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About Suzuki Roshi    

Interviews--in this case a letter on background from an interviewer.
A letter from Fred Harriman, 10\28\95 on Shunryu Suzuki's family background.

[Fred's comments after having retranslated Peter Schneider's Suzuki Roshi family interviews that Peter conducted with his wife Jane and with the simultaneous translation and general help of Carl and Fumiko Bielefeldt.]

Suzuki Roshi before 1900. We're talking about the grandfather of Suzuki Roshi and his household. They're from Katagawa which is an Enshu town. It's the region between the Ori River and Hamana Lake in the prefecture of Shizuoka - the Western part of Shizuoka Prefecture, one of the three regions of the prefecture and it is basically where Suzuki Roshi made his home. Mori is in Enshu. So is Hamamatsu. It's the main city of that. [?]...is in Suruga. Hamamatsu Han. It's where Tokugawa Ieyasu began his career as a feudal lord - Hamamatsu - under Nobunara. His father was born in Katagawa. It's an old Enshu city with a proud samurai tradition and like all of the cities of that area from Hamamatsu to Shizuoka, they were all known for textile production. So it would be a good business to provide the tools of dyeing cloth such as shinshi so this would be a household that was a shinshiya - they manufactured and sold shinshi and obviously had done it for a few generations at least and that is where Suzuki Roshi's father came from. No one seems to know why he became a priest. Not only that but he was the older son of that family and the older son would normally take over the business. From him to not have taken over the business and to have become a priest, there must have been some reason. Someone may have some clues to that, someone who knows the area and the history. There must have been some normality about it for him to go from shinshiya to a priest and it might be meaningful.

Suzuki Roshi's father going to the temple-Kakigawa [?] and Mori are within the same cultural group in that particular area. Mori is also kind of a holy place for the Enshu region. It's also known for tea and things like that but it's a refuge and holy place. There's a very beautiful Shinto shrine there and Mori is known as one of the centers of religious activity in the area as well as Fukuroi and Kasuisai are they part of it or other parts. So there's this whole belt of temples from Mori all the way through Kakigawa and Fukuroi. I've visited Kasuisai. It's a very rare name for a temple, because it doesn't end in temple. Ka is potential or able to, sui means sweet[?] and sai is to complete something. There was a time when Tokugawa Ieyasu whose first fief was in Hamamatsu due to all of the political problems that he had - he had to kill members of his own family in order to maintain his political position - he was ordered to kill his wife and son and did - the alternative would be strife, so he did it. This is the guy who went on to close Japan for three hundred years. He was a very intelligent and capable person, but he had a lot of problems and guilt feelings and he used to go to the temple which is now Kasuisai, because he liked the jushoku there and he liked to talk to him and he was talking to him about his problem, that he couldn't sleep. And while they were having some discussion or ceremony, the jushoku fell asleep. Everyone thought, this guy's dead - he's going to have his head cut off. But he didn't do that. He looked at him and said, that's great. He should sleep. He felt envious of the priest's ability to sleep and he didn't want to disturb that and wanted to learn from that, and the legend goes on to say that he gave that temple a lot of land and the name was changed to Kasuisai.

Yusanji - oil Mt. temple - is also a beautiful temple up in the mountains there. It's a place for pilgrims. And then there's Hata-san, a Kannon temple which is still a pilgrimage place that's very busy now and totally modern.

Shizuoka and Hamamatsu are the worldly places - Shizuoka is the place of government and Hamamatsu of business. And in between that from Mori to Fukuroi is the temple belt - Shinto as well as Buddhist. The people on the tape have the accent of the Enshu area. Obviously there's a proud religious tradition there and the family is aware of their role in that and Suzuki Roshi was raised in that milieu. They spoke of Zounin as their original home - the one they should have.

No one mentions his mother, her background, where she came from. No one seems to think it's important. But they said she'd prepared cloth for the garments when he was ordained. She came from Hamamatsu which was also a textile place - she could have come from a textile family. Suzuki Roshi's father could have met here because of a business connection between her parents and his parents. In those days they'd look for a political arrangement. Not being from Kakegawa, she's from Hamamatsu, there must have been some reason. That's quit a trek in those days. It would take a day to walk there. They did have a train by then - by 1870 or something.

