Interview with Dwite Brown on his history with ZC, Buddhism and Christianity
Click here for Shunryu Suzuki Photo Archive images
and links to all cuke.com pages on .
Email correspondence between Dwite Brown and DC. Many are dated, some aren’t – just because of how I copied and pasted them. – DC
This photo shows my wife Judith, our son Father Avram and me, Dwite, on
I am reading Crooked Cucumber with great interest. I knew nothing of Suzuki's past when I was at the Zen Center with him, and it is fascinating to me to learn so much about his earlier life in Japan. I think I would find his life story interesting even if I had not known him. You have done a wonderful job of research and writing.
I looked at the pictures first, then skimmed the book eagerly. I am now reading it word for word, and am up to page 49, where we meet Nona Ransom. I taught English in southwest China for a year in 1987, and enjoy reading about Miss Ransom.
The photo of Shunryu and Mitsu Suzuki (Okusan) at a Tassajara wedding reception, 1970, is one that we have had at our house for many years. It is credited in the book to Alan Marlowe, but I always thought it had been taken by my father, Frank Espe Brown, at Ed and Meg's wedding [his brother is Ed Brown]. Frank, who died in 1988, liked to photograph people when they were not aware of it. I will ask Ed what he knows about the photo.
You and I are in the photo of Suzuki Roshi lecturing in 1967. You are the T-shirt to the left of the roshi, and I am the head above his head. I look miserable.
I got your e-mail address from your extensive web site, which I found with a Google search -- hope this reaches you.
Dwight! How great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind comments.
I was just thinking about you recently. Yes, please tell me about the photo - I can't remember why it's credited to Alan - there was a reason but it could still be wrong.
Also, how about a little email correspondence with you? - to get your memories and reflections and what you've done since back then - as much or as little as you wish.
All the best,
I'm glad my letter reached you, and impressed by your fast reply. Yes, we can have an e-mail correspondence. Since I got your letter, I have been working on some reflections about my life for you, that I am now sending.
What I have done since I left Zen Center is in my on-line resume [not there anymore - asked Dwight to send]. To it I would add the following:
-- 1987-88 I took an unpaid leave of absence from Lassen College, and taught English in the city of Guiyang, in southwest China. My wife and two younger sons were there with me.
-- August, 2004 My sons have all made their life commitments, and I can die happy:
Aryae married Elizabeth 1991, they have five children
Avram became a Catholic priest, August 2004
Elijah married Rebecca August 2004, baby expected August 2005
I had put "four children," but Judith wants me to say five children.
The youngest, Lily, was born very prematurely with a heart defect, and died after eight weeks. We were just there last month for the funeral. Father Avram was the priest, and I was cantor. The funeral director said he had never seen anything like it, so many families with children and babies present. He had never felt so much love at a funeral.
Reflections for David:
I have started over too many times. I dropped out of college, then had to go back and finish. I left the Zen Center, and turned to Christianity. I became a priest in the Episcopal Church, but the Episcopalians were not happy with me, nor I with them. I walked out on my congregation, and then had to find a way to make a living. I went back to graduate school for yet another degree. When I got my teaching job at a community college, I stayed with it until I retired. It was ideal for me, with long vacations, flexible hours outside of class, and a chance to take a nap on a cot in my office in the middle of my working day. Besides, I was older and tired of starting over.
I had reasons each time I quit something, but my understanding of why I felt the way I did, improved when I recovered part of a hidden memory in 1989, and the rest of it in 1994. It was very dark, but it is the key to understanding a lot of things in my life: I was molested when I was six. The man who did it lied to the person who had left me in his care, saying I had done something embarrassing. My caregiver believed him and did not ask me for my side of the story. Instead he hit me on the side of the face, a sudden blow like a karate chop.
The effect of the pain and terror, besides making me not remember the incident at all, was that some of the muscles of my face, shoulder, belly and back went into permanent spasm. I could not feel them or use them, and I became slightly crippled for about forty years. The memory of what happened came back to me during the course of treatment by a gifted chiropractor, as one by one the muscles released. I take a pillow with me to church and to events like the symphony, not to sit on, but to lean against, because my back is still weak.
If I look back on the pattern of my life, I can see that I did not believe that men in a position of authority would help me, when I needed help. I was afraid of anger. And I can see that my curiosity about sex was somewhat unusual. But whenever I regret my past choices, turning down invitations to stay in family homes when I was in Japan in 1962, dropping out of college in 1959 and losing my scholarship, leaving the Zen Center, leaving my parish in the Episcopal Church in 1978 -- I am always brought up short by the realization that if my life had been very different, I would not have married Judith, and my sons would not have been born.
I love them very much, and I am very proud of them. Their energy and accomplishments go far beyond anything I could have taught them. I was delighted with the Japanese proverb in your book, "If you love your child, send him on a journey." To imagine that things might have been different in the past, is immediately to wish my sons out of existence. They are here, making their vigorous way in the world, because things were exactly the way they were. It is a great mystery.
It is also an example of Christian redemption. A Catholic priest Judith and I know says, leave the past to God's mercy, the future to God's providence, and live in the present in God's love.
I wrote my life story for the Internet in 2000. A friend of a friend wanted it for his evangelistic web site in the Indonesian language. He was going to translate it. But he did not use it, saying I did not give a reason why I became a Catholic. I thought, "love isn't a reason?" but I did not argue with him. Since I had worked very hard on it, and had written it for the Internet, I put it on my own web site. (My Internet service provider calls them "vanity web sites" -- whatever.)
