Film with Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mt. Center - transcript
1968 KQED TV film
transcript of parts with Shunryu Suzuki
To see video go to the ZMC page in the video section of Shunryu Suzuki dot com.
ZEN MOUNTAIN CENTER
Sokoji and Tassajara
[Scene opens with a shot of the freeway and cars and cityscapes. Richard Baker begins to narrate, saying it is marvelous how people found Shunryu Suzuki for the first time, and he described a student’s journey].
Richard Baker: He picked up a book in New York, a paperback off a counter, and it was on Zen. And he’d gone to Harvard and things like that, but basically just was living in the city, not doing anything special, you know. And he found this book on Buddhism which he read standing in a drug store. He thought this really sounds, like, right. So he thought that the place where Buddhism most likely would be would be San Francisco. So he came to San Francisco. And then for some six, seven, eight months he beat the streets of San Francisco regularly, wandering, because there’s nothing listed under Zen in the phone book. And he walked by one place one day, and he got past it and he said didn’t I -- and he saw “Zen Soto Mission” -- and he turned around and looked back and saw “Zen Soto Mission”. He went in and Suzuki Roshi was there. And various people found him in this kind of way, wandering, just walked in you know.
[Scenes inside Sokoji zendo with students sitting zazen and also views of Sokoji from the outside. Shunryu Suzuki bows as Dainin Katagiri hits a bell. Shunryu Suzuki walks around the zendo striking a few students’ shoulders with the kyosaku stick. Chanting begins and the mokugyo and bell are struck. City street scenes while chanting continues. Back inside the zendo. Richard Baker hits a bell. Then scene of Shunryu Suzuki with Dainin Katagiri and Richard Baker talking inside an office].
Shunryu Suzuki: You have to buy a very expensive ticket which you cannot afford to buy. [laughs and laughter].
Richard Baker: [laughs]. A poor Zen student can’t afford to go to No play or Kabuki. [laughs]. While I’m in Japan, is there anything special you want me to do?
Shunryu Suzuki: First of all, you have to study, I think, Japanese language. And then you study meditation and...
[Richard Baker’s voice begins to narrate].
Richard Baker: No one wanted to have a group, you know, but Zen center started about a little after Roshi came. Suzuki Roshi came in about 1958 [sic 1959]. So in the Japanese congregation’s building on Bush Street, we meditated every morning and evening with Roshi. He just said to the first people who came “Well I meditate every morning, early. If you want to join me, please do.” And so people start sitting with him and he kept postponing going back to Japan, until finally, he gave up and decided to stay here, apparently.
We had to start trying to support the Roshi and the building and things like that, so we needed a legal front, sort of like umbrella, under which to make contributions and things, so we formed a group. Then, they get a little more organized later, but basically it remained pretty simple, until the time of Tassajara.
[Back to the conversation in the office].
Shunryu Suzuki: Religion -- no maybe 70% of religion looks like culture, a part of culture. And the underlying spirit is through religion, I think.
Richard Baker: To me, religion is the definition of mankind or human possibilities, which is the most broad. But it can’t be something which is difficult to accept. It must be both intelligible and faith, simultaneously, it seems to me, to be dynamic.
Shunryu Suzuki: If you go to Japan, you understand our way from some other angle. That is a point we are making an effort for thousands of years. [laughs].
Richard Baker: Because just to go to learn some special technique or something, I wouldn’t be interested in. But to go to try to understand what human beings are -- to try to understand human beings more deeply, and how people live together, then I’d feel very good. I think the orient has great things to offer us. Just as you come here to learn things from America, now I go to Japan to learn things from Japan. We’ll be leaving about -- in about 10 or 15 minutes and driving to Tassajara. You have your bags ready and all that?
Shunryu Suzuki: Yes.
[Scenes of the car being packed and Shunryu Suzuki carrying a box of small plants].
Richard Baker: The car is nearly packed.
Shunryu Suzuki: I try to be -- I’m trying to be Tassajara more, but right now I think half and half, two weeks here, two weeks there.
Richard Baker: About the same for me, but usually it’s 2 or 3 days there for me, 2 or 3 days here, 2 or 3 days there [laughs], 2 or 3 days here. [laughter]. It’s pretty difficult. Once you get here, so many problems arise I have to be here. And as soon as I get there, so many problems arise I have to stay there. It takes about 4 hours to drive there from here.
[Scene of Shunryu Suzuki’s wife Mitsu saying goodbye to them at Sokoji].
Richard Baker: The last part of the road is what takes a long time because it’s a dirt road, and it takes an hour just for the dirt road that goes 20 miles up through....
