Anderson's talk in Monterrey as remembered by Katherine Thanas
This is an interview with Katherine Thanas that happened right after she'd heard a talk by Reb Anderson and so that's what we ended up talking about. - dc
KT: Reb told the story about John Steiner getting hit with the stick - he asked what should we do about it or something - about the war - and Suzuki Roshi got off his seat and Reb said he hit him so hard he fell over although I don't remember hearing he'd hit him that hard.
See Explosive Answer in Suzuki Stories
Reb was asked if Suzuki Roshi taught through relationships and about his relationships with students. With some people he'd have social relationships like with the Japanese ladies. But Suzuki Roshi and Reb had a very strict teaching relationship.
How did it happen that Suzuki Roshi was so influential? He talked about the Beat phenomenon and that San Francisco was a Mecca for people interested in this. There was nothing else going on historically. He was one of the first teachers to come over and settle down so he didn't have a lot of competition and he happened to settle in the place in the country that was the most receptive.
The kinds of people who came were very strong.
Reb wanted to make himself a post in his life like the post at Sokoji that he held onto as he came downstairs. There was a post at the bottom of the stairs and he put his hand on it and he decided he wanted to become a post in his life.
He practiced always being there in the same place every day. Suzuki Roshi acted like he didn't notice - didn't pay him any special attention to him at all. And then one day Suzuki Roshi asked Reb to take his place in service and because he'd been watching him so closely for the first two years or so without any training, he was able to do it. He was nervous but he could do it.
He talked about what Suzuki Roshi expected from us. He gave the example of the sesshin at Page Street when Mel hit the wake up bell an hour early and everyone got up and then went back to bed because Mel had told them all to go back to bed. Suzuki went around the zendo and said, "Who is priest? Who is layman?" and he hit everyone with the stick to let us know how serious it was - not to punish us. That showed the seriousness of his teaching and intention.
In the winter of ‘68 when Suzuki Roshi was ill and couldn't come down, Reb was the plumber at Tassajara and the septic tanks got all full of wheat berries because we'd run out of other food and people wouldn't chew the wheat berries. They passed right through totally intact. He said we grew up at that point because we had to practice without Suzuki Roshi. I was Peter Schneider's secretary and it all went okay till Peter fainted and fell down in the baths and his head was bleeding
DC: I was standing right next to him when that happened. I came out of the baths too fast for the moment and just fainted and hit his head on the hard floor and a little bit of blood was showing and Bill Shurtleff fainted when he saw the blood. They both got up in a minute. Bill said he always had that sort of reaction even though he'd worked with Schweitzer in Africa.
KT: When Reb went with Suzuki Roshi to Portland to do a sesshin at Reed College, Reb was carrying the stick and he looked at Suzuki Roshi and he was leaning forward with his head down on the meal board and he asked Suzuki Roshi are you okay and Suzuki Roshi said, "I have a terrible pain in my stomach." It sounded to me like they completed the sesshin and they flew back down to San Francisco and Okusan and Yvonne arrived with a wheelchair and Suzuki Roshi refused to use it and walked away and said, "I'm a Zen master." Then he had his gall bladder operation.
With Suzuki Roshi's cancer, when he learned about it, they said there was nothing they could do for him so he just settled in and accepted it. With Katagiri Roshi, the doctors kept coming up with new things to try so his dragged on more.
Once Reb had dokusan during sesshin at Page Street and Suzuki Roshi had to leave to do service and he told Reb to wait and he just left him there and didn't come back. He said he sat for hours and his knees hurt like crazy.
Reb was asked to go to Tassajara and have some position or something and Reb said, maybe people will be jealous and Suzuki Roshi said okay and so it didn't happen.
DC note: That might be because it was early on. He was ready to take responsibility not long after coming. I always said that Reb was senior to me the day he arrived and I’d been there two years.
KT: At one point Suzuki Roshi said something to Reb about going to Japan so Reb went to the Japanese consulate and got some forms and took them to Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Roshi he guesses threw them away and so Reb figured he was being too eager and he never asked again.
When he was director of the building he placed himself across the hall from Suzuki Roshi so he would always be available and they got to rely on him to fix their television set and stuff like that. He'd go over and find the plug wasn't plugged in or the antennae wasn't hooked up. He attended him so devotedly. But at times when he did have the opportunity to be with Suzuki Roshi outside of formal practice situations, it was too close. When he flew back with Suzuki Roshi from Portland he felt ashamed to be with him because psychologically he wasn't there. He said how hard it is to be face to face with what you most want - the intimacy may be too great. He didn't say that - he just said he wanted to get away.
There was some crazy person named John maybe who came into the courtyard at Page Street and Reb and Bob Halpern were there with Suzuki Roshi and they both stood between Suzuki Roshi and this fellow and the fellow called, tell your stupid disciples to get away. And Suzuki Roshi got up and took his hand and said, "Who's stupid?" and then he walked him very calmly out the door.
He said he was envious when he'd see Suzuki Roshi with the Japanese ladies being playful. He came to understand that he had the relationship he had with his teacher and it wasn't that.
Suzuki Roshi said something once about being a disciple and that made Reb wonder if he was one so he asked Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Roshi said, There are basically two types of students at Tassajara: "Those who are practicing for themselves and those who are practicing for others. Those who are practicing for others are my disciples."
DC: I like that better than what Suzuki said to me though they’re just different interpretations for different times. He said that those he ordained as priests were his disciples.
KT: But Reb said that Suzuki Roshi would spend time with the others too.
DC: Like Shantideva's practice of the small, medium, and large persons - all being legitimate reasons to practice Buddhism - to escape lower rebirths, to escape all rebirth, and to help all beings to escape rebirth – or close to that..
