|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
Memories of Roshi
Chronicles of Haiku Zendo
Including Memories of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi - Part I
Kobun Chino Sensei suggested the compiling of the Haiku Zendo History, especially the gathering of memories of Suzuki Roshi. His advice and constant encouragement have made the book possible.
I am deeply grateful to the following students who contributed their memories of the early days of Haiku Zendo and of Suzuki Roshi: Amy Simpson, Gladys Halprin, Gertrude Davenport, Dave Davenport, June French, Margo Locke, Roy Henning, Mary Lou Schwarz, Holly Schwarz, Lorraine Dieudonne, Peg Anderson, Mary Kate Spencer, Eric Remington, Barbara Kaiser, Harriet Hiestand, Jerry Halpern, Phil Olson, Marian Derby, Mary Kaye and Les Kaye.
Sonja Margulies, Secretary, Haiku Zendo, gave much needed editorial suggestions. Her enthusiasm and practical knowledge provided guidance when I most needed it.
Arthur Bradley, President, Haiku Zendo, has personally overseen the printing of the book. I am indebted to him for his patience and encouragement.
The photograph of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was taken by Stewart Geisinger. [not included now on website]
In September, 1972, Kobun Chino Sensei asked me to write a short history of the Los Altos Zendo. I was asked to read over Marian Derby's "Haiku Zendo Annual Report," written in 1969; to expand this account, and to bring it forward in time. Marian's description of early days is brief, yet it brought a flood of memories to my mind. Kobun Chino Sensei suggested that we include in this account memories of our founder, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, as recalled by as many older students as possible. The results have divided themselves naturally into two parts.
In putting together Part I: History of Haiku Zendo, I have relied heavily upon Marian Derby's Annual Report of 1969 for the chronology of events. In addition to my own memories of those times, I have also had conversations with and received material from early members of the group. I have made use of this material much as it was given to me.
Part II of this history is a collection of personal memories of Suzuki Roshi. As most of you know, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, was originally a collection of lectures given by Suzuki Roshi to his students in Los Altos. Part II is made up of accounts of Suzuki Roshi as those same students remember him. I am very grateful to the many students who contributed to both parts of this history.
The years covered in this account run from 1964 to 1971. These were the years in which Suzuki Roshi founded the Los Altos Zendo and was our principal teacher. Our activities during those years were defined by Roshi's schedule at San Francisco and Tassajara, and, to a lesser extent, by the limitations of space and time in Los Altos.
Kobun Chino Sensei came to us in 1970. Thus his tenure here does overlap Roshi's time. After Kobun Chino came, we were able to expand our activities, as I shall describe briefly elsewhere. This new era deserves a history of its own, and I have not attempted to go into that story here.
At all times, and with all our teachers, the basic activity of this Zendo has been Zazen practice.
An important point to be noted here is our great debt of gratitude to the Japanese congregation of Sokoji Zen Temple in San Francisco, to San Francisco Zen Center, and to Marian Derby. Without Sokoji, Suzuki Roshi would not have come to America and continued to live here. Without Zen Center, he would have found it difficult to come to the Peninsula to teach us. And without Marian Derby's generous gift of her house, and her commitment to our continued meetings there, the whole project of a Zendo in Los Altos would have been exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
Suzuki Roshi was our founder and first teacher. Other teachers helped us also and are mentioned in this account. The steady devotion of all our teachers was, and continues to be, a lesson of trust in them and in ourselves.
Our good fortune speaks for itself in the naming of their names: Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi; Dainen Katagiri, Roshi; Ryogen Yoshimura, Sensei; and Kobun Chino, Sensei.
Barbara Hiestand Historian, Haiku Zendo Los Altos, California October, 1973
PART I : CHRONICLES OF HAIKU ZENDO
In January, 1971, in a ceremony performed by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Les Kaye was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk at Haiku Zendo. Suzuki Roshi was assisted by Kobun Chino Sensei and Dainin Katagiri Sensei (as he then was).
