|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
Interviews and Letters
Letters from Frank Anderton, an
ole Suzuki student from Oklahoma. [All but one are
emails Frank sent me. Thanks a lot Frank.--DC]
Hi, David. Classes, finals, etc. ended for me Wednesday evening so I'm ready to turn my energy to Zen center in the "old" days, 1960s and '70s. I want to start with a couple of things I remember about Katagiri. He was the second teacher I talked to at Zen center one-on-one (after Suzuki). I went to Tassajara in July of 1966, when I was 26, with a friend of mine from Seminole, Oklahoma, Ron Phelps. I only stayed a couple of weeks. The kitchen was under construction and I washed dishes outside. More about that later.
I had trouble with my right knee, which I had injured in a parachute jump and had surgery on in December of 1964. My main problem was a bad attitude. I didn't like the religious ritual I found at Tassajara and would chant M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E instead of the Heart Sutra, for which I will undoubtedly be tickled with willow branches in Buddhist hell.
Anyway, I returned to San Francisco with some folks headed that way and, on the suggestion of a fellow Zen student, talked with Katagiri alone in a room at Zen Center. I didn't understand much of what he said to me, not because of his accent but because it didn't make sense to me. Something about time, the clock in the room where we were, (this was a very informal meeting), the sun in the sky not caring what the clock said, etc. How I wish I could remember it all now! I told Katagiri that I didn't think I could follow the Buddhist path, that it was too austere and I had to follow my own way. "What is your way?" he asked me as I was leaving. I stopped at the door and looked back at him. "I don't know," I said, which was probably the only intelligent response I made to him.
A few years later, I had dokusan with Katagiri during sesshin. This was in 1970, I believe, either in February or in August, but it could have been 1971. I remember how serious I was and how comfortable I felt with him, how much I liked him. I can still see his dark eye brows when he occasionally knitted them together expressively. I asked him about life and death, which was strongly on my mind. (my father had died of a gunshot wound in March of 1964) He talked about Big Mind and little mind. I asked him what dies, little mind of Big Mind. He knitted his brows together for a moment and said, "Little Mind." I asked him what happened to little mind at the moment of death. He looked at me and said, "Big Mind says, 'Good baby, go to sleep, I will take care of you!" He held his arms in front of him as if cradling a baby and made a rocking motion. We burst into laughter simultaneously and just sat there and laughed for a minute. It felt wonderful. I felt all my serious concern pop like a bubble.
Whenever I think of this I feel very good inside.
A friend of mine, Willie Smollak, told me that early one morning in San Francisco he happened to see Suzuki and Katagiri walking together. It was still dark. He said they came to a corner and both started off in different directions, then stopped and looked at each other, each one urging the other to go in the direction he was going. Willie said they argued for a moment, then burst into laughter and went off in the same direction.
I want to stop here, for now, and write you again later about other things I recall from those days, which I will do soon. I hope these things are useful to you. I am telling you what I remember as best I can recall. It probably isn't 100 per cent accurate, but what is?
I've been meaning to tell you what my friend Ron said to me about your books. He reads a great deal, in particular biographies and autobiographies. He was at Tassajara (he stayed longer than I did) and later sat sesshin in San Francisco, and remembers Suzuki-roshi well. Anyway, he had a great deal of praise for "Crooked Cucumber", both because of his memories of Suzuki and his familiarity with biographies. He thought the book was very well done, and liked that you didn't just relate complimentary stories about Roshi but showed all sides, made him more human and approachable. He commented on the amount of time and energy you must have put into interviewing people and reading archives. He also liked your style in "Thank You And Okay" and the way you juxtaposed the journal entries. He thought it was a very sweet book and commented that he bet you didn't have a mean bone in your body. I pass this along for whatever it's worth because I think authors should know what their readers think and feel about what they write, and because the compliments are sincere and you deserve to hear them.
I hope that life is going well for you and your family. I am enjoying a little leisure time this week. Today is the first day that the temperature here has reached a hundred degrees. This has been a much milder summer than last year, when we had 27 straight days in June and July when the temperature was 100 or higher. This year we had the F5 tornado, but, to paraphrase the saying, it's an ill wind that blows no good. I don't mean to be too facetious. It's literally true, as the disaster brought a lot of people here closer together, as such things will do.
The first time I went to Tassajara, in July of 1966. A brief preface: I had lived with a Japanese girl in Japan in 1961 and '62, when I was in the army. She was several years older than I was and a very sweet, if street-smart girl. Tough and resilient. She took very good care of me, a young G. I., and I learned a lot from her. Anyway, she became a Buddhist while we were living together and this made an impression on me.
When I returned to the States my mother, out of the blue, gave me a copy of Alan Watts's book, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen". I ended up writing a letter to Alan in1965 or '66, asking if there were any genuine Zen teachers in America. He answered me through his secretary, telling me that he knew Suzuki-roshi and had a great deal of respect for him. I got in touch with SFZC shortly after that and ended up going to a benefit that Charles Brooks and Charlotte Selvers were having for Zen Center in San Francisco. I met Suzuki there and was bemused by him, enchanted, I might have said then. I felt drawn to him, though I couldn't have said why. I asked him a question that weekend about Zen practice, philosophy, the meaning of life. I don't remember the question very well, but I remember his answer. He said, "There is no end to that kind of trip." He told me to sit zazen. I was impressed by how he listened to my question and then answered it straight forwardly and seriously. He was quite sincere. This led to me going to Tassajara several months later.
Katagiri told me once, "When you meet somebody who knows more about you than you know about yourself, that person is your teacher and you have to follow him." This was the feeling I had about Suzuki-roshi, and Katagiri.
When I went to Tassajara that summer it was hot and dusty and flies were everywhere. The kitchen was under construction and we washed dishes outside behind the zendo. I remember washing dishes better than most things about that summer. I was given a pair of rubber gloves to wear, big thick awkward things, and I dropped and broke one of the "buddha bowls" that we ate rice out of. I was told by another student that these bowls were the same as the skull of Buddha and that I should handle it with the same care, etc. I immediately broke another one in the hot, sudsy water.
