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Shunryu Suzuki Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - IX

Index, Cast of Characters, and Notes

Part IX


From end of last tape:

DG: I know you all know these stories about how we first met Suzuki Roshi at the [American] Academy of Asian Studies in '59. Dr. Kato was our teacher we called him Kaz. He was the . .

Tape 2B Side A

DG:  I know you know all this, he taught us how to meditate that very night. We asked if we could sit with him and he told us the location of Sokoji. So we enjoyed him at Sokoji. He was your teacher and a friend. It was a very friendly relationship. I remember ‑‑ Betty too ‑‑ doing all the errands we could to help him. I would take him to the airport to meet priests, bring them into town. Sometimes he would want to visit Alan Watts of Marin County. I remember one time we stopped at the little Japanese store and he bought a couple of dozen teacups to take to the [Alan Watts] seminar as a gift. One time he asked me to take him to the Fourth of July at the Marina. I took Okusan and Suzuki Roshi, but it was so foggy we had to come home. One time Bishop Yamada was there and Sumi Roshi and Suzuki Roshi. It was a Sunday meeting at Sokoji. He asked me to stay a minute. He said, "Will you take us to this movie?" It was about Buddha. It was kind of fun. I chauffeured them. I went to the movie with them. I don't think there were too many men who had cars or were driving in the early days so he would often call me and ask me to take him to the Japanese newspaper and errands. I did a lot of things that I loved doing. I think sort of unusual nowadays to have your teacher such a good friend. I've never had as close a Buddhist friend as Suzuki Roshi.

BW: One more story of the early days at Sokoji ‑‑ sitting every morning at six o'clock. There were sometimes only half a dozen or so. Sometimes there was only one. We would go to the door of the temple and stand on the sidewalk. Pretty soon Suzuki Roshi would lean out the window above and throw down the keys and then we would come in. One morning we were all standing out there. We stood and stood and waited and waited. Finally a head came out of the window and said, "Go away!" We went away and came back the next day. No explanation at all.

MW: It was probably a four day or a nine day.

BW: I don't think so. He liked to try out a lot of things in those days. He had strange ways of teaching. He would really test you and see if you really wanted to come.

MW: I used to come from Berkeley and carry people over to Sokoji. Every once in while I would forget that it was a four or nine day. We'd get to Sokoji and he'd lean out the window and say, sorry, it's a four or nine day. He may have said go away at some point.

BW: This was not a four or nine day. This was a regular day.

(comments about 4 and 9 days)

BW: Another way of his teaching was, if you had a question he always threw it back to you. At first I would have a problem with breathing. The more I'd pay attention to my breathing the worse it would get. He just arches his eyebrow and says, just sit.

DG:  I still like a dish I had with Suzuki Roshi in his kitchen. He used to like to cook things for us. Fried tofu. Over the top we put grated ginger and soy. He taught us to make that and we all enjoyed that many times. Do you all know that recipe?

DW: He would cook often for you?

DG:  We all ate together. Usually after our sitting in the morning we had tea with him.

DW: I'm curious about the fact that I'd never heard that ‑‑ that he would cook for people.

DG:  It was always simple things. We'd often eat with him.

PW: I had dinner with him many times. He would cook and then later on Mrs. Suzuki would cook. They usually had some kind of fish or chicken. One time he had invited me ‑‑ I was learning how to do the mokugyo and the gong. Afterwards he invited me to dinner. I had just met some artists over in Berkeley who were doing cups ‑‑ ceramics, high‑fire kiln stuff. They had showed me their cups and how they were made. When Reverend Suzuki invited me for dinner I looked at the cups and they were really nice ones. Before the tea was poured I picked it up and said, "Reverend Suzuki, this is a marvelous cup. Look how it's shaped on the bottom. Firm." He looked at me and he said, "Just drink the tea."

Another time ‑‑ a mokugyo thing ‑‑ I've always been not really superbly coordinated. So when I was doing the mokugyo and the gong it was like ‑‑ bonk, bonk, bonk‑‑ then I would stop and go booonk. I practiced and tried and tried. Then there was the fellow that worked on the organ ‑‑ his name was Paul. So he had Paul do the gong ‑‑ This went on for some time. Finally I got where I could do both smoothly. So I thought I had it in the bag. We did it three times, right? So we were doing the heart sutra. I don't know if you were there, Bill, but he said ‑‑ I was doing the mokugyo ‑‑ he said, "Stop." Right in the ceremony. He said, "You're doing it wrong." Right in front of everybody. He said, "When they say, Kan‑ji‑zai‑bo ‑‑you don't go bong kan‑ji ‑‑ you don't hit in sequence. You must lead. Hit it just before they say kan‑ so that they can follow. Gradually you lead and become faster and faster and they will follow you. So you have to lead." So I said alright. So I started. He said, "No. You're wrong." Three times he did it. Each time I tried. Finally he said, "Well, alright, it's good enough." I was so thankful that I could get criticism and accept it. I was able to accept it and at least make an effort to improve on that mokugyo. I think he was probably teaching me something else. You don't go along with everybody. Help them a little bit. Lead them in the right direction. It was a great experience. No one seemed to mind. Everyone was just quiet. And we finished.