After the ceremony there was a reception in the house. Roshi was a bright center of light in his yellow silk robes. Some students asked Roshi how it all started, here on the Peninsula. He said that years ago he had visited friends in Redwood City and had felt that this area would be a good place to teach. Not long after that, the first meeting place was arranged in Palo Alto. That was the beginning. Roshi's happy smile included all that had happened since then, especially this first ordination at Haiku Zendo.
Les Kaye's ordination was to be the last time Roshi was at Haiku Zendo. He died the following December. Fortunately, this possibility was far from our minds that day, and nothing marred the occasion.
To begin this short history of Haiku Zendo, we must turn to Marian Derby's "Haiku Zendo Annual Report, 1969."
Between February, 1965 and June, 1965, the following people began to attend the Palo Alto meetings regularly: Gladys Halprin, Marian Derby, Gertrude Davenport, Tim Burkett, Phillip Wilson, Helen Donaghey, Bob Randle, Dan Baty, and Toni Johansen. 3
Gertrude Davenport describes the situation of the morning group in 1965 as follows:
Quite often, in later years, newcomers to the group would ask us if there was a religious significance in the choice of Thursday as a meeting day. Tim Burkett explained as follows: When Suzuki Roshi talked to him of establishing a weekly meeting on the peninsula, Roshi's schedule was not particularly crowded. Tim was asked to name the day. Tim hurriedly reviewed the class schedule at Stanford. Thursday was his light day, and so Thursday it was, and Thursday it remained.
For an account of the evening group in Redwood City, we turn again to Marian Derby's 1969 Report:
Marian Derby's Report records the move of the Thursday morning group to Los Altos as follows:
As Roy Henning has written:
In 1965 the Thursday morning schedule at Los Altos was as follows:5:45 - zazen
6:25 - service
6:45 - lecture
7:00 - breakfast
The evening group, too, moved to Marian's house in Los Altos. The following is Marian's account of this move.
After the evening group moved to Los Altos, the consolidation of the two groups at one location was accomplished. Eventually the evening meeting was to become very popular, and continues to enjoy a large attendance.
In contrast to his morning talks, which were seldom more than 15 minutes, Roshi used to talk at length in the evening. Some evening lectures went as late as 11 P.M. Eager as we were to learn from him, some of us found ourselves dozing occasionally. No one seemed to mind. The schedule for the evening meeting was as follows:
7:00 - zazen
LIVING ROOM ZEN
This Zendo has been a "Beginners Zendo" from the start. The emphasis here is upon lay practice. Newcomers who wish to sit Zazen have always been welcome, with no conditions whatever. In practice, the newcomers have been extraordinarily helpful to the older students. Frequently the newcomer will ask questions which older students have been too embarrassed to ask; or questions to which older students thought they knew the answers. The result has been a continuing fresh examination of the basic problems of our practice.
When the group first met in Los Altos in 1965, we sat Zazen in Marian Derby's living room. Marian removed all the furniture from this room except for the couch, two end tables, a cabinet against the wall, and a table desk, also against the wall.
The floor of the living room had a large green rug. We were each provided with a zafu to sit on. There was no need for zabutons because of the rug, and we did not use them.
The far wall of the room was, then as now, completely taken up with built-in book shelves. In front of this wall, there was placed a low maplewood coffee table. An incense holder, incense, a candle and a small bell were on the table; also the kyosaku, with the mokugyo on the floor next to the table. Roshi sat on his cushion in front of the table, facing into the room. The rest of us sat on our cushions, our backs to the center of the room, facing whatever was in our particular part of the room: sometimes, the window curtain; sometimes, the fireplace; sometimes, the front edge of the couch; and sometimes, the legs of the desk. No one seemed to find this distracting. Once, however, I sat facing the fireplace when there was a fire going inside. Roshi very kindly turned me around when he saw that I was becoming dizzy and hypnotized by the movement of the fire. The following is a plan of the arrangement of the room:
There were the sounds of Zazen, present within the silence. There were the sounds of birds, greeting the dawn; the sound of a clock ticking; the sound of trucks going by two streets away; the sound of an alarm clock, waking Marian's daughters for school; the sound of rain; the delicate rustling of Roshi's silk robes. And one could hear the absolute silence at the center of each sound, a silence which made the sound possible.
