Interview with Hoitsu Suzuki
- the earliest

Hoitsu Interviewed by DC  
Hoitsu Interviewed by Fred Harriman

Hoitsu Main page

The earliest interview with Shunryu Suzuki's eldest son and dharma heir.

[This interview was conducted by Peter Schneider, with his wife Jane and Carl and Fumiko Bielefeldt doing simultaneous translations. It was done at the SFZC when he was visiting his father who was on his deathbed. Fred Harriman went over them on 7/28/95 and   retranslated them although he indicated in most places that the existing translation was fine. Since it was simultaneous or live though, Fred had more time to think for his. Fred, being a scholar and translator, uses the standard convention of those folks by writing "ou" where the "o" is extended in Japanese. I took out a lot of places where Fred says "FUMIKO: [translates faithfully]" and stuff like that. There are a number of other family interviews conducted by this team which will be going on this website soon. And I may even have a more streamlined version of it in my files.- DC]

[NOTE 2: The feedback on this interview is that it needs to be edited down--too much translated. There is info in there that I don't want to lose, like the way people won't listen to him saying that he prefers to be called Hoitsu, not Hoichi (though he's told me also that both are actually okay). Also, the way the words master and father are used for Shunryu Suzuki and how Peter calls Hoitsu Suzuki-roshi. I find that all interesting but maybe it's just too much "in" info and obscures the heart of the interview. Anyway, we're looking at it and this will be edited down.--DC]

PETER : OK, OK. Um we would like to know... anything that you can tell us about your master's life.

FUMIKO : I would like to know anything about your father, who was also your master.

HOUITSU : All right.

PETER : So, uh... why don't we ask his name and age. And his experiences as a boy of his father.

FUMIKO : Um, what? Experiences?

PETER : Experiences, when he was little. A Boy.

FUMIKO : Of his father?

PETER : Um hum. Or of Rinsouin.

FUMIKO : First I would like to ask Suzuki-roushi's name, and... oh! you mean HOUICHI, don't you?

PETER : His name, right?

FUMIKO : His name.

PETER : It's HOUICHI, but let's get a sort of a record.

FUMIKO: Excuse me...

HOUITSU : Mine? All right.


HOUITSU : My name is HOUITSU. Please make it "Hou-itsu." Houitsu.

FUMIKO : Is this the right character?

HOUITSU : Yes, that's correct.

FUMIKO : Do we ask his age too?

PETER : How old is he?

HOUITSU : I'm 32.

FUMIKO : 32. 32 years old.

PETER : Oh, that's all? I thought he was older than that. 32, OK. and um...

FUMIKO : And, ah, may I call you HOUICHI-sama?

HOUITSU : Yes. That would be fine.

FUMIKO : In your younger years, what kind of experiences did you have with your father? And any kind of memories you may have would be fine.

PETER : Can we ask another question?

HOUITSU : It's all... It's all memories and experiences. So... What kind of...

FUMIKO : Oh, well, would it be better to ask specific questions?


FUMIKO : I see.

HOUITSU : It's all...

FUMIKO : The whole, you know, his life is the experience with his father so, you know, maybe it's better to ask a specific question.

PETER : Questions. OK, OK. Um, Baker-san says that Suzuki Roushi-san was very... ah... stern father. Is that so?

HOUITSU : Yes, he was. [laughter]

PETER : Can he tell us something about that?

CARL : Some examples.


HOUITSU : Sometimes, there were little things... I would get spanked... There were various things done... The time I remember the most clearly was... When I was in 1st grade, I forgot something. Something that I was supposed to take to school. And I went home to get it. I thought that my father had already let the house and was at work. I didn't think he was at home, so I went back. And there he was. And he said "Why did you come back?" When I said: "I forgot something so I came back," he picked me up right there, and there was a pond. And he threw me, as I was, right into the pond. [laughter] It was still cold at that time. This took my mother by surprise. And she dragged me out. After that, my father went off to work. Somehow, that event... My father was very forgetful. So he didn't want his apprentice to grow up forgetful. He probably felt that way. So he threw me, SPLASH! into the pond. But my forgetfulness hasn't gotten any better. [laughter]

PETER : When did he first... Well, you can ask questions too. We all can ask questions I don't have to be the interviewer, 'cause I don't have much to interview... I just, I just want to hear, you know... anyone can ask anything. So why don't you ask something? We'll take turns. [unintelligible] something to ask.

