Shunryu on Shunryu
Shunryu Suzuki Index suzuki lectures
Peter Schneider Interview 1 with Shunryu Suzuki
This is close to a verbatim version by DC of an interview at Sokoji on Bush St. in SF. - DC (1-19-07).
See the lecture Suzuki gave this same evening on why he became a priest and came to America.
Peter Schneider's Interview two
Peter Schneider's Interview three with Suzuki during the regular Sunday lecture
These links and more on Shunryu on Shunryu including rearranged and edited versions of Peter Schneider's Interviews
SUZUKI RŌSHI ON ZEN CENTER HISTORY, PERSONAL HISTORY, AND NONA RANSOM
September 16, 1969
[From almost the very first, for a while very hard to understand because mike is on the tape recorder. But it has been checked pretty closely and I think it's 99.9% right. —David Chadwick]
Peter Schneider: Suzuki-rōshi, will you tell me about Miss Ransom?
Suzuki-rōshi: Miss Ransom. She was teaching us at Komazawa University when I first see her.
PS: Teaching what, Rōshi?
SR: Teaching English, and she was teaching us conversation—how to—once a week. And at that time I have not much relationship with her, but after I finished preparatory course of University—Komazawa and became specialized in Buddhist course, I was still interested in studying English so once in a while I attended her lecture in some other course and in English course. And one summer, in summer vacation I called her because it was so hot, just because I couldn't get home.
So I called her at the back door and sitting in the one room near kitchen I asked a cup of water but she gave us something different, watermelon, and she appeared in that room and she asked me to help her, in shopping, or such things like that when she has some difficulty in speaking with some Japanese people, but at that time two students were working, or helping her already [blank spot], so she may not need me, but she said one boy from Komazawa is leaving quite soon so she said she wanted me. That was how our more closer relationship became then.
And at first she was, she came to China, to help the last Emperor of China, Sento—Emperor Sento. She was tutor [not tutor?]. And Mr. Yoshida who became prime minister of Japan, helped her to invite or—actually Mr. Yoshida invited her to Japanese parents as a [tutor?] [blank space]—took some advertisement in paper and offered her father—I don't know how his name, he was quite famous though.
And she is quite strict and maybe stubborn and she was trying to force English way to us and to Japanese people. And she had always some complaint so mostly what I have to do is to listen to her complaints. Anyway I don't know who was her father who was famous. So far as I know he is as famous as General [Admiral] Togo [Heihachiro], who defeated Russian fleet in Japan Sea.
I stayed with her 1-1/2 year—
PS: Living in the house, Rōshi?
SR: Yes, living in her house. I have many difficulties from living in her house but anyway I stayed there. At last I left her, not because some difficulty between us but because I felt in this way: I may not be a priest anymore. One day when I visited um residence or residence or residence or office of Turkish, Ambassador from Turk?
PS: Yeah, Turkish, yes.
SR: Ambassador. And there were one who helped him—and seeing what he want to be there, maybe someday I shall be like you. I scared of myself you know, what I will become an ambassador, not become a priest [sounds right I guess] if I stay there two or three years. So I left her and I came back to dormitory. That is relationship between I and Mrs. Ransom.
And one more thing, maybe. One more thing. She became—she was not a Buddhist when I met her. And she had a beautiful Buddha.
[Noise and laughter—Suzuki takes some food from Peter.]
SR: You are my jisha.
PS: Probably the only jisha who serves you chicken. You want some more? [Both laughing.]
[Can't understand—joking around.]
SR: She was not Buddhist. But she had a beautiful Buddha about one feet sitting—and she put in—on tokonoma—but she put also her shoes with Buddha, side by side. I am not so concerned about those things, especially when she is not Buddhist, but that was my problem, so I decided to change her way. So I offered everyday a cup of tea to Buddha. And she was very much amused about the offering of tea. So she had many guests—so she started to tease me or not accuse me but she tease me by putting a toothpick into Buddha's hand or matches.
PS: I didn't know that part before [laughing], putting matches huh?
SR: Yeah. I don't know who did it. Maybe her guests because she told them, he is very naughty boy to put tea before the Buddha. In this way one month—one more month passed and I didn't stop and she was continuously teasing me but I ignore her what ever they do. I didn't think to take off toothpick or matches. But I thought, there will be some chance for me to explain what is Buddha, what is Buddhism, so I studied hard to explain in English how to do it and learn some vocabulary. And at last she asked me about why we worship Buddha, Buddhahood—like this explain about it. And she was amazed, you know, and since then she didn't tease me anymore and she started to try to understand what was Buddhism actually what was Buddhism and what is the—and she turned to be Buddhist, and she became a Buddhist, Buddhism save her. And she asked me to buy some incense for her, incense and some other things too—small bell, as I told this kind of things is necessary.
And that gives me some confidence in the possibility of understanding Buddhism for the Caucasians people.
[At this point Peter takes the mike off the machine and we can hear better!]
They understand quite easily, I thought, what is Buddhism, and they may like Buddhism—so I wanted to come—to go abroad or at least Hokkaido to where I have chance to speak to Caucasian or at least foreigners who doesn't know what is Buddhism. But my master was, my master scolded me when I asked him to go to America or Hokkaido. I said, "America." He said, "No." And I said "Hokkaido." "No." And at last he was, he became very angry and, "You should stay here." Just one word.
So I gave up my notion of going abroad. And I gave up completely my idea of going, coming to America. Several times I had a chance to come to America but I refused to come. In 1954 [this is a mistake—he corrects to 1958 later] as I finished what my teacher told me to do I decided to come to America. So there is some truth that I was with her was actually my turning point of life, I think, it was—my idea was of going abroad was always, must be here although I gave up, I thought I gave up, but I didn't.
I don't want to say why I came to America because I was invited actually Japanese congregation. But when I said "yes" our headquarters did not appoint me to this temple but as an assistant resident priest of Soko-ji. That means that I am not responsible for Soko-ji if I just help and that was my duty. But as soon as I come here headquarters wanted me to take over Tobase's position. So I must be faithful to Japanese members. So I don't want to say this point so clearly. I have never expressed any idea of - my real idea of coming to America, but actually I thought if I could go to San Francisco I can do something which I want to do—not for distant country but for American people.
PS: You said in 1954 you decided, but you didn't come until 1959.
PS: You meant to say 1959.