At the end of Zazen each Thursday morning we chanted the Robe Chant, "Dai zai ge da buku . . . " There were only 8 or 10 of us at first, all suburbanites. The chant is beautiful of itself, of course. However, it always came as a shock of surprise that we everyday people could sound so beautiful.
After the bowing ceremony, we chanted the Heart Sutra, in old Japanese, as we do to this day. In 1965 Roshi not only led the chanting, he rang the bell and beat the mokugyo -and a right smart pace he set. We would swing along, faster and faster, until we stopped for the Eko (which Roshi chanted himself) and then joined together again to chant the ending very slowly. It was astonishing to me that so few could create such beauty. Roshi's "little talk" followed the end of the service.
Among those who regularly attended meetings in Los Altos in 1965 and 1966 were: Marian Derby, Gladys Halprin, Tim Burkett, Gertrude Davenport, Helen Donaghey, Bob Randle, Dan Baty, Toni Johansen, Doug Duke, Barbara Hiestand, Barbara Kaiser, Valerie Hunt, Peg Anderson, Mary Kate Spencer, Lorraine Soderstrum, Mark Fruin, Durand Kiefer, and Margo Locke.
By the following year, 1967, the attending membership also included: Les and Mary Kaye, Harriet Hiestand, Mary Lou Schwarz, Jim McGuire, Carolyn White (now Fruin), and Roy Henning.
The fist year or so of sitting, I was very curious about my fellow students. How would one characterize them? In age they ranged from 14 to 68 years. There were more young men than middle-aged men, and more middle-aged women than young women. Later on this distribution by age and sex became more evenly spaced. There were many school teachers among us. There were also engineers, housewives, high school and college students, computer programmers, painters, musicians, a biologist, and a retired Navy officer. What did we have in common?
We all shared a capacity for making an effort, and we were all willing to get up early in the morning. We had a great desire to learn and watched our teachers like hawks.
This situation has not changed much over the years. The size of the group has grown, and the group has, in general grown younger. Effort is still important to us. We are still eager to learn. And we are willing to get up early in the morning.
THE SANGHA IN LOS ALTOS
Every Thursday morning Marian would drive the 40 miles to San Francisco, pick up Suzuki Roshi, and return with him to Los Altos by 5:45 A.M. for Zazen. After breakfast and discussion, at about 8:30 A.M., Marian would drive Roshi back to San Francisco. Thursday evening, she repeated this round trip again-making a total of 4 trips to San Francisco and back in one day. Sometimes one of us would drive Roshi back to San Francisco after Thursday morning breakfast. And sometimes someone from Zen Center would drive Roshi down to Los Altos in the evening. Most of the time, Marian did most of the driving.
After Marian's son graduated from Stanford and went away to Medical School, his room became available. The schedule was then changed to a Wednesday evening meeting, followed by a lecture. Roshi would stay overnight, to be here for Thursday morning meeting and breakfast, and then would go back to San Francisco. By this time, Katagiri Sensei was sharing the duties with Roshi, and he (Katagiri) came to Los Altos at least half the time, driving himself here and back. As time went on, more people from Zen Center became available to drive Roshi back and forth. We were all as grateful to Marian for her generosity in driving as we were for her house.
The following stories are two incidents I remember from the Wednesday evening discussions. They have to do with "effort;" the first with Roshi's effort, the second with ours.
REV. SUZUKI VS ROSHI
When I first joined the Los Altos group in 1965, I was told it was correct to address our teacher as "Rev. Suzuki" or "Sensei." Apparently this was the practice at Sokoji and Zen Center in San Francisco. During the winter of 1966, Rev. Suzuki attended a weekend Alan Watts seminar with us. Alan was horrified to hear the term "Rev. Suzuki," and told me, in no uncertain terms, that this was an uneducated and vulgar usage of the English term, "The Reverend." I felt that it was not my place to question the decisions of Zen Center and Sokoji.
