Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch. 14
Establishing Buddhism in a new country is like holding
a plant to a stone and waiting for it to take root.
At 3:45 on a summer morning in 1965, a grey Volkswagen bug sat running beneath the streetlight in front of Sokoji. When Shunryu Suzuki appeared on the sidewalk, Toni Johansen got out of the car to open the door for him. They were on their way to the Los Altos zendo.
For over a year Suzuki had been making periodic visits to three satellite zendos--Mill Valley over the Golden Gate Bridge to the north, Berkeley across the Bay Bridge to the east, and especially Los Altos, south on the peninsula. Like many a Japanese temple priest, Suzuki had a regular circuit-riding schedule. In Japan his visits to homes and other temples had usually been for memorial services and ceremonies. That was true also in America, when he went to Japanese homes, but more often, when he rode up Bush Street, he was going to sit zazen and give lectures.
Arriving in Los Altos just before 5:00 am, Toni and Suzuki walked into a comfortable suburban living room lined with people sitting silently on cushions facing the walls. The home was owned by Marian Derby, a middle-aged woman who lived there with her four teenage daughters. Marian had started sitting in February of 1965 with Suzuki's Peninsula Group in Redwood City. Before long, both the morning and evening meetings were being held in her spacious living room in Los Altos. In the summer of 1966 her garage was converted into a zendo with seventeen seats. Marian named it Haiku Zendo, after the seventeen-syllable haiku poem.
The Los Altos zendo had a mature membership. Among the regulars were a number of housewives, a few artists and students, a retired ship's captain, and an IBM employee. The atmosphere at Marian's was like Sokoji in the early sixties, with eager students remaining after the morning schedule for a leisurely breakfast and discussion.
One day after lecture a student sitting on a zafu on the carpet asked, "What is hell?"
"Hell is having to read aloud in English," Suzuki answered. After the laughter subsided, the student persevered, and Suzuki said, "Hell is not punishment, it's training."
On another occasion, over coffee, a woman said it was difficult to mix Zen with being a housewife. She felt she was trying to climb a ladder, but for every step up she'd go down two. "Forget the ladder," Suzuki told her. "In Zen everything is right here on the ground."
Toni Johansen had looked hard for a teacher who would understand the eternal present she'd experienced during an LSD trip. She didn't want to take any more LSD but was looking for a natural way to awaken her potential. None of the priests and ministers she went to got it. Each time she'd try something new, she'd conclude, "Not this." A Sunday school teacher told her about Suzuki. She went, saw a dozen people sitting rigidly facing the wall, and thought, "Not this," but she stayed for zazen. Suzuki entered, and she sensed him behind her when he walked around giving the greeting bow. She didn't know who he was or what was happening, but there was something. After the sitting she looked at him and thought, "Oh, I think so." Just looking into his eyes and having him look directly at her, she thought, "This person knows more about what I want to know than anyone I've ever met. He totally understands what I want to understand."
Toni's husband, Tony, also got involved with Haiku Zendo. Before long they moved to San Francisco but returned frequently to Los Altos as Suzuki's chauffeurs. After a couple of years of study Toni still trusted Suzuki completely and felt his acceptance and trust of her. She even told him once on the way to Los Altos that she had such tremendous feelings of love for him, and that it confused her.
"Don't worry," he said. "You can let yourself have all the feelings you have for your teacher. That's good. I have enough discipline for both of us."
She wrote about that in her journal, which Suzuki would read every week and comment on. Often there were questions about what was called "family practice." That week Suzuki wrote in her journal, "No one knows what is wrong love and what is true love. Have faith in me and yourself and let's have dinner together all four of us. But wait--I must first ask my tigress!" (Okusan was born in the year of the tiger. "He's a dragon," she would say. "When we fight, he's up in the clouds while I'm growling on the ground.")
Emptiness is the garden where you can't see anything.
It is the mother of all.
Once Toni and Tony took the Suzukis to Yosemite--one of the Suzukis' rare vacations. Suzuki stood up through the sunroof of the Volkswagen as they drove toward the mountains, his sleeves fluttering in the wind. They visited the great waterfall, Yosemite Falls. Standing below it, Suzuki jumped from rock to rock, and then all of a sudden he was atop a huge boulder. No one knew how he'd gotten there. It had frightened Okusan. On the following Thursday morning at the Los Altos zendo, he talked about his experience at Yosemite.
Suzuki had never lived anywhere without gardens until he came to America and moved into Sokoji. He became starved for greenery. But with the advent of the outlying zendos, he was regularly visiting neighborhoods with trees and yards. He would visit students' homes--especially in Los Altos--and sometimes he'd surprise his hosts by going straight to weeding their flower beds or even playfully rolling on the lawn or zipping up a tree. The first time he walked into one woman's backyard in Los Altos, he went right to the rope swing, stepped on a rock, and swung out, his robes streaming behind him.
you want to study Buddhism, you have to clear your mind.
By 1966 Shunryu Suzuki had played an important role in the lives of hundreds of people, some who passed through briefly, others who became committed students, and everything in between. A few long-term students seemed candidates to eventually become teachers in their own right, continuing Suzuki's lineage in America. Of these, Richard Baker was foremost. In 1966 Richard had been around for five years, and his devotion to Suzuki and to penetrating into the heart of his teaching had not diminished. Suzuki was giving him more and more recognition and permission to help determine the future of the group. Richard was president of Zen Center and editor of Wind Bell, and he was keeping an eye out for a site outside the city to develop a retreat center for more concentrated study. With Grahame and Phillip both in Japan, Richard sat on the front cushion on the men's side in the zendo, and Suzuki wouldn't let anyone sit in his place if he wasn't there.
