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About Suzuki Roshi
Memories of Roshi
1/13/2000-From Ken Spiker:
Thank you for your wonderful book on Suzuki Roshi. It brought back a lot of memories from the 60's; I always thought of the Zen Center as my spiritual home, though I wasn't really ready to face the prospect of hard practice. I first became interested in Buddhism and Eastern religions by hearing Alan Watts on KPFA.
I began visiting the Zen Center around 1965 and often went to zazen or the Wednesday night lectures by Suzuki Roshi. When I became interested in the Zen Center we called him Reverend Suzuki. My friend, Loring Palmer, became a serious Zennie and lived near the Zen Center, but I lived in Berkeley and zazen seemed awfully hard on my legs. Was enlightenment worth all the leg pain and discomfort? I did tend to think about it in those terms then. But I had no doubt that Suzuki was the real thing; he seemed to radiate enlightenment. To me, many of the Zen students appeared rigid and masochistic, sitting ramrod straight and unmoving even in less formal circumstances such as the lectures. But Suzuki himself appeared to possess a remarkable lightness of being and sense of humor. There was nothing rigid or formalistic abut him. I attended many of the Wednesday night lectures and hung on every word. If I couldn't do a rigorous zazen schedule at least I might obtain some slight degree of insight from listening to him speak. I remember a number of his quotations and especially some of the responses to questions from the audience. Seeing him in person completely changed my understanding of what Zen was about.
"If you're not a Buddhist you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but if you're a Buddhist you realize everybody's a Buddhist; even the bugs."
Someone at a lecture asked him about psychoanalysis. He said, "You think the mind is like a pond and you throw things in and they sink to the bottom, like old shoes and things, and later they rise to the surface. But actually, there's no such thing as the mind!"
At one of the lectures he got up and told about how he'd been invited to the Jewish Community Center to talk about Zen. "They ask me all kind of questions! 'When you talk about reality, do you mean phenomena, or the neumena [sp?] behind the phenomena?' I don't know how to answer!" Suzuki laughed as if it was the biggest joke he'd ever heard. "I just had to tell them that that is not our way."
A young student, I can't remember his name, was heavily into the hippie lifestyle, but at the same time was a serious sitter. Suzuki came to him one day and said, "You smoke too much marijuana." "Okay," the fellow said, "I'll quit. You're the boss." Suzuki: "No YOU'RE the boss!"
I noticed he never answered a question in the abstract; he always addressed the person who asked the question. Someone asked, "You say that Zen is everywhere, why do we have to come to the Zen Center?" "Zen is everywhere, but for you, Zen is right here."
I once asked him why anybody would do zazen if they didn't have a gaining idea. He said, "You still have one gaining idea." "What is that?" I wanted to know. He replied, "That's a secret."
When someone asked him about LSD all he said was, "Enlightenment is not a state of mind."
I remember one night when Trungpa spoke, as I remember it was in the zendo, but it might have been somewhere else. Suzuki introduced him. Trungpa proceeded to work his way through a six-pack of Colt 45, tall cans, while he spoke. Suzuki sat off to the side bemused. Obviously he approved of Trungpa. How a person who was drunk all the time be enlightened, I couldn't figure out, and I still can't. I suppose it's a koan for me. But Trungpa's talk was funny and, it seemed to me, wildly perceptive. One item stands out in my mind, Trungpa said, "Everybody wants to be a Buddha, nobody wants to be a sentient being..."
I was very pleased to read in your book that Suzuki defended Alan Watts. Alan Watts has always been a hero to me, but he never seemed really enlightened, and he never said he was. I never knew him to be wrong about anything he said about Hinduism, Taoism or Buddhism. [I wrote Ken back and got this answer from him--DC:] I wish I had more stories of Suzuki Roshi but those are the ones that stick in my mind. I remember a couple of other one-liners; (the first I can't remember now whether I heard Suzuki say it or if somebody reported it to me.)
Someone asked Suzuki about various Hindu spiritual practices and Suzuki said, "Must be very hot in India, lots of deliriums!"
At a lecture somebody asked him what he thought of Gurdjieff, he said, "In Buddhism, we don't have spiritual heroes."
I remember riding with Loring Palmer on the Filmore Bus one day when Suzuki got on wearing his little pillbox hat and he smiled and waved at us. Of course these are just snapshots.
I have a lot of recollections from the 60's; I met Alan Watts when I was working at KPFA. A very exciting time. I remember meeting Richard Baker and Phil Wilson. I used to watch Phil Wilson at zazen to see how he did it, because he'd been to Eheiji. I may very well have met you, but I'm not sure now. I do remember Eric Storlie. I corresponded with Loring Palmer in the 70's and 80's, and we had some rather intense exchanges by letter about whether Trungpa was good for Buddhism. One evening in Boulder in the early 80's he got me wonderfully drunk on a variety of imported beers.
Thank you again for your book; I can't tell you how moved I was to read it. I am also glad to hear that Suzuki suffered from forgetfulness, something that has always plagued me. I really knew nothing about Suzuki Roshi's life before the Zen Center. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, from another dimension. I remember when bowing to him after zazen it noticed his pinky was bent. Is that a stylistic thing they do in Japan, I wondered. Then I find out from the book that it had been squashed by a rock.
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