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Interviews with Hoitsu Suzuki
by DC

Notes from phone call with DC

Earliest Interview with Hoitsu
Hoitsu Interviewed by Fred Harriman


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Tuesday April 12, 1994--Rinso-in, Yaizu, Japan

[Hoitsu Suzuki Interviewed in Japanese by David Chadwick, translated by Kyoko Furuhashi and Shizuko Takatsuka.]

[Hoitsu Suzuki is the eldest son and dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki. At the SFZC he's called Suzuki-roshi like his father, but at his own temple he's called Hojo-san, the Japanese custom. In 1966 Hoitsu took over Rinso-in, Suzuki's temple in Yaizu, Japan and he still lives there with his family and runs the temple. - DC]

I started off asking him to tell me whatever he wanted to say.

HS: I can't talk about everything. What do you want me to talk about? 

Hoitsu Suzuki sat with his legs comfortably crossed at the cluttered low table in his temple's small family room, dining room, TV room, his calligraphy room, the informal guest room, the everything room. It's a cluttered and comfortable space that opens up to the small cluttered kitchen where his wife prepares three meals a day for whomever is around. He wore a gray priest's informal koromo and under his collar a lighter gray kimono was visible and under that the white juban collar. He was a little edgy. He didn't want to be there with me. He wanted to be back at the hole-in-the-wall gallery where he and his artist friend had a showing that week.

We'd spent the morning at the gallery, hanging out in soft chairs in the adjoining oculist's shop. There had been tea, coffee and cakes and chats with people who came by to view the twenty or so small colored paintings made by his friend  with Hoitsu's strong, warm calligraphy flowing down either side. They were charming works and I had spent a good deal of time standing in that narrow room looking at their branches, leaves, flowers, birds and stems and trying to figure out what words Hoitsu had written to go with them. I couldn't figure out much and when he got tired of chatting with his chums he came in and explained what the kanji meant. At that point it was me who was edgy.

It was my second day in Yaizu and still he'd had no time to talk to me about his father. The first day he'd been gone all day getting the show ready and doing a memorial service in a member's home. And now we'd spent a half pleasant half a day at the gallery. The other half was me waiting to get to work. I hadn't been in Japan for two years and getting back where everyone was speaking Japanese was like getting back out on the court. It's invigorating, guarantees alert involvement with people, is peppered with humiliation. For a couple of hours of the morning I'd walked around with Christina??, a shaved-headed ordainee from the SFZC who'd come to Yaizu to spend three months at Rinso-in - she wanted to study with Hoitsu, she felt she had a special connection with him and that he could be her teacher in Japan. I'd gone with her to the bank to help her cash some traveler's checks. We'd walked toward the decades old shopping street, entered under the rusted sign announcing the sheet meal and glass paned arch which roofed the tunnel of commerce filled with struggling mom and pop stores. Christina found a sewing shop where she looked for a patterned cloth covered board (heradai) that many Japanese still use to sew on. We ventured out on the uncovered streets toward the train station and spent some time in a coffee shop. Christina talked about what she came for and I checked her expectations. She intended to sit zazen by herself in the morning and do some work around the temple, see some of Yaizu, do some minor and specialized shopping, maybe study some Japanese, take walks, go to Kyoto. I cautioned her to state all of her desires in terms of needs and obligations.

The buildings and most of what surrounded them was gray and cementish or brickish. We cruised the seemingly boring stores and streets with curiosity for the methods of wrapping and display of necessities and electives, felt sublime material in a friendly kimono store, ate large red strawberries from a grocer. There was lots of cute everywhere: in the ads and on the products - bought a cup for Clay with goofy robots on the side. There had been a Shinto shrine with shaded grounds that we'd spent some time in. The cherry trees were in bloom. The weather was high sixties spring wet air. It sprinkled on us on the way back. It was nothing special but I got in a nostalgic mood and forgot that I'd come to Yaizu to do research on the Suzuki Roshi book and Hoitsu was ignoring me. First I had to enter his sense of time, timing, obligation. He was uncomfortable about my mission. But we'd agreed on these dates and I kept waiting for the time he had set aside for me. I tried to figure out what his attitude was and looked for an opining.