Richard accompanied Suzuki to L.A. for a meeting of Soto Zen priests. On the way home he asked, "Suzuki-roshi, many people in Los Angeles asked me if I was your disciple. May I say I am your disciple?"
"Yes, you can say you are my disciple."
Nothing that happened between teacher and disciple, verbal or nonverbal, was too small for Richard to notice--or for Suzuki to notice. One day in the zendo Richard straightened a picture on the wall before he sat down. During zazen Suzuki got up, walked to the picture, returned it to its crooked position, and went back to his seat.
Back in 1963, just before Suzuki's Mountain Seat Ceremony, Richard had had a terrible bicycle accident in which his forearms were severely injured. Both arms were in casts. He had been asked to play the large standing drum at the ceremony and had been practicing for weeks. He continued to practice after the accident, with considerable effort. The most difficult parts were the rolldowns. But Richard was absolutely determined that he was going to hit the drum during this ceremony, no matter how much it hurt or how impossible it seemed. He continued to practice in great pain, and when the day of the ceremony came, he did it, and he did it well. Suzuki was proud of him for making such an effort.
A year or so later, for no reason that he knew, Richard experienced great mental difficulty. It got to the point where he considered committing himself to an institution. One night he was in such anguish he ended up standing on the street outside Sokoji at midnight. He considered waking Suzuki and asking him for help, but he decided against it and finally went home. Not long after that, when it was his turn to bow to Suzuki after zazen one day, he saw, on a zafu by the door, the very drumsticks he had made such an effort with at Suzuki's Mountain Seat Ceremony. They were normally stored with the drum outside the zendo, so they were conspicuously out of place. Richard bowed to Suzuki and moved on, deeply touched and encouraged. During the next few weeks his mind cleared up; the storm had passed.
Richard persevered. "Suzuki's responses to my questions were various, sometimes brushing me off, sometimes definitely and clearly answering. It was a study in how to ask questions. I often couldn't look to his responses as answers in the usual sense, so I accepted them as foils, mirrors, changes in energy, or sometimes as hints. Sometimes he'd answer with his body. If I asked him about breathing, he might change the way he breathed."
"Do you think I should go to Japan to study and practice? Do you think I should get to know Japanese monastic life?" Richard asked.
"Dick, there is no place to go," Suzuki said.
"Is there something you would like me to do?"
"There is nothing to do. You can do anything you want. Just be yourself."
During Suzuki's first few years in America, Claude was in Kyoto. On his return Claude was attracted to the Quaker-like simplicity of Suzuki's Zen Center and immediately became his student and trusted advisor. Claude was almost thirty, knew something of investment and management, and had been a founder of the East-West House back in the fifties. Suzuki regarded him as practical and mature and talked to him about ideas for the future, particularly about developing the community of Zen practitioners, the sangha, possibly getting a house near Sokoji where some of them could live together. It was an idea Suzuki had considered on and off since the first year he was in America. Suzuki also talked to Claude about his wish to create a strong program of study, and about his plans for a seminary.
Claude appreciated the Japanese congregation, thought there was a good deal that could be learned from them in terms of Buddhism, and had sympathy with Suzuki's desire to keep some connection between the two congregations, even though they were not in harmony. The Japanese-American congregation was planning to build a new temple around the corner that would be just theirs. Suzuki thought that when they moved out, Sokoji might be remodeled to serve the needs of American Buddhism. It could include a Buddhist seminary and living quarters. He could take care of both if he could get another priest from Japan. Maybe with a little separation the two groups could coexist more easily.
In a weekly study group at Sokoji Claude noticed Suzuki's emphasis on understanding Buddhism within one's own background and culture. One evening the topic was a book about the meeting of East and West. Suzuki sat with his hands behind his head, as usual listening and not saying anything. The direction of the discussion was to compare the attributes of East and West, and the West was losing.
One person said, "The East is nondualistic and aims to be in harmony with nature, while the West is dualistic and materialistic and aims to conquer and use nature."
"Yes," said another. "The East is intuitive and integrative, while the West is rational and separative."
As conversation continued in this vein, Suzuki spoke up, obviously upset. "If you want to be a good Buddhist," he said, "first you're going to have to learn how to be a good Christian." Then he got up and walked out.
Mel Weitsman had been a regular at Sokoji since Phillip Wilson had told him about Suzuki in 1964. Mel was an artist and a flutist in his mid-thirties who drove a cab to get by. He had a soft, easygoing way and was well liked.
The first time he went to sit at Sokoji, Mel couldn't believe he'd sat through the whole forty-minute period. He practically went into shock when, after kinhin, he saw everyone sit down on their zafus again for more. Then during that period, Suzuki came up behind him and put Mel's hands into the zazen mudra. He straightened his back and showed him where on the wall to cast his eyes. As Suzuki walked back to the altar, Mel's life took a different course.
It's been said, in Zen parlance, that your first enlightenment experience is when you decide to practice. It's the first turning. "This is it," Mel thought.
A woman told Suzuki she'd heard others saying that he could read their minds. When asked if this was true, he answered, "No!" In the next few lectures he denied having such abilities. Mel said if you looked for miracles or extraordinary powers you'd miss the man. "Sensei's magic is the ordinary," he said.
