Give Crooked Cucumber to a friend

About the Book           

About Suzuki Roshi    

Prior (to 2000) Digressions . . .
I'll put my longer-knuckled scribblings here so as to minimize contamination to the whole domain.
Return to more recent Digressions

12/16/99--From Daniel Oberti, a sculptor here in Sebastopol:

Here's the scoop of the Winter Solstice....and a Christmas Greeting

This year will be the first full moon to occur on the winter solstice, Dec. 22, commonly called the first day of winter in the last 133 years. Since a full moon on the winter solstice occurred in conjunction with a lunar perigee (point in the moon's orbit that is closest to Earth) the moon will appear about 14% larger than it does at apogee (the point in it's elliptical orbit that is farthest from the Earth).

Since the Earth is also several million miles closer to the sun at this time of the year than in the summer, sunlight striking the moon is about 7% stronger making it brighter.

Also, this will be the closest perigee of the Moon of the year since the moon's orbit is constantly deforming. If the weather is clear and there is a snow cover where you live, it is believed that even car headlights will be superfluous.

On December 21st. 1866 the Lakota Sioux took advantage of this combination of occurrences and staged a devastating retaliatory ambush on soldiers in the Wyoming Territory.

In laymen's terms it will be a super bright full moon, much more than the usual AND it hasn't happened this way for 133 years!

Our ancestors 133 years ago saw this. Our descendants 100 or so years from now will see this again.

10/28/99--I had to post this note sent by observant web surfer David Cohen: The Hubble Heritage project is a year old and they have truly awesome photos of Stars and Nebulae from the past year. Do yourself a favor and get in front of the biggest screen you can find and have a look. http://heritage.stsci.edu/index.html

Seen in the newspaper: In an Associated Press article by Deborah Baker today, she reported on the recommendation of the New Mexico state history museum to install a plaque at a Santa Fe city park to mark the site of a WWII internment camp for Japanese Americans. Some veterans who were POWs in the war, still equating their fellow citizens of Japanese origin with their Japanese captors, are opposed to the plaque. My point in this report, however, is not to discuss this obvious bit of misplaced animosity, but to quote from the proposed wording for this plaque. Listen carefully:

"This marker is placed here as a reminder that history is a valuable teacher only if we do not forget our past."

Let us all ponder this teaching, and place it alongside other parallel admonitions such as "Mathmatics is a noble study only if we do not forget numbers."--DC

10/19/99--Happy birthday Elin!

I never have gotten that last report about my Europe trip up. Oh well. Maybe later maybe not. I do what I can on this site and have to put more time into the two proposals: the one for a new book on Suzuki-roshi, a short book with more stories and exchanges with students, and the proposal to fund the Cucumber Project

I do need to do some organizational changes to cuke.com though. Today, for instance, I put under Readers' Comments info on the English paperback edition: basic info and a link to the publisher. But what I really need is a section under "About the Book" called "Buy the Book" or something like that. There I could put links to online bookstores and mention other bookstores. The reason I haven't done that is that I have been hesitant to get involved in the bookselling war that's going on among Borders, B&N, Amazon.com, and independent bookstores. Most of my friends in the bookselling world are independents and they're struggling to survive against the onslaught of low prices the big guys have. I buy most of my books from my local independent but sometimes I get one from Amazon.com or from a chain store if I'm there. And there's the new independent online outlet called "Booksence" I think which I haven't looked at yet. I could just put up all the options and let the reader decide, but it will take time to figure out what they all are and readers know where to get books without my help so I haven't done anything. One of my friends has advised me to put a link to Amazon.com on the site as a way to help to support myself because I would get a percentage of any books sold from folks who went to Amazon through my link. I would love to have the money but I've just felt uncomfortable about it. Does anyone else have any thoughts about this?

Another section I have been contemplating would be called something like Remarks and Articles or maybe Miscellany which MK suggested and which could cover more territory. For instance, there are some entries under Interviews which are not interviews. There's an article by me on Jean Ross and two letters from Fred Harriman about the Suzuki family that he wrote after going over the interviews with them (he's a translator) and spending time at Rinsoin with Hoitsu Suzuki. 

Another change I've been thinking of making is to divide up the Readers' Comments into categories. For instance, the recent letter from Andrew Main is really a bit of history. So there are letters which are saying thanks for the book and what the person thought about it and then there will be a letter more about Suzuki-roshi and Zen Center. 

So I'm always thinking about how to organize the various items on this site and any suggestions are appreciated.

I also want to put more graphics and photos on it but it will just take time for me to get to that because, among other things, I have to figure out how to do it.

That's all for now. Gotta get back to those proposals.--DC

10/02/99--Insbruck Austria--I'm at Weisses Kreuz, White Cross, Hotel, founded 1465 and, lucky for me, owned and run by Joseph Ortner, a member of the Shambala sangha. I'm on the office computer holding up business but having a nice time with the front desk lady. This is my last in a series of small hotels with yummy breakfasts with lots of choice thrown in. I went out walking the cobblestones early here in the old town part of town and got a Herald Tribune and read all about what's happening in the world. Here in Austria there's a big election tomorrow and the far right racist Freedom Party is expected to have big gains tomorrow much to the displeasure of my host. I've seen more glorious rococo churches here, and Maximillion´s tomb which he refused to get buried in because the last time he was here the locals refused to put up his entourage till he paid his debts so he left in a huff. But he left the snazzy tomb surrounded by black metal statues of his real and pretend lineage (like his father and King Arthur. Lots of history here for sure--coming out of my eyes and ears. But the churches--wow--here and Switzerland and Germany--so spacious and beautiful and full of theater and pageantry and color and glory and angels and more baroque handiwork in a few square feet that in all of ZC. A different approach from different times.

And I've got to relearn names. They don't say Munich, they say Munchen--we could have said that just as easily--why the change?