CARL : What was his impression of Rinsouin as a young boy, the life there.

HOUITSU : Impressions of my father?

FUMIKO : Your impressions of Rinsouin.

CARL : The way of life there.

HOUITSU : When I was a child, I did not want to become a priest at all. There were a many farmers' children, you know? Farmers' children. Those children didn't study and played all the time. But I was told "study, study!" So I thought, if it was a matter of having to study to become a priest, I would rather become a farmer. I wanted to play with the farmers' children. And I did play with them. I did a lot of mischief with them. But I was told "study, study!" Farmers' children were not ordered to study. They were told "Go off somewhere and play!" I wanted to be told the same as them. But, I certainly did play a lot... [laughter] I didn't study very much. But...

CARL : So you were ready to become a priest, even from your childhood days?

HOUITSU : No, not at all. But my father wanted me to-although he didn't say so. I knew what he wanted me to do. One time, on a bicycle... you know, a bicycle? ...He put me on his bicycle, and when we were coming home from Yaizu, from the center of town-my father had put me on his bicycle-and he said then, "You don't have to be a priest, you know." That's what he said to me. "You don't have to be a priest. It's all right if you study hard and become something else. But whatever you do, study hard." That's what he said. And when he told me that, I thought, "So NOW what am I going to be?" I couldn't think of anything. And, in the end, I became a priest.

FUMIKO : When was it that you decided?

HOUITSU : Well... I think it was in High School. When I was old enough for High School, I thought I would become a priest. [pause, laughter]

HOUITSU : One of my, I guess, motives for choosing to become a priest... there was an... occasion... I suppose you'd call it that... And that was... My mother... the mother who bore me... When I was in 6th grade, she passed away, she died. And... Well... The temple had taken in an unsui. He was a little touched in the head. And so she was killed by him. My mother was. [gasp] That was when I was in 6th grade. And since then, I had been listening to what different people said and thought... books... well I didn't read books that were very difficult... I read some easy to understand books. And I thought to myself, "Being a priest might be a good idea after all." It was a big change of heart. I think that was one important reason that I changed my mind. What could I do to have my mother live longer? That's one of the things I was thinking about. I myself... I wondered how I could keep my mother alive longer in my heart, and in my body, in the things that I do. And the result was the conclusion to do what my old man, my father wanted me to do, and I thought that maybe I should become a priest. At that time I thought of many different things. Alone, self-engaged...

CARL : [translates faithfully from description of childhood desire to be like the farmers' children.]

FUMIKO : [elaborates]

PETER : Who took care of the children after his mother died?

HOUITSU : My mother's mother did.

FUMIKO : Your grandmother.

HOUITSU : My Grandmother. My father was busy and he was often out of the house, you know? And so there were 4 children. And those 4 children would start to argue among themselves. In the temple. And when we would argue, my old grandmother would go outside somewhere. She would go outside of the gate. And she would sit down on a rock and wait for us to finish our argument. And as we argued, we would notice, "hey, gramma's gone!" So we would go look for her, right? And when we found her, "there she is!" by that time the argument was over. I think that she probably cried while she was sitting and waiting during the argument. But we were children and were not aware of such things. If gramma isn't there, we had to look for her. And with that, there were fewer arguments. But we had a lot of arguments, though. With each other... I think that there was something missing in our hearts, and that was why we argued. And so we argued with each other. But... It was good that there was someone to argue with.

FUMIKO : And you are the oldest?

HOUITSU : I have a sister that is older than I am. She came the other day. First my sister, then me. I had a younger sister but she passed away. And then, Otohiro.

PETER : So the grandmother lived at Rinsouin.