One day Suzuki, Katagiri, Mel, Claude, and a student named Silas Hoadley were looking at an apartment across the street from Sokoji. Silas had just moved into a room in the apartment, and there were food and dishes in the kitchen. They decided to eat breakfast there. There was no furniture, so Suzuki spread a newspaper on the floor like a tablecloth. Cups and bowls were set out, and soon they were eating and drinking tea. Mel ate silently with the others, impressed that his teacher had just turned an empty room into a dining room with only a newspaper. Mel watched Suzuki closely and found that he taught as much with his body as with his words. Suzuki's body reminded Mel of Gandhi's, agile and light. He taught by example how to stand, walk, breathe, and sit in a chair. Suzuki's rhythm and movement deeply impressed Mel the musician. "He had the feeling of being completely within the activity of the moment. Approaching a chair, he wouldn't just carelessly sit down--he'd really make contact with it. He harmonized and merged with whatever he met. He was at ease because he wasn't off balance. So he walked in a very relaxed way, and when he sat down he would remain in balance. He was never in a hurry, even though things had to be done. He always took the time to do everything. That's being in time. The way he sat down was being in time."
Silas Hoadley, a Yale graduate from a quaint Connecticut town, had been experimenting with peyote in an early Haight-Ashbury commune called the Spaceship. He also ran his own import-export business and traveled occasionally to Asia on business trips. He went with a friend to Sokoji on April Fool's Day in 1964. Before meeting Suzuki, he said, he hadn't considered that there might be something to Buddhism beyond the words and ideas, which were plentiful in his circles. As soon as he met Suzuki, that changed. He felt that Suzuki was in touch with a truth that was bigger than the truth Silas had been basing his life on. It was the physicality that attracted him. In his studies of psychology and philosophy he'd never run into anyone who said that it all starts with the body--being aware of the body and the breath. Silas was already a disciplined and serious person, and he had no particular difficulty making the shift to sitting zazen once or twice a day at Sokoji.
More and more people were showing up at Sokoji who had prior experience with Zen practice. One such person was Bob Halpern, an intense young man with thick brown hair reaching down to his shoulders. Bob sat facing Suzuki in his office, cluttered with knickknacks, books, stones, and plants. A large, old-fashioned clock on a shelf chimed the hour. Suzuki patted the bronze heads on a statue of three monkeys. Their hands were covering their eyes, ears, and mouth. "They are my favorites," he said, imitating each monkey as he chuckled and recited, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Then he added, "What can I do for you?"
Bob said that he had sat for a year with the Rinzai teacher Joshu Sasaki-roshi in L.A. He had just completed a sesshin in Mill Valley with Yasutani-roshi, at which Maezumi-sensei translated. Yasutani was the Soto priest who used koans in the Rinzai fashion and who emphasized pushing oneself hard in sesshin to have an awakening experience, whether concentrating on a koan or just sitting zazen. Yasutani was giving sesshins on the West Coast and had attracted a following, partly due to the success of Philip Kapleau's new book, The Three Pillars of Zen, which told a great deal about zazen, koan work, and Yasutani's brand of Zen. People at the sesshin had mentioned Suzuki, so Bob dropped by Sokoji. "What sort of practice do you have here?" he asked, self-consciously feeling the need to say something.
Suzuki explained the schedule at Sokoji--daily sitting, a weekend sesshin every other month, and the seven-day sesshin in August. He told Bob that some students, especially Richard Baker, were interested in finding a practice place in the countryside. "I think everything is just fine in the city the way it is going. People are practicing pretty well here, but if that is their wish, I'll do it. They want it to be a place for men and women to practice together," Suzuki told him. "We don't do it that way in Japan, but this is America."
Bob eyed Suzuki while he talked. He seemed to be the opposite of Yasutani, who was fierce and yelled a lot during sesshin. Suzuki was younger but seemed sedate, ordinary, even frail in comparison. He didn't have a gruff samurai-type voice, but was gentle and soft-spoken. He leaned back in the office chair, hands clasped behind his head and legs crossed like a woman. Bob thought he was a very nice man but didn't think he could be a real Zen teacher.
Later, in L.A. for a meeting of Japanese Soto priests in America, Suzuki accepted a dinner invitation from Maezumi. Bob was there. He had sold his business, the Satori Bookshop on Sunset Strip, and was living with Maezumi and helping him establish a new center in his living room. Bob sat bolt upright and kept quiet, trying to make a good impression. Maezumi served a dish with rice, meat, and vegetables, and Bob was careful not to take any meat. He was a fanatic vegetarian and thought of it as an important part of Buddhism, both in terms of not killing animals and for encouraging a peaceful state of mind. Suzuki was running into this sort of thinking more and more.
"Oh, you don't eat meat?" said Suzuki to him.
"Sometimes I eat meat," said Bob.
"Sometimes I eat rice," said Suzuki.
This seemingly inconsequential exchange ate away at Bob. Suzuki had immediately seen his point of greatest attachment and poked him there. It would not be the last time.
In the evanescence of life we can find the joy of eternal life.
Grahame Petchey and his family had been in Japan for almost a year. He'd stuck it out at Eiheiji again and had done better this time, though he was out a lot with severe back problems caused by trying to lift a large steamer trunk during the move. He eventually found a practice more to his liking at Antaiji, a small training temple in Kyoto founded by Oka Sotan early in the century. It became the temple of Oka's disciple, "Homeless" Kodo Sawaki, the venerable old monk whose practice included a great deal of zazen, little ceremony, no stick, and a level of criticism of Soto Zen that made Suzuki's concerns seem minor. When Sawaki had been offered the abbotship of Eiheiji, he replied that not even a dog would take it. Sawaki was one of the six masters whom Suzuki had suggested to Grahame, to help him solve his nagging question.
Grahame had tried to find all six masters. Two were dead, and the others were either too old or too sick to take on students (including Fujimoto, the closest among them to Suzuki). Grahame felt honored to meet old Kodo Sawaki on his death bed at Antaiji.