A correction--Vanya was just pulling my leg about what wild biseln (not beseen) is. It's just peeing outside or not at the designated toilet. We caught a guy at October fest (so named because it extends into October barely) wild bizelning and Vanya called to him and reminded him of the 150 mark fine and he took it in quite good humor. The fest was fine--three hours of beer and food and his friends and relatives in the relatively sedate Wine Tent--still most people were drinking beer. There was dancing on tables and clapping but, unlike some of the other tents according to my sources, everyone kept all their clothes on and didn't act like Animal House. And when we left, Vanya, Kobun, and I rode the five loop roller coaster!

Oh yes--we also had an early dinner in an old hotel on a lake the day before that with Arnie Kotler and Therez, dear old friends from ZC who became teachers under Thich Nhat Hahn. Arnie started Parallax Press and, after years and years of selflessly, and for little personal financial reward, churning out Thay´s (Thich Nhat Hahn) books, he and Therez are moving on to Hawaii where they hope to open a center for Buddhist practice on the big island. They showed us photos of the old Protestant center and it is indeed lovely. I'm bout ready to pack my bags.

With Arnie and Therez were two other of Thay´s teachers: Marcel and Beatrice Geisser who founded the Sati (order or whatever, not to be confused with Gil Fronsdal's Sati Center in Palo Alto California) and have a practice center named Haus Tao near St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Vanya´s hotel to be a practice center high on the mountainside hopefully with zendo designed by Paul Disco is, incidentally, called Feldintour or something like that which means Cliff Gate. What a place.

What a part of the world to be in.

9/30/99--In a buzzing bar/cafe in Luzern (pronounced Lutzern) called Partnerre on one of their four computers.
Pretty fast. The hardest thing about going online here
is that the keyboard is a little different as I think
I wrote before
.
The y and z are interchanged which is
a challenge and the apostrophe I've given up on. I love
it when I get on a keyboard (there's that y again and
there it is again and there was that lack of an
apostrophe again) and just type "cuke" (the quotes are
in a diff place too but Ill quit writing things like
that cause lots of stuff is) and www.cuke.com comes up.
Just cuke and there it is. My gosh.

Random memories:

A quite dignified Russian lady  well in her years who I met at the wedding told me that Vladamir Nabokov's secret was that he just put Russian phrases and way of writing into English. She also had some interesting ideas about Zen that she expressed to Jerry Brown, Arnie Kotler, and me. 

Also at the wedding I talked to the brother of the
late King Hussein and apologized for American foreign
policy. He was gracious as could be and said that
there's going to be some sort of international religious
get-together in Jordan in November which the Dalai
Lama is coming to.

Last night sat zazen here in Lucerne at Vanya Palmers
zendo with him, Kobun Chino, and some others including
a monk student of Vanya´s and another student of his
who was his high school principal. That seemed so
amazing to me--like something from Buddhas life--how
so many of his old family and friends became his
students. Vanya´s zendo is in a fine old home in the
basement--an impeccable Japanese style zendo and tea
room. Today a bunch of us went to his newly acquired
hotel high in the Alps (well, low in the Alps) driving
then cog training to a path that leads to the entrance
through a fantastic giant rock formation. The place
was used by monks for a hermitage centuries ago (the
most famous one was supposed to ring a bell daily at
noon but would often forget and be forgiven by
villagers because they knew he was out there wandering
around and protecting the animals from hunters. When
he died, a likeness of his face was said to have
appeared on the side of one of the giant stones and to
this day it is also said that the local animals are
protected by him. Vanya plans to transform this five
story or so building into a practice place, a daunting
task--it really needs a lot of work. The view
incidentally is one of the most spectacular sites I've
ever seen--the lake below is vaguely cross-shaped with
tour boats coming in from Luzern--and rising up are
towns, green mountainsides, rock mountain faces,
mounds of mountains with mountains behind the
mountains and mountains behind those snow-coned and
waiting in dreamy clouds all on a scale more massive
than I've ever seen. What could compare? Only the sky
full of stars on a clear night suggesting eternity.
The train rides around here are dizzying in
spectacularity of scenery that demands a new word for
the scene that is seen. I like the people too.

Tomorrow, fulfilling my dream to experience what
everyone says is something I will only want to do once
we are going to October-fest in Munich. A German gentleman told me that when I go there, I would be keeping to tradition if I stuck my cane down my pants and peed on it as I drank stein after stein not bothering to get up letting the urine slide
down to the floor yet being careful not to fill the
ladies' shoes. Vanya said yes but be sure not to get the
150 German Deutchmark fine for Wild Bessen (I think it
was--pronounced something like Vilt Beesen) which
means Wild Peeing wherein the reveler sprays around
him while circling without regard for whom or what it
hits. Vanya told me not to worry, that we were
unlikely to become victims of vilt beesening.

[I fell off my chair laughing at this! JA]

The Australian and the Vancouverite have left the
computers at my side and now I think I too will
conclude by mentioning that on the way in here I
dropped by a cannabis store. Marijuana and hashish are
illegal to smoke here and there are according to Vanya
30,000 arrests yearly for that, but the supreme court
of Switzerland has ruled that cannabis products may be
sold for other reasons and that it may be grown
privately but not smoked. So its sold in stores for
pillow stuffing and the lady told me that many old
folks have lost their fear of it because sleeping on
these pillows puts them to sleep so well. There were
many other cannabis products such as oil for eating or
massage, clothing, bags, etc.

What a world we live in.

DC

9/28/99--Greeting from Europe! Attended the wedding last Saturday the 25th of Richard Dudley Baker and Marie Louise von Baden in Sloss Salem (Salem Castle) and it was indeed a joyous and splendid event. I'll do a more elaborate description later but now I have mere
minutes before it's off to the next train station. I'm
now in Switzerland on the other side of Lake Constance
from Salem in Germany, but looking across that
Tahoe-esque expanse of water I felt I could almost see
the vineyards and rows of corn amidst the rolling green
hills.