There is a 1600 word version, and a 10,000 word version, both on my web site [no more]. The rest of the site is a philosophical exercise I wrote to teach myself HTML and web design, and the story of two of my sons riding bicycles from Oregon to Maine in 2001. Since my life story on the web site ends in 2000, I am also attaching my Christmas letter from 2004. I am sending it without the pictures, because I have a slow dialup connection. It is in Word format -- let me know if it is not readable.
I haven't heard from Ed about the photo. I will look and see what I can find around the house.
I'd love to add to it some of your memories of the Zen Center, Shunryu Suzuki, Tassajara and all. If this is okay with you, maybe you could start with how you heard of ZC and how you came and what your first impression was of it and of Suzuki.
And where are you now?
Loved the photos.
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2005
Two sections of the longer version of my life story include memories of Zen Center and of Shunryu Suzuki. They are "A Day in May" and "Easter Even." [no longer online - asked Dwight to send]
Judith and I live in Clear Creek, in Lassen County, California, near Westwood and Lake Almanor.
Okay. Going to the ZC SS stuff now.
OK. I'm reading it now.
Some comments - you met Americans who saved money to go to Japan over and over. That's weird - I went there to make money. I guess the Yen was worth less back then, yes of course it was.
Sokoji is still there, it's just not Sokoji. It went through an expensive refurbishing and is now Kokoro, part of an Asian old folks home. But you're right that it's not there as a temple anymore.
Alright. I've read those two parts. Very interesting. I hadn't found them because I'd searched your site for Suzuki. The next one starts with you already in a seminary. I guess I have to go back to see how you got there. I find it all most interesting.
I have no interest in getting you to relate memories you don't want to. I just collect the oral and written history of the Suzuki days and am interested in hearing whatever you have to say about it. You've said a lot already and if you wish to say no more that's fine and then I'd like to at some point put on www.cuke.com these excerpts with links to your site.
I remember Judy well and it's great to hear you're both still together. Congratulations. I would also be interested in any memories she has of Suzuki, Zen Center and back then.
What you wrote adds a lot of detail and gives a brief story of your passing through and becoming a Catholic. I've got one born again Christian in the archive, Doug Bradle, and one long interview I'm working on with John Palmer who also is born again. Personally, I've always felt closest to Catholics. I find your story therefore unique and interesting and a valuable part of the archive. Anything more you'd wish to add to it I'd be grateful for like any comments on Suzuki or ZC or Tassajara - criticisms or comments on what you thought were the weaknesses are welcome - what you've gotten out of Catholicism that you didn't get from Zen etc. Any funny stories you remember would be good - or sad ones or mad ones.
Dennis Samson is here tonight for dinner and he says he remembers cleaning the zendo at Sokoji with you once when you said you were so mad at Zen (or ZC) that you'd like to throw one of these zafus at the alter. I imagine you don't remember.
I'll keep in mind to check out that photo.
You take care.
It is true I don't remember wanting to throw a zafu at the altar, and therefore do not know if I was mad at Zen or at Zen Center. What is worse, I do not remember Dennis Samson. If I met him, I might think, "I know you from somewhere," as I am bad at names. Recently I asked a retired teacher from the college where I taught twenty years, where I knew him from, and he acted offended.
I do remember leaving a big practice period at Sokoji, yelling or screaming as I went down the stairs. Judith says I was screaming bloody murder. It wasn't words, it was just a cry of anguish. I had been sitting in the overflow section, in the balcony of the big, dark main hall where the movies were shown, because the zendo was full. It was just through the doorway from the hall at the top of the stairs. Sunlight came in through cracks in the wall, and otherwise it was quite dark. Suzuki had torn through the place yelling and hitting everybody. He was in such a hurry that the stick may have glanced off the side of my face, on the way to my shoulder. I understand now that of course I could not bear it, because of my father hitting me there, when I needed his help. At the time I was at Sokoji however, my father hitting me was still a hidden memory, and would be for many years. I only knew as I went down the stairs that my behavior was sincere practice, from the heart.
What I meant about Sokoji not being there any more, is that the last time I was on Bush Street, the building was gone. Oddly though a news story about Jewish history in San Francisco that I read later, made it sound as if it were still there.
Your remarks about what sort of thing to write are encouraging and helpful, and I will write some more for you.
Most interesting and eerie - Suzuki hitting you on the face by accident - I mean after the original sad and creepy story.
Yes, the building is there and it looks the same from the outside. The inside is beautiful though. A Japanese American recently told me that he told them they should add some recognition of it being a Japanese temple and of Suzuki to the old Jewish photos. I hadn't even thought of that. I just thought I'd like to get copies of the old photos.
Speaking of photos, maybe you have some.
I have started writing stories for you. Here is the first installment.
I'd love to add to cuke.com some of your memories of the Zen Center, Shunryu Suzuki, Tassajara and all. If this is okay with you, maybe you could start with how you heard of ZC and how you came and what your first impression was of it and of Suzuki.
