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About Suzuki Roshi
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Larry Hansen on Quadra
Interviewed by DC September 17, 1995
posted - 7/04/2000
October 2017 - See Larry's rakusu just received from Mel Weitsman at the bottom of this page.
I'm working in Japan in Nagano and we sit in the mornings at a temple that's Shingon-Zen, Katsenzenji, and a guy named Mukei [sp?] started it - it's a special sect and he died a year ago and there's a life-size picture of him before the altar. There are three old monks who live there and still are carrying on his tradition.
I came to Zen Center in 64 or 65 when I was 19 or 20. I had run into a young lady in the city who was going to a Zen lecture and so that's how I first heard Suzuki Roshi. He just made a real deep impression on me and I couldn't figure out how he could be so tremendously up front about everything without any pretence. I felt a tremendous honesty coming from him and he was able to expose himself to any criticism without worrying about it whatsoever. He didn't care if the ship went down so to speak.
I was in the first wave of people who went to Tassajara to help to build the kitchen. Us and Loring Palmer, Silas, Jeff Broadbent, Peter, Niels. And once Rob Gove and I were under the bridge to the baths and there was this big boulder that Suzuki Roshi wanted, he said he wanted it for his rock garden, would we please get it for his rock garden so that was about the only word we spoke for about a week while we four or five of us struggled to move the boulder by various devices and means, each one of us secure that we were going to move this boulder to his rock garden which was quite a distance away. That winter he lived in the first cabin over the bridge over the little creek. After a week we hadn't even budged it yet and we were doing everything we could but we weren't about to break the rule of silence so we were just working silently trying to move it and he'd come by and look at us but not say anything and we'd keep trying because it was an inexhaustible practice. During that period before the first guest season we let some guests come down on the weekends and one day we were down there and Suzuki Roshi was with us too and some people came by on the bridge and said, what are you guys doing? and we all felt like looking up and saying we're all trying to move this boulder over to Suzuki Roshi's rock garden, can't you see? But he looked up and them and said, "We don't know!" This was a total catharsis for all of us that were down there around that rock for him to come out and blatantly saying we don't know what we're doing. It's still there in the creek. He faked us into thinking we knew what was going on. We thought he wanted the rock, but when he told those visitor's "We don't know!," he was serious in his gleeful way of being serious. Maybe he meant the rock was always in his garden.
Once and awhile I drove him and around and once we were on our way into Tassajara and we stopped at Carmel and he said he wanted a bag of jellybeans and I got it and he said good, let's go down to the beach and so we did and it was a nice hot day and there were seagulls nearby and he threw a jellybean to them and then he gave me one and then he did that about a dozen times and finally he threw a jellybean at the seagull and I just reached for one and he just laughed at me. (laughter).
He had a very simple way, he didn't necessarily teach but he always expressed to us that he wanted to be our friend more than our teacher. That's what he wanted but unfortunately for us we were all so young and starry-eyed Zen students at the time and we were too intimidated by the presence of wisdom to feel like we could be real friends. We hadn't developed our true wisdom eye where we could look at him and be one with him or see him as he really was, a shapeless Zen teacher of some merit.
DC - Yeah, he wanted to have a natural relationship and it was impossible for us to be natural.
When I think back at how hard we tried to be real monks - we were really going for it.
Doug Anderson and I lived in the cabin across from Suzuki's with Silas and Ed in back. I used to run up and down the road and ring the bell in front of all the cabins. In the evening after the last period of zazen, Doug and Phillip Wilson and I would sing old rock 'n roll songs right in front of Suzuki's cabin and he didn't say anything but one day in lecture he said there's these lunatics singing outside of my window every night and I don't say anything because I know that it can't go on forever. I don't know if he used the word lunatic but he sure meant it. So we stopped.
When I came Zen Center was very small. Richard Baker was there and Silas and the houses hadn't started yet. [apartments across the street from Sokoji. Zen Center rented the rooms out to students cheap.-DC] I lived above a little Japanese restaurant and we had a hand-wrought balcony. It was torn down. It was Buchanan. Gavin Arthur lived there and Silas's girlfriend, a big lady, lived there.
Suzuki Roshi and I got to be very close through zazen but I don't have much to say.
He used to have this little thing we did with him, we'd bow to him as we filed out of the zendo and there was this old Japanese guy sitting there.
DC - Yeah, the old guy reading the newspaper, he was the caretaker of the building. Sometimes when Suzuki Roshi wasn't there we'd still bow at the same place as we filed out and there'd be new people and they'd think we were bowing to him and he was the teacher.
Suzuki Roshi married Lori Cohen and me. She sat in the city with me and we came up to Quadra in 69 and we'd do sesshin and I went back to city in 70 on my way home from visiting my wife's parents with her and I told Suzuki Roshi that we were sitting a lot and doing sesshin at Quadra and he said, you should come back here and I said I'm sorry I can't come back at the moment and he said, "I'll send somebody to help you then." And then I asked Silas to come up and do some sesshins and he said sure and I told Silas that you must be the person that Suzuki Roshi meant when he said he was going to send someone up to help me and he was amazed. He didn't know why he'd come up. He came up for years and we had some wonderful sesshins. I told him I was really devoted to practice and I said I thought I needed some robes and I'd read how important Dogen said it was to be ordained so I mentioned to him that I was thinking of possibly becoming a priest and he looked at me and smiled and said, "You know, I think I'm not going to create any more big shots."
