Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch.2
Master and Disciple
When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, "Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere."
So-on stepped off the train at the village of Mori. Behind him followed a new disciple, his young and very small devotee Toshitaka Suzuki. They walked through the countryside and up a hill to the temple. Carrying his belongings, Toshi climbed a steep flight of stone steps to enter the grounds through a high old thatch-roofed temple gate. Although he was moving only from one temple to another, he was also entering into a new setting that would totally change his life. He showed up in the middle of the hundred-day practice period. Eight students had joined So-on for this training, including some monks and some young trainees. Toshi was the youngest. There were no small children or women in the temple. While not huge, Zoun-in was much larger and more impressive than Shoganji. There were many more rooms with tatami and wood floors, a spacious main hall with a fine central altar holding a Buddha statue and side altars for other revered figures, a founder's hall in back, and beautiful grounds, not extensive but with well-tended gardens. Toshi was taken to the room where the students slept. He put his belongings in a dark wood cabinet under which a *futon was stored.
He had never before lived with such a demanding schedule. Everyone rose at four in the morning and sat *zazen, Zen meditation. Then there was a service where they *chanted sutras, followed by a thorough temple cleaning, which the students carried out vigorously. They dusted, swept, and wiped the woodwork down with damp cloths. They ran down the wood floors bent over, pushing the towels before them. Even in the cold morning they wore only *kimonos and thin underwear--no warm layers of monk's robes. After a breakfast of white rice with raw egg, miso soup, fish, and pickles, some of the younger boys who were permanent residents went off to school. For Toshi there was work all day and then more zazen in the evening. He had to learn how to sit in the lotus posture with legs crossed, instead of the traditional *seiza, sitting in a kneeling position with bottom on heels. He was told nothing about zazen except just to sit and not to move.
Toshi did not become homesick, because the activity at Zoun-in was so invigorating, and because he was in love with So-on. Buddhism was not what motivated him; he had only vague, simplistic ideas of what it was. It was So-on who inspired him. Toshi focused on So-on, throwing himself into serving his new master, much as So-on had served Sogaku twenty-five years before.
When Sogaku became the abbot of Zoun-in in 1891, he asked the temple elders for a young boy to be his student, and he received a fourteen-year-old orphan. Sogaku adopted the boy and ordained him, giving him the Buddhist name Gyokujun So-on and his own family name, Suzuki. Sogaku sent So-on to school, and before the turn of the century he entered the Soto Zen college in Tokyo.
After three years there, So-on went to the famous training temple of *Shuzenji, on the *Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo. There he studied with the great *Oka Sotan, who had been the head of the Soto Zen college when So-on had attended. Oka was a recognized scholar and author of several books on Buddhism. He emphasized the practice of zazen and the careful study of Buddhist teachings, especially the precepts, the guidelines of conduct. Continuing the work of his master, *Nishiari Bokusan, Oka was a leader in the resurgence of interest in studying the lengthy *Shobogenzo (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye). This book is the masterwork of *Eihei Dogen, the thirteenth-century monk and founder of Japanese Soto Zen, whose voluminous, profound writings are now generally considered a pinnacle of Zen philosophical expression. Following tradition, Gyokujun So-on received dharma transmission--authorization to teach--from his first teacher, the priest who ordained him, Sogaku Suzuki, and took his place in that lineage, but his understanding of Buddhism had matured under Oka Sotan. So-on flourished at Shuzenji and went on to become the chief administrator of the temple.
In 1916 So-on left Shuzenji to become the abbot of Zoun-in, the temple of his early training. Thus, although Sogaku had departed from Zoun-in thirteen years prior to that time, he had managed to keep it within his lineage through his disciple So-on, who had gained a reputation as a good administrator. It was not long after So-on assumed the abbotship of Zoun-in that his master's son, Toshitaka Suzuki, arrived at Zoun-in to begin his new life.
So-on carried himself with a fierce authority. His presence was everywhere. When he couldn't be seen he was felt. So-on was the man who stood commandingly where Sogaku wished to be--in Zoun-in.
