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About Suzuki Roshi    

Interviews
Interview With Jakusho Bill Kwong Roshi

Jakusho Kwong link page

Jakusho Kwong in Crooked Cucumber

Sonoma Mt. ZC website

[Here's a raw interview with Bill Kwong, now called Jakusho Kwong Roshi, the abbot of Sonoma Mt. Zen Center. I have more on him and from him.--DC]


4-05-09 - Suzuki disciple Jakusho Bill Kwong talks about Chogyam Trungpa on the Chronicles Project


Note from transcriber: David, if you want to learn any more about Bill McNeil, Joanne Kyger knew him well. In fact, Joanne and David Hazelwood (from Sonoma Mountain), and Donald and I had a little ashes ceremony for Bill McNeil on the cliffs near Commonweal after Bill died. - LT [I was there too. I didn't know who he was till years later. I will write something on him later, an interesting story.--DC]

David: Betty, Jean and Della. They met Suzuki Roshi at the Academy. Dr. Kato?

Bill Kwong: Dr. Kato, yeah.

DC: He brought Suzuki Roshi there to give a talk and he talked about zazen. And they all sat zazen and he asked them to come sit --

BK: Bill McNeil. He's in there somewhere. He was the first student.

DC: Is he the guy that was in Chicago or is that a guy named Bob?

BK: That was Bob Hense.

DC: He died.

BK: Bob Hense died and so did Bill McNeil die. I think he died of AIDS. I don't know what Bob died from.

DC: Was Bob Hense gay?

BK: I don't know. Maybe. [yes--DC]

DC: Somebody came up to me recently and told me about one of them and gave me a phone number for me to call them at the Santa Cruz zendo. I didn't know either one of them. Bob Hense was the first president.

BK: Yeah, he probably was the first president. And then Bill McNeil was the first one to go to Japan. It was like a death sentence. We saw him off, but it was like a death sentence. He wasn't cheerful. We were just all -- young. Didn't know what to do.

DC: Did he get ordained or did he just go as a lay person?

BK: I don't think he got ordained.

DC: Everybody else got ordained before they went over.

BK: This was real early, 'sixty-one, 'sixty-two.

DC: He had a bad experience there, right?

BK: Yeah, probably did. I don't remember.

DC: He came back pretty upset.

BK: There wasn't much communication. You know how it could be, right? In Japan.

DC: Oh, horrors. When I went I'd been around Zen Center for twenty years and I talked to everybody before I went. I knew what to expect. I had alot of Japanese friends.

BK: The first time I heard of Suzuki Roshi I was a mailman after a really bad car accident. . . . English section . . .[*] there was a story about Bill McNeil, his first student. He confronted Suzuki Roshi one day at Sokoji, in his office, and said, if you believe in freedom why do you keep your bird locked up in a cage? Suzuki Roshi went over and opened the door of the cage and the bird flew out and flew out the window. I remembered that story and thought he must be a great Zen master, because there weren't any great zen masters in those days.

DC: That was in the newspaper?

BK: That was in the Japanese newspaper. That's how I ended up going up there.

DC: Do you know about when you might have read that?

BK: Maybe it was 'fifty-nine. When I came there, Laura and I had gone there before, and the Reverend Tobase was there. Not in a regular sense, just once in a while we'd go there and listen to a talk by one of his students.

DC: Tobase had American students?

BK: There was a person there with white hair, an older man.

DC: Tobase I always associated with calligraphy.

BK: He was a calligrapher. But his student gave a talk. Or Tobase would give a talk and the student would translate. More like that, I think. Price -- his name -- no, I'm getting the names mixed up.

DC: Price was the guy from Thailand, right?

 

BK: Yeah. This guy had white hair. Very distinguished, English looking, very light skin. Tall. I don't think that was Price. So we went back and somehow on the way -- I went back to the temple and on the way -- to see who was there, and I realized there was another priest there and it wasn't Tobase. I had read the article so when I went in I was more like in the beat generation then. I had my boots on, sporting a goatee, dark clothes, and dirty levis. I came in the double door. I stood and I looked at the altar, upstairs, and I said, "This is really square." Right then, when I thought that, Suzuki Roshi came out of his office in his robes. I didn't look at him and he didn't look at me. I was in that kind of mode, like samurai -- you saw all those movies -- that's the mode I was in -- so he went up and he rearranged the flowers on the altar and he didn't look up. I just watched him and I said, "This is really square." And then I left. Actually, what he was doing was he was just rearranging flowers.

