|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
with Annapurna Broffman
(Georganne Coffee) (RIP)
You know, it's really hard for me to sit zazen so I can't imagine how hard it is for you guys - Shunryu Suzuki
Just got word today, 6-12-07, that Annapurna has passed on - a memorial page for Annapurna on cuke.com.
A Wonderful Blog for Annapurna - much more than here
GC came to my house in San Rafael on 12\11\95 and we talked a
while. She didn't feel comfortable having her name used because of how it
comes up on searches, so I just used the initials GC which aren't even the
ones she uses anymore. - DC
And now that she has gone beyond, as we'd agreed, her interview is no longer semi-anonymous, veiled in the initials of GC. - DC
GC: I graduated UCB in 1966 in June and Loring Palmer took me to Zen Center and left me at the door at Sokoji and he didn't tell me anything because he didn't want me have any pre-conceptions, so I walked in, a 21 year old Berkeley syndrome and I had no idea what kind of place it was. I remember the wooden staircase and the walls and it was so quiet it was almost as if the wood was breathing and I went in to zazen and I didn't know how to do anything and I just kind of sat awkwardly and Katagiri came in and tapped me on the shoulder and took me outside and showed me how to sit and then after I graduated from Berkeley I moved to San Francisco and I would go and do the sesshins. After that I went to Boston to study with Michio Kushi and I was working in a macrobiotic restaurant in NYC called the Cauldron and I read Three Pillars of Zen and I came back to Zen Center and I lived in those houses across the street. Chuck Hoy was in my house. And when we moved to Page Street I moved there two doors away from Roshi.
I remember the eyebrow that went up and other saints I've studied with had that like Neem Karoli Baba. Dingo Kempe had the same thing - like you're under a microscope where they can see everything and every single atom and all your incarnations and like that and Suzuki had that and that same cocked eye.
I used to work at the post office and sometimes I'd come home for zazen and I wouldn't have time to change so I'd go in with flamboyant thirties dresses with flowers, a red dress with sequins sometimes, and I'd go to gassho to him after zazen and he'd get a big kick out of it. That was at Sokoji, but I think we gasshoed to him sometimes at Page Street too.
The most striking thing I remember is I had very terrible asthma and I didn't use medicine at the time and in the middle of the night I'd practically crawl to the bathroom and his wife would always see me. She'd always be up at two or three in the morning.
DC: She had to get up to pee a lot. She also had to get up to pee during even one period of zazen.
GC: I remember telling her I was going to go to India and she thought I was the most insane person in the world. She wondered how I was going to go anyplace like that.
The last time I saw Roshi was in 1970 around August or so and it was the last day of a sesshin and I went in for dokusan and I said I'm going to India and he said, "Oh! When?" And I said tomorrow and he got very quiet and you know those pictures of Brahma where he has faces in all the directions - he like turned into that and he was quiet for a long time and then he went, "good, you should wear a sari." And then I was just having tea and hanging out with Buddha. I heard he'd passed away when I was in India. That was the most incredible experience I had at Zen Center. All those heads going in different directions. I was looking at him and then there was a shift in perception where he started to blend in with the walls and it was literally seeing him like that in an all-knowing state. He was being very quiet and checking on it and then he saw the extent of his being or something. Later at Angor Watt and places like that when I saw pictures or statues like that I understood it - panoramic being. It was a very visual thing and I remember him looking like that with my eyes open.
I remember him at Page Street when he'd walk by [bowing in greeting] at the beginning of [the first morning] zazen. I remember it was like the flutter of leaves - like wind brushing over leaves. It was a very other-worldly quality when he walked behind me.
I remember going to Zen Center in ‘66 in all kinds of different states. It was always strange to me in ‘66 - the food on the trays on Saturday with the hardboiled egg and the hardwood floors.
I remember one morning I was sitting there on acid or something and I wasn't expecting it and then all of a sudden he hit someone with the stick and I almost jumped out of my skin. Another time he walked by and I slowly slid off my zafu. I don't know why but I just melted off.
I remember going into that little room and bowing to him. [Everyone did that before departing]
I had to eat special food at Page Street because of my asthma and I remember Loring didn't like that so I went to Roshi and he said to me, "In one sense it's not so good to discriminate but when it's for your health it's okay."