HOUITSU : I was taught many things by my grandmother. [Here, it is difficult to understand what is said but the gist is in the following] She was the kind of person who would welcome anyone to the temple with great humility. She didn't teach you with words. You learned by watching her example. You learned from her even if you didn't realize it. Ever since my father came here, she would take care of that large temple during the daytime all by herself. So it was very difficult for her.

FUMIKO : So, your grandfather passed away before she did?

HOUITSU : Yes, that's right. I never met the parents of my father. They passed away earlier on.

PETER : How old was he again? Was it... I think it was before 6th grade... Maybe not... Maybe he was 6 years old, not in 6th grade.

FUMIKO : If you were in 6th grade, you were 12...

HOUITSU : 12, that's correct.

FUMIKO : 12 years old.

PETER : 12 years old.

FUMIKO : When Suzuki-roushi came here, the grandmother took care of the temple.

PETER : Oh, I see.

CARL : He never met Suzuki-roushi's parents.

PETER : Never... They were dead by then? Must have been, they lived in that area. So he never knew his grandparents.

CARL : And his mother's father had also died.

PETER : Did Suzuki-roushi give him teishou when he was a young disciple?

HOUITSU : Hm... Teishou? Hm... I never had the opportunity to be taught formally by my father. Because when I had begun to really want to learn about Buddhism, he had come here! He came here when I was a sophomore in college. When I had begun majoring, he was over here. So as far as his thoughts... one could gather what he was thinking from what he did... but I never heard him speak it in the form of teishou. However I did hear him when he spoke to laymen and other people. But when he spoke in Japanese, he wasn't a very good speaker. I don't know if he was a good speaker in English or not. When he spoke in Japanese, it seemed that he wasn't that interesting... to the people who were listening. [laughter] He'd be like this... He'd think while he was speaking so it seemed that he wasn't that interesting to those who were listening. My mother said often, "Houjou is not good at speaking, and that's a problem." [more laughter]

CARL : [Translates. Says that he "really wanted to hear" his father's teishou, but this is not correct. HOUITSU meant only that "when he had interest" his father was in the U.S. and he couldn't hear his teishou. CARL changes to Japanese and says to HOUITSU :] Here it is.

HOUITSU : Oh no. [unintelligible]

[laughter, translation by CARL continues. FUMIKO says something]

PETER : Well the whole thing is so different, isn't it. Ask him what was the... what did the people... let's ask the sort of feeling that he got from [unintelligible] what kind of feeling the parishioners had towards Suzuki-roshi. What is his opinion of that.

HOUITSU : The parishioners and people from other temples often said that he never showed an angry face to anyone. He never got angry. And that he cared nothing for material things. He was never possessive of things. Well, maybe "possessive" is not the word. He didn't care about material things. With or without money... Sometimes he couldn't tell the difference between what belonged to others and what was his. [laughter] He was perhaps rather strange that way. He never angered. But he had a very short temper-nervous. But others could not see that he is nervous, he always seemed to be distracted. But when he had something that he wanted to do... his actions never called attention to themselves... but when he had something that he wanted to do, slowly things would start to conform to that plan. If he had something that he wanted to do, he would never make compromises. He always would have it in his heart. And he would get closer to his goal bit by bit. He didn't go about things by calling everyone together and telling them what to do in a flurry of activity. Bit by bit he would convince people, and proceed step by step. So in the end, when one would turn back, one would see that there had been a great accomplishment.

FUMIKO : So that means that the impression that others had of him, and his actual character were... his character was always there, but it made its appearance is such a way as to seem different...

HOUITSU : That's correct. In his childhood or when he was young, he gained the strength to not become angered in front of people, and to be able to be kind to others. To be warm to others. He must have had a time when those qualities were developed in him. I don't know much about his childhood. He never told me much about it. I don't even know where he was born. I don't know the details about how he grew up, either. I know some disjointed events, this happened, that happened. Sometimes I hear about things...

FUMIKO : Is there no one who knows about Roshi's childhood, now?

HOUITSU : Well...

FUMIKO : His parents passed away early...

HOUITSU : Yes, yes... He does have siblings. So if you asked them, I think you'll find out from them.