Grahame started to sit at Antaiji with Sawaki's disciple, Uchiyama-roshi, whom he liked very much. At Antaiji there was more zazen and much less structure than at other Zen temples that offered regular zazen. He settled right in, living with his family and going to the temple regularly. Suzuki's list of six masters had worked after all. Finally Grahame had found a teacher and a practice in Japan that worked for him.
When Sawaki died in December 1965 at the age of eighty-five, Grahame joined the forty-nine-day memorial sesshin in his honor. Sesshins usually last a maximum of seven days, but Grahame sat at Antaiji for forty-nine days, from before sunrise till after sunset, in honor of this great sitter.
Several doctors had told Grahame to remain prone as much as possible due to his slipped disk. Surgery was being considered. But, wearing a corset, he started the sesshin. When it was time for kinhin, he stood and walked in slow, precise steps with the others.
Contrary to what the doctors had told him, during the sesshin his spine corrected itself and the pain disappeared. His mind gradually became calm and clear. Sitting day after day, Grahame forgot about cultural differences, language barriers, doubts, and above all, his nagging question. He gave himself completely to zazen. His senses opened wide. He could hear insects walking on the floor. His experience continued through the weeks and expanded. It was simply beautiful, the culmination of his Zen travels, the unraveling of his anxiety. He was filled with gratitude for his years with Suzuki and for having found Antaiji.
a busy country like America there must be some time to
If you go south from San Francisco to Monterey County on the coast of California and take the Carmel Valley Road toward Arroyo Seco, midway along this winding drive through rolling hills, crooked oaks, and pastures, you'll come to a grade where ranches meet. Here the surrounding trees are full of mistletoe and Spanish moss, and there's a road with a sign that says "Tassajara." After a few miles the road turns to dirt and twists into wooded mountainsides, ascending to five thousand feet at Chew's Ridge before going back down to fifteen hundred. At the end of this fifteen-mile dirt road lies Tassajara Springs.
Known for a thousand or more years to the local Esselen Indians for the healing properties of the water, the hot sulfur springs were discovered by explorers in the mid-nineteenth century. With the help of Chinese laborers a narrow road to the springs was, with great difficulty, carved out of the steep, mountainous terrain. Ever since the 1860s Tassajara had been the most remote and pristine resort in Monterey County.
From a letter from Suzuki to Grahame Petchey.
After years of patiently following leads to potential spots for a rural retreat, Shunryu Suzuki had found what he wanted--Tassajara. The right place had come along at a time when there was enough maturity in his group to warrant the move and enough curiosity and open-mindedness in America to support, in this way, a teaching that challenged many commonly held assumptions about space, time, being, life, and death.
Different people had mentioned this old resort to Suzuki and Richard a few times through the years. San Francisco historian Margot Patterson Doss told Suzuki it was the only place he should consider for a retreat. Grahame and Phillip stumbled on it in 1961 while camping. At Grahame's suggestion, Richard and Virginia Baker camped in the same area. They likewise came upon the little cluster of faded white wooden cabins and some sturdy structures of wood and stone, a large swimming pool, and hot springs with large plunges and a steam room. Richard was dazzled. But the time wasn't right till the spring of 1966, when Richard took Suzuki there.
Tassajara is nestled in the Los Padres National Forest inland from Big Sur, four to five hours' drive south of San Francisco. On the way to see it for the first time, Suzuki started thinking that it was too far. He had imagined a place closer--in the Santa Cruz Mountains perhaps. But after passing through breathtaking views on the hour-long drive over the precipitous dirt road and arriving at Tassajara, he fell in love with it immediately. Tassajara is exceedingly isolated and incomparably beautiful, a narrow creek-lined valley cut through a rough, wooded wilderness, with a waterfall visible from a ridge.
They left in mid-afternoon. When they got to the ridge where the road levels out, Suzuki said to Richard, "Stop the car here." He got out and jumped and danced in the roadway. "It's great! Like China!" he said. Then he went dancing down the road--excited, buoyant, swinging his body--with Richard driving slowly behind. Seeing Suzuki's unbounded joy made it clear to Richard that they were going to do whatever was necessary to purchase this land.
Two couples, the Becks and the Roscoes, owned Tassajara. Bob and Anna Beck were in the process of buying the Roscoes' share and weren't willing to part with Tassajara yet. Bob Beck showed Richard a 180-acre parcel of undeveloped land nearby called the Horse Pasture, which he would sell to the Zen Center for a retreat. Suzuki hiked in to the Horse Pasture with Richard. It was beautiful, but it was Tassajara that caught his fancy. Suzuki agreed to the plan to try to buy the Horse Pasture, while keeping an eye on Tassajara for the future.
People went into action, overnight creating a fund-raising drive for $150,000, spearheaded by Richard. The entire Zen Center budget for the previous year in the city had been just eight thousand dollars. Richard quit his job putting on conferences at UC Berkeley. Suzuki was astounded at his commitment to getting this land and his obvious skill at going about it, but he wondered if it could really be done. Zen Center had never before asked for anything from people beyond its membership. Everyone got enthused and did what they could to help. The Kwongs held a fund-raising party; a benefit art sale was planned.
Richard knew many people outside Zen Center, and he knew how to spark their interest. He went into overdrive to give Suzuki a secluded, natural setting to establish his way. A brochure was developed, and more benefits were planned. Among those who lent their enthusiastic support early on were a number of philosophers and writers who knew Buddhism well, including Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, Huston Smith, Nancy Wilson Ross, Paul Wienpahl, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph Campbell, and Michael Murphy from nearby Esalen Institute.
With Richard around so much, the scene at Sokoji was markedly more lively. A lot of people had fun working with him, especially some of the newer students, who didn't see him as a peer. But his closeness to Suzuki as a student and his dominance in the fund-raising and planning for Tassajara tended to overshadow other people and created some resentment and jealousy among the older students.