On the way home I was passing through an alley and I found this big picture of the Kamakura Buddha. I brought it home. It was so big I couldn't put it in the closet, so I pinned it up in the hallway. Eventually it made me go back to the temple. That was my introduction.

DC: When you went back and started sitting, were you all sitting in the pews then?

BK: There were no pews when I came. They had taken them out, or they were in the process of taking them out.

DC : Betty told me they had these pews. They'd push them up against the wall and you'd have to climb over them.

BK: Betty, and Jean, and Della were there. Paul Alexander came a little bit later. He was not in the first bunch. He fixed the organs there. But no one knows whatever happened to him.

DC: People think he committed suicide. People I know who were living with him at the time say that he felt very guilty because he was gay. And that he felt that he had not been a good student. He felt bad that he passed up this chance to study zen with Suzuki. He was filled with all sorts of unnecessary negative guilt trips. The people who were living with him felt that he'd killed himself. Jack Elias was living with him then. Unnecessary. Too bad. Sweet guy. He's the first person I met.

BK: All these people you're saying their names I can remember their faces.

DC: When you came to sit, do you remember anything about that? Did he give you any instruction?

 

BK: He never gave me any instruction until six years later. He told me not to leave my mudra in my lap, put it up higher. He wasn't giving instruction in those days. But he did make us sit a long time. A couple of hours -- during sesshin. The regular sittings would be always forty minutes. But the sesshin you never knew. Sometimes he would leave and you wouldn't know where he went. You'd be sitting there, trying not to move -- One time I came in late and the only seat we had was facing the clock. That was murder. An hour passed, two hours, maybe it was two and a half or three. Then I started sweating. Getting sick. My palms got all wet. I started getting dizzy. My one desire was to get up and walk out and lie down in the hallway. As soon as I thought that, someone else did it, exactly what I wanted to do. Then the bell rang. That's how it went in those days.

The first seven-day sesshin, Laura was expecting, so it had to be 'sixty-one. My son was the first sesshin baby, my second son. [*] . . he locked the door . . .a couple of us got locked out. Then he looked at me and said, "You're the tenzo we need so come on in." He was like that in those days.

DC: He locked the door downstairs?

BK: Upstairs, when he got up.

DC: You mean you were late. You were supposed to be there at five in the morning or --

BK: Five-thirty. We had to be in zazen at quarter to six.

DC: So he didn't want anybody late so he locked the door. Then how did you get in?

BK: . . . he realized someone was out there. Some people he didn't let them in. Because I was the cook, I had to cook the food, he let me in. It was such a horrible feeling. One time it was April Fool's Day and we came to zazen and the bottom door was locked. We banged on the door. Finally Mrs. Suzuki opened it. She said that Suzuki Roshi had died. Then she said, "April Fool! American joke!" A lot of things like that happened in those days. She used to kick him under the table. We didn't have oryoki. We just ate at that long table in the kitchen. She would come in with her hair all dishevelled and -- we were in her kitchen, you know. Here we were supposed to be upright Zen students. She did that kind of stuff -- it was wonderful.

There's one time that Suzuki Roshi asked me if I knew how to make rice gruel. I said of course I do. The Chinese, we eat rice gruel after a meal, like a dessert. When you cook rice there's a crust on the bottom. Not burned, but a light crust. We roast that just a little more and pour hot water on it. Like sizzling rice. We have that like a dessert. I told him I know how to make it, but it's the way I said it, that he began going, step by step. I felt like I was put into a[*] vise and he was squeezing it. At that point he had never talked that way before. I said I knew what I was doing, but he didn't accept what I said and he proceeded to teach. That was a very good experience. I was standing underneath the threshold of the kitchen door.

In that first group there were about a dozen of us. There would be alot of zen masters from this group. He had that confidence in us. He had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.

DC: He said that?

BK: Yeah. He also served us tea after zazen. I never experienced that from any other teacher, to serve tea. We do that here. In Japan, yes, but in America, zen teachers don't usually do that. I think it's good. It's kind of humbling.

