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Shunryu Suzuki on His Life in Japan

Composite made by DC around 1999 from Peter's Schneider's interviews and Suzuki's CV
Shunryu Suzuki on His Life in America

Interview With Shunryu Suzuki 
about his life in Japan
by Peter Schneider
edited by DC

[In the fall of 1969 Peter Schneider interviewed a reluctant Shunryu Suzuki about his past. There are two tapes made at two different times but only a few days apart. There's another one (or maybe that's the second one--I'm not sure--I have to piece it all together) which was made during a lecture done on the evening of one of these interviews. I have all sorts of versions of these interviews and frankly, I don't have the time to sort it all out right now. This file was labeled SR-PS.JP3, or the third editing of parts of Peter Schneider's interviews with Suzuki-roshi that pertained to Suzuki's life in Japan. This includes the lecture Suzuki gave or at least part of it because I remember that that's where Suzuki talked about Miss Ransom as "my old, old girlfriend." The way he said it, it brought forth gales of laughter from the audience (not an unusual occurrence when he spoke--and it's things like this he said that led some very few to wonder if they were lovers. I seemed to have conveyed this nuance in my book because Don Latin, the SF Chronicle reviewer indicated that he'd picked that up--and this led to a certain amount of upset and some letter to the Chron. I don't think so, but who knows.). I have so many files representing so many different versions of all this that it will take me some time to get it down in an archive that shows the original version and subsequent useful editions. I have to erase a lot of my files. I had to edit things along the way to be able to use them and to work on them. The originals are, at times, not so clear and are more boring, so for now I go to the best edited version that I used. I spent hours and hours and hours and hours and hours going over these interviews and things he said in his lectures and what I remembered and other peoples' memories and what people in Japan remembered and really, Crooked Cucumber represents an enormous amount of effort to get at the crux of it. I think that this archive of the interviews should show the raw materials that were used AND my interpretations, but it will take me time to organize it all and I'll need help to get it organized so that it's usefully presented. I don't want to spend a zillion years on it again but I do want to leave it in a form that others can understand what's raw material and how I came to what I came to. Some of the information in here might differ from what I said in the book but that may be because Suzuki forgot and subsequent research cleared that up or because I couldn't understand at that time. I just went over it and I see there's lots of stuff that was figured out and fixed later so don't take anything Japanese or Buddhist as the gospel truth or even the right words or spelling. Anyway, it's an interesting interview and mostly it's correct and shows what he said and how he felt without a lot of the hemming and hawing.--DC]



Date at time of filing out: 1969

Name in Full: Shunryu Suzuki [other 1st name? Toshi [boyhood name--Toshitaka, the kunyomi or Japanized reading of Shunryu, the onyomi, or Chinese reading].

Date of Birth: May 18, 1904 (age at time of filling out - 65)

Family Relation: First son of Sogaku Suzuki [others?]

Permanent Domicile:1400 Sakamoto, Yaizu-shi, Shizuoka-ken, Japan.

Present Address: 1881 Bush Street, San Francisco, California (Soto Zen Temple - Sokoji)




My teacher, Gyokujun Soon Suzuki, was my father's disciple. He had the same family name as my father, Suzuki, and it was not just coincidence. He had been adopted by my father. He was my uncle, but not a real one. I had tokudo, he ordained me, on my thirteenth birthday, May 18, 1917 at Zoun-in, Morimachi, Shizuoka-ken. I lived there until 1924 when I went to Tokyo  to complete high school.

When I was young, even from my boyhood, I wasn't satisfied with Buddhist life for many reasons. So I wanted to be a good teacher when I was very young and I wanted to look for a good teacher for there were so many people who did not respect priests so much. At that time my ambition was directed to some narrow attainment, but, anyway, I made up my mind to leave my home and to practice under a strict teacher. So I went to my master's temple. My master was a disciple of my father and my father when he was young was very strict with his disciples. My master was one of my father's disciples who was raised up in a very very strict way, and my master was always talking about my father's strictness with him and that was hardest thing for me to accept.

My master would always bring up my father. "Your father, you know, raised me in this way." That was very hard to listen to. So naturally, this kind of spirit I had all the way until I became maybe thirty or more. After my master's death I didn't feel it so much and that kind of feeling changed into the opposite way and I missed my master very much.


Peter: Looking at your history, it looks pretty ordinary. Is it ordinary sort of Zen teacher's history?

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe so. Not so ordinary. I say priests in my age had it pretty hard. If I told you all about it in detail it would seem very noble.

Peter: Oh, ho. That's what we never hear.

Suzuki-roshi: What I did was actually not so different for back then. But nowadays a priest who is brought up in a family temple succeeds to his father's position, that's all, you know. But my age was thirteen when I left my father's temple.

Peter: Why did you leave your father's temple?

Suzuki-roshi: My father took care of me too well, so here in my heart I always felt some family feeling. Some emotional feeling, too much emotion, too much love. And my teacher at grammar school told me this kind of thing. He always said to me, to us, "You should be ..."

[Did he ever talk about his father or mother? Or Gyokujun Soon?]



Peter: You graduated from college at 26 - pretty old for that.

Why did you start school so late?

Suzuki-roshi: Because I was with my teacher from the time I was thirteen: cooking, serving, and so on. I hadn't finished middle school or high school. I only finished grammar school. And I was studying, of course, in the temple so I could enter the last years of high school which at that time went for five years. I only took the fourth grade and fifth grade of high school, from 1924 to 1926, staying till I was twenty-one. [where did he live while doing these last two years of high school - name of school, location?]



Shunryu was (head monk) Shuso-risshion[sp?] (risshion - standing body) from Nov 15, 1925 to Feb 18, 1926, at Kenko-in, in Shizuoka City, during a full practice period under Dojun Kato-roshi. A note on his curriculum vitae says at that point the other priests stopped considering him a boy. He became their new young friend. He was 21 years old at the time.

Twenty is the traditional age to enter adulthood. Maybe for priests at that time, the shuso ceremony marked a young monk's passage into adulthood. This is also the period when he was finishing up his last year of high school. Being shuso outside of the hard-core training temples like Eiheiji is usually largely formality. Shunryu made a point that this was more than that, and he did go to a special temple to be shuso, but still he was surely quite busy with his studies.

Kenko-in was technically a training monastery, but actually there were not many students. Just a few. But when Shunryu had his shuso ceremony more priests and monks came to join the ceremony and the practice.



Just before entering Komazawa University, six months after his shuso ceremony, on Aug. 21, 1926, at the age of 22, Shunryu received dharma transmission [ Japanese word -shiho] from Soon Suzuki-roshi in a private ceremony at Rinsoin. According to a traditional way of looking at dharma transmission [probably Kobun wrote this part], in the Dharma Transmission Ceremony, the teacher's robe is handed down to the disciple from his dharma master. The Zen master considers his disciple as a Zen Master, Tathagata knows Tathagata, Buddha meets Buddha.

But in Japanese Soto Zen, the initial transmission ceremony is merely the first of many steps toward being considered a truly independent priest. Shunryu received dharma transmission at this point, so he could become head of Zoun-in because Soon was to busy to take care of it anymore with all of his responsibilities at Rinsoin, but it was important to keep it in the lineage. Shunryu was still in the university, and his father had retired to Zoun-in, which had originally been his temple and which he regretted he'd left at all. Shunryu said that this transmission was just a formality. "At that time my master wanted me to be successor of his former temple. Although my practice was not good enough, he wanted me to take it over. Before he came to Rinsoin he was head priest of Zoun-in where my father had also been previously." So at that time [August 21 of 1926] he became the [what? - priest? Chief priest is 1929] of Zoun-in where he'd had his early training with Soon, and his retired father Sogaku actually officiated as priest. Arrangements like this are quiet common.