FUMIKO : I imagine that they are also in the clergy...

HOUITSU : No, no no. He has 3, but one did not become a priest, and the other two, sisters became housewives and are now grandmothers.

FUMIKO : [translates. There is some discussion of "shinkeishitsu," translated by FUMIKO as "sensitive." PETER thinks it means "easily hurt." CARL offers the translation of "Impatient and high strung." The continuing translation is accurate.]

PETER : I don't quite, totally, comprehend that point.

CARL : Well the original question was, how he affected other people. He never got angry at other people, [PETER : oh, I see...] he was always very gentle and never seemed to care about little things. [PETER : But actuall...] But actually he had very definite directions and once he had decided, he took that direction and just pushed. Like this, gradually, gradually, until he made it happen.

PETER : What did he say about the, the, the parishioners attitude towards Roushi, or did you ask that question? That was the original...

CARL : We asked it and that was the answer. He also said that he himself didn't know anything about Roushi's upbringing, how he arrived at his personality. But that if we spoke to his brother and sisters, they probably could tell us.

PETER : Oh, they might know, huh?

HOUITSU : You see, that's the way his personality is... So he was... well liked, I suppose one would say... Really respected... There were many people who respected him. "If it's for this man, then let's do it." That's the way they felt. There were many people like that. For us, he was... how can I say... heartless? [long pause] ...kind of cold... he had that kind of side too. He did get angry at home. [FUMIKO : Is that so...] Yes, he did get angry. But to people outside, he was very warm.

FUMIKO : Why do you think that was?

HOUITSU : I wonder why it was... To us... The family he had been raised in had many troubles. And through those troubles he developed (built) himself. He thought that he had to have us experience those things even if it was just a little bit. When I was little, I was often sent to another temple during summer and winter vacation. It's called "honji," [FUMIKO continually expresses understanding, "yes, yes..."] there is a parent temple for Rinsouin. I was sent there often. I wasn't allowed to be in my own home. I had to go and eat someone else's food. And so I was sent there. [pause] But in my case I was happier there! [laughter] The Houjou of that temple was a very kind person, only to me, he wasn't to others. And he was kind to me in many ways, so I wanted to go there as soon as I could when it was vacation time. [laughter] But when I was a child the one thing that I didn't like was having my head shaved.

FUMIKO : Do you always wear you hair long?

HOUITSU : When I was a child?


HOUITSU : No, I had my hair cut off with a pair of clippers7. But then they shave it until is shines, right? There were times I [was so embarrassed that I] wouldn't leave the temple for 3 days. Once it grew a bit I would go out to play. This was when I was staying at the Honji. When I was at home, I just had my hair clipped. [pause] What were we talking about that I got on the subject of having my hair cut, anyway?

FUMIKO : We were talking about how Suzuki-roushi was to people outside his home.

HOUITSU : Oh, yes. He was very warm to people outside of the house. But to those in the home, to us, there was a rather strict side to him. [finger drumming]

HOUITSU : You don't have to talk about the head shaving part... [laughter] Sesshin was performed at that temple. We did sesshin, in the winter. Many students came. And I did sesshin with them. This was when I was a child. And your legs hurt when you do it, right? And I sat in the farthest corner. And I would gradually stretch my legs and they would be straight out in front of me. [laughter] There were my legs out in front, and I hid them with my robe. The Houjou would see it and go: "ahem." And then I would do this. And at the end, just before we stopped, he said "HOUITSU go to the kitchen and help with the food preparation." So I went to the kitchen, and they tell me that there is nothing to help out with. The woman just tells me to watch the bottom of the hearth. So I'm looking carefully, and I hear a loud noise coming from the zazendou: "bang bang!" I wonder what the noise is and go to peek into the zazendou, and they are all getting hit. With the kyousoku, "bang, bang!" He tells me to go help out in the kitchen , and then he starts hitting everybody else. Houjou decided not to hit me, he forgave me, or something. It made me very happy. So that's how I left my own temple and had people in another temple be kind to me. [laughter]

PETER : Did HOUITSU-san, after he met many other Buddhist priests, did he have any feeling that his father was a good Buddhist priest? Or, that had a particularly good understanding, or, just felt he was an ordinary Houjou-san?