I'm on the steep slopes of Lachen (sounds like the
word for laughter but probably means something more
like puddle according to Choshin Capocasa who's home
and zendo I am visiting--Jishuan Zendo, named by Kobun
Chino-roshi. Choshin picked me up at the train station
yesterday and showed me around and we went to a
marvelous mineral spring swimming pool in the evening.
This morning there was zazen, service and pear syrup
with the oatmeal. She was a student of
Katagiri-roshi's, ordained by Vanya Palmers. Anyone
who wants to come sit here with her in NE Switzerland
in this old three story former thread factory house
with waterwheel in basement, wide old floor boards, a
creek, goats, sheep, a spring, outside, no creature
comforts, a compost privy! (shame on you SFZC for
getting rid of all those waterless toilets), a
kachelofen (thick tiled sandstone woodstove like at
Johanneshof), in a ravine so we have to walk up the
lush footpath to see the Swiss homes on the slopes
just like in the post cards. To contact Choshin:

Zwirneli (which means thread-making place)
CH-9428 Lachen AR
phone/fax: 41-71-888-2878
email: choshinpaus.ch

She has a basic info web page in German:
http://www.paus.ch/

We're off now to the station!
Auf Wiedersehen!

DC

9/23/99--Am here at Baker-roshi's center in Germany,
Johanneshof--a really fine place.
Good people, low key, situated near Switzerland in a hilly area that reminds me of being in The Sound of Music. After zazen I want to go dancing out on the green hills singing a la Julie Andrews.

It's hard to write on this keyboard which is for German and which has a few differences from our American keyboard that pop up every few words.

In Zurich yesterday I was fitted for tails and tux to wear at the wedding, a two day event.

I've never been to Europe before and am a bit excited.

A strange thing has been happening to me on this trip. My left calf gets hot. It happened on the bus to the airport in California and on the airplane and even sitting here this morning. I instinctively look around for a heater and then I feel my leg and it feels normal.

That's all for today. Love to all. - DC

9/20/99--Hi. I'm at the Chicago airport at Laptop Lane (which has all desktops!) on my way to Germany for the first time to visit Baker-roshi's center, to go to his wedding, and to do some other visiting that I'll report here as it seems newsworthy or just dribble I want to write.

I got the last errata finished for Broadway at 3AM but didn't dare take the time to put it on the Errata page because I hadn't started to pack yet and my departure time from home, escorted by sleepy Elin, was at 4:30AM. It took me two hours to reword two paragraphs so that I could include the new material [see last note on Errata] without adding a line to the page. It worked out fine.

Walking around the airport here with lots of time before the flight to Zurich, I use a cane to take the weight off my right heel afflicted for 3 months or so now with a torn ligament or pad on the bottom of the foot, a condition called plantar fasciitis which I'd never heard of till I got it and now I meet someone who has had it once a week and they always say, "Oh yes, I had that for a year." I brought a big plastic cast to strap my foot into when I sleep which will keep it stretched. I look like someone faking the cane thing at times because it's hardest to walk on flat ground but can sprint up and down stairs because I can put my weight on my arch on stairs.

Got a German phrase book. Didn't sleep last night but got three hours on the flight to Chicago. Plan to study German on the eight and a half hour flight over. Love language though my aptitude could be better.

Oh yeah, in a bookstore here [at the Chicago Airport] I signed two copies of Crooked Cucumber and the teller said that it was
selling well for a hardback. Nice to hear

Onward ho!--DC

9/6/99--Only a few days till 9/9/99. What else can I say? It speaks for itself. On a couple of occasions I wrote Herb Caen when suggestive dates were approaching. I can't remember which ones. Oh, I think 6/7/89--like that. I have fleeting numerical fancy and promote not the slightest bit of imposing linkage or extra meaning in such things. 

To further illustrate how this sort of thing works in me, when I read, I calculate the percentages and fractions that I have ventured into the book. For instance, I am now 17/25ths through Varieties of Religious Experience--272 out of 400 pages--each 25th being 16 pages long. And 400 divides up so wonderfully well into so many whole numbers (and to get it I fudged ever so slightly). I do calculate some thirds and sixths along the way as well. 

Incidentally, since I find all numbers so poised and waiting to be recognized for their relationships and standing among their peers, I find the emphasis on 2000 to be generally more than I personally would assign. It's sort of fun to see so much hoopla over so many zeros. I'd wish to compound the problem rather than point out superficialities. As soon as the year 2000 celebrations settle down, I think it will be time to remind people that it was all a big mistake as the year 2001 begins the new millennium, as the anachronistic in-its-day Year One began the first century (an argument held on the last millennium and similarly before in at least our recent centuries). What I would propose naturally is there be a whole new and appropriately more excessive wave of celebrations for the ringing in of 2001. And we can make up slogans promoting our pet ideals such as "The Century where we finally get it all down right."  

9/4/99--I've edited the bit called further comments by me on Brian Victoria. And below there's more concerning Dan Kaplan's note of 9/3 from Readers' Comments and repeated at the bottom of the aforementioned bit on Brian Victoria. 

The only thing that I can remember Suzuki-roshi saying about Jews is second-hand. One of his old students from Japan said that once when he was back in Japan visiting that Suzuki was telling him about his American students and that he said it seemed that those from Jewish backgrounds took to Buddhism more easily. And I found a quote from Hoitsu about that too:

"My father often said it was easier for those from Jewish background to understand Buddhism than for those from Christian background, as followers have direct connection with God in Judaism, while there is a mediator, Christ, between followers and God in Christianity. It must be easy for Jewish people to understand Amidism especially. There are quite a few Jewish people at Zen Center."

I've always found Japanese to be fascinated with the idea of Jewish people and culture and I got the feeling they suspect there's something they share in being one people which is how many Japanese see themselves. But I've also experienced a sort of timidity by Japanese when they speak of Jews, afraid they might be saying something wrong. 

One Suzuki family member said to me not long ago, "Now don't get me wrong, I have no prejudice against Jewish people, I am just curious. All three of your abbots are Jewish aren't they? And the next one is Jewish. Are Jewish people taking over the Zen Center?