I didn't like the chanting and bowing and religious ritual in the zendo, and my knees hurt like hell when i sat zazen. I complained about the pain in my knee that I had had surgery on and someone told me about another student who had injured his legs in a motorcycle accident and still sat like a buddha, etc. All this did was piss me off. I didn't care what somebody else had done. MY knees hurt, damn it. I wasn't a very good monk. I didn't like anything very much, particularly getting up several cracks before dawn to sneak up on the zendo and sit in agony for a couple of hours and then chant gibberish. I wanted enlightenment, and Tassajara seemed pretty far removed from my idea of enlightenment.
My friend Ron and I would slip away to his car when we could, to smoke cigarettes and play Beatles tapes on the stereo, laughing and singing together. We were the Laurel and Hardy of Tassajara. We made fools of ourselves at the hot springs, did inappropriate things, such as bathing in roshi's private bath, and in our own minds, or at least in mine stuck out like sore thumbs. We pictured ourselves as Zen madmen, and we were half right. I felt that I was a kind of teenage Jerry Lewis bumbling my way through the monastery.
I liked Tassajara creek, though. I loved to hear it burbling and gurgling in the background, through zazen and work and the dense, dark nights. And I liked Suzuki-roshi. I asked him a question about life and death one night after a dharma talk he gave. He understood my heart. He looked at me and said, "You will always exist in the universe in some form." My fear of death, for that moment, just popped like a bubble. Roshi seemed to know what I was trying to ask, but couldn't, and he answered that unspoken question. His answers cut through my uncertainty and confusion.
Despite my surly attitude about some things, I recognized that there was a brotherhood there at Tassajara, a sisterhood. We were all part of the same thing, sweeping the floor, carrying rocks, building walls, washing dishes, sitting zazen. I liked to watch Roshi and the students building the stone walls for the kitchen. Suzuki seemed to move effortlessly, easily, lifting large rocks and placing them on the wall. The rocks always fit perfectly wherever he put them. I couldn't understand it. How did he know where to put them? Why didn't I know where things went, why wasn't my life effortless and simple, as his seemed to be? It was a mystery.
I couldn't get the hang of eating with oryoki. I was clumsy and slow. I kept dropping things during meals in the zendo, or ending up with a misshapen oryoki bundle that looked as if it had been wrapped and tied by a demented four year old. Roshi asked another student and myself to come to his cabin for instruction in oryoki. I knew it was because we were holding up the zendo meals.
The other student was a woman in her 50s or 60s. She had silver hair, wore purple robes, and was very concerned that she do things right. She was upset that she couldn't handle oryoki very well. When we were in Suzuki's cabin she became distraught and said, "Oh, roshi, you've got to teach me how to use the oryoki! What will I tell my friends if I don't learn how? What will they think?" She was very embarrassed. I was surprised that she cared so much. Suzuki smiled at her and said, "I'm not teaching you to use oryoki. I'm teaching you how to eat." This was so funny, so warm and direct, that I forgot my self-consciousness. Roshi showed us how to eat.
A couple of weeks later I decided to leave Tassajara. I went to see Roshi and told him that I didn't think I could stay there. I'm not sure he understood what I was saying. I wasn't very direct. Instead of saying, "I want to leave," I kept saying, "I don't think I can stay." He said, "I think you can stay." I wanted him to say something to make everything okay, something that would either make it okay for me to stay or okay for me to leave. Two days later I caught a ride back to San Francisco. I thought I was leaving roshi and the sangha forever. I didn't know it was only the beginning of practice.
In February of 1969 I began driving from Oklahoma to SFZC once or twice a year to sit sesshin. At one of the sesshins., I think in 1970, Katagiri was there. We had all been admonished to be as quiet as possible during sesshin, no talking or other unnecessary noise, especially in the zendo. We were eating some of our meals on cafeteria style plastic trays. There were about 125 people there, as I recall, so we all had to make a real effort to keep the noise down and we were very conscientious about it. One morning we received hardboiled eggs for breakfast, one each, and of course the eggs rolled around noisily on the trays at the slightest movement. At one point there was a collective pause as we all pondered the eggs with the same thought: How do we break them open without making any noise? Cracking them against the trays was obviously out-of-the-question. We looked around at one another to see how others were dealing with the hardboiled problem. At that moment Katagiri picked up his egg, held it poised above his head for a moment, then cracked it against his forehead and peeled it. A group sigh of relief went around the zendo and we all laughed (quietly) and followed his example. There were hollow thwocks as 125 people smote themselves with eggs. I like to think of this as Katagiri's egg-teaching.
This may have been the same sesshin when you and I were walking down the street in front of the zendo during work period (we may have been sweeping the sidewalk) and passed a gentleman whom you spoke to, smiling and saying hello. He went past us with a great stone face, never acknowledging our presence. You glanced at me and said, "Do you think we should tell him there's no talking during sesshin?" I was in need of comic relief and this cracked me up.
At another sesshin in 1970 or '71 I was cleaning one of the upstairs bathrooms in Zen Center with a couple of other guys. In those days we were sitting five day sesshins. and this was the fourth day. I mentioned that I was glad there was only one more day to go. The other two guys looked at one another and then back at me. "Should we tell him?" one asked. "Yeah," said the other. "We've got to." There was a dramatic pause and then one of them said, "This is a seven day sesshin." That put a kink in the illicit conversation. I sat there in shock for a moment, knowing it had to be true. No Zen student would have said anything so traumatizing to another student if it wasn't true. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This was my first seven day sesshin. I'm glad I didn't find out until the fourth day.
At one of these early sesshins., probably the first one I sat, in 1969, I had dokusan with Suzuki-roshi. I really had very little idea of what I was doing. Someone gave me instructions on how to enter the room, bow to Roshi, and so on. I did all this according to form and then sat up straight on my zafu and waited to see what was going to happen. Would he ask me Zen questions, hit me with his stick, magically enlighten me? He looked me over carefully and said, "Where are you from?" I told him I was from Oklahoma and he asked me where Oklahoma was, how long it took me to drive to San Francisco, etc. We had a nice chat about Oklahoma and then he gave me some instructions about sitting zazen and my first dokusan was over. I felt quite good about it. Every time I ever talked to Roshi I came away feeling lighter, easier and freer. I was absolutely "in love" with the man, though I couldn't have said why.