"Officially I was supposed to receive transmission here (thumping)[1926], but actually I haven't. It was a just a formality."

Peter: How do you mean you haven't?

Suzuki-roshi: Just because, you know, to get an acknowledgement from headquarters we submitted this (thumping), my master submitted this[1926].

Peter: So you could have a robe for Eiheiji or what?

Suzuki-roshi: I didn't wear it - this is just a formality - what do you say? - for the record. I have this record at our headquarters, but actually I changed my robe [at another time - at the Ten’e.

Peter: Oh, there - I see, I see. [1929]

Suzuki-roshi: If I didn't have this record I couldn't have taken over my master's former temple[1926]. At that time I couldn't actually take over his position so my father did my job there while I was studying at Komazawa University.

Peter: So that transmission does not make you Zen master then? That just makes you osho?

Suzuki-roshi: Osho.


RANSOM SR1 - from Peter Schneider's first interview with Suzuki

Interpreter for Miss N. Ransom from Aug 1, 1927 to May 30, 1929.

(Roshi is very grateful for this job - this training helped him a lot) (When Roshi was at university he lived in one room of her home with 2 other boys - he was the best to help her and she became earnest Buddhist.)

Miss Ransom was teaching at Komazawa University when I first saw her. I took her English (and) conversation class once a week. At that time I didn't have much of a relationship with her, but after I finished the preparatory courses of the University and specialized in Buddhist courses, I was still interested in studying English, so once in a while I attended her classes (lecture - some other course and English course). Then one day during summer vacation I was (on my way home) but it was so hot I just wanted to get out of the heat and I was near her place so I went to the back door and called her. She was quite gracious and invited me inside to a sitting room near the kitchen. She asked if I would like something to drink and I asked for water but she brought (us) something different, watermelon. So while we were eating watermelon she asked me if I would like to help her, in shopping, or such things like that, as she had some difficulty in communicating with Japanese people, especially some of them. At that time two students from Komazawa were working for her, helping her already, so I thought she may not need me, but she said one boy would be leaving quite soon so she wanted me to take his place. From that point on, our relationship became much closer.

Miss. Ransom had been a tutor to Emperor Sento of China. Yoshida who became prime minister of Japan invited her and her parents [mistake-DC] to Japan. It seems her father was quite famous though I don't know who he was or why he was famous. As far as I know he was as famous as General Toho who defeated the Russian fleet in the Japan Sea. [I think SR is off here.-DC]

She was quite strict and stubborn and she tried to force her English ways on us and on Japanese people in general. And she always had some complaint - mostly what I had to do was listen to her complaints.

I stayed with her, living in her house, for a year and a half. I had many difficulties, but anyway I stayed there. At last I left her, not because of any difficulty between us but because I felt that if I continued I might not remain a priest. This was brought home to me one day when I visited the Turkish Embassy. I was doing some business for Miss. Ransom with an assistant to the ambassador and we were speaking in English. While we were talking I looked at him. Maybe someday I shall be like you, I said to him in my head. I scared myself. If I stay with Miss. Ransom for two or three more years, Will I become an ambassador? I wondered, and not a priest? So I left her and moved back into the dormitory.

She was not a Buddhist when I met her, but she had a beautiful sitting Buddha about one feet tall which she had put in the tokonoma where we usually keep a scroll and flower arrangement. But she kept a Buddha there. That's okay, but she also put her shoes with the Buddha, side by side. I was not so concerned about those things, especially when because she was not Buddhist, but I guess it did cause me some problem, (lots of coughing) so I decided to change her way. So everyday I offered a cup of tea to Buddha and she was very much amused. She had many guests over - so she started to tease me about my offering by putting a toothpick into Buddha's hand. Then she put some matches. I think it was her. She didn't do it in front of me. Maybe one of her guests did it because she told them, "He is a very naughty boy to put tea before the Buddha." To her it was a form of idol worship so she made fun of me.

A month or so passed and I didn't stop and neither did she. She continuously teased me, but I ignored whatever she or her friends did. I didn't take off the toothpicks or matches. But I thought, there will be some chance for me to explain what Buddha is, what Buddhism is. In my spare time, I studied hard how to explain this in English. I made a special vocabulary list. And at last she asked me one day about why we worship Buddha. So I told her about Buddha and Buddhahood and she was amazed. It was not what she had in mind, you know. And ever since then she didn't tease me anymore and she started to try to understand what Buddhism actually was and what is our practice and she became a Buddhist. She asked me to buy some incense for her, incense and some other things too - a small bell and a candle, as I told her these kind of things are necessary.

That gave me some confidence in the possibility of Caucasians' understanding Buddhism. They understand quite easily, I thought, what Buddhism is. They may like Buddhism. So maybe for the first time I got the idea to go abroad or at least to Hokkaido where I would have a chance to speak to Caucasians or at least foreigners who don't know what Buddhism is.


RANSOM SR3 - from Suzuki's lecture 69-11-09 as an extention of his interviews with Peter Schneider.

I must tell you she was my old, old girlfriend. When I was at college I studied English pretty hard to go abroad. I had no idea of America or Hawaii or anywhere. Anyway, if I am going to some country, I thought, I have to speak English and so I studied English pretty hard when I was a student. When I was at Komazawa University, Miss Ransom was teacher of conversation. Once a week Miss Ransom taught us conversation and after I finished her class I attended more English courses. Meantime Miss Ransom found me and asked me to help her in shopping or when some Japanese came or when she had some private students. Of course, I couldn't help her so well, but I tried pretty hard and, at last, she asked me to stay at her home with two more students who were helping her in shopping and conversation with Japanese people. But the other students, Kundo and I forgot the other student's name, Kundo was student of Komazawa and one more student was from Bundikadaima before that school was a normal high school and changed their system and became a university. Both Kundo and the other student were also studying English, but eventually they left Miss Ransom's home. Then I was only one student who helped her and in the meantime there were many interesting things that happened between Miss. Ransom and me. Don't be so inquisitive.

Before she came to Japan she was a tutor of the last emperor of China, Emperor Sento, Emperor of Manchuria. At that time Japan became more and more ambitious, trying for some chance to fight with that northern part of China. Emperor Sento's [that's the Japanese for Pu Yi, the Last Emperor of China} capitol was in - I don't know what is the name of the city right now - at that time it was Choshun. And when the Emperor was there she was the tutor of the Emperor. And she is a daughter of a very famous naval general whose name I forget.

She was a very strict character, and at the same time she always complained about Japanese people: about what kinds of things happened at school, and what kinds of things happened in the car. She was always complaining about Japan. I was the only person who listened to her complaints. But I also had many complaints with her.