I remember during one sesshin it was very cold. Loring Palmer ran around all winter barefoot. We couldn't wear any socks in the zendo and Liz [Wolf] was sitting there and asked him after a lecture, "Suzuki Roshi, I thought you said that when it got cold that we'd figure out how to stay warm within our zazen and Suzuki Roshi looked at her and said, "It's just not cold enough yet."
Once Liz [Wolf] was serving soup at lunch and she stopped in front of him and she blurted out, "Suzuki Roshi, when I'm serving you soup, what is it like for you?" He said, "It's like you're serving your whole self to me in this bowl." She drew him out in a way in public that few people did.
The most amazing sesshin was the one done at the time that Suzuki Roshi passed away. We were doing a Rohatsu sesshin simultaneous with Tassajara and Page Street and we were sitting in a remote abandoned farm house and it was snowing like crazy and we decided we'd keep sitting and get a helicopter to get out if we needed to and there was three feet of snow outside the cabin door and there were about 11 of us in there and we heard this noise from out of the wilderness and it kept getting closer and closer and it was this big Timberjack - a logging truck with four independently driven wheels about 8 ft in diameter - it's for getting logs out of the bush and there was guy on this thing with this big bright light shinning at our door and this voice came out of the darkness and said, "Is a Hindu there?" and we all looked at each other. It was a guy named Alan Loma and he had the only phone within miles was at his father's house and he was this old logger and someone had found him on the phone to tell us of Suzuki Roshi's death and they'd somehow reached him at this remote logging camp and he knew there was this guy named Silas and this other guy named Larry and they should be notified that Suzuki Roshi had passed away and he said who are they are where are they? And he was told they're Buddhists and they're meditating near you in a little cabin so he sent his son out on the Timberjack to find the Hindu to tell them that Suzuki Roshi had passed away.
Molly Jones's mother had some land up here and had a dream of having her art students live on this South end of Quadra and I came to put in the foundation for her mother's studio. It was going to be a two week holiday working but we stayed. Lori's remarried and living here.
I was in a 7 day tangaryo - it was the second one and there weren't any more 7 day ones after that. There were a few of us.
DC - Yeah - there was the guest season and then the first practice period and it had a three day tangaryo. Suzuki Roshi wanted a ten day and Dick said no people won't last so Suzuki Roshi said then there should be a seven day one and Dick said no that would be too long and Suzuki Roshi said well it has to be five and Dick said, no we can do that later - this one should be three and so Suzuki Roshi relented and we did it but it ended on the afternoon of the third day before bath period - we had a ceremony and that was it. It was the shortest one. That's how I remember that.
I left in the spring of 69 after the practice period - I think Claude was head monk. And I hiked out to the highway and got a ride with a truck driver and he asked what I'd been doing and I said I'd been logging in the mountains cause I'd been up with Kobun and Katagiri getting the pine logs for the kitchen and I remember we had to take the chain saw away from Katagiri cause he was always trying to cut his pants off.
Suzuki Roshi wasn't there at Tass a lot in those early days and sometimes it would be a long time till you could see him to tell him what's going on - Katagiri and Kobun were there so it was pretty amazing but for me even now sitting at the temple in Nagano that I feel like Suzuki is with me. We had a big sesshin there in Nagano and about 100 people came from all over the world and Tim and April and I would go up and sit the first period of zazen. The sesshin was going on in the main temple and we were up in this other little temple and they didn't even allow the Japanese lay people to go there but we could come sit during sesshin but on the fifth day Tim changed jobs and couldn't come and April flew back to Quadra so I was alone. This monk, Muso, came up and said, Hanson san you have to turn around and sit facing out. They sit fifty minute periods
DC - that's what Suzuki Roshi said at times he wanted to do.
I was sitting there without a watch waiting for someone to come tell me that it was over and I looked up at the picture of Mukei with all kinds of incense burning all around and Mukei passed away at 92 and the picture was taken moments before he died and he was just sitting there looking at me and he started to move like he was alive, really animated, three dimensional all of a sudden and it went from Mukei to Suzuki Roshi to a young Suzuki Roshi as a soldier and it kept transforming and it was frightening but I just went with it and it turned into a few different animals and after an hour and a half Muso rang the bell and I got off the cushion and I asked Muso for a picture of Mukei saying I think he had the same mind as Suzuki Roshi, my old teacher. I had to write it down and he got it translated and the next day I got a big picture of Mukei to take with me.
During good long periods of zazen it's like Suzuki Roshi hasn't passed away and is still sitting there with us.
In 69 when I left I saw him in the city and described various zazen experiences I'd had to him and he said Oh wonderful and we were shaking hands and chatting and having a great time and he said what are you going to do now and I said I was going away for two weeks. His health wasn't so good then.