I was interested in Zen because of Lloyd Reynolds, a calligrapher who taught at Reed College in Portland. I audited his art history class in 1958. He was a good calligrapher, but he never prepared for his art history class. He showed the same slides of Gothic cathedrals or he talked about Zen, the whole semester. I soaked it up. When I was leaving Reed in March 1959, dropping out, I went to see him. I told him I was going to find the meaning of life, or something -- I don't remember what I told him -- and he was disgusted. He thought I should get an education and get a job. I realized he thought Zen was a sort of hobby that you engaged in, when you didn't prepare for your class.
His influence was great, by the way. Stephen Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computer, spoke at Commencement at Stanford this year (2005), and said he had dropped out of Reed (my buddy!). He designed the Apple to have proportional fonts, because of Lloyd Reynolds.
I also read Paul Reps' Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, and pondered those well-worn koans, like everybody else. I read about the Zen Center in a Wind Bell that a friend had in the bathroom in his apartment in San Francisco. I do not remember who the friend was. The Wind Bell was fascinating, and I planned to visit for one of the zazen periods. I was living in San Rafael with my parents, and I do not remember how I got to Bush Street, whether I borrowed my parents' car or took a bus, or whether it was morning or evening. It was some time in 1964.
I think I stood in the hall at the top of the stairs for a while, wondering what to do, and someone told me to go in and find a cushion and sit on it. I don't remember who it was. My first impression of Suzuki was him sitting. He did not look up to see who came in, so I would have met him later. Of course I was very aware of his presence.
At some point, whether that day or another day, he corrected my hand position.
I had lived in Japan for five months, and my first impression of Suzuki when I met him, was that he was Japanese. He seemed quite normal and authentic to me. He embodied the good manners and courtesy that everyone observed in Japan, but it seemed much deeper. I understood that Zen was at the root of Japanese culture, and I believed that he was really a Zen teacher.
I wanted to sit every day, and in 1964 I moved to a hotel on the corner of Bush and Franklin Streets. By coincidence it was called the Zena Hotel, named I think for the wife in the Mexican family who ran it. I had a room with the bath down the hall, and kitchen privileges. Zena was annoyed with me, because I ran the hot water too much when I washed my dishes. I had to shower before morning zazen, because the bathroom was tied up after.
Later I moved to my own small apartment, and after two months there, was invited to move into a room at 1800 Laguna Street. Ruth Allphin, a dance teacher, lived there, and I forget who the other person was. The three of us shared the top floor, which had a kitchen and bathroom. Suzuki's son Otohiro had an apartment on the ground floor, and later Dainin Katagiri and his wife Tomoe and son Yasuhiko lived in the apartment in the basement. My room was in the front of the house, on the corner of Bush and Laguna, and I loved it. It had high ceilings and a bay window. It also had a small window up high, through which you could see part of one of the towers of 1881 Bush.
After a year or so, I discovered that the stovepipe of the gas heater was blind -- it looked like it vented into the fireplace chimney, but there was no opening. I complained to George Hagiwara, and I think he actually fixed it. Sometime after 2000 I threw out a box of old papers with my canceled checks for rent to George Hagiwara, dated 1967.
I very much liked sitting morning and evening. Later when I became a Christian, I started reading Matins and Vespers, which consist of psalms and scripture. I still do some kind of prayer in the morning and evening. Usually my wife and I go to mass in the morning, and read evening prayer (vespers) and one of the other daily offices at home in the evening. We chant the psalms in English in plainsong (Gregorian chant).
Sitting more than twice a day was hard for me, and Saturday morning was about all I could take. There were two periods of zazen, and a lecture. I can't remember if there was also breakfast and cleaning [yes], or whether that was at a sesshin. Or maybe lecture was on Sunday. I calculated once that I had heard lectures once a week for three years, or 150 lectures, but I can't remember now for sure what the schedule of services was. Maybe I heard 300 lectures.
Sesshin was a nightmare, and I think I sometimes took breaks. My room was handy, just across the street. I think looking back on it, that I became physically exhausted -- I wrote you before that some of the muscles that I would need for sitting, were locked in permanent spasm, and I could not feel them or use them. At the time, I did not know what was wrong.
[Dwite writes about the possible influence on his shaking in zazen. I bring up Ed's shaking which went on for years and suggest a link to their mother's dying when they were infants and their father putting them into an orphanage where they were separated. Ed has talked about this a lot as a source of his own misery. Dwite stays away from commenting about Ed and suggests his own shaking and other physical problems derive more from his father with his "mine field" personality of unpredictable rages.]
The term "mine field" comes from Smalley and Trent, who used to give big seminars on healing childhood hurts. It meant you never knew what would set off an explosion of anger. I never went to a seminar, but I saw a video, and was struck by the description. They said the child of such a parent had trouble with authority, among other things, and had to guess what was normal.
Judith has come back, and it is time for evening prayer. I will write more for you soon.
Terrific. Yes, it's very interesting to me. A lot of people came from Reed – Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Rick Levine. You're pretty early though.
I'm very interested in hearing more and in your Catholic practice. There's a lot on that on the web and I haven't read it all though I've read lots so just give me whatever you want.
Subject: my memory of Tassajara
Here is my memory of Tassajara:
I was not at Tassajara very long, although I think I went there more than once. I remember the long dirt road, and having been over it before. I went to Tassajara for the first training period in 1967. I loved Tassajara, the quiet, the stream, the hot springs, the sound of the wooden fish (the mokugyo). After a week or two, I had a dream about cars and telephones. It was funny, because it was like another world.