I found out later- years later- that my manner, silence, etc., was in the manner of a monk who is testing his master, and that Roshi's question, "Where are you from?", was a type of testing question, to see how the student will respond. I can't be sure if this is what Suzuki was doing but I'm sure, if it was, that he very quickly understood that I was just a naive, new student from the sticks and didn't know what I was doing. Not that he would have cared. For me it was all quite a new thing and I couldn't get enough of it.
At a later sesshin in the 1970s (after I had moved to California) some of us were sleeping in the buddha hall upstairs from the zendo. I heard the wake-up bell and rolled out of my bedding and headed for the zendo, to be met by some disgruntled students coming back up the stairs. "False alarm," they said. "It's an hour too early. Go back to bed." I staggered blearily back to bed and had just gotten back to sleep when the bell rang again and I got up, stashed my bedroll, and went to the zendo. Suzuki was sitting on the platform at the front of the zendo and he was mad as hell. Once we were all assembled he tore into us. "If you think there is such a time as 4:30 in the morning," he roared, "your minds are all wrong! When someone makes a mistake you just say, 'Oh, you made a mistake," and that is all. You don't accuse them." He was biting off each word as though they were bullets he was spitting at us. When he had finished his brief diatribe he got up and came around the zendo with the kyosaku, giving each one of us two blows. He was hitting pretty hard, especially at the beginning, and the sound of the blows was really ringing out. By the time he got to me I was scared half-to-death. I knew he wouldn't hurt me but I was almost trembling. I couldn't shake the fear. When Roshi got to me he paused and then gave me two soft taps with his stick. I was very grateful and relieved that I hadn't been the recipient of his earlier blows. After me he didn't hit as hard anymore, it sounded like. Today I would be grateful to receive any whack he had to deal out.
I meant to mention in my earlier e-mail, yesterday, that one of the first people I met- at the Selvers and Brooks benefit for SFZC- was Yvonne Rand. She gave me zazen instructions and was very helpful and encouraging. I had been sitting with my back against a wall at home, with a pillow supporting my lower back. She told me to do zazen without the support of the pillow or the wall, if I could. After that I managed a fairly decent half-lotus for years.
Hello David. Glad to know the stories I'm sending are what you're looking for. After two months or so of not having easy access to the Internet, I checked out your web site yesterday and spent a good half hour or so reading it. Thanks so much for providing this service. I was very interested in comments from others. One of the topics that particularly interested me was the discussion about Zen and psychology. Though I no longer practice, I have a master's degree in psychology and the subject interests me. I tend to agree with Dan Kaplan's observation that psychology is unimportant in terms of Zen practice. It took me awhile to realize that Zen is not therapy, even though in some circumstances it can be therapeutic. I remember a comment that Richard Baker made at Tassajara in 1976 or so, that we (Zen students) came to dokusan like somebody taking their car to a garage. "You come driving in in your Lotuses," he joked, "and say 'Fix me'." A nice analogy.
The method of dealing with those of us who had psychological problems, as I recall, was to give the spaced-out people more work and less zazen, overall. There was a tendency, at least at one time (during the late '60s and the '70s), to discourage therapy and avoid psychology as a useful discipline, though I don't believe it was very successful. I recall Richard Baker encouraging me at one point to see Peter Rutter, a Jungian psychiatrist in San Francisco, when I was having some difficulty dealing with my problems. (I did and it helped)
There was a lot of tolerance for people with psychological problems. I remember Ed Brown very patiently dealing with an overwrought young man who came to zazen once and was going through an extreme head trip about Zen practice. They were standing in the hallway just outside the SFZC zendo and I was sitting on a nearby zafu in the hall. I didn't hear the beginning of the conversation, but the kid was obviously very confused and in a world of his own, attaching extreme significance to the slightest thing that Ed said. He kept saying, "Oh, I see what you're saying! You mean that . . . " And off he would go on a confused line of thought about enlightenment, etc. Ed would say, "No, I'm not saying that. I just mean that . . . ." And he would say something very practical and down to earth. The guy would take it like a bass hitting a lure and off he would go. This must have gone on for 15 or 20 minutes. I was really impressed with Ed's gentleness and simplicity. I don't think he ever got through to the guy, though. It was painful to listen to the poor fellow. He couldn't take Ed's words at face value.
The tolerance for people's psych problems had its limits though. When someone became violent, started hitting, for example, they would be asked not to come around anymore. No doubt Zen, like any other spiritual discipline, attracts its share of crazies, and zazen isn't a cure-all, though some of us used to think it was. Schizophrenics, in particular, seem to have a very difficult time with practice. One group of Buddhists that did seem to have a fair amount of success in dealing with mentally disturbed folks was Trungpa's group in Boulder. Two of the serious students involved in this were friends of mine, Jeff Fortuna and Ed Podval, a psychiatrist. They had a method for working with disturbed people and set up a community where the patients lived in a group setting with more stable, "normal" students and were gradually integrated into the larger community of students when they showed enough improvement for this to be possible. Ed wrote a book about this community and the treatment, but I don't remember the title right now.
As I recall, Richard Baker said once that Suzuki-roshi felt it was important to find some way to help mentally disturbed people, though what his approach may have been, I don't know. I remember calling Ed Brown on the phone once when I was having a difficult time emotionally. This was in Mill Valley in 1975. I said, "Ed, I feel like the bottom is falling out from under me and I can't hold on!" He laughed and said, "Well, fall down with it. That's okay. Just go on with what you're doing. You can wash dishes or sweep the floor while you're feeling that way. It won't hurt anything." I found this comforting. He was right. I washed dishes and swept the floor and the world didn't go away. But it's true that if students can't deal with their own demons, the teachers and sangha probably can't either. I think all we can do is give these folks support and encouragement, give them time to deal with things, and if they can't then they need to be referred to psychiatric help and to communities such as the one Jeff and Ed had going in Boulder in the 1980s. (I don't know if it's still in existence. Do you?)
