photo by Lisa Law

Brief Memories
of Shunryu Suzuki,
Zen Center
back then, etc.


Jack Williamson

All I remember of his lecture is that his posture was remarkable; he stood and moved with remarkable grace.

From: JWilliamson
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 2005
Subject: hi, dc

You don't know me (Jack Williamson), but Lydee Scudder mentioned that you might be interested in any reminiscences of Suzuki Roshi -- I can't really can't help much, but I did see him a couple times.

In the winter of 1968 or 69 while suspended from high school I hitchhiked to Tassajara from my parents house in Southern California. I would have been 15 at the time. I'd learned about Tassajara from a photo essay in a Sunday supplement to the LA Times called West magazine. It was a good long trek of several hours from where the last ride dropped me off and I arrived cold and wet late in the afternoon. Of course a wayward kid showing up during a training period wasn't a welcome event, but people were very pleasant to me. The first person I met was a tall, thin woman with grey hair who said something like, "Oh no, not another one." There was a problem with the road having washed out and I remember several conversations about its condition. My best recollection is that that night or the next morning Suzuki gave a talk in the zendo and took questions. All I remember of his lecture is that his posture was remarkable; he stood and moved with remarkable grace. I will never forget hearing the Heart Sutra for the first time the next morning in the zendo; there really was a stream rushing in the darkness. I think I talked my way into staying a second night and then walked out.

I visited Tassajara as a work student two or three times more over the next few years, always during the summer. It's possible that my memory of Suzuki may derive from one of these later visits, but I don't think so. On one of these later visits, I remember Joan Baez taking requests from a small group sitting around a natural pool of some sort. I asked her to play Love Is Just a Four Letter Word, but she made a face and declined.

In 1971 or 1972 I was attending UC Santa Cruz and living at the Santa Cruz Zen center on Swift St, out at the north edge of town. At that time Kobun Chino was kind of a circuit riding sensei, and he came to visit once a week on Thursday evenings. This connection to ZCSF was strong enough that Swift St students were able to garner invitations to the Baker transmission ceremony. My vivid recollection--which nonetheless may be mistaken--was that Suzuki wore a plain brown or saffron robe and that he was plainly at death's door, jaundiced and emaciated. Baker was decked out in full regalia, including some fabulous headgear, and he fairly radiated confidence and virility. The terrible contrast was heartbreaking, and it was a long ride back to Santa Cruz.

Lydee has spoken of you several times; I hope we can meet one of these days. BTW, we're getting married in September.