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Shunryu Suzuki Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - I

Index, Cast of Characters, and Notes


Part I

Tape 1A, Side A

PW: My name is Tosus‑ette [?]. Philip Wilson [Is this a joke? Tosu is toilet. Only Buddhist name I know for Phillip is Katsuzen]. When I first went to Sokoji, there was a man I had met in the street who was an alcoholic. He wanted to listen to the Buddhist lecture to find some way to cure this condition. So I went with him to listen to the Zen lecture. Reverend Suzuki was there. There was a Japanese congregation. Throngs of Japanese. This was in 1959 [? 61, 62?]. I just loved him. I saw that guy up there with his broad shoulders. I didn't know it was a bunch of robes all fluffing out. He was standing up there. And everything he did I liked. My friend was kind of dubious about it. But after the lecture we ‑‑ he wanted to talk to Reverend Suzuki about alcoholism and Zen. We were the last people to see him. He always stood at the door and when you went out you would bow to him. Bow and exit.

So he asked us what we wanted. And this fellow talked for awhile and said some things ‑‑ I don't remember what it was. Then Suzuki Sensei turned to me and said, "What do you want?" I had been to Stanford. And we had a lot of martini parties, and I was in art school. I wasn't a very good artist but I could talk about art a lot. I as very glib about everything. I had answers for everything. I knew how to lie really good about myself and cover up. And he said, "What do you want?" And I couldn't get a word out. Nothing would come up. I stood there and I was dumb. And he said, "Meditation?" And my head went up and down. “Yes.” I forgot what time he said ‑‑ "Six o'clock in the morning?" "Yes." Up and down. "Tomorrow morning?" Yes. Nothing could come out of my mouth. I was totally speechless. My head was really screwed up like I was a night owl; I slept late during the day; I was up at night all the time. So to be there at zazen in the morning I would have to park my car in front of Sokoji and sleep there to make sure ‑‑ because if I was in my bed and it was warm I couldn't make it. So I would sleep in front of the temple and go up to do zazen.

He never said anything to me for a long time. He just let me sit there. I was muscle-bound. I was tight. And he never said anything. Then after about a month and a half he came by and put his hand on my back. A little. Nothing more. Never said anything more. So it was like that. He never said very much to me.

So that's one of the stories of first meeting with Reverend Suzuki. Thank you.

LK [or is this a type and really LR?]: This has to do with Suzuki Roshi's impressions or reactions to my mother, who was living in San Francisco at the time. She was kind of a difficult woman who had had some difficulties in her life ‑‑ nervous and very confused about what I was doing with practice and so forth. She was very nervous if I took her to a ceremony. She met Roshi a couple of times over the next several months. Brief encounters. And she liked him. One day I went to visit Suzuki Roshi and have a talk at Page Street. After awhile we were talking and the bell rang. And he said, "Oh, that's the lunch bell. Would you like to stay for lunch?" I said, "Thank you I can't, because I promised my mother I'd go visit her and go out for lunch." He jumped up and said, "Your mother! I surrender!"

And Jerome's laugh. [Maybe someone laughed and someone else said this or maybe there was something said not on tape or not transcribed]

MW:: Jerome was always standing outside of Sokoji reading his book under the lamppost at the grocery store across the street.

??: Coming from the hotel he managed. He managed some flophouse hotel.

MW:: Sixteenth and Valencia he managed a hotel. He'd show up about four o'clock in the morning ‑‑

??: Cause that's when the bus brought him there.

KT:: The way I met Suzuki Roshi ‑‑ the second time I went to the zendo - everybody looked to me like they were in full lotus and I was really nervous and sure I wasn't meeting standards. I think he saw this worried look on my face. He came over at some point during zazen and he touched me very lightly on the shoulders. We were talking about special powers yesterday. I did the rest of that period on the ceiling. And I thought, wow, this is a great practice. And of course it never happened again. Just that gentle touch.

MW:: A similar thing happened to me the first time I came to sit. I had been staying up all night with my friend who brought me there. We walked up Fillmore Street from Fulton. We'd been smoking grass all night.

