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Crooked Cucumber and whatever. Sept 1999

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9/23/99--Some nice comments from Mushim Ikeda-Nash

Dear David,

        A friend referred me to your Web site and I scanned the Sangha news about Mark, Lew, Phil, et al. Thanks for sharing all this information. I am really amazed and happy that Lew has been pulled back from death's door. I hear that Phil is ornery
and hilarious. As for Mark, we pray for him day and night.
         Sue Moon gave me _Crooked Cucumber_ as a gift and I read it all very fast. Now I want to go back and read it slowly. As I'm sure you've been told many times, it is a superbly written and researched work. Thank you, and congratulations. I especially got a kick out of the old photo of the group, with Pauline P. holding infant David. Now he has kids of his own. Wow.

Best wishes,
Mushim Ikeda-Nash

9/18/99--catching up on some reader's comments. [There are many that I haven't put on. I plan to get BBS capability and then it will be automatic. I guess--I've never done that. Anyway, here are three.--DC]

From poetess and dear friend Jane Hirshfield: Subject: Huge Gratitude. I e-mailed the Tassajara office for fire updates and asked if there might be somewhere where updates were being posted and found out that way that you were doing it in, as I'd wondered in your topic on the Well but hadn't got around to checking. Thank you so much, David, for serving as a nerve center for the Diaspora-sangha. I was also moved to read the rest of Sangha News. I hadn't even heard that Dan Harvey had died (I was also at Greens with him). [I just searched for her name (which I can spell correctly) on the web--there was a lot. Try this one and see all the books she's written, read her poems, get her as a guest speaker: Jane Hirshfield. Thanks Jane--Love, D]

From a friend in Santa Fe: Dear David, I graduated August 13th and was able to start your book last week. I enjoyed/appreciated it very much. A wonderful story and gently handled. I hope "the opinionated" appreciated your efforts to walk through the politics and keep telling the story. And I scrubbed my toilet, started doing my stretches in preparation for sitting (lost when I got sick over Christmas), and gave away a bunch of clothing. Not much, but if everyone who reads it does as much, you and Shunryu will have changed the world :) Thanks. As it turned out it was the perfect thing to read after a semester of Genji, Heike, Kenko, Basho, and Dogen--brought it all forward, so to speak. Hope you are well and are enjoying the rewards of authorship. I have seen several nice reviews.  Beautiful web site. I'll check in now and then.--S.

From an English Buddhist: 

Dear David, Thank you so much for taking the considerable time and effort to portray  Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's life.  There is a feeling of having known him due  to your clear depiction and it is without doubt that he was a great Zen  Master.  Shunryu Suzuki was clearly one who was able to cut through this  dual world and bring unity in place of opposition;  typically his ability  to see the folly of Japan's war movement and one-sided views;  also his  encouragement of Japanese and American students to learn from each other,  instead of the usual partisanship which presides in many religious  groups.  His talks were profoundly deep and yet had a simple clarity. The  achievement during his lifetime was quite phenomenal and I sincerely hope  that all his hard work has continued to bear fruit? It would be very  interesting to learn how the Zen Mountain Center has progressed since  Shunryu Suzuki's life and how Richard Baker Roshi fared.  

I have for some years practised Rinzai Zen Buddhism at the Zen Centre in  St John's Wood, London, under the very trustworthy guidance of Venerable  Myokyo-ni, who trained for 13 years in Japan under Zuigan Roshi until his  death and then Sesso Roshi at Daitoku-ji monastery.  It has been my very  great privilege to have been able to meet and receive Teisho from Soko  Roshi who came from Japan to the Summer School in England over many years  at the Buddhist Society Summer School, until his death in 1996.  He was a  much-loved teacher who was affectionately known as 'Uncle'.   On reading your book it has become clear that the wisdom imparted by  Shunryu Suzuki is the same wisdom imparted by Soko Roshi and Venerable  Myokyo-ni.  Their admonishing not to get caught up in ideas but to  practise wholeheartedly without any gaining idea.  I know Rinzai and Soto  schools may not always have agreed with each other's training methods but  in practice they both work very well.  It is extremely good fortune to  come into the sphere of a genuine teacher and it seems we have both been  blessed in this way.  

