|David Chadwick on Shunryu Suzuki
and So Forth
Starting this section 4-26-11 - I know the whole website is filled with dc on Shunryu Suzuki, but this section will be a place to gather personal recollections and notes link to whatever seems relevant. - dc
Books by DC with Suzuki material:
Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, Author of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (formerly To Shine One Corner of the World)
Some on Suzuki in Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
Writings on Shunryu Suzuki on this site
Crooked Cucumber Comes to America - (almost) 3300 word story of Suzuki's life.
DC on Shunryu Suzuki - 1st thoughts
Brief Memories of Shunryu Suzuki:
MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL FILES - #7 - David Chadwick
Also check the
Other Zen stuff writings listed on the DC Writings Index
8-04-13 - Remember standing with Kobun Chino in 68 at Tassajara during the great visit - looking at the visitors. He pointed to Shunryu Suzuki and said that here's an example of a great Soto teacher. He indicated Hakuun Yasutani and said that there's an example of a great Rinzai teacher He was really Soto but had that fierce Rinzati style and taught with koans. He didn't say "great" either. He used a word or phrase to mean matured, well cultivated. Can't quite get it. Anyway, then he pointed to Nakagawa Soen and said, "And there - ahhh - too much personality." More on this later.
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. - This story now filed in Dubious.
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.
Thanks to Al Tribe 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. 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 Andrew Main 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 Andrew and he had a relationship that lasted until Aitken's death in 2010. Andrew 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. - dc
Back side o DC lay rakusu with kanji written by Suzuki received at the lay ordination at SFZC, August 25, 1970 for a number of people - like 20 or more. Reading from the right is the robe chant, then the date, gotta ask about the next line, then his name Zenshin Shunryu some title, and mine Kisan Zenyu koji (lay person). Robe chant on this page of short verses from the Austin ZC.
The first lay ordination was 1962 for about 13 students. Suzuki was a little discouraged with the follow-up on ordinations and waited a while to do more. There was a kids lay ordination in the summer of 1970 at Tassajara and this one in August. There was a third in 1971 for a bunch. In time will get these details more nailed down including priest ordinations - mine Nov. 1971. - dc
12-06-14 - Shunryu Suzuki is sometimes quoted as saying that Japanese Zen had grown moss on its branches. I heard this quote at an event in 2009 centering on the 50th anniversary of Suzuki's coming to America. The speaker then used Suzuki's most quoted phrase, beginner's mind, saying that that's what he found here, that's what we've got. There were Japanese priests in the audience and I was sitting next to a Japanese woman, Yoshi of Yoshi's in Oakland. I was embarrassed about this comparison. It was certainly not coming from beginner's mind. Not saying that both references weren't true to some extent. Zen priests traditionally forever have said it's all gone bad, gotten corrupt, and let's get back to basics etc. All religious institutions, all institutions, have to continuously be revitalized. He clearly thought that an East West relationship would benefit each and was just doing his bit to nudge it toward that. I don't really think he had any particular idea of how this would come about in Japan and don't believe he thought his students were going to go set the Japanese straight overnight. One can find reports of him saying things like that but I'd say they should be taken about as literally as telling an actor to break a leg. Suzuki had a strong sense of everything always evolving and basically thought the best way to encourage things to evolve for the better was to just be there practicing Zen without any plan. His grand scheme was no plan at all. Like introducing a couple of unhappy people to each other and hoping for the best. But he had confidence in people and thought that maybe we could help each other out. The main thrust of what he was doing was bringing what he'd learned in Japan to America, not vice versa. I'd say that the beginner's mind thing was to encourage us more than to praise and I bet he knew we'd each tend to loose it as soon as we got it. We've had some poker players at Zen Center, Niels Holm was one. I do not gamble, but I've learned from them that a new person at the poker table often beats all the experienced people - at first. The point of beginner's mind is to not let it be beginner's luck. Mainly I'd say that Suzuki thought we had a heck of a lot more to learn from them than they do from us but that the combination was promising for both. I remember him giving a strict lecture to us at Tassajara, saying that we have many good points but that our approach to practice tends to be goal oriented and competitive. He said it might be the American way but that there's a better way, the Japanese way. When I hear American Zen compared favorably to Japanese Zen by someone quoting Suzuki, I remember that lecture.
12-07-14 - As a new and impressionable student, in the fall of 1966 I heard Suzuki-roshi give a lecture at Sokoji in which he said that once the eyes of Buddhism are on you, you can't get away from them. This was a talk that struck a strange cord in me since it so perfectly paralleled the school song of the University of Texas, The Eyes of Texas, sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad.
