Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch. 13
studied many things in America that I could not study
April 1963. Suzuki returned to Japan for three months, leaving the Sunday temple duties, including lectures, in Kato's charge. He'd been gone almost four years. His children could immediately tell that a change had come over their father. He was more relaxed and amiable. They liked the effect that America had had on him. Hoitsu came from Eiheiji, where he'd been for a couple of years, to do a dharma transmission ceremony with his father. He found his room all cleaned and organized. "Who did this?" he asked. "I did," his father replied. Before he would have scolded Hoitsu and made him clean it up himself.
Yasuko was running the two kindergartens, and many of the old teachers were happy to see her father come back to visit the schools he'd cared for like a mother bird. He visited Omi at the mental hospital. He saw his old friend Gido at Soto headquarters, talked to him about sending American students to Eiheiji, and inquired about priests who might come to America to help out. He met with some of his old High Grass Mountain Group students from wartime, and he told them what sincere, dedicated students he had in America. He said there were students who would jump off a cliff if he told them to, though they would ask why on the way down. Suzuki said he was finding English to be an easier language for teaching, more direct than Japanese, though it lacked the subtle emotional distinctions. Sometimes during his sermons to the Japanese congregation in the States, he said, he wished he could speak in English to get something across.
He told temple members about his work in America, but for the most part they couldn't understand why he wasn't coming back to stay. Amano understood. "Kozo Kato was right," he said. "You're going to turn into American soil."
Jean Ross came to Rinso-in, bringing her priest's robes. *Takashina-roshi, the abbot of Eiheiji whom Suzuki had helped when he was abbot of Kasuisai, had ordained her, not as his own disciple but as Suzuki's. He performed the ceremony so she could sit in the zendo with the other monks. Jean said it seemed that they regarded it as a rite that turned her into a man.
As a woman she still hadn't been allowed to practice fully with the monks, but that probably would have been too trying for all concerned anyway. She had had to stick up for her rights--refusing, for instance, to shave her head. But she was a steady, clear-eyed woman who gained the respect of the monks.
Jean had warm relationships with her Japanese teachers. "In fact, I feel they know me better than my friends and even my family in the States, because there is such vital life at Eiheiji."
She'd been at Sojiji as well and had lived at the venerable *Fujimoto Rindo's temple, studying zazen with him. Fujimoto was the teacher of Suzuki's friend Elsie Mitchell, who founded the Cambridge Buddhist Society. Fujimoto and Mitchell had translated and published a small book of his, The Way of Zazen, which was the only book on Soto Zen available at the time in America other than *Masunaga's Soto Approach to Zen. Everyone at Zen Center had read it. Suzuki visited with Fujimoto on that trip as well; he was one of the few people Suzuki corresponded with.
While sitting zazen with Fujimoto, Jean had an experience in which she lost the distinction between herself and everything else. She was so overwhelmed she couldn't speak. After a couple of days Fujimoto had her write a report on what she was experiencing in her zazen. "Thank you for showing me your buddha nature," he said to her in farewell.
Jean and Suzuki talked about the monks she'd met who might be suitable to come to America. Her teacher at Eiheiji, *Sotan Tatsugami-roshi, was open to Westerners, and there was *Dainin Katagiri in the international division of Soto headquarters who'd been helpful to her. He spoke some English and was interested in going to the States. On July 3, 1963, Suzuki and Jean flew back to San Francisco, and on the sixth there was a party to celebrate their return.
When small mind finds its correct place in big mind, there is peace.
Ten years after the end of the Korean War, it looked as if America was getting involved in another conflict in Southeast Asia. Suzuki had not reneged on his commitment to peace, but he had seldom spoken about it in America. There was not much need to: his students and the community around Zen Center were generally pacifists well aware of the global situation--especially Richard Baker, who was doing graduate work in Asian studies at UC Berkeley. But one particular event in 1963 deeply moved Suzuki and his students.
In July of 1963 Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist, burned himself to death to protest the escalating war there. His death brought to light the horrors of the conflict in Vietnam. On July 28 there was a memorial service for Quang Duc at Sokoji. The Wind Bell reported: "A Vietnamese student addressed the congregation. A letter from Zen Center members is being sent urging the United States government to take action in preventing further persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam." No one could forget the image of the monk sitting zazen, burning, falling over, and then righting himself while in flames to sit straight, then falling a final time.