I said that it might seem so but that these students of Jewish ancestry were Zen students primarily, and like the Japanese who were interred during the war for fear that their loyalty would be to Japan and not to America, would probably not appreciate someone seeing them as a Jew first and a Buddhist second. And I pointed out that Jewish-Americans have just excelled in so many intellectual and spiritual fields.

But then again there have been a lot of Texans in Zen Center too and we do plan to take it over in time.--DC

9/3/99--See further comments by me on Brian Victoria in response to a comment in Readers' Comments on the new Tricycle.--DC]

9/2/99--Click here to read about William James and Tassajara and Clay and me.

9/1/99--go to Technical Talk to see what we're thinking about doing instead of underlining the names of books on cuke.com.

And speaking of technical talk, and since I haven't mentioned my mother since the last message here, I'd like to thank Jim in Ft. Worth for giving her print-outs of the Digressions and Comments pages of this site and I'd like to thank her for the corrections therein such as "Once and a while" should be "Once in a while" and how to spell my aunt's name. Thanks again mom.

8/13/99--Happy birthday mother.

8/8/99--A friend writes: David, why don't you ask people who use cuke.com to subscribe with dollars? With all the people you know and all the people who believe in what you're doing you certainly should be able to get funding to expand your site. Like Fu said, why don't you fund-raise from your friends? That's how I was able to buy my potter's wheel.

This is a free site and has to be. But, I'm of course thinking about money. I am currently working on a preliminary proposal to show to some friends/advisors in the academic and non-profit foundation worlds and yesterday I met with a financial advisor and we discussed, among other things, starting a cuke.com store--bookstore first and then onto other items such as t-shirts (which I'd love to do). I just got a check last week from a very kind understanding reader and plan to be able to give people tax deductions before the year's out. Thanks for your concern.  Something will happen--probably some combination of these and getting an advance for a new book. But I want to put the latter off for now. I'm having fun with this site.

[And along those lines, here's an email I got from Bill, an old friend, fellow Zennie, and my personal finance consultant (a daunting task). He sent it to help me contemplate credit card debt:]
                    Redemption
 
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,   
 Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
 And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel the old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
 They told me there that he was lately gone
 About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth
 Sought him accordingly in great resorts:
 In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts.
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
 Of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
 Who straight, 'Your suit is granted', said, and died.
 
            George Herbert, 1633

7/30/99--As for Benjamin's question about marijuana (in Reader's Comments today), I feel just fine about the use of marijuana for the relief of stress or for medical usage or for fun or sex or whatever and regard the war on drugs, as William Buckley said so aptly, as "the moral equivalent of the My Lai massacre." I believe that each person must deal with their own drug and medicine decisions and problems in their own way and that government intrusion into psychoactive management is akin to religious persecution (a la Szazz). To deprive someone of medicine is breaking an obvious and traditional moral law. To persecute someone for taking medicine compounds the crime.

That being said, I find that in my life, the less I use ANY psychoactive, the better. I like a little marijuana now and then, a little alcohol, a little caffeine. The problem is that each of these tugs at me, so that there's a struggle with them. I enjoy this struggle, especially when I'm living lightly and not overdoing anything, but not if I lose control. But to have armed agents crash into my life to help me and to protect society from me is not a struggle I wish to endure or see anyone endure. Many thousands of people are in jail now for having been involved with psychoactive use or sharing psychoactives with others. Children have been taken from their parents and lives smashed by a state as sensitive in this regard as Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. Good people see Shindler's list and say "never again" while not noticing that all about us others are being persecuted by our neighbors, representatives, and tax dollars.

Anyway, I think that you are the ultimate authority about the wisdom and efficacy of any medicine or drug, whether it is taken to ease pain, for fun, or out of self-destructive delusion. Just notice if it works and what it does for you. I think too much marijuana tends to make one depressed and lazy, but drugs affect people differently and I've been told by people who smoked grass for chemo that it didn't affect them so negatively.

7/29/99--Today I finished going over quotes I'd received for Crooked Cucumber (we only sought a few), and read through the reviews I've collected and gleaned quotes from them. I just sent what I came up with to the publisher and put it all under the Reviews section of this website. There's a new Quote from Peter Matthiessen and another link called Quotes from Reviews which has the gleaned quotes. I had to get this stuff in right away to be considered for the paperback. Of course, as usual, I way overdid it. They're not going to have room for most of it--I don't think there's any extra paper for an inside page of quotes. But I wanted to get it all together like that to put on the site, and for the folks at Broadway to see because they and I might have use for these quotes in promoting the book.

This is not my highest calling nor the greatest service I can provide for the readers of this site, but one thing I'm doing on cuke.com is letting the reader in on what I do. So you not only get here the raw material from which Crooked Cucumber was made, but the raw material that goes into selling it. I think I'll even put the promotional materials on the site, to show a bit that goes on behind the curtain. I think they do a good job, but not all of it met with my approval. I didn't loose any sleep on it though. Stuff like this can be tucked away in a link for those who care--and it shouldn't detract from the long term goals I have to make this site into an archive of stuff on Crooked Cucumber and on Suzuki-roshi beyond the book. The interviews are probably the most important part, and I'm looking forward to getting to doing the notes for the book on here too.

These quotes are not compiled with the same degree of honesty and honor that the interviews and notes and my digressions are though. Face it, what I do is go through the interviews looking for the most usable quotes--just total self interest. But I don't wallow in guilt. It's fun. I don't dwell on that stuff. A lot of the letters I post seem pretty self-serving too, or at least book-serving, but again, I'm just sharing what comes in. I have many letters and also many emails from when I was traveling that I haven't posted. I might do so or do some. If I do, it will be an even more thorough record of the whole process I'm going through. But at some point I've got to pull back from all that and concentrate on getting the existing interviews cleaned up and on the site, and interview a lot more people and get those on here, do the notes and other work I want to do such as posting photos and such, and then at some point I'll wash my mouth and hands and ears and move on to something else, and leave Suzuki behind where he'd prefer to be--forgotten and teaching from the dark. But for now here it is: blurbs. And I'm grateful for each of them. As Suzuki said, "we are shameless. We break the precepts. We eat meat." [Don't forget there's always another side and that that was said when the other side was getting too much stress.] When each thing is in its place, then there's room for us to do what we wish, to take a nap during the day, or to shamelessly promote a book on Zen.

