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Suzuki Roshi Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - II

Part I ---- Part III ---- Part IV----Part V----Part VI----Part VII

People who spoke at this meeting - in order of appearance

PW – Phillip Wilson
LK – Les Kaye
MW – Mel Weitsman
KT - Katherine Thanas
LR - Lew Richmond
RB – Richard Baker - links pending
DC –
David Chadwick
RA -
Reb Anderson
YR -
Yvonne Rand
BK - Bill Kwong
PS: – Peter Schneider
DW - Dan Welch - links pending
BW: –
Betty Warren
JS: – Jane Schneider
DG – Della Goertz

SW - Steve Weintraub
EB - Edward Brown
AD - Ananda Dalenberg

January 3 & 4, 1998, at the Berkeley Zen Center (I think) - dc

Part II

End Tape 1A Side A

Side B


PS: . . . I had already been at Zen Center and I'd left. Then I was teaching at Western Michigan and I was able to ‑‑ some clever teacher who always ran for congressman ‑‑ who was a Democrat who ran for the congress position in a Republican district ‑‑ because he did that he had ideas about how money moved. He created an idea that a lot of students could go to India for free. I was a teacher so I quickly took a class to become a student. It was called a Fulbright. But it was a Halfbright. Or less. Anyway I got to India because I wanted to go to Japan. So I went to Japan and we were having these meetings in Tokyo and I called Rinsoin to ask if I could come down. Someone called for me ‑‑ so I just took the train down, and I got there, and there was Suzuki Roshi. I had no idea he was there. Someone else was there ‑‑ Jean or Claude ‑‑ Jean was there.

RB: He made coffee especially for you cause you're a westerner.

PS: Ham and eggs.

RB: The story you told me was that they made coffee. And then you asked for some sugar. And you put sugar in the coffee and you realized you had put in too much. So you said, "Sukoshi, do you like sugar in your coffee?" And Suzuki Roshi said, "Oh yes, I like sugar in my coffee." So you pushed your cup out in the middle of the table, and he pushed his cup out in the middle of the table, then he reached back out and took his own cup back. And tasted it and said, "Mm, just right." Then the next morning at breakfast he came down and he said, "Peter, would you like some sugar?" Is this true?

PS: I don't know. As I said it has the ring of truth to it. I do remember that after that happened they had made ham and eggs for me. And those people who know about Japanese ham and eggs ‑‑ they take an egg and they put a piece of ham in the center and they fried it for a half‑hour. They're kind of plasticy. So they said, do you want a second one? So I said, yeah. I had my lesson but I ate my second one.

My favorite food story ‑‑ when I was the jisha at Tassajara I came into the cabin one morning and I had a cold ‑‑ sneezing. He noticed it and said, "Oh sit down." I made the fire in his cabin so he took out a bottle of sake which I didn't know that he had. He heated the sake and took out an egg and he whipped up the egg. A bowl of sake. He took the egg and he said "drink this." Raw egg. If you don't drink that much, sake will really light you up. Then he said, "Go back to bed." Best cold remedy I ever had.

DC: That's the standard. That's what they take there for it. I asked a doctor ‑‑ I taught English ‑‑ we were talking about antibiotics so (he said) I prescribed to everybody with colds and it didn't do anything for them. They'd just go to other doctors. So I said, well, what do you take? He said, sake, ‑‑ whatever it's called.

PS: Sake no tomago. Something like that. I really don't know. But I thought, by the way, that the [Japanese for the name of the] book probably magatta kyuri is my guess.

DC: We were trying to figure out how So-on would have called him Crooked Cucumber.

PS: That would be the grammatically correct thing.

DC: No he said he called him that all the time through the years. I was thinking Magatta Kyuri or…

PS: Magare ‑‑ The Onion guy I don't know, but I would believe that there always are cucumbers ‑‑ the Japanese cucumber thing ‑‑ they do sell a little cheaper in the stores. So that may come not from the Chinese but from an ordinary Japanese word.

DC: I bet there's one word for it that's shorter.

PS: I think that's it actually, but you can check it. You can ask any Japanese cause it may not be a Zen term.

LR: What does it mean in the culture?

RB: It's a slang expression for penis. So it's a little bit of a joke to call him Crooked Cucumber. That's why I'm not sure this is such a good title for the book. Especially with that shape right behind . . .

DC: I've never seen that either.

RB: He used to laugh at it with me, that it is a slang expression for penis. I'm not sure it's a good title for the book.

??: Very earthy and straightforward.

?? Straightforward?

DC  note:  I think now, it’s either magatta kyuri or hebo kyuri – See this old note on the Japanese for Crooked Cucumber and the meaning which I'd say was something like "butthead," or "useless runt."

RA: One time in the early days at Tassajara you, Dan Welch, asked Reverend Suzuki, what do you do if you're working with people and they're working too slowly? And he said, "You should work more slowly." Do you remember that?

DW: I do.

