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Shunryu Suzuki and others on Peace & War

Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber

Suzuki disciples tell stories Jan. '98 part II

Shunryu Suzuki and the war. What did he do? It's a question that keeps popping up so here's the latest exchange on the subject. - DC

On Thu 22/10/09 7:49 AM , Valtteri Järvinen

Hello David, I noticed that you are the author of Shunryu Suzuki's biography, so you can probably answer me on this one.

Stuart Lachs wrote in one of his article: "Brian Victoria was so interested in the possibility of a public pacifist/anti-war Soto monk that he contacted Suzuki's son Hoitsu who told him: "I don't know where all of this antiwar talk comes from, but my father and the rest of the family supported Japan's war effort just like everyone else."

Is this the truth? "Zen Mind Beginners Mind" says that Suzuki was a pacifist and lead a pacifist group at the time.




First, please check out my website's page on Shunryu Suzuki and war.

Also, I just Googled "shunryu suzuki war" and got the same.

There's a lot there in those links and I would imagine that somewhere I say that this is an old comment (like 15 years ago or so) by Brian and by Hoitsu. For one thing, at the time Hoitsu didn't realize what his father had done and had a lot of anger toward his father as well and it really bugged him to hear people idolizing his father and saying that his father had done things that were fairly impossible to do during the war and survive. And that was before Brian and I started communicating about this. As you can see, I am a fan of his work and have a Brian Victoria section on

The comments in the intro to ZMBM were removed at my suggestion for the 2000 new edition. I think I comment on this somewhere too somewhere within the material found in those links. There was no pacifist movement in Japan during the war.

I recently had to correct someone who said that Suzuki had openly opposed the war at a two day seminar on Suzuki held by SFZC and UC Berkley. Nobody could do that and get away with it. But he didn't like militarism and did what he could within the confines of his culture and the political reality at the time. I said that Suzuki's participation in an anti-nuclear protest march in the fifties and comments he'd made about what he'd done BEFORE the war were the source of these misunderstandings.

Anyway, read through that stuff and see what you think.

The important thing right now though for me is what are we doing to reduce the enormous amount of destruction that the US is causing in Iraq and Afghanistan. With our almost 900 military bases worldwide and our history of war, we are not in much of a position to criticize any other country. I've marched against war and put stuff about it on my website and vote for anti-war candidates when I can, but I also vote for politicians who support war. It's hard not to. I choose the lesser warmongers or those who are trying to work within the system to reduce the harm we cause. I helped to get guys out of going into the army during the Vietnam War, worked for the Nuclear Freeze movement, made anti-nuclear music, and stuff like that. A person in the future though could look at my history and say that basically I supported America's militarism because I didn't oppose it to a greater extent, because I was part of the economy and so forth. It all came down basically to a bunch of words and walking. I don't want our soldiers to get hurt and I am in favor of respecting them when they come home and honoring the dead and taking care of the wounded and all veterans. I just want the wars to end and say so and talk with others who think the same.

That's sort of what Suzuki did within the confines of his culture. Not much, but those who were there with him remember him with gratitude. I've seen them correct Suzuki's son Hoitsu when Hoitsu said his father did nothing but bury his head during the war. And when Hoitsu said his father was nobody special, these men with us who had as high school students lived at Rinsoin during the war countered strongly that he was indeed special and that his temple Rinsoin was a beacon of light in those dark times. They said that people could come there and meet and talk more freely than elsewhere. Suzuki said to me once that he'd never opposed the government, always stressed that Japan would be stronger without war. But he was a quiet person and Japanese communicate much more subtly than Americans. And people told me that in discussions he tended to mainly to listen and that there were others who had more forceful ideas about how to bring the war to an honorable end and so forth. Anyway, read all that other stuff and you'll get a better idea.

I think I'll add this exchange to that page in and include the elegy one of those men made in a newspaper article memorializing Suzuki where that "beacon of light" image was also used. It's toward the end of the Epilogue to Crooked Cucumber.

Thanks for your question. Take care.


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

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