Profile of Shunryu Suzuki by Amertat Cohn who made the film Sunseed/

One of the benefits of my job as a filmmaker is meeting people who have actually changed the world. Shunryu Suzuki or Suzuki Roshi was prominently featured in both Sunseed (1974) and SunSeed-The Journey (2020) because he helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States. I filmed him shortly before he passed away in  1971 in San Francisco.
Shunryu was born in 1904. In 1925 he enrolled in Soto Zen’s Komazawa University. He majored in Zen and Buddhist philosophy with a minor in English. During his studies he came to believe that Soto Zen might reach a bigger audience with students
Years later, in 1959, at the age of 55, his life took him to San Francisco to take charge of the sole Soto Zen temple there at the time, the Soko-ji temple. He once said about American culture, "If I knew it would be like this, I would have come here sooner!"
As people started hearing about him and coming to his classes on Buddhism, the enthusiasm of his students inspired him to teach Zen to Westerners even more. Over time the group grew enough for him to start the San Francisco Zen Center. It flourished, and in1966, the Tassajara Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest was purchased. He left his post at Sokoji in 1969 to become the first abbot of one of the first Buddhist training monasteries outside Asia.

Suzuki believed that the West could be a means to return to the Zen roots and focus on the Zen practice in its pure form. He did say plenty could be learned through the Zen culture in Japan but “it had grown moss on its branches.”  


DC comment: Sunflower was filmed at Tassajara in August, 1970. Suzuki died in December 1971.
Suzuki didn't have classes in Buddhism. He did give leactures, but the focus of the practice at Sokoji was zazen.
Suzuki resigned as head priest of Sokoji in 1969 to move to the new SFZC City Center. He didn't want to resign from Sokoji but the board there wanted a priest just for them.