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Comments on Crooked Cucumber in April Readers' Comments
4/1/2000 - from Josh Randall:

I just finished reading "Crooked Cucumber," & would like to express my enjoyment & gratitude.

As a high school kid in the late '60s, reading Kerouac's "Dharma Bums." I was about ten years too young & a few thousand miles too far East to be a student at Zen Center. I can't remember whether I next came upon "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones," by Paul Reps or "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," but I do remember my reaction to the remarkable photograph of Suzuki-roshi on the latter's back cover. I thought, "If that's the kind of face you get from studying Zen, that's for me!"

The photo closely resembles an Oriental version of my own father, but I'll forego exploring the Freudian implications. I'm glad it wasn't replaced by a formal portrait, which would probably have put me right off & discouraged my venturing down the Buddhist path.

Since then, like the dragon-collecting scholar you mention in "Crooked Cucumber," I've read & practiced much, on my own & with sanghas, & have collected many dragons. Unlike the scholar's story, the dragon of Suzuki-roshi's work remains a welcome presence in my life.

Learning, from your book, about life in Japan before & during the war & about Suzuki-roshi's life in particular was very valuable & enjoyable. He truly was a pivotal figure, & if the presence of Buddhism in America can help ameliorate some of our culture's excesses -- which I think it does & will -- he qualifies for a place in history like that of Bodhidharma. A bit much, perhaps, for a humble misfit monk, but still...

I'm looking forward to browsing thru the interviews & stories available on your web site. I also noticed that no mention was made of the set of tapes titled "Zen Talks" from Audio Wisdom, [That didn't work for me.It led to a page with no links.-DC]

This one works: Mystic Fire's Shunryu Suzuki lecture tape,

Mystic Fire's opening page has a blurb & link to that page in its lower right corner. Also on the site's opening page, at the top, is a three-line list of links to various sections, including a Buddhism section, where the tapes are listed along with many others. I obtained my copy through where a search for "Shunryu Suzuki" will return a reference to the tapes.

[Zen Center has a few Suzuki Roshi lecture tapes for sale. It's on the page about Suzuki Lectures.-DC]

My old copy of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" says it's from the sixth paperback printing, 1974, so I've been building a version of Suzuki Roshi's voice in my head for over a quarter century. I was tickled to finally have the opportunity to hear the real thing.

Thanks again, & best wishes

4/4/2000 - from Julia VanHuss:

Mellanay Delhom gave me a signed copy of your book as she knows I have practiced zazen and have some interest in Buddhism. The book was given to her by her childhood friend -- your mother, of course. I am one of Miss Delhom's "disciples."

I intend to read all that is available on the web site, but I first wanted to write to you and give you my impressions of your book before I read the reviews. I finished the book with the oddest kind of joyous sadness. Your Suzuki comes off as flawed, almost terribly so, and yet the truths you tell in no way diminish him. Your love for him is evident on every page. I commend you for your unsentimental portrait of Suzuki, that despite its detachment, is intimate and totally loving.

Your style is refreshingly self-effacing, but I was not a bit fooled by your modest remarks. Your courage in writing truthfully about those involved with Suzuki speaks for your own willingness to be who you are and let other be who they are, without judgment but with total acceptance of "things-as-it-is." Suzuki taught by the example he set. And so do you.

I will always be grateful to Miss Delhom for giving me you wonderful book. Julia VanHuss, 501 Sardis Lane, Charlotte, North Carolina 28270.

4/5/2000 - from Deanna J. Marquart: 
Subject: 404 and stalling

You might remember me. [More on how we met - and I do remember her-DC] ...Anyway, that little glimpse of you has been rattling around in my mind quite a bit lately as I've been reading CROOKED CUCUMBER.

I've never been to Zen Center in San Francisco, nor to Tassajara, but I've been to Green Gulch many times, including weekend stays. That's where I learned to sit zazen. Many years ago, I heard Richard Baker give the Sunday morning lecture there a few times. One of his lectures I still think of frequently. In America, he said, we believe our dreams can come true. He suggested that one way we could be sure that happens is to include in our dreams impermanence and pain. We all laughed, but the truth of it was inescapable.

I'll try to get to the point, though I'm not sure I can do that in one try. I mostly want you to know that I appreciate your having written this biography of Shunryu Suzuki. Certain experiences I've had through reading your book have affected me deeply. For example, although I had no direct personal exposure at all to Suzuki, my impression of him has always been exactly as you have portrayed him in your book. That tells me a lot about him as a teacher. And then THAT idea has captivated me, especially in combination with the perspective of Suzuki as "becoming American soil" and the realization that he had an impact here in America that he could not have had in Japan. Also, learning about Buddhist institutions being in disarray in Japan is important to me, simply because it confirms my understanding of institutions in general, religious institutions and otherwise. The power of extraordinary individuals is something I tend to think of as a basic tenet of American romanticism, so reading the story of Suzuki, not easily classifiable as an American romantic, has me turning a lot of long-held ideas on their head.

Now, with only a few pages more to read, I find myself putting off the inevitable. I have so enjoyed having this book in my life over the past week or so that I have begun to dread being without it. Given that much of this last chapter is devoted to that very experience for those of you who had had Suzuki himself in your lives, I'm sure you have a sense of what I am feeling. Thank you for writing this book and thank you in particular for telling some of your own stories about your personal interactions with Suzuki. I feel quite indebted to you.

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