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Shunryu Suzuki Stories - Suzuki Stories Index


Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters

Irene Horowitz

Interviews with and letters from Irene Horowitz (including this letter)

My stories about Suzuki Roshi fall between 1964 and 1969.

After I had been coming to Zen Center for several months on a very regular basis, never missing zazen or lectures, I came down with a bad cold. I stayed home from work and everything else.

One evening, around 8, my bell rang at my apartment. It was Suzuki Roshi (Reverend Suzuki, in those days). He had been concerned when I had not shown up and came to see if anything were wrong. I felt this was a very kind thing to do.

At Sokoji in the 1960's we followed the routine of "four and nine days". I believe this is a custom in Japanese Zen monasteries. This meant that on any day with a "4" or a "9" in the date there was no zazen. Potentially, then, there were six days a month when the zendo was not open. If anyone arrived at Sokoji's door at 5 they would find the door locked. It was the responsibility of the students to remember the "4" and "9" days.

For a very long time I remained dense and forgetful about these dates. Many a 4 or 9 morning I walked the three blocks from my apartment, only to find the door locked. Not only was I dense about recalling the days, even when I was faced with a locked door and no sign of life I often did not grasp the reality. I was genuinely puzzled by the locked door. Where were all the regulars? Was I the only person making it to the zendo this morning? Hurray for me!

When that happened, I would next assume that someone going in before me had accidentally locked the door behind them. How annoying! Therefore I must knock quite loudly to draw the attention of the others (non‑existent in these cases) way up on the second floor.

Sometimes Reverend Suzuki would come down to answer the door. Perhaps he was already up on certain days, but judging from his expression and attire on others I am afraid that I woke him up. Of course as soon as I saw him I would realize my error and was profuse with apologies. He unfailingly would laugh, tell me not to be concerned about it, I'd apologize again, and we'd say good‑bye. As I headed for home I would vow that this would never happen again.

After this had happened again, several times, it happened yet another time. On that morning it was dismally clear that I had awakened Reverend Suzuki for sure. Before I could say anything he said, "Well, since you're here you might as well come up and have some tea". As I followed him up the stairs I figured that he wanted to give me a good talking to about my peculiar and persistent penchant for coming to zazen when there was not zazen. But no. He just made some quick tea and we sat talking of this and that for an hour or so.

It was not until I had left that I realized that I had forgotten to apologize.

I won't swear that I never showed up on a 4 or 9 day again. But it was the last time I banged on the door.

Reverend Suzuki and Reverend Katagiri both wanted to visit the Planetarium, so one afternoon I took them there. Reverend Suzuki was enthusiastic because he had wanted to see it for a long time.

Only moments after the lights dimmed and the show began, I looked at Reverend Suzuki and saw that he was fast asleep! I was sitting between him and Reverend Katagiri. I glanced at Reverend Katagiri to see if he was noticing, but he was paying attention to the show. A dilemma! Should I wake up Reverend Suzuki? Perhaps he needed the sleep. On the other hand, perhaps he would want to see the show whether or not he needed the sleep. Should I ask Reverend Katagiri's advice?

 My attention was pretty much distracted throughout the show as I tried to decide. I gave a few discreet coughs and rearranged myself, allowing my elbow to hit his arm, in the hope that he would wake up. He remained determinedly asleep. I could not find the courage to wake him up. As the lights came on again and the audience stirred, he woke up.

When we got out onto the street, I asked them both "How did you like it?" Very interesting" said Reverend Katagiri. "Wonderful!!" said Reverend Suzuki. I felt a bit paralyzed and after what seemed a very long time, but was not, I said to Reverend Suzuki "You slept through the whole thing!"

We all three looked at each other and burst out laughing at the same moment.

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