|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
click thumbnail to enlarge
as found in Crooked Cucumber
Phillip died in July of 2007.
This is every single mention of Phillip in this book with
a good deal of surrounding material left in. Some of these excerpts focus
on Phillip and in some he is one of several in a list. All together they
give an interesting slice of Crooked Cucumber and of Phil's life during
the time of Shunryu Suzuki in America. More will follow on Phillip soon. -
[The first mention of Phillip Wilson in Crooked Cucumber is in the chapter called Bowing with the date 1960.]
We put more emphasis on a physical point
rather than on an intellectual one.
Phillip Wilson was an artist. He was also a tough guy and a teddy bear with a thick neck and massive thighs, who had been feared as a right tackle for the offense of the Stanford University football team. No one wanted to be on the other side of him on the playing field, where he was truly a man possessed. He also had a delicate side, which came out when he picked up a brush. Phillip had transcendent experiences both playing football and painting, but it was modeling for other artists that first gave him the calm, subtle state of mind that led to his interest in meditation. Everyone in life drawing class at the San Francisco Art Institute wanted to draw his big, muscular body. It exploded with energy, and when he modeled, he found his energy becoming focused in stillness rather than in the fierceness of combat sport. He felt at home in that state of mind. It wasn't fixed, it flowed, and it was devoid of the complications of social life.
Early one Sunday morning while walking in Chinatown, Phillip met an old drunk with a crazy eye. He took him to an AA meeting and then decided on a whim to go to a lecture at the Zen temple. Phillip hadn't been to Sokoji before, but he'd heard about it from students at the Art Institute. He and his newfound buddy missed the lecture for the zazen students, arriving in time for Suzuki's talk to the congregation. Unfamiliar non-Japanese were usually asked to leave before this talk, but no one said a word to Phillip the gladiator and the smelly bum.
The tiny man on the platform looked to Phillip like a samurai. He was golden. He started talking in Japanese and smiling. As Phillip stared at him, he entered a time-free zone. (This was not a new experience for Phillip. He had been involved in early LSD experimentation with Ken Kesey.)
Afterward, he turned to his companion and said, "I don't know why, but I sure like this guy. I'm not going to say anything to him, though. He's too important to talk to." Suddenly Suzuki was in front of them saying hello. The old guy said, "Oh, I think your lecture was wonderful. I liked everything about it."
Phillip said nothing. Suzuki said nothing. The old guy asked Suzuki for some money. Suzuki laughed as if he'd been told a good joke and said, "No. You'd just go buy alcohol with it."
The next day Phillip phoned Sokoji. Suzuki answered, and Phillip's words got all tangled up. Finally Suzuki said, "Please come." Phillip went over prepared to ask a lot of questions, but as soon as he saw Suzuki, he was tongue-tied again. Suzuki said, "Zazen?" "Yes," Phillip managed to say. "Oh, please come," replied Suzuki.
For the next two months Phillip sat at the temple, but Suzuki didn't talk to him, give him any instruction, hit him with the stick, or adjust his posture. At the door after the morning service, bowing to each student who walked out, Suzuki would only look to the side when Phillip stood before him.
One morning Betty said to Phillip, "Ah, you're still here." It was common for people to try zazen for a while and then quit. But each person who stayed added something, figured out something about how to be there, what the possibilities were for working with Suzuki or working on themselves within Suzuki's sphere. Phillip wasn't sure if he'd ever be capable of doing zazen correctly. Still, he was drawn there, and the idea of not going back didn't occur to him.
Phillip went to his first Wednesday evening lecture thinking that finally he'd find out what it was all about. But it was so complicated. Or was it so simple? He couldn't get a grip on it. Suzuki's accent was hard to understand, and there was all the new terminology to deal with. His metaphors were puzzling. Phillip would get the gist of a story but then had no idea what it applied to. Suzuki was smiling all the time, very confident. "Do you understand?" he would ask. And Phillip was unable to say no, he was so amazed by the beauty and confusion and perfection of the story.
Phillip went back again and again, trying to understand. He was sure he couldn't fool this man. Like an opposing left guard on the field, Suzuki demanded absolute honesty. Suzuki wasn't treating him like somebody who had failed a test—more like somebody who wasn't in the room. What did this behavior mean? Go away? No, the door was open to anyone. Maybe this was an initiation.
He couldn't figure out this beautiful swordless samurai, so he gave up. But he didn't leave. He began to watch, rather than analyze, everything Suzuki did. He thought, maybe I can understand his stories by the way he picks up his stick. He watched how Suzuki walked, with no part rushing ahead of the others or lagging behind, how he sat down with his whole body, how he picked up a teacup with both hands and held it like a baby bird. He watched and imitated. Then one day Phillip bowed at the office door after zazen and Suzuki didn't turn away, but looked squarely at him. Phillip had found a way to work with his new teacher.
