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Shunryu Suzuki Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - XI

Index, Cast of Characters, and Notes

Part XI

Suzuki Meeting Tape 3A

Side A

[KT is now talking about her relationship with Bill Smith and Suzuki's not supporting her in this.]

KT:  . . . I wasn't sure enough about the relationship. It was just something I wanted to live through. Other people do it in their early twenties.

RA: In a sense you would have liked him to support you to go through it. Not necessarily approve or disapprove.

KT: Right. But what he said was ‑‑ something like ‑‑ "I thought you were not exactly girlfriend . . ." but he thought that my relationship was with him. So this surprised him, that I was asking to live with another man. I think that was a big surprise. He thought I was there to practice with him. He didn't realize I was going through my adolescence ‑‑

??: Unusual for a woman that age to do something like that.

RA: He probably thought so. But actually a lot of women were doing that at Zen Center. Were going through their adolescence again. Hoping that this time they'd get some guidance from a better father.

DC: Having a relationship with some other person is not necessarily adolescent.

SW This isn't a Suzuki Roshi topic for some other lifetime, but just to say that I know what you mean when you say about the battle dump and the sense of a certain lack of authenticity. And in some way my take on it ‑‑ you were asking about that ‑‑ my take on it is ‑‑ I don't know what the words are exactly ‑‑ in some way stories of Suzuki Roshi, and our contact with him, go beyond words and letters. Just extremely deep. Three punctures in the third eye, or whatever. And in another way, some other aspect of our life ‑‑ there was no ‑‑ maybe my words for it would be a western psychological perspective ‑‑ just wasn't there. So that wound up, I think, feeling for some of us, later, when that became part of our awareness feeling like it had not been ‑‑ there was no place for that to flourish ‑‑ so this very odd combination of something extremely deep ‑‑ and yet there's this whole other area of your life that ‑‑ well what happened to that!, kind of, you know.

KT: I think I had the feeling I could bypass all those conflicts.

SW So did a lot of us. That was the vain hope of many of us.

But then, Mel, I think you experienced it quite differently than that kind of division. But actually, I'm not suggesting that we get involved in this conversation because it's not exactly about Suzuki Roshi.

PW: This is one of my problems. That is, it hit me really hard, when I did tokudo. It was the business of unconsciously expressing, for me, the cultural ‑‑ what is the thing ‑‑ the cultural requirements. That is, to be a man, to have a job, to advance in a career. To have some kind of success, or for someone else to be married, have children. This unconscious impulse that expresses itself through us. Then you have the meditation thing which comes in. Of course for one or two years we start off. It influences our life. Suzuki was a great influence. But he's combating our whole culture which is expressed through us. And those cultural impulses are always wanting to come up. Biological impulses are always coming up. To do what he did in a short amount of time would actually screw our minds up, it would actually make us kind of crazy. Some have more of a gift of doing the Buddhist meditation of borrowing the way. And then re‑aligning yourself. For me it was very drastic. It was like day and night. He didn't even give me tokudo. He just had JJ and me in the reception room and he went "toop" symbolically. Then he went to the altar room, closed the door, was out there for about half an hour, came back in. Opened up a box of candy, and we celebrated tokudo. He didn't even say tokudo. I got over to Japan, and they'd ask, well, have you had tokudo. And I'd say, I don't know. They'd say, what do you mean, you don't know? Are you a priest or aren't you? And I said, I think I'm a priest. And they said, how do you know? And I said, I don't. I didn't have any ceremony. But he sent me to Eiheiji. And he said that Hoichi was supposed to shave my head. They said shaving the head is not tokudo. So I said, why don't you write Reverend Suzuki and ask him. No one knew. Later on I asked Reverend Suzuki, I said, Am I a priest or not? He said, "If you think you're a priest you're a priest." You guys had it easy.

MW: But he gave you a robe. So something happened. Ananda says the same thing happened. Ananda says ‑‑ it was in Japan ‑‑ "I went into his office and he did some gibberish thing, and threw a robe on me, and I didn't even know what happened."

DC: His criteria was not traditional. He considered ‑‑ the first three people he ordained were Bill McNeill, Bob Hense, and Jean Ross. He didn't ordain ‑‑ not even . . . they went to Japan and somebody else ordained them. Immediately everything fell apart. They both discovered they were homosexuals and got kicked out of the temple. It was a complete mess. But years later he still said they were his first students. And Jean Ross he said was his third one. He said that Takashita‑roshi at Eiheiji ordained her. He said, maybe it's not what you would think of as a normal ‑‑ I think he just considered it that and it was good enough ‑‑ whatever happened. I think she might have not even received from him, but he got her robes and considered her ordained. She came back [and was shuso]. To talk about him in terms of Soto tradition sometimes ‑‑

MW: Shakyamuni said, "Follow me." That was ordination. We just make it more elaborate.

