that he'd come, a recognition that there was more to the aspirations of youth than hedonism and foolishness.
In the spring of 1968 Ginsberg returned to Sokoji to ask for permission to use Suzuki's translation of the Heart Sutra, which he wished to sing in public. "I've looked at all the translations," Ginsberg said, "and am most intrigued with yours. It's so succinct." He called the style "telegraphese." Suzuki hadn't even thought of it as a translation. Ginsberg showed him the sutra card that the zazen students used at Sokoji to chant the sutra in Sino-Japanese. There were the romanized syllables, the Chinese characters, and the basic meanings of the terms in English below that. Suzuki had never intended the English to be chanted. Ginsberg had memorized it and created a melody. He sang his version to Suzuki and asked if it would be all right for him to perform it in public. "Sure," said Suzuki enthusiastically. "Please do. You have the right spirit."
An enthusiastic new arrival told Suzuki-roshi he wanted to move into the temple to be closer to him. "That would be good," Suzuki said, "but it would make the other students jealous. So why don't you come to the temple before morning zazen and we'll clean together?"
The next morning he joined Suzuki at 4:15, and they cleaned the zendo and halls and bathrooms till 4:45, when people began to arrive for zazen. They vacuumed, mopped, and dusted.
One morning as they were cleaning Suzuki excused himself. Suddenly there came a sound of knocking and then a voice calling in Japanese. Suzuki was in the bathroom by his office, brushing what teeth he had left. He went out to the stairway to see what the racket was. He and the student tried to locate the source of the ever-increasing pounding and yelling. Suzuki opened the door to the basement.
There was Okusan, full of fury, screaming at him. She'd been locked in all night. The women's club had met the night before, and they had gone around and locked up too thoroughly before they left. She'd been taking a bath, while Suzuki was upstairs reading. Finally he'd gone to sleep not noticing that she wasn't back. He even got up in the middle of the night to pee as always, not noticing that she wasn't in her bed and her sandals weren't at the door. She yelled at him machine-gun fashion.
Suzuki realized what had happened and began to laugh. He laughed so hard that foam from the toothpaste ran down from his mouth onto his kimono. The new student got out of there.
The world of thinking is that of our ordinary dualistic mind.
Alan Watts, Richard De Martino, and Erich Fromm, among others, had written about Zen and psychoanalysis. Some psychologists and psychiatrists had taken an interest in zazen and other forms of meditation. Would it help their patients? What did it do? How could it help them learn about consciousness? Dr. Joe *Kamiya of the Langley Porter Institute was doing tests on meditators. Some of the students at Zen Center had gone to get hooked up to his electroencephalograph to see how their brain waves changed when they meditated. A number of students had prolonged states of alpha with some theta waves, which were correlated with calm states of mind. Richard Baker and his friend Mike Murphy from Esalen Institute produced theta waves for longer periods, characteristic of the meditation of yogis and Zen masters. Suzuki and Katagiri were wired up as well. Both of them fell asleep immediately.
Suzuki respected some aspects of Western psychology and psychotherapy based on what he'd heard from analysts he'd met, but he didn't claim to understand it and didn't compare it to Zen. He made it clear that Buddhism was not a method of self-improvement, but he did speak about body, mind, and will, revealing his own brand of Buddhist psychology and analysis.
The way to study Zen is to be always aware of yourself, to be careful, to be sincere with yourself. Awareness means that when reading, including Zen materials, your mind should not get caught by any idea. It should remain open. Similarly with sights and sounds: don't allow your mind's self-awareness to get lost or absorbed. In other words, always remain conscious of what you are doing, of what is going on.
A psychiatrist and researcher named Arthur Deikman had had a life-changing experience in the early fifties when he began to meditate on his own every day in the woods. That led to years of clinical experiments involving meditation. He had been amazed at the results; many subjects (all were college students) experienced a striking change of consciousness after only fifteen minutes of sitting and staring at a blue vase. What would happen to people who did this all their lives? Wanting to find a qualified meditation teacher, he came to San Francisco to meet with Shunryu Suzuki, whose name had been suggested by colleagues on the East Coast.
Deikman brought a tape recorder, but Suzuki declined to let him use it. He told Suzuki about his research and said he wanted to understand consciousness better. Suzuki told him he should go sit a sesshin with Yasutani in L.A. Not knowing what a sesshin was, Deikman went and returned some weeks later. He didn't know if Suzuki had sent him because the dates just happened to be right or out of a mischievous desire to test him or throw him to the lions.