I remember getting in trouble in the zendo for wearing socks. I wore them because my feet sweat, and it was more comfortable to wear socks.
Someone in a position of authority -- I don't remember who -- told me not to wear them. After I left muddy footprints on the tatami for a couple of days, the same person -- I think it was the same person -- told me to wear the socks. I knew enough about Zen from books and Suzuki's lectures, to know that contradictory instructions were common enough.
At some point I began taking breaks from afternoon zazen, because I trembled or shook while I sat. My understanding of the reason why I could not sit still after too many hours of zazen, is based on my own experience from 1989 to 1995, when I experienced the release of muscles that had been unusable, locked in spasm and numb to feeling.
I was being treated by a gifted chiropractor for a back problem. The release was wonderful: the muscles felt warm when the blood flowed into them. I also experienced the recovery of a hidden memory, the childhood injury that caused the problem. I summarize my physical condition in 1967 as slightly crippled. Unfortunately I did not know it at the time.
A student who was a little younger than I was had some kind of authority -- I don't know the name of his position -- and used to get after me for taking breaks. I do not want to mention his name, because it is almost forty years later, and I like what I know about him now. In 1967 he was very hard on me. I went to Suzuki-Roshi, as we called him, at his cabin, and told him that I would have to leave Tassajara, because I was not able to sit still, and had to take breaks. He told me to take breaks when I needed to, and to sit as much as I could.
He also did something completely unexpected. He got up, came over to me, put his arms around me, and said, "I need you." I did not respond with affection, because I was stunned. And I thought to myself, "What do you need me for? I have no office or position at all in the Zen Center." But I did not say anything. I was quite passive in those days, as those who knew me then probably remember. Looking back on it, I was vain and churlish. I have often wished I had asked Suzuki what he meant, because I will never know. It is one of those serious choices that I made in the past, that determined what my life is like now. But as I have written elsewhere, I do not regret the past, because it led to the present.
I think it was the following day, when I was putting my master's advice into practice and taking a break, that the young student scolded me again. I told him that Suzuki said I could take a break if I needed to, and his response shocked me. As near as I can remember, he said something like, "I don't care. You have to sit." I did not know what to do. I experienced the student's reaction as hatred. I did not want to go back to Suzuki and complain, and I also did not want to face anger every day. I went to Suzuki's cabin and told him I was leaving Tassajara. He responded with his customary mildness, that I want to describe as his "benign indifferent number," but it was his usual manner.
I left Tassajara, and went back to my room in San Francisco. Judith had gone away, just after I went to Tassajara, and it was desolate for me when I came back to the city. But later she came back. I met her by chance on the street in Japan Town. I was with my parents walking to a Japanese restaurant. I think they were surprised by the strength of my reaction, but so was I. It was as if she had never gone away. My attendance at daily zazen fell off in the next year, and then Judith and I moved away.
I'd say that Suzuki needed you because you were unique and he appreciated you and wanted you around to show that you could be at Tassajara. But I'm sure he trusted your decision to leave as well. One of the main things I saw him deal with was the trip the younger authoritarian student pulled on you. Suzuki was always trying to discourage our fascist or angry authoritarian tendencies while at the same time encouraging us to be disciplined. I think he'd be overjoyed to see how you've found a path and discipline that works for you.
Subj: I took a long nap today
I have gotten what seems to be a summer cold, and I am sleeping more than usual, which cuts into the time that I have to write. I did go to mass today, water the garden, do my physical therapy exercises, and read evening prayer with Judith. In the middle of the day was a very long nap.
I did move my notes around into topics, and add a few more thoughts.
But I have nothing to send you today.
On a Christian subject, are you aware of and do you have any comments on Pseudo Dionysus, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingham, Cloud of Unknowing or any other Christian mystics? They're spiritual heroes to me.
Get plenty of rest and take care.
Date: Mon, 01 Aug 2005
Thanks for the offer to send me a draft. It's a relief not to worry about what I put in writing.
Regarding my trembling after too many hours of zazen, I want to be very clear that I do not think it is because my mother died, but it is because my father hit me.
On a trip to Washington in 1955, my aunt baked homemade bread. My aunt and uncle lived in the Virginia suburbs, and I took a bus every day into Washington to go sightseeing, while Ed stayed home and learned how to make bread. Since then I have loved Washington, and Ed has loved baking bread.
Regarding your heroes, Judith has read them. I don't read as much as she does. In fact I don't read anything as much as she does, except your book Crooked Cucumber. She showed me her copy of Pseudo Dionysius. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says of St. Hildegard that she was abbess of Rupertsberg, near Bingen, and known as the "Sybil of the Rhine." It has half a page on her.
The mystics are fine. They have personal visions, not necessarily subjective, just personal. But I soak up the church fathers, Basil, Gregory, Leo, Augustine, Jerome, Cyril, Benedict, as well as doctors of the church, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. I encounter these heavyweights mainly in the daily office, which always includes a passage from one of these or some other saint. I started reading morning and evening prayer in around 1973, when I was an Episcopalian, having graduated from seminary and waiting for ordination. I wanted to hear the word of God every day, and have it become part of me.
We started reading from the Catholic prayer book even before we entered the Catholic Church, because I felt like I was the only one reading daily prayer in the Episcopal Church. Of course I was not the only one, but I certainly didn't know who the lonely others were. Daily prayer in the Episcopal Church is entirely Scripture, but in the Catholic daily office, it also includes the writings of the saints.