[Dainin Katagiri bows goodbye].
Richard Baker: Katagiri Sensei mostly takes care of San Francisco. Suzuki Roshi is here part of the time.
[Street and freeway scenes. Richard Baker is driving the car].
Richard Baker: Students practice here, and this was of course a satisfactory and sufficient place to practice for a long time. But more and more the students felt the need to have a more intensive opportunity to study, and more opportunity to spend with the teacher. And so Zen Mountain Center developed naturally out of that interest. And now that we have Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center, now what we do is the students begin here in San Francisco and then study at Tassajara. Like step two. And then the third step is back in the city and just leading an ordinary life, practicing here and working on whatever. Tassajara isn’t meant to be isolated or people aren’t meant to go there for forever. Just one year or six months or two months or three years or something.
[Scene of more driving -- then arriving at a diner and going in. Ordering food. Richard Baker’s daughter Sally holds Shunryu Suzuki’s hand at the table].
Richard Baker: When people ask “what is Zen?” or something like that -- and traditionally you’re not supposed to be able to answer that question cause it’s impossible to answer -- but since I’m not very traditional, I try to give an answer. And the answer I usually give is that, maybe a very traditional answer, is that Zen doesn’t exist. And I say if I was going to give a short-hand definition of Zen, then I’d say it’s a mental and physical practice, aimed at freeing you from all mental and physical conceptualizations or patterned ways of experiencing feeling/thinking about things. And that Buddhism itself should free you, the mental part of Buddhism -- the intellectual part -- should free you from intellectualization and free you from Buddhism itself.
[Scene of walking out of the diner -- shot of a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper with the headlines “Cleveland Strategy” and “Riot Line Zone Fenced Off”].
Richard Baker: And the physical part should -- the physical practice should open up your mind and body so that they’re one in a full experience. Would Dogen agree with that kind of expression, or would he say I talk too much? [laughs and laughter]. I’d be scared to ask to Dogen. [laughter]. I’m a little scared to ask you. [laughter].
[Scene of the car driving away].
Shunryu Suzuki: I think so. Yeah, very good.
[Scene of the car pulling into a gas station and everyone gets out of the car. Shunryu Suzuki walks around and stretches].
Shunryu Suzuki: Reality or Buddha Nature or essence of mind, whatever you call it -- it is reality and it is mind, and our body.
[Scene of some young men chatting with Shunryu Suzuki at the gas station].
Shunryu Suzuki: It’s ah, so body or reality or mind -- it’s actually the same thing in the -- because when mind and body become one which are surrounded. That is reality. So one covers the other, too. And through make best effort, on each moment forever, it’s our practice. And that is interpretation of Zen. And so I think your explanation is perfect.
[Scene of driving in car on the street, then in the country, and then on Carmel Valley Road, with sign pointing to Tassajara Springs].
Richard Baker: And what happened was the students had really come far enough, a lot of them, through the sesshin practice, the all-day sittings, to need more contact with Roshi, more opportunity to practice.
[Scene of passing the sign to Jamesburg and Tassajara and driving down the winding road.]
Richard Baker: And so the alternative was sort of an en-masse departure for Japan. And then we found Tassajara. My wife and I camped there in the area and happened to wonder where this dirt road wandered off into the mountains. And we just followed it and followed it and followed it, and my wife kept saying it’s getting darker and darker and we gotta go back. And I kept saying I’ve got to find out what’s at the end of that road. And we drove in and it was just getting nightfall, and they said well you can look around. It looked like a sort of very mysterious retreat for I don’t know what. But anyway, we drove back out. It always stayed in my mind. And for the next year and a half or so I kept trying to find out why there was private land in there. Finally, somebody gave me an address which I then lost. And a year or so later I got it again and called. And then we went down and visited it. People had shown us land for years. It was the first land that I’d seen Suzuki Roshi ever really excited about. We bought the 1600 acres there, which is surrounded by national forest. It’s one of the great things about it. So 350,000 acre national forest, and there’s a few islands of private homestead land left. And we bought one of them.
[Car parks in Tassajara. View of the sign that reads:
Zen Mountain Center
Richard Baker: And it also was an old carriage trade resort in the 1880’s, ’90’s.
[Shunryu Suzuki and Richard Baker and Richard’s daughter Sally getting out of car and walking into Tassajara. Shunryu Suzuki waves and greets students. Richard asks student if he is going to hit the han. Shunryu Suzuki and Richard walk into the zendo and Shunryu Suzuki goes in front of the altar and lights incense while the han is hit outside. He bows three times in front of the altar while a bell is struck in the zendo].