If something is learned just by your thinking mind, it tends to be very superficial. When a mother bird teaches a baby bird how to fly, the mother tries like a baby. She can fly very well, but she imitates the baby. The mother bird becomes like a baby bird and does something that it is possible for a baby bird to do, so the baby bird will study how to fly. That is also practice. We should practice with a beginner's real innocence, devoid of ideas of good or bad, gain or loss.
[Phillip’s name is just mentioned in the following excerpt which is included to put him, his seniority, in perspective.]
It was March of 1961, and McNeil and Hense were back in San Francisco [from studying Zen in Japan and failing miserably so to speak]. McNeil was making an art film. He didn't come around to sit anymore, didn't want to be a monk or study Zen. He said he had discovered his true identity as an artist and homosexual. "I don't want any part of Japanese Zen," he would say. He would still drop by Sokoji occasionally to say hello to Suzuki, and now and then they would bump into each other in Japantown. Sometimes Suzuki would bring a student along and visit McNeil and his Japanese lover at their apartment.
Hense resumed sitting at Sokoji. He realized that it was the only place in the world where he wanted to study Zen, and Suzuki was the only Zen priest he wanted to study with. But he was sad, like an injured soldier home from war. He never wore his robes. Most people didn't even know that he and McNeil had been ordained.
There were a dozen or so regulars at Sokoji, and they sat in order of seniority. Hense was now in the front seat on the men's side, with Bill Kwong and Phillip Wilson. Della, Betty, and Jean were still the three loyal ladies in the first seats on their side.
Then, in late spring of 1961, two newcomers came to Sokoji who would alter the character of Suzuki's group and the course of his life. The first of these was an Englishman in his mid-twenties named Grahame Petchey.
[The next important newcomer was Richard Baker]
[Phillip is mentioned a couple of times in this excerpt about the incorporation of the sitting group]
More and more we created a feeling of sangha.
At a Saturday afternoon meeting in the spring of 1961 Shunryu Suzuki suggested that his zazen students form a nonprofit corporation so the contributions some of them were making could be deducted from their income tax. Suzuki was meticulous about not using Sokoji's funds for personal use, and he was likewise careful not to confuse the finances of the two congregations. He insisted, for instance, that the zazen students pay rent to the Japanese congregation for their use of the zendo. He felt uncomfortable taking money personally and wanted there to be a treasurer to handle it. After two years of practicing together, it was time to have an organization.
Bishop Reirin Yamada, the new abbot of Zenshuji in L.A. and now the titular head of Soto Zen in America, agreed that the group should incorporate and suggested a Japanese name. Hense said that a Japanese name would not sit well with English-speaking students and suggested the name Zen Center. Everyone liked it. They tossed the name around—a center for Zen, Zen in the center, center yourself on Zen.
In August 1961 Bob Hense was elected the first president, and he started to work on getting Zen Center incorporated. One Saturday he came to Sokoji for a meeting, leaving all the paperwork in his briefcase on a table in the downstairs office. A boy passing by walked in the open door, grabbed the briefcase, and ran off toward Fillmore Street. Hense couldn't catch him. There were no copies of the papers.
All the while Hense was going through intense difficulties, questioning whether he should continue practicing at Sokoji. He poured his heart out to Phillip Wilson one day at Phillip's apartment. He said that Suzuki wanted him to be a priest, but that he couldn't give up his architecture practice and his lay life. He said the East couldn't meet the West, that Jung was as close as they could get. "I can't do it anymore," he said. A few days later Hense had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. It was a crisis for the group as well as for him.
A meeting was held, and Grahame Petchey was elected president, even though he'd been there for only two months. Jean Ross, the most outspoken of the old-timers and the obvious choice to succeed Hense, was planning to leave at some point for Japan to study Zen. She nominated Grahame. He proved to be as efficient and thorough as expected. Six weeks later he submitted incorporation papers to the California secretary of state.
Some people felt uncomfortable with the new institutional status. Phillip said they should just sit and not worry about the details; if they lost Sokoji they could sit in a garage. Suzuki wanted to have an established group that did business in a conventional manner. The religion was unconventional enough. He saw practical benefits in a clearly defined organization, and he didn't share his young students' anti-establishment attitudes. Healthy institutions were part of a strong society, he believed, and there was no need to fear that the group would lose its character. He said there would be problems no matter what they did, and that if they concentrated on zazen, on confidence in their buddha nature, they would be all right.
