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Interview With Eva Goldshield

[Interviewed by DC on 9/23/95]

MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL AND DC FILES - #14 - Eva Goldschied


Katagiri was such a humble person too, unpretentious. He helped SR so much in the city and at Tass and he was very helpful to me too. He was a friend and he wanted to keep in touch with me when he went to Monterey. He was my age and more of a Zen friend, and SR was more of a father figure. But I couldn't continue contact with him when he went away.

I'm going to give a talk here at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in November giving thanks to Zen for what it's done for my life.

I had been to Sokoji in 1959 - a very nice old Japanese lady showed me around and made some general remarks. Tobase was gone. Maybe it was his sister - I don't know. I didn't meet Dr. Kato there but I met him at the Academy of Asian Studies.

I met SR in the early spring or late winter of 1960. A very important factor is what happened in that period of my life - under what circumstances I had the experience of meeting a good teacher like that. At any other point it might have had a totally different effect. Why SR was such a wonderful teacher for me also has to do with my own history. I had been an artist most of my life and I had studied with a wonderful painter in Berkeley who was really practicing the spirit of Zen in his life. His name was David Park[?] and he was dying of cancer and it was his dying that made me realize that I had to find another teacher.

So I went to Alan Watts and started studying with him and one night he brought SR into his seminar at his studio or maybe it was the studio of a friend on Broadway - not the Academy of Asian Studies which was across the street. In that very same room was Della. SR gave a talk on What is Buddhism. I reacted to this talk in a very strong way. He said, if you want to practice with me then come sit in the morning at five thirty. It was cold on that night and I was getting my coat and as I put it on I could feel SR behind me - something in me that just recognized he was going to be my teacher. It was his concern, his awareness and my awareness - it was that kind of a personal communication. And that was the first time I met him.

I didn't know anything about Zen but I was interested in calligraphy and I reading a book by the Ikkyu. When his teacher was dying, the will to live left him and his mother sent someone to him to rescue him, to help him over this crisis and this is how he survived and this was a very difficult time and that's what it was like when SR was dying. Bill could tell you how difficult it was for him and all of us. And I was in that state of mind when I met SR and he helped me to get over that period of my life - it was crucial. I have never had the need to go shop around for other teachers in my life.

So I started practicing almost every morning. Della was there and Jean Ross and Betty Warren and Bill - that was our group and a few others. Bill was so helpful. I always said that Bill has the same feeling as SR. He was a tremendous help. He tried to help SR to make contact with the students. He put people at ease.

I was living in San Francisco at that time. I'd graduated from Cal where I knew Betty Warren and she helped me out a lot because I was a new teacher and she was a teacher too. I taught art and different subjects to little kids and I had the hardest time - I'm so small. I asked SR do the little kids HAVE to fight? and he said, Yes, sometimes they have to fight. And he encouraged me very much to continue teaching and thought it was a very important thing to be doing.

The person who gave me the address of the ZC was Kirby Ferlinghetti, Lawrence's wife. I moved to Berkeley where I lived off and on during the years and I kept coming to the ZC till SR died. I had a child and bringing up a child and practicing Zen is not an easy matter, especially for a woman. It made it impossible for me to come as much as I wanted to. SR had something to do with that. I was afraid of having one and he gave me the courage to have a child. I was hesitating and I told him and he said it would be very good. She was born in 62 when I was 35.

A lot of my interactions with SR were non verbal. I always felt the unspoken part was more important than the spoken part. His complete humility which he imparted without words was unbelievable. One thing I won't ever forget is the Saturday morning breakfast after service. It was a family type situation. It was a very small group. It happened in the kitchen around the table and there was one Saturday when there was a girl there who had lost her mother and SR wanted to help her to get over her grief and so after breakfast he said to her, come on now let's do some cooking together. Breakfast was over and we had been cleaning so he got her to help him make lunch with him. He assumed very naturally the role of her mother with her.

He realized that some of us needed more exercise so some of us started exercising with him in his little office after service. Nothing formal - not even Tai Chi which I do now. Just stretching and simple gymnastics. It was very good - just five or six of us. We did it for about ten minutes. One morning he asked me if I'd give him a ride to Sears Roebuck - he wanted to buy some flower pots. I'll never forget his connection with plants. At the top of the stairs outside of the zendo there was a table filled with potted plants and he always took care of those plants. There was a window behind them. There were 25 or more - small ones, really small ones.

I went to Japan in 1969. He encouraged me to go there. I took my daughter - she was seven. It was a big project for me to do this - I'd never been in Asia and my husband couldn't come but I didn't want to leave my daughter behind. There were quite a few preparations and he kept encouraging me to go through with it and not to get discouraged. And finally when the time came to leave almost, he asked me to see him and he took me to another room where I had never been before - maybe it was in the basement. And once we were in it he lit incense and a candle and he became very formal and he sat down in the center of the room on something that was elevated - it was almost like he was sitting on a throne - it had that kind of feeling and he asked me to walk around him, to circumambulate him. The atmosphere became very very formal and he had me do all kinds of bowing to him and to an altar and a picture at that moment he assumed a very monumental position in my life. Our personal contact which had always been rather informal changed into this monumental feeling. And when I went to Eiheiji and Sojiji I felt this same monumental feeling that he had prepared me for.