In October Rosen Takashina, abbot of Eiheiji, came to San Francisco as part of a worldwide tour for peace. He slept in Otohiro's apartment on Miss Ransom's silk futon, which Suzuki had brought with him from Japan. At Sokoji Takashina-roshi conducted a service for world peace. Suzuki was happy to see that world peace was now part of Soto Zen's agenda. But it would have been even better, he said, if they had not supported the militarists so enthusiastically in the thirties and forties.
Suzuki was pleased as well to have students who were supporters of world peace, but he wished they got along better with the Japanese congregation and in some cases with each other. Two of his most earnest students, Bill Kwong and Richard Baker, had had a falling out while he'd been in Japan. Bill couldn't deal with the conflict and stopped coming. He'd moved to Mill Valley and sat there in the mornings; once Suzuki was back, Bill started coming on Saturdays and for sesshins.
There is a limit to physical pain, but there is no limit to mental pain.
August rolled around and with it the seven-day sesshin. Sitting zazen all day was a test of endurance for anyone, and there was the added difficulty of uncertainty. Suzuki would on occasion stretch the length of the periods during sesshin. Zazen was regularly forty minutes from bell to bell; kinhin, slow-paced walking zazen between sitting periods, was ten minutes. Suzuki had begun the sesshin by turning the early morning zazen-kinhin-zazen into a ninety-minute period of sitting without moving. Some people went with it: following the breath, counting the breath, letting go, not fighting. Others were in anguish.
Suzuki told his students during sesshin lectures not to expect the bell--just sit. During a sesshin people would invariably experience pain, mainly in their legs; some felt aches in their backs. An extra-long period would be extra painful. An important aspect of the training of almost all Japanese Zen Buddhists is learning to sit calmly with physical pain. "You must welcome the pain," said Suzuki. "Go with it. It is your teacher."
Many students would tell him in dokusan about experiences with pain--of going beyond the physical pain, of it still being there but it no longer hurting, of it becoming like an electrical charge or even a blissful feeling. They realized what they had thought of as physical pain was actually mental pain; or they gave up, and their physical and mental pain simultaneously dropped away. Some people would get used to their leg pain by the fourth day. Suzuki said his hardest day was always the third, and he reminded his students that he too experienced pain in zazen.
On an unusually warm day during the August sesshin, Suzuki hit the bell to begin afternoon zazen--twenty people sitting up straight, breathing in, breathing out. He got up and walked around with the stick, gently pushed in a few sagging backs to straighten them, hit a few shoulders with his stick in the prescribed manner (resting it first on one shoulder and waiting for them to gassho). He returned the stick to its resting place next to his zafu, and then, instead of sitting back down, he walked out of the zendo into his office. At about ten minutes after the period should have ended, he walked softly back into the zendo. Everyone clearly heard each footstep, and most found it hard not to look forward to his hitting the bell to end the period. But his footsteps went toward the entryway to the hall. He went out. He was heard going down the stairs. The front door opened and closed. People sat and sat and sat. On Bush Street the traffic went uphill in waves with the timed lights, the clock in the office struck the hour, the caretaker went around the balcony into the kitchen, and water ran in the sink. They sat. Grahame worried that Suzuki had forgotten them. Others worried that their legs were going to fall off.
An hour later Suzuki's soft, regular steps came back up the stairs. People felt they were about to die. Most had had to move one or more times. Some were breathing hard. He entered the room. He was shuffling the papers that the schedule was printed on. He was checking the schedule. Surely very soon he'd hit the bell and the period would be over. Then, in one of the most disappointing moments of Zen Center history, Suzuki walked back out the door and up to his room. Finally he came back down, rattled more papers, sat on his zafu, and after what seemed like another forever, at last picked up the striker and rang the small bronze bell. Everyone burst out laughing in relief. It had been two and a half hours. There were muffled groans as people stretched their legs out and rubbed them.
long as you seek for something, you will get
One evening in August of 1963, Shunryu Suzuki ordained Grahame Petchey as a priest. It was Suzuki's first such ordination in America, his second priest ordination ever--the first being his son Hoitsu. He gave Grahame the Buddhist name *Tokujun, meaning "full of virtue." Grahame would leave for Japan on the fourteenth of September to go to Eiheiji for the fall practice period; he had to be ordained in order to sit, eat, and sleep with the monks.