It seems to me to be particularly useful to disturbed students if they can find psychiatrists or therapists like Dan or Ed Podval or Peter Rutter, who have ties to the Buddhist community and an understanding of practice. Compassionate understanding may not be a panacea for all ills, but it can go a long way towards healing when coupled with skillful means. It sounds to me like E. L. Hazelwood was at least as well off in the Zen community as he would have been at most other places. There is one rather obvious caution, though, and that is that people who need medication to function, as those with bipolar disorder and some schizophrenics evidently do, really need to be diagnosed and medicated.
It's getting seriously hot and humid here, David. Makes me long for that gentle northern California climate. People who have a choice probably don't spend much of July and August in Oklahoma (or Texas). As a friend of mine says, You should never make an important life decision during the summer heat: Wait until it cools off and your brain isn't melting.
[In 1971, Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche discussed at length the need for a Buddhist-based approach to therapy for such people. Shortly after Roshi's death, Rinpoche instituted the first of the Maitri Therapeutic Communities. Later that work was furthered at the Naropa Institute's psychology department and today continues in various forms by Naropa-trained therapists in the Americas and in Europe.--DC]
I'm still enjoying the web site, reading comments from readers, the errata, etc. I get a warm fuzzy when I run across the names of people I knew at ZC and elsewhere 20 or more years ago. Do I sound like an old codger or what? Writing to you has gotten me back in the habit of my own writing, so I have been busy.
I still keep remembering things abut Katagiri. At either the first or second sesshin I attended at SFZC, in February or August of 1969, I think, Katagiri was there with Suzuki. We went upstairs from the zendo for a lecture. As I recall, we went to a room on the second floor, rather than to the Buddha Hall. Suzuki told us that he had something he needed to do and that Katagiri was going to give the dharma talk. We looked at Katagiri and to all appearances he was asleep. He opened his eyes when he realized that his name had been mentioned and he was being asked to do something. He grinned and told us that he had been asleep and hadn't heard everything Suzuki had said. Suzuki-roshi was obviously getting a big kick out of this, smiling from ear to ear.
Anyway, Roshi left and Katagiri gave a talk. I don't remember all of it, but I do recall that he talked about a haiku by Basho, the one in which Basho notices a flower growing by a hedge. The haiku says, If I look carefully, I see the nazuna (?) flower growing by the hedge. Katagiri talked about suchness, and about mindfulness in relation to Zen practice. I was struck by the easy and cordial relationship between Suzuki and Katagiri, how they enjoyed each other and how they seemed to enjoy everything around them. (I would love to read this lecture today, if any record was made of it)
I remember a story about Katagiri at Tassajara. It was mealtime and Katagiri was heading for the zendo to eat when someone stopped him and asked him if he didn't want to go to the dining room where the guests ate (this must have happened in the summer) and eat with them, as the food was really good. (better than the good but simple fare that we ate in the zendo) Katagiri shook his head and said "I don't want special food!" He ate in the zendo. I'm not sure, but I think Dan Kaplan told me this story. (this was circa 1976)
The last time I talked with Katagiri, except for a Dogen class, he asked me if I lived in the Zen Center building. (in San Francisco) I told him that I lived a couple of blocks away in an apartment with some other Zen students. He said that it was important to have some experience of living together with other members of the sangha. He said that students were like blocks of stone, with sharp corners, and that when we lived communally we knocked around together and our sharp edges were worn down, smoothed and rounded.
Memories about the sangha, our friends and teachers, keep floating up from time to time. I'll send them on to you as they do, when I think it's something that might be of any interest to others. I'm so glad that you are collecting these stories, David. I've thought about this for a long time and wished that someone would do it. I look forward to reading the stories that other students have to tell. Thanks for all your effort and hard work. It makes me wish I lived in northern California again and could be of more use in helping the archives grow. If there's any way I can assist, please let me know.
Hi David, this is Frank Anderton. The following is a letter that I wrote to you on Feb. 22, 1999, after reading your biography of Suzuki-roshi. I don't have your address so I am hoping it will reach you by e-mail:
I just finished reading 'Crooked Cucumber' (it's 12:43 a.m.) and I am writing to thank you and to express my gratitude for the work you've done so simply and so well with your informal style and unconventional narration.
I've always been grateful for the time I was able to spend with Suzuki-roshi, and have regretted not having gone to Zen Center earlier than I did, and not having stayed there longer. Now I feel that I've had a brief walk with our old teacher again and savored something of what his life was like. I find it difficult to express what this book means to me. I feel refreshed, as though my practice is re-energized. Thank you so much for your effort.
I remember you and your sense of humor quite well. I often found Zen practice at San Francisco, and especially at Tassajara, overwhelming and intimidating, relentlessly formal at times, and you provided me with occasional and timely relief, perhaps unknowingly, with your comments and jokes during a work period in sesshin in 1970 or '71, and one night in the SFZC dining room after a meal, giving a hilarious monologue about sex and Zen Center women that still makes me laugh when I remember it.
You also helped calm my fears once during a difficult period for me. I was working in the garden at Green Gulch and you were kind enough to talk to me briefly and modestly about my fears of death and dying. You told me I had undoubtedly lived and died millions of times. It was strangely reassuring somehow.
Anyway, thank you for the wonderful biography of our friend and teacher, for showing his basic 'humanness', if that's a word.
I was somewhat surprised to see my name at the book of the book. I don't recall contributing anything to your endeavors, but if I did, I'm glad. Seeing my name made me feel a part of things in the sangha, which I am, and it reminded me how interconnected all things really are. [It's there because Frank had written about his memories of Suzuki Roshi to SFZC years earlier and his letter was in the ZC archives.--DC]
For some reason, perhaps my lack of confidence, I often felt like I didn't fit in at Zen Center. At Tassajara I used to see a movie in my mind, starring a young Jerry Lewis as me, as a would-be monk trying to follow monastic practice. Crashing through shoji screens, stumbling while serving food at meals, falling into the altar, etc. The only person who made me feel that he accepted me just as I was, was Suzuki-roshi. He had that quality of accepting things just as they were, and you show that very well in your writing. He seemed to me to be completely at ease in any circumstance.