Richard was not apologetic. He even gave the impression at times that he thought he was the only student who was actually practicing, the only one who'd really made Suzuki's teaching work in San Francisco. He saw others relating to Suzuki on a business level, on a clubby level, and on a love-of-Roshi level, but he always maintained that, except for Grahame, people weren't really willing to break through their attachments to establish a fundamentally engaged level of practice. It was infuriating to others to hear Richard say things like this, but Suzuki would not contradict him. This did not mean that Suzuki was giving his support solely to Richard--no one had that feeling--but that he trusted where Richard was taking the group as a leader. Above all he saw that Richard was committed to creating opportunities for others to practice with him and his sangha.
Among his closest and most senior students, there were others whom Suzuki saw as having the commitment, potential, and inclination to develop into teachers. Of these the most prominent were Grahame and Phillip in Japan, Bill Kwong in Mill Valley, and Jean Ross. Then there were Mel Weitsman (whom Suzuki had asked to take over the Berkeley zendo), Claude, Silas, and Marian of the Los Altos zendo.
Okusan had other ideas. Suzuki was planning to go to Japan to turn over his temple to his son, but she wanted him to stay there and retire. He'd accomplished what he'd come to do in America, she said, and he wasn't healthy enough to do more. He had a persistent cough and was subject to catching the flu. If he wanted to live long, he should rest. He ignored her. To Suzuki it was all just beginning.
"These sincere Americans have made up my mind," he told his friend Reverend Ogui. "I will stay in America for them. For them I will become American soil."
religion cannot be obtained by seeking for some good; that is
Shunryu Suzuki walked up the steps beneath the giant cryptomeria through the entrance gate at Eiheiji. Beside him towered Grahame with shaved head and black robes. They were staying in the director's quarters as honored guests. To Grahame, who had attempted three painful practice periods there as a novice monk, visiting was a pleasant alternative. He watched a new American student chanting sutras while painfully sitting in seiza in the massive Dharma Hall and sympathized with his plight.
They visited with Tatsugami, the *ino, in charge of ceremony and much of the monks' training. Once he had been the sumo champ of the monastery. He was Suzuki's age, sixty-two that year, 1966. Suzuki thanked him for being so good to Jean, Grahame, and Phillip while they were there. Tatsugami was polite and interested in what Suzuki was doing in America, but Grahame also knew that Tatsugami regarded Suzuki as an inferior, a temple priest not qualified to start a monastery.
Next they met with the abbot and head of the whole Soto sect, the elderly *Kumazawa-roshi. They quietly sipped the highest-quality green tea from fine old cups. Kumazawa asked if Grahame had a temple to go back to in America. Suzuki gave him the fund-raising brochure. "A Zen Mountain Center," it said on the cover. It unfolded into poster size and was half filled with beautiful photographs of the Horse Pasture and surrounding views--boulders amidst live oak, mountains in the clouds, a stone-bordered creek pool in shade.
"How about the name *Zenshinji?" (Zen heart/mind temple), Suzuki asked. He hinted that it would be helpful if a sincere young priest could come over to help out.
Grahame couldn't tell if Kumazawa had answered Suzuki's questions directly or not. He'd mainly made guttural sounds, but Grahame felt they'd been well received considering their lowly status. Suzuki seemed satisfied.
Grahame and Suzuki stood on the platform of the Fukui train station. There had been a festive dinner with sake and laughter, and the two had missed the last train out. The next one was at 5:30 am. Suzuki sat down, slid a newspaper inside his robe over his belly for warmth, and dozed. Grahame walked around in the cold.
A drunken man waiting for the last train in the other direction got irritated with Grahame's pacing and told him to stop and sit down. He got madder and madder at Grahame, a unique sight in his robes. Rambling in phrases that began with "We Japanese," he started lunging at Grahame with karate chops. Grahame might have had to defend himself if some men had not arrived and restrained the attacker. Fortunately the drunk's train came soon. Suzuki and Grahame were once again alone and cold. Suzuki had just sat through the whole altercation, letting Grahame deal with it by himself.
Grahame and Pauline were amazed at the fund-raising brochure Suzuki had shown them: such a giant step in growth and so much money needed, such a professional and formal look, with impressive quotes and dazzling descriptions. And it was going out to twenty thousand people! Zen Center had never mailed anything out to more than a few hundred. Could Richard really pull this off? What a gamble Suzuki was taking. If it failed, he would be humiliated in the eyes of his colleagues in Japan. What faith in his students he was demonstrating!
Suzuki was trying to gather support in his homeland for the monastery in America. He had in mind to bring over some "good priests" who might lead the training for a year or a practice period. He considered Uchiyama, whom Grahame was studying with, and Niwa, Noiri, and *Yokoi--all Kishizawa's heirs. But there was not much appreciation there for what he was trying to accomplish, and he couldn't get any experienced priests to commit to coming. He and his ambitious plans were puzzling. "In terms of Japan, he's just a typical country priest," Yokoi said when asked what he thought after Suzuki had visited him at Komazawa.
It was October of 1966. Suzuki had been in Japan since August 25. Okusan had stayed in America to help Katagiri tend to Sokoji. Along with Suzuki at Rinso-in were the Petcheys, Phillip, who'd been at Eiheiji, and Claude, who'd flown over at Suzuki's request. He introduced them to his family, friends, colleagues, temple members, and old students from the High Grass Mountain Group as they dropped by to visit.