At ten in the evening Grahame kneeled before Suzuki on the altar in the dimly lit zendo. Only his wife, Pauline, and Okusan were there to observe. It didn't take long. Grahame didn't even know what was happening. Suzuki didn't explain anything. Grahame didn't receive robes or get his head shaved--Suzuki just waved a razor over his head and chanted in Japanese. To Pauline it seemed like a covert operation. There was no announcement, and she knew why. Others had been asking to be ordained or sent to Eiheiji--students impatient to wear robes or go to exotic places. Grahame was devoted to Suzuki and to Buddhism and was being sent over to get a taste of the practice there for the good of the group. He was being cultivated to be a teacher for the future of Suzuki's lineage.
There was a going-away party for Grahame and Kato on the ninth of September. Grahame was going for three months, but Kato and his family were moving to L.A. He would be helping Bishop Yamada part-time at Zenshuji in L.A.'s Japantown. Yamada had asked him repeatedly, saying he needed Kato's help in translating, because he couldn't speak English. Kato had quit his teaching position at UC Berkeley and had accepted another job as a professor at Cal State. During his eleven years in the Bay Area, he had seen Zen in America and Sokoji go through a dramatic transition; indeed, he'd been an active part of it. Suzuki thanked him for all he'd done for both the congregation and the students. "He opened all the doors for me when I came to this country and introduced me to so many people. I don't know what would have happened without Dr. Kato," he said. "Maybe I would still be sitting here by myself."
Pauline always had the feeling around Suzuki that everything was all right. But at the airport seeing Grahame off, she suddenly became apprehensive. Grahame was going into the unknown without any special preparation or instruction, and Suzuki didn't show the slightest concern.
A month passed, and from Grahame's letters it seemed as if the only useful preparation would have been to be born in a Japanese temple. Unknown to Grahame, Pauline had been visiting with Suzuki regularly to read him letters Grahame wrote at Eiheiji. Pictures of her husband without any hair on his head were unsettling, but more worrisome was the tough time he was having. Hoitsu had been doing his best to take care of Grahame--he'd met him at the Fukui station near Eiheiji and had taken him to the shop to get his robes. He'd watched over him in the grueling initiatory tangaryo--sitting all day for a week with breaks only after meals. Grahame had no trouble with tangaryo. Sitting would not be his problem at Eiheiji.
Like Jean, Grahame immediately warmed to the burly and friendly Tatsugami, the head of monk's training in the zendo. But Hoitsu and Tatsugami weren't able to give him enough support to counteract everything else. He felt as if he'd been thrown back several centuries. More demands were being made of him than of Jean, who had her own room and who, as a woman in her late forties, had been given more leeway.
Grahame wrote that there wasn't enough food and there was no time to eat--he couldn't keep up with their speed. They did everything so fast. The monks ate and slept in the zendo on the same spot where they sat zazen. At six feet four inches, Grahame was too long to fit on the six-foot tatami he slept on. His head extended onto the sacrosanct meal board. And this, the monks told him, was improper. He asked if he should cut off his feet.
Grahame was going through the same sort of disillusion at Eiheiji that he had in Rome. The junior monks kept cans of meat. Almost everyone smoked strong Peace cigarettes during breaks. Many monks seemed to him arrogant, thoughtless, and hypocritical. There were many ceremonies and duties and little emphasis on zazen, which had been the heart of Suzuki's teaching. One monk was seriously out to get him for a silly slip of the tongue. He'd suffered malnutrition and been in the hospital twice. He missed his family, and the language barrier was daunting. It seemed like boot camp--not spiritual practice, just a lot of physical difficulty. All in all he was just trying to hold on to his sanity.
Suzuki suggested to Pauline that she write her husband that the cold, hunger, and despair he was experiencing were normal for a novice priest in training. As in the zendo, Suzuki's attitude was sympathetic but tough. Suzuki wrote Grahame letters of encouragement as well. On October 22, 1963, he wrote:
My dear Tokujun,
I am very sorry to hear you are not well. But it is not a matter to worry about, because many who enter Eiheiji monastery become sick and go to the hospital in Fukui, and after they come back they are better. Actually, three months aren't long enough, for the first month will be wasted. Please fix your mind as if you are staying there for ten years and you will get accustomed to the monastic life. But the difference between your way of life and the Japanese way of life is so great that it may be difficult to adjust yourself to it.
Please relax and do as much as you can. Even if you come back without doing sesshin, I think you will have had many valuable experiences which you otherwise could not have had. First of all, the sincerity that you had when you determined to go to Eiheiji is the most admirable thing. And I am very pleased with the understanding and help of your wife Pauline in letting you go and study.
