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Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters

Frank Anderton - This letter is already included in Frank's interview which is a series of letters and emails. I've had a number of email from people either about these letters or asking about Frank who's still in Oklahoma I believe. - dc

I first met Shunryu Suzuki in February of 1968. A friend of mine kept reading me koans, which I couldn't understand, but found irresistible. I wrote to Alan Watts, asking if there were any Zen teachers in the United States, and he responded by recommending Suzuki Roshi, so I came to San Francisco to attend a weekend benefit for the Zen Center, given by Charles Brooks and Charlotte Selver. I was going to see a real live Zen Master, and I didn't know what to expect. I found a small, kind Japanese who had a real aura about him‑‑ an aura of life and vitality. Yvonne Rand taught me how to sit zazen, and I heard the roshi talk about practice. I asked him a question, which I don't remember now, and he looked at me quite seriously and said, "That kind of search has no end; it can go on forever." His words penetrated me, and I began to realize how I was struggling to gain something.

I returned to Oklahoma after the weekend benefit, and began sitting. I wrote to Zen Center and asked to be allowed to go to Tassajara for summer practice that year. There I met Roshi again. I had trouble eating oryoki style and was very clumsy and slow in the zendo, so I was summoned to Roshi's cabin one afternoon, along with another slow learner, to receive instruction. The other student there was an elderly woman in purple robes who was very upset because she couldn't use the oryoki properly. She expressed dismay that she wouldn't be able to demonstrate it to her friends when she returned home. Suzuki Roshi was very kind and patient. He patted her on the shoulder and told her not to worry about what her friends might think. He said to us, "I am not teaching you oryoki, I am going to teach you how to eat!" and laughed.

The friend who had turned me on to Zen by reading koans was also at Tassajara that summer, and one evening after lecture he brought up his favorite koan, Joshu's "Mu", and asked Roshi if a dog had Buddha nature. Roshi said, "yes," very simply, and the whole snarled tangle of how to solve it seemed to dissolve. Everyone laughed with enjoyment at his easy manner.

The last time I saw Suzuki Roshi was in February of 1971. I drove out from Oklahoma for sesshin and had a long lonely ride, part of the way through a snowstorm, which delayed me for a day. I experienced a lot of fear and loneliness during the trip out, and was feeling very uncertain about myself and my practice. I had dokusan interview with the roshi during sesshin and at one point, prompted by something he said, I asked him if Big Mind was lost in the dark too, as I felt I was. He said, "No, not lost in the dark‑ working in the dark!" and he moved his arms about, demonstrating. He said it was like the many‑armed statue of Avalokiteshvara, and he made the statue come to life for a moment. I had the sense of a thousand arms moving gracefully, harmoniously, not needing to see. Before the interview ended, Roshi said to me, "you are very sincere," which I felt was quite true, and I immediately broke into the most insincere, foolish smile imaginable. I felt it burning on my face. I felt ashamed and looked at Roshi, knowing he had seen me, and he sat calmly staring back at me and said nothing, accepting me completely as I was.

I had come to sesshin planning to stay at Zen Center for a while to study and practice, but I was unable to overcome my loneliness and fear at leaving behind me everything that was familiar and comforting, so I returned to my past life in Oklahoma. In the last lecture of sesshin Roshi closed by saying that there was so much he wanted to share with us all, things that he wanted to tell us that were important. He said it simply, as a statement of something that he felt, whether it were possible or not. I received the strong impression that time was precious and should not be wasted. I felt as if he were looking directly at me. I left the next day.

I feel a strong sense of gratitude that for even a short while I knew this remarkable man, who touched my life as so few, if any others, have ever done. His directness, simplicity, and humor, his kindness and encouragement, are unforgettable. It is impossible for me to think of Suzuki Roshi as dead. He is very much alive to me. To me his spirit is the spirit of zazen, and goes beyond our understanding. I remember him saying at Tassajara, in answer to a student's question, "I think that when I die I would like to be a mountain ‑ but I am not so attached to my desires." I think of a beautiful mountain, sitting zazen oh so quietly.

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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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