Big and strong, So-on had long practiced *kyudo, the way of archery. One day when a guest at the temple asked So-on about an exceedingly tall bow that hung on the wall, he called his disciples and announced there would be a kyudo demonstration. He took the long, thick bow, taller than he was, and had Toshi set up a straw target. After placing an arrow in the bow with the same attention he devoted to offering a stick of incense at the altar, he pulled the string back slowly and deeply and let the arrow fly. Turning to the boys, he asked them to try to pull back the bowstring. One by one they tried but couldn't budge it, even though some of them were older teenagers, not weaklings at all. The guest then tried and couldn't bend the bow either. The demonstration was over.
So-on related to Toshi gruffly, mainly ignoring him, but also giving him some slack because he was so young. If Toshi didn't rise with the wake-up bell, nothing was said to him. He tried, but it was hard. Many mornings he'd go back to sleep, and his eyes would next open when he heard the sounds of the Heart Sutra coming from the buddha hall--"*Kanjizai bosatsu gyo jin hannya haramita ... ." At Shoganji he'd heard his father chant that alone in the mornings and with others in ceremonies.
Not long after Toshi's arrival, the aging Oka Sotan came with his close disciple of many years, *Keiza. They were referred to reverently by So-on as Oka-roshi and Keiza-roshi, roshi being a term of respect for older priests. Seeing his master with them, observing the strictness with which they all conducted themselves, Toshi felt he was in the midst of the greatness he had heard of. His task in life was to be like them.
"I was lucky to be there and was encouraged by them, but the difficult thing was to get up in the morning as they did." This was the first lesson Toshi learned at his new temple. It took time, and nobody would help him, but eventually he discovered that he could do it if he jumped out of bed before he had a thought. Once he knew how, he never stopped. It became a lifelong practice and teaching of his: "When the bell rings, get up!"
*Karma can change into a vow.
On May 18, 1917, his thirteenth birthday, Toshi was ordained as a novice monk. He received the precepts, took the vows, and formally became a disciple of Gyokujun So-on. He also received a set of black robes to go over his Japanese kimono: a *koromo, the Chinese outer robe with long sleeves; an *okesa, a large rectangular cloth with finely sewn sections in seven rows resembling rice fields, which is the sacred robe of the monk; and a *rakusu, a miniature and less formal okesa with straps, which is worn on the chest and over the shoulders like a bib. He was given the Buddhist name of Shogaku Shunryu. Shogaku, Auspicious Peak, was combined with his birth name, Shunryu, Excellent Emergence. He was called Shunryu-san by his fellow students. So-on had taken to calling him Crooked Cucumber, a private nickname for his absent-minded, idealistic, quirky little disciple.
Life with So-on was harsh. Even in the winter they weren't allowed to wear *tabi, the socks worn with zori, on the cold wood floors where young Shunryu would often work all day. Some of the boys would walk on tiptoe when So-on wasn't looking, so as to reduce the amount of skin that came in contact with the freezing floor. So-on suspected that the only reason the boy was at Zoun-in was to inherit the temple from him and to return it to his family. He was obligated to his master Sogaku to train the little fellow, but if the basis of his being there was such an ambition, then he wouldn't be a good priest.
In addition, So-on still had some feelings about Sogaku, who had been a severe and unsentimental master himself. So-on taunted Shunryu about his father, whom Shunryu loved and felt loyal to, and who had mellowed since the time of So-on's apprenticeship. There was nothing Toshi could do but listen to So-on. He told the boy how Sogaku had often hit him on the head when he was young (a common disciplinary practice of the time) and claimed that it had made him dim-witted. So-on said that once when he got into mischief, Sogaku had hung him upside down on the temple gate.
So-on sent Shunryu to the village upper-elementary school but did not provide him with proper clothes. His kimonos were old and tattered. A woman who lived near the temple took pity on the boy and made some new kimonos out of scraps, but they had a different pattern on each sleeve. He was so embarrassed at his appearance that he'd wear his coat even during physical education, saying he was sick. In winter he was never warm enough. Though his family at Kanagawa had been poor, and he didn't have as much as the other boys, at least his mother had always sewn him good kimonos, so he never had to suffer this sort of indignity. Zoun-in wasn't that poor a temple, so there was no reason for this except to test his endurance.