RA: Here's another one he doesn't remember. One time we were in the dining room. I have a lot of stories about him that he doesn't remember. Some people were talking about what they do during zazen and Stan White says, "I think about, you know, my time in the war and working in the Seabees and the Japanese airplanes flying around and Zeroes flying around. That's what I think about during zazen. And sex and stuff like that." And then Stan turned to Dan and said, "But you, you're probably like, you know, just sitting fucking shikantaza the whole time." And Dan says, "No, I only sit shikantaza for thirty‑nine minutes. The other one minute I turn into you guys." I was there. You said it.

Here's one about Peter. Peter hurt his knee, remember?, and he was sitting with his leg up for a long time. Sometimes over the edge of the tan ‑‑ when he was the Director. People told Peter, the other students told Peter a thing or two about his posture. The way his leg stuck out and the way he was sitting bent over and stuff. He went to Suzuki Roshi and said, "People say my posture's really bad. What do you think?" Suzuki Roshi said, "Your posture's perfect."

MW: What does it mean, Reb?

PS: Phil, tell your story about the beating. I heard that story recently, it's quite interesting to hear.

PW: I still don't understand it. Dick, are you up to it? As usual I was ‑‑ I think we'd been working on some stones. I always worked with stones with Reverend Suzuki at Tassajara. It was during the shuso deal I went to. I was in his cabin and we had had some tea. Then he mentioned something about me having some kind of argument or battle with Dick. He said, "I don't want you to be disruptive with Dick or fight with Dick or have some argument with Dick. Why are you doing that?" And I said, "I don't remember any argument with Dick." I was shuso and I did a few little routines. I said I don't remember at all. He took his kotzu [?-stick] and said, "Don't fight with Dick." And he hit me. "Do you understand?" Of course when he said, Do you understand, I never understood anything. I said, "No, Reverend Suzuki, I don't." He said, "Well I'm telling you don't have any arguments with Dick. You two should get along." I said, "Well we are. I accept him as Dick. That's it. We're friends. We do zazen together. He comes down and brings his crew. Everything is really good." Then he hit me again. Each time he hit me the energy in my body began to grow. Every time he struck me it got bigger and stronger. I considered the little kotzu. I thought they were like five hundred years old. Old. When he broke it ‑‑ he broke it on me. I felt ashamed. And I didn't know why. So then he picked up another one. And he started to beat me again. I said, "Oh Reverend Suzuki don't do that. This is a treasure." I took it out of his hands. I said, "Please don't." He said, "But do you understand." And I never understood anything. But this immense energy was filling my whole body. I think that was the beginning of ‑‑ when I was attacked in El Monte [his apartment building in Compton ghetto in LA] when someone hit me over the head with an iron crowbar it created these energy waves and I got very huge. It was like ‑‑ the people who were attacking me looked like little twigs. I think it was because Reverend Suzuki beat me. But I never understood. I told Reverend Eko about it up at Shasta. He said, "That is not the response he wanted." I said, "Yeah, but this part didn't light up. Reverend Eko, I'm sorry, I still don't understand. Maybe some day this will light up and there will be some understanding." He created something. Then I was very thankful because with that beating he did get something going. And at the same time he created a situation where I could be loving to him, even though I was accused of something I didn't know. I apologize, Dick. If I had gotten you with some part of me ‑‑ my unconscious ‑‑ I don't know. He had asked me before, he said, "What do you think about Dick Baker being the head?" I just said, "Oh Lord, what you want is what I want."

I still don't understand where the argument was that he had gathered from someone.

RA: You were once in a cabin with musical equipment and headphones on, under the covers. And he heard about that somehow, and beat you up for it. Do you remember that?

PW: You combined the two stories. Actually what happened is he asked me ‑‑ everyone will hear everything about you except you ‑‑ so I didn't hear that part. But I know that Reverend Suzuki had some kind of party. I took my turntable and we played music and had a little party by his cabin. Some celebration. We all listened to music and had some tea. That's how I remember it. We all shared it. That's my side of it. It's like two stories ‑‑

RA: You remember the story of you playing music and him punishing you for that.

PW: No I had him punishing me for arguing with Dick.

DC: I think people told him that you had this battery operated record player in your room. And you played when he left Tassajara. And when he came back maybe somebody told him, or we assumed somebody had told him, and the next thing we heard him yelling at you in the cabin, breaking the stick over you, and we assumed it was because of that.

PW: Who was listening outside.

DC: I remember it. I was up by the shop and I heard it. The whole cabin was shaking.

KT: He still wouldn't say, no, okay, don't fight with Dick.

PW: Yeah, that was unresolved. So I had a guilt complex. So when Dick came around ‑‑

RB: That's why you were so nice to me.

LR: Maybe he was beating you so you wouldn't fight with him. Like in Alice in Wonderland where you get beat up before it happens.