Many more Texans can sing this song than the less catchy state song, Texas Our Texas. A lot of Texans think it is the state song. I grew up in Texas being brainwashed by this song among other insidious messages. The Eyes of Texas could be used to ramp up the paranoia of a horror movie. It is quite likely the last song President John Kennedy heard before he was assassinated, sung by a group of innocent looking school children in my home town of Fort Worth. [See Wikepedia's extensive list of the song in films].
Gabriel blows his horn, incidentally, at the end of the world according to Biblical lore.
So I'd escaped the clutches of Texas and had found refuge in the San Francisco Zen Center. And one of the first lectures that I heard the Zen master of this Zen temple give was about how once the eyes of Buddhism are on you, you cannot escape them. He laughed and laughed and repeated it and rephrased it and went on but would return to that theme. I turned my head to look for an exit. But it was too late. It fit perfectly in the old mold. Something in me clicked. I sat up straighter, eyes glazed, doubts vanished, and I nodded smiling, awaiting this small oriental man's next command.
[First posted a brief account of this on 7-25-99 down on this Digressions page]
12-10-14 - Reading through the verbatim and early transcripts of Shunryu Suzuki lectures (available on shunryusuzuki.com), just passed the quarter mark. Try to do at least 1% of them a day. Reading slowly. Getting to the end of 67. Making a lot of notes and placing indications in code about where there are mistakes to fix, comments about his history, about America and ZC history, noting important words for an index or to add to Shinshu's index (See Documents), teaching points, key statements, names, etc. One thing I notice is I get a little uncomfortable when he's talking about other sects. I always wonder about what people in these other sects would say about his comments regarding them - like Rinzai, Tendai, Shinshu, or Shingon. He's usually saying that one isn't better than the other and non competitive statements but he'll also make little generalizations that I wonder about. And I squirm a little when he talks about early Buddhism and uses the term Hinayana comparing it to Mahayana. He'd say that Zen is Hinayana practice with Mahayana spirit and make other observations. That's sort of gone out of use as Hinayana means small vehicle and Mahayana the big one and it's strictly a Mahayana term. It reminds me of how I feel if I'm with an older person in Texas who uses the term "colored people." They mean no harm and Suzuki means no slight but I'd suggest don't try it at Spirit Rock or with others practicing in the lineage of the Elders. I'm not sure what term is best to use. Theravada Buddhism is used but they were just one group. There are some suggested substitute terms here in this New World Encyclopedia article on "Hinayana."
12-12-14 - Shunryu Suzuki said you can't eat and talk at the same time. Formal meals at Sokoji and later at Tassajara and then Page St. were silent though there are less formal meals that just start silent. Sometimes we'd find ourselves eating with Suzuki outside the zendo and we'd all be silent and sitting up straight and he'd ask someone a question and one could almost see the bubbles above people's heads reading, "But I thought we weren't supposed to talk and eat at the same time." He also didn't want us to eat and be uptight at the same time.
I'd been eating silently with Loring Palmer in 66 when I was living at his house before I moved to Tassajara and now in 2014 Katrinka and I eat pretty much in silence though we have no rule. She's a good cook. I want to show respect for her food and want to enjoy it - maybe not in that order. Once you start talking the food is hardly noticed. To me each activity is best done separately. I don't agree with the idea of a meal being a time for people like families to get together and talk. How about get together and eat and then talk?
And food scenes in movies are the worst unless they're about the food. In movies meals are for drama - often being for announcements and arguments that would make everyone loose their appetite, the food is props. People leave half or uneaten food, glasses of wine hardly touched. I've worked in restaurants and much less food comes back than in movie world - and very few people let booze go undrunk though there are those few who do, mainly wealthy women who aren't really drinkers. I remember when I'd wash dishes at Greens about once a night a full or almost full glass of pricy Chardonnay would come to me. It would not go to waste. Back to food. There are monastics that have scripture read aloud while they're eating so they won't notice the food. Saint Frances is said to have put ashes in his food. Thank goodness the Japanese are such hedonists. It rubbed off on the Buddhists. They tend to want to appreciate the world and the food. And talking while eating is to me a little like adding ashes.
See this quote from a Suzuki lecture.
12-14-14 - Today's excerpt from a Shunryu Suzuki lecture. Hint: It's at the point he realizes how much it's boring his audience. Suzuki's lecturing on the Lotus Sutra which he did three times in 68 and 69, a number of lectures each time. A lot of it was him reading from the sutra which was full of hyperbolic description and lists and he's explaining the meaning of terms and names of Buddhas and so forth. It seriously bored almost everyone. In the fall 68 series, I went to him and urged him to stop. Offered alternatives like having us read the sutra in study and then meeting with him to discuss it so he didn't have to slowly read it to us. I was persistent but unsuccessful.
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