One time I told him I'd been getting up in the middle of the night for my asthma and I was doing a mantra for my asthma I guess and I told Roshi that and he said, "Which one are you doing?" and I said Om Mani Padme Hum and he said, "Maybe it's not long enough, try the "ga-te ga-te" one," and again he was saying if it's for your health it's okay so I did it when I was wheezing. There was a powder I got from Nature Herb Company and it used to smoke up the upstairs at the Zen Center and it smelled funny and later I realized it had jimson weed and belladonna and stuff and I wasn't taking any drugs then so I realized I shouldn't be burning it.
There was Roshi and the blond lady who went to study with Muktananda and then my room. I was so disillusioned when I heard he had a TV set cause I was so idealistic. How can he have a TV I wondered?
I remember once we were at the same bus stop and that was very weird to see him out of context. It was downtown. He was this really tiny little man but it was like he knew something really special and wonderful.
I remember one time at Christmastime in ‘69 or ‘70 I had a date and there was a big Christmas party and I was all dressed up and had a mini skirt and a fur coat and I was getting picked up and Roshi was down there in the big hall at Page Street and my date picked me up and he clearly liked seeing me there like that and then years later I was at a psychic and they said there's this little Japanese man here and he's putting a fur coat on you and saying he always got a big kick out of you.
One thing I got out of coming to Zen Center is to have met a real master at such a young age - 21 - so that I knew what something authentic really looks like and then the other thing is learning zazen which is one of the most critical things in my life. Even though I learned Vipassana and sat in Bodgaya I always just went back to sitting zazen and then I ended up having as my teacher Dudjum Rimpoche who was the holder of the Dzogchen. teachings which is very much like Zen so I never really had the traditional Tibetan training - I just trained in mindfulness and sitting.
Also at Zen Center I met Sonam Kazi - he came in ‘69 or ‘70 and was the translator for the Dalai Lama and Yvonne or somebody knew I liked Tibetans and had me drive him around and then at the end he said I want to thank you for doing this - let me touch you with a picture of my teacher and he put it to my forehead and I got this electric shock down to my knees. But I didn't really see his teacher and then on my way to India I was in London and saw a book by Somam Kazi and in it was a picture of his teacher and it was Dudjum Rimpoche. Even though I knew that Suzuki-roshi was enlightened I knew I had another destiny, a further destiny and that I had to go to Nepal. The main thing was that the training was so incredible. Learning how to sit properly - the whole atmosphere. It was the best foundation I could of ever had for dharma practice. It was a standard. He set a standard for practice. I still feel that zazen is the most inclusive practice. Good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end.
I remember Suzuki-roshi at Trudy Dixon's funeral and his doing the lion's roar and him saying that she was his greatest teacher. That she took care of her illness like it was a friend.
At Sokoji he was saying that nothing really belongs to anybody and that he was an old man and because he didn't have good eyesight we let him wear those glasses even though they're not his glasses and don't really belong to him. He said there was never enough we could do to show our gratitude.
And he also said he got the old ratty vegetables that nobody else wants because if he doesn't buy them who will and then they would have lived in vain.
I had a little bit of a hard time with people at Zen Center - they were so serious and everybody was walking down Page Street in shashu [hands held together at the solar plexus} and I thought I have to express myself. But there was the Animal House faction.
DC: That's true.
GC: There was an earthquake in those flimsy houses and I thought oh god this is it and then there was another one in ‘69. I was with Roovain. One night we were walking around San Francisco and he asked me to marry him and I said you don't even know me and he said I know enough.
Suzuki-roshi said, you know it's really hard for me to sit zazen so I can't imagine how hard it is for you guys.
Thanks to Andrew Main for the following note, prompted by the fact that I'd made two careless spelling errors in this interview's transcription - DC:
Maybe this misspelling was on purpose (?), it's kind of cute; but just in case you don't know, "Nim Curly Baba" I'm reasonably certain is Neem Karoli Baba, otherwise known as Maharajji, who is famous in the West primarily because he's Ram Dass's guru--as well as, of course, for many other 60s & 70s types. See:
He's particularly well known around these parts. See <http://www.nkbashram.org/>
Also, Dzogjen is Dzogchen.
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