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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 54


May, 1988   -   DUELING SUTRAS


Norman's attempt at in-house publishing was not being well received.  He was still trying to come up with a user-friendly sutra book for foreigners. The Japanese books are in classical kanji which almost no foreign students can read.  Kanji aren't phonetic and their pronunciation has to be memorized.  There are thousands of them in the sutra books - many of which aren't even used anymore and those which are still used are often not the modern simplified kanji.  Most foreign students of Zen in Japan, unless they come for a long time, can't even speak Japanese, much less read it.  That's why we need romanized books.  Norman had a mission and it seemed reasonable to him.  He would have been happier if he'd been less arduous, if he'd been able to drop the subject, but he couldn't.  Enter Shuko.

Shuko came to me and asked if he could see the sutra books I was using.  Innocently I passed them over to him asking him how long he wanted them, since I couldn't get by in the complicated morning service without them.  He said he only needed them for the afternoon.

That day Shuko, Norman and I went into town together to do errands for the temple.  There was a French fellow coming to Suienji in a few days and Norman wanted to make a copy for him of the sutra book that he had been working on.  It was far from finished but he'd pasted each chant up in the best version he could find and it was better than anything else available.  We were sitting at a metal table at the modest local bus station, our business was all done, we had just finished eating some ramen and were almost ready to return to the temple.

Norman had cleared the table surface and was doing touch up on the chant book he'd put together.  He didn't pay any attention to what Shuko was up to over at the copy machine and I'd forgotten about giving him my books.

Shuko sat down with Norman at the same table and started cutting paper.  Norman asked him what he was doing and Shuko said that he was making a sutra book for the new fellow who was coming to Suienji.  Norman then asked him what he was making it from.  He said he was making it from the books he'd borrowed from me.  Norman went red, he stammered and bit his lip, he started to talk and stopped.  Standing up and sucking in his breath noisily, he picked up his work and took it to the copy machine.

I went out the front door to look at the street scene and ran into Miki Oba-san and her daughter who were on their way back to Ryumon.  They waited for me while I told Shuko I was going back with them.  He objected but I didn't pay him any mind.  What a relief it was to be walking up the hill alone forty minutes later.

Norman was still arguing with Shuko when they returned.  He might as well have been talking to the zendo wall.  Koji joined Shuko in telling Norman that if he wanted his book to be considered then he should present it to the elders of Suienji.  Norman was hurt, disgusted, angry - emotions going every which way.

Shuko gave me the sutra books back.  I told him I was going to use the one that Norman made.  "I might as well," I told him, "It'll just be gathering dust.  No offense intended, but you oughta use these to heat the bath with," I said, handing the official ones back to him.