SR: Oh, 1959. Excuse me. I mixed up. My age was at that time was 54.
PS: Okay. That's very helpful Roshi. That's only the first question. Let's see. When the students first came did they sit upstairs here or downstairs?
SR: Upstairs. At that time we have no sitting place to sit.
PS: You just had the pews.
PS: Was Bill McNeil and his wife your first students? The very first?
SR: The very. The very first ones.
PS: How did he come here, Bill.
SR: One day Lou appeared came (they clarify pronunciation) one morning and she said my husband wants to go to Japan and she wanted to know about it. And I said to her, "If so, it may be a good idea for him to come and sit." So McNeil, not Lou, started to sit with me—McNeil. And one morning Lou also when McNeil wanted to go home Lou came up from the stairs and McNeil was rather amazed to see her. And why did you come? And they were talking something. Lou did not tell him, you know, anything. I think she must have told him just to go to Soko-ji without telling him any reason. And McNeil didn't know that she came here and made some arrangement with me. So anyway they two started to sit with us. And then when I had many students, and Dr. Kato for a while he was here and helped. And those who were studying Asian Academy joined. And so Jean, Della, and Warren, and some other students joined—not Zen Center—at top of stairs.
PS: With the early students was there any feeling of sangha?
SR: Yes. Not sangha. They were sitting with me every morning, constantly, so more and more we created a feeling of sangha. And they offered me some money each month. I didn't feel to spend that money. You know if I have it I may spend it in various ways, so I thought it would be better to decide to some treasurer or someone to find someone to take care of the money I received. And that is how Zen Center started maybe actually. In 1962 we organized Zen Center.
PS: When you used to do takuhatsu, Roshi, the students asked you if they could do takuhatsu also and you said no. Why did you say no?
SR: Why? At that time, you know, it is maybe too . . . what we are doing it, I thought it is not so good or not so formal practice but is it is too early to do this.
PS: Do you think you were more strict in the beginning? Or less strict? This is interesting for me, Rōshi. For example you used to tell people not to move during zazen and at some point you must have stopped for some reason.
SR: Because, you know, at that time they moved a lot.
PS: They don't move any more?
SR: They don't move any more so I don't tell them.
PS: Why did you just give shinshanshiki just once?
SR: Once? That is—it should be just once because it is installation ceremony too distant.
PS: Isn't that when students get lay rakusu?
SR: No. Oh, nyushinshiki you mean. Shinsanshiki [Mountain Seat Ceremony], that's different. That is, I think we have to do it, but we are pretty busy so we don't. Oh, today I, excuse me. Today -
PS: How did the Wind Bell start?
SR: Wind Bell started just by printing one sheet of paper.
PS: Whose idea was the Wind Bell?
[(At top of page 3 is a handwritten note as follows: Suzuki-roshi: Who helped start WB. Philip & JJ do the first issue with you? Roshi: No. Not actually. Of course they may have helped.)]
[Begin Side 2]
SR: Not my idea or some other's idea, you know. We just started saying that it will be a good idea because Dick was, you know, Dick and some other students always writing my lecture (end of side one) and made - asked me many questions about my lecture. So naturally we thought it may be good idea. But if I start to - what I say in my lecture with very awkward English, you know, what I have in my mind is very different, so I have to write down something. So in the Wind Bell the reader couldn't get the original talk, just my broken English corrected by some others, someone else, like Dick. That is how. I think you have Wind Bell Number 1.
SR: That kind of thing.
PS: Do you have a picture of Yamada-rōshi somewhere? Old picture.
SR: Maybe. I don't think so. Someone may have it. Do you want his picture alone in the picture or ...
PS: Some picture taken back then. Some man used to take Zen Center pictures, Roshi. Who was he?
SR: He's coming so I'll ask him.
PS: Okay. There was a certain development of the zendō. You took out the pews and used tatamis. You painted the zendō. How did this change all take place?
SR: Little by little. At first we take out all the pews. That was pretty difficult thing to do, because Japanese people doesn't sit; they need chair. That's opposite. But since Zen Center bought those chairs for Japanese people - Red one was given to us by some Caucasian who came to Soko-ji before we come to Soko-ji temple. Twenty of them was given to us. And we bought some more, maybe twenty, so we decided to take out the pews. Actually it destroyed the pews.
PS: How did the mats go down?
SR: Oh. Tatami. I think they helped—Japanese members helped—I thought 100 to buy tatamis. At that time some Japanese people were sitting. Not many. Two, three. One is still alive. Two of them passed away. So they put the emphasis on Zen in Japanese congregation. At that time it was pretty good. The relationship was pretty good.
PS: Phillip says that every Saturday you would carry the pews in and out.
SR: Oh yeah, I did.
PS: For Japanese sake.
SR: Uh-huh, I did. We carry out when we are sitting. Before we have chairs. Yeah. In and out. All the time. Every—weekly.
PS: How did the Japanese feel about that?
SR: Most of them didn't know. Those people who come here always understand Zen Center very well, but some people many people who doesn't come to Soko-ji, even on Sunday service, criticize Zen Center.
PS: Why did you have the nyushinshiki ceremony just once?
SR: Oh, nyushinshiki ceremony just once? Because I'm a little bit discouraged. At that time we had nyushinshiki ceremony for maybe 13 people, I don't remember how many. I have record. But most of them many of them - some of them you know said we don't want this any more and return it to me. So I was rather discouraged. For Japanese people it is good you know, but for American people it is too—something too formal.
PS: I can't put that in history (laughing). Not good history answer.
SR: Did you ordain Bob Hense and Bill McNeil?
SR: Oh, Robert. Yes.
PS: They were ordained in Japan or here?
SR: In Japan. They formally shaved his head without knowing what was it. [Both laugh.] My friend did it at that time. Not very good history. [Laugh.]
PS: During sesshins sometimes you would leave for two hours and there would be no bells for two hours. Did you do that for practice or did you just forget? Students always wondered. Maybe you shouldn't tell (laugh). Sometimes Roshi an hour and a half would go by. Then all of a sudden you'd walk in, you'd walk to the kitchen and then you'd walk out again.
SR: Yeah. That is, you know, how my teacher did with me you know. Maybe sometime I forgot, but I didn't feel so bad. [Both laugh.] I thought, watching clock, oh, it was too long, you know. And doesn't matter—one more hour. I have that kind of feeling at that time—not the first time.