For instance, she had a beautiful sitting Buddha as big as this (a foot high) which was given to her by the Emperor. She put it in the tokonoma, which is alright, but she'd put her shoes beside the Buddha. A tokonoma is a place where we put some antiques, scrolls, or some valuable things, objects of worship [respect] or something like that. But she used to put her shoes there as soon as she came back from school. That was very embarrassing to me. I didn't say anything but I offered tea every morning in a small cup, lifting it above my eyes and putting it in front of Buddha. She started to be amused by me but she didn't ask anything. And I didn't say anything about it or about her shoes. Maybe this kind of silent cold war lasted for two or three weeks and I was waiting for a chance to start a hot war. As my English wasn't so good I had to study pretty hard preparing for the chance to speak and I studied some important words to speak about it. When one of her friends visited her they were talking about funny things about me. He's a very strange Buddhist, offering tea to that wooden figure, sometimes offering incense. They were talking about it. I could understand them. And she had a friend who put matches in the Buddha's mudra - sometimes matches and sometimes cigarettes. Still, the hot war didn't start.

And, at last, I don't know how the hot war started, but she asked me about the Buddha figure. She thought Buddhism was a kind of idol worship. So I explained it as best I could. It was very difficult, but I managed to explain why we pay respect to a wooden image of Buddha and I explained what the real Buddha is. Maybe I told her about the Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, and Nirmanakaya Buddha.

She was rather amazed. She didn't know Buddhism was so profound. And she started to become interested in Buddhism and soon she converted to Buddhism. And she started to study Buddhism - there were many professors of Buddhism at Komazawa and some who could speak English. So in one year she had a pretty good understanding of Buddhism. One day she took me downtown to buy some incense and an incense bowl and she took it home and started to offer incense to the Buddha. I taught her how to keep her tokonoma clean and she started to keep her shoes in the entryway where they belong.

I felt very good. I developed then some confidence in our teaching, in Buddhism, and also confidence that I could make Caucasian people understand Buddhism. And I thought that for Caucasians, Buddha's teaching might even be more suitable than for Japanese. For Japanese to study Buddhism in its true sense is pretty difficult because they have so much mistaken tradition and misunderstanding of Buddhism and it is difficult for people to change their misunderstanding once they have the wrong idea of Buddhism. But for Caucasians who don't know anything about Buddhism, it's like painting on white paper, it is much easier to give the right understanding of true Buddhism. I think that the experience I had with Miss Ransom resulted in my coming to America.

As soon as I finished my schooling I asked my teacher, my master, Gyokujun Soon, if I could go to America or Hawaii or someplace, if I could go abroad anywhere. He became furious and he wouldn't allow me to go, so I couldn't go to America and I gave up my notion of coming to America for a long long time so that I forgot all about it. I told my master about my experience with Miss Ransom and suggested I go abroad to teach Buddhism. I said, America and he said, "No." So I asked about Hokkaido and he said, "No." I kept bringing it up and at last he became very angry and yelled at me that I should stay here. But he just used one word. He just said, "Here!" So I gave up my notion of going abroad. I completely gave up my idea of going to America. Several times after that I had a chance to go to America but I refused. But ten years ago, at last, I came to America. In 1954 - no, my age at that time was 54 - it was 1958, after I had finished doing what my teacher told me to do, I decided to go to America. So there is some truth that being with Miss Ransom was actually the turning point of life. My idea was of going abroad was always in my heart even though I gave up. I thought I had given up, but I hadn't.

Fifteen years ago [1954] actually I had a chance to come to America, but I didn't because I hadn't finished fixing the main building of Rinsoin, which was my duty left to me by my master. I thought I had to finish his instructions first, so I didn't come to America at that time. And then five or six years later I had a second chance to come to America and I decided to do it. It was pretty hard, but anyway I managed to come to America.


One day she told me to buy some daffodil bulbs. I bought some pretty big one for her but she wasn't satisfied. "Oh, these are too small. Get me some big ones." So I tried to find the best daffodils in Tokyo, at least in the Shibuya district. I visited several florists and I got the largest bulbs I could find, but she wasn't satisfied with them. That made me very angry. After a while I went out and did some more shopping. "Here, I got some very big ones. Here they are," I told her when I came back, and I left her room, carefully watching her to see what happened. She opened the bag up and saw the big bulbs I had gotten her. "Oh, these are very good!" she said and started to smell it. I felt very good, but at the same time scared of her so I ran away. "Oh, these are onions!" she shouted and started looking around for me, but I wasn't there. I knew she didn't like onions at all. I couldn't help to bursting into laughter so she found me and with the onions in her hands she started to chase after me. So I went upstairs to the second floor and from the second floor to the roof where I hid. That kind of thing happened many times.

I had to come back to her home before ten o'clock, but it was rather difficult to always get back before ten. So when I was late I knew how to open the door. Japanese doors, you know, are sliding doors. The lock is between the two sliding doors, it's like a nail that goes down a slot to hold them together. So it is not possible to open them in the usual way, but if you lift the two doors it is quite easy to take them out. In this way I sneaked into my bedroom late and slept. But one night she heard me and saw what I was doing and she didn't trust me any more after that and she didn't trust the safety of the Japanese building any more. She determined to move out from that house and I was told to find her some good, safe building, which was almost impossible. Almost all buildings then were Japanese buildings. If it were a Western building we would have to pay a lot of money. So I gave up looking for that kind of safe building. But it was good for me to have some reason to get out. Sometimes I went to the barber shop and sometimes I went to visit some friends instead of finding some good apartment for her. At last I decided to ask a skilled old carpenter to explain how to make Japanese buildings safe from thieves and how to fix the lock so no one could get in. And together we convinced her not to move out.

As she was an English women, she wouldn't throw away knives when they got old. She had some old knives and asked me to go get them polished [sharpen?]. Maybe they do that in England but in Japan no one polishes knives for anyone else. If she'd had a carpenter or a gardener, they may have done it, but she wanted me to get it polished immediately. That was a big problem for me. She said, "In England if you go to a department store you can get knives polished immediately, so go to Mitsukochi and get them polished." Her idea that someone in a Japanese store was going to polish her knives was ridiculous. One was a pretty beautiful good knife, but even so no one would polish it in a store. "Oh, this is old," they may say. "This is very old. Why don't you get a new one."

The wooden covers of traditional Japanese bathes get rotten easily, so she asked me to go get her a lid only, but that was also difficult. Unless we buy the whole thing they won't do business. They won't sell the wooden lid to the tub by itself. I think the English way may be quite different from the American way. [because she couldn't adjust to different customs].



On Jan. 22, 1929, Shunryu had his shinsanshiki at Zoun-in, Morimachi, Shizuoka-ken] and officially became the head priest.

"I had Zoun-in for ten years but for five years I actually ran it. Even after I became head priest of Rinsoin, I took care of Zoun-in. I had two temples for five years." (1934-1939?)

Again Peter asked him if this is where he became a Zen master and he said just for ceremonies.



On January 14, 1930 in a public ceremony, Shunryu received Ten'e, had that ceremony, and got another Okesa. In his curriculum vitae it's described as a "public determination" and consent from the Soto-shu." In this case, when the robe is handed down, his name is listed by headquarters as one who can become chief priest of a temple. After this ceremony he went to Eiheiji to "meet" with Dogen Zenji and to Sojiji to "meet" with Keizan  Zenji (founder of Sojiji temple) for "a beautiful ceremony that lasted two days - to go to vow to be a good teacher - after this ceremony he is Zen master and can teach anywhere and have a temple." That is Kobun's description I bet, because Shunryu said it was still short of being considered a Zen master, or roshi. He got Ten'e just three months before graduation from Komazawa. Shunryu said that Ten'e means "to go to, to change off."