7/25/99--Now that the errata is finished (and only waiting for any last minute stragglers or errata of the errata to pop up), I am going through the reviews and comments from people with name recognition (an embarrassing part of the business that I go along with cheerfully) in order to suggest to the publisher what blurbs could be used for the paperback edition. The fine ones used for the paperback seem to be quite enough, but my Texas-bred (and distinctly not-Buddhist) inclination that more is better prods me along. Also, I want to get that area of info organized to put on this site on the Reviews section. With a few exceptions, the best reviews are those that came from general readers and not from those who must read and comment on books constantly. For instance, I could do no better for either of my books than to send someone to Amazon.com for thoughtful and concise opinions of both books (though consideration of my preponderance of friends in the independent bookstore world keeps me from mentioning that sinister competition in more than a glancing way). I already spent all night Friday getting these reviews that I have on disk together and now I return to go through what I have on paper. We'll see how far I get. It's 3:30am, I awoke at 1:30 rested and ready to go, went to a bar downtown and had some coffee, read some from Nabakov's excellent autobiography Speak Memory, came upstairs to my office where I've done a little site cleaning, and after putting down a few thoughts here I'll dive into this task. But first, one more comment I want to make for the record.

On my camping trip of this month I read a book I must mention, and that is Afterzen: Experiences of a Zen Student Out on his Ear, by Janwillem Van de Wetering, the third book in his Zen trilogy, which came out recently in hardback, published by St. Martin's Press. He had indicated to me in correspondence that some people in Buddhist publishing were anything but pleased with what he had to say, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Van de Wetering hasn't written anything about Zen since A Glimpse of Nothingness (his account of studying Zen in Maine) which followed Empty Mirror (maybe the first book to tell about studying Zen in Japan). Van de Wetering in the meantime has written fifteen or so detective novels and collections of stories that have been quite well received and which have earned him an excellent reputation as a writer. Afterzen, as its name implies, is not an attempt to convert the masses to Buddhism. It's, rather, an honest straightforward reassessment of what this whole Buddhist saga we westerners are going through is about. He's sure no true believer, yet he can't be written off as a cynic either. He exposes the messy underbelly of the sangha (including the teachers) yet does not dismiss it as a waste. He's got a strong existential bent, always talking about nothingness and wondering what it is and ruminating about a purpose or no-purpose in life--not trying to present it in any sophisticated or special way, just showing us what he's thinking. And the influence of having seen Nazi's take his Jewish classmates away is embedded on his memory. It is a book of doubt and quest which reveals shafts of light in the midst of perilous storms. 

I remember once Suzuki-roshi giving a lecture at Sokoji in which he said that once the eyes of Buddhism are upon you, you can't escape them (a talk that struck a strange cord in me since it so perfectly paralleled the song of the University of Texas, "The Eyes of Texas"). 

Van de Wetering shows that he too cannot escape the eyes of Buddhism and he brings us with him in remembering the path he has followed, the teachers and friends he has studied with and some he met along the way, and reflects on what of value there was and is there. He does not pretend to understand anything, and that's such a relief. He's funny, wry, and easy to read. Our Buddhism is, of course, full of superstition, denial, and pretending--not Van de Wetering though. Check him out.--DC

7/23/99--From the new exciting entry on the Errata page today:

One far out item: most of the errata came from my mother. She gave me four pages of it. Everyone else had one comment or maybe two. Every time I'd talk to her she'd have another question about punctuation. I finally got a letter from her that started off something like, "In case you're wondering if I notice anything about the book other than grammar and punctuation..." and then she had some touching   things to say about the substance of the book. Little did she know, I still wanted her to stalk errata. A good errata hunter is hard to find. I remember writing letters, school papers, poetry, songs, and proposals at home. Having her there was like having a spell-check, grammar-check, and thesaurus built into the house. Since I've had a computer I thought I didn't need her any more, but she still comes in handy. Thanks mom.

7/23/99--Thanks to the recent letter from Dan Gourley (see Readers' Comments) in which he kindly suggests that I change the name of this section from David's Digressions to the more modest Digressions. Am doing it. But I wish I had a global change cause I have to change it at the bottom of every page where the links are as well as other places. Maybe there is a global change but I haven't found it yet.

7/21/99--Thanks to Richard Speel and to Jack Elias for pointing out the bad links the bottom of the new interviews. I have interviews in a folder now and that changed the route for the links. Got it. And while I'm at it. Thanks to Richard Speel and to Jamie Avera for continuing to help keep cuke.com growing and improving--just like the world economy. I don't know about the world, but I only plan to keep this site going like this for a couple of years. Then, after I've had enough oral histrionics, I'll put on my loin cloth and return to the woods.

