Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch. 18
can you practice zazen? Only when you accept yourself
After returning from Japan, Shunryu Suzuki experienced a period of relatively good health and was enjoying life with his students at Page Street. He went to zazen, led services, ate frequently with residents and boarders in the dining room, and saw many students privately for dokusan and tea.
While full of confidence in his sangha and in Richard still back in Japan, Suzuki was not naive about shortcomings and stumbling blocks. In lectures he warned about clinging to Buddhism and said that religion indeed could be an opiate--let it fall away and just be yourself. He'd been reminded during his 1970 trip to Japan of the decay inherent in institutions. "Don't give me that old-time religion," he said, and urged his students to be ever vigilant. One danger he saw was "losing oneself in a group." While extolling the virtues of the sangha, he warned his students not to become like sheep. During Suzuki's recent visit to Kyoto, Uchiyama, like his outspoken master Sawaki, had railed against Japan's "mob psychology" and tendency toward "group paralysis." In a lecture at Page Street, Suzuki spoke in his back-and-forth, contradictory fashion on this subject.
The most important thing in our practice is just to follow our schedule and to do things with people. Again, you may say this is group practice, but it is not so. Group practice is quite different; it is a kind of art. In wartime, when we were practicing zazen, some young men who were enthusiastic about Japan's militaristic mood told me that in a sutra it says, "To understand birth and death is the main point of our practice." They said, "Even though I don't know anything about that sutra, I can die easily at the front." That is group practice. Encouraged by trumpets, guns, and war cries, it is quite easy to die. That kind of practice is not our practice. We practice with people, first of all. But the goal is to practice with mountains, trees, and stones--with everything in the world, in the universe--and to find ourselves in this big cosmos, this big world.
Suzuki led the City Center sesshin in February 1971. The buddha hall was packed when he spoke. His lecture on Saturday, February 27, left a number of students with an empty feeling. They would refer to it later as the Driver Lecture.
He started by
saying that the reason we practice is to be fully enlightened. The
problem is delusion--we don't have the eyes to see clearly. "Naturally
you are wondering how to find the truth, and you want to have some clear
map of which way to go. That is why
He talked about how to work with a teacher, how not to waste your time or the teacher's time. "When he goes fast, you go fast, and when he goes slow, you go slow. Maybe your teacher will be like your driver." He said that students may ask the driver to stop at a coffee shop, and that's okay, but then they may want to hang out there.
This was an unusual approach for Suzuki to use in a lecture. He was giving advice about how to relate to a teacher, and how to relate to someone else as a teacher. He was worried about his dear passengers and the drivers to come. He was worried that his health was failing.
On March 12 Suzuki flew to Portland to visit a group associated with Zen Center. Okusan worried about his health and asked Reb Anderson to accompany him. Reb had studied with Suzuki since 1968, when he had driven up to the front door of Sokoji in a grey Cadillac hearse to visit his best childhood chum, Bob Halpern. Reb had been a championship heavyweight Golden Gloves boxer and had studied psychology, philosophy, and math at the University of Minnesota. Then he met Suzuki and through steadiness and persistence became a close disciple. He was ordained as a priest just two years later. In this short time Reb had already read more about Buddhism than most students ever would. He was a zealous practitioner who would sometimes sit zazen all night alone. He wanted to be near Suzuki, and since he was so concentrated and consistent in his efforts, he often was.
Suzuki gave a lecture on the evening of the first day in Portland. Late the next morning, as Reb was carrying the stick, he saw Suzuki bent over on his cushion. Reb went up to him, and Suzuki said, "I have a terrible pain." He was immediately taken back to the house where they were staying. The next morning he was still sick and coughing up bitter bile. Suzuki managed to endure the flight back to San Francisco, and Yvonne and Okusan met him with a wheelchair. Though he could hardly walk, he refused it, stubbornly and uncharacteristically saying, "No, I am a Zen master."
Back at Page Street, Reb knew things were really bad when Suzuki took off his robe and just let it drop to the floor, something he had never done in front of Reb, who was always watching and copying his teacher.