??: Now you admit it.

??: He didn't inhale though.

MW: So we went into this strange room with all these straw mats and black cushions and sat down. And we sat there. And this little old man came along and just gently pushed my lower back forward and adjusted my posture. I never saw him. But that same feeling, that touch. And I felt just wonderful. This is incredible.

RB:: I worked at a place called Blanche's. I didn't work there ‑‑ I mean I ate there, and I worked at a warehouse down on Fourth Street. I was walking along. And I had a D.T. Suzuki book cause I'd been to one of Suzuki Roshi's lectures. And I often would read while I walked but I wasn't at that moment. I just thought, well, I'm not good enough to sit zazen. I'd just been to lecture. Then I opened the book. And it said it's a form of vanity to think you're not good enough [to sit zazen?]. So I closed up the book. That's the only time D.T. Suzuki ever mentioned zazen. So I went to sit the next morning. I came in the dark. I'd never been there. I opened the door and sat down on the left side. I was sitting there for a little while. Then Suzuki Roshi came by and leaned over and said, "You're sitting on the women's side." At that time the women sat on one side. So I got up and went over to the other side.

MW: It's also vanity to think that you can't do it. I think, Phil, you're the first person that mentioned Sokoji to me. We had a party one time at my house and you were there.

The 60s roots are coming out

MW: He said, there's this Zen temple and there's a Zen priest there, and you were going there and it was a great place and I should come sometime.

PW: It's a wonder I could get a word out. And so that's how ‑‑ I don't remember ‑‑ didn't Dan Moore bring you?

MW: Dan Moore brought me, yeah. Remember Dan Moore?

DC: Speaking of marijuana ‑‑ Dan Moore ‑‑ smell is associated with memory. The last time I saw him he had these robes on. Everything within ten feet of him smelled like marijuana when he came out of his Volkswagen bus. There was some ceremony at Zen Center ‑ Mountain Seat Ceremony.

KT: I never heard his name.

??: He wrote a book of poems called "Dawn Visions" back in the early sixties. He's now a full‑blown Muslim.

LR: I remembered a story. I hope you don't mind cause you're in it and you [MW] look a little silly in it but ‑‑ I was over at Dwight Way [Berkeley ZC] having dinner. You had dinner after sometimes. Suzuki Roshi and Okusan came. Maybe it was some special occasion or something. Among the things you served was some cooked zucchini. The meal was conducted mostly in silence. I was kind of intimidated and felt very fortunate to be right there with Suzuki Roshi. I was very new. At some point you asked Okusan if she wanted some more of something and she said, "Skosh [sukoshi]." But the way she said it, it could have sounded like squash. So you and she went through this dialogue of, "You want some more squash?" "Skosh." "Squash?" "Skosh." Finally there was this little silence. Then with great dignity and extreme clarity, Suzuki Roshi said, "Zucchini."

MW: I also remember going to Sokoji on a Saturday morning. My first Saturday morning. We sat zazen. Then we stood up and did kinhin. I remember looking at the faces of everybody. There was something strange about the look on their faces. Then they all sat down again. Are they going to do this again? It hurt a lot.

KT:  I remember Craig saying zazen was Japan's revenge fir losing the war.

?? I thought it was oryoki.

??: Tea ceremony.

DC: I'll tell you a good one about tea ceremony. Suzuki Roshi stayed with Loly Rosset once and Loly practiced tea ceremony. And other people like Mrs. Johnston. So he was always running into people that were Westerners who were doing tea ceremony. And Loly had all her tea ceremony stuff set out there in her apartment in New York so they were always passing it and this and that. When he left her apartment ‑‑ they had never done any tea ceremony ‑‑ he said, thank you very much, you do very good tea ceremony. Because I think he was happy not to do it.

