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Excerpts relating to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Marin Derby, Richard Baker, and Trudy Dixon from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, (indented sections are quotes from Shunryu Suzuki)

Chapter 16, The City, p.320

The teaching given by Shakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime was accommodated to each disciple's particular temperament, and to each occasion's particular circumstances. For each case there should be a special remedy. According to circumstances, there should even be teachings other than those which were given by Buddha. In light of this, how is it possible to interpret and pass down an essential teaching that can be applied to every possible occasion and individual temperament?

For the first six years Suzuki was in America, he and his main students resisted the idea of recording his lectures; what he said was for the moment and for the people at hand. He wasn't codifying his teaching but working with people day by day, situation after situation. Nevertheless, in 1965, when she was a new student, Marian Derby started recording lectures in Los Altos on her reel-to-reel tape recorder with Suzuki's permission. Also with his permission she transcribed them and made the transcripts available. Soon after that they started doing the same in San Francisco.  

In the summer of 1966 Marian's parents came to visit. They wanted to check out this Zen teacher, to see whom Marian had brought into her home and into the lives of their grandchildren. They met Suzuki and were delighted with him. Marian's father drove him back to San Francisco to get to know him better. He asked Suzuki what his personal ambition in life was, and Suzuki said, "I'd like to write a book." When her father passed this on, Marian took it seriously and asked Suzuki if she could put a book together from his morning talks. He was enthusiastic. So every Thursday morning after the group left, she'd read to him from her edited transcripts. Marian loved the way Suzuki would sit with folded legs on her sofa in front of the crackling fireplace, his robes tucked under his legs, the aroma of coffee and cinnamon rolls still in the air.

The purpose of studying Buddhism is not to study Buddhism but to study ourselves. That is why we have teaching. But the teaching is not ourselves. It is some explanation of ourselves. To study the teaching is to know yourselves. That is why we do not ever attach to the teaching, or to the teacher. The moment you meet a teacher you should leave the teacher, and you should be independent. You want a teacher so that you can be independent. So you study yourselves. You have the teacher for yourselves, not for the teacher. 

     "Did I say that?" he'd often comment.  

Marian told Suzuki that Richard was opposed to the idea of her doing the book. He thought she was too new a student. Suzuki suggested she pass the manuscript on to Richard so he could edit it. In March of 1967 Marian gave the completed manuscript to Richard, which she had titled Beginner's Mind. Much to Marian's frustration, it took him months to get around to looking at it. When he did read it the following fall, he agreed it was good material for a book—after more work. Marian let go of the project. Richard found himself too busy to take it on, so he offered it to a student named Peter Schneider, who had editing experience. Peter turned down the task, since he was fully occupied as director of Tassajara.

     In the spring of 1968 Richard turned the manuscript over to his good friend Trudy Dixon, who, like Richard, had edited Suzuki's lectures for Wind Bell. Trudy took on the task even though she had two small children, had undergone surgery for breast cancer, and was in poor health. She threw herself completely into it, listening to the original tapes, painstakingly working on the material word by word, thought by thought, organizing it and conferring often with Richard and occasionally with Suzuki directly.  

Around this time a Zen student came up to Richard on Bush Street and said he'd heard that Richard was going to Japan. That's how Richard learned of Suzuki's next plan for him. He went right in to Sokoji and asked Suzuki about it. Suzuki had a number of reasons for sending him. He said he wanted Richard to experience Zen practice in a Japanese setting and to get a taste of Japanese culture. He wanted him to go to Eiheiji, study with various good teachers, learn tea ceremony, and go to Noh plays. Suzuki didn't make it public at the time, but he considered this a necessary part of Richard's preparation to someday succeed him as a teacher and maybe even as the abbot of the Zen Center. 