He'd had amazing experiences of altered states. At one point his head had seemed to disappear. At night he'd been awakened by what he thought was someone smashing blocks together, only to find that it was the person in the next sleeping bag softly smacking his lips during sleep. While impressed with what happened working with Yasutani on koans, Deikman continued to seek out Suzuki. "Where he is is where I want to be," he told his wife, Etta, "in that place of sanity." They went to Tassajara for the summer. They worried that their very active younger daughter wouldn't fit in, but there was no problem. They even took her to Suzuki's lectures, and Etta marveled at how her child would calm down and fall asleep.
Sometimes in a lecture Suzuki would say something that seemed to speak directly to Deikman's conundrums, but more important to Deikman than Suzuki's words was his attitude, his perspective on the world, his transparency.
From what he'd seen and heard at Zen Center, Deikman knew that Suzuki wouldn't be excited by any special states of mind that came up during his zazen. After a lecture, a student just back from a private thirty-day sesshin had asked Suzuki how to maintain the state of mind he'd attained.
"Concentrate on your breathing, and it will go away," Suzuki said.
In another lecture Suzuki said, "If you're dissatisfied with your zazen, it shows you have a gaining idea." The next time he talked to Suzuki, Deikman just told him there seemed to be more clarity, vividness, and intrinsic value in his experience--thing he could define, but he felt he'd had a glimpse of Zen. "That might be the case," Suzuki said. But in time Deikman got discouraged. He experienced these higher states, but they just passed. What was the use?
Suzuki laughed and said, "That's right, no use. All these states come and go, but if you continue, you find there's something underneath."
"You can't have it, because in the act of having it, it's gone," said Deikman.
"Yes, that's right," Suzuki answered.
Deikman continued to come to the West Coast to see Suzuki. As with most people, the reason he came was not the reason he stayed. He remembered what Suzuki said to him when he first came to learn more about consciousness: "I don't know anything about consciousness. I just try to teach my students how to hear the birds sing."
There will always be war, but we must always work to oppose it.
One day in late summer of 1968, Suzuki-roshi and I sat eating hot dogs in front of the student union at the University of California at Berkeley. Before us a colorful street scene unfolded--students of every race, jocks and hippies, professors, businessmen and women, and singing, dancing Hare Krishna devotees, with backpacks and briefcases, suits and sarongs, long hair abounding. Suzuki was comfortable amidst the ragged, revolutionary youth, and they responded well to him. In his brown robes with drooping sleeves he was immediately identifiable as an ally, not part of the establishment, and people passing him would smile, nod, or sometimes bow.
Earlier that day, I had driven Suzuki in predawn darkness to the Berkeley zendo so he could join the morning schedule and give a talk. Mel Weitsman now lived there and was in charge. We sat around talking till midmorning when, at Suzuki's request, I had taken him to Telegraph Avenue to visit the bookstores and walk around.
People were handing out leaflets promoting Scientology and opposing the war in Vietnam. From the distance the echoes of an amplified voice approached, blasting out a message from loudspeakers mounted on a van's roof. They were calling for the overthrow of the "racist, imperialist, war-mongering United States government, by any means necessary."
"What do you think of that, Roshi?" I said. "Most people aren't even paying attention to it. Quite a country you've come to, huh?"
Suzuki kept chewing noncommittally.
I told Suzuki how almost every guy I knew had avoided the draft, some by pretending to be homosexual or crazy. Many of Suzuki's own students, including Richard and myself, had used their wiles to escape the draft.
"Roshi, I heard that you opposed the war when you were in Japan. Is that true?" I asked him.
"Yes, in a way, but there was not much I could do. We tried to look at the root cause."
"Did many priests do that?"
"No, not till after the war. Then they all did."
"What was it like then?"
"Japan was under the spell of some strange idea. There was a lot of confusion."
"How did you get away with it? How come you weren't arrested?"
"I didn't oppose the government. I just expressed ideas--like if there were peace, that the country and also the government would be stronger. And I encouraged others to think about careless assumptions."
"I heard you printed things."
"Yes, before the war--but if you saw what I wrote, you wouldn't understand. Not so direct. It was different from your situation here." He sighed. "It would be very hard to explain. You would have to know so much background."