PS: Let's see. Actually maybe that's enough.
SR: That may be very interesting topic to write.
PS: That's in the Wind Bell, but I have not said why. I guess I won't say why either. But students describe waiting and waiting and waiting. They remember that very much. Also, you used to have, first period of sesshin was always double period.
SR: Yeah. [Long pause.] It is you know—at that time I put emphasis on to forget the idea, to get rid of the idea of time place. Where they are, how long they should sit, that is not, you know, zazen. If you sit, the confidence should be (phone rings) to sit forever—here.
PS: What is your father's name, Roshi?
PS: You graduated from college when you were 26.
PS: Is that pretty old?
[Loud motor sound here.]
PS: Why did you start school so late?
SR: Because I was with my teacher, cooking, serving, and so on. I haven't finished middle school or high school.
PS: Oh I see. When did you begin studying with your teacher, when you were 14 or something?
PS: Did you quit high school when you were 13?
[Mike moved—poor sound.]
SR: I only finished grammar school. And I was studying, of course, in the temple so I could enter the last two years - at that time high school was five years - and I took the fourth grade and fifth grade only at that high school. And that is why.
PS: How old were you then? Twenty?
SR: Uhhhh [sighing], yeah twenty. Stayed twenty-one.
PS: When you were in high school still?
SR: Yes. My schooling is very late one.
PS: You didn't begin studying with Kishizawa-rōshi until 1932?
PS: I see. Your teacher was your uncle also?
SR: My teacher was my father's disciple.
PS: Your father's disciple, that's right. That's not this fellow, though. Is it Kishizawa?
SR: Yes Kishizawa.
PS: Was your father's disciple?
SR: No he is my (long blank space) teacher's friend.(last two words not in tape I have.)
PS: You were ordained when you were 13 by your father's disciple. Is he also your uncle? He has the same name, Suzuki.
SR: Yeah, maybe so. Uncle, but not real one.
PS: Is it just coincidence that you have the same name?
SR: No. He was adopted by my father.
PS: You had this shuso ceremony at Kenko-in. Where is that?
SR: At Shizuoka City.
PS: Was that a training monastery for Shizuoka?
SR: Yes, but actually there was not much students.
PS: Were there any students? Just you?
SR: No, several students. But at that time when I had shuso ceremony more priests and monks came to join the ceremony - not only the ceremony but the practice.
PS: It says here that when you were 22 you had dharma transmission. And then it says that you have tenei. What does that mean? Osho or Zen master?
SR: Tenei means "to go to, to change off." "Dharma transmission" is just - at that time my master wanted me to be successor of his former temple. Although my practice was not good enough, because of that, because of he wanted me to take over his former temple. Before he came to Rinso-in he was head priest of Zoun-in where my father was.
PS: That is not here? Zo-
SR: How do you spell that?
[PS: So you became, did that happen then? You became the priest at Zoun-in?
SR: Yes. After there.] (not on tape)
PS: So that does not make you zen master then. That just makes you osho?
PS: This is right about when you finished high school?
SR: No. Komazawa. Yes.
PS: You finished Komazawa in 1930. This is 1926. Actually Tenei is after or during Komazawa. Dharma transmission is right before.
SR: This is just -
PS: Private thing huh?
SR: No. This is. Officially I was supposed to receive transmission here (thumping), but actually I haven't.
PS: How do you mean you haven't?
SR: Just because, you know, to make acknowledgement from headquarters we submitted this (thumping), my master submitted this.
PS: So you could have a robe for Eihei-ji or what?
SR: I didn't wear - just this is just formal - what do you say? - record. (dharma transmission [?]). I have this record at our headquarters, but actually I became, I changed my robe.
SR: Oh, there - I see, I see.
SR: If I haven't this record I couldn't take over my, his former temple. And at that time I couldn't actually take over his position and my father was doing it, my job there, and I was studying at Komazawa.
PS: How long did you keep Zoun-in?
SR: Five years.
PS: Until your master died?
SR: Um-hum. No, no. Maybe ten years. Five years I actually—
PS: Lived there?
SR: Rinso-in and I was - since even after I became head, must head priest of Rinso-in, I was taking care of this temple. (thumping here and there)
PS: So you had two temples then?
SR: At that time, for five years. (Must mean 1934-39)
PS: What does this mean here, Roshi. It says you were the Koshi at Bansho Zenrin.
SR: Koshi means "someone to give lectures." Bansho this is so called Kasuisai temple where the head of the Soto school, Takashina-rōshi, lived. Takashina-rōshi.
PS: That is the man who later became abbot of Eihei-ji?
SR: Yes. Eihei-ji and Soji-ji and head of the Sōtō.
PS: I see. He was the head of-in Shizuoka-ken, huh?
PS: First. Okay. Now - when did you take over your master's temple? 1932 huh?
PS: Oh, here's that one. Right. Zoun-in. Then in 1936. Your master died in 1936.
SR: Yes. No, no. My master died in 1934. At that time I was too young. I was maybe about 31 or something like that.
PS: You were born in 1904.
PS: He died in 1934 or 1935?
Suzuki-rōshi: I don't know by your counting.
PS: How old were you? You think you were 31.
PS: And you were too young to take over his temple so what happened?
SR: So there was a long confusion. Someone supported me. "Even though he's young, it's all right." Someone said, "No," and in this way for two years no one succeeded my master. And long time, at last I became—[someone comes in—restart].
PS: So after two years of confusion then you became the head of Rinso-in? Did that mean that you were a Zen master? Did that make you a Zen master technically?
SR: No. I don't think so.
PS: When did you become a Zen master?
SR: At that time under my temple there were many famous teachers, rōshis. Kishizawa-rōshi when he came to my temple he you know—sometimes he would sit for a while he was sitting here and I didn't know he was there. There were many famous teachers. That is why I couldn't take over my master's seat. Actually I didn't want to, to be. I didn't say so but in my heart, no. [All sorts of noise: moving mike.]
My boy is in the same position so I'm very sympathetic with him. So I rather wanted him to come to America. Maybe that was too much after my temple. And if my boy leave my temple they would be very furious.
PS: When did you become a Zen master?