For the ride to the hospital Suzuki had to be carried to the car. The doctor quickly discovered it was his gallbladder, and before long he was in surgery.
understand Buddhism, direct experience, direct practice is
In the winter of 1971 Dianne Goldschlag had been coming home to Page Street and crying almost every afternoon. She was unhappy with her job at an insurance company cafeteria in Chinatown, where she was working to save money to go back to Tassajara. In dokusan Suzuki suggested that when Dianne cleaned the tables she should talk to them as if they were her friends, telling them how much she enjoyed cleaning them and how she hoped they felt better. It did help to talk to each table like that, Dianne found. But she still cried. Her room was over his room. One day she was crying hard in her room just before zazen. In the zendo Suzuki walked around with his stick, and when he came to Dianne he rested it gently on her shoulder but didn't hit her. He just stood there with the stick on her shoulder for a long time.
One day Dianne got off early from her job with only one thing on her mind. She was going to visit Suzuki at Mt. Zion Hospital, where he was recovering from his operation. Okusan had said no students should visit him, but that wasn't fair, thought Dianne. She owed him a visit--and a dime.
The previous summer, Suzuki had visited her in the hospital in Monterey when she had an abscess removed from her fallopian tube. Okusan was with him. After greeting Dianne and telling her to get well right away, Okusan went over to the window to leave her husband and his student alone and also to make sure they didn't visit too long. Dianne didn't say anything; she just looked at him. He leaned over and said, "I'll give you a dime to see your scar."
Now he was in the hospital and she wanted to support him.
When she reached the door of his room, some Japanese people were just leaving. Okusan looked harshly at her.
Suzuki told Okusan, "I want her to come over here by me. You go away."
Dianne went over to Suzuki-roshi's bed and, after inquiring about how he felt, reminded him that he'd seen her scar for a dime. She had a dime and wanted to see his scar. He showed her. It was fresh and red, with the stitches still in it. She asked what medication he was on, and he said none. He tried not to sleep during the day so he could sleep at night, in spite of the pain. She massaged his toes, gave him a poem that her friend Margaret had written for him, and showed him a funny little picture she'd drawn of multicolored fantasy animals. He marveled at her creatures. They were silly together for a while, and then she bowed and left him alone.
How not to be lost in our problems is our practice.
Suzuki remained in the hospital for a few weeks after his operation. The doctor had told him that people frequently feel a lot better and regain their former energy after their gallbladders are removed. So the hope was that he might get back the sort of health he had before his debilitating flus of the winters of 1969 and 1970. But while in the hospital he got another blow.
The doctor came to talk to the Suzukis together. A routine biopsy had shown that the gallbladder was cancerous. This surprised the doctor, because gallbladder cancer is very rare. The doctor was confident they'd gotten all the cancer before it spread; the surrounding tissue was pink and healthy looking, so they shouldn't worry too much. Still, it was disturbing news. Suzuki feared he might not live the ten years he'd been hoping for--fearing not for himself but for his students. The cancer was kept a secret. No need to disturb people.
A few days later Okusan brought her husband mail and messages. Among the get-well cards and notes was a letter from Katagiri stating his intention to resign soon. This was a completely unexpected blow, and it saddened Suzuki tremendously.
Suzuki was already concerned that Zen Center was getting much too large for him to deal with effectively, even with Katagiri's help. Katagiri was an essential teacher for the community and had become an increasingly important presence in the seven years he'd been there. Very little was more important to Suzuki than having Katagiri around. But he'd misread him, hadn't given him enough space or appreciation.
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. Suzuki had mentioned the idea that he might retire as abbot to work closely with a few people, that Richard would then become abbot, and that Katagiri would be Zen Center's senior dharma teacher. But Katagiri wanted to have his own group.
Suzuki couldn't move out of his bed. He was so helpless, and now with Katagiri's impending resignation he felt even more so. Okusan could see what a disaster it was for him and worried that this news alone would kill him.