A number of Zen students had applied for status as conscientious objectors to military service. Some were doing alternative service in the fire department at Tassajara. As a result, two FBI agents showed up at Sokoji one day and interviewed Suzuki. He didn't speak about war and peace in the clear-cut terms that they were used to hearing from Quakers and other pacifist Christians, but he did say that Buddhism sought accommodation rather than conflict, was fundamentally pacifist, and that it was better for monks not to become soldiers.
Ironically, in Japan Buddhism had never been pacifist, and all Buddhists supported the government's wars. When they asked what he thought about the Vietnam War, he startled them by saying offhandedly, "Oh yes, I have a son in Vietnam. He's a barber and a mechanic in the U.S. Army. He enlisted. My wife's worried about him, but I think he needed to get out and do something." He showed them a letter he'd just received from Otohiro. The agents finally gave up trying to understand his position. Zen Center continued to provide support for and be host to conscientious objectors.
Suzuki was impossible to pin down on most issues and wouldn't support his students' positions if they were simplistic and one-sided, especially if they carelessly threw Buddhism into the mix. He encouraged people to take responsibility for their own actions and not use good deeds as an excuse to avoid facing themselves, or as a substitute for practice. Suzuki didn't like hearing the name of Buddhism hastily invoked for noble purposes any more than he liked Buddhist teachings to be twisted to serve greed, hate, and delusion, as had happened in Japan during his lifetime. If students were clear about their motives, he would be supportive.
"It is very difficult to help people," Suzuki answered. "You may think you're helping them and end up hurting them."
He was interested in establishing a way of life that created peace, working on the root cause of war rather than railing against the symptoms. Talking about karma, he said:
In the early fifties Suzuki had told his young neighbor Yamamura that he longed to go to America to teach about peace and internationalism. But his American students were already politically conscious, some of them active, and he was clearly sympathetic with the peace movement.
In 1960 Suzuki had enthusiastically supported the decision of a student named Barton Stone to join a yearlong peace march from San Francisco to Moscow. In 1964, in response to a letter from Barton, Suzuki visited him twice in prison, where he was serving a year for trying to obstruct nuclear testing in the Pacific. Later, when Barton got out of jail and visited Suzuki at Sokoji, Okusan showed him a newspaper clipping from Japan with a photo of her husband marching with other Buddhist priests. There were banners and a large crowd. She said it was a march against nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Suzuki joined Richard Baker and some other Zen students for a large demonstration in the fall of 1968, walking up Market Street in peaceful opposition to the war. His decision to go may have been influenced by an emotional exchange he had had with students a few hours earlier.
Suzuki was back in town from Tassajara. People in the city missed him, and attendance was high for his Saturday lecture at Sokoji. A young man named John Steiner, who had studied with Suzuki for two years, was among those who sat near the front on goza mats. John had been involved in some of the original protests against the war at UC Berkeley two years earlier and, like a number of people at the lecture, was planning to attend the protest march that day. Minds buzzed with thoughts of life and death, peace and horror, helplessness and hope.
After his talk, Suzuki asked if there were any questions.
A woman said, "What is war?"
Suzuki pointed to the goza mats. They are about three by six feet, big enough for two cushions. He said that sometimes there are ripples on the rows of straw, and people put their hands down to push the ripples out after they sit down. This works okay on the sides, but when there's a ripple between two people, it won't smooth out; it just moves toward the other person. Without noticing it, people sometimes push these ripples back and forth toward each other. "That is the cause of war. Karma starts with small things, then it accelerates. You should know how to deal with those small difficulties."
A fellow in the back spoke up with irritation in his voice. "How come we're meeting here when there's a war going on out there?"
Suzuki didn't understand him. John repeated the young man's question more slowly and clearly: "He said, 'Roshi, how come we're meeting here when there's a war going on out there?'" Suzuki smiled. John smiled.
Then, as fast as a cat leaping on its prey, Suzuki jumped off the altar platform and was behind John with the stick on his shoulder, loudly saying, "Gassho!" He started hitting him over and over shouting, "You fools! You fools! You're wasting your time!" He continued to hit him until John fell forward on the floor. "Dreamer! Dreamer! What are you dreaming about?"
He got back on the platform and faced the totally stunned audience, most of whom had never heard him raise his voice. The normally tannish skin of his face was white, as he said unconvincingly in a barely audible voice, "I'm not angry." He caught his breath and continued. "How can you expect to do anything in the world when you can't even tie your own shoes?"