HOUITSU : Since I came here, or when he returned to Japan sometimes... and [unintelligible] ... and so... places where what he teaches and what he does are the same... Well, it isn't proper to praise one's own father, but I like the way he is. [pause] I don't know what to say... Sometimes, there are those who have good teach... who say good things, or who have good ideas... some priests will say: "I have something very deep." That "deep thing [does not appear] in their actions...

HOUITSU : ...something that you could feel, something in his mere presence, it's something that we can feel. I think I was lucky to have such a good master. There are other wonderful priests. Those priests who follow the Shougougenzou to the letter in their daily lives. I think those people are wonderful too. But my master... He was a good man and I think I was fortunate to have him. Especially when I come here, and see how many people call him "roushi." And how they care for him. I see how many people care for my master. It makes me very grateful and happy. It's almost as if I can be proud... that's how I feel. [pause] He just won't come back to Japan! [laughter] I think that whether someone lives or not, I mean whether someone is made use of or not, has to do with whether there are many others who will accept him. A person can be a wonderful jewel, or can be just a stone. So if one gains the correct time and place, when the time and the location work together for a person, that person is happy, but at the same time, [pause] it's also a hard thing to do. [pause] I was telling him the other day, "you're really fortunate, aren't you, to have all these people care for you. You are fortunate." "Um hum. It makes me feel happy." That's what he said. There are many priests who don't find such happiness.

FUMIKO : It might be difficult in Japan...

HOUITSU : That's right, it would. Very difficult.

FUMIKO : [I'm going to translate about] what you think about your master.

PETER : Why don't you rephrase it for him. Although she said it very very well, but I want to, I mean you would probably want to use that so let's get two phrasings.

FUMIKO : [more translation]

HOUITSU : Even in Japan... Even in Japan he tried to do many things for Japanese people. And he did gather a large following, it seems. Those people feel themselves fortunate, as well. I think that is important for a person who teaches. Because they are of service. It is those who learn who give me the purpose of my life. That is the feeling that is important. If one just has the attitude that "I'm teaching you, you know," things will not go well. It is better to have a leader who is in the bottom of his heart putting his hands together in humble gratitude. And my father doesn't have... how do you say it... understanding? It isn't there, right? Although he may be bright. Nonetheless, he tries to do what he can in order to gain an understanding. His approach of doing whatever is in one's power to gain understanding is [inaudible due to horn blast]. So.. [pause] he is always thinking about something. He's thinking, and that makes him look like he's distracted. [laughter] He can't hear what anyone has to say to him, you know? So distracted... he's thinking about so many things, his head is full. "What would happen if I did this? What would happen if I did that?" So... [pause, some sort of interruption, noise of metal on porcelain, The other day, here, Katagiri-sensei [something about a shin-san-shiki, some kind of ceremony, tape becomes inaudible, PETER says something about some excellent pumpkin pie.] ever since he came here, there have been so many things... [inaudible again] it seems that things were almost going too well. He can't do it by himself. There is Katagiri-sensei, and other Senseis have been so kind as to come too. It's those things that make it seem so well executed. Almost too well executed. Perhaps he means to say this in relation to his illness. He does say that it has been too easy. It has been too easy. That's what he's saying. Tassajara was established, then here, The other one [Tassajara] went up like that, didn't it? That wasn't the case?

FUMIKO : Well, I don't know much about it... [translates]

PETER : You translate, then maybe you can have your pie, and we'll stop for a minute. [they talk about the pumpkin pie.] Why don't you just translate what was said.

PETER : I asked a question there, what question did I ask? [more discussion] OK, he just talked some more, didn't he.

PETER : In a picture I once saw, Suzuki-roushi looks much heavier than he was when he came to America. Was he heavy when he was a young boy?

FUMIKO : [translates] Does Suzuki-roushi look heavier?

PETER : There's a picture of him when he was about 30 or 40, he looks very big. He was always relatively short, but he looked fatter. Like that.