I wrote to Rev. Sato, *Kanin-sama [the director], to give you good advice, so please ask him what you should do when you have some difficulty. He is the kindest and the most considerate person.
To study Buddhism is our whole life work. Don't be concerned too much with what you acquire now. No one knows if it is good or bad. I think you will learn what is most important for you.
Your wife is not discouraged at all.
Rev. Shunryu Suzuki
p.s. If there is something you want to ask my boy to do for you, please ask him.
Suzuki wondered whether Grahame would be able to make it through the arduous weeklong Eiheiji December sesshin, but that was what Grahame could do best, because there is no substantial cultural bias in the sitting. He sat in full lotus every period without moving; it was for him a wonderful experience that balanced his overall disillusionment with the place and tempered his sense of failure. His letter about the sesshin had assured Pauline and Suzuki that at last Grahame had made his peace with Eiheiji.
Grahame returned to San Francisco in mid-December. Suzuki appeared shocked to hear about his negative experiences there. He told Grahame to continue practicing like a layman and not to wear his robes to the zendo except for sesshin. After all, he would be returning to his regular job as a chemist. Grahame knew that Suzuki was hesitant to let Zen Center move toward the excessive ritualism and formality that he'd experienced at Eiheiji. More than ever, he was appreciative of his teacher's simplicity and gentleness. Suzuki said he wanted Grahame and Jean to give lectures on Wednesday evenings about their experiences of studying Zen in Japan. "Not the negative experiences," he said, "just the good ones." He never liked complaining and didn't want to discourage his students.
Suzuki was a little harder on Grahame now that he was a novice priest. One Saturday morning Grahame arrived late for the beginning of a day-and-a-half sesshin. After breakfast Suzuki took him to task in his office saying, "Priests don't arrive late! You're no priest! You have no right to wear that okesa!" Grahame was mortified and started to take off his okesa. "What are you doing?" said Suzuki. "No one has the right to tell you to take off the okesa."
may be thousands of koans for us, and just to sit
Suzuki had on his rimless glasses and had been reading and making notes for hours. (He kept them tied to him so he wouldn't lose them.)
"Hojo-san," Okusan said, "why do you work so hard preparing for lecture? It's raining, and the last night it rained only two people came. I hope that ten come tonight."
"One or ten, there's no difference!" he barked at her.
"Very well, I won't worry about it anymore."
For a couple of years Suzuki had been giving lectures on the *Blue Cliff Record, one of the principal collections of Zen koans, associated with the Rinzai sect. These talks, generally on Wednesdays, were more difficult for some students to follow than his more informal Sunday lectures. There were a hundred cases in the Blue Cliff Record, and one by one he was getting through them. The Wind Bell published excerpts from some of those lectures, and Suzuki added his own written comments:
*subject no. 46 from the Blue Cliff Record
Commentary by Rev. Shunryu Suzuki, Master, Zen Center
Attention! *Kyosei asked a monk, "What is the sound outside the door?" The monk said, "It is the sound of raindrops." Kyosei said, "All sentient beings are deluded by the idea of self and by the idea of the world as subjective or objective."
Commentary: Kyosei has seen through the monk, who thinks he is not caught by the "objective" sound of raindrops in his subjective world.
The monk said, "How about yourself?" Kyosei said, "I am almost not deluded by myself."
Commentary: Kyosei is just listening to the sound of raindrops. There is nothing but raindrops.
The monk said, "What do you mean you are almost not deluded by yourself?" The monk cannot understand why Kyosei doesn't say definitely that he is not deluded by himself and that he hears the raindrops clearly in his mind.
Kyosei said, "Even though it is not difficult to be free from the objective world, it is difficult to express reality fully on each occasion."
[Then in Suzuki's own hand:]
Give the monk 30 blows.!
! ! Difficult. to. Express. Reality. Fully. On. Each.
! ! ! ! Occasion.!!!!!!!!
Settle the self on the self.
Dainin Katagiri zoomed up the street to Sokoji on the back of a motor scooter, the tail and sleeves of his work robes flying in the air. He held on tightly and grinned in the wind. Suzuki finally had an assistant--the Eiheiji-trained priest that Jean Ross had found to be so eager to come to the U.S. Now there was a new shiny-headed, olive-skinned, black-and-brown-robed, friendly, industrious dharma-heir of Buddha serving the zazen students and the congregation.
