Letters and cards sent by Shunryu Suzuki to Elsie Mitchell - 1964 - 1970

Comments by DC

Shunryu Suzuki didn't write people in English very often and he didn't keep letters that were sent to him. So we are most fortunate that Elsie Mitchell kept these letters he sent to her. These are short, fairly uninteresting letters, yet reading through them we can gather little tidbits. We can see how affectionate he felt toward Elsie and how much he respected her, the Cambridge Buddhist Association, and her teacher in Japan, Rindo Fujimoto Roshi. We learn through these letters that he had some correspondence with Fujimoto Roshi, again, something unusual for Suzuki. We can also see how much he enjoyed visiting Elsie and her husband John in Cambridge and at their Cape Cod home. These visits provided Suzuki with a rare opportunity to be away from his responsibilities which I think are perfectly expressed in the closing line of his letter of 67-01-16: "I feel a great responsibility for future students of Zen in America."

It's humorous to follow herein Suzuki's absentmindedness in giving the wrong date for his arrival and as he keeps leaving things behind on his trips so that Elsie has to send them to him. It's revealing to see in all his comments about the Japanese woman, Michiko, that he never realizes what an imposition her long stay was on the Mitchells. In the letter 66-07-00 Suzuki appears to be emotional - writing in the margins, not dating it, and expressing his grief at the death of D.T. Suzuki and sorrow that he'd never met him. Although he thanks Elsie many times for donations to Zen Center from her and her father, Edward Johnson, his real passion in contacting her is their shared interest in establishing Zen in America. This can also be seen in his several mentions of Dorothy Schalk who was trying to get a center going in Northampton and in his not mentioning other financial supporters of Zen Center on the East Coast. He also obviously got along with her husband, John, and au pair, Don, because he says hello to them a number of times. Here we can glimpse at how carefully Suzuki handled donations and the attention he paid to sending gifts like a stone from the Tassajara creek or the han (sounding board). The last letter that we have is so appropriate - reflecting on what they'd experienced together, telling her he can't see her anytime soon and will miss her.

There are notes with the edited lectures and a page for reminder notes so that the reader doesn't have to search back through the letters for an explanation about someone who comes up again..

These letters and cards are edited only as much as I think he would have wanted (not that he would have wanted anyone to ever see these letters but Elsie) - to take away his unintentional punctuation or grammatical errors but leave his distinctive wording. He frequently wrote Sunryu for Shunryu and that was changed, but when he capitalized gassho or zazen it was left in. I changed his older romanizing such as substituting sesshin for sessin and jo for jyo. Not much is changed though, and the originals are offered here as well so that these letters can be seen in his own had as he wrote them. - DC