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Edward Espe Brown

Excerpts from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings: Recipes and Reflections

Stories of Ed's life and practice at Tassajara and with his teacher, Shunryu Suzuki

This selection was not used in the book, but was sent to me by Ed while he was working on it. - DC

October 12,1990

Upon what does one's life hinge? How does one view one's self?

Was I in fact a worthwhile person? I wanted so desperately to be a worthwhile person, and I found precious little to love about this bundle of desires, fears, insecurities, defensiveness. For me most basic was the fear of abandonment, gnawing, gapping, a massive sink-hole, black, dark, forlorn, ...

I go off into sexual fantasies, the panties slip off to reveal ripeness, flesh, dark patch of hair, secret recesses, I caress with my hand and tongue. I am received once again, returned to vitality.

Only it is not really vitality but obsession which does not address the gnawing, gapping, fundamental insecurity, the simple uncertainty: will you have this body? will you have this mind? will you take it into your heart? into your being? or will you remain distant, even from yourself? Distant and waiting, perpetually waiting for things to get better, for experiences to be more lively, lovely, loving. Always having to prove oneself, always having to measure up, or risk abandonment, risk rejection. Yet Suzuki-roshi was different. He was just there. Going about his business. Sometimes I wondered why he was "making me" do this strange and esoteric practice: bowing, chanting in archaic Japanese. However when I observed him closely, he would be minding his own business: carefully, intently bowing, self-contained, complete. And I couldn't find anything in his movements to indicate what he wanted me to do, to indicate how I was expected to behave. He wasn't saying, "Do zazen and I will accept you," or, "Attain this practice and I will love you." "Don't do this practice and I will reject you." He was just doing what he did. I watched him that morning, bowing unconcerned, and I realized that I would have to decide for myself what I would do, whether I wanted to do this practice. I would not be able to blame it on him: do it to make him happy, do it so he would not be angry, do it so he would not be sad. As Scott Peck pointed out in The Way Less Traveled there are those who are willing to take on an overabundance of responsibility for the situation. As far as I was concerned Suzuki-roshi simply wouldn't allow that. My projections wouldn't stick.

It had taken several years to gradually build up my trust in Suzuki-roshi, and to recognize and appreciate his capacity to accept what I found unacceptable: my own imperfections, and I was quite good at spotting them, hopefully before anyone else did. So that if anyone criticized me at least I could say, Yeah, I know about that one. It's not like you're telling me something I didn't know.

Over the years this was probably the single most important 'thing' Suzuki-roshi gave me: that it was okay for me to be me. And he went on giving this confidence, faith, reassurance over and over again. It wasn't a 'teaching' exactly, or even a 'thing' really. He could see right through me, and there wasn't anything he was compelled to fix or adjust, make right, eliminate, straighten out. I wasn't told to grow up or get it together, stop being a baby. Just very simply, very directly, it was okay for me to be me.

Not that there was not room for improvement. Suzuki-roshi often said, "Just because everything is perfect doesn't mean there is not room for improvement."

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