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Shunryu Suzuki on Nona Ransom

Nona Ransom main page

from Suzuki's CV:

Interpreter for Miss N. Ransom from Aug 1, 1927 to May 30, 1929. (Roshi is very grateful over this job - this training helped him a lot) (When Roshi was at university he lived in one room of her home with 2 other boys - he was the best to help her and she became earnest Buddhist.)


From Peter Schneider's first interview with Suzuki

Interpreter for Miss N. Ransom from Aug 1, 1927 to May 30, 1929.

(Roshi is very grateful for this job - this training helped him a lot) (When Roshi was at university he lived in one room of her home with 2 other boys - he was the best to help her and she became earnest Buddhist.)

Miss Ransom was teaching at Komazawa University when I first saw her. I took her English (and) conversation class once a week. At that time I didn't have much of a relationship with her, but after I finished the preparatory courses of the University and specialized in Buddhist courses, I was still interested in studying English, so once in a while I attended her classes (lecture - some other course and English course). Then one day during summer vacation I was (on my way home) but it was so hot I just wanted to get out of the heat and I was near her place so I went to the back door and called her. She was quite gracious and invited me inside to a sitting room near the kitchen. She asked if I would like something to drink and I asked for water but she brought (us) something different, watermelon. So while we were eating watermelon she asked me if I would like to help her, in shopping, or such things like that, as she had some difficulty in communicating with Japanese people, especially some of them. At that time two students from Komazawa were working for her, helping her already, so I thought she may not need me, but she said one boy would be leaving quite soon so she wanted me to take his place. From that point on, our relationship became much closer.

Miss. Ransom had been a tutor to Emperor Sento of China. Yoshida who became prime minister of Japan invited her and her parents [mistake-DC] to Japan. It seems her father was quite famous though I don't know who he was or why he was famous. As far as I know he was as famous as General Toho who defeated the Russian fleet in the Japan Sea. [I think SR is off here.-DC]

She was quite strict and stubborn and she tried to force her English ways on us and on Japanese people in general. And she always had some complaint - mostly what I had to do was listen to her complaints.

I stayed with her, living in her house, for a year and a half. I had many difficulties, but anyway I stayed there. At last I left her, not because of any difficulty between us but because I felt that if I continued I might not remain a priest. This was brought home to me one day when I visited the Turkish Embassy. I was doing some business for Miss. Ransom with an assistant to the ambassador and we were speaking in English. While we were talking I looked at him. Maybe someday I shall be like you, I said to him in my head. I scared myself. If I stay with Miss. Ransom for two or three more years, Will I become an ambassador? I wondered, and not a priest? So I left her and moved back into the dormitory.

She was not a Buddhist when I met her, but she had a beautiful sitting Buddha about one feet tall which she had put in the tokonoma where we usually keep a scroll and flower arrangement. But she kept a Buddha there. That's okay, but she also put her shoes with the Buddha, side by side. I was not so concerned about those things, especially when because she was not Buddhist, but I guess it did cause me some problem, (lots of coughing) so I decided to change her way. So everyday I offered a cup of tea to Buddha and she was very much amused. She had many guests over - so she started to tease me about my offering by putting a toothpick into Buddha's hand. Then she put some matches. I think it was her. She didn't do it in front of me. Maybe one of her guests did it because she told them, "He is a very naughty boy to put tea before the Buddha." To her it was a form of idol worship so she made fun of me.

A month or so passed and I didn't stop and neither did she. She continuously teased me, but I ignored whatever she or her friends did. I didn't take off the toothpicks or matches. But I thought, there will be some chance for me to explain what Buddha is, what Buddhism is. In my spare time, I studied hard how to explain this in English. I made a special vocabulary list. And at last she asked me one day about why we worship Buddha. So I told her about Buddha and Buddhahood and she was amazed. It was not what she had in mind, you know. And ever since then she didn't tease me anymore and she started to try to understand what Buddhism actually was and what is our practice and she became a Buddhist. She asked me to buy some incense for her, incense and some other things too - a small bell and a candle, as I told her these kind of things are necessary.

That gave me some confidence in the possibility of Caucasians' understanding Buddhism. They understand quite easily, I thought, what Buddhism is. They may like Buddhism. So maybe for the first time I got the idea to go abroad or at least to Hokkaido where I would have a chance to speak to Caucasians or at least foreigners who don't know what Buddhism is.


