Shunryu Suzuki Stories

See PDF of Greiner's letter

2-22-11 - Shunryu Suzuki had a radiation belt.

From Doug Greiner to Mel Weitsman

November 29, 1999

Dear Mel,

Ross called me today about shingles, and he happened to mention that you had not heard my story about Suzuki Roshi and the radioactive tiles. Sometime after the San Francisco Zen Center moved to Paige Street, Fumiyo and I were asked to come to Roshi’s apartment and determine if his health device was what they were told it was. The device was a bunch of tiles sewn on a wide belt that were covered with a radioactive glaze. He brought it to the US because he was told that medical treatment was very expensive and that wearing this device would keep him from getting sick. I brought a Geiger Counter from the lab and we measured its activity. It was hot. Roshi and Okusan were relieved that they were not cheated. Fumiyo and I told them it was dangerous to wear this thing but they didn’t seem to be about to take our advice. The activity was several hundred times the natural background and our limits on dosage are about at the normal background level. If he wore this thing a lot starting in 1959 then the timing is about right for it to be the cause of his cancer.


DC note: Mel sent me this back in 99 after Crooked Cucumber was being printed. I did some follow up on this and got the following note from Doug back then.

Fumiyo just called Okusan a few minutes ago. We called to make sure she was not using the belt. She said Roshi must of had the belt before she came to join him here. She said he only tried it once, She doesn't know where it is now. She is not using it.

Doug Greiner and Fumiyo Uchiyama- I think they were working at Lawrence Livermore Lab - I find him there now on the Internet in archived documents. She is or was a friend of Okusan, Mrs. Suzuki and lives in Japan. He's a Tassajara alum. I have more notes of discussions with them in California, but nothing that adds to this I don't think.

When I talked to Fumiyo she tended to try to minimize the whole thing not so much from the only used it once point of view but as if it wasn't as strong as Greiner indicates in this email and we even got into an argument in front of students at Green Gulch when I asked Mrs. Suzuki about this in a meeting with her and Hoitsu (Shunryu's son) because Fumiyo wouldn't let her answer, kept interrupting saying what to me were irrational things like Japanese like radon hot baths and they're harmless. Mrs. Suzuki didn't have much to say either, seemed not to remember much about it.  Maybe she was being evasive to avoid conflict and maybe it wasn't something she saw much as she indicated in the phone call mentioned above. Maybe it was just something they brought out to check up on as it seems but we'll never know. She might think it's none of our business. She also has told me she didn't know things you'd think she would like weather Suzuki had any of his original teeth.

From my meager knowledge of the dangers of radiation, garnered from listening to and reading leading authority on low level radiation Dr, John Gofman of UC Med. Center, radiation causes about one death for every 200 rads. Research has shown there is no safe level including background radiation which causes cancer. It's a crap shoot. One person can die from getting one rad and another live from getting 1000. But of course the more rads one gets the more likely it is.

I doubt if Suzuki wore this belt much at all, but any amount of wearing it would have added to the rads he took in. - DC