KT: When Suzuki Roshi died there were 130 people in the zendo and Okusan came to the door and Reb knew something was happening. So the disciples and maybe the officers did a service and cleaned him up and moved him into the dokusan room and everyone was invited to come up. I remember I was carrying the stick and couldn't go up and I really wanted to. I did get up eventually. We saw him gradually getting darker during his illness. Suzuki Roshi was embalmed for the funeral service because that's the way the Japanese did it.
I remember Rick Morton and I were asked to go sit zazen with his body at the funeral home on the third day which was Monday. People were coming to pay their respects. I remember that Baker Roshi told us not to be too formal or too informal but just to have our presence there.
I was Suzuki Roshi's anja at Tassajara and I sat right near him and I noticed that my zazen was very different when he was in the zendo and my posture would be fabulous and when he wasn't there my posture and zazen wouldn't be so good. When I went to the funeral home and sat there, there was a period when there was nobody there and I went and stood by the casket and just looked at him and he had the same energy, the same vibrations were coming from him.
I had always thought you don't just let death happen, that you fight it - that's what my mother did and other people I've known. You get the best doctors and the latest treatment. And when my mother died there was a sense of failure that we hadn’t been able to save her. With Suzuki Roshi there was the feeling that it was okay to die.
The diet we served was different than what he was used to
DC: And there were some who thought it was bad for his health to eat brown rice and he sometimes couldn't eat some things because of his dentures. I remember Reb having strong feelings about this. He thought it hurt Suzuki's health to eat brown rice.
KT: But generally he ate what we at with us.
DC: He did admonish us to eat what we were served.
KT: He'd always follow the whole schedule with us and do everything we did.
Reb remembered one time years later when one of the Nagasaki Roshis was with us and one of his attendants went to Reb and said, if you don't tell him he doesn't have to go to the zendo then he will because that's what a priest does - they follow the schedule. And he's really tired. So if you tell him not to come he'll take a break. And so Reb saw him and said please don't come to the zendo and he said, Oh thank you very much. One of the ways that Suzuki Roshi taught us was by being just like us.
DC: At the first of Tassajara he told Dick he wanted a roommate like everyone else and Dick said no.
KT: Okusan said that she complained to Suzuki Roshi about all the hippies and their dirty feet and he told her she should clean their feet. He said, you take care of them.
Reb came from all the way from Minneapolis to study with Suzuki Roshi and the first talk he heard Suzuki Roshi give, he said, I'm not enlightened, and Reb said oh I came all the way out here and he's not enlightened.
Reb said he noticed Suzuki Roshi's feet. He said he was in the zendo and he saw these feet come by and he said that all the toes were the same length and Reb decided that even though Suzuki Roshi wasn't enlightened, he could learn from those feet.
But then in the next lecture Suzuki Roshi said, I am Buddha, and Reb thought, that's more like it.
When Reb first came to Zen Center, a young Japanese man opened the door and Reb said please come in and he sat him down and Reb thought he was Suzuki Roshi and Reb thought boy this practice really preserves you but it was Katagiri. And Katagiri was sitting there in the office on the first floor doing some computations at a desk and he'd do a line and then he'd fall asleep and then he'd wake up and make some more marks with his brush and fall asleep again. And all the time Reb thought this was Suzuki Roshi and what a wonderful practice this was.
Reb talked about leaving the zendo, how we all bowed to Suzuki Roshi, and then he looked up at Suzuki Roshi, and their eyes met and Suzuki Roshi looked down. And he didn't know what that meant and wondered and didn't know what he should do. But he basically thought Suzuki Roshi was ignoring him for the first two years. But Reb always planted himself in the same place in the zendo so that Suzuki Roshi would know who he was and that he was there.
DC: I can remember the same thing – looking at Suzuki during the bow, maybe at first, and him looking down. I think it was more for him to look at us.
KT: He said his English was pretty good – he said more on that but I can’t remember.
Suzuki Roshi's teacher gave his disciples rotten pickles and they hid them and buried them in the garden and the next day there they were again. And all of So-on's disciples ran away and Suzuki Roshi said, I would have run away too but I didn't know I could. He said he stayed because he wasn't as smart as the others.
DC: Yeah, he said they were all smart and could see what So-on’s faults were but he was the crooked cucumber who stayed. They were all pretty young at that time – early teens. Soon had other disciples at other times who didn't run away.
KT: Reb told some stories about zazen and the importance of zazen and what Suzuki Roshi said about zazen. He talked about Samadhi and how important it is to be grounded but I don't know if that has to do with Suzuki Roshi or not.
It was around the time that Reb was moving fast up the administrative ladder and he was becoming ino or whatever faster than others and he was getting ready to leave for Tassajara and Suzuki Roshi wasn't going to be there for a while and Suzuki Roshi said he thought it was okay because he was sure that Reb wouldn't be arrogant and Reb said, is this his way of telling me not to be arrogant or to be careful about it?
There got to be so many people around - Reb came later when there were lots more people so he was careful to do things that got Suzuki Roshi to notice him. He'd been sitting on his own for a couple of years.
DC: Yeah. He did a lot of it on acid. He'd had over a hundred acid trips - many of them alone sitting zazen. When Reb arrived - I'll never forget Bob Halpern opening that door and saying with a big proud grin, “This is my oldest friend and bosom buddy Reb and he's come here to get the big one.” And Reb was sitting full lotus looking up with the most eager look on his face you ever saw. And he really applied himself you know.
KT: He really applied himself.
DC: I didn't believe in doing it the way he did. He used to tell me that I had to be a good example now that I was a priest and take it seriously and I didn't know what he was talking about. We were so opposite.
KT: You were the anti-Christ.
DC: I think he was right.
contact DC at <firstname.lastname@example.org>