Back at Page Street Suzuki did not get back his energy as everyone had hoped. He spent a lot of time in April recuperating in his bed. In May he began to get out. He gave a lecture one evening and went to the dining room for the regular question-and-answer period, told the students he was feeling fine, even opened up his robe and showed them his scar.
son, Otohiro, was
back from Vietnam. After a couple of years of depression and recovery,
he went to work for Japan Airlines. On Memorial Day he picked up his
father and Okusan at Page Street and took them to the annual ceremony at
the cemetery at Colma. There Suzuki found Katagiri, and they stood
talking at the edge of the crowd. Suzuki asked what his plans were after
Zen Center. Katagiri said he didn't have any idea. Suzuki was
A few days later Katagiri was back at Tassajara, preparing to leave. Suzuki was coming down from the city. Katagiri had asked Suzuki's attendant, Niels Holm, a carpenter and sailor from Denmark, if Suzuki had left the city yet. Niels assured him that he hadn't. He was lying. Suzuki had called and asked Niels to stall Katagiri at Tassajara till he got there. Katagiri didn't want to see Suzuki, because talking to him at Tassajara would be different from talking to him in public at Colma. It would be harder to say no or to say nothing.
All of a sudden there was Suzuki in front of him. Katagiri looked at Niels and realized he'd been betrayed. Niels made tea in Suzuki's tiny cabin, and watched the two teachers act as he'd never seen them act before. They bowed prostrate to each other, sat in seiza, and spoke formal, polite Japanese with ceremonial sincerity, rhythm, and tones. It was quite foreign to Niels, but he could see that Suzuki was asserting his seniority. Katagiri agreed to stay a while longer and attend the upcoming board meeting.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
Our way is to see what we are doing, moment after moment.
Despite the disastrous problems most of his students had encountered trying to study Zen in Japan, Suzuki continued to explore the possibility. Paul Discoe had gone there with his wife and son and was doing quite well, studying Zen and temple carpentry. Suzuki had ordained another couple before they went to Japan. The wife did fine at a nunnery, but her husband was forcibly sedated and shipped out of Eiheiji. A woman from Zen Center had such horrible experiences in Japanese temples that she rejected Buddhism entirely, bought a wig, and moved to L.A.
Suzuki had talked to Reb about going to Japan, and he was studying Japanese in preparation. A student named Angie Runyon was to be ordained in the fall. Suzuki was considering sending her to a women's temple in Japan. Suzuki was talking to Dan Welch about Japan, too. Reb, Angie, and Dan were devoted to Suzuki and did not wish to be with another teacher, especially since it wasn't clear how long Suzuki would be around. But they were prepared to do what their teacher asked.
Other students, including myself, who were less reticent about arguing with Suzuki, had refused to consider going, at least for the time being. Judging from those who'd gone, studying Soto Zen in Japan seemed to be exceedingly difficult. Only the renegades Uchiyama and Yasutani had attracted any following among Westerners. But Suzuki seemed willing to risk losing disciples in order to promote his old idea of exchanging students, of trying to establish this transmission of knowledge and understanding. He seemed to think it was necessary, that there was more to be learned about Zen and Japanese culture than he and his Japanese assistants could teach in America.
Yvonne Rand argued with Suzuki about sending any more women to Japan. Suzuki said he was unsure of himself as a teacher for women priests, and thought a woman teacher would understand them better. Angie, though not arguing with him, said she could not hope to meet anyone who understood her as well as Suzuki. Yvonne told him that Japan was not a good place for women to practice, because they were second-class citizens there. She said to a friend that if he persisted, she would lie down and kick and scream on the tatami in front of him until he changed his mind. In the end, neither Reb nor Angie nor Dan went. But others went later, and in time the exchange did begin to become more fruitful.
Earlier, Louise Pryor had been present when Suzuki, Okusan, and an assistant priest named Ryogen Yoshimura were discussing her husband Dan Welch's future. Dan, a priest who spoke good Japanese from his Rinzai training with Nakagawa, was to go to Japan to live in a temple for two years. The discussion was proceeding as if she weren't there.
"What about me?" she asked.
Yoshimura explained that Louise couldn't go because she wasn't Japanese and would be a burden on the priest's wife. She should remain in America for a year or two while her husband studied in Japan.