SR: I became - after I have taken my master's position. For a long time I have to sometimes conduct some big ceremony. And whenever we have shuso ceremony or training period in branch temples, I have to join them as they taking over my master's position. Then while I am doing this kind of thing they officially acknowledged me as a Zen master. I received special robe.
PS: How old were you then?
SR: Maybe I was 40, 45 or so.
PS: So all these temples are sort of branch temples of - is Zouin-in a branch temple of Rinso-in?
SR: No, different - belong to Rinso-in - this is - in Shusuoka prefecture there are big temple who has 3000 branch temples, which has 3000. And Zoun-in is a grandson, you know—(illegible word written). This is Daito-in and here is Shoshin-ji, and Zoun-in like this - And Rinso-in and another temple branch temple of this is Takawazon [?] And Rinso-in is branch temple of Takawazon. [In margin: Sekiun-in. Bill [Lane?] says is funding temple.]
PS: And Zoun-in is branch temple of what?
SR: Branch temple of Soshin-ji. Rinso-in is branch temple of Seikun-in. And both Seiku-in and Soshin-ji -
PS: Are sons huh?
PS: I see. Okay. Now From 1936 until 1942 you just were at Rinso-in then.
PS: This says from 1942 to 1947 you're the official teacher of the number 10th monastery of the Soto sect.
SR: What is it?
SR: That was near Shizuoka. This was newly established temple at that time, and because I was at that time already a master, a Roshi -
PS: You were a roshi in 1942 then?
SR: Yes, already here was roshi. Oh yeah. Because I finished - my temple completely and I attended, I acted as roshi so many times before, now headquarters acknowledged me, give me a title. ([Shiki means roshi title.])
PS: I see. In 1942?
SR: On the occasion they -
PS: - appointed you this.
PS: So then you were 38 then.
SR: 38, maybe.
PS: You were born in 1904. You'd be 38.
SR: Joshike you know, it is not assistance, you know. It's a master, but not completely. What do you call? Not vice or assistant.
PS: Maybe it's like in the army they have executive officer. They have captain of a ship and then executive officer. Well, this is 1952. We're in 1942 now. So what did you do here? For five years you had this number 10th monastery at Bansho Zenrin.
SR: Oh, Bansho Zenrin? What I meant was I had one more monastery.
PS: Here, yes. Takakusha.
SR: Were you a Zen master here?
SR: Title of Zen master isn't necessary here or here.
PS: Here it is?
PS: I see. So that means that you were then 48.
SR: Yes. In that—I was dokan at one more monastery. At that time I became Executive Rōshi or something like that.
PS: I see. Here. In 1952.
SR: Because I have to establish this one and they need me to be here.
PS: Why did they need you?
SR: Why? I don't know exactly.
PS: They said they need you anyway. So what jobs were these? You were assigned to this monastery which was at Bancho Zenrin. In 1947 they assigned you to Takakusha? Huh?
PS: Teacher of Zen practice. This is bigger job than -
SR: This is bigger job - and this is some job just belonging to my only temple.
PS: I see. But this five year - this job ends in 1947 at Bancho Zenrin and the job at Takakusa, the job here begins in 1952.
PS: What happened between 1947 and 1952? What happened between this job and this job?
SR: (?) (page 13)
PS: I'm not certain. Is that 60 or 40?
SR: 1947 when this started.
PS: In 1952.
SR: In 1952. This is Bancho Zenrin. My friend was in here. At first my - Takashino Roshi was head of this temple. And my friend took over his place and later Takashino Roshi wanted to come back to this monastery again. So his assistant, assistant of Kansho-rōshi, gave some pressure to my friend. And my friend left Bancho Zenrin so I was not, I did, I was rather angry with Takashino-rōshi too.
PS: So you left also?
SR: I left also, but even though I left Takashino-rōshi was not so busy. So once in a while I have to help him. Officially I left already here.
PS: It says here that in June 1947 you became this teacher of Zen practice. That's not the title for rōshi, huh?
PS: Why did you wait until 1947? Why didn't you begin in 1936?
SR: At that time they had no rules for practice of laymen. This is more for laymen, Zen practice. And headquarters provided some rules for them to establish some Zen practice. There was Zen practice for laymen even before we have this kind of practice. Right before Zen Center.
PS: Right. Okay, so this was a new idea or something?
SR: Yes. New idea at that time, and still continue.
PS: In 1952 then you became the kansho of this place? What's that, Takazoan?
SR: Yes. Senmon sodo.
PS: Were you kansho there?
SR: No. I was docho.
PS: Were you ever kansho before?
SR: No, kansho is—
PS: Rinzai term?
SR: Just one, you know. In Soto we have only one kansho. And then—what do you mean by kansho?
PS: What do you mean by kansho?
SR: Kansho is head of the whole—
SR: Head of the whole of Sōtō?
PS: I see. So it wasn't until they made you docho, Rōshi, that you became rōshi?
SR: Yeah. One is missing here. I was. When Niwa-rōshi established, I don't know when, actually. If those are all the records Chino Sensei has, then one is missing.
PS: When is that? 1947 or when? About when? After the war?
SR: Before the war. Before this one too - of course.
PS: Before the war?
SR: Maybe here.
PS: Well the war begins in -
SR: 1942. So, before this.
PS: I'm still a little confused, but apparently some time in the early forties, before the war, you officially became the Roshi.
SR: Officially yeah.
PS: Became the roshi of what master's temple? What was the master's name? The other one?
PS: Niwa-rōshi, who wanted to have a monastery at his temple. And his disciple actually acted as rōshi, as docho.
PS: But you were docho by name.
SR: By name. Once in a while when they had big ceremony I went there.
PS: Why couldn't Niwa-rōshi be a docho?
SR: At that time? I have not much relationship between Niwa-rōshi and I. Niwa-rōshi himself was the owner of, maybe the owner of the - we call him the jushoku. He's the head of the whole temple, includes—
PS: How old were you when you were married, Rōshi?
SR: 31, or 32. 32 maybe.
PS: This is before your master died, though?
SR: After. Two years after.
PS: He died when you were 30. And then you became head of Rinso-in when you were 32.
SR: 32 and maybe 33 then.
PS: Because you were already head of Rinso-in when you were married?
SR: No, I wasn't married when I entered Rinso-in. And when I got married there was many discussion whether I should get married or not.
PS: By who?
SR: By members. I was listening to them and some extremes then. If I married with someone, his wife can stay at my home and I can go to his home whenever I want. That was too extreme.