My schooling was a very late one. I graduated from Komazawa University in Buddhist and Zen Philosophy. at the age of 26 on April 10, 1930.

From Sep 17, 1930 to Sep 2, 1931: Head temple Dai Honzan (Big root mountain), Eiheiji Temple

From Sep 18, 1931 to Mar 31, 1932: Daihonzan, Sojiji Temple


After I finished my schooling I went to Eiheiji and Miss Ransom came to Eiheiji and stayed for one month sitting there and practicing pretty well. Two years later I went to Kasuisai Monastery. At that time she came to Kasuisai and stayed for one month and then she went to China again, Tenshin, near Peking. And after that she went to England. Once in a while I wrote to her and she wrote to me, but since I've came to America I haven't written so often. She wanted to write something about me, about various experience we had between us and she asked me to keep some dates or events, but that was too much. So since then I haven't written to her because it was too much. Whenever I wrote to her she asked me many things which were almost impossible to write her back about, so I didn't and she may have become very angry. At that time Petchey was in England and he started Zen group at her home. [Not right. Grahame had a zendo at his own place. Just checked with him. - DC, 4-11-17] So whenever Petchey went to her home he was the one who listened to her complaints. I know her very well, you know. Even though she complains it's not necessarily so bad. I thought it may be alright not to write her, but that was my mistake. She passed away last year before I wrote to her. I trusted her very much and she trusted me so much, so I thought whether I wrote to her or not didn't make much difference - but I don't know. As long as she was alive it was alright. Now I regret a little bit about my not writing to her.

Anyway I think she was a good Buddhist. After she went to Tenshin she sent me a picture of the same Buddha who got into trouble between us. She enshrined the Buddha in the wall where there was an alcove and she said she was offering incense every day.



I studied with Ian Kishizawa-roshi from March 1, 1932 to June 30, 1952. He was considered one of the most excellent Zen Masters at that time in Japan. He was my first teacher's friend.



From May 7, 1932 to Apr 31, 1936, Shunryu was Koshi at Bansho Zenrin, Kasuisai, at Fukuroi, Shizuoka-ken. "Koshi means ‘someone to give lectures.’ Bansho - this is Kasuisai temple where the head of the Soto school, Takashina-roshi, lived. Later Takashina became the abbot of Eiheiji and Sojiji and head of the Soto-shu." Shunryu didn't live at Kasuisai, but just visited to give lectures. At that time he was doing it for Soon-roshi because the responsibility of koshi at Bansho Zenrin was traditionally the responsibility of the abbot of Rinsoin.



"My master died in 1934. At that time I was too young. I was maybe about 31 or something like that. He died in 1934 or 1935. I don't know by your counting."

On Apr 23, 1936, after two years of struggle, Shunryu had the shinsanshiki at Rinsoin Temple, 1400 Sakamoto, Yaizu-shi, Shizuoka-ken.

According to notes on the Curriculum Vitae, he took the temple to prevent a greedy and ambitious faction from coming to power, to protect the Soto school and the danka of Rinsoin. Some families of the congregation resigned. Roshi said, "Don't criticize, wait two years - and they all came back."

"So there was a long period of confusion. Some danka supported me, saying, 'Even though he's young, it's all right.' Others said, 'No,' and in this way for two years no one succeeded my master. At last I became the head of Rinsoin.



Peter: Did that mean that you were a Zen master? Did that make you a Zen master technically?

Suzuki-roshi: No. I don't think so.

Peter: When did you become a Zen master?



Suzuki-roshi: At that time under my temple there were many famous teachers, roshi. Kishizawa-roshi would come to my temple and sometimes he would sit for a while without telling me and I didn't know he was there. There were many famous teachers. That is (cough) why I couldn't take over my (cough) master's seat (cough). Actually I didn't want to, to be the head of Rinsoin while I was so young. I didn't say so, but in my heart I felt so. My boy is in the same position so I'm very sympathetic with him. So I rather wanted him to come to America. Maybe that was too much after I'd left my temple. If my boy had left my temple they would be very furious.



Before I took over my master's temple, I didn't cause any trouble. I was just trying to study, but after I took over my master's temple I caused various problems for myself and for others - there was some confusion in my life. There was a lot of confusion. I knew that if I didn't take over his temple, Rinsoin, I would have to remain at Zoun-in. That would be more calm, and I would be able to study more, but because I felt some resistance from the priests near Rinsoin, I determined to take it over. And there were two years of confusion and fighting.

The priests near Rinsoin had someone in their mind to be the head priest of Rinsoin, and that man would have been acting under their name, which would not have been so good for the danka or for the Soto school. There was too much greed for fame - they were divided in many ways (cliques), and each one of them had his own ambition, but if they did not get Rinsoin they would keep acting in the same way until they got it. But after they got Rinsoin, things would get confused. I knew that pretty well. So I determined to stop them. [Rinsoin had been turned over to Gyokujun Soon to get into shape physically and harmonically because the prior priest had fudged it up so they removed him and put Soon in and so Shunryu felt some responsibility to continue the job that had been given to Soon.]

I had a very difficult time for two years. Extraordinary things happened. Eighty of my Rinsoin members left from Rinsoin and went to another temple. That was alright with me, but others accused me of being responsible and said, "If Rinsoin is such a poor example of a temple, how will we be able to restore harmony? It is your responsibility to do so. Why did you let them to go to some other temple? If you say, 'I am sorry,' or if you ask for help we will get it, but if you don't say 'I am sorry' or ask for help, how can we help you."

Once a month we had a meeting and every time they said I had abdicated my responsibility. But I said, "just wait for two [3?] years. In two years if the eighty members who left don't come back, I will resign from Rinsoin. So let's just wait - without criticizing me for two years. Give me two years and let's see what happens. So they agreed to do that. And in two years almost all of the danka who had left came back.

The priest who was trying to take Rinsoin got his own temple, so he lost his ambition for Rinsoin. And actually, he himself did not want to be a head priest of Rinsoin so much. It was more the ambitious people around him, mostly priests and some influential lay people.



"After I moved to Rinsoin, my older dharma brother helped me at Zoun-in and lived there. He succeeded me in the chief priest position there. His name was Okamoto. His boy is my son, my disciple, because he studied with me. My first dharma heir in Japan is my own son, Hoitsu, and Shoko, Okamoto Kendo's son, is the 2nd."


FIRST MARRIAGE [actually, the second]

"I wasn't married when I entered Rinsoin. And there was much discussion by members about whether I should get married or not. I was listening to them and they went to some extremes. Like if I married, some people wouldn't want family life at my temple so my wife could stay at their home and I could go visit whenever I want. That was too extreme. For awhile, not for a long time, my master's wife lived at Rinsoin. [name?] When he was quite old she stayed there. We established some custom. My master started something like that. But some opposed it, especially because I was so young, some people were critical of me wishing to have a wife in the temple. Someone said, if I get married, my wife could stay at ‘my home’ - if the people don't like temple life at my temple ‘she can stay my home.’ That was what someone said. At last they decided to allow my wife to enter my temple. We were married two years after Soon died, when I was 33 or 34, no, 31 or 32." It was in 1936. It was about six months after he became the abbot of Rinsoin. [Her name was Chie Muramatsu]

Peter: It says here, you said that a friend of your master picked your first wife. What does that mean? Did you have some choice?