But first I've got to finish the errata and blurbs for the publisher. I've gotten a little errata from folks, but mainly no one cares. Every once in a while I talk to someone who said, "Oh, I saw a mistake in your book." "Where is it? I'll ask." "I don't know. I thought you'd probably already know and would have taken care of it." That sort of thing. Most of you are too young to remember Jimmy Halto who had "Little Audry" I think it was in the comics. He also had a single square comic called "They'll do it every time." I loved it. It would have little things like this in it that drive you crazy and often there would be a little guy in corner blowing his stack with a caption that read, "Urge to maim." People tell me, "Oh it doesn't matter." "Yeah, it doesn't matter to you," I say. I'll name names. Niels Holm in Port Townsend told me he'd seen a mistaken word. Britton Pyland in San Francisco. These are both old Suzuki students. My aunt Brunhilde in Rochester. There are others and we have a list of names. Escape the wrath of cuke.com. Send in errata before it's too late.--DC

7/17/99--It's late. Got back last night from the Spokane trip in which Clay caught the only fish (a bass big enough for all four of us to eat). I was briefly on crutches from having re-injured the plantar's connection to my right heel and am sore from the rope swing and swimming too far at Lake Pierre near the Canadian border. I've been going over a couple of weeks of messages to choose what to put on the site and have been organizing my email mailboxes and files and realize now that I've got to go to bed. Gotta get up and get a rental car in Santa Rosa and go to that Suzuki-roshi disciples meeting tomorrow. Sunday we'll all be at Green Gulch Farm at Muir Beach CA for the morning lecture at 10:15 which is a sort of event to promote the Shunryu Suzuki Archive. The plan is, that instead of the regular lecture some of us (not me--I've been saying plenty) will give a ten minute talk based on an excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. (For more info on the Shunryu Suzuki Archives Projects, see the Archives Project section of this site). Sunday afternoon I'm going to be studying website stuff with John Sumser and then on Sunday Evening I'll be at the Zen Center's Greens Restaurant for the 20th Anniversary Celebration (I was the first host there, and a co-manager--for two years). So I won't have time to put anything new on the site till Monday and even then I've got to concentrate on a grant proposal to fund this site and the oral history work this site represents so we can tie this stuff up and get on to something else, maybe something zanier (I'll put the letter on the site) and gotta get the errata and changes for the book and any new blurbs ready for the publisher.

I'm thinking about Lew Richmond and hoping he's okay and hoping I'm actually sending him the get-well vibes I periodically try to.

I wanted to post something else on the site before I went to bed, so here it is. From Jack Van Allen, an old student of Suzuki's from the mid sixties. (Jack makes wonderful small Buddhist statues that I'll tell more about later)--DC:

During a question and answer someone said to Roshi, "Here I sit near the end of this session energized and thinking, there is a lot of power in this practice."  Suzuki replied, "Don't use it." [in Suzuki Stories]

7/9/99--I'm off to Spokane for a week of camping with my 8 year old son Clay to Join with his big half-brother Kelly, 25. I didn't have time to get some readers' comments on so that will have to wait till I get back. I've been busy working on finances (disastrous), expenses for the publisher (more than they'd ever pay), taxes (late, late, late), packing, answering letters, misc. busywork, and going over a proposal for a grant to continue work on this web site and the oral history surrounding Suzuki-roshi (which Leza Lowitz of Japan Times review fame has been working on). One thing I'm going to do when I get back is to get the errata together for my publisher. If anyone knows of anything that is wrong, any mistakes or typos or changes that should be made (minor) in Crooked Cucumber, then please tell me. If you find anything I'll be very grateful. I'll also be getting together blurbs for the paperback. I would like to include an inside page of blurbs and a page of Japanese names which people have trouble keeping up with in part one, but I don't think there's room in the book for either of those. I'll just put them on the web site then. Richard Speel and Jamie Avera will be keeping the web site going as they have time. There's lots happening I'll tell about when I get back. Keep the faith. Love--DC

7/7/99--I called up my friend John Sumser tonight. He has a very successful website, the Electronic Recruiting News http://www.interbiznet.com/ (which has nothing in common with this site other than we both have sites and are friends). John has been running his own site for years and writing something new everyday. It's his practice, his discipline. He's learned a lot. So he got on my site and immediately pointed out that my latest addition didn't hypertext to where it should and I went on and said "yes it does" and he told me I'm probably just going to my hard drive. He was right. So I fixed that--it was because I'd made the hypertext with Front Page 98 in normal mode and it just wrote the html for where it actually was at the time. Anyway, then he went onto Alta Vista and searched for "Suzuki Roshi" and we looked at what came up. My site was #9. We looked at what printed out and he told me about the importance of writing in the right titles and definitions and all in the upper part of the html lingo so that the most representative definition of the site would be shown on the search engines. By the time we'd finished (over an hour later) I had a lot of work cut out for me. You think I think about Buddhism or Zen or Suzuki-roshi when I'm doing this. I think about a lot of the same things that anybody with a web site thinks about--like how to make them work well and show themselves well and pop up high on searches and all. It's great, it's fun, it's something new and exciting. I love language and this type of work is like learning a new language and like going to a new country.

I also searched for "Crooked Cucumber" and 55 different sites came up. I went through them and bookmarked some and I plan to make a list of sites that come up with "Suzuki-roshi" and "Suzuki Roshi" and "Crooked Cucumber" and on and on and send them notes saying "let's link." And this sort of work will occupy a certain amount of my time for a while--not too much but enough. Maybe tomorrow I'll list some of the sites that came up. I like to do things that come up right away. But before I go to bed I must tell you all about one aspect of one sight that came up and that's the Portable 3-dimensional Buddhist Shrine http://isis.infinet.com/rinpoche/shrine.htm [link doesn't work anymore] on the FOB (Friends of Buddhism) site http://isis.infinet.com/rinpoche/ [link doesn't work] which also has the Venerable Zen Master Suzuki Roshi http://isis.infinet.com/rinpoche/suzuki.htm page which is why it came up on the "Suzuki Roshi" search to begin with. Check the book (actually, books) out and the whole thing. It's a very sophisticated site which can also be read in Chinese and Japanese and which has lots to offer. The 3D books, incidentally, also come with 3D glasses. More interviews soon.--DC

7/6/99--Oops! Didn't link some of these right but now it's fixed. If you ever click on a hyperlink and it doesn't work please tell me and I'll say a little prayer for you.--DC

7/6/99--It seems to me we need a page herein where I can post my own comments, letters, rantings, whatever. For a while I want to concentrate on building the Shunryu Suzuki oral history archive and whatever else I find, and I want to put everything right here. And I feel like doing it all in an unedited way--like a mess around a construction site. It can be cleaned up later and if I keep my own excess verbiage to this page, then it will be all the more tidy as we proceed. And I can move prior stuff here too. But my idea is to have on the site some of the record of what's happening, what decisions are being made, while it's getting going. So this is a type of diary too. What should I call it? Author Comments?--too high falutin. Chadwickian Ramblings?--too cute and self-effacing. David's digressions?--not quite. Could be David's Comments and Digressions. I would like to be able to mouthe off about anything, but also keep it mainly to the point. Okay, I'll make it the later.