I thought about Dick Baker in 69 ?? Suzuki had gone to Japan for the first time since ?? . He visited his son's family at Rinso-in. Dick Baker came there from Eiheiji (dropping out in disgust when Suzuki came to visit him, adamantly refusing to stay - against Suzuki's urging). Dick lived in the temple for a month?? where he worked with Suzuki on Dharma transmission. Dick told me that for a week?? he was stuck in a back room where he was supposed to study and Suzuki spent all his time receiving guests, members of the temple and friends who hadn't seen him in years, and Dick got fed up and went storming in and told SR to pay attention to him or he was going to leave. What nerve to do so in Japan. It worked. Good for him. I noticed it when Dick did stuff like that or even took a leadership role with Suzuki Roshi - and he did it even in Japan, Dick was not going to play the helpless victim buckling under.

After a bowl on donburi at the gallery I asked Hojo San if he might have time to talk that afternoon. Ah, he didn't think so - pretty busy. Well how about tomorrow? It's too bad but I'm busy then too. Sorry. Why don't you go do so and so. Let me drive you back to Rinso-in. Oh, I surrendered to a feeling of frustration. I beseeched Hoitsu to help me. I said that I had not come to play, that I had no other purpose to be in Japan but to talk to him about his father and that was all I was thinking about. And if he wasn't going to talk to me I'd just as soon walk. He sucked in air and said nothing. We went home, sat down at the foot high luann table and he said that he'd give me an hour right now. 

HS: But what do you want to talk about?

DC: Just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind about your father.

HS: (Visibly fighting it, with resistance) He was born in Kanagawa-ken at Shoganji (a temple) between Shizuoka and Tokyoto (Greater Tokyo). It was his father's temple. 

DC: Can you see Fuji from there?

HS: Yes, but not as well as from here. Latter he went to Morimachi to Zoun-in and became a disciple of Gyokujun Soon who was a disciple of his father. He was 12 years old. Now that's Okamoto Shoko's temple.

DC: Your father's other dharma heir.

HS: Yes, uh - in ceremony only - my father did it as a favor to his dharma brother (?? Soko?) who couldn't do it because ??he died.

DC: Can I meet him - Shoko San?

HS: Yes but he'll have nothing to say to you. He didn't know my father. He didn't study with him.

DC: But your father lived in that temple (Zoun-in). I could see it.

HS: Yes, it's where he studied with Soon. And it was the first temple he was jushoku of.

DC: So we can go there?

HS: Yes, I just need to call - we can go there tomorrow probably.

DC: Great. Tell me more about Shoganji (where Suzuki was born).

HS: Shoganji was not so big. It's on the edge of the town of Hiratsuka near Kamakura. I hear you can see Kamakura from there but I don't know, I've never been there. No one's been there since they left?? It was one of my father's dying requests to Otohiro in America - that he please go to Shoganji where I was born. Takei Musan is the present priest. I don't know about his lineage. Butsumon Sogaku, Shunryu's father and Gyokujun's teacher, was the head priest of Shoganji at the turn of the Century. 

There weren't many married priests then. My father Shunryu Suzuki (birth name??) was born on Meiji 37 (1904)on May 20th. I don't know much except he decided himself to go to Zoun-in. He told me it was because he thought Gyokujun Soon would be a good teacher. That was in (Taisho??)(1916). He had a hard time there cause Soon was strict. He thought Shunryu came to his temple in order to succeed him and inherit the temple which he thought was an impudent (namaiki) reason so he was hard on him. And Soon didn't buy fabric for new clothes. In those days we didn't buy kimono in stores - kimono's are modular and easy to make - and there were not so many people wearing western clothes?? (what %) then and of course there were no western clothes in the temple, at Zoun-in.

My father had to go to grade school and his kimono were old and worn and sometimes different parts were made out of different fabric with different designs and everyone could see. It made him look like a ragamuffin with patches of different colors. He was embarrassed. But he had a haori, like an overcoat for a kimono, that was in one piece and so he'd wear that all the time. If he took off the haori it would expose his patchwork kimono with the strange combination of patterns. So he'd say he had a stomach ache. 

DC: Everyday?

