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MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL AND DC FILES
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Before all of the urban renewal work began in the neighborhood around Sokoji there was a small neighborhood grocery store on the corner of Laguna and Bush‑ a few doors from Sokoji. Suzuki Roshi would go into the grocery store and buy the vegetables and fruit that no one else wanted. All the vegetables that were bruised and funny shaped. One day someone had spilled a crate of cabbages in the street and cars and trucks were driving over them‑ and Suzuki Roshi was running out into the street, as the traffic allowed, picking them up‑ saving them.
One day, after I had been secretary for Zen Center for some time (the office I used in 1967 and '68 was in a big room on the ground floor of Sokoji where Katagiri and I each had a desk‑ just inside the front door), Okusan came downstairs looking serious. She asked me to go upstairs with her to help her with something. As l remember this incident, it was in the afternoon when things were quiet. I went upstairs to the big kitchen behind the zendo and found a large bowl full of tired looking corn the cob sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Okusan explained that someone had brought the corn to Suzuki Roshi and herself and that it was about to go bad and would I please help her to eat it. So we sat down at the table and sat quietly chewing our way through the bowl of corn. It took a long time. And when we were finished Okusan bowed and thanked me for helping her. And I went back down stairs to my desk.
One time when I was driving Suzuki Roshi and Okusan from Tassajara to San Francisco we stopped in Pacific Grove for lunch. I sat at the table across from them and we talked about how to practice with family and children. Okusan said that Suzuki Roshi was a good priest and a good teacher, but not a good husband or a good father. He, without any hesitation, said that she was right, that it was true. I found out that just as Suzuki Roshi was coming to the United States, Okusan got seriously sick and there was some thought that she would die. He came to America anyway, basically leaving her in Japan to die. She was pretty upset with him for a long time. And after she was well again, she didn't want to come to the United States for a long time.
He was totally single‑minded. He wanted to come to America. Wife and children secondary.
He certainly seemed to have a hard time knowing how to work with women and especially those with children. It was only just before he died that he told me that he had made a mistake in not ordaining me. And he had for several years been quite clear, said in so many words, that he just didn't know how to go about training women students.
In August 1971 I drove Suzuki Roshi back to San Francisco after he had been at Tassajara for most of the summer. He had lectured every other night during that time and many students commented that he had a kind of fierceness and urgency about his teaching. Later Okusan said that both of them knew he was sick and that he might not live so long. On the way home we stopped at a Catholic center in San Juan Bautista where Soen Roshi was leading a sesshin. We arrived on the last day, joined in on the sitting, had tea and walked a bit around the compound in the old mission. By the time we arrived at the Zen Center in San Francisco Suzuki Roshi was feeling bad and was also quite jaundiced. He went to bed and never really got up again until he died on the fourth of December‑ except for the short time he was up the week before he died when he did the Mountain Seat Ceremony with Zentatsu Baker.
After a number of tests and examinations, Suzuki Roshi's doctor decided to have Roshi go into the hospital for some more tests. After Roshi had been there a day or two I went to see him. The doctor was leaving Roshi's room just as I arrived. During the previous weeks the doctor had thought that Suzuki Roshi might have hepatitis, so Okusan and I were very careful about using completely separate dishes and cooking separately and all for Suzuki Roshi. This made quite a change in our way of eating meals together, which had often meant passing some tidbit back and forth for tastes, etc. The morning I arrived at Suzuki Roshi's hospital room his lunch had just been brought in. He motioned to me to come and sit next to him on the edge of his bed. And as I crossed the room he mouthed the words, "I have cancer" to me. When I sat next to him he leaned over and took a bit of food on his fork and put it into my mouth. As he did he sad, "Now we can eat off the same plate again." And as he said that, it was as if he had just received some big gift. Now we no longer had to be careful of contamination. And he from then on always talked of his cancer as his friend.
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