Phillip had just finished nine months at Eiheiji. His direct, emotional style had made him popular. It was hard to imagine bulky, thick-fingered Phillip in Japan, much less at Eiheiji. He had endured an enormous amount of pain, especially from long periods of sitting seiza on his shins. Everything at Eiheiji was done in seiza except for physical labor, sleep, and zazen. He had survived the tangaryo, sitting from the predawn hours till nine at night. He said they made him do two weeks of it because he only sit only in half-lotus. Phillip did fine at Eiheiji, relatively speaking, because he was who he was--difficult, but not arrogant, and lovable. He took Suzuki's advice to adjust himself to his surroundings. Tatsugami had been so mad at Phillip for leaving Eiheiji that he wouldn't come out of his room to say goodbye. "Stay at least one year," he said.
In Japan people are raised sitting seiza. Phillip contended that it molded their tendons and bones. He'd sit two hours at a stretch in Tatsugami's chanting classes till his legs were on fire. On his first day there they made him sit like that for eleven hours in an office, the most painful experience of his life--worse than football. But he was equal to their initiations.
Now he was at Rinso-in, up to his thick thighs in the scummy water of the back pond, resetting a heavy moss-covered stone that Suzuki was sliding into place with the help of a pole. In 1963 Suzuki had sent Phillip to study with a Japanese gardener of *bonsai and stone in Hayward, California. He had gone almost every day for six months to work with him. Now, for the first time, he was working with Suzuki.
Phillip asked Suzuki, "Am I really a monk?" The monks at Eiheiji had questioned him about his ordination and said that it wasn't real, because he hadn't gone through the proper ceremony. He hadn't done any takuhatsu, monk's begging. He hadn't had any hair shaved or received robes till he arrived in Japan.
"If you don't believe I'm a monk, don't let me in," Phillip had told the dubious monks. They let him in but continued to tell him that if it wasn't done according to proper form, it didn't count. He said, "Take it up with Reverend Suzuki."
"So, am I a monk or not a monk?"
"Things go the way the mind goes," Suzuki told him. "If you think you're a monk, you're a monk. If you don't think so, you're not a monk."
In a free moment Suzuki called Phillip to his room to show him a traditional way to fold his robes. He laid them out and, using two pieces of parallel bamboo, folded them back and forth like dough into a perfect square.
Phillip remembered the old robes Suzuki had sent with him to return to Rinso-in. On the boat he kept them by his third-class bunk, where he slept with poor Japanese-Brazilian farmers. He entered customs with the brown bag in one hand and a small suitcase in the other. The customs official was curious about the bag. "Oh, it's just some old robes that Reverend Suzuki gave me."
Among the robes the customs official found what turned out to be a five-hundred-year-old Bodhidharma statue.
"How did you get this?" he said with suspicion.
"I don't know."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Take it to Rinso-in. I think that's where it belongs."
Little by little Suzuki was returning Buddhist objects he had brought from Rinso-in to America. He had just borrowed them till he had something to replace them with. It was a secret.
Claude and Pauline watched as Grahame and Phillip, bald-headed and black-robed, walked carefully along the edge of a rice paddy in their straw sandals. They were following Suzuki to a home to do another memorial service. The high formalism of the occasion challenged Claude's religious tastes.
"Yes," Pauline agreed with Claude, "Buddhism in Japan is a lot more complicated than the pared-down version we get from Suzuki-sensei in America." She'd been there a year and had seen a lot of this. "Here there are hungry ghosts, spirits in the trees, and fifteen hundred years of custom winding around it all."
Suzuki's students also met his old friends--godfather Amano, Seison Suzuki, the potter, and those in his High Grass Mountain Group who had survived. Claude was surprised there weren't any priest disciples--only Hoitsu, his son. There was a constant stream of visitors, but they were colleagues, friends, teachers from the kindergartens he'd started, lay students, members, villagers.
Every day Suzuki and his disciples were outside Rinso-in, sweeping, pulling weeds, cleaning windows. Villagers came to look and help out. They were getting the temple ready for the big ceremonies to come--Suzuki's stepping down and his son's stepping up to the abbotship of Rinso-in. Hoitsu joined them, as well as his older sister, Yasuko, who worked inside cleaning and preparing meals with Kinu Obaa-san, her maternal grandmother, still the matriarch of the temple. Obaa-san sat at the heated kotatsu, her legs under the table's blanket, mostly observing, sometimes making remarks. Occasionally she pulled out her thin porcelain pipe and smoked a pinch of tobacco.
After all the preparation, there was a horrendous typhoon. It blew tiles off the temple roof, sent a large branch crashing through a wall, and left the place a mess again. Grahame had been knocked cold when the wind smashed him into a doorway as he tried to help. With Rinso-in's extensive support group, they all put the temple back together in time for the big ceremony.
The Petcheys bid farewell to Suzuki and his family outside the entryway of Rinso-in. They were on their way to England so Grahame's parents could meet their grandchildren. To Grahame there was something disturbing about the parting with Suzuki. He'd been so vague, saying nothing about the future. Why didn't he set a date for Grahame to return or offer him some role in the new monastery?
In Kamakura, Grahame and Pauline visited Philip Kapleau, who had been studying for years with Yasutani. Kapleau was furious with them for having been in Japan a year without looking him up. Wasting their time! He told them that none of the Soto teachers were enlightened--not Suzuki, not Uchiyama, nor anyone at Eiheiji, and that they should have studied with his teacher. "I'm very happy to have studied with such unenlightened teachers," Grahame told him. It was a disappointment to have that sort of exchange with Kapleau after the wonderful time they'd had four years before, when the Kapleaus had visited Zen Center.