HS: Maybe so. So-on was beginning to realize that Shunryu was sincere because he was persevering - he was showing his pure mind (junshin) and Soon became more tender and kind. Gyakujun So-on's family name was Suzuki but he was not closely related - maybe a distant relative. He took a rickshaw when he went out to a memorial service, hoyo, and Shunryu had to run the way with a trunk which had a bag with scrolls and stuff in it. he would run ahead, way ahead, sometimes he'd stop, put the trunk down and go into the river to catch a fish or frog and play and he'd forget himself then he'd see the rickshaw going over a bridge so he'd hurry up and get the trunk and whatever and take a shortcut and go faster than the rickshaw and would arrive ahead and would look cool as a cucumber, like nothing had happened. Fast huh? Soon would see my father but didn't say anything because he arrived on time. so he didn't scold him. That's what my father told me.

Hoitsu paused and looked around. Ah, he didn't talk about himself so much. It was a stab at finality but we both knew there was plenty more. I didn't wonder what was holding him back. I just persevered and did so in a land where when people gently, subtly indicate dissatisfaction, they are expected to be let off. On top of that Hoitsu was a priest and he was my host and he called the shots but I would constantly appeal. And since he is my big brother, though he might see it more as an uncle and I'm not sure what type, he kept going.

He went to school. Before he was in Komazawa University in Tokyo, he was in the city of Zushi in Kaisei Chugaku (Kaisei middle school) which is very prestigious - lots of students from there go to Todai (Tokyo University). Kaisei Chugaku is in Kanagawa prefecture, so while he attended that school he went back to Shoganji where he was born, to be with his parents. While he was in Komazawa University he became the head priest of Zoun-in. That's where my elder sister and I were born.

Hoitsu reached back into his books and stacks of paper by a cup of brushes, pens and pencils, a flashlight, the phone and a tea pot, cups and can of sencha. Then he got up and went to the cabinet on the other side of the table behind me. He pulled out a map, opened it up and pointed to the places he was naming. 

HS: After Komazawa he went to Eiheiji in Fukui-ken. He was there a year and then he went to Sojiji for half a year.

DC: But wasn't he at Komazawa when he became abbot?? He didn't go to Eiheiji and Sojiji while he was abbot of Zoun-in did he?]

HS:  He was in charge of Zoun-in, living there, but he wasn't yet the official jushoku. He often went to a nearby temple named Kasuisai where he was a lecturer (koshi). And he taught English there to the unsui and also taught Buddhism. He was maybe about 27.

At that time the treasurer (fusu) of Kasuisai, Muramatsu San, had a daughter name Chie. They got married. She was eight years younger than Shunryu. She was 22 when they married or 23.?? Soon was at rinso-in then. After (??) years (in??year) Gyakujun San went to Eiheiji to be the assistant director (fuku-kanin). It was then that my father became the jushoku of Zoun-in. ??I don't know if he was married then yet. I know I was born after he became jushoku. It was taisho [about 1904-1912]? Then three days after Soon went to Eiheiji he fainted, fell down. He was in the Fukui ken hospital but came back to Rinso-in and died there. It was the seventh of June. After Soon died, my father became the jushoku of Rinso-in.

DC: Why did Soon leave Zoun-in to go to Rinso-in?

HS: Rinso-in had gone down hill, fallen apart both physically and in terms of human relations with the danka. And there were money problem (improprieties??). The Shumucho told Soon to go to Rinso-in to become the jushoku there, and they told the prior one to leave because it was in such a bad state so the old?? priest quit. Soon fixed up the buildings, got the danka in line and put the temple back on its feet financially. Then he went to Eiheiji, fell down, died and then Shunryu became the abbot. Actually, Soon had another disciple, a ??relative, whom he wanted to become the jushoku of Rinso-in: Suzuki Soko. Soko was Shunryu's dharma brother (hotei). Shunryu was jushoku of Zoun-in at that time of So-on's death and Soko was living in Rinso-in. So Soon had been thinking of making Soko the jushoku of Rinso-in because he was already there and when Gyakujun Soon died Soko tried to get the job but he couldn't because?? I don't know why. (I wondered if he really didn't know why) So Soko offered the position to Shunryu and Soko went to Shingakuji and became a disciple of Yoshioka and Shunryu became the jushoku of Rinso-in. Soko died two years ago as the fuku-kanin of Eiheiji - the same position that Gyakujun Soon had held for three days.