I think the mystics are a good correction to what happened to Christianity in the nineteenth century, when it became propositional. The popular understanding of the Christian religion, which had previously been a narrative, was reduced to doctrinal statements. The classic example is the Baltimore Catechism, with its question and answer format. There is even a Buddhist Catechism from that century, that was written in 1881 by Henry Steel Olcott, president of the Theosophical Society, still used today by school children in Sri Lanka.
I did not learn Christianity that way, as a set of doctrines. I was introduced to it by the liturgy of the church, and I met Jesus in the narrative or story about him in the Gospel of Mark. Because of my experience with Suzuki at Zen Center, I assumed that the liturgy had been handed down because it contained a living teaching. My daily practice therefore has been to keep listening to the words of Scripture, and to participate in the liturgy.
I have more to write to you, about how I understand Catholicism, but I do not have much time left today. Today is my birthday, and to celebrate we are going to a dinner and a guest speaker with friends of St. Andrew's Academy. It is an Anglican school near us that has a classical curriculum. And tomorrow I have a doctor's appointment in Chico, so will be out all day. But I will write more.
I have notes that I started in answer to an earlier prompting of yours, to describe what I found in the Catholic Church that I had not found in Zen Center. It is an interesting topic, but I have to work more on it. There is also my attempt to explain, in my Internet conversion story, the difference between a subjective God and a God who is actually king of the universe. It is in the section called "Layers of Rock."
Terrific. And I learned some - like the narrative way of learning and the doctrinal. And the use of the word propositional. Yeah, things are at a low point now. People put down Christianity based on what they hear in the media and don't realize the depth and breadth of it.
Time for bed.
Judith was delighted with your letter. She will send you the book she promised, or at least intends to. She and I have been unusually busy the last few days, and she is leaving me again on Wednesday, to visit her mother. Maybe tomorrow she can get it in the mail.
Judith does not know enough about the computer to send and receive e-mail, and I do that part for her. She can type a letter and save it for me to send later.
I do not know when Judith will be able to write to you again -- maybe in a week or so. She is very happy that you plan to visit the Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa. I am sure she is eager to hear how your visit went.
I do not plan to respond much to your letter to Judith, although the things you wrote her about your background are very significant, because your dialog is with her. I am still composing in my mind, the things I still want to write to you. I have gotten up to page 280 in Crooked Cucumber, just after you arrived in San Francisco. I am finding Part II of the book more interesting than I expected, because I am reading a lot of things that I never knew.
I am attaching an electronic version of one of my favorite books, The Wisdom of the Sadhu. It is out of print, but the publisher, The Bruderhof, put it on their web site for free. The book is about Sundar Singh, including his life story and many of his teaching parables. His life story is interspersed with his parables, and if you want to read it in sequence, you have to read the first part of the book in sequence.
My sons started laughing at me because I quoted Sundar Singh so much. He was a Sikh who became a Christian. He was very unusual however, because he never liked the church, which he regarded as European. His conversion was directly to Jesus, who appeared to him, and whom he called his Master all his life. He lived as a sadhu, a wandering Indian holy man. His teaching parables are remarkable.
I may have found a mistake in your book. On your web site there is a list of errors so long as to alarm a saint, and for that reason I hesitate to add more. Maybe someone else has already identified this passage: on page 161 it says, "As the western sky turned pink in Yaizu . . ." Here is a story:
This is not a Zen Center story. Some friend of mine told it to me, and I forget who the friend was. The story itself is memorable. He and his friends in Berkeley had been up all night, and decided to watch the sunrise. They went up to the top of the Berkeley hills before daylight, and sat looking out over the Golden Gate. My friend said that it was not until the sun rose, that it dawned on them -- literally -- that the sun rises in the east.
The Chinese national anthem is of course "The East is Red."
Goodness. What did I have in mind?
I'm surprised no one else noticed it.
Subject: Re the sun rising
I think it is funny that no one noticed it. Perhaps it is because Suzuki was going to the West, or the curious fact that on the round world, the Far West is east from Japan. Also the phrase is in block capitals at the beginning of a section of the text, and that gives it some authority.
I'm really not sure what I had in mind when I said western. I wonder if I realized what I was writing or if it's a mistake. Anyway, I do know that it was based on my experience of being in the garden at Rinsoin and seeing the sun rise - there's nothing in the book that is just made up. Of course I don't know what he did that morning but I have seen the sky pink there at sunrise but I would assume now that it was the eastern sky. Anyway, I love errata. The last one on TY and OK was about the moon.
I checked the sky here this evening. There were only a few clouds in the darkening blue sky, some pink clouds in the west, a pink cloud in the south, and some pink clouds in the east. It is actually the clouds that turn pink of course, not the empty sky. I have never been to Rinsoin, and do not know the situation of the land. In the photo the beautiful temple has a wooded mountainside in the background. I do not know if the sun rises behind the mountain, or sets behind the mountain, or traverses the valley.
You may actually have been looking at the light in the sky to the west -- I do not know. Anyway "the eastern sky turned pink" sounds more like a cliche than the western sky.
August 14, 2005
I have gotten further in Crooked Cucumber, almost to the end. I am up to page 351, where Grahame and Suzuki could not talk any more about Miss Ransom.