From Suzuki's lecture 69-11-09 as an extention of his interviews with Peter Schneider.

I must tell you she was my old, old girlfriend. When I was at college I studied English pretty hard to go abroad. I had no idea of America or Hawaii or anywhere. Anyway, if I am going to some country, I thought, I have to speak English and so I studied English pretty hard when I was a student. When I was at Komazawa University, Miss Ransom was teacher of conversation. Once a week Miss Ransom taught us conversation and after I finished her class I attended more English courses. Meantime Miss Ransom found me and asked me to help her in shopping or when some Japanese came or when she had some private students. Of course, I couldn't help her so well, but I tried pretty hard and, at last, she asked me to stay at her home with two more students who were helping her in shopping and conversation with Japanese people. But the other students, Kundo and I forgot the other student's name, Kundo was student of Komazawa and one more student was from Bundikadaima before that school was a normal high school and changed their system and became a university. Both Kundo and the other student were also studying English, but eventually they left Miss Ransom's home. Then I was only one student who helped her and in the meantime there were many interesting things that happened between Miss. Ransom and me. Don't be so inquisitive.

Before she came to Japan she was a tutor of the last emperor of China, Emperor Sento, Emperor of Manchuria. At that time Japan became more and more ambitious, trying for some chance to fight with that northern part of China. Emperor Sento's [that's the Japanese for Pu Yi, the Last Emperor of China} capitol was in - I don't know what is the name of the city right now - at that time it was Choshun. And when the Emperor was there she was the tutor of the Emperor. And she is a daughter of a very famous naval general whose name I forget.

She was a very strict character, and at the same time she always complained about Japanese people: about what kinds of things happened at school, and what kinds of things happened in the car. She was always complaining about Japan. I was the only person who listened to her complaints. But I also had many complaints with her.

For instance, she had a beautiful sitting Buddha as big as this (a foot high) which was given to her by the Emperor. She put it in the tokonoma, which is alright, but she'd put her shoes beside the Buddha. A tokonoma is a place where we put some antiques, scrolls, or some valuable things, objects of worship [respect] or something like that. But she used to put her shoes there as soon as she came back from school. That was very embarrassing to me. I didn't say anything but I offered tea every morning in a small cup, lifting it above my eyes and putting it in front of Buddha. She started to be amused by me but she didn't ask anything. And I didn't say anything about it or about her shoes. Maybe this kind of silent cold war lasted for two or three weeks and I was waiting for a chance to start a hot war. As my English wasn't so good I had to study pretty hard preparing for the chance to speak and I studied some important words to speak about it. When one of her friends visited her they were talking about funny things about me. He's a very strange Buddhist, offering tea to that wooden figure, sometimes offering incense. They were talking about it. I could understand them. And she had a friend who put matches in the Buddha's mudra - sometimes matches and sometimes cigarettes. Still, the hot war didn't start.

And, at last, I don't know how the hot war started, but she asked me about the Buddha figure. She thought Buddhism was a kind of idol worship. So I explained it as best I could. It was very difficult, but I managed to explain why we pay respect to a wooden image of Buddha and I explained what the real Buddha is. Maybe I told her about the Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, and Nirmanakaya Buddha.

She was rather amazed. She didn't know Buddhism was so profound. And she started to become interested in Buddhism and soon she converted to Buddhism. And she started to study Buddhism - there were many professors of Buddhism at Komazawa and some who could speak English. So in one year she had a pretty good understanding of Buddhism. One day she took me downtown to buy some incense and an incense bowl and she took it home and started to offer incense to the Buddha. I taught her how to keep her tokonoma clean and she started to keep her shoes in the entryway where they belong.

I felt very good. I developed then some confidence in our teaching, in Buddhism, and also confidence that I could make Caucasian people understand Buddhism. And I thought that for Caucasians, Buddha's teaching might even be more suitable than for Japanese. For Japanese to study Buddhism in its true sense is pretty difficult because they have so much mistaken tradition and misunderstanding of Buddhism and it is difficult for people to change their misunderstanding once they have the wrong idea of Buddhism. But for Caucasians who don't know anything about Buddhism, it's like painting on white paper, it is much easier to give the right understanding of true Buddhism. I think that the experience I had with Miss Ransom resulted in my coming to America.