Okamoto Kendo, the father of Okamoto Shoko, became the jushoku of Zoun-in. Kendo didn't succeed, didn't become the shiso of Soon so he had became the disciple of another master. So Zoun-in wasn't in So-on's lineage? At first Shunryu was the jushoku of both temples and he split his time between the two - (so whose disciple did Kendo become?) but eventually (when??)Kendo became abbot of Zoun-in and Shunryu was only the jushoku of Rinso-in. But Kendo promised that the next jushoku of Zoun-in would be Shunryu's disciple (deshi) - maybe - I think so. That is why Shunryu much later came back from America and gave Kendo's son Shoko the Shinsanshiki, the mountain seat ceremony, making him his dharma heir and establishing him as jushoku of Zoun-in. In so doing, he returned Zoun-in to the lineage of Shunryu, Soon and Sogaku (Shunryu's father). Shoko's about 60 now. Shunryu has no other Japanese deshi except for Shoko and me and so Shoko comes sometimes to Rinso-in.

DC: When did Shunryu become jushoku?

HS: Shunryu was jushoku for 27 or so years - from showa 12 (1937) till Showa 35??34(1959) when he went to America - 23 years from 1938?? Shunryu became jushoku of Zoun-in in Showa 4, 1929, at the age of 25.

DC: Were the danka of Rinso-in against Shunryu being the jushoku there? 

HS: The priest before Soon had a different lineage so many members wanted someone from the temple lineage, from the lineage of the priest before (name??). There were those who were against Shunryu but there were also people not against him. So Shunryu made a pledge to serve as jushoku for just three years and his opponents bought that. At least he told that to the chair of the board, and maybe also with the whole board (riji). He said, 'after that I'll quit.' Koga?? was head of board??) Then at the end of the three years Shunryu said thanks a lot and now I'll leave and Koga?? said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' And at that time no one said anything about Shunryu leaving or staying.

DC: Do you remember anything about the right wing or militaristic influence on the period?

HS: He didn't go into the army because he was too small, also he had had a light case of TB (haikekaku) in college which gave him a persistent cough (bad lungs). 

DC: But wouldn't he have also been too old?

HS: Maybe. (??were drafting at 40) Noiri went into the army - but he was ten years younger. I don't know anything about that. At that time Buddhist priests went into the army but people couldn't talk about it. People thought they didn't have to go but they did so people just pretended it wasn't happening. If they hadn't gone into the army, if they refused, they'd have to go to jail. You couldn't actually refuse.

DC: Did he speak against the war?

HS: No, he didn't do that, but he talked about Buddhism and in that way he expressed his opinion but if he'd done that he wouldn't have been able to be in the temple or to perform his priestly duties. He would have gone to jail. You couldn't say anything against the war... but you could talk about Buddhism.

DC: Do you remember anything about what it was like around here during the war?

HS: There were lots of guys from the army and navy here. One group was to make roads and another was to construct an airport. They were engineers, engineer corps. Engineers were living here.

DC: Were there monks?

HS: I don't know. But the engineers were here.

DC: Was Shunryu the only priest around to do services?

HS: Yes. There were funerals but not at the temple. I don't remember well because I was too young. Maybe there were funerals. I was born in 1939. There were lots of soldiers around - army, navy.(starting what year??)

DC: Who made the food?

HS: Mother and her mother cooked for us. They cooked for themselves.

DC: When did Shunryu go to china?

HS: One month before the end of the war. He went to Manshu (Manchuria) (Manchuria)... to build a temple... for research on the possibility of that.

DC: Did the shumucho send him?

HS: That had no relation to them. Some big shot in the army wanted him to go. Actually I think Shunryu wanted to go so he asked the guy if he could go. So he went and as the war was coming to an end and getting tough he had to flee. No one knew the war was coming to an end till it came to an end. The officers in the army were returning by plane. My father came back on a ship with chickens.

DC: After the war Shunryu says he showed some document or something written to GHQ so that he could start the kindergartens I think.

HS: I haven't heard about it from him.

DC: Did anyone else mention it?

HS: I haven't heard anything.

DC: But I thought he went to GHQ and said during the war that he had opposed the war.

HS: Maybe he said that he had made no effort to help the war out. 'I didn't help out.' Maybe that.