Louise became angry. "All of you think it's better to be a man than a woman, you think it's better to be a priest than a layperson, and you think it's better to be Japanese than American. But I will always be a woman, and I will always be a layperson, and I will always be an American, and here I am."
Everyone was silent. Suzuki turned to her and said, "What you have just expressed is the spirit of the bodhisattva's way."
You cannot judge a teacher by your low standards.
In early 1970 Shunryu Suzuki had been reading the book Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher who had just arrived in America. Some of Suzuki's students had heard Trungpa speak, had met him, and had talked to Suzuki about him in glowing terms. One evening while sitting with students after dinner at Page Street, out of nowhere Suzuki said, "Someone is coming. After he comes, maybe no one will be left here at Zen Center but me." Then he laughed. Nobody had the faintest idea what he was talking about. He was talking about Trungpa.
Trungpa and Suzuki met at Tassajara in June of 1970, and they immediately made a strong connection. Trungpa, his very young British wife, and a few of his students ate supper late the night they arrived. At the end of the meal, Suzuki came in and sat down across from Trungpa. They looked at each other intently and spoke unhurriedly with long pauses.
Suzuki asked Trungpa to give a talk to the students in the zendo the next night. Trungpa walked in tipsy and sat on the edge of the altar platform with his feet dangling. But he delivered a crystal-clear talk, which some felt had a quality--like Suzuki's talks--of not only being about the dharma but being itself the dharma. After that he asked Trungpa to come to Page Street and lecture when he was in the city, which Trungpa did. Suzuki had no relationship like this with any other teacher. They talked about the loneliness of being a teacher. Trungpa called him his new spiritual father, and Suzuki told him, "You are like my son."
Suzuki's relationship with Trungpa disturbed some people, maybe because Trungpa, in addition to being a brilliant, inspiring speaker and the beloved teacher of many disciples, was also an outrageously heavy drinker who slept with some of his female students.
One afternoon in May of 1971, Trungpa dropped by Page Street unannounced. He brought his newborn son to be blessed by Suzuki. Still recovering from his operation, Suzuki nonetheless put on a fancy yellow robe and high hat, quite appropriate for Tibetans, and performed a little ceremony in the buddha hall.
Afterward they went to the courtyard for tea. Later a number of Suzuki's students started studying with Trungpa. Some, including Bob Halpern, went to Boulder, where Trungpa spent most of his time; others stayed at Zen Center and went to Trungpa's San Francisco place when he was in town. Suzuki was comfortable with this and even suggested to some students that they go study with Trungpa. He communicated to Trungpa by letter and through students who went back and forth. Suzuki was interested in Trungpa's ideas of exchanging students, starting a Buddhist university, sharing tapes and transcripts of lectures in their libraries, and founding a center to work with what Trungpa called "mentally extreme" students.
Trungpa's scene was new and exciting. He was younger and more energetic than Suzuki. Suzuki expressed concern that because of his indulgent lifestyle Trungpa wouldn't live long enough to establish his way. As austere as Suzuki's own lifestyle was, and as controversial as Trungpa was, Suzuki did not reject him for his ways but always related to him with love and acceptance. In July 1971 Suzuki mentioned Trungpa in a lecture:
you do is right, nothing you do is wrong,
In June 1971, during a sesshin in the city, Suzuki gave public talks for the first time since his gallbladder operation.
In his first talk Suzuki-roshi said, "Our practice is just to sit." He explained that the usual way of doing things is to expect something. From this point of view, if his students kept sitting and applying themselves day after day, their practice as well as their mental and physical health might improve. "But that is not a full understanding of practice. We also do zazen with the understanding that the goal is not there one or two years in the future, but right here." Further in his talk he said that real practice implies more than a scientific search for truth. Without ignoring the objective side of the truth, it has to be subjective as well, Buddha's whole teaching just for you, something you can taste. Not something to believe in but to discover, to experience.
Only when each one of us feels the truth, appreciates the truth, accepts the truth, and is ready to follow the truth, will it work. When someone puts himself outside of the truth in order to study the truth, he won't know what to do when something happens to him.