They had six years of elementary school. [I don't know if he went to all years of the school.] Jinjo koto kogakko - high elementary school before the war the majority of young men and definitely young women went no longer than the six years that was necessary to finish shogakko. If you had a little bit of money or your family had aspirations or you had ambitions, it was possible for you to continue your shogakko education. A farmer or the son of an artisan would find this very difficult to do. They had to start learning their trade. But someone like Suzuki Roshi would go. In a place like Mori this would be Mori's attempt to improve their school system. They wouldn't have those schools in the countryside so you'd have to go to a larger community to do that. These two years varied in the content of the curriculum - depending on where you went. There may have been some vocational training there but maybe not. And someone might go for a few months and then not go anymore. It was definitely an extra. A girl going to it would probably be very rare. I wonder how much of this he actually did. There are comments later on that say when he went to Kaisei in Zushi he wasn't allowed credit for the work he'd done in Mori at the Jinjoshogakko. It was too inferior and he had to take courses over again. It would be normal for him to go study with Soon when he did - after he'd finished his shogakko.

He went to Zounin, he started out there, but in the next year he was ordained by Soon at Rinsoin. I got the impression he got ordained to be the guy who was to take over Rinsoin. He went to Zounin at times and went at times to Shoganji to visit his parents. At one place it says, for the time being he returns to Zounin at Mori. On the tape it says he was ordained at Rinsoin at 13 and that he'd go there on and off till 1924. But for the time being he returned to Zounin.

When he goes to Zushi Kaisei from Kanagawa, it makes a lot of sense that he would do that because Zushi is on the other side of a treacherous cape that's difficult to pass. They put some tunnels through it and the Tokaido goes through it but what people used to do was go over the mountains instead of around the coast. That's the Kanagawa side. I'm not sure if Zushi is still in Shizuoka prefecture but it might be. So for him to go there instead of going through the tunnels and all the way to Shizuoka City is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect. That he could go from Shoganji back and forth to Zushi on the train and go to school makes a lot of sense. It does not make sense to go from Zushi to Zounin. It makes sense to go there from Yaizu. That's not such a bad trek. On the issue of going to Zushi Kaisei Chugakko, where did he live - tape Suzuki Roshi alludes to him being taken back to Shoganji by his parents to go there from Shoganji. Does this make sense? It's very far but he would have been able to go by train and perhaps his parents at that time, in order to keep him away from Soon were going to great lengths to keep him close to them. The might have rented some place for him to live at Zushi in order to go to school but did they have the money for that? It doesn't make sense that a boy who's going to be a priest would live that way. That's like the son of a merchant. It's a famous school. The husband of Aiko [Uchiyama-Shunryu's little sister] says that Zushi Kaisei was a more strict school. They wanted him home - his mother feigned sickness so he'd go home. But Suzuki Roshi tried to go to be with Soon on vacations.

I lived in Japan for 17 years and had very little respect for the Zen tradition because I thought it was associated with a lot of hypocritical attitudes - samurai violence and doing nothing when there was something that needed to be done. Justifying, rationalizing inaction. But after reading your book and beginners mind and listening to all the people talking about Suzuki Roshi, people who I recognize because I live with that type of person for a long time and it all started to fall together and I began to realize that this Zen tradition is deeply ingrained in everyday Japanese life to a great extent. Whether people know it or not they're practicing it when they're in Japan. Japanese themselves are not aware of how much patience they get from this tradition. I thought that patience came from centuries of oppression which is true as well but now I see it also comes from something that can cope with that oppression and that's Zen. A wait-and-see attitude is cultivated by Zen and I was able to appreciate it more and to appreciate what a strong building block that is for Japanese society and that it can result in people who are very contentious and who are active and in the case of Suzuki Roshi - they described him as a person who didn't speak much or argue but who did persist. And if the Japanese are anything they're persistent and I think those are Zen lessons. I studied Judo where I learned some of that sort of thing. Wait-and-see, don't attack and try to avoid unnecessary emotion - delusion. So I got a better appreciation for Zen.

Deshi can mean apprentice. Anybody can be a deshi of anybody.

Kawai ko ni tabi o saseru. If you love your child, send them out on a journey. A comment on the place where it says, it's not really possible to educate your own children..."

Aiko says that sure as a child one might want to go off with a master but the adults were doing all of that. He thought he'd done it but he wasn't aware of what was going on around him. But there's no conclusion. But the parents tried to nullify it.

Hoitsu sits there and listens to what they all say on the last tapes and finally at the end of tape seven they say okay, that's enough and he says, no, I have something to say and eloquently tells the story of his mother's death.

He makes a comment part way through to the effect of look at these people from America who are going to all this trouble to find out about my father. Now that we've been asked all these questions and we see we don't know that much about him, we really ought to do something ourselves to get this information together and remember him in some way and I think his well put together soliloquy was reflective of that. They could have chosen to hate him as a father but they don't see it that way. Maybe the sister who killed herself never got over her mother's death.

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