Suzuki Stories Suzuki Disciples Groups
Suzuki Roshi Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - IV
People who spoke at this meeting - in order of appearance
January 3 & 4, 1998, at the Berkeley Zen Center (I think) - dc
Tape 1B, Side B
RB: . . . . related to this ‑‑ how explicit you can be ‑‑ [in talking about the war during the war in Japan and how Japanese communicate] I know when I went into meetings ‑‑ sometimes he asked me to join meetings with the Japanese congregation. Once very explicitly, and other times basically he told me the same thing, was he said to me, "Don't be logical. Don't be clear." Cause he was afraid I'd be too logical, too clear, too forceful, I don't know what. He really tried to get me to let them say their thing and then nudge the situation, but don't be explicit.
DC: Another thing you told me is that you were going to be talking to them [the board or some group of the Japanese congregation of Sokoji] about something you wanted for Zen Center. You explained to Suzuki Roshi five points. And he said, "Good. Choose one of those points." You said he wanted you to leave them an out, not to make an open and shut case.
RB: We put on an Ali Akbar Khan benefit and he wanted us to borrow a golden Japanese screen to put behind him. And he knew a woman who had it. I said, let's call her up. No, no, no. "She can't say no to me. You have to ask." So I had to go and ask. Yes, she said yes to me. So we borrowed it and it was up there behind Ali Akbar Khan.
MW: She probably couldn't say no to you either.
RB: I think he knew she wouldn't say no.
DC: I think the thing you said about Crooked Cucumber being slang for penis is pretty incredible. Hmm. Also, when people re‑tell stories you often get little details. This subject of the war is like something that would take us a long time to deal with and talk about and understand. It couldn't be done in the time we have today. A good way to do it is if people were on‑line. You could have a closed discussion group. Then you have time to make comments. Right now there's a million things rushing through my head and I'm trying to remember, and I want to hear what people have to say. There would be time to add things. What Phillip said is very important. I'd never heard that.
DC: Brian Victoria and I have gone over in detail ‑‑ I wrote out everything I could think of about the war. He went over it with me. He'd say, "Proof! Documents! Show me this! This never happened!" He'd show me logical inconsistencies. We spent a lot of time on it. I think we have to be able to answer the questions of the scholarly people who are working on Imperial Buddhism. I said to Brian that Hoitsu says that all Buddhism is pacifist. Therefore any priest is pacifist. That's all he said about the war. And I said, No, Hoitsu. It's not true. Your father said, “I had many written documents that I took to them, I did this and that,”. I said, "Alright, Hoitsu, do you want me to just say that you call your father a liar?" We had a lot of arguments about this. It's hard on him. He doesn't like to talk about it.
RB: Suzuki Roshi read the Introduction I wrote and Trudy wrote. He read it several times. He didn't say I should change anything.
PS: I think Suzuki Roshi's . . . . . and he had a group of young people from within Yaizu who would come to the temple and they would have these talks about what they thought, but in the thought was included the fact that something was wrong with the way things were going. But it was always very subtle. They didn't openly criticize, but the group was clear ‑‑ and his idea of the function was clear.
LR: That's my feeling. The most important truth here is what he thought he was doing. The only person who can really testify to that is him. I don't care what Brian Victoria thinks.
RB: Brian has quite a shtick to grind.
DC: You have the James Hillman point of view on biography and I agree with it. How a person feels about their own lives is the most important. [Hillman says that the lies people tell about themselves are also revealing of who they are.
LR: I don't think it's just that. It's also that his intention ‑‑ what he thought those meetings were about isn't just a subjective thing. Unless we think that he himself is not telling the truth. I choose to think that that was his intention. And it may have been, given everything we know about how he did things. Just about every story we've told points out the fact that he was ‑‑ those stories about Sokoji and how you convince people was that he would not have been explicit.
RB: Well if we didn't have a tape machine who would be documenting this meeting? In those days they didn't document meetings.
LR: I think if he had the intention to do it ‑‑ and that's the reason why he did it ‑‑ then I think that the statement is true.
PS: At least one piece of paper will be the piece of paper in which the day after he resigned from being the head of the propaganda section of the Soto‑shu as they expected all priests to do, and he had said no.
RB: When I was in Japan at the time Maezumi‑roshi died, Maezumi‑roshi got me to meet these two guys who were head of the Foreign Relations Department, or something like that. I talked with them and they were nice enough. Maezumi‑roshi really wanted me to ‑‑ he died just a few days later, but at that time he looked totally healthy ‑‑ he set up this meeting. I had no idea what was going on. I didn't expect it. I didn't even know he knew I was coming to this hotel which is, I think, a pretty bad scene, actually. But anyway owned by Soto‑shu. They had me to breakfast and then lunch with these guys. He asked me a lot of things about connecting with Soto‑shu ‑‑ the two guys asked, that is. I talked with both of them.