BK: First time I met Suzuki Roshi was at Sokoji. Must have been in the spring, after Buddha's birthday. That was 1960. I had been watching a lot of samurai movies. I came into the church . . . were still there. I had boots on. I also was wearing black. Someone came out of the other door so I didn't turn to see who it was. It was Suzuki Roshi. He went up to the altar. He didn't turn to see who it was either. He started to re‑arrange the flowers on the altar. I said to myself, this is really square Zen. So I left. But it was a very powerful moment, I realized years later, because what he was doing was just rearranging the flowers. No more no less. And I was that.

MW: You were the flowers.

BK: Yeah. So then I went home and on my way home, from an abandoned bazaar, must have been Buddha's birthday, I found a big picture of Kamakura Buddha. I took it home like a fool. It was too big to put in the closet so I put it in the hallway. I think . . went back and started sitting a few months later.

MW: You were there before with the other priest.

BK: That was before, but I didn't come to sit then. Tobase.

??: He had sort of a sloppy altar, I heard, and no organization.

RB: You all know the story of Suzuki Roshi and Mrs. Ransom and the Buddha.

??: The shoes? Yeah.

BK: There were times like ‑‑ he would be very anxious and excited to see where you lived. He had a lot of time in those days. He would come over to the house in his robes. We called him Sensei. Our house was very dusty. So his robes got all dusty. We felt really bad. We lived on Larkin Street in the Polk area. We had beards and goatees and long hair, but he didn't say anything. But eventually . . . everyone began shaving. We shaved and cut our hair and everything. He wouldn't say anything about it. I remember one time our oldest son ‑‑ he was very young then ‑‑ we were driving Suzuki Roshi somewhere and he began crying and crying and it got louder and louder. Suzuki Roshi said, He will stop crying at the count of twenty‑six. We started counting. And we counted and counted. We got to twenty‑six. The baby didn't stop crying but he took our minds off of it. He was like that.

BK: There was one time in the kitchen. I was living in Mill Valley at that time so I didn't have any place to go after we sat, so he invited us to come for breakfast. One day after breakfast, Katagiri Roshi and Suzuki Roshi were there ‑‑ one was on one side and the other was on the other side ‑‑ and I was bringing his favorite tea cup to the table to give him tea. When I put it on the table ‑‑ I didn't feel like I dropped it, but something started moving. It started moving and it went through the back side of the seat, the slats, and I went to catch it. But I missed it and it fell on the ground and it shattered. It was just a terrible feeling. And Katagiri Roshi went, "Oh." And then Suzuki Roshi went, "Oh oh." So I picked it all up.

DW: When they were going oh oh oh oh ‑‑ they were serious at first and then they started parodying ‑‑

BK: They didn't even turn around. They knew I broke something. It was his favorite cup. They were mirroring what I was saying, "Oh" Then they just kept it up. But I was so attached to that cup. I was trying to think of some way to glue it together. So he came over. He could see me ‑‑ I was probably paralyzed looking at it. Swept it up. And he wrapped it up in some newspaper. And he pushed it in the garbage can. And that was it. I was released. And the next day Mrs. Suzuki said, "Who broke the cup?" And I thought, this could be the end of me. But he said he (Suzuki Roshi) dropped it.

MW: You were the first tenzo, right?

BK: Actually Betty was.

BW: I don't think I was.

BK: Maybe I was. We used the word tenzo. I was the first doan.

BW: I started cooking before you started cooking.

BK: She was the cook. What happened was Suzuki Roshi was sick. And some of you people kind of got me to go up there. But I didn't know what to do at all. I just did the best I could and it was horrible. But he came down with a smile. This was for our group eating. Six people or something.

BW: I bonged the gong for a while.

MW: Once Katagiri came he did all that. I remember seeing Dan Welch being kokyo at Tassajara and I was shocked because you were the first person I saw do anything besides Katagiri Roshi.

DC: Other people did doan stuff. Dick did. Graham did. Did anybody do kokyo? [Lead chanter]

MW: When Suzuki Roshi was in Japan we took turns. But ordinarily Katagiri Roshi did it all.

