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MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL AND DC FILES
Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters
Charles A. Gilman
I was a student of Reverend Suzuki's from his first year at the Zendo on Bush Street. On our initial meeting I had asked him what I should call him. "Call me Sensei, that means teacher", he replied.
From a personal reluctance to "join" anything, I did not formally belong to the Zen Center and over the years did not participate in all of the changes that occurred. But on the day of Mel Weitsman's ordination I decided that I would like to attend because I knew Mel personally.
After the ceremony at the Berkeley Zendo tea was served in the kitchen. The group was large. I knew scarcely anyone except Mel and Suzuki.
While drinking his tea Suzuki had an attack of coughing and, as will happen, he couldn't recover his breath without some difficulty.
I turned to a young woman next to me who seemed to know her way around and said, "I think Sensei needs some water."
She looked me squarely in the eyes, "Roshi, he is Roshi," she sternly corrected. I was properly reprimanded, the water fetched and the coughing subsided.
Sometime later as I was preparing to leave the Bay Area for an extended time, I made an appointment to see Suzuki (as it turned out it was my final meeting with him).
I arrived and was ushered into his apartment at the Zen Center on Page Street. Mrs. Suzuki prepared tea and we sat and chatted.
I asked, "What should I call you now? When I first came to you, you told me to call you Sensei. What should I call you now?"
He looked at me with his smiling eyes and said, "Call me Sensei."
From time to time I would feel the need to be with sensei and would drop in on him unannounced. This was in the days when the Zendo was on Bush Street. The group was small and informality was still possible.
On one such visit Sensei said he would like to go shopping in Japantown.
Would I go with him?
0f course, I would be delighted.
We went from shop to shop looking and talking. He seemed to be indulging himself in just browsing and buying small items that struck his fancy. In one shop he found a cylindrical basket, probably to be used as a waste basket. When he saw it he stopped and considered it then picked it up in that delicate and reverent way he had of handling an object and smiled.
He purchased it and we left the store. By now he had had enough of shopping and we started back to the Zendo. Somewhere along the way the Rev. Suzuki, Sensei, our teacher, placed the basket over his head and walked along the street as a begging monk! Chuckling all the way.
(Dick ‑ as I write these, other remembrances come too, if this is what you have in mind for your collection I could write one or two more)
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