On the last day of the sesshin Suzuki recalled the time two years before when he had almost drowned at the Narrows of the Tassajara Creek, revealing what a pivotal experience it had been for him.
Suzuki's offhand comment about dying was disturbing. He seemed to have recovered from his operation and was having a lot of contact with students. But there was still an uneasiness, a fragility in his laughter. During one lecture that June, talking about the decline of Buddhism in Japan, he paused and said with emphasis, "But things, you know, teach best when they're dying."
A garden is never finished.
At Tassajara, Okusan and her husband spent an evening writing haiku, a rare moment together. She was staying in the Japanese-style cabin next to his, teaching and doing tea ceremony with students. She had started both haiku and tea ceremony while in the States--both at the prompting of her husband. "They are the only things he ever gave me," she said.
Along the creek
we look for tea-room flowers
Summer 1971, Tassajara: Hojo and I stay in Tassajara during the month of August. Dharma talk evening after evening. There's blood and sweat. Hojo and I write haiku together.
from Temple Dusk by Mitsu Suzuki
Suzuki was a regular dynamo that summer. He was following the whole schedule--zazen, service, silent breakfast with oryoki bowls, seeing students for dokusan, giving lectures almost every night. He worked in his garden in the mornings and afternoons with one or two students at a time. He didn't spend much time preparing for lectures, tending to find what he wanted to say when he sat down on his cushion. Instead, in the hottest part of the day after a nap and in the evening after dinner, he wrote with a brush in sumi ink on the white backing of rakusus for fifty-five students who were to receive lay ordination in late August in San Francisco. On each rakusu he wrote the four-stanza robe chant, the date, his name with red ink seal, and the four-character Buddhist name he'd chosen for the student. Okusan was trying without much luck to get him to rest more.
Working alone, Suzuki leaned into a large stone in his garden, turning it slightly while his attendant, Niels, stood by the bridge looking down the road past the zendo. Suddenly Niels whistled--the sign that Okusan was on her way back from the baths. Then Niels took Suzuki's place wrestling with the stone while Suzuki went to sit in the shade on the bench by his cabin, taking on the appearance of a supervisor. She eyed them with suspicion. The next day she sneaked back before her bath and caught him working with Niels.
"Hojo-san!" she yelled at him in Japanese. "Working out here in your garden on a hot August day with a shovel taller than you are! You are cutting your life short!"
"If I don't cut my life short, my students will not grow."
"Then go ahead and cut it short, if that's what you want!" she scolded, wagging a finger.
"Stop that racket!" he said, returning to his task.
Okusan had reason to be upset. She knew and he knew he had not recovered from his operation. His urine was brown and so was his Japanese underwear. She'd wash it right away so his cabin cleaner, Maggie Kress, would not see it. But she would show Maggie his perspiration-soaked, robelike undershirt, wring it out and say, "Look, he's sweating blood. He must rest more," as if Maggie might be able to control him.
Once at morning tea Suzuki was discussing the menu with senior students. At the request of the head cook, he agreed to demonstrate how he made udon, thick Japanese noodles. Before long he had a whole batch of people mixing rice flour and water and rolling dough while cooling breezes came through the screened windows.
Some people worked the flour into dough on the long sycamore worktable, others kneaded away on bread boards on the tile floor, while Suzuki kept adding more flour. Okusan came into this chaos, and they snapped at each other in Japanese till he pushed her out of the kitchen, laughing and undaunted. More people joined in--some preparing lunch, one making bread for guests, another washing pots in the corner, another passing around cups of tea and coffee. Suzuki kept adding more flour and water to give the new arrivals work to do.
"Who's running Tassajara?" asked one of the officers. "We have a guest season going on."
"You go run it!" laughed Suzuki.
After some hours, as the dough was being rolled out thin and cut into strips, Okusan returned, fuming. Suzuki waved goodbye, all smiles, as she dragged him out the door. What had started as a meal for a dozen older students ended up as dinner for sixty people, with seconds and thirds, two nights in a row.
"Why don't you ever talk to me?" Okusan said one evening, exasperated. "What are you always thinking about?"