DC: I heard he had handed out leaflets at the temple or something like that.

HS: Maybe he had written something down to show them at GHQ - maybe, I don't know. Hoitsu didn't like the line of questioning. It clearly made him uncomfortable - but not like he was hiding anything - more like he just didn't know where I was coming from. But he went on. Because he spoke English and could write it, he could show them so they could understand it.

He couldn't have done any more than that, he couldn't have written anything against the war during the war, because he was just a Buddhist priest and that would not have been his place to do so.

DC: The army took the bell, right?

HS: I have a picture of that.

DC: Did he stay in his room and was he angry? I kept trying to verify the particulars that I remembered rather than just ask him what he remembered.

HS: I Don't remember. When the day came to give the bell to the war effort, maybe he wouldn't take the bell down the hill. He was there - he wasn't in his room. I have a picture of it. He got up and went out of the room and came back in a moment with an old black and white picture of Shunryu in ceremonial robes and high hat, surrounded by ??75 or so members of his congregation. The large bronze temple bell and two?? smaller ones were ceremoniously tied to decorated beams.

He had to recite a sutra then and he offered incense and said bye to the bell. Nobody was pleased. No army personnel were there, only danka. I don't remember it. He didn't give a talk - I remember that. Maybe that was his way of showing disapproval. You couldn't disapprove except in some subtle way. Japan was one big military base. It was a military country. All Japanese men were dressed like soldiers then. See, the men in the photo look like soldiers but they weren't. The seinendan (young people's group), like Boy Scouts, in the picture there - they looked like soldiers but they weren't really soldiers. It was the same here as anywhere. It was the same as being on the battlefield even though there was no fighting going on. For American people the battlefield and home were different, but not here. The civilians and soldiers back home felt like they were fighting the war too. The civilians only ate a little so there would be more food for the soldiers. They thought it was wrong to live a normal life. Even little children felt they were helping the war effort and would salute. Everyone acted like soldiers. Therefore the monks too became soldiers. The whole country was a battlefield because Japan is one. And now people think that wars are bad because they change people's minds like they did ours during the war. We don't want to fight any more wars. If someone was against the war, they couldn't have spoken against it. They'd go to jail. But a priest could talk about Buddhism or do zazen or teach zazen to people, not just monks but lay people too. In that way they could discreetly oppose the war. But even the soldiers who came to Rinso-in did zazen under the guidance of Shunryu. He would say that no matter what the situation is you shouldn't loose yourself and for that you can do zazen. Doing that doesn't support the war. Because we know the history of Japan we know how absurd war is. People of today realize this and are opposed to any war.

Part II

Tuesday April 13, 1994--Rinso-in, Yaizu, Japan

[Hoitsu Suzuki Interviewed in Japanese by David Chadwick, translated by Kyoko Furuhashi and Shizuko Takatsuka.]

That night, after Yasuko had left, Hoitsu returned and we drank some sake and talked. Now I didn't have to ask him to talk about his father. He'd sunk into it. He was more eager to reminisce. But still there was a reticence, an occasional look of distrust. We started off by talking about the temple building. It's large, old, and beautiful. Then I turned on the tape.

HS: The family of my father's little sister, six altogether, came from Tokyo to live with us here during the war. There was so much bombing and a food shortage. There was a general shortage of food in Japan toward the end of the war. The whole family sat before the radio on the day that Japan surrendered (haisen no hi or shussen no hi) and we listened to the emperor's speech on the radio. The emperor said that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Treaty and that we are going to seek peace for Japan's future and the future of the world. Everyone listening to the radio cried.

I was just a kid and didn't really understand. My uncle had died during the war so there was a mixture of feelings. Another uncle too - my mother's brother. Now I think people felt so sad for those who had died in battle and people had worked so hard to win the war but now it was suddenly over - we didn't even know we were loosing - people's minds just went blank. They might have been happy to know that the war was at last over but they were also sad. And also they must have been very worried about what was gonna happen.

After the war soldiers came back to Japan. There were about 20 Korean forced laborers who were living in the zendo - they had been brought by force by the Japanese army during the war and they did all the hard physical work in Japan. They were so pleased to hear the war was over they sang loudly in the zendo - Traditional Korean songs, maybe folk songs.