Suzuki-roshi: No. I had no one in my mind and I wasn't so sure about my married side, my ability to handle both priest's side and a family side. It is very complicated, you know. I know that pretty well. So I was not firm, but I was reluctant to take a wife. I had no one in my mind to be a wife, but my master's friend thought it necessary for me to get one.

Peter: So you said yes?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah. Before I saw her, I said yes. At that time he had somebody in mind.

Peter: Does that usually work out pretty well, Roshi, when you don't see the woman before you marry?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah, pretty well. It's amazing maybe for you. Although we do or don't like her, they are, I think, pretty superficial feelings, not so different, and they change a lot.

I had a family with her for more than 15 [16?] years. She died in 1951 (actually, 1952). My master’s friend  chose my wife.



In March of 1938 there was a lay ordination ceremony for young female Buddhists of Higashi-eki (Mashi or Masu?) ten-mura, Shita-gun, Shizuoka-ken. 



Peter: When did you become a Zen master?

Suzuki-roshi: I became - after I took my master's position. Often I had to conduct some big ceremony and whenever we had shuso ceremonies or training periods in branch temples, I had to join them, taking over my master's position. While I was doing this kind of thing they officially acknowledged me as a Zen master. I received a special robe.

Peter: How old were you then?

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe I was 40, 45 or so. - [1944 to 1949]



Zoun-in is not a branch temple of Rinsoin. "In Shizuoka prefecture there is a big temple which has 3000 branch temples. And Zoun-in is a grandson of this temple. The big temple is Daito-in and under it there is Shoshinji and Zoun-in is a branch temple of Shoshinji. And Rinsoin and Takawazon are branch temples of Seikun-in. And both Seikun-in and Soshinji are branch temples of Daito-in.

(In margin: Sekiun-in. Bill says is funding temple)


Peter: I see. Okay. Now From 1936 until 1942 you just were at Rinsoin then.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes.

Peter: This says from 1942 to 1947 you're the official teacher of the number 10th monastery of the Soto sect.



At the age of thirty-eight, from March 1, 1942 to March 31, 1947, Shunryu was Zen Teacher, shike (Official Director) (Daho) of Tokei-in which he or Kobun called "the 10th Monastery of the Soto sect - high." In answer to Peter’s question he said that he formally became roshi but "only for ceremonies." Apparently it also had some connection to Bansho Zenrin. He finally resigned because he was too busy - maybe at Bansho Zenrin. Toke-in was a newly established temple at that time near Shizuoka.



Suzuki-roshi: Because I was at that time already a master, a Roshi.

Peter: You were a roshi in 1942, then?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes, already a roshi. Oh yeah. Because I finished building my temple completely and I attended, I acted as roshi so many times before that headquarters acknowledged me, gave me a title.

Peter: I see. In 1942?

Suzuki-roshi: On that occasion they -

Peter: - appointed you shike?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. At Tokei-in.

Suzuki-roshi: Joshike you know, it is not assistance, you know. It's a master, but not completely. What do you call? Not vice or assistant.



"I had young students in the thirties and forties who had the same feelings that I had. Like they did not participate in some mistaken thinking. But my youngest students, who were mostly in high school, were very kind, helped a lot, encouraged me a lot, and they, many of them, came to me because I had these feelings. Most of them were not priests but students. At that time Japan was involved in some kind of wrong idea about strength and power, some strange form, some strange pride or confidence, confidence in power, some strange idea of nationalism.

"What they said was very strange, you know. On television, in lectures, in various ways they tried to lead people in strange directions. And they didn't understand - they didn't try to understand the actual realistic situation or power of Japan. Although I didn't know anything about America or other countries, I thought I didn't know how powerful they are or how weak they all are, but I had some confidence in human nature and that human nature is the same wherever we go.

"So they called American people things like beasts or devils. I always said beasts or devils are not only American people. We have some need for these big beasts or demons and those who have that kind of idea about some other people may be our enemy or demon or devil. I always said that to them.

"And during the war they were afraid very much of American people who may land sooner or later in the Japan islands. But I was not so afraid of them. They are also human beings. Nothing will happen if we surrender. Those who don't want to surrender may die, and if they survive nothing will happen to them. But they burned their personal record or various records in city hall. They started to burn it down and they started to destroy the memorial tower, memorial tombstone of the unknown soldiers. But why do you do that? It is quite natural to have a memorial stone for the people who sacrificed their lives for their own country. There was nothing wrong with it. If we explain in that way why we have those tombstones, they may understand what our point of view is.

People were worried that if we have records in City Hall the Americans would search for each person to kill them or something - a very curious idea.

Peter: Were you ever criticized, Roshi, for your sort of pacifistic views?

Suzuki-roshi: I - Yeah, I was, but I didn't act officially. At my temple, in my lectures or when students came, I talked about this kind of thing always, and even when the war was almost finished. There still was some power or some courage to sacrifice their life for Japan. But I thought, that sacrifice is not for Japan, but for some wrong idea from someone in leadership who has a big misunderstanding.

And people were so afraid of what they had been doing, afraid to be responsible for it. They thought that if we still have still the tombstone for the unknown soldiers, showing them respect, then those who have been doing so will be punished or something. So no one wanted to take responsibility for that and they thought that if they destroyed it, that the American people would be pleased. So when they decided to destroy the big memorial stone for the unknown soldiers, I told them to carry it to my temple. I said to them I will protect it as long as I'm alive, and I will take all the responsibility for any American people who do any damage to this memorial stone.


"There were many farmers who went to Manchuria to start some farming village or something like that. And the world situation was very bad. When I left Japan it was just three months before the war ended. So no one accepted our headquarters plan or my appointment. So I thought I'll go anyway [maybe I may go] and I left Japan on May 14 for Manchuria. It took a pretty long time because our ship couldn't leave Hakata port because of danger from B-29 bombers. I stayed there one week waiting for the ship. There was always bombing going on. But anyway I got to Korea and through Korea went to Manchuria where I visited Japanese farmers in various places. I was not a chaplain in the Service. I just went as a priest.

[trying to get out - the Russians are coming] And when I reached to, in Japanese we say Harbin, the big city, capital city in Manchuria, they announced there were no ships bound for Japan - they had stopped - and I could hardly get back to Japan, but I thought there must be some transportation or some way to get back. Someone must be going to Japan, I thought, and if I wait at Pusan (a large Port in South Korea) I was quite sure I would have a chance to go back to Japan. So I took a steamboat from Manchuria to Korea but when I got there they also said there were no ships to Japan. They wouldn’t even sell me a ticket to Japan, but I said I will pay for the ticket anyway. Whether it is available or not doesn't matter, so give me a ticket. And in the train we arrived at a small station in Korea, and the conductor announced that anyone going to Japan from Sanroshin [is this Pusan?] should get off. So I got off at that station. Sanroshin is a pretty big port created by the Chinese military, it's famous [to whom] as the port the Chinese launched from to attack Japan [when?]. As soon as I arrived at that port, a ship came, guarded by two cruisers. So I went back by a navy ship, not a battleship. They were collecting wounded soldiers and without making any zigzags we went straight back to Kyushu Island and arrived at an unknown small port near Hakata. I took the express train back to Yaizu. We were attacked several times from the air. It was July 15 and by August 15 everything was over.