??: When I did the bells, Suzuki Roshi did the announcement and I just did the bells.

RB: Mrs. Ransom. It's an interesting story about his first disciple. In some funny way she was his first western disciple. She had been ‑‑ you know that movie The Last Emperor ‑‑ I believe Mrs. Ransom was his [Pu-Yi] tutor. In Manchuria. Then she came to Japan and lived in Tokyo.

PS: She was the Taisho Emperor's tutor. First in China then in Tokyo. She had one class at Komazawa and I believe was the tutor for the Taisho Emperor.

RB: She had been given a Buddha by this Emperor in Japan, a young boy. He [Suzuki] decided he wanted to learn English so he became her helper and assisted in English classes [No, helped her outside of class]. When he would come in ‑‑ he started after awhile ‑‑ she just had the Buddha down in the Genkan, in the entryway, with all the shoes and everything. Then he would come in in the mornings, and after a few months he began to bow to this Buddha. And he cleared the shoes away after awhile. She began teasing him about being an idol worshipper. At some point he brought an incense burner and put it in front of the Buddha. And he began offering incense every morning. She still made fun of him, but at some point she began joining him. Then in the morning she would bow with him and they'd do a little service. She became a Buddhist. She was his first western convert. There's more to that but it's all I can remember right now.

RB: Graeme Petchey knows quite a bit about this.

DC note: She did practice some Zen and went to Rinsoin and Eiheiji but she didn't convert to Buddhism, remained a Quaker.

PS: At some point she had guests that came who smoked. I don't know if it was in the hands of the Buddha or in the incense that was there, but I think it was in the hands. But they used to put the cigarettes ‑‑ they used it for an ashtray. Suzuki Roshi was quite taken aback and so he went back and labored greatly and wrote one paragraph, in English, to start to explain Buddhism. That's how it began. But there was the shoe thing also ‑‑ David knows that story very well.

DC: I've got it down that when you interviewed him he talked a long time about it. I've interviewed Grahame at length about it. Their stories match. Essentially what you all are saying.

BW: Did he say something about when he first saw the shoes he'd take them off and the next day they'd be back again. Then he'd take them off again and the next day they'd be back again. He just kept doing it and one day he took them off and they didn't go back again.

??: He ordained her, right ‑‑ lay ordination.

DC: Nobody's ever said that.

??: She went to Eiheiji with him didn't she?

DC: She went to Eiheiji for six weeks. Pretty serious. 1930 or something. So when we say Jean Ross was the first woman to go to Eiheiji ‑‑ we should keep that in mind. She also went to Rinso‑in, Zoon‑in, Kasuisai ‑‑ which was a much more important temple he was associated with that he was a lecturer at. She'd stay there. It was pretty amazing.

PW [I think this should be PS]: The Japanese used to ‑‑ when they'd buy a knife and when the knife got dull they threw it away. This story doesn't go anywhere. Mrs. Ransom insisted on two things ‑‑ I actually got this from Bo [?]‑‑ one was that the door was locked very carefully. Secondly she had to have her knives sharpened. She couldn't throw them away. So one of his jobs was to go around town ‑‑ he had to go to the big department stores to get the knife sharpened. Always she . . . (kept track of every knife?) indoors. One night ‑‑ and I'm not too clear about this story ‑‑ he came back late and left it out of doors. These doors lock. Some story I heard she was chasing him around the roof. What's that story David?

DC: There's just not time for them all. They're all down. They're all down on tape. They're great stories.

JS You probably all know this one. I remember a lecture in Tassajara. He said he had just gotten a letter telling about her dying. He was very sad to hear it and he wished he had written her more.

RB: She wrote a number of letters and begged him to write. He never seemed to have time. Graeme got quite mad at him.

JS He said with great feeling that he wished he had done it.

PS: He always said that she understood. But of course she didn't, I guess. She wanted to write a book about it?

DC: That's what he was worried about. Grahame said to him why on earth wouldn't you answer these letters. From your oldest friend and your teacher. And finally he said, "she was asking me a lot of personal things and I was afraid she wanted to write a book about me." Grahame said that was ridiculous. Quite a sad story for Suzuki Roshi. He talked about it one day with you [Peter].

PS:  He was like a house boy. A translator also. But a houseboy ‑‑ Japanese used to have larger houses. At the entrance they had a student's room. He probably lived in the student's room. That person was the door opener. Had a free room. Had that function. Probably functioned as more than that but it may have come from that custom.

End Side A. (Side B blank.)

End of Suzuki disciples discussion

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