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MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL AND DC FILES
Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters
Ed Brown - Edward Brown links page
Maybe some of this was written in '73 for the Wind Bell but the bottom poem is dated in '84.
For some months I had had involuntary movements in zazen; shaking, twisting, turning. I did not want to have anything to do with them. My response was to get and hold my body rigid. "Go away," I would say, "I don't want to have anything to do with you, and I told you that before. Now get lost!"
One day it occurred to me that if I was going to find out how to deal with the shaking I had better get to know it better. So when I sat that day, instead of trying to stop the shaking, I tried letting go, surrendering to it. In the middle of zazen Suzuki Roshi came over to me and suggested that I do kinhin. This made me mad, I whispered, "But this is zazen." "Do kinhin," he said again, so I did for awhile, and then sat down again.
Later I realized that I was also upset and perplexed thinking that he might have been telling me that it was a mistake to give in to the shaking. So I went to talk with him. "No," he said, "I just thought it might help to do kinhin. What you are doing is very good," he continued, "I'm so glad you told me."
Suddenly I felt warm and appreciated.
In chosan ceremony Suzuki Roshi had already responded to my question, and I started to get up from kneeling, when he said, very slowly, letting the drama build in a sly sort of way, "The most important thing . . . is . . . to . . . find . . . out . . . what . . . is . . . the . . . most important thing."
And here I thought he was going to tell me something.
On the fourth day of sesshin as we sat with our painful legs, aching backs, hopes and doubts about whether it was worth it, Suzuki Roshi began his talk by saying, "The problems you are now experiencing (will go away, right?) will continue for the rest of your life."
The way he said it, we all laughed.
I lived in the back of the first cabin across the bridge. From the ground to the doorstep was about two and a half feet, so I piled up some stones to make impromptu steps. It was a rather half‑hearted effort and looked rather a mess, and one day Suzuki Roshi commented that it looked like a gravesite. "That's how we do in Japan sometimes, pile up stones . . ."
Outside the office was a beautiful big rock, oval shaped, three to four feet long and nearly two feet high. It was handsome for viewing and two people could sit on it and talk‑ probably the most well‑known rock at Tassajara at the time, a regular member of the community.
One morning as I was leaving chosan or some other discussion with Suzuki Roshi, he said to me, "Oh, by the way, do you know that rock in front of the office? I asked Paul to move it to your cabin to be your doorstep."
I couldn't believe it, and I said, "But, roshi, that rock is so beautiful in front of the office and everyone likes it there."
"We'll get another one for the office," was his reply.
It made a big difference, stepping every day on a firm, broad, solid rock, rather than a shifting pile of stones. And to know that somebody thought the world of me.
One day I was working in the kitchen at Tassajara‑ the old tiny kitchen we made do with for several years before the new one was completed. It was late morning, nearing lunchtime and I had begun to feel the stress of getting the meal ready on time. Plus my mind was raging about one thing or another, probably four or five things. I was quite absorbed‑ so to speak‑ in the storm of activity: both inside and out, when I slowly became aware that a voice was calling my name.
Awareness came slowly because first I had to comprehend that the sound was indeed the sound of my name, but secondly because the name seemed to refer to an awfully nice, wonderful person, happy and radiant, and that was not me. Only it was me! Because there was Suzuki Roshi standing in the doorway, calling my name.
I was quite startled to realize that I was that person, also. It was as though the clouds had parted to reveal blue sky, not dazzling, but clear, calm, and spacious.
What he said after that was pretty ordinary.
One day I complained to Suzuki Roshi about the people I was working with. He listened intently, carefully. Finally, he said, "If you want to see virtue, you have to have a calm mind."
Sandokai Summer, 1970
The summer of the Sandokai lectures, 1970, was the summer of my marriage. Meg and I had gotten together at the end of the spring practice period in mid‑April. We thought we would like to live together in a cabin at Tassajara. It seemed like the thing to do: Dan and Louise lived in Cabin #12, and Niels and Maggie lived in Cabin #13. Paul and Ruthie were in one of the garden cabins. I had been living an almost celibate life at Tassajara since May of 1967, so domesticity had its appeal. To live together we needed to get permission from Suzuki Roshi, and since I was busy with work, we decided that Meg would go to San Francisco and speak with him.
When Meg returned a few days later, I was eager to find out what Suzuki Roshi had a said. Apparently it was okay, but what he had actually said was, "Why don't you get married?" When I heard this, I immediately responded without thinking, "Yes, why don't we?" So we decided to get married. Simple enough. A kind of spontaneous combustion had occurred. We were in love, and, at least for me, some internal decision had been arrived at, "I need to take good care of one thing."
Looking back, of course, I can see that any number of responses would have been possible: "We barely know each other." "Neither of us has met the other's parents." "We'd like to live together first, (that's the way it is often done here in America)." Yet my response was, "Sure, let's." For that matter we lacked the several years of observing how relationships which begin at Tassajara usually don't survive in the outside world, or we might have responded, "We would like to try this out for awhile, both here at Tassajara and away from here, before we make a commitment to marriage."
We went ahead. We had responded to Suzuki Roshi's open‑ended question as though the answer were obvious, though it probably wasn't. We know that although he could be flexible, Suzuki Roshi tended to fall back on tradition (Japanese) cultural values, including marriage for couples who were living together. Yet at the same time he didn't seem all that pleased. Did he really approve? I hadn't actually spoken with him myself. Should I have consulted him? He was my teacher after all, and even at that time I had already been speaking with him about priest ordination.
Years have gone by now. The marriage is gone. I have a wonderful daughter. Now I can see Suzuki Roshi in his parental mode: careful not to criticize his disciple, keeping his feelings to himself so as to let his disciple (son) choose his own direction with all that entails. "If he doesn't want to know my mind, I'm not going to tell him," or perhaps, "He has to find his own way." The wedding was a grand occasion, but there were some unusually candid words in the extemporaneous remarks at the end, when he said we would have a really difficult time of it. He'd waited until we were married to tell us that, not a moment sooner.
He was right, of course. We had a really difficult time.
After the wedding we had a huge party at Tassajara, where we managed to drink ten cases of champagne and dance to our own electrified band (David Chadwick playing guitar, Craig Boyan on drums, Alan Marlowe singing, Lew Richmond on keyboard, et al.). In the photos you can still see Blanche Hartman with her long luxurious brown hair. Most of us were a lot younger then.
I had once asked Suzuki Roshi if, "Feeling our way along in the dark, could we have a party after sesshin?" His response was that it would be fine, if we did it with that spirit. Still, I doubt that the party was something which brought him happiness. Carefully feeling his way along, he decided that we would not have any more weddings like that at Tassajara.
Recently Blanche and I walked through the fields at Green Gulch, and I shared something of this account with her. She recalled that, yes, "He sure was hard on you." Then she mentioned speaking with her husband Lou following the ceremony. Suzuki Roshi had commented to him about the wedding, "Too serious. Too serious."
One morning in zazen
Suzuki Roshi said,
"Don't move . . .
Just die over and over . . .
Nothing can save you now,
because this is your last moment.
Not even enlightenment will help
you now, because you have no other
With no future
Be true to yourself . . .
and don't move."
a Suzuki story
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