Another time ‑‑ it was probably before that ‑‑ I was doing a practice thing on the mokugyo at the altar. No one was there. Just Reverend Suzuki and probably Mrs. Suzuki in the kitchen. My knees had gotten numb all the way up to my hips. I couldn't feel anything. This had happened before. So I would usually wait until I could feel ‑‑ or lean on something if I had to get up more quickly ‑‑ and then stand. I wouldn't trust my feet because I didn't know where they were. So he saw me get up and start to lean. He said, "Don't lean." I said, but Reverend Suzuki, I can't feel anything down there. It's all numb. He said, "Imagine your feet. Imagine your legs. Imagine you're standing. Don't look down!" And it worked. I imagined I had legs. And I walked on them.

LR: . . . I expect about the John Steiner thing, but a lot of people know that story. This is a very small thing but I think it's indicative about the way that he was an opportunist about showing you things. One day at Page Street ‑‑ I can't remember when it was. I was out in the courtyard. He came out there. I remember having a strong feeling that this would be a great chance for me to be alone with him. I was excited about the possibility ‑‑ just him and me. He started to walk toward me. Then he very explicitly whirled around away from me. It was very clear that it was not just an accidental afterthought. It was almost like he had encountered my thought and decided to respond to it. He turned away. He walked across the courtyard and sat down next to a homeless woman, or somebody who had just come in off the street and was waiting for somebody to take her to the mental health clinic or something. He sat down with her with his back to me. He spent a long time talking to her and ignoring me. That's the whole story. See, I remembered it.

DC: When you told me that you said you had a feeling of wanting to protect him from her or something like that. Like you thought that she didn't belong there.

LR: No I think you're confusing it with another story which maybe many of you remember. There was a guy that used to come to Sokoji at a certain point in time who was quite nutty and used to yell out and do things. maybe '68 or '69. This guy wasn't black. That was the candle story, David. The candle story's a great story. Many of you were there. I know that Bob Halpern was there. I remember that this crazy guy ‑‑ this was during a sesshin or a one‑day sitting or something ‑‑ the real diehards, the people that were really tough would sit up in the front, cross‑legged. Everybody else would rest their legs on the pews. This guy was up in front with all the senior people. Suzuki Roshi was giving a lecture in the parish hall there. He started to mimic him in a very crude way. Suzuki Roshi would make some gesture, and this guy would make some gesture. Then he started to do these weird clownish things. Then there was a candle up there. Kind of an improvised altar above the stage. The guy decided it was time to blow out the candle from about twenty feet away. So he started very annoyingly to blow out the candle. Make a real pest of himself. Suzuki Roshi ignored everything. Just talked and didn't respond. I remember feeling at the time ‑‑ I got into some fantasy that this guy was a dangerous person and maybe would attack Suzuki Roshi and I felt like I needed to think about what would happen if that happened. The whole lecture went. This guy was making an annoyance. Nobody did anything. Just let it happen. Cause Suzuki Roshi wasn't doing anything. And then ‑‑ I remember he was giving a lecture about Issan the Tenzo which was one of his favorite people to talk about. Some story about a snake head in the soup. He would grab the snake head. Suzuki Roshi thought this was the funniest story. He was laughing, very broken up about how funny the story was. He was in a good mood and laughing. He got up. Did his bows. And then turned to leave. Then he whirled around and blew out the candle. He walked up the aisle to leave. He was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. He was totally convulsed with laughter. Were any of you there that day? (no response). That's funny. That's the story.

MW: I remember that guy. I remember Suzuki Roshi talking about the snake head. I remember he was doing something.

LR: This was the guy that used to say ‑‑ I remember he yelled out in zazen once ‑‑ "Don't touch me with that stick or I'll blow this building up with my mind!" He would come up sometimes and hit the bells in the middle of zazen. What was striking about all that was that Suzuki Roshi never tried to control him. Never criticized him or anything. We'd never do that at Page Street. We were always much more buttoned‑down in rules. But there was that sense of openness.

PW: I noticed that there were several students that would recite the Heart Sutra in a very unusual fashion. They broke up the phrases and would make sounds at unusual times. Everyone else was, like, conforming. We were all in more or less harmony. And their voices would be going up and around. I mentioned it to Reverend Suzuki, and he said, "Leave them alone. It's very interesting. That's okay." After that I think I broadened my approach to include that. What is sincerity? What is conformity? What is a natural response from within? Sincerity may come from within, and somebody may be doing something that looks out of place, maybe with great sincerity and showing it by the way they're doing it.

(comments all around)

??: Yvonne, you saw Suzuki Roshi quite a bit when he was very very sick in the last ‑‑ I've never heard about those things. I'm very interested in that. Of course Dick did also. But you particularly had that function as well.