"Buddhism in America," he answered.
"Why can't you be like other husbands and tell me you love me?"
He looked at her. "Honey, honey, honey," he said.
"That's already too much," she said and went back to her cabin.
Yvonne came to Tassajara to drive Suzuki to a doctor's appointment in San Francisco. Okusan came along. As Yvonne was now president of Zen Center, she mentioned Jean Ross's recent resignation from the board. Zen Center had gotten too big and institutional for Jean, who felt she didn't get enough support for her little Carmel zendo. But the main reason she had quit the board was because Richard, who was living in Japan, still seemed to be running things at Zen Center in absentia. Jean had always admired Richard's energy and intelligence; indeed, it was she who had nominated him for president back in 1965, but everything had gotten to be too much for her. Suzuki nodded, not saying much.
He asked Yvonne how her children were doing. He talked about his family and expressed regret. "My focus was always on being a priest. It might have been better if I'd never gotten married. I have been a very bad family man. A bad father and a bad husband."
"Oh yes, veeeery bad husband," said Okusan. "Gooood priest, but baaaaad husband." She often said that.
People with children were coming to Tassajara for "family practice." Pauline Petchey spent the summer there with her and Grahame's three children. Beat poet Diane diPrima, an old student of Suzuki's, spent a month with her four children. Toni and Tony Johansen brought their two children and ran a little summer school down in the barn. With Katagiri's help a children's ordination was arranged. Twelve of them sewed their own rakusus with their parents, and Suzuki performed a lay ordination, telling them they were the good children of Buddha.
Alan Watts came to Tassajara for the first time that summer with his wife, Jano. He had been a great help to Suzuki from the first, sending him students and introducing him to colleagues in the San Francisco Asian studies scene. Several of Zen Center's major donors at the time of the purchase of Tassajara had come through Watts and his East Coast connections. Though he loved rituals, Watts had scorned discipline, zazen, and the institutions that reminded him of the stuffiness of British boarding schools. He had interpreted Zen to millions and helped to open the minds of a generation, yet Suzuki's simple presence could make him feel off balance.
Watts was a heavy drinker. He had ended a long dry period that summer on the drive down to Tassajara. Suzuki sat with him and Jano that night on the back porch of a century-old stone room overlooking the creek. Niels, attending Suzuki, joined them. Watts, usually so confident, able to improvise lucid spiels on live radio when he couldn't even walk straight to the mike, had lost his cool and was chattering nervously. Suzuki was being terribly quiet, which just made Watts talk more. Jano was being quiet, too. Watts kept getting up to "have some of your marvelous water," and he'd come back smelling more of alcohol each time. Niels, unable to take it any longer, started talking with Watts and kept a running patter going for an hour while Suzuki and Jano sat silently.
The next day, as Niels helped Suzuki in his garden, they could hear Watts on the bridge expounding his understanding of all-that-is to some dazzled guests. He had regained his composure and was standing tall with a toga and a staff. Niels expressed regret at having talked so much the night before, saying he'd been a very bad student.
Suzuki said, "Oh no, you were a very good student last night. Thank you very much."
"Well, we used to think he was profound until we found the real thing," Niels said.
"You completely miss the point about Alan Watts!" Suzuki fumed with a sudden intensity. "You should notice what he has done. He is a great bodhisattva."
One day while walking in the vegetable garden at Tassajara, Suzuki noticed a student who was sitting on a stone looking at a sunflower growing nearby. He went over and sat by her.
"What are you doing?"
"Meditating with the sunflower," she said. "It rotates with the sun."
Suzuki sat with her for a long time. That night Suzuki referred to his garden visit.
stick to naturalness too much. When you stick to it,
I was having tea with Suzuki in his cabin and asked him the meaning of the scroll behind him.
"Stones in the air."
"Stones in the air?"
"Yes. It was given to me by my master Kishizawa-roshi. It means don't create some problems which are extra. Just the problems you already have are enough."
"You mean like you can't ride a horse on a horse?" I asked, referring to another proverb that Suzuki sometimes mentioned, which likened problems to horses. You can ride one horse but you can't ride a horse on a horse. It was a point he made in various ways--that if we don't compound our problems we'll be able to deal with them.
