Dubious Quotes and Stories attributed to Shunryu Suzuki
19-04-01 - As for this quote, in a number of places on the Internet, it's not from any source I have or I'd be using it. It does have a meaning that is something he repeatedly said but it seems too cute for him, though not impossible he said it to someone once. Let me know if you know better than I do. More likely, if it has any authenticity, it's a very liberal paraphrase. He'd use serious as something not to be too much and something as something necessary for practice, just depended on what type. The non emotional, unattached type is the good one. It's really nothing, not adding something extra to ones effortless effort. - thanks Danny Parker [If I'm right then it's an appropriate quote for April Fools day.]
8-23-13 - Fake Buddha quotes from Tricycle - Wow - Synchronicity. I started listing dubious Suzuki quotes just earlier this month (see post below originally 8-05-13 on What's New and DC on SR pages). This has inspired me to make this page for it. Posted this on the Tricycle page today with the observation, "Great minds think dubious thoughts alike." - DC
The cuke policy is to present the legacy of Shunryu Suzuki and those who knew him and to share the record of his talks and what others noted and remember. Of course memories keep changing and the oral/written history will diverge from what really was said and happened - as is true of any history. Most of it seems right or close but sometimes a story or quote appears outside of the circle of probability or way outside of it. When I was working on Crooked Cucumber I read James Hillman's book, the The Soul's Code which focused some on biography. I liked his attitude in which facts didn't matter as much as holding to the spirit - much like Suzuki's way. Hillman said that the lies people tell about themselves are also part of their story. In the same way, misrepresentations of what transpired back then are also part of the story. Here are a few on the fringe. - dc
July 8, 2022 - Sounds good but...
There are, strictly speaking, no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.
I was asked recently if I knew the source of the above statement attributed to Shunryu Suzuki in many places on the Internet. I searched the lecture archive and through cuke.com and shunryusuzuki.com and my whole laptop and the Internet but I could not find a source, only the unattributed use of that statement. It could be something he said. It might well be. But at this point, until a source is identified, it's proper home is here with Dubious Quotes.
After receiving my detailed report on all the places I checked unsuccessfully for a source, the editor who the query came from, Barry Boyce (Founding Editor of Mindful magazine, former Senior Editor at Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma magazines and a freelance book editor) counseled his client strongly against using the quotation. He wrote: As you say, he may have said it in someone’s hearing and it accords with both dharma and his vernacular. However, if we start feeling free to use quotes that may have been made up, we end up at coffee mugs saying “Have a nice day”
This is where I got the idea to start this page - DC
8-05-13 - Met a guy in Crestone, CO, at Elephant Cloud the former great tea shop turned produce outlet which will revert to a great tea shop when Benjamin and his mate forget her name get the new place ready. The guy I met had said that he'd finally found people in the government who would listen to him - the NSA. See - they're not all bad. He said it's nothing new, that he'd dated a girl when he was young in the sixties whose father was an FBI agent and he'd gotten this guys dossier and it was thick and thorough. I wondered about mine. That would be fun to get - and maybe a CIA one too. Said I want to make a cap that says NSA Observer on it with a magnifying glass. He found out I was visiting the two Zen places in Crestone - CMZC and Dragon Mt. Temple - both out of the Shunryu Suzuki lineage. He said he used to hang out with Suzuki in San Francisco, that he went by the temple once and met Suzuki who offered him whiskey which they sat up and drank. After that, he said every time he went to that temple, he and Suzuki would sit up drinking whiskey. Made me doubt that he'd dated the daughter of an FBI agent. I made a mental note to start a section on cuke for dubious quotes and stories attributed to Shunryu Suzuki who was no drinker, didn't like whiskey, would fall asleep with the first tiny cup of sake. But I didn't tell the fellow in Crestone any of this, just asked for him to submit his stories about Suzuki to cuke. He said he liked to keep a low profile. - dc