Instead of complaining and asking to be taken back home, Shunryu tried to show his sincerity through his actions. Taking to heart So-on's admonitions on daily practice, Shunryu applied himself with energy in each activity, especially cleaning. He vowed to clean the blackened kitchen pans and surfaces. All the boys worked in the kitchen, and some of them were lazy cleaners. So-on said that Dogen, in his instructions to the cook, had emphasized the importance of finding liberation in kitchen work. So Shunryu threw himself into scrubbing off the layers of soot that came from smoky, open-fire cooking.
After a while little Shunryu's conscientious effort softened big So-on a bit. While continuing to be tough, imperious, and critical of Shunryu and his father, So-on began to take the boy seriously and to respect his motives.
The honeymoon phase was over. Now So-on wanted more from Shunryu than puppy love. He wanted him to listen to the intent of his teaching, get beyond his limiting idealism, meet him on the *dharma (teaching) ground.
So-on told a story about the *Chinese ancestor Yakusan, who emphasized to his disciples that he was not a philosopher or a scholar but a teacher of Zen. "Do not acknowledge me," he kept saying to his disciples. His point was the opposite of what he was saying: acknowledge me! His disciples didn't accept him or relate to him as a Zen teacher, but always expected him to be something else, to fulfill some other role.
Our practice should be based on the idea of selflessness. Selflessness is very difficult to understand. If you try to be selfless, that is already a selfish idea. Selflessness will be there when you do not try anything. When you are practicing with a good teacher, you will naturally be not so selfish.
The boys were cleaning out the temple pond, scraping the mud from the bottom. So-on was working at the edge. Shunryu reached down and caught a little goldfish and noticed that there was a tiny worm attached to it. He had learned about this worm in school. He held the fish up, pointed to the worm, and proudly said for all to hear, "This is *Mijinko!"
"Shut up!" So-on barked at him.
Shunryu didn't understand why So-on had shouted at him, but much later he told the story to show how So-on was always watching, ready to pounce on any sign of selfishness.
So-on did not have any particular teaching or system, and his students were often in the dark about what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. Suzuki said that So-on was usually silent, so much so that his disciples had to learn most things on their own, just watching what he did. But they weren't necessarily supposed to be doing exactly what he did, so they'd get nervous and feel lost. Suzuki said they actually developed a liking for the sound of So-on's scolding voice, because then they knew what to do. How to clean a pond with concentration and selflessness was one thing, but So-on was also mute when it came to more complicated subjects such as how to conduct a memorial service.
The boys often went out with So-on to perform services in the homes of danka. The details of what they chanted and how they went about it were always changing. And the nuances of how to strike the bells and *mokugyo, the wooden fish drum, how and when to bow, and so forth were so various and subtle that they could never do it quite right. Right in front of a family seated solemnly before them, So-on would look over at Shunryu hitting a bell and would suddenly growl, "What are you doing?" Then he'd take the striker out of Shunryu's hand and show him how it was done. It was embarrassing, but at least in that way he'd been shown something. Later Suzuki said that through this sort of study he learned how to apply himself to new problems without preparation, developing confidence in his ability to meet situations as they arose.
Returning from such a memorial service one summer evening, having been well fed and carrying gifts of food, the boys walked with So-on on a path in the twilight. So-on had taken the tabi off his feet at the door and slipped them into the sleeve of his robe, but the boys still had their tabi on. When they reached a wooded area he told them to go first since they were wearing tabi, and it was the time of year when the *mamushi, poisonous snakes, would be out. Mamushi are not large snakes, and tabi offer a certain amount of protection. So the boys said, "Hai!" and went ahead feeling like brave monks. When they got to the temple So-on said, "Why don't you boys sit down?" They knew something was up but had no idea what. "I knew you boys were not so alert," he told them, "but I didn't know you were that dull. When I am not wearing tabi, why do you wear them? You should have noticed." Then the boys were deeply ashamed. They were not supposed to be dressed more formally than their teacher. This subtle and indirect way of communicating is what Suzuki-roshi later called "learning to listen to the other side of the words."
So-on kept cakes and other goodies on hand to serve to guests who dropped by the temple. The boys, usually hungry, were always pilfering these treats. He kept hiding them in new places, but his young disciples would find them. Once he put a jar of sugar high on a shelf in the kitchen. They saw it and figured out what it was. They brought a table over and put a short ladder on top of that. One of them got on the ladder and another climbed on top of him and grabbed the pot, but before he could get down they lost their balance and came crashing to the floor, breaking the pot. That got them a tongue-lashing.