"Yes, same thing," Suzuki answered.
"Oh!" said I, excited. "I understood something!"
Suzuki laughed. "Is that unusual?"
"Yes! I never understand anything."
"What do you not understand?"
"What you talked about last night in lecture--ri, the first principle. Every time you talk about that I give up. I think it's impossible for me to understand."
"No, no, no," he said, like a mother consoling a hurt child. "I don't mean to discourage you. You can understand. You can understand completely. It's just that the way you're trying to understand is like going south to get to San Francisco."
Suzuki lectured almost every night at Tassajara that summer, more than he'd ever done before. On August 17, the night before he left, he spoke to his students about something he'd been returning to--the first principle and the second principle.
He warned about confusing the *first and second principles. He'd become aware that many people didn't understand what he was saying. The problem was that one couldn't talk about both sides, emptiness and form, at once. He especially emphasized not confusing these two aspects when it came to rules.
"You talked about the first principle again, but I still don't know what it is," I said to Suzuki.
"I don't know," he said, "is the first principle."
There is no special path which is true.
It had been over five years since Shunryu Suzuki had first traveled the winding, dusty road to Tassajara with Richard in April of 1966. In that time he had come to know intimately the stones in the creek and the plants and trees on the hillsides. He had delighted in the natural setting: stopping on the Hogback Trail to gaze across the valley at the waterfall and breathe the clean wilderness air, soaking in the large mineral-water plunge. Suzuki savored the sights, sounds, and smells of his hidden paradise, but he was only there because of the people who had joined him and helped him to establish his way.
Tassajara represented everything he loved: a place to listen to the birds, to move rocks, to sit zazen with his Buddhist friends, and to extend that zazen everywhere endlessly. Tassajara was Suzuki's reward and at the same time his gift. Whenever he arrived or departed, students would stop what they were doing to come stand on the road to bow in gassho as the car pulled up or away, and he would bow with them. At those times it was most obvious how Suzuki's heart was planted there at Tassajara.
Maggie was packing Suzuki's bags. He was supposed to leave before lunch, but since morning tea all he'd done was work in his garden. Maggie had gone out to question him a few times: Did he want her to pack this or that? Did he want some tea? But he wouldn't answer or even look up. He just kept nudging the stones this way and that and moving a few of the plants. He was getting his garden the way he wanted it and doing so with a sense of finality that had echoed in his lecture the night before. Finally he stopped. He stood looking for a while. At least for now, his work had come to an end.
Yvonne had driven in from the city to pick up the Suzukis. She accompanied Okusan to get her things. Niels and Maggie went with Suzuki into his cabin to do the last bit of packing. Suzuki untied his work clothes and let them drop to the tatami. In the subdued light he stood in the middle of his room in his white underwear, exhausted, almost unable to move. Suddenly he looked sickly and weak, his skin yellow. It seemed to have just happened, as if he'd used himself all up. He could hardly dress himself. He walked slowly with Niels to the baths and then to the zendo to offer incense, something he always did when arriving or departing.
Dan, the director, brought Yvonne's Volvo over the little bridge, and they loaded the back. A dozen students stood around silently. Suzuki came back from the zendo and smiled at them. He looked so weak. Okusan helped him into the back of the car as Dan, his wife, Louise, and Angie Runyon got in. Maggie was standing at the side, crying. He kept bowing, and everyone was bowing back. Faintly he said through the open window that he was sorry to leave and would try to be back soon. People said, "Yes, come back soon." Yvonne drove off with Suzuki still smiling. The Volvo slowly crossed the wooden bridge over the small creek, passed the narrow stretch below the upper garden and above the stone kitchen and zendo, curved up the dirt road past the shop and the screened junkyard, drove under the roof of the gatehouse and up the bumpy road in a cloud of dust, Tassajara disappearing behind.
The exchange: "Well, we used to think he was profound until we found the real thing," and Suzuki's answer was actually between Bob Halpern and Suzuki on that same day around the same time.
Next: Chapter Nineteen
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