The highest officer in the army from these parts came and took them to Shimonoseki. They had to change trains many times. They went back to Korea by ship. The Korean workers ate army food. They were better than us. The children from Tokyo ate the same as us.

The emperor's speech was called the Gyokuon Housou - jewel sound (or voice) broadcast. That was the first time we'd heard his voice. People cried and all and the army came back to Japan and the Korean workers went back to Korea. The war was over but a new war started then - that was our struggle to survive. We ate anything. We ate some hard fruit that came from America - prunes, dried fruit. Prunes make one beautiful they said. We grew sweet potatoes and pumpkins on the temple grounds and vegetables and wheat or barley. Temple life was just as hard as the time of Haibutsu kishaku (in Meiji when Buddhism was suppressed and Shinto elevated). During the war, Shinto was the national religion [and was favored because it fit better into the nationalistic goals of the military ??], so Buddhism was neglected though it wasn't as bad as the time of haibutsu kishaku. But then after the war the government took away the temple rice fields and surplus property at that time. Those lands were sold very cheaply to the people [so things even got worse]. So my father had a hard time trying to survive.

In Showa 22 there was a jukai e (lay ordination ceremony) for lots of people, 400 or so, at Rinsoin and it was officiated by Kishizawa Roshi. My father thought people's minds were in a bad state because of the war so he decided to give the jukai e. [In this way, by strengthening Buddhism and helping to spread the teaching of Kishizawa Roshi, he felt he could help to strengthen the country. Kishizawa Roshi was a nationally prominent teacher and my father respected him greatly??] He didn't go as far as zuishin (follow mind) with Kishizawa. He was monkasei of Kishizawa but not deshi or zuishin.

Kishizawa's temple is only 4 kilometers from Rinsoin. He was a well known great scholar of Shobogenzo and Goi. Noiri was a zuishin of Kishizawa and although he wasn't Kishizawa's disciple he studied hardest. Many studied with Kishizawa.

DC: When did Shunryu start studying with Kishizawa?

HS: I don't know. (looks for a book) Taisho 12 - Gyokuden-in kaisan (founding) - Kishizawa became the jushoku of that temple then.

DC: Back to the Emperor's broadcast - what was Shunryu's reaction?

He cried just like everyone else listening to emperor's words. [didn't I ask more, here, about did he get angry and he said I don't know? Everyone else sure remembers that. I guess he was too young to remember.]

DC: Did the kids evacuated from Tokyo leave Rinsoin at the same time as the Korean laborers? How long did the shortage of food last?

HS: I don't remember but it was very great - the shortage. It only improved gradually. There wasn't much food when we had the jukai e but we bought rice from neighboring farmers.

DC: What role did Rinsoin play after the war? Did they give food away?

HS: There was no food to give away even here.

The jukai lasted ten days. I was in the first or second grade. My father started his work for the kindergarten at about this time. He had nothing to do with the kindergarten till then. It was only after the war that he realized that raising children in a proper way, according to Buddhist teachings is for a better future. He invited Mitsu to be principle of the kindergarten later on. Maybe in 25 or 26 (50 or51). My mother died in 1927.

DC: Please tell me about it.

HS: I'd rather have my mother's memory in a box because it's very important to me and I don't want to talk about it. My mother used to ride a bicycle and carry food on it to give to people in need. There were lots of poor people around here and my mother thought it was her job to help them as much as she could. She used to breast feed another baby plus Otohiro at the same time. We children met many people coming to us and thanking us for her good deeds, many years after she had died.

DC: When did Shunryu and she get married?

HS: Maybe they were married when he was 30. Mother must have been 24 then - or 23. She was from near Hamamatsu. It was hard for my mother to survive with so little - we didn't have much. When we did have some money she gave it to the poor.