Katagiri had originally been brought by Bishop Yamada to help out at Zenshuji in L.A. Yamada had wanted Katagiri to help him with his Japanese monk's training program and with English-speaking members and guests. Zenshuji was a lot bigger and richer than Sokoji, and Yamada had several priests to help him, including Maezumi and Kato part-time. In L.A. Katagiri occasionally stayed with the Katos. He liked them but couldn't stand the scene at the temple. To him it was even more old-fashioned and confining than in Japan. He had no contact with Westerners or anyone he could share his practice with, so he had more or less run away to San Francisco, where he stayed at Iru Price's eclectic Buddhist center. After a week Price took him to see Suzuki, who arranged with Bishop Yamada to have Katagiri officially transferred to Sokoji. That's how Suzuki finally got an assistant priest.
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.
Katagiri missed his wife and son, who were back in Japan, but he wasn't lonely. The first friend he made was one of Suzuki's oldest students, a fellow named Paul Alexander, who lived with his mother a few blocks away. Paul invited Katagiri to live at his place free for as long as he wanted. Normally quiet and shy, Paul found he could open up to Katagiri. Katagiri learned how Paul had come to San Francisco in 1960 looking for a Zen master and a Zen temple, and how he had walked around town for six months looking but never asking, until one day he chanced to walk by Sokoji. Now Paul was restoring the historic organ at the back of the stage as a gift to the congregation, so they could sell it. Every morning he would drive Katagiri in on his motor scooter after they'd had breakfast. After a month with Paul, Katagiri moved into a small room next to Otohiro across the street from the temple. Otohiro was at City College; he and Katagiri commiserated with each other about the difficulties of living in a society where they had to depend on their English.
Katagiri didn't have to worry about food. He received many dinner invitations and was always welcome at Sokoji for meals. The Petcheys started looking after him right away. Pauline's mother, who had moved in with her and Grahame, gave him a Kannon statue. The Hagiwaras gave him some furniture. Iru Price dropped by to see how he was doing. "What a relief to be in San Francisco and on Bush Street!" he said. "Everyone here is so kind."
As for Suzuki, right away he saw that Katagiri was a sincere monk and treated him with utmost respect. Mainly that meant Suzuki gave him a lot of responsibility and left him alone. They didn't talk much but shared a culture and an encyclopedia of nonverbal training.
Students called their new priest Reverend Katagiri or Katagiri-sensei. He was enthusiastic about everything he did: sweeping, cleaning, walking to the store. And he had a warm innocent smile for all--unless he was in the zendo. Then his face took on a determined seriousness, almost a scowl.
Katagiri's family had belonged to a different sect of Buddhism, Jodo Shin, but he'd been attracted to Soto Zen and zazen because of experiences he'd had during the war, including abdominal surgery without anesthetic, and a general loss of meaning in his life following Japan's surrender. He'd turned to Zen much as the students at Zen Center: because he was suffering and wanted to find some peace, and to understand himself and all existence better.
After the war he met his master, got ordained, went to Eiheiji, and had an awakening experience in tangaryo, which whetted his appetite for more zazen. At Eiheiji he had served and been inspired by *Hashimoto-roshi, famous for his monastic discipline. Katagiri had a tiny temple on the coast near Eiheiji which had been his master's, but he spent most of his time at headquarters or at Eiheiji, dealing with Westerners or guests.
Katagiri fit right in at Zen Center. Along with his priestly duties for the congregation, he eagerly sat every period of zazen and helped Suzuki with services, sesshins, carrying the stick, and giving zazen instruction. Suzuki knew he was one in a thousand. How many Soto priests would live in statusless poverty in this foreign country and put their life energy into sitting quietly, doing nothing, and sweeping a dusty old building? Katagiri had been a bit of a misfit in Japan and had wanted to go abroad for a long time, to Brazil or the U.S., to teach Zen. He'd come to America at thirty-six, not knowing what was going to happen with his life. Like Suzuki, he wanted to practice and teach Dogen's way.
One day Katagiri lit a cigarette in the office. Suzuki went to a window and opened it. Katagiri put out his cigarette and soon afterward quit smoking--an agonizing experience for him. This was Suzuki's place, and Katagiri followed his lead.
Katagiri knew some English, but the onslaught of questions and stories from the students at Sokoji was putting him through an intensive course. He was twenty years younger than Suzuki and more accessible. He studied English at a little school in Pacific Heights where Suzuki still went occasionally. Pauline and others tutored him on the side.