After the lecture everyone was fairly quiet. Bob Halpern came up to John and said, "Roshi told you to gassho. You didn't gassho when he hit you."
Being hit with the stick isn't a punishment; it's a particular form of communication, and part of the formality is to bow when one receives the stick. To gassho shows respect, expresses the unity of shoulder, stick, and hand, and puts the person in the best position to receive the stick. John had been so shocked he hadn't done his part in this exchange, even though Suzuki had yelled at him to gassho.
John went to Suzuki in his office to apologize for not gasshoing. Suzuki in return apologized to John very sweetly for being so fierce. John had not expected anything from Suzuki. He saw what had happened only in terms of his teacher trying to enlighten him.
"The reason I got so …" Suzuki said, his sentence trailing off, "is that I was reminded of what I went through in Japan during the war. It brought up that old frustration." John saw in his teacher's eyes a glint of pain. Then Suzuki put his hand on John's shoulder, an unusual gesture for him. The wide sleeves of Suzuki's robe exposed loose skin hanging down from his thin arm. John was struck with Suzuki's age and fragility and could feel his teacher's compassion and suffering.
teaching given by Shakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime
For the first six years Suzuki was in America, he and his main students resisted the idea of recording his lectures; what he said was for the moment and for the people at hand. He wasn't codifying his teaching but working with people day by day, situation after situation. Nevertheless, in 1965, when she was a new student, Marian Derby started recording lectures in Los Altos on her reel-to-reel tape recorder with Suzuki's permission. Also with his permission she transcribed them and made the transcripts available. Soon after that they started doing the same in San Francisco.
In the summer of 1966 Marian's parents came to visit. They wanted to check out this Zen teacher, to see whom Marian had brought into her home and into the lives of their grandchildren. They met Suzuki and were delighted with him. Marian's father drove him back to San Francisco to get to know him better. He asked Suzuki what his personal ambition in life was, and Suzuki said, "I'd like to write a book." When her father passed this on, Marian took it seriously and asked Suzuki if she could put a book together from his morning talks. He was enthusiastic. So every Thursday morning after the group left, she'd read to him from her edited transcripts. Marian loved the way Suzuki would sit with folded legs on her sofa in front of the crackling fireplace, his robes tucked under his legs, the aroma of coffee and cinnamon rolls still in the air.
"Did I say that?" he'd often comment.
Marian told Suzuki that Richard was opposed to the idea of her doing the book. He thought she was too new a student. Suzuki suggested she pass the manuscript on to Richard so he could edit it. In March of 1967 Marian gave the completed manuscript to Richard, which she had titled Beginner's Mind. Much to Marian's frustration, it took him months to get around to looking at it. When he did read it the following fall, he agreed it was good material for a book--after more work. Marian let go of the project. Richard found himself too busy to take it on, so he offered it to a student named Peter Schneider, who had editing experience. Peter turned down the task, since he was fully occupied as director of Tassajara.
In the spring of 1968 Richard turned the manuscript over to his good friend Trudy Dixon, who, like Richard, had edited Suzuki's lectures for Wind Bell. Trudy took on the task even though she had two small children, had undergone surgery for breast cancer, and was in poor health. She threw herself completely into it, listening to the original tapes, painstakingly working on the material word by word, thought by thought, organizing it and conferring often with Richard and ccasionally with Suzuki directly.
Around this time a Zen student came up to Richard on Bush Street and said he'd heard that Richard was going to Japan. That's how Richard learned of Suzuki's next plan for him. He went right in to Sokoji and asked Suzuki about it. Suzuki had a number of reasons for sending him. He said he wanted Richard to experience Zen practice in a Japanese setting and to get a taste of Japanese culture. He wanted him to go to Eiheiji, study with various good teachers, learn tea ceremony, and go to Noh plays. Suzuki didn't make it public at the time, but he considered this a necessary part of Richard's preparation to someday succeed him as a teacher and maybe even as the abbot of the Zen Center.
Suzuki also said he wanted to dislodge Richard from his excessive responsibilities and give other students a chance to run things. Richard was so dominant and his mind worked so fast that it was hard for others to develop leadership skills in his presence. Some people, like Silas, would get a chance to do things without so much conflict and competition with Richard. In addition, Suzuki did not hide another reason: "I can't control him," he said, "so I'm going to give him a big problem. I'm going to throw him in the ocean." The most astonishing purpose that Suzuki had in sending Richard to Japan was to reform Japanese Buddhism, one of his lifelong goals. He wanted to bust up the fossilization of Zen in his homeland with influence from novice American Buddhists, who would bring a fresh approach. As usual, he never fully explained his vision or how he saw this sea change in ancient institutions coming about.
