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Shunryu Suzuki Stories - Suzuki Stories Index


Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters

Stephen Wiltse

Santa Cruz Zen Center

Another Suzuki Story

"If ye tread the secret path, ye shall find the shortest way;

If ye realize the voidness, Compassion will arise within your hearts;

If ye lose all differentiation between yourself and others,

fit to serve others ye will be."

Milarepa, at his death.

These days I meet so many people who want to be my teacher. Since they are often younger and less experienced, this gets my hackles up and we end by butting heads. On those rare occasions when I can keep my wits about me and not respond in kind, just opening and listening while they go in that way, then invariably the power of the Receptive manifests and there ie a positive influence.

Suzuki Roshi knew this secret. The first time I visited Tassajara I went just for the day to enjoy the hot springs. Upon arriving, I overheard that Suzuki was there. I'd sat with him in San Francisco years before and attended some of his talks. I had great respect for him and wanted eventually to study Zen under him, but didn’t feel I was ready yet.

Anyway, I was in the hot "Plunge" at Tassajara and since I had it all to myself, I was doing Hatha yoga and meditating between plunges. While I was meditating, I had an intense vision of Suzuki sitting in zazen.

Not long after this, one of the shaved‑headed monks came into the bathing area holding a stick of incense between joined palms and leading the way for Suzuki Roshi. I jumped up and asked if it was the monks' bathing time and if I should leave. I was told it wasn't and to go right on with what I was doing.

Suzuki disrobed and entered the bath, his small muscular body reminding me of one of those little guys in the Japanese prints with water bucket and breech‑cloth.

I got into the plunge with him and we faced each other across the steaming water. Neither of us spoke. One thing I noted though, was the great pain in his eyes and later as I drove back up the hill towards Carmel Valley, I wondered about it. Since I was experiencing both physical and mental pain myself, I assumed that he was just mirroring my own suffering.

Stopping at the little spring on the side of the road for one last drink of water, I had a strong urge to return to Tassajara. Something told me this would be my last opportunity, that he would die soon. No, I thought, that's ridiculous, his body looked so strong. I would wait until I felt ready and then I would return and become his pupil.

A short time later I learned that he had died.

Suzuki displayed tremendous Compassion, which I feel was a result of his deep understanding and practice of Shikantaza. He encountered me as an equal, though my foolishness must have been apparent. Even if I couldn't see my own Buddha‑mind, he could. There was no opposition in him, no need to dominate or instruct. Because of this openness, his influence was profound.

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

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