In early Indian Buddhism public speaking had been dubbed one of the Five Fears. One day Suzuki casually mentioned that he'd like Katagiri to give the talk the following Wednesday evening--in English. Suzuki learned quickly and seemed to do everything well (in contrast to the youthful Crooked Cucumber). Katagiri was the opposite. He labored over every new task and learned at a snail's pace. He was enthusiastic and tried hard, but nothing was easy--especially English. He worked night and day in a pitiable state of dread, preparing for his first talk. On that Wednesday night Suzuki further terrified him by showing up with Okusan to hear him. Suzuki introduced him, since some people came only to lectures and didn't know who he was.
Katagiri threw himself into the talk with fervor, using his own
translations of Dogen's unique Zen phrasing. He went on for thirty minutes. Everyone sat alert, listening. Then he and Suzuki walked out of the room together. At last Suzuki really had his helper. Katagiri had no idea how much his arrival meant to Suzuki or what would be in store for him. An exciting time lay ahead: lots of learning, work, struggle, change, and many lectures. The first was out of the way, and there would be another in a few weeks.
Drinking tea afterward, students thanked him for his talk and praised his English. He modestly deflected the praise. He didn't realize that no one had understood anything he'd said.
nature encourages our practice and our practice will
Uphill and around the corner from Sokoji was the BCA, Buddhist Churches of America, headquarters for Jodo Shin Buddhism in the United States. BCA had a much larger and wealthier congregation than Sokoji. Suzuki had come to be close with their chief priest, *Bishop Hanayama, and his wife, who was Okusan's tea ceremony teacher. She was also a judge for the granting of recognition to calligraphy instructors in Japan. In keeping with the Japanese cultural admonition to study for life, Suzuki became her student. One afternoon early in 1964, following his calligraphy class, Suzuki dropped by the temple's Buddhist bookstore, perhaps the only bookstore in America specializing in Buddhist books, in both Japanese and English. Behind the counter was a twenty-three-year-old Jodo Shin priest, *Koshin Ogui. Suzuki stayed and talked for a while.
Ogui was discouraged. He'd been in America since late 1962, when he arrived from Kyoto to serve with the BCA. First he went to L.A. to perform memorial services and funerals for Japanese-
Americans, but he had argued with the head priest and had gotten so depressed he'd run away. The bishop in San Francisco took him in and gave him a job running the bookstore. Ogui felt he couldn't really be a Buddhist minister, because he didn't understand Buddhism well enough and couldn't answer people's questions. He felt ensnared in tradition and ritual. But he didn't tell Suzuki about his problems, except to say he couldn't learn English. When Caucasians came into the store he was unable to communicate adequately with them. He wanted to go back to Japan. Suzuki sensed Ogui's inner frustrations and loss of confidence.
"Come sit zazen with me," he said. "It might help you."
Jodo Shin priests don't practice zazen. It's antithetical to their way, which emphasizes the futility of personal effort. Jodo Shin is called "other power" in contrast to Zen's "self power." Their central practice is to invoke the name of Amida Buddha, chanting with the understanding that they are fundamentally already saved. Suzuki liked Jodo Shin and sometimes mentioned it in lectures.
Ogui saw a genuinely sympathetic person in Suzuki. It wasn't such a big leap for him to cross the usually solid barrier that separates the sects in Japan. His father's best friend had been a Rinzai Zen priest; they'd gone begging together in their village, and he'd sent his son to live for periods in his friend's temple. Ogui talked to the bishop, who gave him the green light to practice zazen with Suzuki.
Before long Ogui was a frequent addition to the Sokoji zendo as well as to the kitchen, where he often joined Suzuki and Okusan for afternoon tea breaks or dinner. He became friends with Katagiri as well as with Della and other students. He was impressed with the quality and variety of people who came to Zen Center to sit zazen. Before meeting Suzuki his life had been so dismal, and now there was some joy in it. "So many funny things happen around here," he told Katagiri.
One time a young woman came to the zendo wearing a dress made from a tennis court net with a mesh of two-inch squares. It was put together very carefully and fit her quite well; the only problem was, she was still basically naked. She went in well before the period started; Suzuki, Katagiri, and Ogui stood at the office door and peeked at her sitting so seriously and so exposed on a zafu.
Suzuki asked Katagiri, "What should we do?"