PW: I heard that in Zen you're supposed to just live according to the moment. But Reverend Suzuki did anticipate. I know that before Reverend Katagiri came to Sokoji, Reverend Suzuki used to sit in the center. There would be the Buddha and he would sit on the center of the altar platform. He started sitting on the side. This was like four months before that he started sitting on the side. So when Reverend Katagiri came, we were already used to seeing him sitting on the side, Reverend Katagiri just had a seat up there right next to him. So he did plan ahead. Maybe the beating was a way of planning ahead.

MW: I remember him hitting you one time, and saying, "Ego! Ego! Big Ego!." In his office in the city.

PW: One time he asked me to sand a table for him in the reception room. Next to the kitchen there was a little storage area. So I started sanding. What would happen is when I sanded I got very sensitive to the top of the table and there were dips in it. I'd see marred spots, scratches. I tried to sand the whole thing but I couldn't get it even. I kept sanding and sanding. I talked to Reverend Suzuki and he said, don't try to get it even. As long as it looks even it's good enough. During that session he had sanded with me. His skin was very thin so when he was sanding I noticed that there were dark spots I had missed. So we'd get those and there'd be other ones and it was the blood coming out of his hand. So I said, Reverend Suzuki, you'd better stop. He said, "No, it's okay" With that I had a connection between his blood and his effort. He was telling me something. He's not afraid to die for you. Not afraid to give himself completely.

RB: One time when I was in the city, after zazen, in the hall somewhere, suddenly out of nowhere Suzuki Roshi grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and threw me down and then began hitting me. "You should understand under my anger!" That went on for some time. I'm quite sure that he was actually quite angry at someone else. He was hitting me and bringing attention to that to this other person. I think he was also irritated with me for something. But it was also clearly directed at someone else.

PW: Maybe he was beating you for me, and beating me for you.

RB: Except I didn't see your beating. It was quite dramatic. Boom, I was on the floor. I thought, I don't know what's going on here, but okay

LR: It may not be that unusual ‑‑ traditional training. This is one of the way he communicates with anybody.

MW: Jean Ross talks about that in one of her talks about being in Japan. How somebody started beating the monk next to her. He was actually teaching the one next to him a lesson.

LR: It is sort of a group mind so it doesn't really matter exactly who you pick.

BW: I have a story. One Saturday morning we were all sitting peacefully after breakfast. Quiet. No sound. Suddenly we heard Suzuki Roshi get up at the altar and he took the stick. He made some roaring sounds. "So you think you're sitting zazen? Well you are not!" He took the stick and came around. Gave every single person in that room two good solid whacks. Went to his seat again. Sat down. Not a sound in the whole room.

RB: I remember him doing that a number of times. Like a whirlwind. And then he'd come back and sit.

MW: There was one time I was supposed to wake people up at sesshin on Page Street. I looked at the clock and I thought it was five, but it was four. I got up and rang the wake‑up bell and everybody started getting up and looking at their watches. They were arguing with each other in the hallways. Suzuki Roshi comes out of the room and says, "When the bell rings you go to zazen." Everybody ran into the zendo. Then he went around and whacked everybody, one after the other. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to get into the zendo. Everybody got in there but me. I was too mortified to go to the zendo.

RA: I have a different memory. You rang the wake‑up bell. You figured out what was happening. And then you said to people to really go back to bed. So people started to go back to bed. Then he goes to the zendo anyway with his jisha. Walks by my room. I see him go down there and sits but nobody goes but him and the jisha. He sits there for a little while and nobody comes. So he goes back to his room. Then Mel rings the bell again at the regular time. Then everybody goes down. Then he goes down. Then in the zendo he says, "When the wake‑up bell rings, you go to the zendo. What do you think you're doing here?" Then he went around and hit people. I was the first person he hit. That was probably the hardest hit he ever did. By the time he got to the other side of the room, it was really soft. He started really hard. I think everybody was grateful to you for doing that. Thank you.

KT: Wasn't that the time he also said, "Who is priest? Who is layman?"

RA: I remember that but it was probably a different time. I think he just said, "When the wake‑up bell rings you go to the zendo. What do you think you're doing here?" And he hit people hard. I think everybody really appreciated it. It really felt kind.

DC: But there are also a number of people who remember that. Apparently there were a number of people who went to the zendo. Some in the gaitan. He came down and sat for about ten minutes and then went back upstairs. They kept sitting. Then he came back down to start the regular period and had one of his episodes. It's interesting. In something you [RB] wrote ‑‑ and afterwards you said very eloquently, you must understand that Suzuki Roshi was almost always very quiet, kind, gentle person. But a lot of people's foremost memories are of some moment when he got very angry. And you could compile a whole little book of nothing but times he got angry with people. It created quite an impression.

MW: One time he had assigned Richard a seat. I didn't understand. I had no idea that was so. Your name was on the cushion or something. I can't remember exactly. This was at Sokoji. It's possible you were going to be shuso or something.

DC: He had the first seat in the Sokoji zendo.

End Side B Tape 1A

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