[Outside, there are trees and blue jays are squawking, bug crawling, flies buzzing, creek rushing, views of the hillside and rocks. There is light and shadows and reflection on the water. The water ripples. A student, John Steiner, walks on the path. Chanting sounds and clackers. Kobun Chino hits the big bell. Students walking. Tea or meal chant. View of the bridge. Students gather for tea or snack outside].
Richard Baker: Govinda, in his autobiography, says that he had to choose between the inner world and the outer world.
[Scene of three people sitting on a deck having tea and talking: Shunryu Suzuki, Richard Baker and Maud Oakes].
Richard Baker: And that if you chose the inner world, not just dreams, but the whole inner experiences, then the outer world would become like the inner world, it would become much more real.
Shunryu Suzuki: Actually, there is no inside or outside.
Richard Baker: Yeah, that’s how I feel about it.
[View of Maud Oakes].
Shunryu Suzuki: So if you think you know outside, is it.
Voice of Richard Baker narrates over: From about May through September, we have guests coming down. And there are a number of them, the kind of people who are interested in the Buddhist life and what we’re doing and one of them is Maud Oakes, who is an anthropologist and lived with the Indians in Peru or Guatemala.
Maud Oakes: But now when you meditate, you go inside, don’t you?
Shunryu Suzuki: Not the inside, no outside. Just open.
Maud: Yes, I see. This book that I’m reading that I told you, the man says that on his path in life he’s searching for love. And if he finds love, why, he’s found everything. I don’t know if that’s a Zen point of view. Is it?
Richard Baker: My motivation is not so much, really at the deepest level, is not religion or something like that. But is love for certain friends or my wife or Suzuki Roshi.
Maud Oakes: Well, I think he means it.
Richard Baker: If he asks me to do something, I could do it out of, because of, affection not because of religion. I have no choice.
Maud Oakes: Yes. Well I think. Yes. [laughter].
Richard Baker: I don’t know about Buddhism. I know about affection more than Buddhism.
Maud Oakes: Well, so whatever you do, for instance, if you’re fixing a bridge or something like that, and the Roshi has asked you to do it, you do it for the Roshi. Not for the bridge. [laughter].
Richard Baker: Yeah, I don’t know if there’s any difference. He’s a bridge sometimes. [laughter].
Maud Oakes: I’m sure you’re a bridge between two worlds. Will you have some more tea?
Shunryu Suzuki: Oh, thank you very much.
Maud Oakes: Well, the first time I came as an invited guest last year, I was amazed at what you had accomplished already, because I’d been here before, before you’d moved in. But now, when I see the kitchen being built and that I’m a guest again, I want to tell you what pleasure it gives me.
Shunryu Suzuki: Oh, thank you very much. They are working very hard.
[Scene of Dan Welch working on building the kitchen].
Maud Oakes: Oh, yes. I watched this morning. They’re fitting the rock.
Shunryu Suzuki: Yes.
Maud Oakes: And then taking it down and then putting the cement, and then putting it back again. It was very interesting.
Shunryu Suzuki: Yes.
Maud Oakes: Then I noticed that girl chipping the rock.
Shunryu Suzuki: Oh, yes. She’s very good. [Audrey Robinson].
Maud Oakes: That’s a lot of work for a girl.
Shunryu Suzuki: Yes, excellent.
Richard Baker: What is she making? Is she just shaping the rock for the stone masons?
Shunryu Suzuki: For the cornerstone.
Maud Oakes: For the cornerstone.
Richard Baker: Oh, for the cornerstone. I didn’t know what she was doing myself.
Maud Oakes: I didn’t know either. She’s doing a good job. I’ve loved rocks ever since I was little.
[Scene of students working on rocks].
Maud Oakes: And wherever I’d go, I’d pick up rocks and bring them home. And finally the closet in my bedroom was just filled, and my mother told me that this had to stop.
Richard Baker: I left college and went to the Merchant Marines to Africa and places. I came back and all of my stuff had been thrown away, except one big box of rocks that all my roommates had kept for me, knowing that that was the most precious. [laughs].
Maud Oakes: Yes.
Richard Baker: I said this morning, you’re the only person it can be said of positively that you have rocks in your head. [laughter].
[Scene of Shunryu Suzuki laughing and then of him drawing in the dirt. Dan Welch and Bill Shurtleff talk with him about stones, and someone asks “So, you still need many more stones for the garden and things, Roshi?”].
Shunryu Suzuki: Oh, it is good. That’s all.