CARL : Before we get into that, [inaudible]

PETER : Say it loud...

FUMIKO : Oh yeah, that's right...

CARL : Suzuki-roushi may not have such a very deep understanding, correct me if I'm wrong here, what is great about him, the amount that he does understand, he does completely. And, um... so he completely uses, expresses his understanding. The amount that he does have. And so he seems to be kind of absent minded or distracted. Because he is always thinking at all times how to manifest this understanding, how to develop this to use it so his head is always full of ideas. How he's going to operate, what he should do then. Therefore he seems absent-minded.

PETER : Why does he say... [interruption, another man seems to have entered the room, there is talk about some plans for the day. Tape is stopped and started again.] Oh go ahead... please finish... You were in the middle of saying that his father's understanding was so much.. Then the question then is, why does he say, I understand what he means, actually, but I want him to explain, why he feels his father's understanding was not so deep?

HOUITSU : [inaudible] He is my master... so you can take that as a Japanese...

FUMIKO : As Japanese humility?

HOUITSU : [laughter] [All draw the conclusion that HOUITSU's remark was made out of a reluctance to speak well of his master.]

PETER : Well, the next question... Suzuki-roushi in one sense did not have so much time to actually practice when he was in his temple. I don't think he did. Did he sit zazen did Suzuki-roushi sit zazen when HOUITSU was a young man?

HOUITSU : Do you mean when I was a young man? As I said, he was not there when I was a sophomore in College, so we would have to talk about the time before that. Before that, there were times when he would hold a zazen session at his own temple, and he would also be called to lecture. I say lecture (koushuu), but it used to be called "training" (rensei). That means to "knead the heart." These would be held here and there years ago. During the war. At those times he would go and sit zazen. But he did not form a group like this, and do it. However, he would gather together groups of young women, and sit zazen, and study. He would invite other Senseis and perform the tea ceremony, or flower arrangement. He did do things like that. It was called the "Takakusa Juku. He was always trying to create opportunities to sit zazen. But something that fit his expectations... He was always looking for it... But if he was not asked to do it, no matter how he himself may try to get people's attention... But he always tried to take advantage of any opportunity. Because he was always thinking of it. So when he went to the Main Office (Shuumuchou) and was asked if he wanted to go America, he immediately said "I want to go!" If he could go to America, he would be able to sit zazen. I think he had the feeling that the world was the same all over. So even after he came, whether people came or didn't come, he sat there at Soukouji, and then one came, another came, and then it got bigger. I am sure that he always had it in his heart. But there is difference between the times that one is called and one is not called on by others. There are places where one is called upon, and others where one is not called upon. But, zazen is not like some religions, where one might bang on a gong and walk about advertising one's ideas. And then gather people. If one does things that way, there are aspects that do not go well. So it will go well if one is in a place where people truly desire it from their hearts. It won't do to force one to come and sit. Or make people sit some way. Nothing will come of that. I think that he wanted to sit as much as possible.

FUMIKO : So it was the opportunity for him to sit zazen that he prized the most about coming here?

HOUITSU : Probably...

FUMIKO : That is one thing that we wanted to ask about. [inaudible]

HOUITSU : Well, he studied English ever since he was a child. And when he went to College, he associated with an English person. He was an English teacher... And there was some reason that he wanted to study English. He thought that some day Japanese Buddhism must be made known abroad. That was the motive he had for studying English. At that time, when he was studying, he was very advanced. His way of thinking was progressive. Buddhism had been taken from Japan to America. [an inaudible name is given] But [only] to the Japanese people in America, and it was just a temple and a priest to them. SO I think that he felt that something more had to be done here. I have never actually heard him say anything about it. I mean he never said to me when I was a child, "someday I'll do this..." But I think he always dreamt of it. There was the time he went over to China, to Manchuria to see about establishing a temple there. But then the war was lost, and he had to return by the skin of his teeth. There were those times too.

FUMIKO : [translates] When you say "kneading the heart," you mean that people were being trained to be ready for anything.

HOUITSU : Yes, that's it.