Hundreds of people came to Richard's going-away party. Lou Harrison's Chinese music ensemble played, followed by Mel Weitsman's recorder trio, and then there was dancing to a rhythm-and-blues band. Richard and Virginia stood for a while talking to Suzuki and Okusan. After clowning around, pretending to dance like the students, the Suzukis went home early.
Many of those present owed a lot to Richard: he'd gotten them into Tassajara or out of the draft, helped foreign students stay in the country, helped people get jobs, and when it was really important arranged for Suzuki to see them right away. He'd been everywhere at once, and now he was going away. People wondered what Zen Center would be like without him.
On October 23, 1968, Richard sailed for Japan with his wife, Virginia, and daughter, Sally. He took with him the completed manuscript for Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which he had further edited and gone over with Suzuki. He was going to seek a publisher in Japan, and he wrote the introduction onboard as the ship headed toward the land of his teacher.
Trudy Dixon had been doing graduate studies in philosophy at UC Berkeley, specializing in Heidegger and Wittgenstein, when her husband, Mike, first took her to Sokoji in 1962 to hear Suzuki lecture. Mike was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. They arrived late and stood in the back of the zendo. Suzuki embarked on an unusual line of thought that evening. He compared the practice of Zen with the study of philosophy--expressing one's truth with one's whole body and mind instead of thinking and being curious about the meaning of life. He said he'd had a good friend in Japan who was a philosopher. Ultimately his intellectual pursuits didn't satisfy him, and he killed himself. At exactly that point in the lecture, Suzuki looked intently at Trudy. She backed up a few steps. Trudy could not get that experience out of her mind. She and Mike continued coming to lectures and soon decided to start practicing with Suzuki. They became close disciples.
In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Trudy put her whole being into expressing the essence of Suzuki's teaching. After she passed the manuscript on to Richard, she concentrated on taking care of herself at her home in Mill Valley and dealing with her approaching death. She remained cheerful on the outside, but her mind was possessed by fear, which she revealed to her analyst. After an operation her lungs filled with liquid, and she couldn't breathe. She struggled for breath with all the energy she could find until she went beyond thoughts, words, and fear into what she called breath-struggle *samadhi. After she had undergone five difficult days of recovery, Mike brought Suzuki and Okusan to visit her. She said the sight of them was like seeing the sun rise for the first time.
She went to Tassajara and fasted. There she had a powerful, joyous experience that included life and death, health and illness, fear and courage. She said she finally stopped fighting and was "accommodating the enemy," as Suzuki had described it. On the verge of death Trudy had been reborn. Her analyst said that at her next visit she seemed like a new person, a fearless and radiant woman. To her husband, caretakers, and friends she became an inspiration. "My self, my body," she wrote, "is dissolved in phenomena like a sky's rainbow caught in a child's soap bubble."
One day after zazen at Bill Kwong's Mill Valley zendo, Betty Warren visited Trudy. She arrived wishing there was something she could do. Trudy burned away Betty's pity with one phrase, referring to her illness as "this blessed cancer."
On Mondays Suzuki visited Trudy at her home after giving a talk to Bill's zazen group. One day after such a visit he returned to the car with Bob Halpern. Suzuki's eyes were wet. "Now there's a real Zen master," he said of Trudy, as he sank into his seat.
On July 1 Trudy's brother drove her to Tassajara. They shared a cup of clear creek water with Suzuki, slept outside in the moonlight, and returned the next day to the hospital. A couple of days later she came back to Tassajara and practiced zazen lying on her back in the zendo with Suzuki and the students. On the eighth she and her teacher returned to San Francisco.
On July 9, 1969, Mike called Suzuki at Sokoji and told him that Trudy had just died in the hospital--too quickly for Suzuki to have gotten there. Suzuki fell apart crying on the phone, which disturbed Mike--he thought of Suzuki as imperturbable. Suzuki came to the hospital and was composed by then.
At Trudy's funeral two days later Suzuki was uncharacteristically emotional. He cried and said, "I never thought I'd have a disciple this great. Maybe I never will again." As is customary, the funeral included an ordination in which Suzuki-roshi gave his deceased student the precepts. Then he delivered a eulogy.