Due to your book, although it has not been possible  to travel widely to different Zen groups, it has made possible the  exchange of teaching and practice that is so helpful in order not to  become stale.  With deepest gratitude for your book and very best wishes,  Jo

[I guess they spell "practice" practise in England. I'll stop changing it. I get it from all the English messages.--DC]

9/16/99--from Gary Snyder [I'd asked him what was the Japanese he'd heard for the term crooked cucumber. See Author's Notes for more.] David, glad to be of some help. It was magatta-kyuri, didn't hear the term hebo. I'm pretty sure. 

9/14/99--from Rogers:  Thank you for writing "Crooked Cucumber". I was deeply touched by your book. It brought Suzuki-Roshi to life for me and also, many tears to my eyes. Your web site is a wonderful addition to the book. I began an on-again-off-again relationship with Zen practice after reading an early copy of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", in the early 70s. Perhaps both of us represent "years of Zen training gone to waste". Those years of not paying attention are over. Like a han, "Crooked Cucumber" has called me back to practice. gassho.

9/13/99--a message from Gary Snyder about the term Crooked Cucumber

[I talked to Gary at a book reading he did in Santa Rosa from his new book "The Gary Snyder Reader." He told me that he had been called Crooked Cucumber in Japan and this is a follow-up email he sent me about it. I've asked him if he remembers the Japanese term used. For further info on this term see Author's Notes (the first and only one so far).--DC]

I never found more about this expression except for people to occasionally say "Oh yes, we use that sometimes" -- apparently as a friendly, playful metaphor for a complex person. Goto Zuigan Roshi used it of himself, and later of me. His housekeeper referred to several other Zen Priests with that phrase. Nanao Sakaki says that country people use it. That's all I know. Not had time to write any thoughts about the fine book yet. It's a beauty, though.. best, Gary

"We lost our corkscrew and were compelled to live on food and water for several days."-- W. C. Fields 

[I had to leave this part of his signature in.--DC]

9/11/99-- from Dan K: I would love to suggest the following two books for Jamie if he has not read them yet:

ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn; and Story of B by Daniel Quinn.

I think these two books are quite unique and important works. Quinn is a former Catholic priest who left , but wrote these books of incredible vision. So much so, that Ishmael won the Turner Award for books most likely to impact the way we view important changes in the world.

9/11/99--from Halpern: And while we're on recommendations, I heartily recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 4 which has just been released a few days ago -- it's great. It takes less than five minutes to accomplish the initial voice training. It also works very well with young voices like Clay's. I I think Clay and Elin and especially you will enjoy it a lot Robert. It's also a candidate for Jamie's reading list.

9/10/99--from Steve Cartmell in England: 

9/10/99--from New York: I found by searching for your name on Altavista. I wanted to thank you for Thank You and Ok!, and I was happy to find that you have another book.

I felt so moved and pleased reading your book; I had that feeling at the end of wanting to read as slowly as possible, frowning to myself as the remaining pages dwindled.

I've felt deep affection for Buddhism for quite a while, but never a sangha. I only know Katagiri through his book Returning to Silence, which I've carried around with me for years, and I've only been in a zendo once, in Kent, Ohio in 1991. Actually, the teacher there was a former student of Trungpa Rinpoche who felt very hurt and angry about Rinpoche's drinking.

It was very snowy that day; my friends and I had driven up from Oberlin College. In the evening, a gentle man who looked like Herman Munster made a delicious meal for us, and then we drove back.

Here's a poem by Charles Simic that I hope you'll enjoy:

A stone is a mirror which works poorly. Nothing in it but dimness. Your dimness or its dimness, who's to say? In the hush your heart sounds like a black cricket.

Thanks again for your effort. Be well, Shannon

Shannon Holman, Research Editor National Law Journal 

9/10/99--An interesting proposal: My name is Laura Newman, and I'm currently working on my PhD in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and teaching freshman writing. I'm a Zen practitioner, and I just read Crooked Cucumber. It meant a lot to me, especially because it was a going-away gift from my dharma teacher. I just moved to Pittsburgh from Little Rock to work on my doctoral studies, and it was comforting to read about how Suzuki navigated the cultural boundaries he crossed on his journey to the U.S.