As soon as I finished my schooling I asked my teacher, my master, Gyokujun Soon, if I could go to America or Hawaii or someplace, if I could go abroad anywhere. He became furious and he wouldn't allow me to go, so I couldn't go to America and I gave up my notion of coming to America for a long long time so that I forgot all about it. I told my master about my experience with Miss Ransom and suggested I go abroad to teach Buddhism. I said, America and he said, "No." So I asked about Hokkaido and he said, "No." I kept bringing it up and at last he became very angry and yelled at me that I should stay here. But he just used one word. He just said, "Here!" So I gave up my notion of going abroad. I completely gave up my idea of going to America. Several times after that I had a chance to go to America but I refused. But ten years ago, at last, I came to America. In 1954 - no, my age at that time was 54 - it was 1958, after I had finished doing what my teacher told me to do, I decided to go to America. So there is some truth that being with Miss Ransom was actually the turning point of life. My idea was of going abroad was always in my heart even though I gave up. I thought I had given up, but I hadn't.

Fifteen years ago [1954] actually I had a chance to come to America, but I didn't because I hadn't finished fixing the main building of Rinsoin, which was my duty left to me by my master. I thought I had to finish his instructions first, so I didn't come to America at that time. And then five or six years later I had a second chance to come to America and I decided to do it. It was pretty hard, but anyway I managed to come to America.


One day she told me to buy some daffodil bulbs. I bought some pretty big one for her but she wasn't satisfied. "Oh, these are too small. Get me some big ones." So I tried to find the best daffodils in Tokyo, at least in the Shibuya district. I visited several florists and I got the largest bulbs I could find, but she wasn't satisfied with them. That made me very angry. After a while I went out and did some more shopping. "Here, I got some very big ones. Here they are," I told her when I came back, and I left her room, carefully watching her to see what happened. She opened the bag up and saw the big bulbs I had gotten her. "Oh, these are very good!" she said and started to smell it. I felt very good, but at the same time scared of her so I ran away. "Oh, these are onions!" she shouted and started looking around for me, but I wasn't there. I knew she didn't like onions at all. I couldn't help to bursting into laughter so she found me and with the onions in her hands she started to chase after me. So I went upstairs to the second floor and from the second floor to the roof where I hid. That kind of thing happened many times.

I had to come back to her home before ten o'clock, but it was rather difficult to always get back before ten. So when I was late I knew how to open the door. Japanese doors, you know, are sliding doors. The lock is between the two sliding doors, it's like a nail that goes down a slot to hold them together. So it is not possible to open them in the usual way, but if you lift the two doors it is quite easy to take them out. In this way I sneaked into my bedroom late and slept. But one night she heard me and saw what I was doing and she didn't trust me any more after that and she didn't trust the safety of the Japanese building any more. She determined to move out from that house and I was told to find her some good, safe building, which was almost impossible. Almost all buildings then were Japanese buildings. If it were a Western building we would have to pay a lot of money. So I gave up looking for that kind of safe building. But it was good for me to have some reason to get out. Sometimes I went to the barber shop and sometimes I went to visit some friends instead of finding some good apartment for her. At last I decided to ask a skilled old carpenter to explain how to make Japanese buildings safe from thieves and how to fix the lock so no one could get in. And together we convinced her not to move out.

As she was an English women, she wouldn't throw away knives when they got old. She had some old knives and asked me to go get them polished [sharpen?]. Maybe they do that in England but in Japan no one polishes knives for anyone else. If she'd had a carpenter or a gardener, they may have done it, but she wanted me to get it polished immediately. That was a big problem for me. She said, "In England if you go to a department store you can get knives polished immediately, so go to Mitsukochi and get them polished." Her idea that someone in a Japanese store was going to polish her knives was ridiculous. One was a pretty beautiful good knife, but even so no one would polish it in a store. "Oh, this is old," they may say. "This is very old. Why don't you get a new one."

The wooden covers of traditional Japanese bathes get rotten easily, so she asked me to go get her a lid only, but that was also difficult. Unless we buy the whole thing they won't do business. They won't sell the wooden lid to the tub by itself. I think the English way may be quite different from the American way. [because she couldn't adjust to different customs].


To see what was added to this site in earlier months Land years, go to  What Was New:  1999, 2000-2001,  2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008


what's new this year

There's a lot of old material that's as good as new if you haven't read it. -DC

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