8-07-13 - Thanks to an alert reader - I forgot who - for alerting cuke to another faux Suzuki quote: Enlightenment is an accident; Practice makes us accident prone. This was printed in the publication of an American Zen group - Upaya. It had been found so attributed on the Internet I learned. I wrote the publication that I thought it was either Kornfield or Aitken. While in Santa Fe, visited with ZC alum and cuke contributor AM who was relaying his long history with Robert Aitken whom he'd met while in high school. Aitken then got a job with the school - teacher or principal - and AM and he had a relationship that lasted until Aitken's death in 2010. AM happened to mention that enlightenment statement of Aitken's and when I told him that it had recently been attributed to Suzuki he said that no, it was definitely Aitken. The next evening I had dinner with Joan Halifax at Upaya and told her I'd nailed the source of that quote down to my satisfaction and she was pleased to see this matter be resolved. However, later AM said he's not completely sure and wrote:
"I confess I’m a little uneasy to see an Issue made of this, as I really have no backup for my “claim” that this charming quip was originally from Aitken Roshi – just a memory that I saw it from him somewhere. And so was surprised to see it credited elsewhere. However, it still does feel more like Aitken than Suzuki, or any other teacher – more like something he, as a native English speaker and American intellectual, would say. Like American rather than Asian humor, in other words. And I feel a kind of loyalty to my dear, old friend (we first met in 1955), that he should get credit where it’s due."
Tim Burkett used this statement in his book "Nothing Holy about It" and later said he guess he got it mixed up, that he'd studied with Aitken for a couple of years as well. It's also online attributed to Suzuki in a few places. I'm pretty sure they're wrong, just repeating what they read or were told. Wanda Isle, who puts Tim's books together, says it's attributed to Shunryu Suzuki in many places on the Internet.
Here's from Judith Keenan found here.
Blanche Hartman had been installed as the first abbess of Zen Center and was leading my first practice period at Tassajara. Every day we had class or study after two periods of zazen and breakfast. One morning Blanche said, “Suzuki Roshi said that enlightenment is accidental and Robert Aiken said, “Yes, and zazen makes you accident prone.””
I, DC, think that Blanche's source was not Suzuki himself but just having heard it or read it somewhere. But you never know. He contradicted himself a lot. But not on this subject in the lectures and memories we have on him in Cuke Archives. In the extant lecture archive on shunryusuzuki.com as of December 2021, he used the word accident or a derivative of it sixteen times. The first use was in 67-06-12 where he referred to prominent teachings that Buddha rejected, Suzuki listed materialism, hedonism, and accidentalism which he said ignored cause and effect. There's "nothing happens just by accident" two times. Then there's "if something happens to you by accident, that is not true practice."
So to me, that quote is too something for Suzuki's teaching if taken too literally, but still, the word accident can be used loosely, not so literally. For instance, in an early dokusan with Suzuki he told me that someday I'd have a great experience and if I continued practicing that experience could continue, but if it i didn't continue practice, it would just be like a psychedelic experience. This isn't the same because here it's the practice that prepares a home for awakening rather than making the peak experience more likely. But it does seem to me that practice make peak experience more likely. Tim Burkett had a peak experience before meeting Suzuki and when they did meet Suzuki said "that's not Zen." Later after a few years of practice, Tim had a peak experience at Tassajara that didn't go away and Suzuki said it was enlightenment.
So that statement that I think it's very doubtful Suzuki said, still can be seen with some stretching to have an application consistent with his teaching.
I wrote John Tarrant, Robert Aitken's first dharma heir, and Jon Joseph who was with him long ago as well careful not to prejudice the answer:
Gentlemen:Have either of you heard or are you aware of the following statement and if so from what source. Enlightenment is an accident; Practice makes us accident prone. Thanks. David
John Responded: Aitken thought it was Rajneesh. Aitken told me in maybe 1980? 0r a bit earlier or later. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Shunryu—everyone would have known
Jon responded: I had heard Rajneesh, as well, but that he used “Enlightenment is like getting struck by lightening. Practice improves your chances of being struck.” Something like that. A quick google credited Suzuki in some blog, but no footnoting.
DC: Yes, no footnoting anywhere for Suzuki saying this.
