- an archival site on the life and world of Shunryu Suzuki and those who knew him and anything else DC feels like - originally a site for Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki - not

| home| what was new | table of contents | Shunryu Suzuki Index | donate | |DC Writings

Suzuki Stories      Interviews       Brief Memories      Groups      People Index

Shunryu Suzuki Stories - Suzuki Stories Index


Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters

Pat Herreshoff

Brief interview with Pat Herreshoff

Dear David,

It is scandalous that I've not written sooner, and now I hope that any of the small amount of material I'm sending in this letter will arrive in time to be useful.

What seems to have been inhibiting me from writing to you has been the absurd notion that what ever was to be written had to be in polished form, ready for printing! On the basis that what I write is mere "raw material," to be digested and if used re‑formed by you, I am sending what scraps I can after eliminating the too personal memories.

And speaking of the too personal, I must disappoint you by assuring you that my reasons for not returning to Zen Center had nothing to do (at least consciously) with who was left to teach after Suzuki Roshi's death. Again, purely personal.

Probably one usable vignette would be the time when Suzuki Roshi was giving a sesshin lecture in the Zendo on Bush street. The Zendo was full with listeners. He said something like, "When you understand the meaning behind the meaning behind the meaning of the teachings, then you will understand the teachings. " Everyone groaned, simultaneously, spontaneously.

I want to say something about Suzuki Roshi's transition from speaking Japanese exclusively to speaking English beautifully. Of course he took a class in speaking English as a second language (was it there that Claude met him?) but mostly he absorbed it from our bad American version. Early on, the speaking was scarcely intelligible. I can remember a transient student asking his permission to hold meetings in his own house for students to discuss the Zen teachings. Out of the whole of Suzuki Roshi's answer, I culled only "Sands of the Ganges," but it was made clear that thousands of words might be spoken without conveying Zen teaching.

I remember when he astonished me by using the word "evanescence." He had reached out for a more co—[common word but chose this one] not because it was fancy but because there was no other word to express the meaning! Evanescence is evanescence!

Gradually (or suddenly, if you like, since it was a very condensed process) he became at ease with the language. In fact, he reported to us once that, addressing some Issei [1st generation Japanese-Americans], lecturing in Japanese, he reached a point in his talk where he ardently wished his audience could understand English, for he could best express a certain thought far better in English.

 He always seemed to prefer the simpler words, but always exactly precisely the one that strongly expressed his meaning. Thus, there was no barrier between speaker and listener. I think of this wonderful direct connection as I listen to tapes of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind."

David, both my sons have read your book [Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan] with the greatest of pleasure, one of them having discovered it in a Seattle book store. They have quoted to me tantalizing bits from it, and I hope one day to listen to tapes of it. But there is one "bit" where I disagree with you. I have no business making my own interpretation of a scene from which I was far, far away. But I understand that you fell that Katagiri Roshi very much wanted the Abbotship of Z. C. and was disappointed in not receiving it. I was not surprised to hear, at the time, that Katagiri Roshi was appearing to be willing to make an actual commitment during the long conferences preceding the final choice. Had he wanted the Abbotship as a plum, it was his for the taking. But he knew that Suzuki Roshi had always wanted his successor to be a Caucasian, so Katagiri Roshi was in the position of making himself available (i.e., not deserting Z. C.), but at the same time waiting for Z.C. to make up their minds to choose one from among themselves. He was on a see‑saw, or perhaps in a push‑and‑pull situation such as teachers sometimes get into. Well, that's what I believe, anyway. I give him credit for the choice of a Caucasian. Of course, much has happened since then....

[She thinks that the Katagiri wanted to be abbot question was after Suzuki died, but it was after Baker resigned and Katagiri was asked if he’d do it several times and was quite willing but it didn’t work out and was not handled well and he never got over that when I knew him]

Thanks for "listening." And wish you the very best with your massive project. Have a happy Autumn!

PS: The street on which we used to live in San Rafael is now called, my spies tell me, by the unfortunate name of "Estates Court". I wish I could remember Clark Street.


I, DC, lived on Clark St. with Elin and Clay 93 Sept – 96 March so that dates this letter.

what's new this year

There's a lot of old material that's as good as new if you haven't read it. -DC

contact DC at <>