PS: I don't understand roshi—what do you mean?
SR: Someone said, if I get married, my wife could stay at "my home" and if the people doesn't like temple life at my temple "she can stay my home." That was what someone said. So, at last, they decided to allow my wife to enter my temple.
PS: I see. Did your master's wife live there?
SR: Oh yeah, for awhile, not for a long time. When he was quite old she stayed. We established some custom you know, my master started something like that. But after he died, and especially because I am so young, they criticized me to have a wife in temple.
PS: So your master did not choose your wife for you?
SR: No. My master's friend did and I have - family (?) . . . (page 16) for (more than 15 years. -[this not on my tape])
PS: How do you mean with her?
SR: As my wife. At that time when I was 33, maybe 34, I got married with ex-wife.
PS: And you were married to her for 15 years before she died?
SR: Yeah. And I haven't wife for 7, 8 years, just before I come to America. One of the conditions to go to America, you know, to be invited by Japanese members, was someone who has wife. And she was head of the kindergarten.
PS: Which you had started?
SR: Umhum. So I decided to get married with her and came to America just almost at the same time.
PS: What did she think of that? Isn't that a strange way to get married roshi? That's strange for Americans, maybe not for Japanese.
SR: Strange, yes. For usual person it is very strange, but for priest our marriage is very strange sometime, which I don't like so much.
PS: How do you mean that?
SR: I want to do exactly what I want to do. (laughing)
PS: Well how do you - This is not for history, but before you asked Okusan, this Okusan, did you tell her that you had to have a wife in America?
PS: And would she like to marry you for that reason?
SR: No, not that reason - you know. After my wife died, I thought I may be married with that girl, but I didn't determine to do that. But soon after my wife died there was some rumor you know. He will get married with her, and he likes her so much. So I thought, that is true, so I have to do that. As they say -- if that is true, so I decided to get married with her.
PS: With this one.
SR: Yeah, with this one. But even though I decided so, I was too busy and she was too busy to think about it, you know. She was rather stubborn and was always meeting in his office, and I thought, that is alright, maybe I should wait. While I was waiting I decided to go to America and one of the conditions is, should be a married priest. So I you know decided to marry with her.
PS: Is Otohiro your son or Okusan's son?
SR: My boy—not my wife's.
PS: And Okusan's husband died in the Second World War?
SR: Yes, yes.
PS: It says here, you said that a friend of your master picked your first wife. What does that mean? Did you have some choice or?
SR: No. I had no one in my mind and I wasn't so sure about my married side, my ability to handle both priest's side and a family side. It is very complicated, you know. I know pretty well that. So (end of side three)
[this part not on my tape (I was not firm, but I was reluctant to take my wife. So I have no girl in my mind as wife, but)]
my master's friend thought it necessary for him to get one.
PS: So you said yes or?
SR: Yeah. I said before I see my ex-wife, I said yes. At that time he had somebody in his mind.
PS: Does that usually work out pretty well, Roshi, when you don't see the woman before you marry?
SR: Yeah, pretty well. It's amazing maybe for you. Although we do or don't like her, it is, I think it is pretty superficial feeling, not so different, and it changes a lot.
PS: It seems to be very important to repair or build a temple for the Japanese. Is that so?
SR: Yeah. To me it was very important because our building was very old, and unless the priest has good understanding of architecture he may make a mistake. So to me it was pretty important.
PS: I see. So you did two things. You built many new buildings at Zoun-in and you rebuilt the main structure of Rinso-in.
SR: Yeah. Main structure or - many buildings I repaired many buildings. As it was in ancient times. That was difficult part. It cost more money and it doesn't look so good. (laughter) So no one will agree with me, with my idea.
PS: Crazy, huh?
SR: Crazy. That is why I felt I have to do it you know.
PS: How long did it take you to rebuild Rinso-in?
SR: Many years.
PS: The whole time that you were there?
SR: Yes. I was constantly studying and making effort.
PS: So you studied the old architecture?
SR: Not very much, but the architecture at that time, at the time when Rinso-in was built.
PS: How old is Rinso-in?
SR: Building is - oldest one, maybe 300.
PS: Looks like you were living at uh - was there another priest at Zoun-in all the time?
SR: Yes. My older brother was helping me in Zoun-in. Now he is succeeding my position there.
PS: Is he a Roshi, your brother?
SR: No. His boy is my son, my disciple, because he studied with me.
PS: Has he has . . . Is he an osho?
PS: So your first dharma heir in Japan is your own son or him? Do you have a first dharma heir?
SR: First dharma heir is my boy and - Shoko.
PS: Who's Shoko? Shoko is the son of the man who became the priest at Zoun-in?
PS: It seems, Roshi - also here's something else too we should discuss. (end of side four)
(listening to chanting tape)
PS: We'll start with the farmers.
SR: There were many farmers who went to Manchuria to start some farming village or something like that. And the world situation was very bad. For three months - when I left Japan it was just three months before the war ended.
SR: So it was very bad then.
SR: So no one accepted our headquarters plan or appointment. So I thought maybe I may go and I left Japan May 14 for Manchuria. And it took a pretty long time because our ship couldn't leave Hakata port because of the B-29 bombers. And I stayed there one week waiting for the ship.
PS: And there was always bombing going on?
SR: Yeah. But anyway I could reach to Korea. Through Korea and I went to Manchuria visiting Japanese farmers in various places. And when I reached to (in Japanese we say Harbin, I don't know). The big city, capital city in Manchuria. They announced there were no ships bound for Japan, but I hardly could come back to Japan. That is not for service but just as a priest I went to Manchuria.
PS: So how did you get back to Japan?
SR: Huh? Oh, I thought there must be some transportation or some you know way to get back to Japan. Even though we have no ship someone must be going to Japan, and if I am waiting at Pusan I thought I am quite sure I would have a chance to go back to Japan. And they didn't sell me ticket, but I said even though—maybe so, but I will pay anyway for the ticket. Whether it is you know available or not doesn't matter, so give me a ticket. And I came back by navy, not battleship, cruiser. They were collecting some wounded soldiers and the ship arrived at not that port I expected, but at some small port near that big port. And in the train, before I arrive at Sanroshi [?] which is small station, but that's—when we arrive at that small station, the conductor announced that if someone who is going to Japan from Sanroshi should get off. So I got off at that station.