PETER : But who were these people, soldiers, do you mean?

HOUITSU : Do you mean at the training (rensei) sessions? I was just a boy so I don't really know. I think they were soldiers stationed nearby, veterans, and there were some young people too. But after the war, that stopped because everyone was too busy just trying to get enough food. No one could even think about zazen. Master was thinking about it, certainly, but other people weren't. But during the war, it seems that he did practice zazen that way.

FUMIKO : And the other one, the young women, was this during the war?

HOUITSU : That was after the war. And...

PETER : And he didn't sit by himself, that's the [garbled] that you got.

HOUITSU : Oh, he did... There were many times that he sat by himself. I was a child when I was dragged off to sit zazen, and look into myself. I would be dragged off to the morning sessions. And I would have to read the chants while I rubbed my sleepy eyes. I'm sure that he was sitting in his room or in the zazendou.

CARL : [translates about reading chants]

HOUITSU : "HOUITSU, get up! Get up!" He wouldn't pull the covers off from the top because he couldn't [because I would hold them.] So he would pull the covers off from the end at the bottom. [laughter]

PETER : So they had some service every day?

HOUITSU : Oh yes. At times, I would not go, but Master did them often.

FUMIKO : [translates, laughter, more translation, saying that he sat by himself also.]

PETER : What does that mean?

FUMIKO : [more translation, including the fact that there was more time to sit when he came to America.]

PETER : Did he sit, ah, sesshin? Did Suzuki-roushi sit sesshin?

FUMIKO : [translates] Where, in his temple?

PETER : Well, actually there was a monastery nearby where he was supposed to do that. Technical head of it because it was in his group. Monastery #10, or something like that. Ask him what monastery #10 is.

FUMIKO : Monastery of what?

PETER : Number 10, number 10.

FUMIKO : What was the tenth temple?

CARL : Monastery (doujou).

HOUITSU : Number 10...

FUMIKO and CARL : [continue to explain] Was it the main temple (honji)?

HOUITSU : Well Master did do sesshin. Was his sesshin attended by others? [Is that the question?]

FUMIKO : Does it mean that he leads the sesshin or...

PETER : Or participated...

HOUITSU : In a nearby temple there was a man named Kishizawa-roushi. He was very... His name was Kishizawa Ian...

FUMIKO : How is the name written?

HOUITSU : I don't know... [name is discussed] Ian... is the I of the Meiji Ishin. An is yasui. I heard about Kishizawa Ian a lot. But if you are running a temple, you really don't have time to spend an entire week on sesshin. And the zazen from December 1 often conflicts with other things. So I think it was difficult for him to do it. I was taken to listen to teishou from Kishizawa-roushi. I listened but I couldn't understand anything.

FUMIKO : Was that at a nearby temple?

HOUITSU : What was the name of the temple?

HOUITSU : Gyokudenin. Gyoku is "morning sun," (asahi, written with "nine" and "sun") den is "transmit" (tsutaeru), and "temple" (in). It was at Gyokudenin. That was where Kishizawa-roushi was. And... We went to listen to his teishou. He was a great priest.

PETER : Anything else?

CARL : [translates] What, um, what was Suzuki-roushi's relationship to, ah, the, he studied at Eiheiji a long time. He must have known many priests in the Soutou sect. What was his relationship to the Soutou sect? Headquarters... the other priests... did he know many of the important priests of the sect? Did he often go to Eiheiji or important temples?

FUMIKO : [translates] Was there anything special about his relationship with the important priests?

HOUITSU : Um... I wonder... [pause] Do you mean what was his position in the Soutou sect?

FUMIKO : No...

CARL : Since he came to America he has been relatively independent of the Soutou sect. I just wondered what his relationship was with the Soutou sect. [inaudible] activities...

FUMIKO : I see. [translates] ...Was he busy with Soutou sect activities when he was in Japan?