     Suzuki also said he wanted to dislodge Richard from his excessive responsibilities and give other students a chance to run things. Richard was so dominant and his mind worked so fast that it was hard for others to develop leadership skills in his presence. Some people, like Silas, would get a chance to do things without so much conflict and competition with Richard. In addition, Suzuki did not hide another reason: "I can't control him," he said, "so I'm going to give him a big problem. I'm going to throw him in the ocean." The most astonishing purpose that Suzuki had in sending Richard to Japan was to reform Japanese Buddhism, one of his lifelong goals. He wanted to bust up the fossilization of Zen in his homeland with influence from novice American Buddhists, who would bring a fresh approach. As usual, he never fully explained his vision or how he saw this sea change in ancient institutions coming about. 

     Hundreds of people came to Richard's going-away party. Lou Harrison's Chinese music ensemble played, followed by Mel Weitsman's recorder trio, and then there was dancing to a rhythm-and-blues band. Richard and Virginia stood for a while talking to Suzuki and Okusan. After clowning around, pretending to dance like the students, the Suzukis went home early.  

     Many of those present owed a lot to Richard: he'd gotten them into Tassajara or out of the draft, helped foreign students stay in the country, helped people get jobs, and when it was really important arranged for Suzuki to see them right away. He'd been everywhere at once, and now he was going away. People wondered what Zen Center would be like without him. 

     On October 23, 1968, Richard sailed for Japan with his wife, Virginia, and daughter, Sally. He took with him the completed manuscript for Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which he had further edited and gone over with Suzuki. He was going to seek a publisher in Japan, and he wrote the introduction onboard as the ship headed toward the land of his teacher. 

Trudy Dixon had been doing graduate studies in philosophy at UC Berkeley, specializing in Heidegger and Wittgenstein, when her husband, Mike, first took her to Sokoji in 1962 to hear Suzuki lecture. Mike was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. They arrived late and stood in the back of the zendo. Suzuki embarked on an unusual line of thought that evening. He compared the practice of Zen with the study of philosophy—expressing one's truth with one's whole body and mind instead of thinking and being curious about the meaning of life. He said he'd had a good friend in Japan who was a philosopher. Ultimately his intellectual pursuits didn't satisfy him, and he killed himself. At exactly that point in the lecture, Suzuki looked intently at Trudy. She backed up a few steps. Trudy could not get that experience out of her mind. She and Mike continued coming to lectures and soon decided to start practicing with Suzuki. They became close disciples. 

     In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Trudy put her whole being into expressing the essence of Suzuki's teaching. After she passed the manuscript on to Richard, she concentrated on taking care of herself at her home in Mill Valley and dealing with her approaching death. She remained cheerful on the outside, but her mind was possessed by fear, which she revealed to her analyst. After an operation her lungs filled with liquid, and she couldn't breathe. She struggled for breath with all the energy she could find until she went beyond thoughts, words, and fear into what she called breath-struggle samadhi. After she had undergone five difficult days of recovery, Mike brought Suzuki and Okusan to visit her. She said the sight of them was like seeing the sun rise for the first time.  

     She went to Tassajara and fasted. There she had a powerful, joyous experience that included life and death, health and illness, fear and courage. She said she finally stopped fighting and was "accommodating the enemy," as Suzuki had described it. On the verge of death Trudy had been reborn. Her analyst said that at her next visit she seemed like a new person, a fearless and radiant woman. To her husband, caretakers, and friends she became an inspiration. "My self, my body," she wrote, "is dissolved in phenomena like a sky's rainbow caught in a child's soap bubble."  

     One day after zazen at Bill Kwong's Mill Valley zendo, Betty Warren visited Trudy. She arrived wishing there was something she could do. Trudy burned away Betty's pity with one phrase, referring to her illness as "this blessed cancer." 

     On Mondays Suzuki visited Trudy at her home after giving a talk to Bill's zazen group. One day after such a visit he returned to the car with Bob Halpern. Suzuki's eyes were wet. "Now there's a real Zen master," he said of Trudy, as he sank into his seat. 

     On July 1 Trudy's brother drove her to Tassajara. They shared a cup of clear creek water with Suzuki, slept outside in the moonlight, and returned the next day to the hospital. A couple of days later she came back to Tassajara and practiced zazen lying on her back in the zendo with Suzuki and the students. On the eighth she and her teacher returned to San Francisco. 