[Someone asked “you’re going to come back and use this or not? And someone said “yeah.” Scene of Shunryu Suzuki moving a small rock around in the dirt and talking more with the two students. One student says “How about this?” and the other says “Too big for the wall, I think.” Then scene of Shunryu Suzuki folding part of his robe up around his head. Bill asks “Dan, can you give me a hand in setting this?” Then a scene showing the 2 students moving a big stone and Shunryu Suzuki moving some, too. Also, students shoveling smaller rocks and carrying tools. Bell sounds and chanting of the Heart Sutra. Scenes of students working, cooking and watering].
[Scene of five students -- Ed Brown, Tim Buckley, David Chadwick, Dan Welch, and Peter Schneider -- hiking in the mountains and swimming at The Narrows and making music with rocks, humming and chanting].
Peter Schneider: What I wanted to ask you was whether or not you plan to go to heaven?
Brother David: For heaven’s sake, yes.
Peter Schneider: Yes, and what’s that mean to you?
Brother David: What does that mean?
Peter Schneider: Yes.
Brother David: In Christian terms, it means ultimate union with God. And in Buddhist terms it means union with ultimate reality. Nirvana.
Peter Schneider: There’s a little teeny catch called death that gets in the scene.
Brother David: Oh.
Peter Schneider: Of course some Buddhists believe nirvana is some sort of state after death. But Roshi doesn’t. He believes that Nirvana is right here and now.
Brother David: Well, in a very real sense, the Christian who lives in union with God is also in heaven here and now, and his death is relatively insignificant. I think you can say that.
Richard Baker as narrator: This summer, a Benedictine monk named Brother David, who has been studying with a Zen group in New York, has permission from his abbot to do that. And with Thomas Merton, are the two Catholic monks I think most interested in Buddhism in this country.
Brother David: ....recitation of the sutra and so forth. And they are surprised. They take it in stride, but they are surprised.
Peter Schneider: You know, it’s so extraordinary. It’s just so much that, ah, they’re just totally taken back by it. There’s just too much to even think about fighting, you know? But, also, the fact that they do hate forms makes them, makes Americans, exceptionally open to different possibilities.
[Scene of Ruthie Discoe cutting Paul Rosenblum’s hair].
Peter Schneider: They can try out anything, because they’ve always lived in a sort of formless time, and as someone mentioned yesterday, Americans are looking for a sort of instant tradition. So every time they see a new one come up, they’ll try it, but it remains to be seen if it will work after a year or two like you said. You just can’t tell. Yesterday, we talked about how rigid people are about being non-rigid -- young people are. But this is new. Americans have always had a fear of any kind of ritual, they really hate ritual. The minute you bring up ritual, they really want to back away. And I think that because of this reason, they find a great need. I know I spent a long time studying anthropology. And I studied mostly ceremonies and celebrations. But I liked them. I didn’t -- I was studying mostly pre-Christian, because when it got symbolic, I wasn’t too interested in it. I was interested more in natural rituals, and I sort of had a search for a kind of ritual. And so it’s very, very easy for me to accept. Ritual has -- if ritual becomes conformiting, it dies. But if it stands to point out, what the act is, and how it operates so that you can become totally involved in the act, then that act becomes sacred.
Brother David: Yeah.
[Scene of Ruthie now shaving Paul’s head].
Brother David: How do you think this place is going to develop? I see, really two elements here. On the one hand is the strictly monastic element -- on the one hand it’s a real monastery with celibate monks and so forth. And then on the other hand you have married couples living here with and folks with children and so forth. Do you think that one of these two trends will eventually take over?
[Scene of adults, including Ken Berman, and children walking and talking on the paths].
Peter Schneider: Well, as you know, I just don’t know. [laughter]. I don’t know that. I think that people who are religious in a strange sense of the word, would prefer neither living in a total secular life out in the world, nor living one that is totally monastic. I think a community of families with a school and their own ways of raising food -- but one that is not like isolated.
Brother David: In other words, a Buddhist kibbutz [laughs].
Peter Schneider: Ah, yes, but we don’t have to use machine guns on our tractors.
Brother David: But it’s very interesting, because in the Christian sense, too, monasticism has been really defined as a nostalgia for the early Christian community. For exactly that -- families, sharing everything, and living a more religious life than society at large.
Peter Schneider: I find that they took themes of politics -- the commune way and the anarchistic way really meet. And you have a large spiritual family living together but one that has no feeling of superiority, or, really a difference, but just that there are many different ways and these people have picked this way.
[Scene of Ruthie still shaving Paul’s head, and then a scene showing a group of students standing together].
Brother David: Do you think then that this is a sort of pattern for a new development, in this country, of Buddhism? And do you think that there are some possibilities of cooperating with other monastic traditions like with the Benedictine traditions right near here and so on.