PS: This is in Manchuria?
SR: Korea. And as soon as I arrive at Sanroshin, pretty big port, the port when Chinese wanted to attack Japan, Chinese army started that port. Because of that it is pretty famous port. And as soon as I arrive at that port, big ship came, guarded by two cruisers, I could - by that by that - not cruiser, cruiser was . . .
PS: Big ship. Destroyer is small ship maybe.
SR: Yeah. (uncertain). The ship we took was not so big, but it was protected by that big cruiser. So without making any zigzag voyage, we come back straight Kyushu Island and arrive at some unknown small port. And after I took express train. We were exposed several times by attack from air. And - it was July 15, and August 15 everything was over.
PS: So you were in Manchuria and you took a boat to Korea?
SR: A cruiser to Korea?
SR: No. Just a steamboat.
PS: They told you in Manchuria there were no boats leaving from Korea.
SR: When I come back already those boats stopped.
PS: Looking at your history, it looks pretty ordinary. Is it ordinary sort of Zen teacher's history?
SR: Maybe so. Not so ordinary. I say priests in my age it will be. If I tell it to you in detail it is very kind of noble.
PS: Oh, ho. That's what we never hear.
SR: But what I did actually is just not so different. But nowadays those who are brought up in temple family succeed his father's position, that's all, you know. But my age was thirteen I left my father's temple.
PS: Why did you leave your father's temple?
SR: My father took care of me too well, so I felt here I felt something family feeling always. (tapping chest?)
PS: Where is here?
SR: Emotional feeling. Too much emotion. Too much love. And my teacher at grammar school told me this kind of thing. He always said to me, to us, "You should be - (interrupted by visitors talking in Japanese)
SR: - various problems -
PS: You caused various problems?
SR: Yes. For them and for me, too.
PS: How so?
SR: How? Before I take my master's temple, I have not much, I didn't cause any trouble. I was just trying to study, but after I took over my master's temple my life started by some confusion or - if I didn't take over his temple, you know, I have - I should be in Zoun-in. And I must have very calm, and I could study more, but because I felt some - resistance you know the priest near Rinso-in, you know, I determined to take over his place. And two years confusion and fight.
PS: Would you restate that last section? Because of a priest near Rinso-in -
SR: The priest near Rinso-in wanted - they have someone in their mind to be a head priest of Rinso-in, and that man, under the name of someone, he wanted to act what they want to act, which is not so good for the people or for the Soto school.
PS: Some sort of greed Roshi?
SR: Greed and fame and uh some - They themselves divided in many, you know, ways, and each one of them has their own ambition, but - if they - one of them or if they do not get Rinso-in you know - they were you know - they acted same way until they get Rinso-in. But after they get Rinso-in, Rinso-in will get into confusion. I know that pretty well. So I determined to -
SR: To stop them huh?
SR: Yeah, to stop them. So I have very difficult time for two years with extraordinary things happen.
PS: Like what, Roshi?
SR: Like what? Eighty of my Rinso-in members left from Rinso-in and went to some other temple. With me that is alright, but they accused my responsibility and they said, "If Rinso-in leave us such a bad example, we will get rid of confusion. So that is your responsibility. Why you let them to go some other temple? So if you say, 'I am sorry,' or if you ask for help we will get it, but you don't say 'I am sorry' or you need help so we cannot help you.
SR: They said to you—
R: Once a month we had a meeting and in each moment they accused my responsibility. But I said, "wait two years." you know. In two years if the eighty of my members don't come back I will resign Rinso-in. So wait - without criticizing me for two years. And they agreed with that. And in two years almost all of them came back.
PS: What happened to the priest who was trying to take Rinso-in?
SR: He has his own temple, so he lost his ambition, that's all. And he himself did not want to be a head priest of Rinso-in so much, but some ambitious people around him -
PS: Lay people?
SR: No, priests, mostly priests and some influential lay people.
(Mitsu comes in and she and Suzuki talk sort of sharply with each other—and Peter asks something. Suzuki has some appointment or obligation or talk or something.)
PS: Do you think it would be interesting Roshi for the students to know - is it best to give your biography very simple?
SR: Maybe so.
SR: Just facts? It doesn't make much sense.
SR: It doesn't make much sense, I'm afraid, you know, until - If they don't understand what is - what kind of thing is going on (phone call - horrible background noise starts) - I don't know what to do with some things.
PS: Yeah I'm trying to think what I do with it. How much I should put into the history. It's interesting to your students, but maybe -
SR: No. Maybe for someone who is not a student. I don't know. to announce to students[?]
SR: I know. So maybe I should just -
SR: Because of this kind of experience I decided to come to America. No interesting thing in it. Just talking to you. (I'm not interested in this kind of thing. This is record. Just confusion.[?who put this in?] So my history, my life in Japan was spent to fight, to struggle.
PS: Did you always win the struggles?
SR: Yeah. But it is not so. It is better to surrender. If I know American life earlier, I was sayonara a long time ago. Like this, you know. (some gesture).
PS: It seems like many people are exiled to America. That some priests come to America as exiles - are punished by being sent to America. They could have punished you a long time ago.
SR: Yes. Fortunately I knew how to handle them lot of times. Makes (more difficulties[?]circles[?].
PS: Too smart again.
SR: I won always, that was -
PS: Did you ever feel vain about it or are - ?
SR: No, no. I don't feel vain - just like, because of I am very impatient and angry I became very patient in order to win fights and so on. Hence I always started to fight because of my impatience. And once I start to fight I should be very patient or else I'll lose that fight - so it is not - (dangerous(?) - endless?
PS: In Western astrology your birth [?]sign means you should be very stubborn. But your students don't understand because you don't seem stubborn to them. - typical for your birth sign.
SR: Yes. I am very impatient, that is true.
PS: But Americans are so much more impatient than you. You seem very patient. Your students are - Japanese couldn't live with them.
SR: Hmm. I may be patient with American people even before I came to America. Recently I feel in that way very much. It may have something to do with past lives.
PS: And all your students think that in their past lives they were Japanese. Except me. I don't think so. - Chinese or Japanese.
SR: Maybe so. I don't know. This is big job. I'm, not interested in this kind of thing. I have no record, accurate record of my life. -
PS: Is there any meaning at all in having something about you in the Wind Bell?
