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Suzuki Stories

Kaz Tanahashi cuke link page

Meeting with an ordinary monk

Kazuaki Tanahashi is his website

DC interview with Tanahashi    

Kaz, as his friends call him, Tanahashi is a brilliant translator of Dogen and artist and a dear friend, peace activist and free spirit who lives in Berkeley, CA. He sent me this 8 years ago or so. - DC

Meeting with an Ordinary Monk

Dogen discovered Shunryu Suzuki in San Francisco in January 1964. Zen master Suzuki was 59 years old and Zen master Dogen 764 years old. (Don’t worry. Dogen discovered him a number of times.) Dogen decided to act like a land mine, hiding here and there and striking those who were worthy, surprising them, exploding, and crushing their delusions. You may have noticed that Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is one of the fields where Dogen is hiding.

January 1964 was the time when I visited Rev. and Mrs. Suzuki at Soko-ji. I had first heard of him when a saleswoman at a department store in New Jersey, a reader of one of my books, had written to me, when I was living in Japan, saying, In San Francisco I met a most selfless man. He is a Zen teacher and his name is also Suzuki.

Knowing that I wanted to visit some Zen groups in America, Rev. Zenkyo Komagata, Bishop of the Soto Mission of Hawaii, introduced me to Bob Aitken and Shunryu Suzuki. Rev. Suzuki, who invited me to the living room of his quarters at the Soko-ji temple, was friendly and warm. He was humble and looked like an ordinary monk, but there was something extraordinary about him. I wanted to figure out what it was, and continued my conversation with him. I guess he was trying to figure out who I was.

Eventually, Rev. Suzuki said, "Are you a salesman of Buddhist merchandise? Bishop Komagata is supposed to send me one." "No, no, no," I said, "I am an artist. I have sent some of my paintings to Washington, D.C., hoping to have a show there."

Then I said, "What kind of text do you teach?" Rev. Suzuki said, "Blue Cliff Record." I said, "Why not Dogen?" "Dogen is too difficult for American students." Then I said, "Don’t you think you should present your best when you teach foreign students? I think Dogen is your best."

"How do you know?" he said. "I don’t know so much," I said, "but I have been translating his work into modern Japanese with my teacher, Rev. Soichi Nakamura. I believe Dogen is not only an important Zen master and imaginative poet but the greatest thinker Japan has ever produced. He is fantastic. It doesn’t matter if your students don’t understand him. Teach Dogen."

"Hum," he posed for a while and said, "I am scheduled to give a talk after zazen next Sunday. Would you please talk about Dogen for me?"

I said, "Gee, I have never given a talk in English. Besides, I haven’t brought Dogen with me." "Don’t worry," he said, "I have books."

Rev. Suzuki gave me the Iwanami version of Shobogenzo, which was the most authoritative text of the book at that time. At home I had the same text, all worn out and marked. Rev. Suzuki’s three-volume book looked brand new.

It was a time when some people were saying that there were only three people in all of Japan who understood Shobogenzo. One day when I was working with Nakamura Roshi, the priest of one of his sub-temples came by and said, "What are you studying?" "Shobogenzo." "Excuse me, Hojo-san (Rev. Abbot), what is Shobogenzo?" Nakamura laughed and laughed and said, "You should be smart enough to know at least the title of the primary work of the founder of your own school!"

I was staying at the YMCA in downtown San Francisco. After my first morning’s zazen at Soko-ji, I asked one of the Zen students, "I have been hearing about the beatniks and wanting to meet some. Are you a beatnik?" He said, "There is no such thing." So I knew he was one. And we became friends.

Mrs. Suzuki, who had come from Japan a year earlier, and Rev. Suzuki kindly invited me for breakfast every morning. On the following Sunday, I talked about Dogen’s concept of time, using the fascicle of "Uji" (Time Being) from Shobogenzo, to an audience of about twenty students. After my presentation, Rev. Suzuki said, "It was pretty good, but don’t read your talk. It’s OK to make mistakes, but talk when you give a talk."

I thought Rev. Suzuki had not been studying Shobogenzo, as his book looked very new. But he might have been handling the book very carefully. Twelve years after my meeting with Suzuki Roshi, Richard Baker Roshi told me that Ian Kishizawa Roshi, the foremost scholar and teacher of Shobogenzo at that time, had moved to a sub- temple of Suzuki Roshi’s temple, Rinso-in, to dedicate the last part of his life to training Suzuki Roshi. It was soon after the end of World War II, when Suzuki Roshi wanted to hire Mrs. Matsuno as head teacher of the kindergarten, attached to Rinso-in. Mrs. Matsuno said, "But I am a Christian. How can I help a Buddhist kindergarten?" Suzuki Roshi said, "Better than an atheist!" The only requirement he imposed on Mrs. Matsuno was to attend the dharma talks given by Kishizawa Roshi. As you all know, Mrs. Matsuno later became Mrs. Suzuki.

It is clear from his life and work that Suzuki Roshi had a vast and profound understanding of Dogen’s teaching. At our first meeting, instead of telling me how much he knew, he asked me how much I knew and gave me, a twenty-nine-year-old kid, the opportunity of presenting my views [on the Shobogenzo] to his students. Rev. and Mrs. Suzuki corresponded with me after I went back to Japan in 1965.

His welcoming heart has created an ongoing relationship between many of his dharma descendants, including some of you, and myself. After his death, I started working for San Francisco Zen Center as a scholar in residence in 1977. I met Linda, got married, and we had our first child, Karuna, there. Many of my friends and my colleagues with whom I still work, are related to Zen Center and to Baker Roshi’s Dharma Sangha Europe. We are part of the invisible community of countless teachers, students, and scholars who have been benefited tremendously from Dogen’s wisdom and vision, and from Suzuki Roshi’s openness and generosity.

When his Wednesday evening lectures were attended by only a few people, Mrs. Suzuki said, "Hojo-san, you work so hard preparing your lectures. I wish you had ten people in your audience." Then Suzuki Roshi said, "One person or one thousand people, it makes no difference." Now that Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has been read by over a million people, he may say, "One thousand people or one million people, it makes no difference."

Don't know why this is in Excerpts - don't know where it's from except that Kaz sent it to me. - dc

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