You do an excellent job with Suzuki's more difficult teaching, on the pages before that. It is worth noting that your presentation is all story-telling, quotes from Suzuki's lectures interspersed with incidents in the zendo and conversations with students. You don't do any exposition or explanation, where this means such and so. Commendable! And ok!
I have a quarrel with you however. The reference to the Roman Catholic Church on page 340 is a cheap shot. Clerical celibacy is a long-standing discipline in the Church, but it is not a fundamental teaching. It is also dubious to call what happened to the men and women at Tassajara a success. I don't think it is a good idea to reduce the Catholic Church to rules about sex, its corniest stereotype. You probably don't want to characterize Zen Center as a hotbed of free love either. Even though it was that, it was something else also.
I didn't really think that much about putting this in but I agree with your comments and I sympathize with them. Anyway, they'll be in the archive and when I do "Notes on Crooked Cucumber" I'll include them there.
Thanks for your comments. Judith and I lived at Green Gulch in the fall of 1973 and spring of 1974. In the fall of 1974 we lived in Berkeley and I was in graduate school at San Francisco State for one year. In the summer of 1975 we moved away from the Bay Area.
You would never have seen me, as I did not sit or attend services. I worked and went to church in Berkeley. We lived at Green Gulch because Judith wanted to. I don't remember you there either. You should remember Judith however. But when did Katagiri visit? That would establish a date.
I worked a couple of hours today on the discussion of spirits. It is very difficult. Maybe tomorrow I can finish it and send it to you.
Mon, 15 Aug 2005
I talked with Judith today on the telephone -- she is visiting her mother in the Bay Area. She remembers when Kelly was born at Green Gulch. Her memory is much better than mine for events years ago.
Wed, 17 Aug 2005
Subject: spirits, good and evil, at ZC and in church
My friend who builds computers has built me one, and I will be transferring files and setting it up starting Thursday. I may be away from e-mail for a couple of days, until the e-dust settles. I am trying today to put together what I have written over the last couple of days, and send it. It is organized into sections, to make it easier for you, although I find I ramble.
Let me know if my discussion of spirits is interesting. I have enjoyed writing it, and I hope that it makes sense when you read it. I actually do not know if it is the sort of thing you are looking for, but you may like reading it anyway.
Spirits at Zen Center
My impression is that the students at Zen Center did not take the existence of spirits literally. I know that my own view at Zen Center in those days was conventional Western materialism with some Buddhist window dressing, and I do not think I was unusual. I thought science explained the physical world, and that experience was a by-product of matter and energy, and was individual and subjective. I understood everything Suzuki talked about, big mind, beginner's mind, non-dualistic mind -- everything -- in this materialistic framework. It is not the philosophical framework of ancient Buddhism. It is not the ancient Christian world view either.
I began to believe that spirits actually exist a few years after I became a Christian. Dislodging materialist habits of thinking has taken a long time, but I can actually understand now that God, who is spirit, exists first, and that he both created the physical world and sustains it.
A Digression about Materialism
Western materialism is the philosophy that has come to dominate Europe and America in the last few hundred years, replacing the Christian world view, and the one we were all raised with and educated in. An easy way to gauge the strength of materialism in the thinking of American Buddhists or Christians today would be to find out if any one is interested in questioning Darwin's theory of evolution. His theory is an assertion of a materialistic origin of life, with some speculation for good measure. Darwin was so confident in his philosophy, that he assumed the evidence would turn up later.
To question evolution seems to take a very big mind. More than a hundred years of experimental science has produced a large body of evidence that Darwin lacked, but instead of confirming his speculation, it makes evolution impossible. A living cell for example turns out to be as complicated as a factory, while Darwin thought it consisted of a jelly he called protoplasm. If part of a cell fell into place accidentally, without the rest of it being there, it would not work. This concept is called irreducible complexity, and makes people mad. Most people, including most scientists, reject it with considerable emotion, because of their attachment to materialism.
There is a difference between experimental science, where things are observed and measured, and calculations done, and science defined as leaving out supernatural explanations. Experimental science has no mechanism by which life could have assembled itself by known natural processes. However most scientists say you cannot invoke intelligent design, because that would not be science any more. It is of great interest to me, because we have all heard that science contradicts scripture. It turns out that experimental science does not. There is a big gap between "we do not know, but there must be unknown natural causes" and "science has proven . . ."
Back to Spirits
Anyway I have believed in spirits for about thirty years. They are not produced by matter or energy. Spirits are bodiless beings, intelligent and possessing free will. Right and wrong exist in the spirit world, not in the material world, which is more indifferent than any Buddhist will ever be. Some spirits in their free will obey God, and others do not. Their choice for some reason is permanent -- they do not, as people do, change sides. They are the angels and the evil spirits.
The key thing about spirits is that they are more powerful than I am, so that I do not try to fight them or control them, but only to join myself to one that is benevolent and reliable. That is God. It is an essential Christian teaching that the one who spoke us into being loves us, gives us the freedom to rebel or to love him back, and will protect us from the rebellious spirits if we let him.
Most Western Christians today do not believe that evil spirits are real beings. Some do, and I gather that Christians in Asia and Africa do.
It is of course the historic teaching of the Church. But my Christianity is very unusual to the people in my parish and even to my bishop. Maybe one of the things I learned from Suzuki and the Zen Center was to find my own way without approval from others.