SR: This sort of thing?
PS: Some sort of history, some sort of biography, not too elaborate, but some sort. Not a book though. Maybe about four or five pages? Is that a mistake?
SR: Four or five!
PS: How much do you think? One? Half a page? A paragraph? One sentence? Suzuki Roshi biography: "I do not think much of this sort of thing and have not kept any records." End biography. You have the right to decide. This is your direct concern. How do you feel about this?
SR: I don't find answer to this kind of question my teacher (teaching) (in this life?[I don't hear that]
SR: Neither do I.
SR: If you see my record in this way, everything will be lost.
PS: Let me ask you a question Roshi. When you were forced to be political in your - when your (year?) 30's and 40's, did you have many serious students? Was it possible?
SR: What do you mean?
PS: Well, when you had to have fights, when you had to have arguments—
SR: Yes. I have young students who have same feelings. Like they did not participate in some mistaken thinking. But my youngest students, mostly in high school were very kind, helped a lot (encouraged me), and they, many of them, came to me because I have the same feelings. Most of them were not priests but students. And at that time Japan was involved in some kind of wrong idea about strength and power, some strange form, so that is another thing to tell to you—
(end of side five) (radical machine noise till this point)
(end of tape)
SR: In the thirties and the forties, Japan was involved in some strange - what did you say, power or?
SR: . . . some strange pride or confidence, confidence in power, some strange idea of nationalism.
PS: And you did not feel good about this?
SR: No. What they say is very strange, you know. By television, by lecture, in various ways they tried to lead people in strange directions. And they didn't understand - they didn't try to understand actual realistic situations or power of Japan. Although I didn't know anything about America or other countries, I thought how powerful are they or how weak they all are, I didn't know, but I had some confidence in human nature. Human nature is the same wherever we go. So they called American people like beasts or devils. I always said beasts or devils is not only Japanese [does he mean American?] people. We need big beasts or demons - those who have that kind of idea about some other type may be our enemy or demon or devil. I always said to them. And during the war they were afraid of very much American people who may land sooner or later in Japan island. But I was not so afraid of them. They are also human beings. Nothing will happen if we surrender. Those who don't want to surrender may die, and if they survive nothing will happen to them. But they burned their personal record or various records in city hall. They started to burn it and they started to destroy the memorial tower, memorial tombstone of the unknown soldiers. But why do you do that? It is quite natural to have memorial stone for the people who sacrificed their lives for their own country. Nothing wrong with it. If I explain - if we explain in that way why we have those tombstones, they may understand what our point of view is.
PS: Oh I see. They thought that the Americans would destroy all the graves huh?.
SR: Grave, and if we have records in city hall.
PS: Americans would destroy that too.
SR: Americans search for each person to kill them or something. Very curious idea.
PS: Were you ever criticized, Roshi, for your sort of pacifistic views?
SR: I - Yeah, I was, but I didn't act officially. At my temple, in my lectures or when students come, I talked about this kind of thing always, and even during the time when the war was almost finished. There still be some power or some courage to sacrifice their life to Japan. But I thought, that sacrifice is not for Japan, but for some - know wrong i- someone who has wrong idea, who has some leadership which be by big misunderstanding. So I - uh when they decided to destroy the big memorial stone for the unknown soldiers, I told them to carry it to my temple. I said to them I will protect it as long as I'm alive and as long as I'm here I will protect it, and I will take all the responsibility for that, I am sure. American people who will make any damage to this memorial stone.
PS: I'm a little worried, Roshi, if they were - not worried, I'm a little confused. If they were going to, who was trying, they thought the Americans would do what to the stone?
SR: Destroy the stone.
PS: So the Japanese were going to destroy it first?
SR: Yeah. Destroy the first. And you know, they -
PS: Doesn't make sense, Roshi.
SR: Doesn't make sense, yeah - but they were so afraid of what they had been doing, afraid to be responsible for it.
PS: But on unknown soldiers you can't tell.
SR: But if we have still the tombstone, worshipping them, then those who have been worshipping them will be punished or something. So no one will want to take responsibility for that. But - and if they destroy it, American people will feel very good for that purpose.
PS: What did you think of the atomic bomb, Roshi? The first time.
SR: The first time?
SR: Yeah, or you know, when uh - right before surrender.
SR: That was something you know which I haven't no idea of it you know, and how powerful it was I didn't know. And even when I heard of it I couldn't trust it, that it was so powerful and that kind of thing will happen. But most Japanese people, including me—most Japanese people—I—I haven't—have no idea that thing would happen. But most Japanese people afraid of - too much fear about their life, you know, when they lost war. So in comparison to that atomic bomb uh was not so reasonable cause so much fear. I think most of them must have thought, anyway we will not live (be so?) so long - so long, maybe a good way to finish our life. They have no idea of righteousness, or humanity, or those problems is not al- [partial word]—not already a top question. And I—I thought—if —it may be very silly very foolish for us if we don't surrender right now. If we surrender they will stop doing such things. So best way may be to surrender. If they don't then that is uh all over, everything.
PS: What happened when the Yaizu fishermen were killed by the atomic fallout? [?]
SR: Most of them, I think, accused the American people, you know, because of the viewpoint of righteousness, but that righteousness is very superficial righteousness you know. They—I think this kind of feeling is the feeling we have about Okinawa problem you know. They talk about Okinawa in various way, but no actual feeling is in it. It is just game, you know, political.
PS: Someone once said that you marched in a protest against something -
SR: - at some point. What was that, Roshi?
SR: (long sigh)
SR: When was that or what was that all about?
SR: It was the time when Peace Corps[?] - uh not Peace Corps -
SR: Atomic submarine?
SR: Yeah. That was—
SR: No, that's not it either probably. What was it Roshi? I don't want to force you.
SR: Was it that? An atomic submarine or - ?
SR: Atomic submarine. At that time peace work, you know, and when atomic submarine wanted to come to San Francisco and they had big demonstration. That is you know - uh - peace uh desire to express desire strong desire to against war. (phone) That is why I joined.
PS: Someone mentioned that you once marched in a demonstration in Japan ever. Is that true?
SR: Yeah, I did.
PS: What was that for?