Anyway, I'm doing a seminar on Nationalisms (cultural studies) and I'm proposing a project involving looking at Suzuki's journey to the U.S., his influence on his American students, and then looking at the Asian influences on the Beat poets. How I tie all this together is too complex for this message, but I was wondering, would you be willing and have a little time to correspond with me over email in regard to some of Suzuki's experiences and your observations about how he influenced Western religion and spirituality? I would propose to ask you direct questions and for guidance in regard to research materials. (My intention is not to overwhelm you.) The objective for my seminar is to come up with a scholarly piece of writing for submission to a journal, perhaps the Journal of Asian American Studies. Full acknowledgements and citations of your work are, of course, a given.

[Yes I'll do it as long as I can put it on this site. I'm busy and going to Germany for two weeks, but I'll try. Send away.--DC]

9/10/99--Reading suggestions to Jamie from Phil Vinson in Texas: A couple of books I read this summer that I'd recommend, with some conditions.

1. _A Very Private Woman, the Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer_, by Nina Burleigh.

The sleazy subtitle is misleading. This is about a woman who is alleged to have been one of JFK's mistresses, but the book is really about the kind of people who were drawn to Washington during the Kennedy years. It describes the wealthy Ivy-League types who made up the CIA and other influential government agencies and how their "upper-class machismo" got us into such pickles as Vietnam and plans to assassinate Castro, which resulted in JFK's death. Fascinating.

2. _Decline of the West (Abridged)_ by Oswald Spengler. Not for the faint of heart. Probably one of the toughest reads I've ever had, in the same dense literary style as Marx. Translated from German. However, also one of the most awesome things I've ever read in its sheer scope and range of knowledge. They don't write 'em like this any more. Spengler had some Zen-like ideas, believing that spirituality is the mark of a great culture, and that the West has been on the decline since about 1750. He believes science, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, money, Marxism, capitalism, democracy and modern art are leading the civilization astray from what matters and in the end will doom the West. He thinks Goethe's Faust is the pinnacle of Western cultural thought.

I note that this thread is copied to David Chadwick. Hi, David. Jerry Ray and the Ft. Worth contingent are alive and well. Hope to see you again soon. Enjoyed the signing at Borders.

9/9/99--Please suggest a good book for helper-webmaster Jamie.--DC

Hi folks, Well, the ol' Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is back with a vengeance (and right in the middle of a project! aargh!), so I'm gonna be doing a bit more reading for a while.  Any suggestions?  Throw 'em out there and I'll just pick from the pile. I'm open to just about anything - non-fiction preferred - but nothing about whales (whaleboats OK), saving the planet, conspiracies, or contact with the dead, please.

[Jamie--Sounds like you've narrowed the list down. Too bad. I was going to recommend you read "The Conspiracy to Prohibit Contact with Dead Whales to save the Planet," by Kowznofsky. Let's put your note on the site and see if anyone answers. In the meantime.. 

I suggest Peter Coyote's book, "Sleeping Where I Fall" (Counterpoint). Read it and tell me what you think. It's in paperback now. There are a number of good reviews (and one bad) on to give you an idea about it. The guy is educated--chooses his words well. Lot of heavy stuff goes down too. He's an old friend and Zen student who never forgets old friends. There's one mention of Suzuki-roshi on p. 75 and it's in a dandy description of the Human Be-in at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1968. I didn't know Peter then but I was there and tell about it in Crooked Cucumber, and will put in the archive here what Peter had to say. I should start a page called Excerpts for this sort of thing.

And then get well soon.--DC]

9/4/99--I've edited the bit called further comments by me on Brian Victoria. And just one more little comment concerning Dan Kaplan's note of 9/3 below. See Digressions.

9/3/99--Some messages I've received recently--DC:

9/3/99--check out Paul Maxwell's NETWORKS column in the Cyberslice section of Tokyo's Asahi Evening News, August 2, 99. It's called "www.latter-day.silkroad" (not a link) and mentions some interesting Buddhist and other sites including [I need to get these sites and many more into my links section. I need to organize the links section better. Couldn't do half of what happens here without Jamie in Houston and Rich in Petaluma. Thanks again guys. Hmmm. Thinking.--DC]

9/3/99--from Dan Kaplan: Wonder if you've seen the new issue of Tricycle. The series of articles about Yasutani were of immense interest to me and helped me think through some issues concerning teacher-student relationships. It is kind of some of the same stuff I was thinking [in some of his recent comments in Errata under the Trungpa discussion]. Anyway, thought you'd enjoy the issue if you hadn't yet read through it. It's got other good articles too. 