I love the dragon story. It is on page 376 in Crooked Cucumber, and it is very funny. But the advice about dragons is dangerous. Suzuki says "we should always be the dragon himself. Then we will not be afraid of any dragon." If the dragon is a demon, to become the dragon himself would be to become demon possessed. Angels can also be terrifying if they come to visit us, but a Christian does not try to become an angel.
We should however know ourselves -- our strengths and weaknesses, our virtues and our failings, what we know clearly and the tricks our minds play -- but I am not sure this creature is a dragon. In Christianity we take our identity from Jesus. We do not usually say, "I become Jesus," but Saint Paul definitely says I become a new man.
There is an interesting story in the Bible that is like the story of the dragon. A medium at Endor (Shakespeare's witch of Endor) conjured up the dead prophet Samuel for King Saul. The story says that when she saw Samuel, she shrieked and fell on her face. It sounds like she was not expecting him actually to appear. Samuel, one need hardly add, had bad news for King Saul.
Judith's spiritual director, who died a couple of years ago, was a licensed exorcist, and she asked him about demons. He downplayed the subject. He said the best exorcism was a good confession. He also said that demons were everywhere, but that she did not need to pay attention to them. I read one or two unofficial exorcisms in my prayers every day (I am not licensed).
My Christian friends who taught me about spirits (they were not seminary professors!) insisted that Zen Center was demonic, and used strong language, like "godly admonition," urging me never to go there for any reason. They had never been there, and I did not think it was so bad.
People had said hurtful things to me, and did other things that were not good, but it was more like garden-variety human sinfulness than deadly evil. I think it was no worse than when some things happened in the Christian seminary, or for that matter in our local parish church, except that now I am more aware of what is going on.
Friends of ours were sometimes shocked when they visited us at Zen Center. One friend said the people were all walking around like zombies. It happens other places: I know one or two Christians today who think that the way to be spiritual is to be expressionless and do everything slowly. Another friend of Judith's hitchhiked and came to visit us at Green Gulch when we were living there. She told Judith some years later that after she left our house, she was surrounded by so many swirling evil spirits, that she had to crawl up the road to the highway, to hitch a ride out. It also happens elsewhere: Judith and I experienced that kind of pressure from an American Christian we worked with in China.
I do not think Zen, or Suzuki, or Zen Center were particularly demonic, even though my Christian friends insisted that it had to be. I think Zen Center was then and is today, as Saint Thomas More said about his prison cell in the Tower of London before his execution under King Henry VIII, "a place very much like any other place."
[to be continued]
Most interesting. I love the line about "the way to be spiritual is to be expressionless and do everything slowly." Ain't it the truth. Personally I don't see angels and demons as permanently so.
Anyway, keep it up.
Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2005 01:37:41 -0700
I am up to page 287 in Crooked Cucumber, where you have described the schedule at Tassajara. Your description is much clearer than my memory. I realize that the sound I liked so much was not the mokugyo, but the han. The mokugyo was used for the cadence for chanting, but the sound I remember was the one that filled the whole valley and called us. You say "pierced the whole valley." That was the sound! I think it took on the shape of the canyon and the rocks.
I have always remembered, and have often quoted, Suzuki presenting the schedule to us. He listed the things we were to do at certain times during the day. From 3:00 to 3:15 in the afternoon was free time. He said, "Of course, there is no such thing as free time."
I don't remember anything about the rest of the schedule, except that it had too many periods of zazen, and your description is very interesting to me. The life I had there, and the love I had for zazen (I didn't sit because I hated it), seem to me to lie behind a curtain of some kind. Your book gives me glimpses through the curtain into my own past, and for that I am grateful to you.
Judith and I, and our son Aryae, lived at Green Gulch for a year in 1973 and 1974. Judith was a Zen student, but I was not. I was working at the World Without War Council in Berkeley, and commuted every day. When I got back, I ate leftovers in the kitchen.
Once Katagiri visited Green Gulch. He had been living in Minneapolis. I did not know what house he was staying in, or where to go to ask. I was in the kitchen, and one of the older students came in, perhaps to get something. He and I did not know each other, but he was a priest and an important person at Zen Center. I told him I had been a neighbor of Katagiri's, and that I would like to see him.
My manner was hesitant -- I was asking for help, and something about me caused the Zen priest to react. He stood sternly, said, "That is not the way to open the door," and left. I thought, I don't need a Zen correction of my timidity, I need someone who can answer me as if my request were normal. I never did see Katagiri, and the incident left a lasting memory of disappointment. I do not remember why I did not feel free to go to different houses at Green Gulch and knock on their doors. Perhaps Richard Baker had told us they were private. Richard eventually told Judith and me to leave Green Gulch, saying our cabin was needed by students.
It is now thirty years later, and I do not expect that the Zen priest would remember the incident. I think also the student at Tassajara who told me that I had to sit, even though Suzuki said I could rest, is not likely to remember the encounter. I think that things like this that people said to me, may have come not from their own hearts, but from spirits. One time years later someone shouted something to me in anger, that had serious consequences, but afterward had no memory of shouting at me. I write about spirits elsewhere.