     On July 9, 1969, Mike called Suzuki at Sokoji and told him that Trudy had just died in the hospital—too quickly for Suzuki to have gotten there. Suzuki fell apart crying on the phone, which disturbed Mike—he thought of Suzuki as imperturbable. Suzuki came to the hospital and was composed by then.  

     At Trudy's funeral two days later Suzuki was uncharacteristically emotional. He cried and said, "I never thought I'd have a disciple this great. Maybe I never will again." As is customary, the funeral included an ordination in which Suzuki-roshi gave his deceased student the precepts. Then he delivered a eulogy.  

Go, my disciple. You have completed your practice for this life and acquired a genuine warm heart, a pure and undefiled buddha mind, and joined our sangha. All that you have done in this life and in your past lives became meaningful in the

light of the buddha mind, which was found so clearly within yourself, as your own. Because of your complete practice, your mind has transcended far beyond your physical sickness, and it has taken full care of your sickness like a nurse. 

     A person of joyful mind is contented with his lot. Even in adversity he will see bright light. He finds the Buddha's place in different circumstances, easy and difficult. He feels pleasure even in painful conditions, and rejoices. For us, for all who have this joy of buddha mind, the world of birth and death is the world of nirvana

     The compassionate mind is the affectionate mind of parents. Parents always think of the growth and welfare of their children, to the neglect of their own circumstances. Our scriptures say, "Buddha mind is the mind of great compassion." 

     The magnanimous mind is as big as a mountain and as wide as an ocean. A person of magnanimous mind is impartial. He walks the middle way. He is never attached to any side of the extreme aspect of things. The magnanimous mind works justly and impartially. 

     Now you have acquired the buddha mind and become a real disciple of the Buddha. At this point, however, I express my true power. …  

     Then Suzuki let out a long, mighty roar of grief that echoed through the cavernous auditorium.


from Chapter 17, One and Many, p.351

We get no letters from the world of emptiness, but when you see the plant flower, when you hear the sound of bamboo hit by the small stone, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.

A shipment arrived at Page Street one morning in the summer of 1970: several boxes of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. It was the second book to come out of Zen Center, after Ed Brown's wildly popular Tassajara Bread Book. Students stood around the front hall picking up copies. On the grey dust jacket in black and white was calligraphy done by Suzuki in his cabin at Tassajara using a yucca leaf for a brush. It was the Japanese characters nyorai, or tathagata in Sanskrit, "thus come," one of the ten traditional names for Buddha. Between the red-lettered title and author's name was the subtitle, Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice. It was a thin hardcover, only 134 pages, with short chapters. Each chapter started with a quote from the text. The prologue, titled "Beginner's Mind," carried the quote: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

     There wasn't much thought about the impact the book might have on the Buddhist world or any other world. It was nice to have
a little book of Roshi's lectures that could be sent to friends and family. The Wind Bell usually carried only one lecture, and was published infrequently.

     Suzuki and Okusan came downstairs and joined the handful of students. He looked at the book with comic amazement. Okusan was irritated at the picture on the back cover, a black-and-white close-up of Suzuki's head and shoulders, a picture taken at Tassajara shortly before he shaved his head and face (done once every five days, on four-and-nine days, in a Zen monastery). He wore his stark black Japanese work clothes, his ever-changing face settled into a penetrating, clear gaze, a pleasant hint of a smile, those black eyes with crow's-feet like bookends, the slightly raised eyebrow adding a suggestion.

     "In Japan we would never do this," she said. "Why not a nice formal picture of Hojo-san in his best robes?" People teased her, and she gave up.

     Someone showed Suzuki the two textless pages in the center of the book, empty except for a small fly on the right side, drawn by his old student Mike Dixon. People left him alone as he looked at the book, which reflected his teaching through the work of Marian Derby, Richard Baker, and Trudy Dixon.

     After a moment he moved up next to me and chuckled. "Good book," he said, thumping the cover with an index finger. "I didn't write it, but it looks like a good book."

     Later he said, "I read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind to see what the understanding of my disciples is."


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