It was just before the new years [old calendar or new? probably new] in Showa 27 (1952), an unsui came. His name was Outsubo. He'd first gone to Kichizawa's Gyokuden-in and there he was told to go to Rinsoin because there was no work to do in Gyokuden-in. He did various things like chop firewood at Rinsoin, and he went into the city to work. And on March 25th my father had gone out. The children had also gone out and only my mother and her mother and Outsubo were there. It was sometime between one and three in the afternoon that my mother was attacked by him at the place where wood is burned to heat the bath. He struck her in the head with a hatchet - seven times. She died at 7 or 8 at night on that day. My father told us children not blame him resent him hold a grudge. If you want to blame someone, please blame me, he said. It was all my fault. So I apologize to you all. This unsui had been in the army during the war. All us kids were frightened by this monk and we didn't like living with him. But my father had said we shouldn't say such unkind things about him. He was a poor man with nowhere to live so we had to let him stay there. He had scary eyes. We kids could see his scary nature but grownups were too used to poor people and couldn't see his character. Now I think that he might have had some psychological damage from the war. After he attacked my mother he tried to kill himself by cutting his jugular vein, but he didn't die so he walked toward the police station and he was apprehended on his way there. When my grandmother found my mother lying there, she put a piece of cloth on her daughter's head and shouted out for help. Some villagers passing by heard her cries.

As for Outsubo, I think he went to a mental hospital. My father might have seen him at court, at the trial.

At that time, Otohiro was 8, Oumi was 10, I was 12, and Yasuko was 17[??]. After my mother's death, Our grandma looked after us. My father used to say, our grandma was a great person. So we should behave well and listen to her. My father had never been a family man. My grandma paid for my education.

I was 15 when I entered high school and went there by bicycle. Shunryu was busy with the kindergarten and repairing the roof of Rinsoin. Rinsoin was built 250 years ago or before [exact year?] - the beams are the original. The roof was thatch (kaya-bukiyane). It was getting difficult to have it repaired because it was getting outmoded.

Shunryu didn't go to Eiheiji or Sojiji on business - he had no ambition to become a high ranking priest. The first time I heard of his wish to go to the states, I was in the second year of college. He went to the Shumucho to see his friend Yamada and on the way he came to see me and we were on a train and he asked me if I minded if he went to the States and I said if you need to go, please go. He went half a year later.

He said he would be there for three years. Perhaps he had always wanted to go abroad to teach Buddhism. That's why he studied hard. He went to Manshu to start a temple[?] - and that had failed. Fifteen years later he went to America. And in between, he wanted to go to Hokkaido.

DC: Why was he interested in teaching Buddhism overseas?

HS: He liked big things cause he was small.

DC: I heard that Soon had predicted that Shunryu would only have bad disciples - if so, why?

HS: Prediction? Maybe that was a joke. Maybe he was teasing. 

DC: Is that why he founded a big temple in US?

HS: He had a good head, he was smart but usually bright young people don't have a kind heart [some sort of Japanese folk wisdom?]. If he was only smart people wouldn't follow him. You may have lots of disciples if you have a warm heart and big mind even if you aren't very smart.

DC: Maybe he was so very popular because he was soft and kind and charming.

HS: Maybe he'd gotten older - he was there from the time he was fifty-five. He was very strict towards his family but he was soft, kind and patient with danka and neighbors. Maybe he didn't know how to treat his own family because he lived away from home so much as a child. I don't remember even a single case of anyone of his children being held by him, sitting on his lap or being carried on his back or such affectionate things done between parents and children. No - except Otohiro - only Otohiro was occasionally held by him.

DC: He was kind at Tassajara though he would get angry at times and at others do rensaku, running down the isle of sitters hitting them on the shoulder with his stick - but even that was a kind of encouragement.

HS: I was spanked by him and thrown by him into the garden. He did that to me in the first grade because I was too forgetful.

Perhaps he tried to be strict with me on that because he himself was so forgetful and he wanted me not to get in that type of trouble. One day I came back from school early and he asked me why I did so and I said that I had forgotten something and he got angry and threw me into the pond. My mother picked me out of it.

He was kind to people outside the family. I have often been told by other people that I was very lucky to have a father who was quiet, kind and didn't get angry. He was the exact opposite of what we heard. I heard that he talked in a quiet voice when he was at other people's homes. I heard a story that happened when the roof was getting fixed. One of the workers got mad had yelled over and over to my father that he was no good. Everyone expected him to loose his temper at the man but he just changed the subject and started talking about another temple called Banjakuin saying how pretty it was with a new roof and he went on and on about it in a quiet unconcerned tone of voice. That shut that fellow up.

