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11-28-06  Q&A on Crooked Cucumber. - Got some questions from a college student for a class that meets tomorrow and thought it would be a good post for here.

Q: Hi, my name is Carly Brown, and I am a student double-majoring in Religious Studies (Buddhism) and Japanese at the University of Virginia. I am taking a class with Heather Warren about religious movements in America, and we are using your book _Crooked Cucumber_ as a basis for tomorrow's discussion. I am introducing the book and starting the class discussion.

It occurred to me tonight: how great would it be if I could have a word or two form the author himself!? So, I thought I'd ask you if perhaps you could say a word or two about your goal in writing this book, the literary frame you attempted to use, and/or your methods of research. For example, it seemed like Suzuki-sensei cast aside attempts to chronicle his life, so how did you collect so much information about his life? Was it mostly from listening to his talks?

If you don't get this in time (before tomorrow), it would still be very interesting to hear from you. Thank you very much for your book! Have a great day.


Carly Brown

A: Hi. Nice to hear you're using Crooked Cucumber. I know I've answered all this before - it's probably here and there on My goal in writing the book was just to write a book. I'd finished Thank You and OK! and had set aside most the material in that book that referred to Suzuki because I'd decided while working on TY that it was best to concentrate on Katagiri Roshi in that book and do another one that concentrated on Suzuki Roshi. I was in Santa Fe working on TY and there were a bunch of old Suzuki students there so I interviewed many of them. It just grew out of that. I just started working and following the work, followed the writing and discussions and interviews. I didn't feel very secure about it till toward the end.

I didn't think about literary frame. I just wrote.

My method was to talk to everyone I could and read through all the notes and info I could find and read all his lectures and keep stirring it. And of course there were my memories.

He definitely didn't want anyone to write about him. I mention that in the book in the part about Peter Snyder interviewing him and when he didn't answer Miss Ransom's letters and you can see the sort of obstacles there were in the part about Mrs. Suzuki in the intro but also she took my side and said do it - and she said when she said do it it's him speaking. Still, doing it went against the grain. But I'm not a yes man. I wasn't when he was alive either. He didn't want people to concentrate on him, rather on their own practice. But people had all these idealized ideas about who he was and what he'd done in the past so I guess you could say that part of my reason for writing it was to bring him down from the clouds a bit so he could be seen as another imperfect person. Early on he didn't want people to be discouraged by negative stories about Zen practice in Japan or him but my feeling was that that was no longer the problem, that Zen was pretty well established and that now we didn't need to worry about shooting it down some. Also, I felt that he was such an exemplary person and such a sweet person that his reputation needed some of the sugar taken out. It wasn't realistic. So I did have those goals that I remember now but they weren't well defined, they sort of developed along with the book.

Also, I tried to make everything as accurate as possible, but I didn't weigh the book down with attribution. You can read the sources in the back or on my web site which continues to grow. I don't think the details or facts are so important, just the overall story and spirit of it. I don't think anything in the phenomenal world is as important as seeing that it is devoid of self, waking up to emptiness, to the fullness of it all. To me, all religious stories are important only for pointing at what Suzuki called big mind - history, the whole realm of space and time, doesn't matter in itself, in its non self. There's the old saying about the teacher pointing to the moon (which stands for enlightened mind) and how one should not concentrate on the pointing finger but on the moon.

There's a lot more work I'd like to do in this area. We'll see if I can get to it.

Have fun in class.


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