DC: He definitely had a humbler style.

BK: (inaudible).

DC: I've had Zen teachers serve me tea in an arrogant way in Japan. And I've had some very nice ones too.

BK: I wanted to give Suzuki Roshi something, so what happened was that my mother, in the depression days, used to make whiskey, some kind of rice wine. I saw these two urns, like earthenware, dark brown. I asked if I could have it so she gave it to me. I gave one to Suzuki Roshi. And when he saw it he jumped up and down. He said, "That's my village." I still have mine but the one at the Zen Center is gone. Either it broke or someone took it. He started jumping up and down and then Okusan came out. He was pounding the small hole in the top. He asked me, "Can you hear it, can you hear it?" I was straining to hear, but I couldn't hear anything.

DC: Your mother gave you a Japanese --

BK: Yeah. Just this year I asked Hoitsu, and he gave a name for it. They carried oil in it.

DC: Oh, buratsubo.

BK: Yeah, buratsubo. That's quite a coincidence.

DC: He said it looks like it comes from Shitoro village.

BK: That was our relationship in a way. In those days I hardly spoke to anybody cause I was so introverted for the first ten years. Also I went to sleep a lot. When he was carrying the kyosaku he would hit me four times in one sitting. As soon as he'd hit me I'd fall asleep again. We didn't have much time to talk to anyone. We went to work after we sat in the morning.

DC: But you said he served tea.

BK: He served tea. But it was in the zendo and there was no talking.

DC: He served tea in the zendo. You'd sit for forty minutes and then you'd chant the Heart Sutra in Japanese. Were you doing that then?

BK: We did that for a long time, six or seven years.

DC: When I came in 'sixty-six that's what was happening. We chanted the Heart Sutra in Japanese three times in the morning and one time in the evening.

BK: That's amazing, huh? That's all we did.

DC: That was great. I loved it.

BK: Sometimes on Saturdays then he'd decide to have two sittings. There was no talk on Saturdays. He talked on Tuesday or Wednesday night and on Sunday. So then after he served us tea or something in the zendo.

DC: On Saturday? You wouldn't do it on regular days.

BK: No. Cause we had to go to work.

DC: Was there an afternoon sitting Monday through Friday?

BK: I don't think so in those days. That started later.

One time Suzuki Roshi was going to go back to Japan so he asked if we could find something. So when Suzuki Roshi came back -- they had those long corridors in the airport -- you could see Suzuki Roshi was about that big (hand gesture I suppose) and he was waving something. We'd just keep on approaching each other. It was a sword. Ryokan had seen a lot of Samurai movies and he loved that sword. When Suzuki Roshi used to come over to the house he would have that sword -- a fake sword made out of some kind of metal, a Samurai sword -- and he would wheel it around and Suzuki Roshi would play with him. He always wore his robes everywhere he went. And he would just fall down on the ground. That's how he played. He just did everything one hundred percent. He just forgot himself.

DC: What do you mean fall down on the ground? He'd have his robes with him but when he played with your son he'd get down on the ground.

BK: He'd just fall right down on the ground with his robes on and everything.

DC: He had a nice way with children after his were already grown.

 

BK: He taught us -- one time, it was Ryokan, he was crying and crying and we couldn't get him to stop. He knew that we were really worried. So he said, "I've got an idea." As we were driving . . . hills, he said "I've got an idea. He'll stop at the count of twenty-one." So we all counted one - two - three - . Of course the baby didn't stop but our minds were completely off of it. In Poland I said the same thing to a few mothers, told the story about Suzuki Roshi. Next time she was with the baby the baby was quiet because she took her attention away. It worked.

One time, this was a little later. Katagiri Roshi had come. I was the cook and I lived in Mill Valley. He invited me to be the cook so I had a job. That was good, it kept me going. I had a position to fill, an obligation. One Saturday, after our breakfast Saturday in the kitchen -- wait a minute, this was before I went to work, just on a weekday. We were washing dishes, as usual, and I went to get Suzuki Roshi's cup, it was a very special cup. Like the national treasure or something. It was a very simple thing, just getting the cup. So I touched it and it started to fall off the table. I put my hand through the back of the chair to try to catch it and I missed it and it broke. Suzuki Roshi was at one sink and Katagiri was at the other sink, and then they had this kind of chorus going "oh, oh, oh." This went on for about five minutes. I was on the floor picking it up. Then my . . . [*] . . . maybe . . I could keep it, right? Then Suzuki Roshi came up and saw all the pieces and he took them from me and he put them in the garbage can. Just the way he put them in the garbage can -- finished. Completely finished. The cup was gone. The next morning Okusan said, "Where's the cup?" Suzuki Roshi said it was an accident--his fault. I dropped it.