Go, my disciple. You have completed your practice for this life and acquired a genuine warm heart, a pure and undefiled buddha mind, and joined our sangha. All that you have done in this life and in your past lives became meaningful in the light of the buddha mind, which was found so clearly within yourself, as your own. Because of your complete practice, your mind has transcended far beyond your physical sickness, and it has taken full care of your sickness like a nurse.
A person of joyful mind is contented with his lot. Even in adversity he will see bright light. He finds the Buddha's place in different circumstances, easy and difficult. He feels pleasure even in painful conditions, and rejoices. For us, for all who have this joy of buddha mind, the world of birth and death is the world of *nirvana.
The compassionate mind is the affectionate mind of parents. Parents always think of the growth and welfare of their children, to the neglect of their own circumstances. Our scriptures say, "Buddha mind is the mind of great compassion."
The magnanimous mind is as big as a mountain and as wide as an ocean. A person of magnanimous mind is impartial. He walks the middle way. He is never attached to any side of the extreme aspect of things. The magnanimous mind works justly and impartially.
Now you have acquired the buddha mind and become a real disciple of the Buddha. At this point, however, I express my true power. …
Then Suzuki let out a long, mighty roar of grief that echoed through the cavernous auditorium.
you try to do something, you lose it, because you are
Abruptly, a demand had come from Sokoji's board of directors in the spring of 1969: choose us or them. Suzuki had hoped the two groups would grow together and learn to coexist in harmony, but the divide between them had only grown deeper. Students were no longer invited to the congregation's festive events, except for a few old timers like Claude, Betty, and Della. Suzuki still thought rapprochement was possible, but the board was firm.
They no longer wanted a priest with divided loyalties. They wanted Suzuki to stay, but even more they wanted a priest who was theirs. Their new temple wouldn't be built for years--and they did not wish to rent the zendo to Zen Center anymore. There were too many students; Zen Center had become too big and busy and was completely overshadowing the Japanese congregation. While some of the congregation members respected the students' sincerity, many didn't feel at home in their own temple. The old caretaker, who never had a smile for anyone, and whom some students were afraid of, was the most outspoken supporter of the students. Suzuki's close friend George Hagiwara, now president of the congregation, was supportive of Suzuki as well, but he knew it was a lost cause.
Suzuki said, "Eighty percent of the problem is long hair and unusual clothing." The younger Japanese members were more understanding, but the elders ran Sokoji. He said that the Issei, the first-generation Japanese-Americans, had a Meiji Buddhist approach. They admired the progress of the West, yet clung to a type of Shinto nationalistic Buddhism focused on making offerings to the spirits of ancestors. Suzuki said he came to America to bring "the pure way of Zen Buddhism."
*Rumi Kawashiri, whose family belonged to Sokoji, wrote a college paper called "Sokoji and Zen Center" that year. Suzuki told her that he taught his Zen Center students the fundamentals of Buddhism, while his intent with the congregation was to point out the folly of their "mixed-up understanding and strong attachment to their own views and way of life." That didn't increase his popularity. He was harder on them than he had been on his congregation back at Rinso-in. Suzuki further said that the best hope for the congregation was "in the Sunday school and with the young in general." The youth liked him, but they were not enthusiastic about Zen. As in Japan, they thought Zen was for old folks and ancestors. He wouldn't give up on pure Zen, so the congregation gave up on him.
At the board meeting Suzuki didn't say anything in his own defense.
One relatively new member, a man who didn't often come to the temple, expressed an interest in being president of the Japanese congregation. Suzuki thought the man was getting in over his head and encouraged him to reconsider. The man responded by spearheading the move to oust Suzuki, bringing things to a head. Suzuki gave up, saying that maybe it was better to defer to those who wished him to leave. He confided to his disciple Peter Schneider that he had finally been given an excuse to quit.
Katagiri offered to stay on, but he was told that if he planned to continue working with the Zen students, the congregation didn't want him, so he resigned with Suzuki. Okusan was distraught, but George Hagiwara told her it was all for the best and not to worry.
One evening after zazen, Bob made up some reason to stay and talk with Suzuki. Suzuki served Bob tea, confiding that he was having a hard time writing to his old supporter Gido at headquarters, the man who'd sent him over and one of the few who he felt understood what he was doing. He wanted to send a letter of resignation and didn't know what to say.