YR: My favorite story is the day I went to the hospital, when he went back in. Must have been in late September or early October, when he went back in for some additional testing. I came in the room just as several doctors were leaving, having talked to him about the results of some testing they had done. Up to that point ‑‑ I'm sure you all remember ‑‑ his young doctor kept saying he was sure he had hepatitis. Or at least thought he had hepatitis. Okusan and I would go through a very elaborate procedure of keeping all his dishes and silverware separate and not touch food that he had eaten. The nurse at that point brought his lunch in and put it on the tray next to his bed. He was sitting on the edge of the bed with his legs dangling over the edge. He motioned to me to come in and to sit down next to him. As I walked across the room he mouthed the words: I have cancer. With this big grin on his face. He reached over, after I sat down, and took some food off his lunch plate, and leaned over and fed it to me. "Now we can eat together again."

I also remember ‑‑ in connection with the story you just told about the crazy guy ‑‑ one time at Page Street there was this big young black guy who seemed really disturbed who got in the main entrance area. We couldn't figure out how to get him out. He just wouldn't get out. At some point Suzuki Roshi appeared and saw the situation. He walked up to the guy and started talking to him. He got completely engaged with him. He just talked and talked. Slowly Suzuki Roshi walked ‑‑ and they just kept talking and talking ‑‑ got to the front door, opened the front door, and they're talking and talking ‑‑ gets the guy out the front door and he closed the door. Took him a long time. It was so graceful. The rest of us had been going through fits trying to figure out how to get this maniac out of here.

SW I have a question about that time about the doctors. I had always heard or somehow it's been in my mind that people ‑‑ and maybe it was you, Yvonne ‑‑ were encouraging him to get a better doctor or a different doctor ‑‑ do something more. And that basically he wouldn't do that.

YR: This is where the story that you told me, David, from Mickey Stunkard ‑‑ that Mickey had visited him earlier

DC: He came out to be a student of Suzuki Roshi but got transferred down to Stanford. He came to see him ‑‑ I think it was late September ‑‑ he'd been out before but he hadn't been to see him. You opened the door and said, "Oh you've come to see our yellow Roshi." And he went upstairs and saw Suzuki Roshi. You had said he had hepatitis. He knew right away he had cancer. He said, because there's two types of jaundice. One is hepatitis. The other is obstructive, which is a tumor. And that's what causes itching. Right away he knew he had a doctor that didn't recognize that. He just talked to him and asked if he could speak to his doctor. He then spoke to his doctor and said what he'd noticed. He found out the doctor did know that he had had cancer before but they thought they'd gotten it all ‑‑ he said the guy was a big family practice doctor which is the kind at the very bottom of the barrel. He talked to people at Stanford and they said well, we can take care of him. Stunkard found out that he came out of the hospital and found out he had cancer, and he went back to Suzuki Roshi and said ‑‑ people at Stanford, best in the world, would be happy to take care of you. And Suzuki said, well, no, I have a doctor. And he said, no, this is the way we do it in America. Your doctor's already talked to me, he'd be happy to have a consultation. He said, let me think about it. Talked to him later and said, no, I've thought about it and I should go along with my doctor.

RB: He said something to me ‑‑ how he shouldn't do certain treatments he was doing. He said he has to do some because he didn't want to hurt this doctor's feelings.

DC: But the people at Stanford also told Mickey it's probably best this way. There's very little anybody could do for him now. Would have meant chemotherapy and all sorts of stuff that would have meant he wasn't ‑‑

PW: That's a very deadly thing to have.

YR: There was another time later on . . . a point at which his doctor wanted him to take some pain pills because with the kind of cancer he had it surely must have been very painful. Suzuki Roshi had the bottle of pills next to his bed for a long time. He finally said, "I'm gonna take these pills cause the doctor will feel better if I do."

BR He also said, one time, when I came in and asked him how he was, he said, "I feel like someone's torturing me."

YR: He took one of these pills and four hours later he said, "I'm not taking anymore."

??: Painkillers. Opiates probably.

YR: He said even if it won't make my doctor feel better, I'm not taking any more. This is the way it effected him.

DC: My father died of cancer and he had the same experience. He took morphine once and refused to take it after that. But Dr. Stunkard emphasized that it's a very rare patient who can do that and has so little fear. He talked about how Suzuki Roshi told him what a wonderful opportunity to teach his students with his dying. But Dr. Stunkard said, but it would be better if you were teaching us in some other way.

RB: A story about Dr. Stunkard. I can't remember now, it's down somewhere ‑‑ one time he asked Suzuki Roshi about enlightenment. Suzuki Roshi told him he wasn't enlightened. He couldn't answer.

[Dr. Albert Stunkard (Mickey) says he doesn't remember this. Called him 7-2-2000 -DC]

Another time when Dr. Stunkard came ‑‑ I think some time before Suzuki Roshi died ‑‑ when he was still giving lectures ‑‑ I guess Mickey was . . . in the hall, or something. Suzuki Roshi took him into that little alley‑way where the toilets are, near the office. He took him in, before the crowd came out, and Suzuki Roshi pointed to his head three times. Didn't say a thing. Then turned and walked off. Mickey said, "What did he mean?" That was after a lecture.

PW: Well, this is the third eye. In martial arts and aikido, there was a guy called Tohei‑sensei. In a seminar Tohei said, these Buddhists, when they sit ‑‑

[to be continued]

End Side A Tape 2B


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