DC: He said that?

BK: I would have gotten hell, right? That was the temple's cup. So I was really happy. I got off the hook. Breaking the teacup.

When I met him, he was the first person that had this unconditional approval. He would always be there. He had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt that was the first person I could really give to. Whatever I gave - - - I worked at Cost Plus and had access to a lot of things. In those days you couldn't even get them when you went to Japan. He would get really excited because there were things that he'd like a lot. But every time he even opened a present he would re-wrap the package. As he was opening it, he would re-wrap the package that you had just wrapped. His mind was working that way. In appreciation and also studying how Americans did things. And he would re-wrap it after and put it on the altar. There was one time I gave him something Korean. It was very old. (looking at something).

DC: Yeah, this is um . . . Korean celadon.

BK: You know how old it is? Look at the bottom. It's fired on sand. They didn't even have kilns than. In those days they were selling them for about $25 or $20. You see those at museums. One time I gave one to Suzuki Roshi and I gave his son something. In his excitement about opening his present he forgot where he put his son's present, we couldn't even find it. He felt really bad about it.

DC: Wasn't it just right in front of him in his office?

BK: Later, it was gone. Yeah, in those days they had a lot of stuff. It so happened, without myself knowing it, I had bought a pair of kaishaku at Cost Plus.

DC: Kaishaku are those wooden clackers--they not only used them in temples they used them -- like people would walk through time saying all is well. So the first ones we used were gotten from Cost Plus?

BK: I guess. Here's something from Rinsoin. Maybe seven years later -- I knew it was inside the cupboard. (referring to some object in the room). It had an arm missing. One of the students fixed the arm.

DC: This bottom arm, huh? I couldn't tell which one. That's pointing to the ground and pointing to the sky. What do you call that? The Japanese term?

BK: He's proclaiming that he's the only one.

DC: I am the world honored one?

BK: But this eye is inclusive of everything. Nice huh? Hoitsu gave it to us. We had a good relationship with him. We stayed at a temple -- about a month -- for the transmission ceremony.

DC: That's long. They make you do a lot of work. They make you clean alot.

 

BK: Yeah. (Looks at his notes). Laura's first experience. We were pretty young in those days. I started sitting when I was twenty-five. Everywhere I went Laura went. She was like my shadow. That's emotionally how we were in those days. One day Suzuki Roshi said, "If I went to wash clothes she would follow." We would follow each other, that's how we were. One days he said, "You could come to the temple without her." It was kind of like a revelation. We never thought of it that way. One day she came. She already had her hands full with the kids. She came for a sesshin. What happened was that she was trying so hard that she passed out. When she woke up it was during kinhin. She saw a whole circle of people's heads looking down at her. A horrible feeling. Suzuki Roshi came over and said are you alright? She mumbled something and he took her to the office and took her pulse. Laura was hoping he would tell her to go home but he never said that.. She ended up going to the kitchen where we just had finished our breakfast. We were using raw eggs mixed with the rice in those days. She didn't know that. She cracked the egg all over her dress. It was a double whammy. That was her introduction.

DC: That was the first time she went?

BK: Yeah, that was the first time she went.

DC: That rings a bell. I think there have been other people who did that with raw eggs. So she fainted the first time she came?

BK: She was trying too hard. She was afraid she was going to make a mistake. That's a good introduction.

You know he'd wear his robes everywhere he went. We were at the Western Addition -- Marshall Black[*](?) -- there was a guy sitting on the street . . . looking[*] at Roshi . . .

DC: Did he give him money?

BK: No. He went takuhatsu(begging) -- we were really excited. He said we couldn't come because we were beginners. He got all his gear together -- shaku, shakujo, the stick with the bells -- He went to Fillmore and he begged. The police were going to arrest him, but they thought maybe they'd better not cause he looked too authentic. He brought back a pomegranate and a silver quarter. We were all excited.