After my father completed the renovation of the temple I heard about his intention to go to America. He didn't think about his own thing till he completed his responsibility. But on the other hand he didn't really complete his responsibility, for I was still in college. He should have left after making his disciple, me, the abbot of Rinsoin. Some of the danka were very angry about his leaving too early.

DC: He did the same thing at Sokoji, resigning and leaving with Katagiri, and Yoshimura had to take over - or was it Moriyama?

HS: Priests from other temples supported his going by saying they'd look after Rinsoin while he was gone. And also I said he could go. My grandmother also said, if you've gotta go, please go. She also asked him to take Otohiro with him. Otohiro was 15 or so, in middle school. He wasn't yet married to Mitsu at that time.

DC: So he married her knowing he was leaving for the States. Mitsu got sick after the marriage?

HS: She had thyroiditis. I don't know if Mitsu was opposed. Eventually everybody including the danka agreed to his going and Suzuki Soko, his dharma brother, helped us look after Rinsoin. Seven years after he left I became the abbot. I was 27. My Shinsanshiki was in October, 1966.

DC: That's when I first came to Zen Center.

HS: When I was at college he told me to study English. He wanted me to come help with his missionary work. So I tried to study hard but I just didn't like it.

DC: Did he want you to become his successor in America?

HS: No, he just wanted me to help him. I was doing kendo then - and quit that to study English but I wanted to do kendo so much that I almost became neurotic so I went back to kendo and told him I'd quit English and he said it's okay - it agrees with you so it's okay.

There's not much zazen done here. Sometimes a few people came, not just on Sunday - once or twice a month. When students came here to stay on weekends they sat zazen. They came for zazen and to study. Buddhist priests in Japan have to do a lot more than sit zazen. Rinsoin has 5-700 families.

[Kyoko, who helped to translate this and who is part of the Rinsoin zazenkai, says that about 15 to 20 people come to the once monthly zazenkai, mostly old ladies and 2 or 3 old men. They come on the 8th of every month during the day from 1:30 to 4. There is thirty minutes of zazen, a lecture, and tea with conversation.]

HS: The bulk of the responsibility is with the other duties like funerals, memorial services, goeika (traditional Buddhist songs which Hoitsu teaches one evening a week) and field trips - a lot of things. The Zen practice places in the US are centered around zazen - Buddhism is zazen in America. In Japan priests offer incense to Buddha and to the ancestors of Buddhism and the danka offer incense to their ancestors.

When my father was ill, I remember him lying in bed, looking at his palms and saying, "These hands have done many things in my life. I never thought I'd come to the states to work as a priest." He said he wanted to go back to Japan to die there. He said he'd even crawl if necessary, in order to die there. Before he said that, he'd said he would become American soil. "I will become American soil." [I thought of Deshimura dying on the plane going back to Japan from France where he'd taught for so many years.] But he'd say that sometimes: "I will become American soil." I asked his doctor if he could go back to Japan and he said maybe he could give him some shot that would make him well enough for a while to go back. So I told him he could go back to Japan like the doctor said but he looked at me exasperated and said, "I can't even joke with you all! I was just joking." He was just saying that to please us but what he really wanted was to become American soil.

My godfather went there to see him too, Amano. I suggested my father give him something as a keepsake. So he gave him his juzu - made of skull shaped beads. When we were leaving, Amano said, "Well were leaving now," and my father said, "Thank you very much and be on your way," They seemed so enlightened to me saying goodbye so casually even though it was obviously for good. I was impressed.

When I was there my father said nothing much about the shinmei (the person who gets the mountain seat ceremony), Baker. But he repeatedly said to give Bill Kwong shiho (transmission). He said to leave Zen Center to Baker. He thought that was best.

DC: What about Katagiri?

HS: He wanted him to help Zen Center if possible but Katagiri had left so Shunryu was a little disappointed - he didn't understand why Katagiri had left. He wasn't my father's disciple - if so, he could have made him his successor and he could have been the leader of Zen Center. Shunryu was very sorry it didn't work out.

DC: Katagiri wanted his own group, his own temple and students.

HS: Yes but leader's always need help.

DC: Katagiri and Baker didn't get along and he sure wouldn't have wanted to stay at Zen Center to be Dick's helper.

HS: Yeah, (sigh), I don't know.


Oldest Interview with Hoitsu
Hoitsu Interviewed by Fred Harriman
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