Katagiri scratched his head and said, "Ah, I don't know."
Suzuki looked at Ogui and said, "You should go talk to her."
So Ogui went in and told her that the teacher would like for her to "wear more clothes in consideration of other people who come to sit zazen."
"But this is my best dress," she said dejectedly.
"Please go put on another one and come back," Ogui told her.
After she left they could no longer contain themselves and laughed themselves silly.
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 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.
The word "disciplined" is not an appropriate word for our practice. Practice is something that is done with big mind.
"I try and try, and nothing seems to be happening," Grahame told Suzuki in his office. "What is the meaning of all this?"
"The clear mind will rise eventually," Suzuki answered and would say no more. Grahame was grateful for even that much. Usually Suzuki just told him, "I don't know." No magic or great moments where the master tweaked your nose and all became clear.
It was spring of 1965. He'd been with Suzuki for four years. About the only time he'd ever missed a zazen period was when his son was born. He felt he'd been really going for it. His whole life was focused around zazen, but he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The lectures on Buddhist teachings and koans were interesting, but what really kept him going were the simpler things that Suzuki said, like, "Give it two years, it takes that long just to get used to the posture of zazen." What Grahame had heard above all was: don't worry about anything else--just sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. Okay, he'd been sitting for four years. And now he couldn't stop the questions from coming.
"Even though I practice like this, I still don't seem to deepen my understanding of life. I just can't grasp what it's about." He bugged his teacher over and over until one day Suzuki responded.
"You know, I can't answer your questions," he said. "Very few people can. I'm just a little person in terms of understanding Zen. In Japan I only know six who really truly understand the Zen way."
"Only six out of thousands and thousands of priests?"
"Only six in Soto and maybe six in Rinzai. Maybe twelve in the whole of Japan. Not so good, is it? Zen is not in a very healthy state. There's not so much interest. When I left I had only one old man sitting with me. You should go there and look up these teachers. They have a much bigger understanding than I do. If you really want to know the meaning of Buddhism, you have to go and study with one of these people."
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.
Suzuki asked Grahame about Katagiri. Should he stay or go? It was time for a decision. If he were to stay, his family should come over. The Japanese congregation was so poor. Would Zen Center be willing to make a commitment to him? Grahame thought so.
Suzuki asked Pauline what she thought about the idea of Grahame going to Japan for a year. She said they had two children, and she wasn't to be left behind; that might be the way they do things in Japan, but there was no way she would let Grahame go without his family. In no time it was agreed that they'd all go to Japan, Grahame to Eiheiji, and Pauline, the children, and her mother to Kyoto. She'd lived in Paris and Rome and wanted to live in Japan's equivalent of those great cities.
"So we'll all go to Japan," Grahame said.
"All right then," Suzuki said, "Katagiri stays in America."
At that moment it was as if several pieces were sewn together in the fabric that Suzuki was slowly making, stitch by stitch. It was a gamble, an act of faith, that Grahame would get a feeling for the background of his teacher's teaching and pick up some aspects of Zen and Japanese culture that would benefit him and the West. Zen Center needed experienced priests, and Suzuki would temporarily transplant the straightest tree in his orchard, in hopes that he would come back stronger and more fruitful.
Before Grahame left, Suzuki gave him the names of six venerable old Zen priests to look up in Japan. Fujimoto was on the list, as were Katagiri's second teacher, Hashimoto, the widely revered "homeless" *Kodo Sawaki at *Antaiji in Kyoto, and the abbot of Dogen's original temple near Kyoto in *Uji. They were all priests in the Nishiari Bokusan/Oka Sotan lineage.
On August 9, Nagasaki Day, 1965, Grahame and Pauline arrived in Tokyo with their children. As they walked through the brightly lit *Ginza shopping district, Grahame exclaimed to Pauline, "What have we done!"
When you say "Wait a moment," you are bound by your
own karma; when you say "Yes I will," you are free.
Ogui, the Jodo Shin priest, had continued to sit zazen at Sokoji and developed a unique relationship with Suzuki. They were like buddies, and Ogui saw a side of Suzuki not often exposed to the congregation members, who were older and fairly proper, or to the Zen students, with whom Suzuki maintained some formal reserve. If a samurai movie was being shown in Sokoji's auditorium, Suzuki might ask Ogui to watch with him from the balcony. Sometimes they'd get to laughing so loud that Okusan would come out and tell them to be quiet so the paying moviegoers below could hear.