DC: What made you think the police were going to arrest him?

BK: That's what they said. Somebody said, that's all I remember. In those days we were all excited.

DC: Betty said you all talked him out of doing it.

BK: No, he did it. But he didn't keep doing it.

DC: Betty said there was a group (?) on this.

BK: Maybe he should have just kept on doing it.

DC: In China they stopped doing it. They might have continued in a ceremonial way, but they didn't really beg to get by. The Chinese didn't like that. In India they loved it. They got into working and gardening. The Chinese didn't like begging.

 

BK: Betty was quite verbal then. She was the supporter of Suzuki Roshi, financial supporter. .And Della when she used to sit, he told her that she should take aspirin for the pain in her legs. So Della, that sweet old lady, she would take aspirin so her legs wouldn't hurt.

One sesshin -- one of our early sesshins -- the community realized that we're the western people we really made a lot of effort. In appreciation and gratitude for the effort they were going to come and do a tea ceremony for us. At the last sesshin, the last bell rang, and we were so happy it was finished. But then the tea ceremony began. It was so long. We had already been sitting for maybe three days or seven days, and then we sat seiza (sp) and they served everybody in the sesshin, so there was about forty people. The legs were hurting. Then the doors opened and six other people came in. But that was good training. Little by little it just destroyed us.

DC: Tea ceremony. Even if there's just a few of you it's the most patience developing thing in the world.

BK: The last time Mrs. Suzuki came here she took us to a tea ceremony that the students and she did.. . . . (inaudible) [*]

In the stupa she told me to pick a flower. We had wild iris then. That's ideal for tea ceremony. I found one with a flower on it. She said, no don't pick that one, pick this one . . . . . . She got a piece of grass and tied the flower. There was more to it than that. She had to negotiate with the host. She got to bring the flower and they put it in the tokonoma. They finally untied it at tea ceremony which she performed . . . (inaudible)

DC: Was that recently?

BK: That was the year she left.

DC: Do you know when she started studying tea?

BK: I don't know She studied for a long time.

DC: But she just started in America. With Ueno-sensei who was the priest in Monterey. He might still be there.

BK: That was one of Suzuki Roshi's wishes, right? Haiku poetry, what was the other one? …for ten years.

DC: She's happy in Japan now. Her daughter's really nice.

BK: How about the husband, is he o.k. now?

DC: I don't know what's wrong. He got a problem?

BK: He drank too much.

DC: He wasn't there. I went over there one day. Mrs. Suzuki is quite unusual for a Japanese woman. She's very outspoken and very aggressive. I brought these two old guys who had studied with Suzuki when they had been in high school and went to Rinsoin during the war. They had things to say, and I'd been talking to them at Rinsoin and we came to pick her up. She didn't let them say a thing. I brought the tape recorder out and she talked for an hour. Then we went back. There was these three guys, they were serving us this incredible feast. There was this other feast going on. And she came in and talked. As soon as she came in, she sat there a minute and some guy sits up and she says, "naah, that's not the way it was." Then she started and talked for another hour. Hoitsu's wife and her daughter's there, like real obsequious, excuse me, I'm sorry, excuse me. Boy, she won't play those games. She doesn't act like that at all.

BK: I think for myself when Suzuki Roshi was alive. I remember one time he said to me, it was a work day, Saturday. He said that I should talk or teach or something. This was before Tassajara, so it must have been 'sixty-four, 'sixty-five. But it didn't mean like I was a big senior student. It didn't have anything to do with that. When he said that to me it scared me half to death. He put me up front(?) and it just scared me to death.

DC: Who was there?

BK: There was just the general cleaning. He just pulled me aside, you know how he does sometimes on a Saturday, he says, yeah, you should give the next talk. But I never did.

DC: Did you prepare one?

BK: No. It was way too early for me. I hardly talked to anybody. I'm not verbal, but I learned over the years to be more verbal. I'm quite different from when you knew me long time ago. Do you think so?

DC: Oh, gosh, Bill, I'm trying to remember.

BK: Cause I didn't talk that much. I learned these other aspects.