In the 2nd edition of Crooked Cucumber (available only in Audiobook or here on Cuke), I had to correct two stories I said were about me because people told me that and I believed though I didn't remember it. After the book came out I learned the true source of each. I'm sure there are things i've attributed incorrectly to Suzuki. But also just quoting him accurately is often misleading because he'd contradict himself so much or speaking from the point of view of the relative or absolute, or using words in different ways such as "You should be serious in your practice" and, "Don't be so serious." With Shunryu, context was everything.
So it looks to me now like Aitken picked up the idea from Rajneesh and gave us the wording we now know.
Ahaa! I wrote Richard Baker and he says:I have heard it a lot. I hear it is often attributed to me, but in the 70s maybe I got it from Rajneesh. I read convincingly somewhere that Rajneesh got it from someone else. I am pretty sure it is not original to Rajneesh.
It has the ‘ring’ of truth, not the whole truth — but certainly a truth. And it encourages practitioners. Life makes us accident prone (especially, if you are a seeker [sramanic].) Practice and a good teacher make us — also — more likely to notice, recognize, absorb, float in our life, our seemingly accidental enlightenments.
Wanda Isle wrote then: Yet another google search
revealed many sites quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti. Here’s what I believe
was the original quote, “Enlightenment is an accident, but some
activities make you accident-prone.”
Tim Burkett wrote:Thanks Wanda and as i told you, although I only heard Krishnamurti speak twice, I considered him my second strongest influence, Suzuki being the first, throughout the mid-to-late 60s.
Suzuki Hangs Up
11-21-12 - There is a story about our founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi answering the phone in the office at City Center. When asked “What time does meditation begin?” He replied, “It never stops!” and hung up the phone.
Originally DC wrote: Wonder what the source is. Seems dubious, especially not answering the question and hanging up - though the "It never stops" to me would be more believable in another context. Sounds more like Shainberg's teacher, Kyudo. - dc
Hunted down the source of this story and the trail petered out like an urban myth. Shainberg said he hadn't heard that story but it did sound like Kyudo.
DC opinion: Suzuki Roshi would never have done this. He was never rude to strangers like this and always encouraged people to come to zazen.
Check this letter out received by Richard Baker in the seventies.
Two stories Peter DiGesu recalls having heard
Received an email asking if a Suzuki quote on paradox was fake or not due to an exchange on Facebook Soto Zen page.
FACEBOOK again - looking like not a dubious quote, seeking source.
Aaron Erb (great name) posted: Zen friends: if you've
heard a version of the following story, I'd like to hear it (maybe it's
even in a book?). It may be Katagiri Roshi but I don't know.
The Roshi was at Tassajara (perhaps in the dining room) with some students when he pointed out the window: "See those deer on the hill?" A few deer are nibbling grass nearby. "Your life is just like that."
Elizabeth Burgess Sawyer I knew both Katagiri and Suzuki but I don't
remember who said this....David Reich Chadwick might.
Aaron Erb - David,
thanks for the reply. My memory is that I heard this story during a
practice period at Tassajara. I'll check with the leader of that pp if
they told the story...
Kōgen Dito - I too watched
many an intrepid deer on that "hill" side.
Aaron Erb Kōgen they're remarkable!
Kōgen Dito - Even lil babies
8-07-13 - Thanks to John Waggoner for this generous offer relating to the post of 8-05-13: I never met Shunryu Suzuki, so if you need someone to come up with spurious stories about him to archive on Cuke just let me know.
I let him know. See his contributions below. - DC
Once while playing the banjo, Suzuki-roshi leaned over to me and said, "you know, crosspicking is a road to enlightenment."
Once while sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows, someone said, "Roshi, what is the cost of an angry or hateful thought?" His answer was instantaneous: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."
On a flight back from a spiritual advisor’s convention in Las Vegas, I asked roshi if someone was already enlightened, why would they need to keep practicing meditation? He pointed out the window at the jet engines. “You see those? That’s meditation.”
contact DC at <email@example.com>