[DC note: Later Dwite told me that the student who was harassing him about not sitting was me. I don't remember that but I don't disbelieve him. I tended to interact with people. What I remember most about Dwite is how miserable he was. I have an image of him walking on the road above the zendo looking as if he was carrying all the suffering in the world on his shoulders. He says the student had some authority. I didn't have any authority then at the first of Tassajara, none at all. Later I remembered: It was before the first practice period and I'd been there a few months already and was an eager beaver student who'd come to ZC the prior fall. I asked Dwite why he wasn't going to zazen and he said Suzuki Roshi had told him it was okay not to go. I said, "Why don't you go anyway?" That was it - one time in passing.]
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005 20:50:58 -0700
My new computer is running, and I can write to you again. Since I have had several days to think about what to say, this is somewhat long. I broke it up into sections, and hope as always that it is interesting for you to read. I am responding to what you wrote August 17, and also adding several other things I have wanted to write about.
*Catholic teaching on origins*
The web page on Catholic teaching, whose link you sent me, is better than some I have read, for its even tone and its clarity. It correctly identifies the rather scant body of defined papal teaching on origins, and makes the brave statement that I always like, that the Catholic church has nothing to fear from science. The excellent discussion on the web page is however a little out of date, as it does not mention intelligent design, which keeps showing up in the news.
The scholarly theory that the six days of creation are a listing device rather than a chronology is one that I was taught in seminary in 1970. It is not official Catholic teaching at all, but an attempt by some scholars to harmonize six days with long ages. It is not a reasonable reading of the Hebrew text. Some Christians are content simply to recognize that Darwin's theory and the Bible are irreconcilable, while others try to harmonize them with awkward results. In the meantime Darwin's theory is crumbling for scientific reasons. It does not necessarily mean the Christian view is the only view remaining. I found a web site for example that expounded the Vedic view as contrasted to Darwin's crumbling theory.
Your idea that you wrote to me, where things evolving are an expression of God, is like Alexander with the Gordian Knot, a single stroke without the details that Christians fuss about. My way is to say to forget about evolution, because it does not happen. It matters very much to me if things did not evolve at all, but were made things by their Creator, as it brings God much closer and changes his personality.
*God as a Zen teacher*
The thought occurred to me as I was writing this for you, that God is like a Zen teacher. His God-nature is to bring clarity and to take action. In the Bible he gets angry, but it passes, he cares very much about his people who do not seem to understand, and he speaks in images and stories intended to startle them or shake them up. It is quite an interesting thought, Suzuki as an image of the personality of God. He was very patient with his students' lack of understanding, and lectured repeatedly, but sometimes he took quick action, as for example with his hitting-stick. What he never did was let his students' practice evolve -- until after he died.
I hope I am not offending you by comparing Suzuki to God. You may think it is too high for Suzuki or too low for God. My picture of God may seem anthropomorphic, but what is an anthropos? Christians do not know who God really is, any more than you know who Suzuki really is. Suzuki made a remarkable effort to reveal himself to his students, especially you and others close to him, and your response to his effort is I think love. Similarly God has made an extraordinary effort to reveal himself to his human creatures, and Christians respond to him with love.
The other side of it of course is that Zen teachers play God -- but that is a tendency of human nature, not at all unique to Zen.
The idea that it does not matter how things evolve, is unfortunately about all there is to Darwin's theory. Neither he nor anyone since has identified a mechanism for increasing genetic information, or even for the origin of sexual reproduction on which inheritance depends.
I am on the Advisory Board of the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, which wants to restore Catholic teaching on origins.
*I finished Crooked Cucumber*
I have finished your excellent book. It is always sad when a book ends, and always sad when someone dies, and both those things happened. The most poignant part for me was when Suzuki left Tassajara for the last time. I have not died, but I left Tassajara many years ago to go into the unknown, and can relate to some of the feeling.
*Christian Doctrine and Big Mind*
For some reason these ideas kept occurring to me as I was writing to you:
Non-dualistic thinking is not promoted as such in Christianity, but doctrines are presented that can only be understood if one sets aside ordinary thinking. Christian doctrines are never "not always so," but "always so" -- until you try to understand them. For example Jesus is the Son of God. The Church never says that Jesus is not the Son of God. Jesus is also entirely human, and is sometimes called the Son of Man. The Church never says that Jesus is not fully human. The official teaching of the Church says that Jesus is God himself, and fully human.
A great many people of course cannot handle the tension in these doctrinal assertions, and take sides. Some say Jesus is human and not God, and some say Jesus is God, but only looked human. There are whole denominations -- and ancient heresies -- based on these ideas. Of course we recognize in these ideas our old friend dualistic thinking.
Christianity does not promote non-dualistic thinking or big mind, but it presents doctrines that can only be received by a big mind. The technical term in theology for a doctrine that does not make ordinary sense is a mystery.
Looking back on it, now as I think more about it, I think that Suzuki's lectures probably softened me up for Christian doctrine. I used to think that the formal ceremony in the services at Zen Center, in which what was seen represented something that was unseen, prepared me to appreciate Christian liturgical worship. But now that I think about it, Suzuki may have done more than that, and may have prepared me by his lectures to appreciate the impossible doctrines of Christianity.
*What I have in the Catholic Church that I did not get from Zen*
What I have in Catholicism that I did not get from Zen is of course the person, Jesus. I fell in love with him in 1970. I also became persuaded that the Christian account of who he is who and what he did, is true. Christianity rests on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. There is no point in being a Christian -- Saint Paul talked about this two thousand years ago -- if you do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
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