DC: You were always very friendly to me. But it's true, mainly the way we knew each other was -- I arrived in 'sixty-six. Just go there, sit zazen, work period -- and I'd manage to see you Saturdays. But I used to drive Suzuki Roshi over to your place in Mill Valley and go have breakfast with you. There wasn't alot of talk there either. But when I got to know you was when you were shuso. I enjoyed that. But I hadn't really heard you say much before that.

 

BK: I was very shy, very introverted. What else? Oh, so there's teaching part. It was only after he died I realized what he was trying to do. I began in a very simple way, just by . . . people to sit with me here. I had no idea what I was getting into. If I knew, I probably wouldn't have done it. Because I didn't know I was saved in a way.

DC: Saved?

BK: . . .(inaudible) [*]. So in that way I felt like I began really knowing him. The other way was more like leaning on him, projecting on him, great love for him. But after he died, you learned how to stand up.

DC: Do you remember, in the early days, you said he didn't teach much.

BK: He gave a talk Wednesday and on Sunday, but I didn't come on Sunday.

DC: He didn't give talks on Sunday when I got there. But several people have told me he gave talks on Sunday. By the time I got there Sunday was our day off and he did the thing with the Japanese congregation. So if he gave talks on Sunday to you guys, when did he do it? Cause later he had the whole morning with the Japanese congregation.

BK: I didn't go on Sundays cause I was just too tired. I never went on Sundays. You'll have to ask Betty on that. They went to hear him give talks on Sundays. Maybe it was earlier, before the Japanese. I went to the Wednesday night talks. For me it was like just trying to stay awake. I don't really remember what he said.

DC: He started with the Blue Cliff Records. I've got a bunch of those talks. Do you have the complete set of lectures?

BK: I don't know if I have the complete set, but it would be nice.

DC: I can help you with that.

BK: So there was a guy who wore a beret. He may[*] have been about forty-five or something. He may have been an English teacher, and he corrected Suzuki Roshi almost every other sentence.

DC: While it's happening?

BK: Yes, while it's happening. And Suzuki Roshi would say get off my back or something like that, but he would never lose his patience with this guy. That was incredible.

DC: With Katagiri I used to write down his mistakes. And I'd go afterwards and show them to him and talk to him about it.

BK: But this guy did it right on the spot, and he did it for a couple of years.

DC: No! Not every lecture.

BK: This is what I remember, for a couple of years.

DC: Nobody would have let him do it for a couple of years. This guy was from England?

BK: No. He was American. Check it out with Betty. It was a long time, a mark of patience.

DC: Your memory of the lectures backs up your earlier statement that you weren't so verbal. Your trip with Suzuki wasn't so much with words. But this is definitely a strong part of the tradition. This is the way . . .(?) . . . to him. He got his verbal teaching from Kishizawa. I think, really, he got his dharma from Kishizawa. And he got his abilities to survive and the stick-with-it, character from So-on. This is just my opinion. Maybe his realization that could be taught to people was from Kishizawa. I think he really turned him on.

BK: Do you have a picture of Kishizawa? I met both of his dharma successors.

DC: You met Noiri-roshi?

BK: Noiri was the transmission master. But he's different now. He was really scary.

DC: I'd love to meet Noiri but Hoitsu won't introduce us. He said Noiri wouldn't even meet him. He really doesn't meet people any more. But there's alot of access to Noiri's students so anything I want to know I can get. And there's one thing I'd like to spend a little time doing. Kishizawa had his shortcomings too. He was sort of an imperialist in ways. Definitely Suzuki Roshi's humanitarian -- well, I don't know. Kishizawa would teach soldiers when they were shooting their guns that there was no gun and stuff like that. Kaz Tanahashi told me that. Where do you think Suzuki Roshi got his real humanitarian impulses? His peace/love/dove side.

BK: It was the war. He saw what was going on in the war.

DC: Tell me what you know about that.

BK: Actually I don't know that much about it. Mrs. Suzuki has some pictures[*] of him . . . the bell. Very sad.

DC: The picture of him in his robes and the bells are all tied up.

BK: I don't know that much about that time. . . . the soldiers . . .when they came . . . they were so arrogant he would scold them.

DC: Where did you hear that? Did he say that in a lecture?

BK: I don't think he -- where did I hear that?

DC: It would have to come from him.

BK: Maybe -- unless one of the students told me, one of the older students, Jean Ross or Betty.