They'd find a cake and take off little slices so that he wouldn't notice; later they'd go back and cut the corners off; finally they'd realize that they were going to get caught anyway, so they'd divide it up and eat it all. He wouldn't get angry at them for this sort of mischief, but if he thought someone had taken something to eat all by himself, he'd get very angry.
Once So-on put a large persimmon in the rice so it would ripen there. When he came to get it, it was gone. He asked who had eaten it. Shunryu said he didn't know. So-on found out who ate it and gave the thief hell--not because he took the persimmon, but because he hadn't shared it. Shunryu regretted that he hadn't taken the blame.
Suzuki's favorite story about his novice days with So-on was a cautionary tale, not of selfishness but of discrimination, and of pickles gone bad. At Zoun-in pickles were made to eat year-round but especially in the winter, when there were few fresh vegetables. There were pickles made from cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, cabbage, and *daikon, the giant white radishes. A batch of *takuan, daikon pickles, had been undersalted and had gone bad. So-on was told about it. He was just like Sogaku when it came to food. He wouldn't throw it out. "Serve it anyway!" he ordered. So for meal after meal decomposing daikon were served, and the pickles were getting worse with the passage of time. One night when they could take it no more, after they were sure So-on was asleep, Shunryu and a couple of cohorts took the pickles out to the garden and buried them.
The boys were pleased with themselves, thinking they had gotten away with their prank. But a few days later when they sat down for breakfast at the low wooden table, So-on brought in a special dish--the rotten pickles back from the dead! So-on ate the pickles with them. Shunryu gathered his courage and took the first bite, then the next. He found that he could do it if he didn't think about it. He said it was his first experience of nondiscriminating consciousness.
The pickle saga wasn't quite over, though. The boys decided to boil them to see if that helped. It did; they were much easier to eat. So-on said, "What is this? You boys must have cooked something extraordinary!" And then they all ate the cooked rotten pickles together. He never asked his students to do anything he couldn't do himself.
Sometimes it is better for your teacher to be mean, so you don't attach to him.
When Shunryu arrived at Zoun-in there were eight boys studying with So-on. After the first year there were only four, and midway through the second year they too had gone. So-on was not just hard on Shunryu; one by one the boys had been driven away by his imperious manner and the privations they had to endure with him. Now it was just Shunryu and So-on. He had a lot of responsibility for a fourteen-year-old. There was schoolwork, cooking, cleaning, memorial services in homes, assisting with ceremonies at the temple, and serving So-on and his guests. Shunryu was lonely without his friends, but he was getting lots of personal attention. That often didn't work out the way he wanted it to. For instance, he had some resistance to making *full bows, down on the knees with forehead descending to touch the *bowing cloth and hands extended palms up. So-on noticed Shunryu's resistance and told him that from that day, instead of bowing three times to Buddha at the end of the services, they would bow nine times.
Sometimes being alone with So-on did work out to Shunryu's liking. He got to work more in the gardens and to move stones with So-on, who was a rather accomplished stonemason. On a trip to Shuzenji a monk had shown Shunryu the bell tower, the stone base of which So-on had built when he was young. The monk said that a master stonemason had inspected it and commented that it was built by an amateur. He knew, because it was too precise.
A hard part of being alone with So-on was that now Shunryu had to carry everything when they went places. One day there was a service in the next valley, a few miles away, and So-on sent Shunryu ahead with a small trunk and a bag of scrolls. So-on went down to the village to get a *jinrikisha, the two-wheeled taxi of the time that was pulled by a man on foot. Shunryu stopped to rest his feet on the way and went down to a riverbank to catch frogs and let them go. Enjoying himself, he forgot the time till he saw So-on crossing a bridge on a jinrikisha. Shunryu hid till So-on had passed, then took the shortcut over the hill. He arrived huffing and puffing just before his master. After a ceremony and a short sermon, they ate a big meal, and So-on headed home. Shunryu received an offering envelope from the family. The scrolls were to stay there so he thought his trip back would be lighter, but the wife gave him a box with melons and a pumpkin. Then she said, "As it's so hot, how about this watermelon?" So he thanked her and trudged back to Zoun-in loaded down with gifts. Day after day it was like that.