Later on in the year, Marian told us that Alan wrote a long and detailed letter to Zen Center on the matter. He suggested that we adopt the term Suzuki Roshi, and reserve the term "Sensei" for assistant priests. A vote was taken and Alan's suggestions were approved.
Suzuki Roshi was away at the time, traveling in Japan. When he returned to Los Altos, he asked us why we were all calling him "Roshi." We told him of Alan's letter to Zen Center and how a vote was taken at the last business meeting. We said that we were supposed to call him "Roshi" from here on. I do not remember a time when Roshi laughed harder or longer. He said it was all right, and then he went off into gales of laughter again.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Quite often, a student would ask a question and Roshi would answer; then he would slowly look around at us all and say, "Do you understand?" And there we sat, eyes down, feeling that our heads were made of solid wood. Roshi had a special smile for these occasions- gentle, reassuring, and mischievous all at once. Even now, when I am puzzled about something, I hear his voice in my mind asking, "Do you understand?"
SUZUKI ROSHI AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE
Many times Roshi taught us without words.
One morning at the breakfast table, Roshi was sitting directly opposite me. He was looking at a book. Sitting next to me was a fellow student and old friend. My friend spoke to me at length on a subject about which I had a different opinion. I said nothing. In my frustration, I found myself staring at a basket of muffins which was on the table before me. Suddenly I felt a powerful urge to up-end the basked of muffins over my neighbor's head. But, no, I thought, the harmony of the breakfast table was more important.
As I raised my eyes from the muffin basket, I found Roshi looking at me intently, unsmiling. Our eyes met. He looked at me sternly and nodded his head slowly, three times. I nodded back-not quite sure what we were nodding about, but feeling his encouragement. Then Roshi returned to his book.
Later in the day, there came to me a great insight into my behavior over several months past. I had been very foolish. My neighbor that morning had been trying to rectify the situation. Once I saw it, the problem disappeared. And I was grateful for Roshi's three nods- teaching without words.
Dainen Katagiri Sensei
Dainen Katagiri Sensei (now Roshi) began to come to Los Altos from San Francisco in 1965. He came with Suzuki Roshi at first. Later they came on alternate weeks.
Katagiri Sensei was very important to us and to the growth of the Zendo. He helped us in many ways, particularly with the practical questions which came from a growing membership. He was a younger man than Suzuki Roshi, about forty years old when we first knew him. He sat with the strength of a rock. In repose his face looked stern, but when he laughed-the whole world was alight. His lectures were carefully prepared and yet always flexible to the moment at hand. He was our friend.
One evening Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Sensei were both present. A student asked Suzuki Roshi about anger. Roshi said, "Anger is not so good. However, if you understand why you are angry, it is not so bad." Another student said, "But Roshi, surely you are never angry!" At that moment, Katagiri Sensei laughed so hard he almost fell off his cushion. He was pointing his finger at Roshi. Roshi laughed too. Turning to Katagiri Sensei, he said, "Well- when I know someone is a Buddha and he doesn't act like one, I become angry."
Roy Henning recalls:
Katagiri Sensei probably led more meetings which I attended than did Suzuki Roshi, thus I came to have a strong personal feeling for him. His lectures always contained little personal experiences which, to me, always illustrate a point best. He had such a good sense of humor too. Some of his analogies of the blending of Zen into our lives with the alloying of metals were very ambitious scientific endeavors. His ability to bring the Zen life into our workaday world by means of illustrations was outstanding. Maybe you remember his story about receiving a traffic citation in San Francisco. It was hilarious and yet drove home an important point.
The only such story I remember is as follows:
Katagiri Roshi was just beginning to drive a car in San Francisco. He came to a sign by the street curb which he had difficulty reading. He stopped his car to read the sign. It said "No Parking." At that time a lady motorcycle cop came along and gave him a ticket for stopping in front of a "No Parking" sign.