RA: I heard a story (I didn't witness this story) that he was going to give a talk at Cambridge Buddhist Society and they were pretty excited about his coming to visit. So they were making some effort to clean the temple, clean their sitting place before they came. He came early, while they were still cleaning in preparation for his visit. So he said, "Well, I'll help you clean up to get ready for me." So he pulled up his robes and cleaned house with them for awhile ‑‑ in his underwear ‑‑ in his kimono. Then when they got all cleaned up, then he came.

??: Good monk, good monk

RA: He was.

YR: Makes me recollect the time that a number of us went to Pacific School. One of the students there wanted to turn the school into Tassajara for three days. I don't remember who was driving the car from Tassajara. Some of us were coming from the city. We were met at the gates of the school. We drove in. I remember you (unidentified) were in charge of the kitchen then. And it was filthy. And so we spent the first day cleaning. The kids were kind of mystified and agog because nothing was happening except this insane cleaning of this hippie school.

BK: Didn't Suzuki Roshi say before we begin the retreat ‑‑ he held his bell up because . . . we've got to clean this place up first.

YR: Sounds right. Then I remember that when we began sitting, it was like the toughest sesshin schedule imaginable. Instead of there being a break, we just sat and walked and sat and walked and sat and walked. These kids were beginning to fall by the wayside. I remember the first meal where people's bowls and chopsticks would fly across the room, and the bowl would fall over. I remember Suzuki Roshi's lecture where he talked about ‑‑ you think you can save the world and you can't even eat your lunch. And then we proceeded with this grueling sesshin. At the end of it we had this incredible meal where nobody dropped their chopsticks, nobody spilled their bowl. We actually ate a meal with some calmness. The kids who were left at that point. And there was this incredible quality of calmness in the school that seemed unimaginable from when we first got there. I've always remembered that experience. Because these kids had this idea about what was going to happen, and then the reality of it was so tough. It didn't fit any of their ideas. He was so clear about what was necessary.

KT: Is that Pacific School?

YR: Yes.

KT: I didn't know that he was the first one to use it as a Zen facility.

MW: It was actually offered to Zen Center, but we turned it down.

RA: One time during oryoki at Sokoji ‑‑ Suzuki Roshi used to sit up on the tan and face us and we could watch him eat. I was watching him eat and he was eating rice. He had made his rice into kind of a little ball in his bowl. He was sitting with his bowl tilted. And he was eating rice. And I thought, jeez, he's tilting his bowl. His rice might fall out of his bowl. But he's really skillful. He's able to tilt his bowl like that and the rice doesn't come out. I guess cause he's a Zen Master he can, like, eat with his bowl at quite an angle and the rice doesn't fall out. Even though it's in a ball‑like shape that would easily roll out. I kept watching that. And the ball did roll out into his lap. So he just picked it up and put it back in his bowl. I appreciated that the laws of gravity applied to him.

MW: Talking about eating ‑‑ one time we were eating dinner at Page Street. Suzuki Roshi was sitting next to me. And Katagiri Roshi was on the other side of the table. We were having a special meal of aduki beans and rice. I don't like to combination. I don't like the way the aduki beans color the rice. I was reluctant to eat it. And Suzuki Roshi said, "Katagiri Roshi will eat it." And he put the bowl in front of Katagiri Roshi. "Won't you Katagiri Roshi?" And Katagiri Roshi ate it. I thought he was teaching me some kind of lesson.

DC note: We called Katagiri, Katagiri Sensei till toward the end of Suzuki’s life, maybe the last year.

LR: I have a similar story. This was a practice period where Tatsugami was there. One of those infamous meetings where the two of them were. I was attending one of their meetings. I had just gotten over a very bad case of the flu. I was still a little sick. In addition to the tea, I served them some olives ‑‑ kind of a specialty, an unusual flavor. So we each had our little bowl of olives. He ate his and I ate mine and Tatsugami ate his. Then at a certain point while he was talking to Tatsugami he looked over and noticed that my olives had not been completely eaten. I had left some meat of the olives on the pits. So he reached over and very methodically and rather pointedly put each pit in his mouth and cleaned off what was left. So in addition to the ignominy of having him teach me this little lesson about food, I was also terrified that I would make him ill because I had had the flu. So I was really embarrassed. But it was no big thing. It's like he wanted some more olives, so he just ate mine. So it was up to me to interpret what was going on. But I really felt it was a kind of lesson.