SR: That was after the war finished you know. And before the war I was much more strong feeling against war, so before the government started some organization to organize civilians against war - oh no, against America you know, I started, I organized young men in my area to have right understanding of situation of Japan at that time and to have more, to invite good people who have actually participating some important activity in government in various area. I invited them and - we invited them to ask question until we understand them, you know. So later government organized some - with some purpose with the purpose to organize people to fight completely with America, but my purpose was to prevent - not war you know, but to prevent people who may have one-sided view in the situation of Japan, or in understanding of ourselves and human nature. We, I started to, I wanted to, I - not big - I haven't not big purpose for my group, but I didn't want my friends to be involved in that kind nationalism which may destroy our Japan completely, which is more dangerous than war. We lost completely, you know, because of lack of our understanding.
PS: And wasn't this considered a very unique thing to do?
SR: Yeah. At that time.
PS: Did you get in trouble? Did you get in trouble for it?
SR: Yeah, I got into various troubles.
PS: What happened?
SR: What happened? At length it helped, you know, but at first I was very much criticized. But what I say - I was saying right and enough people agreed with me so they decided to utilize me to help their you know - to help their idea of leading people. And they appointed me to be a head of the new organization, which was started by government, but I resigned. I accepted once, you know, and next day I resigned from it.
PS: Oh but oh this was when there was some conflict, I mean this is before uh -
SR: Before the war.
SR: Before the militarists took over.
SR: Before the so - before the army took over.
PS: What happened when the army took over?
SR: When the army took over my voice was not loud enough, you know.
PS: But the army didn't come after your voice?
SR: No. It was not so bad. But uh that was why I think I didn't got uh - I didn't uh - I wasn't drafted you know.
SR: Oh I see.
SR: They marked me - on my name maybe there was some special mark. He's dangerous, you know, and no reason to kill him or you know - I was not so big, but if he joined army or something what he will say will affect them - the courage you know of the army.
PS: Were there many priests like you who were pacifists?
SR: Were there many priests like you who were pacifists?
SR: They didn't take any stand. And that time was after the Second World War over—
Yvonne Rand: You want to come back on the second? The second of October?
Yvonne: Is that early enough?
PS: You know something Roshi, your experiences like this would be very interesting to the students.
SR: Don't you think so?
SR: I think so.
PS: Maybe you could lecture on this tonight.
SR: (giggle) Oh, I think -
SR: I think it's good if Zen is not for war in America -
SR: Umhm, umhm.
SR: And you never speak about it. Maybe you have a reason for that.
SR: No. [Yeah, no? Sounds like both at different speeds but I think it's "no."]
SR: But if you don't have a strong reason, I think it's moral, it's ethically proper to speak against war.
SR: And (laugh) I shouldn't do this - but anyway you know the students would like to know your feelings about it.
SR: I care more about the way of thinking.
PS: I know, than the actual killing.
SR: Actual killing and - not actual killing, but the fundamental way of thinking which will cause big war. That is why I didn't like nationalists in Japan. Their view if very one-sided and very unrealistic. And they accuse some other's fault without knowing what they are doing, they actually creating problem.
PS: Maybe this is why the government did not persecute you, because you were approaching the problem from religious point of view.
SR: Yeah. And yeah—
SR: Not as a political.
SR: Not political.
SR: Not political.
SR: And uh after—after the world war I was not purged. I have no record of fighting with military war. (phone) I have many printed matters expressing my feelings.
SR: Many what matters?
SR: Many things about the - what should be the policy, what kind of danger we have right now, you know, in the nation, something like that. But most of it is - may be difficult to understand for people. It is not - I didn't say anything about war or anything, but if we neglect to understand the situation of Japan more clearly and if we understand things just by paper you know, we will lose the real picture of Japan. So what I put the emphasis on is to study more about what everyone is doing in his country, in army or in other uh - as uh - in political world. I was very much interested in that kind of thing when I was young.
PS: I see. This is before the war or after the war now?
SR: Before the war.
PS: You said after the war they did not purge you?
SR: Because of this kind of anti-war—
PS: Oh, were most priests purged?
SR: Yes. Most priests who joined the army.
PS: Lost their prop- [partial word]—temple?
SR: Put in jail or—
SR: They couldn't join some educational program or some official things, on education or city hall. But I wasn't purged. They tried to purge me, but I showed them—
PS: Who was "they," the American soldiers in Yaizu?
SR: No, the government, the new government.
SR: Oh, the new government, yeah I see.
SR: So, they didn't - they had no reason to purge me.
PS: Did Rinso-in lose any land? Most temples lost land. Rinso-in lost land too—much of it, most of it?
SR: Most of it.
SR: How much, Roshi?
SR: Mmm -
SR: You don't know in American terms I guess.
SR: Yeah. Most of it. Except, you know, mountain. If it is some paddy field or some place where you can cultivate - we offer—no—we should sell it to government.
PS: Did you think that was a good idea?
SR: Maybe. I thought, if we don't do that, I did think to force that to force that kind of thing to temple is not good idea, but to have not much land, you know, for anybody at once (?)
PS: I had heard, Roshi, I don't know where, somewhere, that before the war many of the Zen temples were very rich and some of the priests were very corrupt and many priests kept concubines. Is that true? Particularly Rinzai temples. This is not for history. I'm just kind a curious.
SR: Concubines, no. Not so many temples were so rich, you know, even before the war. Most of the temples were very poor. But after the war (small laugh) they lost everything and they started to work in city hall or as a teacher in various ways and they became more and more rich. (Peter laughs)—in America but—I'm afraid Japanese people may have too much confidence in their activity again, you know.
SR: Right now.
SR: Right now, more and more - without knowing you know why they become so rich or you know -
PS: This is like second Meiji Period.
SR: Second Meiji, yeah.
SR: (chuckle) (tape starts up again) How many people, about 200 people in your group? But the Japanese did do nothing violent in that sort of thing. That's very calm and quiet, huh?
SR: Yeah, calm and quiet.
SR: Like discussion group, philosophical discussion group [from here, not on my tape] rather than revolutionaries.
SR: Yes. Very calm and quiet.
PS: It seems, Roshi, that the state of Japan in the thirties and forties limited you.
This transcript is based on a typescript, not the original tape. Differences may exist between this transcript and the original one. Entered onto disk by David Chadwick Revised by Bill Redican 9/01. [But I typed it from the original tape ten years ago or so and it's pretty darn close. - DC, 1-19-08]
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