Still in 1961 – the first Windbell was dated December 2nd of that year.
Hense had suggested developing a mailing list. Some students wanted to have a way to get the word out that Suzuki was teaching Zen at Sokoji. Thus the idea of a newsletter was born. Phillip Wilson and his petite scholar wife, J.J., drafted the first one, but wondered what to call it. Zen Center Newsletter? Various names were suggested.
"I'll name it," said Suzuki, and he went upstairs. Twenty minutes later he came down with a piece of paper. The words "Wind Bell" were written on it with a brush in black sumi ink, beside a drawing of the same. Below the drawing was his translation of Dogen's poem "Wind Bell."
Phillip and J.J. tried to run off the newsletter on the mimeograph machine, but the results were too faint. Suzuki joined them in his work pants and undershirt. He used the ink much more liberally. He was excited; these would be his group's first printed words. He made a mess, spilling the ink on himself and the floor. Soon his arms and torso were covered in purple, and he proudly held the first dripping copy.
"I guess I was being too cautious," said J.J., as they cleaned everything up.
The practice of zazen is not for gaining a mystical something.
In August 1962 Suzuki and his students had their third annual weeklong sesshin. This one started earlier in the day, ended later, and was the first one to go morning to night for a full seven days. Suzuki had invited Bishop Yamada to lead it, and he came up from L.A. for the last five days. Yamada gave lectures on the great Indian sage Nagarjuna and the semi-legendary Bodhidharma and conducted dokusan, private interviews. Suzuki rang the bells, made sure everything went smoothly, and sat every period, encouraging his students with his steadfastness. The students endured pain in their legs and backs, boredom and restlessness. Thirty people sat at least some of the sesshin and over half as many stayed for the whole thing.
Pauline Petchey had never had anything important to talk to Suzuki about in dokusan. She would ask him theoretical questions like, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? "It doesn't matter," he'd answered. Pauline sat the sesshin. Her legs were killing her. It was tough being the wife of the guy who was setting the standard. Grahame never moved, even in the extra-long periods that Suzuki would throw in unexpectedly. Pauline, on the other hand, was just trying to get through the day without screaming. She sat in the middle of the room and so had an aisle in front of her rather than the wall. During a moment of particular difficulty she saw Suzuki step in front of her. Something about his feet struck her. She watched them intently as he walked slowly by. Then a calm came over her, and the pain separated from her; it didn't matter anymore. Her chattering mind dropped away. Standing for kinhin, she looked around the room as if seeing her fellow students for the first time and realized how trapped they all were in petty social games. She felt love for everyone in the room. She looked at Suzuki and saw him connected with them in this trouble-free space, not in the realm of their delusion.
Soon afterward she saw him in dokusan. After bowing three times to the floor, she sat on the cushion facing him. After a moment of following breaths together, she told him about her experience, which she was sure signaled permanent enlightenment. "Very nice," he said.
"You've reached deep zazen."
On the last day of the sesshin, at a lay ordination, students who had practiced with Suzuki for over one year received precepts and a Buddhist name. Yamada had brought fifteen rakusus, which turned out to be the perfect number. One by one, in order of their arrival at Sokoji, people came forward to receive their cloth rakusus and lineage papers—the names of the ancestors dating back to Buddha written on rice paper, folded, and placed in a rice-paper envelope with calligraphy by Suzuki on the front. Betty and Della were the first in line (Jean was in Japan). Grahame and Richard were last, having arrived just over a year before.
It was a happy day for Suzuki, another small step in his effort to establish Buddhism as he knew it in the West. The ceremony was conducted in Japanese, which the students didn't understand, but Suzuki told them they were "making the vow to keep the enlightened life." He explained the meaning of their new Buddhist names. Della would still be called Della, but she was also now Zendotei Jundaishi, a rather long name composed of characters that he said meant, "Zen way, faith, refined naturalness." Before the ordination Della told Suzuki that she had not rejected her Lutheran upbringing. "I guess I'm going to be a Christian Buddhist," she said. "That's all right," Suzuki answered.
Suzuki took the backseat, as he had with Kishizawa at ordinations at his temple in Yaizu. He deferred to the older Yamada because it was proper; he was the bishop. In this way word would get back to Japan that there were some serious students in America. He appreciated the support he got from Yamada, obligatory but still helpful. It was good for his students to see and hear another priest. "I am very grateful we have instruction from various teachers," he said. "We need more teachers."
While the sesshin was in progress a letter had arrived from the secretary of state: Zen Center's nonprofit status was official. They had raised almost five thousand dollars that year and had been able to save over five hundred, which would go into a building fund. The ordination and incorporation were important to Suzuki, but he made clear what was essential for his teaching to take hold.