Katagiri Roshi and his family are now in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is good to know that they are still in the United States.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
In 1965, Marian Derby began to tape record Suzuki Roshi's morning lectures. These "little talks," as Roshi called them, were very short- seldom more than fifteen minutes. Usually Roshi started off in a general, rambling way, with no particular subject in mind. After two or three minutes, he would discover his subject and continue straight into his talk.
Marian transcribed the tapes each week, doing rough editing as she went along. She then carefully went over each transcript with Suzuki Roshi. She was generous in typing out copies of any lecture that any one of was particularly interested in keeping.
There was talk of gathering these lectures into a book, at first referred to as "Morning Talks in Los Altos." In March, 1967, Marian's typed transcriptions were given to Dick Baker, then President of Zen Center, for final editing. The tentative title of "Beginner's Mind" was chosen. After many difficulties, largely caused by his very busy schedule, Dick Baker decided to delay work on the editing, and the project was temporarily shelved.
In 1968, Suzuki Roshi suggested that Trudy Dixon of Zen Center take over the final editing of "Beginner's Mind." Trudy was very ill at the time. In fact, she died before the book was finally in print. Nevertheless, her profound understanding of Zen and her great ability as a writer resulted in the beautiful and powerful edition of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. The book is a great gift to us all from both Trudy Dixon and Suzuki Roshi.
After a year of sitting Zazen in Marian Derby's living room, we had grown in numbers to the point where the seating arrangements were becoming crowded. Also, the living room Zendo was located in the middle of a busy household. Marian and her five teen-age children were living around us, and this was not convenient for them. Obviously some other arrangement was needed.
In her 1969 Annual Report, Marian describes how the problem was solved.
We all helped work on the building of the new Zendo in Marian's garage. Everyone wanted to do something, however small. I remember Barbara Kaiser and I painted the outside wall which faces the street.
Of course, Roshi and William did much of the work. We depended upon them completely for directions as well as decision-making. The two of them went to the lumber yard and carefully picked out each board for the floor and the platforms. I remember Pat Herreshoff of Zen Center, one Saturday, assisting Roshi as he measured and sawed lengths of wood. They were enjoying the work very much.
Haiku Zendo was named by Marian. She chose the name for the new Zendo because there was room for 17 cushions.
The tatami-platforms in this Zendo are chair-height for a particular reason. At this time, Doug Duke suffered from a fused disc in his spine. It was impossible for him to sit cross-legged. The platform to your right, as you enter the door, is made so that it can be pulled out from the wall. Two people can then sit there as if in a chair, yet facing the wall. (Even with this help, sitting was painful for Doug beyond any pain the rest of us would know.)
Roshi told us he hoped older people would come to our Zendo. This arrangement was for their benefit as well as for Doug. The sliding platform is located near the door because Roshi said he wanted such students to sit as near the teacher as possible. All the other platforms are of equal height to the sliding platform, so we are all sitting at the same level.
We continued the practice of Thursday morning breakfast in the house. This breakfast has provided a weekly opportunity for questions and discussion in an informal atmosphere.
The opening ceremony of Haiku Zendo was held on August 4, 1966. Among those present were Suzuki Roshi; Katagiri Sensei; Dick Baker, President of Zen Center (now Baker Roshi) and Mrs. Suzuki.
By November, 1966, Marian felt we were a strong enough group to support a resident priest. At Suzuki Roshi's suggestion, she wrote to Japan to Kobun Chino Sensei, a young priest who was then at Eiheiji. Kobun Chino Sensei, accepted the invitation to come to America.
Kobun Chino Sensei arrived by steamship in San Francisco on June 19, 1967. He brought with him gifts from Eiheiji for the new Zen Practice Center at Tassajara, near Carmel -a large drum and a bell. After a few days in San Francisco, Chino Sensei came with Suzuki Roshi to see us for the first time in Los Altos. Roshi introduced him to us after Thursday morning Zazen, and then we went into the house for breakfast. It was a gala occasion. Marian served a beautiful meal of American and Japanese dishes, including fish cakes and mochi.