[Scene of Ruthie finishing shaving Paul’s head].
Peter Schneider: I’ve been here a year, and that would be like asking a freshman in college if he thinks the universities have a chance in this world [laughter]. When you look at the very slight difference between our two different communities and our different ways and people who are killing for my country right or wrong around the world, I mean, ah, they’re almost exactly alike.
[Scenes of Ruthie Discoe walking in the garden and Sally Baker drinking tea and Brother David cleaning the kerosene lanterns].
Brother David: In this sense then, monasticism would really have a very important mission in the world, right, because there are monks both in the east and the west and just by the way that they speak the same language, there is a bridge already existing and all we need to do is use it -- use it for peace and for communication.
Peter Schneider: Yes, I think that we’re all getting together, and I think that as you come east I may also return west.
Brother David: I hope so [laughter]. Well it means a lot to me. Of course, our life as Benedictines is completely, uh, impregnated with ritual, too. But you get used to it. And here for me is something new, so I fancy this as something new.
[Scene of someone putting the oryoki chopsticks away and of the bathhouse].
Brother David: And the meals, for instance, is a highly ritualized meal, or the bath with the ritual bows and all that carries over to other parts of daily life, and it makes me more aware of what’s going on. It increases your awareness.
Peter Schneider: I mean, people, after they eat our way for some time, they begin to realize how their teeth meet and how they swallow. And if you stop eating and close your eyes and listen to the rest of the people eat, it’s an enormous field of locusts, of all different kinds of bugs going numnumnumnumnumnum [laughter]. And it’s very silent, but you can heart it all, you know. You become so much more aware.
Brother David: I guess even if you don’t do that, it’s very beautiful to have these three bowls and every day different things in these three bowls.
Peter Schneider: Yeah, I really feel bad when I can’t eat in the zendo.
Brother David: Yeah, I understand now.
[Scene showing bathhouse and zendo and students having an oryoki meal. Richard Baker narrates].
Richard Baker: Well, if you could take something like washing your face in the morning, that ritual, and heighten it in some way so that it really became a -- opened you up to the whole sense of a morning and the day beginning and the cleaning, washing yourself for the new day. If that sense could be there, then you’d be like more in the are of religion as how do you take the ordinary rituals of our life anyway and intensify them in such a way that deepens our perception of reality, deepens our participation in reality. We get up in the morning, uh about after what would be a necessary sleep -- a little too little sleep. A little less sleep than you need -- your mind’s a little clearer, it doesn’t burn off so much excess sleep or something during the day. And, so we get up fairly early, about usually around 4:40 I think, meditation at 5 o’clock in the morning. And then, followed by, depending on whether it is practice period or guest season, followed by another period of zazen or a study period, and then breakfast. And then, again, depending on whether it’s practice period or guest season, we have a lecture or work period. And then meditation before lunch, and then lunch, and then work during the afternoon, and then bath at the end of the afternoon, before evening meal. Then evening meal. And then a sort of break of about an hour, and then lecture or meditation, and then meditation before we go to bed. We go to bed about 10 o’clock.
[Scene of zendo and Shunryu Suzuki striking students’ shoulders with the kyosaku. Bell rings. Then scene where he is asleep in the zendo while sitting zazen].
Shunryu Suzuki: Ah, Buddha said you should not sleep, you know [laughs]. [laughter]. You should not sleep. It mean, and he said, but if you become very sleepy you should sleep. But before you are -- when you are not sleepy physically, you know, if you sleep you should be ashamed of yourself. [laughs]. It is very difficult thing to overcome sleepiness. You know, hunger is not so bad. You know, even though you don’t eat two, three days, it’s alright. [laughs]. But if you do not sleep even for one night, you know you feel terrible. And I think this is more deeper and original essential instinct for us. So to confront with it means to confront with your true nature. How you feel when you are sleeping, you know, and how you feel when you are hungry. How you feel when you are thirsty. This kind of experience is very important.
Richard Baker: Near the end of a sesshin, Suzuki Roshi at a lecture announced -- it was late evening and rather dark -- and said that a student in the sesshin had just become enlightened and didn’t know it but he would eventually find out.
Members and Guests
Zen Center, San Francisco
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Producer Cameraman: Blair Stapp
Cameraman Editor: Seth Hill
Audio: Barry Brown
Graphic Design: Lloyd J. Reynolds
KQED San Francisco
This film made possible in part by grant from Readers Digest
Zen Mountain Center
transcribed by Clare Holland January
Shunryu Suzuki film page