Unless you know how to practice zazen, no one can help you. Heavy rain may wash away the small seed when it has not taken root. You should not be like a sesame with no roots, or your practice will be washed away. But if you have a really good root, the heavy rain will help you a lot.
Some people felt like Phillip, who asked why they needed any organization or any ordination ceremony. "It's just like the Catholic Church," he said. Little did he realize how close he was to the truth. Soto Zen was full of hierarchy and ceremony in Japan; but considering the autonomy of individual temples and priests, and the growing role of the membership in making decisions, maybe the Baptist Church would have provided a better analogy.
Suzuki had to show them how these things were done in Japan, he said, because that's what he knew. He had to establish Zen Center in a way that he was comfortable with. Being impatient would not work. Someday they would have their own Buddhist forms. "Transmitting Buddhism to America isn't so simple. You can have your own way someday, but first learn mine. And don't be in too big a hurry. It's not like passing a football."
Katagiri was given a desk in the first-floor office and asked to help with fund-raising for the congregation's new temple, to be acquired in the distant future. Immediately popular with the Japanese-Americans, he liked the relaxed informality of their group. But like Suzuki, he was most interested in the zazen group. He immediately got involved with the project to refurbish the zendo and enlarge the sitting area on the balcony, used on a daily basis for latecomers and during sesshin for overflow. Many students were helping out in their spare time. Phillip sanded the floor; Betty and Della painted the walls. Katagiri joined in enthusiastically and at times a bit clumsily. He was so relieved to be there with Suzuki and his eager students.
The more we attempt to manage religious activity,
One Saturday after the cleaning period, Phillip and Grahame were standing together in the center of the zendo. Suzuki walked up and stood between Phillip—playful and eager—and Grahame—prim and upright, looking like he was born to wear the robes. Suzuki pointed to Grahame and said, "You're all priest," and with his other hand pointed to Phillip and said, "And you're all pig." Then he reversed the direction his hands were pointing, and his two devotees stood there with dazed grins, like they'd just been whacked.
Phillip asked Suzuki why Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily. Suzuki said, "It's not that they're too delicate, but that you don't know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa." Pauline, who had noticed him often making this point, called it the gentle way.
There was a going-away party for Okusan [Suzuki’s wife] and Phillip in late March of 1964. They were off to Japan, she to visit for a few months, and he to Eiheiji for a year. Suzuki was sending his bull into the china shop. But first he had to be a monk. You can't practice in the zendo at Eiheiji if you're not a monk. Phillip and his wife, J.J., sat in Suzuki's office.
"You wait here. I'll go do the ceremony," he said, and with that he went alone into the zendo.
They could hear him walking over to the altar, hitting bells, and chanting. He came back, pulled up a few strands of Phillip's hair and, making the fingers of his other hand into a V, he pretended to cut the lock of hair with scissors. He turned back to his desk, reached into a bag, pulled out a handful of candy, and let it all fall onto the desk before them. Then they drank tea and celebrated Phillip's new status.
As the day of Phillip's departure drew near, he noticed that Suzuki was not his usual radiant self, but was distraught.
Suzuki gave Phillip an old brown bag and said, "Here are some old robes of mine I don't need anymore. Take them back to Rinso-in for me."
"Are you okay, Reverend Suzuki?" Phillip asked.
"Ah, ah," he sighed in anguish, "my daughter Omi . . . she has killed herself."
Suzuki's son Hoitsu had telephoned from Rinso-in. At Eiheiji, Hoitsu had gotten word from his sister Yasuko to come home right away. His sister Omi, Suzuki's third child—the sensitive, artistic one who had not recovered from her mother's murder—had hanged herself in the mental institution where she had been living for nine years. Suzuki did not go to Japan, there was no ceremony or memorial plaque placed on the altar at Sokoji, and it was not until many months later that he told Otohiro that his sister had died.
[Later in 1964 Suzuki suggests to Grahame Petchey that he return to the principal training temple, Eiheiji, in Japan where Grahame had had a very tough time the prior year.]
Go back to Japan? Horrors. Grahame had barely survived last time, and that was only for three months. But he also wanted to expunge the sense of failure that lingered from that visit. It was true he knew more now than he had then. He'd studied some Japanese, and he'd be better prepared.
At least if I went back now, I'd have a buddy, Grahame thought. Grahame and Phillip got along despite their striking differences. They'd gone camping and to samurai movies many times.
[See how things have changed in a year.]