Dick Baker arranged for me to live at a very small temple that was part of a large temple complex - it probably was Daitokuji. The small temple was called Shotokuin. Ogata was the abbot and he had European and American guests. He was Rinzai. I went to Antaiji and met Uchiyama and visited Dogen's first temple in Uji. I never became as intense a Zen student as some other people but I have persisted.

DC - I always noticed that people who were really gung-ho tended to burn out.

This is true and I had to do it at my own speed. I have to take high blood pressure medicine and at first they gave me a large amount and it didn't work so well but then I took a small amount and that worked well. So I'm convinced that too high a dosage is not so good. And I always end up exactly where I started from by going the opposite direction. I have quite often had the feeling that this is too much, I can't go any further and then I go in the opposite direction and I find that the source of where I want to go is the source of where I am. It has its roots everywhere - you cannot get away no matter how hard you try.

We sat upstairs at Sokoji in the large room - the pews were still in there and we sat around them. There were no more than ten of us.

SR was so completely unassuming. I think what is so unforgettable is how he pressed on us and opened us to an awareness of ourselves and to continual self-examination. He did so by example and by intuitive acts. He would come at the moment when a thought hit you. He knew exactly what was going on. He read your mind.

When things were beginning to be more formalized we were downstairs and I was sitting and thinking the wrong kind of thoughts which were absolutely leading me astray. It was during a sesshin. I couldn't stay because I had a baby and I was getting all caught up in my thinking and not letting my thoughts go and he came around to me and started hitting me on the shoulders with his stick. Because of having worked with him I can tell who is a real Zen teacher and who is not and that's why I am here - it makes all the difference. I can feel it. I can intuit it and it's what lead me to SR.

Graham and Dick came in 61 and that changed things a lot. I feel very indebted to Dick for one because he made my Japan trip possible for me and he gave me a wonderful introduction there and he's a brilliant person. I appreciate his sense of humor, his intelligence, his wonderful perspective but as far as a Zen teacher I had to find another. When SR was dying - at the Mountain Seat Ceremony - it was very very difficult. I already then felt very troubled about continuing with ZC. There was so much tension in the air - it didn't seem to be the right situation - not what it was in the beginning. But I stayed involved for ten more years until I found Genjoji. SR left an awful emptiness - it was painful. He died early - nobody could fill his shoes.

The early days were very intimate. Sometimes I'd drop by during the day - I would bring my child. It felt quite natural bringing a child there. And when Mrs. Suzuki came she was a wonderful addition - she livened the whole situation up and she was such a graceful personality - we all adored her. She fit in right away. I can remember going to an event at Golden Gate Park - maybe it was a Buddhist event that ZC participated in and there was music and I remember Mrs. Suzuki dancing with Phillip Wilson there. I didn't drop by too much but I remember taking my daughter and my husband - we would be served tea and lovely Japanese cookies in the office. It was very warm and very friendly. He could also be deliberately boring at times when he thought it was good for you. He might talk about something completely inane. He knew how to strike a balance.

When we bought Tassajara and SR had to do all the commuting all the time I worried he was wearing himself out. Bill travels a lot too and I tell him he's doing to himself what SR did. Ogata died of cancer and he was going to America a few times. There was an informalness in the old days and it was terrible when it disappeared and I saw it disappearing and it was heartbreaking. At Page Street a year or two before he died, there was a question and answer period in the dining room - Suzuki had had a gall bladder operation and he opened his kimono and said, "Here's my scar and I feel wonderful." It was informal but he also acquainted me with an extremely formal aspect. The zazen is formal.

DC - It was not just less formal - it was less busy, hierarchical, there wasn't a priesthood.

But SR always found a way of getting around it - the formality. Even on that very last day when Dick Baker took over. He was in such terrible terrible condition and he was shuffling down the hall going back to his room and I was standing out in the hall with the overflow from the ceremony and he still communicated to me - he stopped by me and nodded. In dokusan I once asked him, "Ikaga desuka?" (How are you) and he laughed but I can't remember what we said there.

I want to thank SR and Bill also. I owe SR the greatest gratitude for letting me be what I am and not forcing me to be what I cannot be and allowing me, giving me the freedom to develop in the way that I can. The Zen molds can be very strict and very confining but somehow he gave me the opportunity to find my own way. I was reading Gary Snyder and I find him very inspiring. He really has a vision. I feel that he is carrying this kind of vision and helping to spread it in America and like Alan Watts he has done a great deal to help out.

EVA GOLDSHEID

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