1-14-17 - A summary of what the nickname Crooked
The nickname Crooked Cucumber was
what So-on called his small, young disicple. Shunryu never used the
Japanese when speaking to us that I know of. At first we thought it
was magatta kyuri which is a literal translation and which Gary
Snyder thought it to be and said he'd heard used in that way. But
after the book came out, Suzuki's son Hoitsu told me he remembered
hebo kyuri being used and thought that was it. The hebo kyuri he
said it the tiny little twisted one at the end of a vine. It's
useless. The word runt comes to mind. An online dictionary
translation of hebo is "bungler, clumsy, greenhorn." At the memorial
for Shunryu's little sister at the SFZC City Center, her widower
husband said "Hebo kyuri," when we greeted. - DC
3-07-15 - There's no record of Suzuki ever having
said what the Japanese was for Crooked Cucumber. It's clear that the
term was a put-down, like calling a kid butt-head. Go to the bottom
of this page to read what conclusion I've come to. - DC
More links below.
The moniker "Crooked Cucumber" as found in the book by that name.
The main title page:
The full title:
Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
In the front matter for copyright:
Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki.
Copyright © 1999 by David Chadwick.
In the front matter again:
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Chadwick, David, 1945–
Crooked cucumber: the life and Zen teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
/ David Chadwick.
From the Introduction:
From the time he was a new monk at age thirteen, Suzuki's master,
Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, called him Crooked Cucumber. Crooked
cucumbers were useless: farmers would compost them; children
would use them for batting practice. So-on told Suzuki he felt
sorry for him, because he would never have any good disciples. For
a long time it looked as though So-on was right. Then Crooked
Cucumber fulfilled a lifelong dream. He came to America, where
he had many students and died in the full bloom of what he had come
to do. His twelve and a half years here profoundly changed his life
and the lives of many others.
On May 18, 1917,
his thirteenth birthday, Toshi was ordained as a novice monk. He
received the precepts, took the vows, and formally became a disciple
of Gyokujun So-on. He also received a set of black robes to go over
his Japanese kimono: a koromo, the Chinese outer robe with
long sleeves; an okesa, a large rectangular cloth with finely
sewn sections in seven rows resembling rice fields, which is the
sacred robe of the monk; and a rakusu, a miniature and less
formal okesa with straps, which is worn on the chest and over the
shoulders like a bib. He was given the Buddhist name of Shogaku
Shunryu. Shogaku, Auspicious Peak, was combined with his birth name,
Shunryu, Excellent Emergence. He was called Shunryu-san by his
fellow students. So-on had taken to calling him Crooked Cucumber,
a private nickname for his absent-minded, idealistic, quirky little
saw you under the bridge playing," So-on said, wagging a finger at
Shunryu. "You crooked cucumber. You're sticking with it but I
feel sorry for you. You're such a dimwit."
master always called me "You crooked cucumber!" I understand
pretty well that I am not so sharp. I was the last disciple, but I
became the first one, because all the good cucumbers ran away. Maybe
they were too smart. Anyway, I was not smart enough to run away, so
I was caught. For studying Buddhism my dullness was an advantage. A
smart person doesn't always have the advantage, and a dull person is
sometimes good because he is dull. Actually there is no dull person
or smart person. They are the same.
adultery, Crooked Cucumber!" Shunryu had been admiring an old
tea bowl, and that is how So-on told him not to be so attached to
fine things. He used that metaphor a lot with the boy, who had good
taste in antiques and craftsmanship.
Shunryu's favorite subject was English. He excelled at it. He'd
always been interested in foreign things, true to his crooked
nickname. The cucumber is kyuri in Japanese, the
barbarian gourd. He did so well in English that a doctor named
Yoshikawa in Mori asked him to tutor his sons in English.
Though Shunryu could now wear the brown robes instead of the monk's
black, he would not yet change colors. That would be presumptuous.
And though he was now his own man, he was still called Crooked
Cucumber by So-on, who would continue to be in charge of his
life for many years to come.
So-on let Shunryu have his say and then responded from an unexpected
point of view. "Crooked Cucumber, you better be careful or
you'll be a rotten crooked cucumber. One year is enough! I
will not let you become a stinky Eiheiji student! Soon you should go
to Sojiji," he said, referring to the other major Soto training
temple. Once again Shunryu was crushed by So-on.
During the ashes ceremony, chanting the Heart Sutra, Shunryu
picked up some of So-on's bone bits with chopsticks and placed them
in an opening at the base, then picked up a bamboo ladle and poured
water over the stone. How many times he'd watched So-on do this—for
eighteen years starting right here and ending right here. Shunryu
had many memories of the man who, more than anyone, had molded his
character. Never again would he be called Crooked Cucumber.
He could not help noticing that he did not feel much at the passing
of his master.
One day Suzuki casually mentioned that he'd like Katagiri to give
the talk the following Wednesday evening—in English. Suzuki learned
quickly and seemed to do everything well (in contrast to the
youthful Crooked Cucumber). Katagiri was the opposite.
From Notes on the Text:
inquired about the Japanese term for "crooked cucumber," imagining
the full-sized fruit, as suggested in the Introduction (P. xiii),
and finding only the literal magatta kyuri. After the book
came out, Hoitsu Suzuki said he remembered that in his youth he had
heard old people (though not his father) use another term: hebo
kyuri, signifying the tiny, runty, useless, weird, bent cucumber
at the coiling tip of the vine (the vine as is represented in the
typographical ornament used in this book). That may well be it.
3-07-15 - Just thought to post something that was said to me a
couple of years ago that reinforced the conclusion that "hebo kyuri"
is the term that So-on used. At the
for Shunryu Suzuki's little sister Aiko Uchiyama at the SFZC's City
Center on October 13, 2012, after the service, I joined the family
at a table in the dining room. When I was introduced to her eldest
son, Shuzo Uchiyama, he smiled and said, "Hebo kyuri!"
Comments on this nickname in Author Notes which mentions that
Gary Snyder votes for magatta kyuri
disciples discussion of this topic
Notes on Crooked Cucumber -