"I saw you under the bridge playing," So-on said, wagging a finger at Shunryu. "You crooked cucumber. You're sticking with it but I feel sorry for you. You're such a dimwit."
Shunryu wanted to leave So-on just as the other boys had. But he couldn't go back home now. Actually, his parents would have loved for him to come back, but he didn't see that as an option. He had visited his family a couple of times since his ordination, and his father had been proud to see his son greet him so properly and formally with his hakama skirt tied correctly. There had been no complaints from Shunryu's lips or talk of his return.
"Don't commit adultery, Crooked Cucumber!" Shunryu had been admiring an old tea bowl, and that is how So-on told him not to be so attached to fine things. He used that metaphor a lot with the boy, who had good taste in antiques and craftsmanship. Shunryu found it funny, because there were no women living in the temple, but that wasn't the point. It was not that Shunryu shouldn't appreciate beauty, just that he shouldn't be caught by it. The irony about So-on's choice of words was that there was a woman in So-on's life. She wasn't living in the temple, but she visited a lot. And she was married.
Her name was *Yoshi Marushichi. The daughter of a family in Mori that sold *tofu, she had married a local rice merchant whose family was associated with Zoun-in. She was smart and attractive, with a reputation for flattering others to get her way. So-on was much more interesting and manly than her husband, who was older and in poor health. So-on was forty-one at the time and she twenty-eight. Shunryu knew her pretty well. She'd been spending more and more time at the temple, and she'd caught on to So-on's habit of kicking the boy around. People said they treated Shunryu like a stepson. They used him to relay messages back and forth. It wasn't really his calling. He'd get to the rice shop and realize he'd left the letter back on his desk, and several times he lost letters. Yoshi got very angry with him about that, and So-on had a fit. This might have been the reason that everyone knew about their relationship, though any type of secret would have been hard to keep in such a small community. No one did anything to stop their trysts, but there was general disapproval. It was a contributing factor to So-on's loss of students.
One day So-on sent Shunryu to the rice shop with a gift for
Yoshi, and she sent him back with a *covered wooden tub of a special, high-quality rice cooked with edible mountain orchids. Shunryu had to smell the delectable fragrance all the way to the temple but had been instructed not to taste it. He didn't like being their go-between, but he accepted the situation and continued serving his master. As things began to get uncomfortable around Mori, a new development relieved the situation.
In 1918 So-on was asked by his superiors in the Soto sect to become the abbot of a temple named *Rinso-in on the outskirts of *Yaizu, a coastal town about twenty-five miles east of Mori toward Tokyo. He would be responsible for both temples, but a junior priest could handle most of his duties at Zoun-in. He wasn't being sent to Rinso-in just to get him out of Mori. Rinso-in was a moderately important temple that needed rejuvenation. It had seniority over two hundred *branch temples in the area and had around five hundred danka families. In the Meiji Era it had gone downhill and never really recovered, but before that time it had been a bustling training temple. It was spacious and had a *zendo (zazen hall), a *bell tower, and much surrounding land that brought in revenue through rice payments from the tenant farmers.
The prior abbot had not managed the temple properly and had resorted to selling temple possessions to make ends meet. It had become dilapidated: the thatch roof had to be replaced, all sorts of structural work needed to be done, and foxes and badgers had taken to living in some of the back rooms, where the *shoji screens had not been repaired for years. Many members had switched to other temples. Rinso-in needed to be pulled back together in every way, a job that would take years. So-on had a reputation with the Soto elders as a man who could do that. And the assignment would also get him out of Mori.
Shunryu would go with him. It was almost time for him to leave Mori's upper-elementary school. The plan was for him to attend the best middle school in the prefectural capital of Shizuoka, just a short train ride north. But he failed the entrance exam, a great embarrassment, so So-on told him to take a year off from school. He could study for the next test while at Rinso-in.