Ogui noticed the eccentric way that Suzuki would relate to possessions. Suzuki had almost nothing of his own and seemed to want almost nothing. He said that everything he had was borrowed from the world for as long as he needed it, even his glasses, which he was grateful to be able to use for a while for his "tired old eyes." Sometimes he'd play with ownership. A student asked Suzuki what was the right thing to do with a twenty-dollar bill she'd found on the sidewalk. "Here, I'll take it," said Suzuki, and picked it out of her hand. On occasion he would sneak food offerings from the altar and give them to Ogui. One time Okusan caught him slipping a large bottle of soy sauce to Ogui. She demanded he return it, at least until the Obon festival was over, or else the donors would notice and feel slighted. It was not yet his to take.
Okusan said her husband had no greed except for fine old pottery, and Ogui could attest to that. *Mrs. Sekino invited the Suzukis and Ogui to dinner. At one point when Mrs. Sekino and Okusan went into the kitchen, Suzuki reached into his sleeve and took out an incense burner. It was Korean, ceramic, with a translucent, pale green celadon glaze. He placed it on the bookshelf. Questioned by Ogui, he explained, "It was so beautiful I had to borrow it. I've enjoyed it enough, so it's time to return it."
Ogui also became good friends with Katagiri, and the three priests would often go to Japanese-American community events together. Katagiri's wife, Tomoe-san, had finally come over with their little boy, Yasuhiko, and they were poor as temple mice. Unmarried Ogui earned more than married Katagiri and more than Suzuki, too. He liked to rib them about it. On Memorial Day there was a memorial service for all Bay Area Japanese-Americans at the cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco. Afterward Ogui was talking with Katagiri about how well Jodo Shin takes care of its ministers financially. Katagiri joked, "Ah, I should have become a Jodo Shin minister," and Ogui said, "I should have been a Zen priest from the beginning." Then Ogui turned to Suzuki, standing nearby, and asked, "Can I become a Zen priest?"
Suzuki shook his head and said, "That's very difficult."
Then Ogui said, "Katagiri-san would like to be a Jodo Shin minister."
"That is also very difficult."
"Then maybe we shouldn't be ministers at all."
"That is also very difficult," Suzuki said, and the three of them broke into laughter.
Ogui still got depressed at the sorry state of his English and was always thinking of going back to Japan. Why stay in America, he thought, if I can't communicate with Americans? Suzuki was aware of this, and one day made a special point to suggest that Ogui come to that night's talk. Expecting it to be mostly over his head, Ogui sat in back.
Suzuki came out from his office, there was a chant, and then he bowed and said, "Good evening." Well, I understood that much, Ogui thought, and waited attentively for more. Suzuki didn't say anything at first but started walking in front of people, back and forth, slowly and steadily. Then he started speaking softly, as if to himself, in Japanese. He was warming up, saying something like, "What can I say? What can I say?" Ogui watched intently. Suzuki sighed and looked at his audience. "Today--today wa ja na, today wa ja na" (Today is . . . today is . . .). My gosh, he's speaking a mixture of English and Japanese together, Ogui thought. "Today izu yappari today" (Today is absolutely today). He walked around some more. "Today izu natto yesterday" (Today is not yesterday). Then again he slowly walked from side to side and said, "Today is not tomorrow." Stopping in front of a young long-haired man in one of the front seats, he grabbed his shoulders and shook him, saying, "Today is just today! Do you understand?" Suzuki let go of the man, smiled warmly and said, "Today is absolutely today. Not yesterday and not tomorrow." He surveyed the audience for a moment and said, "That's all."
Ogui couldn't even stand up with the others. He felt that Suzuki's lecture had been just for him. What have I been frustrated about? he thought. Because I don't have a large enough English vocabulary? Because I lack confidence? Because I don't know much about Buddhism? "Today is absolutely today. Today is not yesterday. Today is not tomorrow." Only a few words. I have studied English through middle school, high school, and college--I know more vocabulary than that. Ogui realized that he was discouraged not because he lacked understanding of the dharma or because of English vocabulary, but because something was lacking in his mind. He was lacking in hara--in being centered and courageous. Ogui's frustrated life spun around, and he resolved to remain in America and figure out how to teach Americans about Buddhism. An enormous gratitude swelled within him. He got up and walked home to his apartment, feeling a sense of purpose, yet light and carefree.
Next: Chapter Fourteen
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