By 1966 Shunryu Suzuki had played an important role in the lives of hundreds of people, some who passed through briefly, others who became committed students, and everything in between. A few long-term students seemed candidates to eventually become teachers in their own right, continuing Suzuki's lineage in America. Of these, Richard Baker was foremost. In 1966 Richard had been around for five years, and his devotion to Suzuki and to penetrating into the heart of his teaching had not diminished. Suzuki was giving him more and more recognition and permission to help determine the future of the group. Richard was president of Zen Center and editor of Wind Bell, and he was keeping an eye out for a site outside the city to develop a retreat center for more concentrated study. With Grahame and Phillip both in Japan, Richard sat on the front cushion on the men's side in the zendo, and Suzuki wouldn't let anyone sit in his place if he wasn't there.
Mel Weitsman had been a regular at Sokoji since Phillip Wilson had told him about Suzuki in 1964. Mel was an artist and a flutist in his mid-thirties who drove a cab to get by. He had a soft, easygoing way and was well liked.
[In 1966 Suzuki asked Mel to go live in Berkeley to take care of the Zen Center there. Mel is just in the process of retiring as abbot there.]
The other day (April 7), I went to Tassajara Hot Springs near Monterey to see the land for our new retreat. It is an incredibly good place for our monastery, if we buy the hot springs too. I have written to Katsuzen-san [Phillip] about it as well.
From a letter from Suzuki to Grahame Petchey [in Japan]
After years of patiently following leads to potential spots for a rural retreat, Shunryu Suzuki had found what he wanted—Tassajara. The right place had come along at a time when there was enough maturity in his group to warrant the move and enough curiosity and open-mindedness in America to support, in this way, a teaching that challenged many commonly held assumptions about space, time, being, life, and death.
Different people had mentioned this old resort to Suzuki and Richard a few times through the years. San Francisco historian Margot Patterson Doss told Suzuki it was the only place he should consider for a retreat. Grahame and Phillip stumbled on it in 1961 while camping. At Grahame's suggestion, Richard and Virginia Baker camped in the same area. They likewise came upon the little cluster of faded white wooden cabins and some sturdy structures of wood and stone, a large swimming pool, and hot springs with large plunges and a steam room. Richard was dazzled. But the time wasn't right till the spring of 1966, when Richard took Suzuki there.
With Richard around so much, the scene at Sokoji was markedly more lively. A lot of people had fun working with him, especially some of the newer students, who didn't see him as a peer. But his closeness to Suzuki as a student and his dominance in the fund-raising and planning for Tassajara tended to overshadow other people and created some resentment and jealousy among the older students.
Richard was not apologetic. He even gave the impression at times that he thought he was the only student who was actually practicing, the only one who'd really made Suzuki's teaching work in San Francisco. He saw others relating to Suzuki on a business level, on a clubby level, and on a love-of-Roshi level, but he always maintained that, except for Grahame, people weren't really willing to break through their attachments to establish a fundamentally engaged level of practice. It was infuriating to others to hear Richard say things like this, but Suzuki would not contradict him. This did not mean that Suzuki was giving his support solely to Richard—no one had that feeling—but that he trusted where Richard was taking the group as a leader. Above all he saw that Richard was committed to creating opportunities for others to practice with him and his sangha.
Among his closest and most senior students, there were others whom Suzuki saw as having the commitment, potential, and inclination to develop into teachers. Of these the most prominent were Grahame and Phillip in Japan, Bill Kwong in Mill Valley, and Jean Ross. Then there were Mel Weitsman (whom Suzuki had asked to take over the Berkeley zendo), Claude, Silas, and Marian of the Los Altos zendo.
Okusan had other ideas. Suzuki was planning to go to Japan to turn over his temple to his son, but she wanted him to stay there and retire. He'd accomplished what he'd come to do in America, she said, and he wasn't healthy enough to do more. He had a persistent cough and was subject to catching the flu. If he wanted to live long, he should rest. He ignored her. To Suzuki it was all just beginning.
"These sincere Americans have made up my mind," he told his friend Reverend Ogui. "I will stay in America for them. For them I will become American soil."
They [Grahame Petchey and Suzuki at Eiheiji] visited with Tatsugami, the ino, in charge of ceremony and much of the monks' training. Once he had been the sumo champ of the monastery. He was Suzuki's age, sixty-two that year, 1966. Suzuki thanked him for being so good to Jean, Grahame, and Phillip while they were there. Tatsugami was polite and interested in what Suzuki was doing in America, but Grahame also knew that Tatsugami regarded Suzuki as an inferior, a temple priest not qualified to start a monastery.