Bob suggested that Suzuki call him on the phone right then. It was a novel idea to Suzuki. He reached Gido, talked to him for a few minutes, and got his blessing. Afterward he got out some special manju and gave Bob all he wanted.
should follow the original way of Zen, which goes
At a general meeting of the membership, it was decided that Zen Center would look for its own place, with all the problems that would entail. Suzuki asked Claude and Silas to look for a residential building for the Zen Center since they both dealt in the worlds of business and property. Suzuki would soon retire from his position at Sokoji to concentrate on working with his students and disciples. Eventually Claude and Silas found such a place.
At the corner of Page and Laguna Streets in San Francisco's Western Addition stood a handsome, three-story, redbrick building. It had been a Jewish women's residence called Emmanuel. In the summer of 1969 it was for sale. Claude, Silas, and Suzuki walked up the steps and between two columns to a solid, double front door with upper panes of thick, translucent glass. An older woman invited them in. The entryway had a high ceiling and opened into a wide hall with benches. A chandelier and sconces were unlit, but indirect light entered through the windows from a courtyard garden. To the left of the entryway were offices, and to the right was a large room lined with arched double windows. The building was magnificent, spacious, sturdy.
"Let's get it," Suzuki said, and he started looking around.
The next time they went to the building on Page Street, fifty other students joined them to view their prospective home. They all walked the fifteen blocks together. It was perfect, ready to go without any remodeling. There was a large dining room and a vast meeting room in the basement that could be used as a zendo right away. Everyone was impressed with the quality of the details--the built-in wooden cabinets and trim, the ironwork, and the view from the walkway on the roof.
This gracious building had been designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of Hearst Castle and many other acclaimed buildings in California.
Marian Derby and Chester Carlson, a founder of Xerox and the single largest donor toward the purchase of Tassajara, provided the down payment, and the Bank of Tokyo offered generous financing. Starting with the first month, all payments were met by modest resident rents and members' dues.
On November 15, 1969, students helped Suzuki and Okusan carry their few possessions to the waiting cars, and they said goodbye to the home they'd lived in, he for ten and a half years. An official stepping-down ceremony would take place later, but on this day he offered incense at Sokoji's altars, bowed to the building from the sidewalk, and rode away. Okusan was sobbing, feeling rejected. They had tried so hard to take good care of Sokoji and the congregation.
The Page Street building had residential space for up to seventy-five people, large communal bathrooms, and a second-floor suite that was perfect for the Suzukis, with three rooms and a bath. Most of the students who had been living in the apartments across the street from Sokoji moved in. At last Suzuki had the residential center in San Francisco that he'd been talking about since he came. There was a lot left to do--tatamis and bells to buy, altars to build, walls to paint (especially the zendo walls, which had a candy-cane motif). Hagiwara personally provided ceremonial equipment for the buddha hall.
At five pm Suzuki walked slowly down the wide central stairway, followed by a student carrying a burning stick of incense held high. After offering incense at simple altars in the kitchen, the buddha hall, and the basement zendo, Suzuki and his students sat zazen together. Not one period had been missed in the transition. First things first.
In January 1970, the new zendo was officially opened and named the *Mahabodhisattva Zendo. On the main floor, near the front door, the white-walled, arch-windowed buddha hall contained a fine maple altar built by a student. The room was covered with tatami, except for an aisle of the original reddish tile around the edge. Over a hundred students now resided in the neighborhood of Page and Laguna, and people drove in from around the Bay Area for zazen and visits. There were four zazen periods a day, three services, two meals in the dining room. Everyone participated in meal preparation, dishwashing, and building cleanup. They had a library, a laundry room, and a shop. Claude said he was almost embarrassed to be in such comfortable surroundings.
To practice being good neighbors, sangha members swept the sidewalks daily and planted trees. As on Bush Street, students were asked not to jaywalk. A neighborhood association had formed, and Suzuki suggested that only one or two members of Zen Center join it and mainly listen at the meetings.
The students, many of them idealistic, college-educated, young liberal do-gooders, now found themselves learning how to live in a predominantly black neighborhood, on the edge of one of the most dangerous areas in San Francisco. Japantown had also been near the Fillmore, but it was safer and had provided a type of invisible support. In this new neighborhood there were muggings, even murders. Catty-corner from the new building was a grocery store that sold canned goods, cigarettes, and liquor. The Chinese proprietor had died in a robbery there, and his wife had shot and killed two robbers since then, one of them soon after the Zen Center moved into the neighborhood.