It had been decided that Chino Sensei would spend the summer at Tassajara with Suzuki Roshi, and return to us in Los Altos in the fall. As the months passed, it became obvious that Chino Sensei was greatly needed at Tassajara. And so he stayed there for two years, making a few short visits to us when he could. We were glad to know of his great contribution to the beginnings of Tassajara. But we were disappointed for ourselves. During this time Katagiri Sensei and Yoshimura Sensei were the teachers who came regularly every week. Suzuki Roshi came when he could. All in all, of course, we were very lucky, and we knew that.
Kobun Chino Sensei returned to Japan after two years at Tassajara. Meanwhile, Marian Derby left Los Altos and Les and Mary Kaye moved into her house to take care of the Zendo. In the fall of 1969, after some months of discussion, Haiku Zendo wrote to Kobun Chino Sensei, to ask him again if he would come to Los Altos to be our teacher. At Les Kaye's suggestion, we all wrote letters to Chino Sensei's Master in Japan, explaining our situation here and our hope that Chino Sensei could come to us.
Finally, in February, 1970, Chino Sensei arrived- again- in Los Altos. At his request, no formal installation ceremony was held. However, this time he stayed. He and Harriet Buffington were married the following summer. Their son, Taido, was born in the fall of 1971, and their daughter, Yoshiko, was born in the spring of 1973.
Chino Sensei's presence has made it possible for us to enjoy a full schedule of morning and evening Zazen every weekday, as well as two weekly study groups, bi-monthly sesshins, and two ango (practice) periods. Wednesday evening lectures continue and so do the discussions following Thursday morning breakfasts. In addition to his activities in Los Altos, Chino Sensei goes to Santa Cruz one evening a week to teach at the Zendo there.
To say we are grateful to Kobun Chino Sensei and his family is an understatement. He has become our good and learned friend.
CHANGE OF LAY DIRECTORS
By 1968, Marian Derby had wished for some time to leave Los Altos and go to Tassajara. She was very careful of her responsibilities here and spent a great deal of thought on how she could manage to find someone to take over these responsibilities. One Saturday morning, after Zazen, her eyes fell on Les Kaye and she knew immediately that he and his wife, Mary, would be the very best people she could find for Haiku Zendo.
Turning to Marian's Annual Report, 1969, we find:
When Marian left us, the changeover was so smoothly done many students were only vaguely aware of the magnitude of the Kaye's effort. We were sorry to Marian go away; at the same time, we were delighted to have the Kaye's with us. To carry us through the interim, Marian asked a few of us to make up a kind of ad hoc group of Trustees. These people were: Les Kaye, Doug Duke, June French, Roy Henning, and Barbara Hiestand. The name, Haiku Zendo Foundation, was adopted at this time, mostly so we could open a bank account.
A few months later, we formed a regular organization. Mark and Carolyn Fruin and Jerry Halpern were of enormous help to us in drawing up the by-laws. Their suggestions were clear, simple and to the point- and accepted with gratitude. These by-laws have served us well to this day.
Les Kaye was the first President and Treasurer of Haiku Zendo Foundation. Mary Kaye was our first Secretary.
At the beginning, Marian Derby had seen this Zendo as a branch of the San Francisco Zen Center. Marian visited Zen Center more often that the rest of us. Many times she returned from San Francisco with requests for our help in Zen Center projects. What help we could give, we gave gladly. Marian sent our weekly contributions to Zen Center, and many of us became members of Zen Center to help pay Roshi's expenses.
In spite of all this close cooperation with Zen Center, the feeling slowly grew over the years that we belonged to ourselves. When Marian left us to go to Tassajara, and the Kayes came to live at the Zendo, this feeling found immediate expression in the formation of an independent organization. With the Kaye's leadership, more members began actively participating in the care of the Zendo.
Suzuki Roshi made no attempt, ever, to tell us how to solve our organizational problems. He seemed more interested to see what we would do for ourselves.