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Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Epilogue

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            Epilogue

 

Student: Roshi, what are you doing here?

Suzuki: Nothing special.

 

In the twenty-seven years since Shunryu Suzuki died, his students and their students have continued the teaching and practice that he brought to America, and his influence has spread in numerous ways. Zen Buddhism is now an established part of American culture. I can buy a zafu at a local store. There's a quote from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind on a carton of soy milk in my refrigerator. Suzuki's legacy can be found in sitting groups, in the homes of Zen practitioners with little or no connection to any group, and in the nonabsolutist, open-minded approach of many Westerners who don't even consider themselves Buddhists. His photo is on altars and bureaus all over America, but there is no cult of Shunryu Suzuki. Rather there is gratitude to this man who added some important threads to the emerging culture--a way of living with humility and dignity in this transient world, with a tolerance for im-


 

perfection. He didn't particularly want to be remembered, but the seeds of practice that he planted have taken root and keep encouraging us to find out who we are.

 Suzuki-roshi had wanted to start a Buddhist farm, and the year after he died the San Francisco Zen Center acquired one, just north of San Francisco. One day in April of 1995, I sat in the guesthouse of Green Gulch Farm in Marin County with Taizan Maezumi-roshi, founder of the Los Angeles Zen Center. Maezumi didn't tell me any anecdotes or stories about Suzuki, and he resisted historical analysis. What he did say, though, stuck with me. "Nobody can tell you about the past," Maezumi said. "What's important is not what happened or didn't happen back then. What's important is what we have here now--this wonderful farm with the big barn zendo and the conference center where we're all meeting, so many people coming here for lecture and zazen. There's Page Street in the city and Tassajara. So many people sitting zazen all over America, even Europe. When he came, there was none of this. Many priests came before him. Even before this century, all kinds of priests in the Zen tradition came to America. We don't really know why, but until he came, no one started anything that lasted. After him, so much happened. That's what I most appreciate."

 In the spring of 1972 Mitsu Suzuki went to Tassajara for her husband's ashes ceremony. She wore his zoris, because he had said he wanted to go back there one more time. Having decided not to return to Japan "until the tears of his students have dried," she stayed, living in the City Center, writing haiku and teaching tea ceremony for twenty-two more years. In the fall of 1993 she returned to live with her daughter in Shizuoka City, not far from Rinso-in.

 

Shunryu Suzuki is not widely known in Japan or regarded as an important teacher by the Soto school. But he is well remembered and loved by members of the High Grass Mountain Group, a few of whom still keep in touch and sometimes visit Hoitsu Suzuki at Rinso-in. The young men in the group eventually became carpenters, farmers, artists, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, and a


 

publisher. Some have passed away. Most are now retired. One of them, Suetsune-san, visited the San Francisco Zen Center while Shunryu Suzuki was still alive. These men were not monks but were the students whom Suzuki remembered most dearly in Japan, especially for the bond they shared during the ordeal of wartime.

 *Shigeo Kozuki, head of the printing section of the Ministry of Finance, published an article in 1974 in Japan's principal financial newspaper, the *Nikkei. The article was named "Kokoro no Furusato," literally "heart's hometown." It read, in part: "There was a man who went to San Francisco to open the minds of young Americans, to create a home for their hearts. In America he sat in silence and acted in a natural way that imparted the importance of everyday life. Our Hojo-san was this person. Rinso-in at High Grass Mountain with its lovely camellias was the home of our hearts. There we used to do zazen with him and hear the enchanting sound of young Hojo-san's voice reciting the sutras. He did not preach or tell us what to do, for he was a person of action and living. At the time of great confusion during the war, a silvery light from Hojo-san caught the hearts of the young. He couldn't be satisfied just taking care of the danka of his temple, and so he went to America."

 After her husband's death, Mitsu Suzuki wrote to Yasumasa Amada, who sent out her letter with one of his own to the members of the group. Amada said farewell for everyone. "What we would like to say to you, Shunryu-san, is: you were our teacher, our big brother, our friend; you taught us human nature and you taught us compassion. With deepest respect we say to you, Well done, Hojo-san! Well done!"