With Shunryu's help So-on started getting Rinso-in back into decent physical shape and improving Rinso-in's relationship with its branch temples. Members started returning, and the temple came back to life socially and spiritually. So-on made sure the farmers on temple land paid the proper share of their rice crop to the temple, going so far as to glower over them as they divided it up, grunting if he didn't feel the temple had gotten its due. He was known for his large stature, his air of importance, and his strict manner. The residents of *Takakusa village, immediately below Rinso-in, were grateful for the restoration of prestige to their neighborhood and paid So-on the respect due to such a priest.
Families started to send their boys to So-on for training, so Shunryu was no longer alone with his master. So-on's nephew, *Soko, had come and taken his uncle as his master. There was a new disciple named *Kendo Okamoto, to whom Shunryu became close. Two of Yoshi's nephews began to study with So-on too, which indicated that her family didn't mind their relationship. Shunryu was now the senior *unsui ("cloud water," or novice).
So-on was well educated and perhaps felt bad about Shunryu's school situation, for he started giving occasional classes to the boys in Japanese history and the Chinese classics. He taught them to read and write old Chinese. This helped prepare them to study Buddhist texts, Chinese poetry, and calligraphy with other teachers who would come to the temple.
Every morning they'd sweep the temple road down past the farmhouses till it looked as if it had been paved. They collected firewood from the woods above and helped So-on to plant more trees there. In spring they picked the top tender tea leaves from the rows of dark green tea hedges on the mountainside. They swept and wiped the temple clean daily and tended the gardens and ohaka, where the ashes of priests and danka were enshrined.
One day Shunryu's father showed up at Rinso-in and had tea with So-on. He asked for Shunryu to come home to visit his ailing mother. She missed him terribly, and Sogaku was afraid she would not get better if she didn't see her youngest boy. Sogaku missed him too, though he didn't express it so dramatically. But when Shunryu arrived home with his father, Yone immediately got well, and it was clear that the "illness" was just a ruse to get him there.
Shunryu's parents asked if he wanted to live at home again. Having heard many things through the clerical grapevine, they were upset about So-on's treatment of their son, uncomfortable about the affair with Yoshi, and dismayed that Shunryu had failed his middle-school entrance exams. Sogaku had not had such opportunities and wanted his son to have a good education. The school at Mori had been inadequate, as its students generally didn't go on to higher education.
Shunryu wished to stay with his master, and it was hard to argue with him, since he had become such a fine young monk. His manner did not attest to abuse, and his parents still believed that he could best train away from home in order to one day take over Zoun-in. They were torn between feelings for their boy Shunryu and the monk Shunryu. He decided for them. After staying a few days he bid his parents farewell and returned to Rinso-in.
So-on arranged for his students to study with another teacher for a while, a *Rinzai Zen teacher. Before they left, So-on had some words of advice: Don't forget beginner's mind; don't stick to any particular style of practice. When you go to a Soto temple, practice the Soto way; when you go to a Rinzai temple, practice the Rinzai way. Always be a new student.
They studied a completely different type of Zen, which emphasized attainment of *satori, sudden enlightenment, through assiduous concentration on meditation teachings called *koans, which pose such questions as "What was your original face before your parents were born?" The boys were excited by the challenge. They were to concentrate on their koans in zazen and throughout the day. They weren't to talk about them though. Shunryu endured the rigorous Rinzai training but had trouble with his koan. Every morning and evening during zazen, he'd take his turn to visit the teacher, bowing before him, reciting the verse of his koan, and presenting his answer. One day one boy passed, then another, and finally all but Shunryu had passed their koans. He became distraught. On the day they were to leave he had still not passed his koan, and there were to be no more interviews, just a closing ceremony for their period of instruction. Just before the ceremony Shunryu went running into the master's room and yelled out one last attempt to answer his koan to his master's satisfaction.
"Okay! Okay! You pass!" the master said. Shunryu was happy, but later he felt that he didn't really understand the koan and believed the master had just passed him to be nice. This left him with an unsatisfied feeling about koan practice, although he continued to read and reflect on them all his life.
Yoshi Marushichi's husband had died. Leaving her teenage son in care of the family, she moved into Rinso-in. She did so formally but at the same time rather secretly--formally in that she took a new name, *Shuko, which sounded like a nun's name, and was adopted as a Buddhist practitioner into the home of a Yaizu family that would be responsible for her while she lived at Rinso-in; secretly in that she stayed in the temple as much as possible and did not socialize on the outside. So-on made their living quarters off-limits to the monks; they ate their meals together and sat around the warm *hibachi in the evenings separate from his disciples. Even though she wasn't particularly friendly, her presence did improve the atmosphere of the temple, and So-on himself became softer. The food improved, too.