It can always be changed. I've got to figure out how to make global changes within my website folder so I can add hyperlinks for a new page (Is that what I call them? Section?) to various places without having to had enter each one. Just learning this Front Page 98.

When I was writing the above, I thought of  Nagarjuna and Henry Miller. I have occasionally thought of Henry Miller. Here's what I thought: My approach in doing this project went against the current, or at least one of the currents that flows strongly through the community that sprang up around Shunryu Suzuki. The definition of that current was not to say too much about Suzuki-roshi, and if you were going to say something, be careful, and maybe only one or two of his most important disciples should say it. There was actually, and has always been, pressure not to collect stories about him and not to get his lectures in order too well. It's not coming from anyone in particular. Baker-roshi used to ask and ask people to send in their Suzuki-roshi stories. At Zen Center, people don't go around talking or thinking about Suzuki-roshi, and that's a really good thing. But, there's something that I call "the intimidation of emptiness" which floats around that can kill initiative and squelch open inquiry. An example would be what one Suzuki-roshi disciple said to me back in '93 when I said I was interested in writing a book on Suzuki-roshi and asked him what he thought. "The problem is," he said, "If you write a book about Suzuki-roshi, someone might thing that's what he was like." Another example came from Hoitsu-roshi's wife Chitose-san. She said, "The problem is, that if you say something, then there is that which was not said and so everything is misleading."

They were right and I knew it, but as I keep learning from Suzuki, there's always another side. I said to each of them, that if we follow that sort of thinking too strictly then we'll freeze and won't be able to do anything, won't be able to say anything. Only emptiness is right and we unenlightened mortals are always wrong, confused, and stirring up trouble. So we shouldn't do anything to make sure we cause no harm. Or, we should wait until we're super-enlightened and then everything we do will be right. I've been around long enough to scoff at that sort of thinking, even though it does seem to make some sense.

So at this time, when I was starting, I was filled with doubt and trepidation about doing the book on Suzuki and about collecting the oral history. Another Suzuki disciple had been saying that I was the absolute worst person to do this book, that I didn't understand Japanese, Zen, or myself. Something like that. He may have been drinking a little but I knew he was at least somewhat right. So I decided to start contacting the relevant people, the people who would be necessary to make the book work. At that time I got a call from my agent and mentor of sorts, Michael Katz, and he said that over dinner, an old friend and Zennie, Karin Gjording (who had been the manager at Greens when I was maitre de and who has for years owned and run Alaya Stichery, formerly Zen Center's zafu and threads store) and Karin said something that Michael wanted to convey to me. She said I should go get permission from Okusan (Mrs. Suzuki) to do the book, that she was by far the ultimate key person to talk to. I had been planning to see her as she was soon to go to Japan. But that did it. I called her up. "No no, " I have no time, tooooo many people, tooooo many visits. Soon I go. See me at farewell party and at the airport." But I leaned on her and she said yes and for the rests of the story read the last part of the introduction to Crooked Cucumber. And obviously I left that meeting floating on air. And she started telling people to support me. She called Kaz Tanahashii and asked him to loan me his taped interviews with her (Kaz has always been so much help).

I dreaded each person I had to talk to. I feared that each one would put me down, refuse to cooperate, say that Suzuki-roshi didn't want this, say that the only true teaching is passed from mind to mind, from person to person. But a funny thing happened. Each person I went to was, like Okusan, incredibly supportive. I went to visit Richard Baker, Zentatsu-roshi, Suzuki's dharma heir, who I knew, of course, intimately. He's one of my teachers. He  was very, very helpful and encouraging and continued to be so through the years. Same with Peter Schneider, the original historian of Zen Center who had wanted to do a bio on Suzuki-roshi years ago--Peter was overflowing with trust and assistance. I kept going to see people with paranoid dread and coming out bearing gifts and filled with joy. In most cases, talking to people about their memories of being around Suzuki and the Zen Center has brought us closer together and, indeed, has been the high point of our relationship. It's something we can then drop, but it was good to do, to share, and to move on.

So how do Nagarjuna and Henry Miller fit in? Nagarjuna is the ancestor who is famous for teaching the doctrine of emptiness, the prajnaparamita, the wisdom which has gone beyond. He said that it is better to never had heard of emptiness than to attach to it. So when I was confronted with the intimidation of emptiness I would remember Nagarjuna, the middle way, and trust my impulses, not negate them. Emptiness is not nihilism and Buddhism, even Zen, is not anti-intellectual or frowning upon our activity. At a meeting of Suzuki-roshi disciples I once again remembered Nagarjuna in this vein [sp?]. This group has decided to make support of the project to properly archive Suzuki's lectures (see Archives) it's focus for now. One person (same one who'd been down on me doing this work from long ago) commented that he thought that the whole thing should be burned and I shot back that I thought the fruits of his considerable labors should likewise be burned. Turns out he is supportive of the Zen Center lecture archives project but, how shall I put it?--likes to point out this other side. Someone commented that when the monk who put one of the big koan collections together (the Gateless Gate I think) first showed this work to his master, his master said to go burn it. Thank goodness he didn't. Anyway, if we look at people in terms of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then the other fellow may play the role of Grumpy and I might be Goofy. I did say at that time that it is important to burn the archives, and that I burn it everyday, but it is also important to do our best to preserve what there is of value in what we learned from Suzuki-roshi and observed while around him, what paths we might follow and which to ignore, where he was right on and where he was off.