"I had no idea about the existence of the atomic bomb and how powerful it was. And when I heard of it I couldn't believe it, that it was so powerful, and that that kind of thing could happen. Most Japanese people, including me had no idea that it would happen. But most Japanese people had too much fear for their life when we lost the war. So in comparison to that atomic bomb their fears were not based on any reasonable cause. I think most of them must have thought we won't live so long, so maybe the atomic bomb is a good way to finish our life. They have no idea of righteousness, or humanity, or those problems are not their main concern. I thought - it may be very foolish for us not to surrender right now. If we surrender they will stop doing such things. So the best way may be to surrender. If they don't then it's all over, everything.


Peter: What happened when the Yaizu fishermen were killed by the atomic fallout?

Suzuki-roshi: Most of them, I think, accused the American people you know because of the viewpoint of righteousness, but that righteousness is very superficial righteousness. I think this kind of feeling is the feeling we have about the Okinawa problem. They talk about Okinawa in various way, but have no actual feeling in it. It is just a political game.



Peter: Someone once said that you marched in a protest against something.

Suzuki-roshi: Umhum.

Peter: What was that, Roshi?

Suzuki-roshi: (long sigh)

Peter: When was that or what was that all about?

Suzuki-roshi: It was the time when Peace Corps - uh not Peace Corps -

Peter: Atomic submarine?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah.

Peter: No, that's not it either probably. What was it Roshi? I don't want to force you.

Suzuki-roshi: Hmm?

Peter: Was it that? An atomic submarine or what?

Suzuki-roshi: Atomic submarine. At that time peace work, you know, and when the atomic submarine wanted to come to San Francisco and they had a big demonstration to express their strong desire against war. That is why I joined.

Peter: Someone mentioned that you once marched in a demonstration in Japan. Is that true?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah, I did.

Peter: What was that for?

Suzuki-roshi: That was after the war finished you know. Before the war I had strong feelings against war. Before the government started some organization to organize civilians against America I organized young men in my area to have the right understanding of the situation of Japan at that time. We invited good people who actually participated in important activity in various areas of government and we would ask questions until we understood them. So later the government organized people to fight completely with America, but my purpose was to prevent - not war, but to counter people who may have a one-sided view of the situation of Japan, or in their understanding of ourselves and human nature. I didn't have any big purpose for my group, I just didn't want my friends to be involved in that kind of nationalism which I thought may destroy our Japan completely - it's more dangerous than war. We lost completely because of lack of understanding.

Peter: And wasn't this considered a very unique thing to do?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah. At that time.

Peter: Did you get in trouble? Did you get in trouble for it?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah, I got into various troubles.

Peter: What happened?

Suzuki-roshi: What happened? At length it helped, you know, but at first I was very much criticized. But what I was saying was right and enough people agreed with me so they decided to utilize me to help their you know - to help their idea of leading people. And they appointed me to be a head of a new organization, which was started by the government, but I resigned. I accepted once, you know, and next day I resigned from it.

This was before the war, before the militarists took over. When the army took over my voice was not loud enough.

Peter: But the army didn't come after your voice?

Suzuki-roshi: No. It was not so bad. But that was why I think I didn't get drafted. They marked me - on my name maybe there was some special mark. He's dangerous, but no reason to kill him. I was not such a big deal. But if they may have been concerned that if I were in the army that what I might say will affect morale.

Peter: Were there many priests like you who were pacifists?

Suzuki-roshi: Hmm?

Peter: Were there many priests like you who were pacifists?

Suzuki-roshi: They didn't take any stand till after the Second World War was over.

Peter: You know something Roshi, your experiences like this would be very interesting to the students.

Suzuki-roshi: Oh.

Peter: Don't you think so?

Suzuki-roshi: I think so.

Peter: Maybe you could lecture on this tonight.

Suzuki-roshi: (giggle) Oh, I think -

Peter: I think it's good if Zen is not for war in America -

Suzuki-roshi: Umhm, umhm.

Peter: And you never speak about it. Maybe you have a reason for that.

Suzuki-roshi: No.

Peter: But if you don't have a strong reason, I think it's moral, it's ethically proper to speak against war.

Suzuki-roshi: Umhm.

Peter: And (laugh) I shouldn't do this - but anyway you know the students would like to know your feelings about it.

Suzuki-roshi: I care more about the way of thinking. the fundamental way of thinking which will cause big war. That is why I didn't like nationalists in Japan. Their view was very one-sided and very unrealistic. And they accused others of faults without knowing what they were doing. They actually created problems.

Peter: Maybe this is why the government did not persecute you, because you were approaching the problem from a religious point of view.

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah.

Peter: Not political.

Suzuki-roshi: No. And after the world war I was not purged. I had no record of fighting with the military war. I had many printed matters expressing my feelings, many things about what should be the policy, what kind of danger we had then in the nation, things like that. But most of it may be difficult to understand for people. I didn't say anything about war or anything like that. I said that if we neglected to understand the situation of Japan more clearly and if we understood things just by what is printed, then we will lose the real picture of Japan. So what I put the emphasis on is to study more about what everyone was doing in his country, in the army, or in the political world. I was very much interested in that kind of thing when I was young, before the war. And because of this kind of anti-war activity, I was not purged.

Peter: Were most priests purged?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. Most priests who joined the army.

Peter: Lost their temples or were put in jail?

Suzuki-roshi: No. They couldn't join some educational programs or some official things, on education or city hall. But I wasn't purged. They tried to purge me, but I showed them the printed materials I had.

Peter: Who was they, the American soldiers in Yaizu?

Suzuki-roshi: No, the government, the new government. So they had no reason to purge me.

Peter: Did Rinsoin lose any land? Most temples lost land. Suzuki-roshi: Most of it except the mountain. We had to sell the paddy fields or land that could be cultivated to the government.

Peter: Did you think that was a good idea?

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe. I thought, to force that kind of thing on the temples is not a good idea, but the people should have land for farming.

Peter: I had heard, Roshi, I don't know where, that before the war many of the Zen temples were very rich and some of the priests were very corrupt and many priests kept concubines. Is that true? Particularly Rinzai temples.

Suzuki-roshi: Concubines, no. Not so many temples were so rich, you know, even before the war. Most of the temples were very poor. But after the war (small laugh) they lost everything and the priests started to work in city hall, as teachers, and in various ways and they became more and more rich - like the Japanese people. I'm afraid that Japanese people may have gotten too arrogant again - without knowing why they have become so rich.

Peter: This is like second Meiji Period.

Suzuki-roshi: Second Meiji, yeah.

Peter: How many people were there, about 200 people in your group? But the Japanese did nothing violent in that sort of thing. That's very calm and quiet hum?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah, calm and quiet.

Peter: Like discussion group, philosophical discussion group rather than revolutionaries.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. Very calm and quiet.

Peter: It seems, Roshi, that the state of Japan in the thirties and forties limited you.



From Jun 3, 1947 until he left in 1959, Shunryu was the teacher of the Zen dojo (practice place) for both monks and laymen) at Rinsoin. Here Shunryu says Takakusa (the name of his mountain) and not Yaizu. Here he established a dojo.


Peter: It says here that in June 1947 you became this teacher of Zen practice. That's not the title for Roshi huh? [dojo]

Suzuki-roshi: No.

Peter: Why did you wait until 1947? Why didn't you begin in 1936?

Suzuki-roshi: At that time they had no set rules for lay practice. This [1947] is more for laymen, Zen practice. And headquarters provided some rules for them to establish some Zen practice. There was Zen practice for laymen even before we have this kind of practice - before Zen Center.