Everyone knew about Yoshi. They didn't know if she was a nun or cook or So-on's mistress. What they did know was that So-on was a man of character who did things in the proper way, and Yoshi's residence at the temple had occurred discreetly, in a recognized and traditional way. She was known as the *Daikoku-sama of Rinso-in.
Daikoku-sama is one of the seven gods of good fortune. He is not enshrined on the Buddhist or Shinto altars in homes or temples; his altars are in kitchens or entryways. According to legend, he stays at home when the other five good-luck gods go to Izumo in October for the gathering of the gods. Daikoku represents bounty and is pictured sitting on bales of rice. In the Edo Era, Buddhist priests did not marry, but temples were busy places, and the priests in many cases were somewhat worldly. Women began living in the temples, to work and, at times, to love. They did not show their faces because they weren't supposed to be there to begin with. These women were often called Daikoku-sama.
Idon't trust anything but my feet and my black cushion. My
feet are always my friends. When I am really standing on my feet
I am not lost.
Shunryu sat nodding in the train. It was 1921. He was sixteen and wore a dark blue school uniform. Beside him was a backpack. He was dreaming of one good woman. So-on had at times spoken of "one good woman," an old woman in whose home he did services once a year. She worked hard at home doing chores all day for her son and his family, and as soon as the chanting started she would fall asleep. Even though she was nodding while So-on was chanting, she never missed hitting the bell at the right time. He said she never missed because she didn't stick to her personal problems. She looked sleepy but was alert. There were a lot of stories like this in the monasteries, and they inspired Shunryu. He himself had learned how to get up on time without an alarm clock, and that had been a revelation to him. It made him trust his body and mind to take care of him. When the train stopped at the station, he woke up and got off.
In 1919, when Shunryu was fifteen, Sogaku and Yone killed the deal with So-on and took their son back to Shoganji from Rinso-in. This time Shunryu had agreed, as had So-on. In the minds of Shunryu's parents, maybe he'd get Zoun-in down the road and maybe he wouldn't, but it wasn't worth sacrificing him for it. Yone had been complaining about her son's mistreatment for some time. Sogaku hadn't been so vocal, but as far as he was concerned, So-on had been treating Shunryu as though he were a nuisance. Three years was enough.
Shunryu had passed the entrance examinations for middle school at *Kaisei Chugaku, a first-rate institution. He commuted there by train. He'd have to redo most of the courses he'd taken in Mori, with classmates three years younger than he. This wasn't unheard of at the time. In the countryside, anything past elementary school was higher education, and the few youngsters who went on, did so as they could.
When not in class at Kaisei, Shunryu helped his father with temple duties, performed services in people's homes, and gave his father the envelopes of money he received. He got special treatment at home and accepted it. He had gotten used to that as a monk and as a male. His mother would make him special meals, different from what his sisters got.
For the first time he had friends who weren't monks and who did the normal things that boys do. When it got hot he could be found with a schoolmate cooling off in the temple pond. He joined a boating club. One day a boy he knew drowned when his boat turned over. It took Shunryu a while to get over it; he couldn't swim either. Friends would come by the temple and they'd exchange plants. Once he brought home a tree so big he needed help to carry it. After school on snowy winter days, still carrying his school bag, he'd brush the snow off the branches and leaves of the flora around the temple before going inside.
Even into his late teens Shunryu's faults remained. Despite his kind nature he had a short temper, though fortunately his bursts of anger would rise and fall quickly. He was a fairly quiet person until he got into an argument, and then he could be explosive.
Shunryu had a compulsive weakness for sugar, an expensive item that laypeople often gave to the temple as an offering. Shunryu regularly raided the big pot where it was kept, and when he got to the bottom he'd add water and drink the rinse. After his mother put a stop to that, he hid a can of sugar by his desk so he could make hot sugar-water.