The Petcheys sailed off to Russia to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe with nothing warm to wear--in fact, with nothing to wear but what they had on. All their bags had been lost in transit to the docks in Yokohama. Pauline had gone shopping and bought the kids some silly Mickey Mouse blue jeans and warm Donald Duck boots. She was wearing a summer dress and Grahame a suit. That's what they wore all the way to Moscow, wrapping themselves with newspapers to keep warm. Luckily Grahame had all the money and papers with him in a valise. Not long after they were out to sea, some Russian women pressed vegetarian Grahame to eat borscht and sausage. He was entering into new worlds, and was ready for the change. Japanese Buddhism was so exhausting.
October 23. Shunryu Suzuki walked among the tall cedars in his formal pilgrimage gear--black robes, round bamboo hat, with white cotton gaiters covering his lower legs and forearms. It was a good day for Suzuki's farewell, for him to retire from the duty of being abbot in the Stepping Down Ceremony, and for Hoitsu to take on his father's role in the Mountain Seat Ceremony.
Claude noticed that they had to recruit a relative to be the head monk for the ceremony. He wondered why were there no real students or monks who could fulfill this role. What sort of Zen master had no disciples? More and more it seemed as if Suzuki was just an ordinary Soto Zen priest. There must be fifteen thousand of them. How do you learn about Buddhism, he wondered? Do you find the best master, or is the best master the priest who's nearby? And which was Suzuki?
There was another image-shattering formality. Not only had Suzuki passed Rinso-in to Hoitsu on this trip, but he had also given Shoko Okamoto dharma transmission. Shoko had not studied with Suzuki, but was the disciple and son of his old dharma brother Kendo Okamoto. This was done in accordance with an old agreement between Suzuki and Kendo Okamoto. These two monks who had never studied with him were his only dharma heirs in Japan.
"Don't you have any monk students who studied with you?" Claude asked him later. "No, I never had any disciples in Japan," Suzuki said.
"There are those who think my father is not so great," Hoitsu said, irritated at the adoration of Suzuki's Western followers. "He should have stayed until he passed the temple on to me. Some see him as a deserter. If he had stayed, I would have been able to study with him." Suzuki thought that other masters would make better teachers for his son, but he had asked Hoitsu to consider coming to America to help him out. In deference to his father, Hoitsu had tried to prepare: he had stopped studying the martial art of kendo, which he loved, to be tutored in English, which he hated. It was so painful that his father had agreed in correspondence to let him give up and go back to kendo. Hoitsu also didn't want to further antagonize the
Rinso-in members by leaving them, as his father had done. And Hoitsu wasn't attracted to the whole American thing. If his father hadn't given up his temple, he told Phillip, he could still be at Eiheiji.
It amazed Phillip that Eiheiji wasn't difficult for Hoitsu--and Hoitsu didn't even like zazen. He was there three years, in charge of the Joyoden, Dogen's memorial hall. Now he had to run Rinso-in, get married, have a family, and look after all the members and branch-temples--and along with the responsibilities came the inescapable temple politics.
How could he get married with a kitchen like that, he asked his father. It was so small, with a wood-burning hearth-type stove--too much work, nothing modern. Suzuki said a priest shouldn't seek for some glamorous woman who needed expensive things. No wife would have him with that kitchen, Hoitsu replied. Suzuki asked Godfather Amano and some other wealthy members to help get the kitchen remodeled so his son could establish a family, and it was soon done.
It was time for Suzuki to return to America. He had done what he'd come to do. Before leaving Rinso-in, he ordained Claude as a priest in another of his mysteriously abbreviated ceremonies and asked him to stay at Rinso-in as a first step in turning it into a temple where Westerners and Japanese could practice together. He also talked to Phillip about going to the East Coast to assist a zazen group in Vermont that he had close ties to.
He visited his family's ashes sites behind the temples at both Rinso-in and Zoun-in. He cleaned up the grave and offered incense to his master, Gyokujun So-on, to his father, Butsumon Sogaku, to his mother, Yone, to his second wife, Chie, to So-on's lover, Yoshi, and with great sadness to his daughter Omi, who had hung herself two years before. Suzuki was not proud of himself as a family man. On this trip he had brought to these departed loved ones his greatest offering and only atonement--Western disciples and the hope for his dharma seeds to be spread and to cross-pollinate the Buddha's way between the two cultures he lived and breathed.
we think our mind is working very well when we attach
When Suzuki returned to San Francisco in November 1966, he found it had changed considerably. A veritable cultural explosion was occurring. There were more long-haired young people than before; the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen had dubbed them "hippies." The publicity from the fund-raising drive had brought more people to zazen, many wearing beads and colorful loose clothing.
I was one of the newcomers, a scruffy, talkative twenty-one-year-old from Texas. After dropping out of college in 1964, I spent the spring and summer involved with civil rights and left-wing student groups in Mississippi and the Midwest. After that I lived in Mexico for a year. In the winter of 1966 I came to San Francisco. For months I wandered around getting high on marijuana and enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere of the hippie scene. A few times I took LSD and meditated in silence, with a friend acting as guide. As a result of these experiences I decided to leave the drugs behind, find a guru, and learn to meditate. The first time I went to the Zen Center, Suzuki was in Japan. I felt comfortable with Katagiri and the people who sat there. Despite having been told very little about zazen and Zen, and with no particular encouragement from anyone, I nevertheless resolved to come every morning for both zazen periods and every afternoon for one year.