Peter: Right. Okay, so this was a new idea [47] or something?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. New idea at that time, and it still continues.


Peter: Were you a Zen master here? [47]

Suzuki-roshi: Title of Zen master isn't necessary here or here. [1942 and 1947]

Peter: Here it is? [52]

Suzuki-roshi: Here. [1952]



From Jun 30, 1952 until he left in 1959, Shunryu was Chief Director - Dokan = Takao-gan semmon sodo at Takazoan, the Docho. (The notes mention Zenrin again and Takashina-roshi) This sodo was only for monks. This is the date that marks the end of Shunryu's study with Kishizawa-roshi. Through this period he filled out that his teacher was Ian Kishizawa Roshi, his dharma master Soon-roshi.



My friend was at Bansho Zenrin. At first Takashina-roshi was head of this temple and then he became the Kancho of the Soto-shu, the head of the Soto sect. And my friend took over his place and later Takashina-roshi wanted to come back to this monastery again. So his assistant, assistant of Kancho-roshi, put some pressure on my friend. And my friend left Bansho Zenrin so I was rather angry with Takashina-roshi too. [not Takashina, right?]

Peter: So you left also?

Suzuki-roshi: I left also, but even though I left, Takashina-roshi was not so busy. Nevertheless, once in a while I had to help him. Officially though, I had already left there.


Peter: In 1952 then you became the Kancho of this place? What's that, Takazoan?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. Semmon sodo.

Peter: Were you Kancho there?

Suzuki-roshi: No. I was Docho. We only have one Kancho - the head of the whole Soto sect.

Peter: I see. So it wasn't until they made you Docho-roshi that you became Roshi?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah.


Peter: I see. So that means that you were then 48.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. At that time[52] I was Dokan at one more monastery [Takazoan]. At that time I became Executive Roshi or something like that.

Peter: I see. Here. In 1952.

Suzuki-roshi: Because I have to establish this one [Takazoan?] and they need me to be here. [Takazoan?]

Peter: Why did they need you?

Suzuki-roshi: Why? I don't know exactly.

Peter: They said they need you anyway. So what jobs were these? You were assigned to this monastery which was at Bansho Zenrin. In 1947 they assigned you to Takakusa? Huh? [he doesn't realize that's Rinsoin - Takakusa]

Suzuki-roshi: Umhum. (not paying attention)

Peter: Teacher of Zen practice. This is bigger job than -

Suzuki-roshi: This is bigger job [Takazoan] - and this is some job just belonging to my only temple [1947 at Rinsoin].

Peter: I see. But this five year (42) - this job ends in 1947 at Bansho Zenrin[42 to 47] and the job at Takakusa [begins 47], and the job here begins in 1952 [Takazoan].

Suzuki-roshi: Umhum.

Peter: What happened between 1947 and 1952? What happened between this job and this job?

Suzuki-roshi: ?

Peter: I'm not certain. Is that 60 or 40?

Suzuki-roshi: 1947 when this started.

Peter: In 1952.

Suzuki-roshi: In 1952. This is Bansho Zenrin.



Suzuki-roshi: One is missing here. It was when Niwa-roshi established a temple, I don't know when, actually. If those are all the records Chino Sensei has, then one is missing.

Peter: When is that? 1947 or when? About when? After the war?

Suzuki-roshi: Before the war. Before this one too [47] of course. Peter: Before the war?

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe here. [42?]

Peter: Well the war begins in -

Suzuki-roshi:1942 [oops - shows how accurate his numbers are]. So, before this.

(they talk off tape here)

Peter: I'm still a little confused, but apparently some time in the early forties, before the war, you officially became the Roshi.

Suzuki-roshi: Officially yeah.

Peter: Became the roshi of what master's temple? What was the master's name? The other one?

Suzuki-roshi: Niwa-roshi.

Peter: Niwa-roshi. Who wanted to have a monastery at his temple. And his disciple actually acted as roshi, as docho.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes.

Peter: But you were docho by name.

Suzuki-roshi: By name. Once in a while when they had big ceremony I went there.

Peter: Why couldn't Niwa-roshi be the docho?

Suzuki-roshi: At that time? There was not much relationship between Niwa-roshi and myself. Niwa-roshi himself was the owner of the temple, we call him the jushoku. He's the head of the whole temple.



In March of 1947 there was a big ordination ceremony for lay members at Rinsoin conducted by Ian Kishizawa Roshi.



On May 5, 1948, the Tokiwa Nursery School at Shin-ya (or Nii-ya)(Nie-ya?), Yaizu-shi was opened. This happened as a direct result of Shunryu's efforts though he didn't call himself the founder. He has no official title but says he was responsible for religious education there.

On April, 1954, a branch of Tokiwa Nursery School at Nishimachi, Yaizu-shi, opened.




In March of 1932. the construction of two new buildings (or wings) was completed at Zoun-in under the guidance of Shunryu - Kannon-do, where Avalokiteshvara is enshrined, and Seppin (Kuri). Neither of these were the main building, but they were important buildings for guests & practicioners in the temple. Also at Zoun-in, in April of 1944 he completed the new Kaisando (Founder's Memorial Hall) and Ihaido (Priests' and Laymen's Memorial Hall).

On March 1, 1958, Shunryu completed his work on the main structure of Rinsoin. [I think what he did was to finish putting on the new tile roof, but the notes on the CV read: "Rebuilt the main structure of Rinsoin (rebuilt = tore down old building and made new one." It was not torn down I don't think - Hoitsu said it has original beams.] Shunryu continued work repairing the Kaisando, Ihaido, Bell Tower, and Sutra Store Hall (library - kyozo) until May of 1958.

"To me it was very important to repair Rinsoin because the buildings are very old, the oldest part is maybe 300 years old. Unless the priest has a good understanding of architecture, he may make a mistake. So to me it was pretty important. I repaired many buildings as they were in ancient times. That was the difficult part. It cost more money and it doesn't look so good," he said laughing, "So no one agreed with me, with my idea. It seemed crazy. But I felt I had to do it. It took many years to rebuild Rinsoin. I worked on it the whole time I was there, constantly studying the architecture at that time, at the time when Rinsoin was built, and making an effort to get it all done."




The way I came to America was that Bishop Tobase asked headquarters to send someone to help him and they couldn't find anyone because maybe the position they would have here in America was not so solvent. (as to whether he was resident, priest, assistant, or volunteer) But I didn't mind that kind of situation. My idea of coming was to turn a new leaf for myself and for the Soto way of propagating religion in America. That was rather ambitious.

In Japan I was resident priest of Rinsoin temple, of one monastery in Shizuoka-ken in Japan. I was teacher at the monastery. There were nine teachers. They didn't appoint any head teacher. Yeah, I was head teacher. Maybe 30 students. Nian?[unclear] Roshi was the founder. He was maybe 65 or 66. Soon after he died there was a celebration for his 61 birthday.

So at that time actually this temple was in confusion and the resident priest was Tobase. He was Bishop of America and no one knew what to do, it seemed. So it seemed like a good idea to send someone who could be a Bishop. Anyway, they wanted to send someone. Not many people wanted to come, or maybe people wanted to come but headquarters didn't accept them. Headquarters appointed several people but they didn't accept the position. My friend, [Yamada] who was director, didn't know what to do, and he said jokingly, "Why don't you go?" I didn't have any responsibility for the confusion. I did not cause the problems and I shall be free from it. People will understand if I cannot help, so maybe I should come and see what happens.