DC: That's not the way I see it. I didn't see it that he wanted more olives and should eat yours. I think he was trying to tell you that you should eat your olives ‑‑

LR: Oh absolutely. But he wasn't explicit. He could have been. Someone watching it might have said, oh, he just likes olives. No, I clearly understood that I was being careless with my olives.

RA: On that same trip ‑‑ this is at Tassajara. He came down to visit. Tatsugami was in effect leading the practice period. Apparently some confusion had arisen in his mind, and he started to think that Tassajara was his monastery, and that he had actually become the abbot somehow. It seems like he somehow started thinking that way.

DC: Definitely.

RB: He came to Eiheiji when I was there and bragged about it.

RA: So Suzuki Roshi came down, who was still the abbot of Tassajara. So there was going to be an event in the zendo. I was Suzuki Roshi's jisha. Tatsugami Roshi was in the abbot's cabin and Suzuki Roshi was in a guest cabin. We were waiting ‑‑ the han was going down. At the end of the second round everybody but the doshi should have gone to the zendo. Suzuki Roshi, being abbot, would be the doshi for this service, according to his understanding. But Tatsugami Roshi thought he was the abbot, so he was waiting, and not going at the end of the second round. So we were standing there out in front of Cabin 5 ‑‑ we were waiting for Tatsugami Roshi to go, but he wasn't going. Finally, Suzuki Roshi said, "This is too much. Let's go." So we went to the zendo. You remember there was this little stool that you step on to get on the altar. He went in and stood on the stool and I was standing next to him. And then Tatsugami Roshi came in ‑‑ during the third round of the han. And Suzuki Roshi just stood there. Tatsugami Roshi came up to him and said in Japanese, "May I go up?" Suzuki Roshi says, "Okay." And he steps to his side, and Tatsugami Roshi went up. But they did have a little tussle there. And Suzuki Roshi went up last. He wanted to point out to Tatsugami Roshi that he was going to go last.

RB: I apologize for inviting Tatsugami Roshi to come to ‑‑

DC: No, it was really good that he came.

RB: But there was some confusion that arose.

PW: Variations of that happened with Kobun. I remember during the shuso training, Reverend Suzuki would come up and arrange the altar. The next session, Kobun would be there, and he would re‑arrange the altar. The only thing I could think of later was that they had different lineages. And each lineage has its own particular tradition or style for altar arrangement. And this comes from the unconscious. Kobun just went up and arranged it according to his unconscious Buddha‑nature, and then when Reverend Suzuki was there he would come up and arrange it with his nature. That's all I could fathom at this time. But maybe there wasn't really any fight at all. They were all just doing their nature. Weird. I really haven't fathomed the . . . and different traditions coming together and working with the same platforms.

RB: Kobun probably assumed that we had blown it.

MW: [There’s no] blowing it. A good priest, a well‑trained priest, will look at the altar and see if everything is in order. So this one has his order, the other one has his order.

RB: I'm a little finicky about everything straight particularly around the altar in the zendo. One time it was during an early sesshin. I was sitting during a rest period with my knees up, just sitting on my cushion. There was nobody else in the zendo, just Suzuki Roshi and myself. Suzuki Roshi was sitting up on the altar. I noticed that big abstract painting by that Japanese guy was sitting in the back. I noticed it was cock‑eyed. So I got up and straightened it. Then I went back and sat down. About ten minutes later Suzuki Roshi got up and went out and made it crooked.

Can I tell a story of yours, Peter, and then you can tell if it actually happened. Peter went to India on a Fulbright? or a Halfbright? or ‑‑ While you were there you went to visit Suzuki Roshi . .

PS: What actually happened was I was in Tokyo and I just called

End Tape 1A Side A



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