??: Lester Yoshinami
RB: The younger one who spoke better English was the one I had most of the conversation with. I was actually quite offended by the conversation because he asked ‑‑ I don't know what the context was ‑‑ but I said that Suzuki Roshi left Japan because he was quite critical of Soto‑shu ‑‑ and this was on funeral ceremonies and the ‑‑ I can't remember the other details now. And he said something to me like, "Well Suzuki Roshi wasn't a great priest. He left Japan because of a scandal." And something like that. So his criticism of Soto‑shu has no validity. I was quite offended. I thought, here's the most famous Soto‑shu priest in a century or something, and they're putting him down.
YR: But you don't know what the scandal is that he was referring to.
RB: I have no idea.
DC: There's no scandal. That's bullshit.
LR: There are Soto priests that left Japan because of scandal. Maybe he was a little confused about which one.
PS: There was some scandal, he said he had to leave, or something. And I know that Yamada‑roshi was involved with a scandal and so was Bishop Sumi. But I'd never heard this, and I was quite offended.
YR: Apart from the business side of funerals, what was it about Soto‑shu that Suzuki Roshi was against?
PS: I would say that Suzuki Roshi might . . . wanted to go to America when he was in his late 20s or early 30s. His teacher told him that he couldn't . . . ought to be 26, 27, ‑‑ he couldn't go. Then the war came. The whole economy was destroyed. His family was destroyed. He had to rebuild the temple. He had to put a roof on the temple. And at the moment that he felt it was possible to go, and a chance did appear to go, then he took that chance.
YR: Let me explain what I'm trying to get. The Nagasaki brothers who are quite high up in the Soto‑shu scene now, and they have a very beautiful temple and the whole scene which I found extremely creepy. When Mike Port went he was going to spend a year there, and he left after a month. He said the major support for the temple for decades from before the Second World War is one of the major military/industrial family complexes. All during the build‑up before the war and the second world war ‑‑
Mitsubishi or something like that ‑‑
[Someone guesses the name of the temple.
YR: ‑‑ no it's a different name, I would recognize it. It begins with Z, I think. Anyway a very close connection between these two priests and their temple and their work and this complex. It's that corrupt side of the whole Soto‑shu scene. I've always assumed that Suzuki Roshi had his own sense about that, or at least those elements. That's what's behind my question.
DC note: I’m sure the temple she’s talking about is Zuiyoji or Zuioji in Shikoku where one or both have been abbot and which is a major training temple where Nonin Choweney was for some years.
DC: The Nagasaki people are definitely associated with right wingers. Shogoji in Kyushu is associated with the most ultra‑fanatic right‑wing people. The ones who were with the emperor that got deposed and they all had to kill themselves and stuff like that. But Buddhism is also associated ‑‑completely across the board ‑‑ with militarism and fascism in Japan. And to try to find good guys ‑‑ if we found one good guy in there I'd leave it at that and just be polite with them. I think that stuff that Brian Victoria and some of these people are bringing out is important because it's really ‑‑ like Brian says in answer to Hoitsu's thing about Buddhism is pacifist ‑‑ he says it's not pacifist in Japan. There's no example of pacifist Buddhists. There are no Buddhists who died opposing the war or anything like that. Zuioji having a connection with Zaibatsu‑‑ they all do. All Buddhist temples have associations with big business. And there is almost no military/industrial ‑‑ there are no good guys. Hardly.
DC note: There were Nichiren Buddhists who opposed the war and were jailed and executed. I have a letter or email about that somewhere and should include it in this history.
YR: But is it not true that Suzuki Roshi and Rinso‑in was not one of those temples that had that kind of connection.
RB: Certainly that's true. But not by choice or not choice. He was not in an area where that would have been possible. Where he lived there weren't big factories ‑‑ . . . so if the founder or someone like that had five generations ago ‑‑ if his grave was there ‑‑ the company will endlessly give a lot of money to that temple. They'll come and there'll be respect back and forth and all of a sudden it becomes corruption. Political people do do religion. The Japanese society doesn't think badly about the fact that they give a large amount of money if the grave is there or they have some relationship ‑‑ that's very natural.
DC: It would be like ‑‑
LR: It would be like the Mafia contributing to the temple.
DC: Not always like the Mafia ‑‑ it could also be like somebody who worked for PG&E and sat zazen.
contact DC at <email@example.com>