It was October of 1966. Suzuki had been in Japan since August 25. Okusan had stayed in America to help Katagiri tend to Sokoji. Along with Suzuki at Rinso-in were the Petcheys, Phillip, who'd been at Eiheiji, and Claude, who'd flown over at Suzuki's request. He introduced them to his family, friends, colleagues, temple members, and old students from the High Grass Mountain Group as they dropped by to visit.
Phillip had just finished nine months at Eiheiji. His direct, emotional style had made him popular. It was hard to imagine bulky, thick-fingered Phillip in Japan, much less at Eiheiji. He had endured an enormous amount of pain, especially from long periods of sitting seiza on his shins. Everything at Eiheiji was done in seiza except for physical labor, sleep, and zazen. He had survived the tangaryo, sitting from the predawn hours till nine at night. He said they made him do two weeks of it because he only sit only in half-lotus. Phillip did fine at Eiheiji, relatively speaking, because he was who he was—difficult, but not arrogant, and lovable. He took Suzuki's advice to adjust himself to his surroundings. Tatsugami had been so mad at Phillip for leaving Eiheiji that he wouldn't come out of his room to say goodbye. "Stay at least one year," he said.
In Japan people are raised sitting seiza. Phillip contended that it molded their tendons and bones. He'd sit two hours at a stretch in Tatsugami's chanting classes till his legs were on fire. On his first day there they made him sit like that for eleven hours in an office, the most painful experience of his life—worse than football. But he was equal to their initiations.
Now he was at Rinso-in, up to his thick thighs in the scummy water of the back pond, resetting a heavy moss-covered stone that Suzuki was sliding into place with the help of a pole. In 1963 Suzuki had sent Phillip to study with a Japanese gardener of bonsai and stone in Hayward, California. He had gone almost every day for six months to work with him. Now, for the first time, he was working with Suzuki.
Phillip asked Suzuki, "Am I really a monk?" The monks at Eiheiji had questioned him about his ordination and said that it wasn't real, because he hadn't gone through the proper ceremony. He hadn't done any takuhatsu, monk's begging. He hadn't had any hair shaved or received robes till he arrived in Japan.
"If you don't believe I'm a monk, don't let me in," Phillip had told the dubious monks. They let him in but continued to tell him that if it wasn't done according to proper form, it didn't count. He said, "Take it up with Reverend Suzuki."
"So, am I a monk or not a monk?"
"Things go the way the mind goes," Suzuki told him. "If you think you're a monk, you're a monk. If you don't think so, you're not a monk."
In a free moment Suzuki called Phillip to his room to show him a traditional way to fold his robes. He laid them out and, using two pieces of parallel bamboo, folded them back and forth like dough into a perfect square.
Phillip remembered the old robes Suzuki had sent with him to return to Rinso-in. On the boat he kept them by his third-class bunk, where he slept with poor Japanese-Brazilian farmers. He entered customs with the brown bag in one hand and a small suitcase in the other. The customs official was curious about the bag. "Oh, it's just some old robes that Reverend Suzuki gave me."
Among the robes the customs official found what turned out to be a five-hundred-year-old Bodhidharma statue.
"How did you get this?" he said with suspicion.
"I don't know."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Take it to Rinso-in. I think that's where it belongs."
Little by little Suzuki was returning Buddhist objects he had brought from Rinso-in to America. He had just borrowed them till he had something to replace them with. It was a secret.
Claude and Pauline watched as Grahame and Phillip, bald-headed and black-robed, walked carefully along the edge of a rice paddy in their straw sandals. They were following Suzuki to a home to do another memorial service. The high formalism of the occasion challenged Claude's religious tastes.
"Yes," Pauline agreed with Claude, "Buddhism in Japan is a lot more complicated than the pared-down version we get from Suzuki-sensei in America." She'd been there a year and had seen a lot of this. "Here there are hungry ghosts, spirits in the trees, and fifteen hundred years of custom winding around it all."
Suzuki's students also met his old friends—godfather Amano, Seison Suzuki, the potter, and those in his High Grass Mountain Group who had survived. Claude was surprised there weren't any priest disciples—only Hoitsu, his son. There was a constant stream of visitors, but they were colleagues, friends, teachers from the kindergartens he'd started, lay students, members, villagers.
Every day Suzuki and his disciples were outside Rinso-in, sweeping, pulling weeds, cleaning windows. Villagers came to look and help out. They were getting the temple ready for the big ceremonies to come—Suzuki's stepping down and his son's stepping up to the abbotship of Rinso-in. Hoitsu joined them, as well as his older sister, Yasuko, who worked inside cleaning and preparing meals with Kinu Obaa-san, her maternal grandmother, still the matriarch of the temple. Obaa-san sat at the heated kotatsu, her legs under the table's blanket, mostly observing, sometimes making remarks. Occasionally she pulled out her thin porcelain pipe and smoked a pinch of tobacco.