Anyway, Sokoji was in confusion. I was sure at that time Sokoji would give me more freedom. And in one month my friend came again I said to him I will go. When I said I'd go, he was amazed. He wasn't seriously thinking I would go. He didn't even want me to go so much because he felt some responsibility for Rinsoin which is quite near his temple and we work with the same priests. He is Bishop now. Dick met him. He speaks no English.


I didn't want to articulate just why I came to America because I was actually invited by the Japanese congregation of Sokoji. When I said "yes" our headquarters did not at first appoint me to be the head of this temple but as an assistant resident priest. That meant that I was not responsible for Sokoji. My duty was just to help out. But as soon as I came here headquarters wanted me to take over Tobase's position. So I had to be faithful to the Japanese members. So I didn't want to make the point too clearly that I came to America to bring Buddhism to Westerners. I never expressed my real reason for coming to America, but actually I thought if I could go to San Francisco I could do something which I really want to do - not for Japan but for the American people.

I learned most of my English at college, Komazawa. When I was young I already wanted to go abroad, but my master wouldn't allow it. I guess he wanted me to take care of his temple. I had no preference of where to go. Maybe America. Back then, there wasn't much chance for us to go to another country. At least I wanted to go to Hokkaido. It was difficult to change. And it would have been very bad if I had come to San Francisco and moved again somewhere else without having done much. If I accomplish something here, then it would be okay to move somewhere, but to move without accomplishing anything, it would not be so good. So we must stay at our temples.[implies had to do something in Japan first?]

I had no idea how long I'd stay in America when I first came. I said to the members of my temple that I'll come back in three years, but actually I had in mind to stay pretty long. You see, I had no stable position when I accepted, so it meant that for one or two years I would be a voluntary priest until I meet someone to help me.



P: Do so many students come and go in Japan also?

S: My students stayed pretty well in Japan. They are not forming any one group, but whenever I go to Japan immediately they come and they always keep in contact with each other. Even so, not all of them stay -- maybe 70. Two or three out of ten. Of course they have some reason. It is quite difficult to be always in one group. They are doing pretty well. In my temple the group I started is still practicing under my friend's instruction.

P: How much do they practice? Do they sit every day?

S: No. They come to the temple twice a month and usually they sit at home. When I was there they had more chance to come to my temple, but now of course they have new members -- there may be thirty of them or more. The other people who are helping work with  my boy.

I have more than ten disciples in Japan, but they are not dharma disciples.



I didn't have a wife for seven or eight years before I came to America. One of the conditions to go to America, you know, to be invited by the Japanese members of Sokoji, was someone who has a wife. And she was head of the kindergarten and, at my mother-in-law's suggestion, I decided to get married with her and came to America almost at the same time.

Peter: What did she think of that? Isn't that a strange way to get married roshi?

Suzuki-roshi: Strange, yes. For usual person it is very strange, but for a priest, marriage is very strange sometimes, which I don't like so much.

Peter: How do you mean that?

Suzuki-roshi: I want to do exactly what I want to do. (laughing)

Peter: Before you asked Okusan, this Okusan, did you tell her that you had to have a wife in America?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah.

Peter: And would she like to marry you for that reason?

Suzuki-roshi: No, not that reason - you know. After my wife died, I thought I may be married with that girl, but I didn't determine to do that. But soon after my wife died - in 52 or 53, when she ran the kindergarten - there was some rumor - he will get married with her, and he likes her so much. So I thought, that is true, so I decided to get married with her.

But even though I decided so, I was too busy and she was too busy to think about it, you know. She was rather stubborn and I thought, that is alright, maybe I should wait. While I was waiting I decided to go to America and one of the conditions was that I should be a married priest. So I decided to marry her.

Peter: And Okusan's husband had died in the Second World War?

Suzuki-roshi: Yes, yes.


U.S. Curriculum Vitae Info:

On May 22, 1959, Shunryu was appointed head priest of Soto Zen Temple Sokoji, 1881 Bush Street, San Francisco, California, U.S.

In 1967 Shunryu founded Zen Mountain Center, Zenshinji, at Tassajara Springs.

On October 1, 1969 Shunryu was appointed to the position of Gondai-kyoshi by the Shumucho. There are ten daikyoshi and the rest are gon-daikyoshi.



Peter: Do you think it would be interesting Roshi for the students to know all this, or is it best to keep your biography very simple?

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe so.

Peter: Just facts? It doesn't make much sense.

Suzuki-roshi: It doesn't make much sense, I'm afraid if they don't understand what kind of things were going on [the background] (phone call - horrible background noise starts) - I don't know what to do with some things.

Peter: Yeah I'm trying to think what I do with it. How much I should put into the history. It's interesting to your students, but maybe -

Suzuki-roshi: No! Maybe for someone who is not a student! Because of these kind of experiences I decided to come to America. There's nothing interesting in it. I'm just talking to you. I'm not really interested in this kind of thing. I’m just talking to you. This is just a record, just confusion. My history, my life in Japan was spent fighting, in struggle.

Peter: Did you always win the struggles?

Suzuki-roshi: Yeah. But it is not the best way. It is better to surrender. If I had known the truth about American life earlier, it would have been sayonara a long time ago. Like this, you know. (waving or bowing goodbye).

Peter: It seems that many priests who came here were exiled to America, were being punished by being sent to America. They could have punished you a long time ago.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. Fortunately I knew how to handle them most times. But it just made for more difficulties - things go in circles.

Peter: Too smart again.

Suzuki-roshi: I always won.

Peter: Did you ever feel vain about it?

Suzuki-roshi: No, no. I don't feel vain - it's just like, because of I was very impatient and angry I became very patient in order to win fights and so on. Hence I always started to fight because of my impatience. And once I started to fight I had to become very patient or else I'd lose that fight and it would be endless.

Peter: In Western astrology your birth sign, Taurus, suggests stubbornness. And when you talk about yourself you say how stubborn you have been, but you don't seem stubborn to your students.

Suzuki-roshi: Yes. I have been very impatient, that is true.

Peter: But Americans are so much more impatient than you. You seem very patient. Your students are so... Japanese couldn’t live with them.

Suzuki-roshi: Hmm. I may have been patient with American people even earlier, long before I came to America. Recently I feel in that way very much. It may have something to do with past lives.

Peter: Some of your students think that in their past lives they were Japanese. Chinese or Japanese.

Suzuki-roshi: Maybe so. I don't know. This is a big job and I'm not interested in this kind of thing. I have no accurate record of my life and I don't want any.

Peter: Is there any meaning at all in having something about you in the Wind Bell?

Suzuki-roshi: This sort of thing?

Peter: Some sort of history, some sort of biography, not too elaborate, but some sort. Not a book though. Maybe about four or five pages? Is that a mistake?

Suzuki-roshi: Four or five!

Peter: How much do you think? One? Half a page? A paragraph? One sentence? Suzuki-roshi biography: "I do not think much of this sort of thing and have not kept any records." End biography. You have the right to decide. This is your direct concern. How do you feel about this?

Suzuki-roshi: I didn't get an answer to these kind of questions from my teacher. I don't have much interest in it.

Peter: Neither do I.

Suzuki-roshi: If my life is seen in this way, everything will be lost.

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