I've recently completed a novel, the second of three that I hope to write, which is to no small extent a reflection of my years as a Zen student. Although my book is fiction, reading your biography of Roshi is encouraging to me and I have hopes of seeing my novel published one day, and hope that I haven't misrepresented Zen practice too badly.
Anyway, I've strayed from the point of this letter, which is to tell you how much I enjoyed your book and to thank you for writing it. I hope you will continue to write. I am reading 'Thank You And Okay!' now. I spent 25 months in Japan when I was in the military so I have some small basis of comparison between your experiences and mine. Very interesting.
I wish you all the best, David. It was wonderful to revisit old friends and places.
gassho, Frank Anderton --
I'm back in grad school because I don't have the temperament to be a courtroom lawyer. I'm not aggressive enough, or when I am I feel mean-spirited. With a master's in Library Information Science I can use my law degree and do something that is much less stressful and more interesting. I also wasn't making a living. Too many lawyers. 400 in my county alone, not to mention Okla. County.
I recently gave a class presentation on obscenity, censorship, and the First Amendment for one of my professors, which I enjoyed doing. He tells me I should teach a class at OU on libraries and the law after I graduate. This really interests me. I am presently working in the law library at the state capitol at the reference desk, 20 hours a week as an intern. I like it so far, really like the people here. It's a temporary job, at least for now, but something I enjoy doing and feel useful at.
In the meantime I'm poor but relatively content. Interesting to be a student at my age (59). Most of the grad students seem to be 30 or older. Most of them women, 3 or 4 men in each class so far. We stick together, but I enjoy being around the ladies, too.
I don't, right now, have much time for writing, but I have found an agency in Missouri that looks promising and will be sending them my manuscript this weekend. I put some selections of my writing on my web site <http://students.ou.edu/A/Frank.A.Anderton-1/> and some translations I did of Russian poetry and a short story by Chekhov.
[Below is the letter Frank wrote to the SFZC in 72 or so with memories of Suzuki Roshi. There's overlap with what's above.--DC]
I first met Shunryu Suzuki in July of 1968. A friend of mine kept reading me koans, which I couldn't understand, but found irresistible. I wrote to Alan Watts, asking if there were any Zen teachers in the United States, and he responded by recommending Suzuki-roshi, so I came to San Francisco to attend a weekend benefit for the Zen Center, given by Charles Brooks and Charlotte Selvers. I was going to see a real live Zen Master, and I didn't know what to expect. I found a small, kind Japanese who had a real aura about him-- an aura of life and vitality. Yvonne Rand taught me how to sit zazen, and I heard the Roshi talk about practice. I asked him a question, which I don't remember now, and he looked at me quite seriously and said, "That kind of search has no end; it can go on forever." His words penetrated me, and I began to realize how I was struggling to gain something. I returned to Oklahoma after the weekend benefit, and began sitting. I wrote to Zen Center and asked to be allowed to go to Tassajara for summer practice that year. There I met Roshi again. I had trouble eating oryoki style and was very clumsy and slow in the zendo, so I was summoned to Roshi's cabin one afternoon, along with another slow learner, to receive instruction. The other student there was an elderly woman in purple robes who was very upset because she couldn't use the oryoki properly. She expressed dismay that she wouldn't be able to demonstrate it to her friends when she returned home. Suzuki-roshi was very kind and patient. He patted her on the shoulder and told her not to worry about what her friends might think. He said to us, "I am not teaching you oryoki, I am going to teach you how to eat!" and laughed. The friend who had turned me on to Zen by reading koans was also at Tassajara that summer, and one evening after lecture he brought up his favorite koan, Joshu's "Mu", and asked Roshi if a dog had Buddha nature. Roshi said, "yes," very simply, and the whole snarled tangle of how to solve it seemed to dissolve. Everyone laughed with enjoyment at his easy manner.
The last time I saw Suzuki-roshi was in February of 1971. I drove out from Oklahoma for sesshin and had a long lonely ride, part of the way through a snowstorm, which delayed me for a day. I experienced a lot of fear and loneliness during the trip out, and was feeling very uncertain about myself and my practice. I had dokusan interview with the Roshi during sesshin and at one point, prompted by something he said, I asked him if Big Mind was lost in the dark too, as I felt I was. He said, "No, not lost in the dark- working in the dark!" and he moved his arms about, demonstrating. He said it was like the many-armed statue of Avalokiteshvara, and he made the statue come to life for a moment. I had the sense of a thousand arms moving gracefully, harmoniously, not needing to see. Before the interview ended, Roshi said to me, "you are very sincere," which I felt was quite true, and I immediately broke into the most insincere, foolish smile imaginable. I felt it burning on my face. I felt ashamed and looked at Roshi, knowing he had seen me, and he sat calmly staring back at me and said nothing, accepting me completely as I was. I had come to sesshin planning to stay at Zen Center for a while to study and practice, but I was unable to overcome my loneliness and fear at leaving behind me everything that was familiar and comforting, so I returned to my past life in Oklahoma. In the last lecture of sesshin Roshi closed by saying that there was so much he wanted to share with us all, things that he wanted to tell us that were important. He said it simply, as a statement of something that he felt, whether it were possible or not. I received the strong impression that time was precious and should not be wasted. I felt as if he were looking directly at me. I left the next day. I feel a strong sense of gratitude that for even a short while I knew this remarkable man, who touched my life as so few, if any others, have ever done. His directness, simplicity, and humor, his kindness and encouragement, are unforgettable. It is impossible for me to think of Suzuki-roshi as dead. He is very much alive to me. To me his spirit is the spirit of zazen, and goes beyond our understanding. I remember him saying at Tassajara, in answer to a student's question, "I think that when I die I would like to be a mountain - but I am not so attached to my desires." I think of a beautiful mountain, sitting zazen oh so quietly.January 9, 2000--from Frank Anderton
Hi David. I got a letter a couple of days ago from my old dharma friend Jeff Fortuna, a onetime SFZC student and a longtime student of Trungpa. He tells me that he and Ed Podvoll are reprinting "The Seduction of Madness" this year, along with some new material that Ed has added on depression, focused on the parable of Sylvia Plath. Jeff did a lot of work on this book with Ed. You may recall that I mentioned them in an earlier letter, although I misspelled Podvoll, I think, and couldn't remember the name of the book. Anyway, it's good news that the book will once again be available in bookstores.