The Zen practice at Page Street had nothing to offer the poor, disenfranchised neighbors--no money, no self-defense, no visible power. It was hard to figure out how to be helpful. Some neighbors complained that these newcomers made it harder to park. They were being called rich, self-involved hippies who didn't care about the problems of the local poor.
The sangha quickly learned that the doors to the building had to be locked. Neighborhood children figured out right away that the Zennies were suckers. They would roam the building at will. Things were stolen. One day three tough black teenagers came in the open door and were having fun being sassy to a few students who were trying to be good, nondiscriminating liberals. Suzuki approached in his robes, carrying his short teacher's stick.
"Hey, the man in the robes. You know karate? You fight?" one of the teenagers demanded. Suzuki's eyes lit up and he walked right up to them--short, unthreatening, yet full of spunk. "What's the stick for?" the biggest one asked.
"To hit you with," said Suzuki, and whacked him on the shoulder. Then he escorted the boys to the front door, while they laughed and sparred with him.
original motivation in coming here was not only
Peter Schneider and Suzuki were hunched over a couple of sheets of paper. "Shunryu Suzuki, Curriculum Vitae" was written in large letters at the top of the first. With Kobun's help Suzuki had reluctantly prepared a chronicle of his externally significant achievements for Peter, whom he had also reluctantly allowed to interview him about his past. Peter, Zen Center's historian, had been editing Wind Bell and was considering doing a book on Suzuki someday.
Peter kept trying to figure out when his teacher had become a Zen master. Ten times during the interview he asked. Suzuki would point to the résumé and say, "Here, no maybe there," or he'd get back to the previous topic. Any priest in Japan who had completed his training would be considered a master to his disciples. There was no word in Japanese that corresponded to the way "Zen master" was used in America. In Japan the title "roshi" was a formality, but good teachers were known by reputation or personal experience.
Suzuki's omissions in recalling his life were notable. He hardly mentioned his family. He talked about how his second and third marriages were opposed by some Rinso-in members, referring to them as his first and second marriages. He never wanted to talk about his past unless he thought it would help in some way. It was unimportant, private, and sometimes embarrassing.
What Suzuki enjoyed talking about most was Nona Ransom. When Peter asked about her, Suzuki started laughing and said, "I must tell you about Miss Ransom. She was my old, old girlfriend." He said she gave him the confidence to teach Westerners. She had died, and he was sad about it. He regretted that for the past few years he hadn't answered her letters.
After Suzuki had talked a good deal about his struggle to become abbot of Rinso-in, Peter asked about the use of the material.
Peter: Do you think it would be interesting, Roshi, for the students to know all this, or is it best to keep your biography very simple?
Suzuki: Maybe so. It doesn't make much sense though. I'm afraid if they don't understand what was going on in the background, it will just confuse them.
Peter: I'm trying to decide how much should be included from your history. It's interesting to your students, but also maybe …
Suzuki: No! Maybe interesting for someone who is not a student. Because of these kinds of experiences I decided to come to America. There's nothing interesting in all this. This is just a record, just confusion. My life in Japan was spent fighting, in struggle. Fortunately I knew how to handle the problems most of the time, but fighting just made for more difficulties. I was a very impatient and angry person, and I always started fights because of my impatience. Once I started to fight, I had to become very patient or else I'd lose that fight and it would be endless. I always won the struggles, but that is not the best way. It is better to surrender. [pause] If I had known the truth about American life earlier, it would have been sayonara to Japan a long time ago. Like this, you know [waving goodbye].
In answering a question about patience, Suzuki got a little impatient and expressed his frustration with the whole point of looking at his past.
Suzuki: It's a big job talking about all this. I'm not interested. I have no accurate record of my life, and I don't want any.
Peter: Is there any meaning at all in having something about you in the Wind Bell?
Suzuki: This sort of thing?
Peter: Some sort of history, some biography, not too elaborate, but something. Not a book though. Maybe about four or five pages? Is that a mistake?
Suzuki: Four or five!
Peter: How much do you think? One? Half a page? A paragraph? One sentence? What about your biography saying only, "I do not think much of this sort of thing and have not kept any records." End of biography. How do you feel about this?
Suzuki: I didn't get answers to these kinds of questions from my teacher. I don't have much interest in it either. If my life is seen in this way, everything will be lost.
Next: Chapter Seventeen
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