After all the preparation, there was a horrendous typhoon. It blew tiles off the temple roof, sent a large branch crashing through a wall, and left the place a mess again. Grahame had been knocked cold when the wind smashed him into a doorway as he tried to help. With Rinso-in's extensive support group, they all put the temple back together in time for the big ceremony.
[Something that should have been included is that Phillip slept through this fierce storm.]
"There are those who think my father is not so great," Hoitsu said, irritated at the adoration of Suzuki's Western followers. "He should have stayed until he passed the temple on to me. Some see him as a deserter. If he had stayed, I would have been able to study with him." Suzuki thought that other masters would make better teachers for his son, but he had asked Hoitsu to consider coming to America to help him out. In deference to his father, Hoitsu had tried to prepare: he had stopped studying the martial art of kendo, which he loved, to be tutored in English, which he hated. It was so painful that his father had agreed in correspondence to let him give up and go back to kendo. Hoitsu also didn't want to further antagonize the Rinso-in members by leaving them, as his father had done. And Hoitsu wasn't attracted to the whole American thing. If his father hadn't given up his temple, he told Phillip, he could still be at Eiheiji.
It amazed Phillip that Eiheiji wasn't difficult for Hoitsu—and Hoitsu didn't even like zazen. He was there three years, in charge of the Joyoden, Dogen's memorial hall. Now he had to run Rinso-in, get married, have a family, and look after all the members and branch-temples—and along with the responsibilities came the inescapable temple politics.
It was time for Suzuki to return to America. He had done what he'd come to do. Before leaving Rinso-in, he ordained Claude as a priest in another of his mysteriously abbreviated ceremonies and asked him to stay at Rinso-in as a first step in turning it into a temple where Westerners and Japanese could practice together. He also talked to Phillip about going to the East Coast to assist a zazen group in Vermont that he had close ties to.
[Getting in gear to start up Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center]
Seeing the endless work that had to be done, Suzuki realized he needed the help of his senior disciples. Jean was already around. Claude came back from Rinso-in, and Phillip would not go assist the Vermont group. He also wrote to Grahame in England praising him for his accomplishments in Japan, mentioning how highly he'd been spoken of at Eiheiji and Antaiji. Now Suzuki wanted him back.
[On the opening day of Tassajara’s first practice period, July 4, 1067]
The night before, Richard Baker had been ordained as a priest in a full ceremony. For the first time, Suzuki did a priest ordination that wasn't private and extremely brief. Richard looked awkward in his heavy black robes, sweating before his family, his fellow students, and a crowd of close associates. Suzuki was standing before him, chanting, ceremoniously sprinkling water on him with a fern. Suzuki gave Richard the Buddhist name Zentatsu Myoyu (Penetrating Zen, Mysteriously Dissolving). He was also installed as head monk of the Tassajara practice period, which would begin in this season of blazing sun. Normally there would be some years before a newly ordained priest became head monk, but Suzuki considered that Richard had done the work between the two initiation ceremonies already. Suzuki was also ignoring seniority in choosing his first head monk. Jean, Phillip, and Claude were at the ceremony, and all three had been ordained as priests years before Richard.
In the cool dark of early morning, at 4:30 am, a student offered incense, took the handbell from the altar of the Tassajara stone zendo, and ran around the cabins ringing the wake-up bell. Glass kerosene lamps were lit in rooms, and students washed their faces, brushed their teeth, and donned robes or loose clothing. In front of the zendo hung a thick board with Chinese characters on it. A woman in a grey robe picked up a mallet and hit the board, called the han, one strike per minute. Its sound pierced the whole valley, calling all to the zendo for morning zazen. Students walked silently with their hands held together just below the chest, a position called shashu, used for zendo activities.
Fifteen minutes later, when Shunryu Suzuki walked in, students were to be on their zafus, with a few in chairs, seated erect, chins in, eyes half-open. Suzuki offered incense and sat on his zafu, tucking his robes under his crossed legs, then swung left to right in diminishing arcs until he was still. Suzuki and Kobun sat facing out; everyone else sat facing the century-old walls built of mountain stone. The large new drum at the back of the zendo was hit in tandem with the new hanging bell outside, creating deep, rich sounds. After ten minutes there was only the sound of Tassajara creek, an occasional pot banging in the kitchen, someone clearing their throat. Now they were all in harmony—Suzuki, Richard, Phillip, Bill, Silas, a number of older students, and many new ones: following their breaths, counting their breaths, just sitting, looking, with no props and no beliefs, some sleepy, some with chattering minds, some with legs already aching. No hurry. Sit zazen, and compulsive thinking and dominating emotions will be eroded, as a mountain is smoothed over in time by wind and rain.