Jeff tells me that he and his wife Molly are continuing their work with Windhorse home-care of persons recovering from psychosis. This is the program that I alluded to in my earlier letter. Glad to know that the work continues. Jeff and Molly are in Amherst, Massachusetts now.
I am slowly reading my way through the Interviews with old students and friends of Suzuki's. I've read Kathy Cook's and Mel's accounts, and a couple of others. I can't tell you how good it is to be able to read these interviews. It brings Suzuki-roshi alive in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. Every story and bit of information is ambrosia (as the meal chant says, sort of). It is really useful to me to read about other people's hard times and good times at Tassajara and elsewhere. Not only am I not the only one who had difficulties, but some folks evidently had much more difficult times than I ever did. It is amazing, and very uplifting, to know that they persevered and came through it. The good times, too, are quite wonderful and encouraging, but there's something about suffering shared that we can all identify with. The tough stuff pulls us together. Thanks for making it possible for us to share all this.
Reading these interviews made me think not only about Zen practice, but pre-practice, or pre-Zen, the antecedents that lead us to practice. I recall things that happened when I was a soldier in Japan that seem connected to my later coming to Zen practice. One of them happened when I was stationed in southern Japan, on Kyushu, near Fukuoka. I was in the Army Security Agency at that time (early 1960's) and one day I was pulled off my usual job and told to guard a Japanese man who was doing some grounds care outside the operations building, which was a highly classified area. Japanese were referred to as "indigenous personnel" and were not permitted inside the operations area. I was instructed to shoot the guy if he attempted to enter the restricted area. I had an automatic carbine and a magazine of ammo and I took my duty very seriously. I watched the man intently while he worked, never taking my eyes away from him. I didn't expect any trouble, of course. What harm could he have done? But I was a young soldier and impressed with a sense of duty, and no doubt felt macho as well. I watched his every movement while he was there, about an hour.
When the work was done I escorted him to the exit and watched him pass through the guard gate. When he was outside the restricted area he turned, stood up straight for a moment, and then gasshoed to me quite solemnly. He was an older man, dressed in work clothes, and I noticed his face for the first time. He looked at me intently for a moment. His bow really cut through me. I gave a half nod, half bow, almost involuntarily. I felt both shame and pride. My face was burning. It was a big moment for me, in retrospect. I was ashamed that I had held a gun on another human being, and proud that he had noticed my attention, as though another warrior had acknowledged my alertness, my spirit. The irony was not lost on me. This happened when the war with Japan had been over for only fifteen years. I have never forgotten it.
I was living in Saitozaki at this time, a small fishing village. I lived with a Japanese woman named Keiko, who called herself "Doris". It was of course officially illegal for soldiers without dependents to live off base, but about a third or a fourth of us did. The army had its own don't-ask, don't-tell policy on this. Early one morning I got up to catch the bus back to base. I went out onto the dusty dirt road and saw a neighbor of ours in the courtyard across the way. He was a short, stocky man in his thirties or forties, with a mustache and a fierce expression. Although it was winter and rather cold, cold enough that I was wearing a field jacket, he was completely naked. He was standing in front of the communal well. He bent over and scooped up water in his hands and splashed it on his face and neck several times, then stood upright for a moment, an expression of complete concentration on his face. I was really struck by this. I felt a keen admiration for the man! . I described this to Keiko when I went home that evening. She smiled at me and said proudly, "Good, honey, ne? He is samurai!" I didn't fully understand the meaning of this word at the time, but I knew what she meant. (Keiko was quite literally descended from Samurai; she told me how she and her mother and sisters hid while her father, an Imperial Army officer, looked for them with a sword, intending to kill them and commit seppuku, after Japan's surrender)
Keiko also taught me how to take a bath properly, how to eat, and the value of money. The exchange rate at that time was 360 yen to the dollar. I made a remark one day, during a conversation with her about some coins I had lost, that it was "only ten yen." She looked at me sharply and said, "Sure, big shot G.I.! Only ten yen. Listen, honey, you gotta understand something: ten yen makes the difference whether you walk back to base [two or three miles] or ride the bus."
I don't know how these events are related to my later going to Zen Center, Tassajara, and so on, but I feel that they are. Karmic, maybe. A nudge towards the path of Zen. At any rate, for us in America, Japanese culture and Zen practice are inextricably related, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I feel the utmost gratitude and respect not only for my Japanese teachers in America, but for the Japanese I knew in Japan and the experiences I had there. I imagine many of us feel a connection to events that we may not have understood at the time, or even now, for that matter, but which in some way led us to Roshi and Zen Center. I am especially grateful to Keiko, daughter of a samurai and child of the streets, who took such good care of me and taught me so much when I was a young man away from home for the first time and in a foreign country, where I might have been hated but was instead loved and nurtured. There's a line from the Zenrin Kushu: "In the spring beyond time! the withered tree blossoms." When the seeds are ripe and the conditions proper, the seeds sprout and bloom.
I have remembered one or two other things regarding Katagiri and Suzuki that might be of interest, and will write these down in a day or so and send them on to you. I've sent my novel to an agency in Missouri and am waiting for a response. How is your writing going? By the way, I've got the bugs out of my web site, and all the links seem to be working. I need to make a few cosmetic changes, but otherwise I think it's okay. I'll probably change the material from time to time.
My web site is called Cold Mountain Archives. The URL is http://students.ou.edu/A/Frank.A.Anderton-1/. If you have any suggestions for improving it, feel free to offer them.
I'll be writing you again soon. I think Ron Phelps, another dharma buddy, is going to write down some of his remembrances of Suzuki and early days at Zen Center. I'll send them on when he does.
1/22/2000 - posted also in Letters to ZC
David, sorry to hear you've had the flu. Hope you're much better. I've been suddenly caught up in classes once again, just now getting back to the continuation of my last letter, more about Suzuki and Katagiri.