But Shunryu's most notorious weakness was absentmindedness. He'd lose everything but his books and his mind. Everybody loses umbrellas, but Shunryu lost them in record numbers, mainly on trains. Once his mother stayed up all night making him a coat. She watched him walk off, with his gaitered legs and new coat, down the hill toward Hiratsuka, where he got the train for Kaisei. He came home that evening without the coat.
When the six-week summer vacation arrived, to his parents' surprise Shunryu was off on a train to Yaizu to be back with So-on. He would continue to go there whenever he could to help out at Rinso-in and at Zoun-in, sometimes missing school. Shunryu had no intention of quitting his study with So-on, but he was getting a new perspective by living away from intense temple practice; the absence helped him realize how wonderful it was. So-on used to emphasize Dogen's teaching of beginner's mind, and this is when Shunryu first experienced it, because he was losing it. During this period he experienced a sort of temptation, a clinging to purity and an attachment to Zen. He was becoming aware of Buddhism in a new, self-conscious way.
So-on had his own ways of dealing with Shunryu and his fellow monks thinking they were special. Every now and then he'd tell them, "You stinky boys, wash your underwear!"
At school Shunryu's favorite subject was English. He excelled at it. He'd always been interested in foreign things, true to his crooked nickname. The cucumber is *kyuri in Japanese, the barbarian gourd. He did so well in English that a doctor named *Yoshikawa in Mori asked him to tutor his sons in English. Shunryu had known the Yoshikawas since his early days at Zoun-in. He used to patrol the doctor's private forest and come back to report that all was okay, a pleasant task.
Dr. Yoshikawa became Shunryu's sponsor, giving him spending money and friendly advice. When Shunryu got pleurisy the doctor kept him in his home till he was well. Dr. Yoshikawa didn't want Shunryu staying with So-on at Rinso-in when Shunryu was sick, because he'd end up obediently serving So-on and neglecting himself. Shunryu would come home feverish and coughing and report that he'd been up late the night before tending So-on's smoky hibachi while his master played *go, an ancient board game played on a grid with black and white stones.
One early autumn day when he was seventeen, Shunryu left Zoun-in in the morning and walked to the station in Mori to get the train to Rinso-in. After just missing it, he decided to keep walking. He walked all the way, about forty miles, arriving that night. Shunryu's youth was full of walking. In that respect he had more in common with his ancestors than with modern people. Walking made him the man he became, as did his parents, teachers, and karma. Yet he saw the prior generations as the strong walkers.
Before his father's time, only nobles, ranking samurai, and important civil servants could ride on horses or be carried on palanquins. Everyone else walked; it was not only how they got to town and around town, it was also how they got from town to town. Shunryu grew up hearing walking lore. He heard of old women who walked to Tokyo to pray for the emperor and of monks who walked fifty miles to chant sutras on mountaintops. He liked the story of Buddha's disciple *Mokuren, who was not only a scholar but a yogic walker who appeared in so many places it seemed that he must have flown through the sky.
Shunryu liked to tell a walking story about his father. One Saturday while Shunryu was at Rinso-in, one of the most dramatic and tragic events in modern Japanese history occurred. The first day of September is a traditional day of bad omens, and on Saturday, September 1, 1923, the great *Kanto earthquake devastated Tokyo and Yokohama. It was a hot, windy day. Well over half of the buildings in those cities were completely destroyed by the quake and by the blazes that followed. A hundred thousand people died. The quake was strong in Hiratsuka. Sogaku was in the tub when it struck, and the water sloshed back and forth. An unusual butterfly danced around him. He became convinced that it was a sign that Shunryu had died. Soon word spread to the temple of the severity of the quake. The sky was filling with smoke.
The Suzuki family was distraught. That morning Shunryu was to have left Rinso-in to return home. They calculated that he might well have been on a train in the Hakone tunnel when the quake struck. The damaged tunnel had been closed. Fears raced through their minds. Communication and transportation were either cut off or restricted to emergency use. The family waited for Shunryu to arrive. They sent a letter and waited days for an answer. Finally Sogaku headed out on foot. Yone wanted to go with him, but she was not in good enough condition. He crossed the mountain Hakone-san, all the way to Yaizu and Rinso-in, where he found Shunryu, who was fine. He spent a day with his son, then walked the seventy-five miles back to tell the family the good news.
|[Note] - double check that 75 miles.|
Next: Chapter Three
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