HOUITSU : No. He didn't accept any duties... Well, he may have accepted a few... But it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. He didn't really take part in any kind of governing activities. He didn't like to. All those details... no... No matter how he may have been worried by zazen, he would bear up, I think... But as far as duties for the Soutou sect, there wasn't much that... He didn't like it, or there were not enough opportunities... or something like that... He is not cut out for that sort of work. Personnel, things like that, he's not cut out for that kind of work... He is not the sort of person one would approach and ask to take up important duties of the Soutou sect, you know?

FUMIKO : Well, here is another question... There are many Soutou sect temples all over the country, what is the relationship between those common temples and Eiheiji? I mean, there is the Soutou sect, but is there anything special that the temples must do for the sect?

HOUITSU : Yes, there is. A specific example would be, we are going to renovate Eiheiji, so everyone gather contributions. And there is the "shuuhi" paid by every temple. So there is a relationship there. And missionary activities will be coordinated according to certain principles. Once that has been decided at the main temple, it flows to the others beneath. An order comes, well, "order"... maybe that's not the right word... And the others act according to it. There are times like that. But one can say, "OK, zazen, zazen"... but it doesn't quite happen like that. So attempts are made to approach different organizations, and have them come closer to zazen. And many means are applied to this end. Books are distributed, newsletters are issued, things like that are done by the Soutou sect. Those in the Soutou organization are asked to do such things. But in the case of independence, then such things are probably not done... There is no longer the need to make the shuuhi contributions, but when the Soutou sect decides to extend some kind of aid, then one doesn't receive that either. [pause] But the independent temple also has a budget... There are advantages to that...

HOUITSU : [while listening to FUMIKO's translation about how Suzuki-roushi was not the type of person to be given duties] Maybe I didn't choose my words well. He wasn't interested in those type of things. It wasn't really that he didn't like those sort of things, it was more that he didn't have those talents. He wasn't that type of human being. It has less to do with whether he liked or didn't like to do such things, at any rate, he wasn't the type of person that others tried to have placed in those sort of positions. [laughter]

HOUITSU : Depending upon the way I say it could be taken as an insult to others. It's a hard thing to try to express...

FUMIKO : But here you can be frank [because you are not in Japan]...

PETER : You [get] a feeling in this interview that...


1 The translation of the interpreters uses the word "fight," but "kenka" often means "argument" without physical aggression. It is not clear whether there was such aggression, although it is a possibility.
2 "Tonjaku," "have anxiety about"
3 "Shuuchaku," often translated as "attachment."
4 "Shinkeishitsu," often means a "nervous" person, but can mean meticulous.
5 "Kizukiagetekita," made up the foundation for...
6 "Hokano ie no meshi wo kuwanakya." "One must eat the food of another house." This expression is often used in Japanese to describe the act of becoming part of another household, where one is treated more strictly than in one's own house. This is an integral part of growing up in a traditional Japanese way. The expression has an meaning that is immediately understood among members of Houichi's generation.
7 Until recently, it was normal for all male children to have their hair clipped very short, but since Houichi was working in a temple, he had his head shaved on top of that.
8 "Tenzouryou," would seem to mean kitchen of a temple.
9 "Kamado," hearth, baked clay or tile hearth only for cooking pots.
10 "Hada de kanjirareru mono," "something that one could feel with one's skin."
11 "Nijimi-deru mono," "something that oozes out." In other words, "an indescribable aura of something around a person."
12 "Shitau" means "long for," often in a romantic sense. Here it most likely means "respect," or "care about."
13 I think this word is "arigatai."
14 "Ikasareteiru," literally, "being made to live," but also means "finding a purpose," or being used by others, thus having a place and a reason to be.
15 "Arigatai"
16 "Kiretemo," meaning literally "even though cutting." "Atama ga kireru" means " he is very smart," so I take this to mean that although Suzuki Roushi may be very bright, he still struggles with many concepts and is not able to gain a satisfactory understanding of them for himself.
17 "The High Grass Academy." "Juku" is used for the word Academy, and it was often associated with temples in Japan in the past, although it now has come to mean "cram school."
18 "Tanritsu," Tan is alone, and ritsu is stand, probably meaning to stand outside of an organization.

Hoitsu Interviewed by DC
Hoitsu Interviewed by Fred Harriman