Suzuki was at once a very engaging person, warm and friendly, and very unprepossessing. He didn't try to impress, but he could be very striking. I remember different robes he wore in the zendo, combinations of gray or brown outer robes with under-robes of light blue or green that were very natural, soft colors and quite beautiful. I remember he walking past me in the zendo during session, graceful and natural, and how subtle and beautiful his robes were at times.
There was a session in August of 1970 or '71 when Suzuki was giving a lecture. A car outside kept blowing its horn sporadically. Roshi would pause, the horn would honk, he would continue talking after it stopped, then pause and the horn would honk again. Then he would continue talking. This happened several times, as if scripted. It seemed so natural that I didn't realize at first why the other students were laughing.
It may have been this same session when the woman in charge of the tape-recorder during Roshi's dharma-talk set up the recorder and pointed the microphone towards him. Suzuki reached out and turned the microphone towards us, set back and looked at us. He raised his eyebrows mischievously and laughed after a moment, then turned the microphone back towards himself. I remember him telling us, during one of these talks, that some of us wanted to be Zen masters, and that this was very foolish. He said, "I wish I was like you, just starting out." He said that maybe we thought we were green apples hanging on a tree, waiting to ripen so that we could be buddhas. "But I think you are all already ripe," he said, "perfect buddhas now, ready to be picked." (or words to that effect) One morning he told us, "I think that if anyone can be buddha, I can be buddha, but I think that not even I can be buddha." A week or two later he said, "I am completely buddha, through and through." He always kept me wondering, filled with wonder, but sometimes he was blunt, even tough. Before one session we all met in the SFZC dining room and were given the rules for session by Roshi and a couple of the longtime students at Zen center. "I know that some of you disagree with this," he said at one point, "maybe you don't like the rules ... don't want to have rules. But rules are necessary, and we have them because we know that we are right and you are wrong." I didn't like being told this and felt a strong resistance to his words, but I grudgingly knew that he was right.
There was a book out during the 1970's by a man named Chan (I think) on the Transmission of the Lamp. I don't recall its exact title. I read it and liked it, later went to a talk by the author that he gave in the Zen center dining room. He mentioned the German philosopher Martin Heidegger at one point, whom he had met and talked with. I had studied Heidegger in college and was impressed with this. After the talk I went up to him and asked him about Heidegger, what he was like, and so on. I was in awe, I guess. He looked at me very sternly, very fiercely it seemed, and said, "No. I can't give you what you want. I have nothing for you." It really cut me to the bone. Richard Baker was standing nearby and he looked at me almost pityingly.
Later, I wrote Katagiri a letter, asking a question that this same book had brought out in me. The book had emphasized, if I remember correctly, the importance of having a teacher, how it was necessary and that to practice without one was almost a waste of time. I asked Katagiri what it was that passed between student and master, why it was so important, and how I could find it. He wrote me back in very short order, a direct and straight forward letter written in a strong, clear hand. I'm going by memory, but he said, "Dear Frank Anderton-- Wood buddha can't go through fire, mud buddha can't go through water, clay buddha can't go through the furnace. What kind of buddha are you trying to make? Zen master Dogen says, 'Plain living and thorough work look very dull and ordinary but he who follows them will be called Lord of Lords.' D. Katagiri." I was pierced through and through by his words. It was a good thing for me to hear.
I also remember Katagiri talking about cause-and-effect one day. He held up something, a glass, I think, and tapped it. It gave off a clear ringing sound. "What is it that rings?" he asked. "Do we hear the sound of the glass, the sound of the striker, or the sound of the air vibrating? We don't know. When we hear the sound we just say, 'Wow!' "
Old memories, good memories. I pass them on to you.
I decided the best way to get back into the memory of the question I asked Roshi was to pick it up from the point where I wrote about it to you in my letter, and just add the part that I was vague on. You can edit it in whatever way suits your purpose.
When I returned to the States my mother, out of the blue, gave me a copy of Alan Watts's book, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen". I ended up writing a letter to Alan in1965 or '66, asking if there were any genuine Zen teachers in America. He answered me through his secretary, telling me that he knew Suzuki-roshi and had a great deal of respect for him. I got in touch with SFZC shortly after that and ended up going to a benefit that Charles Brooks and Charlotte Selvers were having for Zen Center in San Francisco. I met Suzuki there and was bemused by him, enchanted, I might have said then. I felt drawn to him, though I couldn't have said why. I was struggling with questions about the meaning, if any, of life and death and I told Roshi that I was engaged in an existential/ philosophical quest. I expressed how absorbing and exciting it was and asked him if I was on the right track. He said, "There is no end to that kind of trip." He told me to sit zazen. I was impressed by how he listened to my question and then answered it straight forwardly and seriously. He was quite sincere. This led to me going to Tassajara several months later.
I also want to add a comment to the story about someone ringing the wake-up bell an hour early during sesshin, when Roshi came to the zendo and beat us all up. I found out years later, when I told this story at Berkeley Zen Center, that the person who had rung the bell early was Mel. As I recall, Mel said that he set the clock wrong and it woke him up an hour early. Not noticing the time, I guess, he jumped up and rang the wake-up bell for us. Someone complained about this and it led to us all getting a couple of whacks with the kyosaku.
I also recall that, during the sesshin that included Katagiri's egg-teaching, he gave a talk one morning. "I think you may be feeling sorry that you came," (this was the third or fourth day) he said, "your legs hurt and you aren't so comfortable, so maybe you are thinking, 'Oh, I want my twenty-five dollars back, I want to leave!' That is okay," he said, smiling. "Go right ahead and think this. But please stay."
This was during the sesshin with maybe 125 students (so I was told). My girlfriend Jean Ann, from Oklahoma, had come out for this sesshin and was sitting on the zafu next to me. Shortly before this we had stopped being a couple, and I had the flu, so it was an interesting sesshin. (by the third day I had miraculously recovered from the flu) Jean Ann broke a small branch of little white flowers from a bush outside the building and brought it in with her, perfuming our zabutons. We got back together after sesshin, and later went to see the Antonioni movie, "Zebreski Point", and there in the movie (on the screen) was a guy with a very long pony tail who had set that sesshin with us. We felt like we were seeing an old friend. I realize, after all these years, that Suzuki-roshi and that sesshin is the thing that most characterized our college romance. We grew up together, a little bit, in sesshin.