And as for Henry Miller, I kept something in mind that he wrote at the beginning of, I think it was, Tropic of Cancer. It might seem like a strange way to think, but it's one of the drivers in my system. "This book," he said I think, "is an abomination. It is a gob of spit in the face of God." I would say that and gleefully continue and I will continue till I've done more than I should--then I'll do something else. As the wisdom-that-has-gone-beyond people say, Form is form and emptiness is emptiness, but also form is emptiness and emptiness is form. I might be doing a ridiculous amount of collecting and concentrating on one subject, or one area of history, but I don't think about Suzuki much as I work, and I will be happy to drop it all at some point and move on.

7/2/99--Report on Thursday 7/1 reading I did with Wes Nisker at Books Inc on Market Street near Noe in San Francisco. We knocked 'em beyond dead. [moved here from Readers' Comments]

As can happen at times, the bookstore had missed the deadline to get any word in the media about this event and so Wes and I spent an hour or so talking with two customers and each other. He's quite well versed, not just in Buddhism, with which he was particularly fluid--and as is usually the case with other writers in our subculture, he was a lot better educated about Buddhist and non-Buddhist  matters than I am so I got a lot out of it. Check out his books. Wes's most recent book is Buddha's Nature: Evolution As a Practical Guide to Enlightenment (Bantam Doubleday Dell). He also wrote If You Don't Like the News...Go Out and Make Some of Your Own (Ten Speed), and Crazy Wisdom (now with a New Millennial Edition). He's a Vipassana teacher in the Jack Kornfield line and an old hand at sprinkling his wise humor on the radio waves in the Bay Area. When they asked us why there were so few people we said that it's cause we're has-beens. We each were sure glad the other was there.--DC

Letter from my trip to the East Coast-- 6/19--6/28--DC [moved here from Readers' Comments]

Dear Friends - I've had such a time on this trip--a working vacation I guess. I like driving and it's been a treat tooling around this part of the country. The highway from Rochester to Boston was so gorgeous--I was really surprised. I can't think of any drive from one big city to another in California with so much unobstructed greenery--mainly trees densely packed and farmland with an occasional barn and silo.

In Harvard Square I met Tim Buckley and we talked for six hours--sitting here and there and walking around. He's an old Suzuki-roshi student who, after Suzuki's death, studied a shaman path with Harry Roberts, friend of Zen Center. Tim went on to get a PhD at the University of Chicago and now teaches at U-Mass. Tim loaned me a folder of photos from the Suzuki days. I'll aim at getting them and some of Tim's story on the web site.

Among the people I saw in Boston was Elsie Mitchell, founder of the CBA, Cambridge Buddhist Association in 1958. I've got loads on her and from her on Suzuki--a couple of chapters that were cut from CC and some lengthy interviews. I was truly happy to meet her after having interviewed her for many hours and having read her book, "Sun Faced Buddha, Moon Faced Buddha." She published another book while I was in Japan I need to get. I was surprised at how young she was--she goes so far back I thought she'd be older.

In New York I met with Margot Wilkie, 87 and sharp and energetic as can be. Like Elsie, Margot's history with Buddhism goes way back and there's an interesting story there. She started the second off-Broadway theater in NYC in 1935 and a women's discussion group there in 1958 which included the writers Nancy Wilson Ross and Ann Morrow Lindberg. Suzuki-roshi met with them a few of the few times he went to the East Coast.

This morning I interviewed Edo Shimano Roshi, founder of the NY Zen Studies (Society--I think) at his monastery Dai Bosatsu in the Catskills. I am eager to get that interview transcribed. I'm going to try to get all this stuff on the website ASAP.

First I've got a family get-together in my mother's honor in Rochester this weekend. Then I go home.

Other than that, I took a tour in the Boston Museum and caught a glimpse of Sister Wendy taping for PBS, met with foundation folks about supporting the SFZC's work on getting Suzuki-roshi lectures properly archived so that they can be preserved for posterity and more available for study and editing, stopped at Manal's Falafel joint or whatever it's called in New Haven near Yale at one am--I love it [Open 11am to 3am 365 days a year] and drank Mideastern, nursed a torn heel pad (cartilage--yoga injury I think) but still walked on my silicon heel cushions in my REI hiking shoes all over Boston and NYC and especially the MET--3hours of wall to wall Art from the coffee table books. What a show. Busses, subways, talking to strangers everywhere, going to Kinko's to get online, visited Gotham Bookmart where I had my NY event three months ago--what a great bookstore. I'd left my car in Greenwich CT and come in with one set of clothes so I did laundry at midnight in the Village and went out on the street with shoes and no socks and sport coat with no shirt and men couples passing by commented and one guy asked me if I'd like a drink--I was flattered. Met with the Rye NY Zen (group, center, whatever) and signed books there and slept till 11am the next day (thanks to Susan Postal, leader of the group who also helped me do laundry and showed me around and she told me about getting turned onto Buddhism as a teenager listening to Alan Watts like so many and then studying with a Gurdjiefian and hearing Suzuki-roshi at Tassajara and studying Tibetan and with various Zen teachers--I asked her to write it up. Driving to Woodstock this morning, just chewing up the Catskills, stopped for an hour at Kaleidoworld and experienced the largest and second largest kaleidoscopes in the world and many many others and was glad again I was on the road. Lastly came the reading at Northshire Books, one of those great independent bookstores I've had to pleasure of reading at.

I look forward to getting back to get some of these interviews on line. Actually there are a million things I'd like to do. We'll see what I can get to. Love to all - David 

Return to top               Return to Present Digressions


Home | What Was New | Contest | Digressions | Links | Jacket Notes | Book Reviews | Reader's Comments
Author's Notes | Bibliography | Author Events | About the Author | Errata
Interviews | Suzuki Stories | Photos |  Suzuki Lectures  | Archives Project | Sangha News | Contact Me  

This site designed by
The Empty Wig

Original site designed by Sheryl B.