[Yes, I read all of the pieces on Yasutani-roshi's militaristic, fascist, and anti-Semitic writings by Brian Victoria, Robert Aitken, Bodhin Kjolhede, Lawrence Shainberg, and Bernie Glassman. I thought it was all fascinating. See further comments by me on Brian Victoria. I agree that there are other good articles too, for instance there's a memorial article on Rick Fields. To see more, go to the Tricycle link at [issue 33, article not available on site - back issue must be purchased, the cheap bums--DC]

9/2/99-- Just a little note from Holland. Today I visited your site (like I do every other day or so since I found out about it a month ago) and I couldn't repress a little cry of recognition. William James [see recent Digressions on this site]. And I had to send this message. In my bookcase (too many books on Zen - I still don't know if they've done me more harm than good the last ten or twelve years) all the books are aligned normally, except for two: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind which faces me with it's back cover, and Linda Simon, Genuine reality. A Life of William James which faces me with it's front cover. The kindness in the eyes of both men is genuine - I can tell because I read Crooked Cucumber, and I read some books by and about William James. There are differences, but there is, at least to me, a lot of Zen in the essays in for instance Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. I read Thank You and OK! a couple of years ago and I liked it a lot. Crooked Cucumber is really marvelous. One of your great qualities as a writer is that you are transparent - one is always aware that a subjective person is writing the book, yet the honesty and precision of language make your subject stand out as it really is/was/seems to have been. Well, something like it. I can't really express it, I'm no literary critic. (But I am an art historian, so I should be able to do better.) Since you like reading, maybe I may give you a tip (perhaps you already know it): John Blofeld, The Wheel of Life. Autobiography of a Western Buddhist, 1959. The book is better than the title. It's mainly about China in the thirties. There's one chapter on his ten-month stay in a Zen monastery, the rest is about Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism etc. It's very colorful, very sincere and great reading. I whish you a lot of luck with your documentary project - because the little Suzuki is in reality of course the big Suzuki. (Well, somehow the word 'big' doesn't sound very nice - let's forget about big and little) Greetings, Ruud Schenk.

[I'm going to try to get to reading both books you mentioned there, though I'm a poor reader--just too slow.--DC]

9/2/99-ALAMEDA BUDDHIST COMMUNITY, a thumbnail sketch, sent in response to my response to Barbara's letter of 8/22.

8/31/99--Great your project on Shunryu Suzuki. It was time to do so. I really don't know why, but his picture on the German version of "Zen Mind - Beginners Mind" deeply touched me. For a small exhibition in my home town I intend to present some portraits (blue on blue pastel drawings). And one of those is the above mentioned picture. And some others are still waiting to be drawn... Thus, is it possible to get some other pictures (or scans) of Shunryu Suzuki? In the case you are interested, I will send you some scans of my drawings by e-mail. Can you help me?

Thanks a lot in advance Yours Dr. Arndt Büssinh

[I gave Dr. Bussinh a couple of suggestions about where to get photos of Suzuki-roshi, but the best would be if I increased the paltry photo gallery here. I intend to do so. It will just take time. My email to you was returned which  happens sometimes with foreign messages, but you had two return addresses so maybe the other one worked. Tell me if you got no answer and I'll try again.--DC]

9/2/99--I post this message in case anyone else has any ideas.--DC

David, I've enjoyed watching the progress of your web-pages!!!! I'm planning to spend 3 weeks in Yokohama in October/November. I have always wanted to spend a few nights as a guest in a Japanese Zen Temple. Can you recommend a particular temple in the Tokyo/ Nikko/ Kamakura/ Yokohama area (or within modest traveling distance) that allows guests to stay overnight, and that would give a person a very rich taste of everyday Zen monastic life? thank you so much, Paul Forbess.

[Here's my answer to his question.--DC]

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