During the sesshins at SFZC in the early 1970's the zendo floor was covered with tile, a dark brown with white swirls in it. I used to experience some vivid makyo when I sat without a wall in front of me. There was nothing to see but the floor. I would get pulled into the patterns and see demonic little figures waving and moving about in the white swirls of the tile. I was particularly grateful for the kyosaku during those sesshins, and for Suzuki's lectures, which he sometimes gave twice a day. They had the effect of dousing my face in cool water. I've never been one to see auras, but I often saw an outline of pure light around Roshi's figure when he was giving a talk during sesshin.
Each time I write, I think that I have remembered everything I could possibly remember, but then, like stepping-stones, one memory leads to another and I recall something else, so I'm sure I will be writing you again at some point with stories about Suzuki, Katagiri, Zen center, etc. And then there's the whole area from about 1972 on, which I've scarcely touched.
Take care, David.
P.S. - I just remembered going to a dharma talk that Katagiri gave in the buddha hall one cool, dark evening in San Francisco. About five or ten minutes into the talk a young man came into the hall and sat down on a cushion and listened, looking somewhat ill-at-ease. Near the end of the talk the young man said, "I just want to say something. I've heard a lot of talk this evening, and I've listened to everything you've had to say, but I haven't heard anything about the Bible, and I've haven't heard anything about God, and I've haven't heard anything about Jesus, and you're missing the point without Jesus."
Katagiri listened quietly and soberly. He waited a moment and then said, "Those are good words, interesting words, but you haven't said anything about practice. It's good to have a car. A vehicle. But if you don't have any gas in the car, it won't go. Where is your gas?"
The young man repeated his words about Jesus. "And that's all I've got to say!" he concluded. He jumped up and ran out of the buddha hall. Katagiri smiled while we all sat there quiet as church mice. I didn't consider myself a Christian, but I was very impressed at how much courage, and maybe presumption, it must have taken to come into Zen Center alone and say what he said. He should have stayed.
A 3/31/2000 letter from Frank Anderton
David, thought I would add what little more has come to mind about Roshi and practice. Someone, maybe Dick Baker, once told me that our master is the one who inspires us to practice. For me, this is certainly Suzuki, who for me will always be 'Roshi', though many have and still do continue to inspire me in this regard, certainly including you.
When we were sitting at SFZC in the late '60's and early '70's, our morning chanting was pretty simple. We chanted the Heart Sutra three times in Japanese, bowing nine times to the floor before and after chanting. The hard linoleum floor left an impression on my knees that still lingers. After the pre-breakfast periods of zazen during sesshin there would be four or five periods of zazen in a row in the morning and afternoon, with a break in the middle for either tea and treats or a talk by Suzuki. Sometimes Roshi sat on a zafu and zabuton on the floor, sometimes on the raised area at the front of the zendo. I'm not sure why zazen was more comfortable during lecture, but it always seemed that way. Suzuki radiated calmness and good will, usually, and his talks were the high points of sesshin for me. We all sat and listened, our spirits softened by his presence (unless he was angry), and everything was one thing: the passing traffic on the street outside, people walking by laughing and talking (or, sometimes, screaming). The sound of glass being broken, the siren on an emergency vehicle, someone running, but always against the backdrop of silence that filled the zendo.
Some of the things that Roshi said remain as little sunny spots in the mind. "When you are walking on the street," he said one morning, "and you meet the one you love, you will be happy all day, even though you don't expect to see her." I understood that he was talking about unexpected areas of practice, meeting one's true self.
Once he told us that there was a technique to tuning out the pain in our neck and back and knees, like tuning a radio station in or out, and that we would learn how to do this. "It's not so difficult," he said, "and maybe not so important." "You may not be aware of your own enlightenment," he told us once. "Some of you will have experiences and some of you may not, but if you continue to practice it won't matter so much anyway. It will be almost the same."
We signed up for dokusan during sesshin on a sheet of paper with a stubby little pencil that reminded me of the pencils one uses on a golf course to fill in a scorecard. Then we waited to be summoned. I had other teachers, later, with whom entering the room was like entering the lion's den, but for me entering the dokusan room where Suzuki was, was like going to my granddad's house when I was a little boy: filled with unexpected treasures. I had no particular expectations. Sometimes I would do something so revealing about myself that I would feel embarrassed, but I felt uplifted anyway. Suzuki's acceptance of me was an unparalleled experience in my life. I felt that if he could accept me as I was, I could, too. I signed up for dokusan as many times as I could get away with it during sesshin.
One afternoon, Roshi compared sitting zazen to a frog sitting on a lily pad, (a familiar theme with him) waiting for a fly to come. He did a frog imitation and we all laughed. "The frog, um, doesn't know what will come. He just sits and sees what happens next. Then, whatever happens, he is ready." (more frog-sitting) "We should sit like this."
My knees were hurting so much in sesshin once that I jumped at the chance to get out of the zendo by going with a small group of others to receive zazen instruction from Kobun Chino in the buddha hall. This was an inspired and desperate ploy that only a student sitting sesshin would seize upon: getting out of zazen by going to receive instruction on sitting zazen. This was the first time that I had met Kobun. He had the calmest manner and quietest voice of anyone I had been around. I had to strain to hear what he was saying, and his English at that time wasn't so good. My knees hurt just as much upstairs as they had in the basement, but it was a relief somehow, a break in the routine. Zen students are ingenious at this, like Alan Lew catching flies during tangaryo at Tassajara, then falling asleep and banging his head on the stone wall.
I don't believe I would have lasted as long as I did at Zen center if it hadn't been for the sense of humor that was part of the sangha. One early autumn at Tassajara we had an abundance of peaches that we were cutting up and drying and there was a time factor in getting them sliced and dried before they spoiled. The work leader told us one morning that if each one of us would sit down at some point in the day and slice just ten peaches, that we would get them all done in no time. "Zen students can't count to ten without getting lost," he explained, "and even if you do, you'll just start over with one." It worked.
As usual, David, I feel that my memories of practice and Suzuki must surely be exhausted by now, but as usual, maybe they're not, quite. I hope some of this is useful. ________________________________________________________________
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