August at Tassajara was dry and hot. The clean air carried the smells of sun-baked sycamore leaves and fresh bread from the ovens in the kitchen. Tassajara Creek was low but still gurgling, a host to dragonflies, turtles, and tiny flies called no-see-ums that buzz around the eyes at dusk. At eleven in the morning Suzuki was in his baggy black monk's work clothes, using an iron bar to shift a big stone with Phillip.
As always, his students would ask why. Suzuki said in Japan no one would even think of asking why. He admired the sincerity and honesty of his students but cautioned that it would be hard to establish a practice if they had to think about things so much. He said he wasn't asking anything unreasonable and that most questions would answer themselves in time. Phillip told them of a saying at Eiheiji: "Don't say no for the first five years." Suzuki often said, "Just do it!"
Only the first practice period was in the summer. After that Tassajara settled into the traditional pattern of having two ninety-day practice periods a year, one that started in early fall and one that started in winter. Phillip was the head monk for the second practice period, which began in February 1968. Suzuki had a terrible flu that winter and spent a lot of time at Sokoji in bed.
At Tassajara in May of 1970, all this news seemed remote. Tatsugami-roshi, who had kept Jean, Grahame, and Phillip under his wing at Eiheiji, had come to lead the spring practice period at Tassajara.
late spring 1970
[Telling Kobun Chino that Suzuki has told Bob Halpern and me that he’s going to give dharma transmission to Richard Baker in Japan in the coming fall when he goes there to visit.]
Later that day I ran into Kobun on the street and told him. Kobun recoiled with his hands held in front of him, like an actor in a horror movie, "No! no! Not Richard! It is a mistake! Maybe Phillip! Maybe Phillip!"
By now the six original priests ordained before Richard were gone or on the periphery of Zen Center. Very few people had heard of Bill McNeil or Bob Hense, whom Suzuki considered his first two ordained disciples. Jean Ross was living in Carmel; a small sitting group met in her apartment. (These first three were ordained as Suzuki's disciples in Japan by other priests.) Grahame Petchey was still in Japan and seemed to have drifted away. Phillip Wilson had moved north to Santa Rosa with his wife in 1969 before the move [of the ZC from Sokoji to a new large, residential building] to Page Street. He wasn't comfortable with all the new people and hierarchy, and there didn't seem to be any role for him. Claude Dalenberg was involved in the practice at the City Center, but he too wasn't happy with the new, bigger Zen Center. He remembered the days when Suzuki talked about getting a large house where ten or so of them could live communally—like the East-West House.
[I guess I didn’t want to embarrass Phillip. My understanding is that whereas what I write above is true – that Phillip had become uncomfortable with the scene around the ZC - Suzuki had at one point asked him to leave because his behavior had become too erratic and at times disturbing. But there will be more info coming soon to a web site near you – like this one – interviews with him and his wife JJ and comments from others. Mainly JJ will clarify this.]
By the summer of 1970, six priests had been head monks at Tassajara: Richard, Phillip, Claude, Jean, Silas, and Mel. Soon Peter, Bill, and Dan would follow. The presence of more and more American priests at Tassajara and at the City Center made a great difference in the atmosphere.
[But of course Phillip was no longer around. He would visit every now and then though. Right JJ?]
[Suzuki has cancer and clearly doesn’t have long to live.]
Almost every day some old-timer would enter Suzuki's room and stay for half an hour—Betty, Della, Jean, Mike Dixon, and others. Suzuki had asked Phillip to come as much as possible, and he would drive in every few days from Santa Rosa. Okusan told Phillip that Suzuki said to let him in any time he came. Phillip said he'd break down the door if he couldn't get in.
Knowing that their father could pass away at any time, Suzuki's daughter Yasuko and son Hoitsu arrived for the first time in the States with godfather Amano, to say their farewells. They were shocked to see him so jaundiced and weak. They stood at his bed saying a few polite phrases, not knowing what to do. But Suzuki was more open and easygoing than in the old days, and before long they were talking comfortably with him and among themselves. Okusan was making noodles in the cramped kitchen. Then Phillip, a familiar face, came to visit.
Phillip is one of many people in the acknowledgements of the book "For other editing, corrections, and suggestions upon reading the manuscript or parts of it."
He and his former wife, J.J. Wilson are listed with the many people who were sources for the book.
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