Then one day Suzuki was back. Our first encounter was when I bowed to him after zazen. I could barely see him through the million thoughts that raced through my mind. A moment later I was in the hall putting on my sandals. I could see Suzuki in his office, behind the crowd of people on their way out. Still my mind was bubbling. He turned, caught my eye, and smiled, and for the tiniest increment of time everything stopped, and I saw him. Later Silas introduced us; my mind was racing again, and I don't remember anything about it, but I still hold a snapshot in my memory of that first moment of direct contact with the man who had just become my teacher. More than anything, it was in small, seemingly insignificant, nonverbal exchanges that Suzuki established contact with students and guided us along our invisible paths. We were almost entirely on our own.
When Suzuki returned from Japan, almost everyone was addressing him as Suzuki-roshi. Alan Watts had sent a donation for the purchase of the Horse Pasture and included a letter suggesting that it was time to stop calling Suzuki "reverend." Watts said it was not an appropriate title, and they were using it incorrectly anyway. He advised against calling him "sensei" as well. They should say "Suzuki-roshi" and use "sensei" for assistants like Katagiri.
Richard and some of the others had been calling him "roshi" for years, but the community had not made up its mind how to address Suzuki till then. In the Wind Bells of the time one could find references to Shunryu Suzuki, Rev. or Reverend Suzuki, Suzuki Sensei, Sensei, Roshi Shunryu Suzuki, Suzuki-roshi, Master Suzuki, and Master of Sokoji.
Watts's suggestion came from his familiarity with Rinzai Zen, in which the title "roshi" really does mean something close to "Zen master." In Soto Zen, "roshi" is used as a term of respect by priests to address older priests.
Suzuki asked why people were calling him roshi. When they told him about Alan Watts's letter, he became convulsed with laughter. His older students talked to him about it in a meeting. He protested but, after discussing it with Katagiri, finally gave in, and from then on he was Suzuki-roshi.
Response to the brochure had been enormous. Money poured in from all over the country. As Suzuki had hoped, at the last moment the Becks agreed to sell Tassajara Springs, for twice the price of the undeveloped Horse Pasture, three hundred thousand dollars. The board quickly authorized Richard to put the twenty-two thousand dollars that had been raised for the Horse Pasture toward purchasing Tassajara, which was ready to move into. The first payment was made in December. But now there was another payment of twice that amount due in a few months. A second brochure was sent to eighty thousand people. A few months earlier, Zen Center had been known only to a small, esoteric group of Buddhists, scholars, and artists. Now, for better or for worse, it was on the map.
So many people had helped. There were a number of benefits and a "zenefit," where the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service played at Chet Helms's Avalon Ballroom. Ali Akbar Khan gave a concert. Charlotte Selver and Charles Brooks offered a body/mind awareness workshop. Alan Watts gave a talk. Gary Snyder and many other poets, artists, and musicians donated time, readings, performances, and works. Suzuki showed up at the zenefit and waved to the crowd, who cheered him.
Many people were giving all their spare time to fund-raising, helping out in the office, going down to Tassajara to get it ready. Silas Hoadley, Zen Center's treasurer, raised money and negotiated no-interest loans to help the group cope with the enormous increase in expenses. Wanting Zen Center to be as solvent as possible, he had strongly supported the idea that they continue to run Tassajara as a summer resort. Plans were made for a guest season and a summer practice period. There were reservations to be taken, food to be purchased, students to be signed up.
Suzuki was amazed at all the checks that arrived in the mail, at the full zendo, the overflow of people sitting in the balcony, and the swelling attendance for his lectures. Richard was taking Suzuki to the East Coast to give talks, to visit Zen groups and friends like Elsie Mitchell of the Cambridge Buddhist Society, and to meet potential donors. Suzuki expressed concern for Richard's health. How could he keep it up? But Richard was fine, feeling his oats.
Amidst all this activity Suzuki still focused on being at zazen and keeping the temple clean, never losing sight of the purpose for the whole exciting venture. Spending a whole afternoon on a cushion at the low table in his office, Suzuki drew a sumi circle for the cover of the second brochure, drawing one incomplete circular stroke after another till he got the one he wanted.
Seeing the endless work that had to be done, Suzuki realized he needed the help of his senior disciples. Jean was already around. Claude came back from Rinso-in, and Phillip would not go assist the Vermont group. He also wrote to Grahame in England praising him for his accomplishments in Japan, mentioning how highly he'd been spoken of at Eiheiji and Antaiji. Now Suzuki wanted him back.
"When I returned I found San Francisco quite a different place, more active than before. It is so nice and warm here. Please tell your mother-in-law to come back here." He asked Grahame to write to the monk *Kobun Chino in Japan to make sure he was coming over to help, as they had discussed. "I think we should concentrate on this project right now, because we have announced it all over America and Japan. In England some people know about it already too. Especially if we fail, Japanese people will not trust us anymore. So for me now the Tassajara Project is a matter of vital concern. I want you to come back to San Francisco as soon as possible."
Suzuki further appealed to Grahame by writing out a quote from the first brochure, turning its intent toward Grahame:
The establishment of a Zen monastery in the wilderness area near Carmel Valley is an important event in the history of religion in America. You are urged to join this oldest of ventures--the establishment of a community for the cultivation of the spirit. Only your support will make it possible.
Paul Lee, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Santa Cruz
Grahame couldn't come back right away. He had taken a year's lease on an apartment and had a job. Why hadn't Suzuki asked him when they were in Japan? He could have arranged for a one-month visit to England. Grahame now had a zendo, where people came and sat with him. A disciple of Soen Nakagawa was helping him. So he'd have to be there at least a year. Suzuki was disappointed. He wrote again to Grahame: "Please send my best regards to your wife and children and mother-in-law. Pauline's drawing of the rock garden at Rinso-in is so real to me that I hang it in my bedroom." He sent the name and address of an old friend to look up, "my old teacher of English when I was at Komazawa University, Miss Nona Ransom."
Next: Chapter Fifteen
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