DC: The soldiers would have been kids, right? And back in those days a zen priest was much higher. After the war the whole thing changed with authority and everything. So it probably would have been perfectly appropriate for him to say don't be so arrogant. Do you remember him saying anything about that period, or about his past, or anything?

BK: He hardly said anything about his past.

DC: There's stuff in lectures.

BK: Probably at Tassajara there's more. But in those days he hardly said anything about his past. After meditation in the early days he used to have us walk across the room, when the pews weren't there. He used to watch us.

DC: Like Charlotte Selver maybe did?

BK: Yeah, in a way. But there was no Charlotte Selver then, but he was very interested in us. When he first met us he would look in our face for a long time. . . .who we were. He was a very curious person. If you wanted him to come over for dinner or visit he'd say yes right away because he wanted to see how you lived. So when he came to out house, we were from the beat generation, so we didn't dust or anything. So the robes were all full of dust. He never said anything, but little by little he started dusting our house.

DC: Did that stop when Mitsu came?

BK: I guess so.

DC: She came in 'sixty-one or 'sixty-two.

BK: It kind of stopped after that. Whenever Sokoji got busier, and Tassajara .

DC: What was his teaching? What did he teach?

BK: I really can't say, a teaching per se. You can say Dogen said this and this and this, put it in a slot. But Suzuki Roshi it was just like being a real person. Through his real experience of zazen, real zazen, that there's a great possibility in all of us.

DC: Would you say that he taught to sit zazen?

BK: That was his teaching. That was the main thing. And how you could also be the same as him.

DC: Did he teach some particular way or did he encourage you to find your own way?

BK: He had his way. But he always said you had to find your own way. Of course he talked from his Japanese viewpoint. One time he was teaching me to write the Buddha's names. 'Seventy-one. He wrote the character down -- Do, meaning same -- and he said we're the same, he kept on saying that, we're the same. He said if you do this every day, do some calligraphy every day, you'll become a great person. . . . . . .(fadeout). He was Suzuki Roshi because of his meditation practice. He flowered and shined because of that background. His whole life was meditation practice.

DC: Like, why are we sitting zazen, and also why he was standing up. I've got a complete set of his lectures now. The first is 1962 the last is 1971. I'll make you a copy. Do you know how much it costs to make one copy? About $120. It won't cost you anything, I'm just giving you an example of the bulk. I'll just make it part of my expenses.

BK: Do it. I'll give talks from it. . . . give a talk at San Francisco Zen Center in 'seventy-one. This is his interpretation of Tozan Zenji's poem. They had it in Berkeley but it was wrong. It didn't follow. They kind of logically fit it in the last two sentences. This is the real thing. This is it. No copy. But if you want to make a copy of this.

DC: I'd like to do it some time during the day when I can just drive out -- do you have any other things to copy?

BK: I've got all of Buddha's names.

DC: A book on Suzuki Roshi. What do you think? Do you have any ideas what it should be like?

BK: That Sandokai is good. That Sandokai that you did, that they translated.

DC: He spoke in English. They didn't have to translate.

BK: Edited. That would be nice for a book you know.

DC: I'm talking about a biography-type book The Sandokai is being worked on. Do you have any suggestions what would be a good book on Suzuki. If the book makes any profit beyond my expenses, I would consider at that point that it would be a non-profit. I would get whatever is reasonable. To make more than that would be a miracle. But if it did, we're thinking about maybe starting a Suzuki Roshi library or something. I think it's unlikely it would make that much money, but if it did it could be something you could get books from. I don't know.

BK: If more of his lectures could be made available that would be wonderful. I don't know that much about books. What are you thinking of? A new format?

DC: I'm thinking about telling about his life in Japan. He did go to China in the last year of the war. He went to Manchuria. You've heard these stories about how he was against the war, you never heard him say anything about that?

BK: I don't remember him saying anything about that. I might have been too tired or something. I was pretty tired, and the pain in my legs . . . that was really stupid, but. . .there was pain.

DC: When you were Shuso you'd been around for twelve years. Were you still having a lot of trouble sitting?

BK: Those days was o.k., but the early days, in his talk on a Wednesday night or something, I was busy fighting the pain or trying to stay awake. That was my capacity at that time.

BILL KWONG

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