One day when I came into his office to bow to him and I was about the last person in line and he stopped me and said ocha and we had some tea and he said what are you doing and I said I'm building a subway between SF and Berkeley and he just burst out laughing and he said, "That's a long way to go by hammer."
I think Suzuki Roshi's teaching was the same true teaching as Bodhidharma's teaching. I could quote from Mikado, the wonderful Spanish poet. "It's possible that while sleeping, the hand that sews the seeds of stars started the ancient music going again like a note from a great harp and a frail wave came to our lips as one or two honest words." Suzuki Roshi taught us not to get hung up on stuff and not to be too self-indulgent. Stay loose and hang in there. It seems to fit just about everything.
[DC: I included stuff in that interview from subsequent emails]
Intro: 11/06/01 - I returned from study in Japan at Tetsuzen Mukei's (meaning is shapeless) temple in the mountains of Nagano in 1998. I returned with Masami Iida, we were married in a Buddhist ceremony in February, 1999. We still have our house on Quadra Island but we are living in Steveston, near Vancouver, BC. Our daughter Liv Kai is now two and a half years old. It was a joy for me to discover you new little book of stories in a bookstore here. Attached is a story about what happened to all of us one day at Tassajara, but just like the old '60's saying..... if you can remember, you weren't there.
11-26-01 - sent a new version
I think it was Bob Halpern (not Loring) who wore no shoes or socks that cold winter of ’66-‘67. His feet were numb all the time but he was convinced strong practice would protect him. By the way, when Mukei was in his 80’s you can tell Bob that he sat buried in the snow in the Nagano mountains for 24 hours. His comment afterwards was; “it was nothing great, I only did what I could do. It was nothing more, nothing less”.
And there were others, you remember, Clark Mason, Tim Burkett, Rob Gove, …
We were not your gentle Soto practitioners in ’66-’67. We sat balls to the walls shikantaza, legs tied in knots, spines stretching to the stars, relentless, only the bell would move us.
I remember Rob Gove leaving the zendo so spaced, after a long zazen, that he fell head first into the septic tank hole that he had been digging earlier that day. We lifted him out and he was fine….. stunned, but okay.
I especially remember one long practice period sesshin day when we all disappeared. The windows of our lives melted and fell away. Suddenly everything and everyone was empty in a boundless unity. Luminosity and energy had transformed the whole universe, forever and everywhere. My face before my parents were born appeared. What had taken so long!?
I turned to Suzuki Roshi at the alter. Now I understood him. I had penetrated to the source. Everything was totally exposed within this all revealing energy. What to do now? Follow myself around, as I bowed in gratitude to the Buddha’s one and all passing along the Tassajara path.
Sometime later, during the same sesshin, the world returned to us (although it never had gone anywhere). The world of substance and gravity poured back in, obscuring the radiance. Thought, desire, memory,… filled us and in a moment we were painfully back on our cushions.
I was devastated at having to come back into my 22 year old body and life, angry that the infinite would not satisfy my desire for the infinite.
What has followed forward from the time 34 years ago is that I am less inclined now to try to squeeze the ocean into a tea cup. I know my memory cannot touch the experience of enlightenment. It exists in another dimension and is ten million times bigger than me. Nor can my desire or thought find a way to it, it simply cannot be reached from here by anyone. Zen is not an exercise conducted for my own benefit. So now I chase after less and throw away less because maybe without chasing after and throwing away, all of our enlightenment and all of our delusion can have the same root in Suzuki Roshi's big mind from (as he says) beginningless beginning to endless end.
[The head monk in this story is RB, an American - there, that hid him a little bit. - DC]
With reference to Darlene Cohen’s story about little acts of rebellion (pg 190 of Shoe’s At The Door) when the head monk in this story “just had to eat it”.
January 1, 1968 we had a big new year and finally we broke the Han party at Tassajara. Cases of Sake were brought down from the city. Niels and I arranged pots and pans from the kitchen into a percussion section to accompany the spontaneous singing.
Even Suzuki Roshi danced, his robes flapping wildly in our study turned dance hall. It was a magical deep in our mountain fastness until the head monk decided it was time to call it an evening and told everyone to return to their cabins and go to sleep.
We had hardly touched the Sake brought for the occasion and Tim Aston tucked a bottle into his robe to continue the festivities back in the cabins.
The head monk caught Tim at the door and we all watched as he accused him of stealing from himself. The bottle was returned to the case and we all filed out into the suddenly sad night.
Ed was head cook and the next morning at breakfast he gave us a big surprise. Instead of beans in the middle bowl we were served Sake. Sitting next to Suzuki Roshi, the head monk looked perturbed, but Ed was not deterred, and returned with seconds of Sake. He brought thirds. It was Ed’s show, he was the boss in the zendo at mealtimes and the angrier the head monk appeared, the more the Sake flowed, until Tim and I were the only two able to accept Ed’s gift. Everyone sat perfectly still as Ed continued to serve us until the meal ending chant. We had to be helped from our cushions to a sitting position against a tree in the garden near the workshop.
It was a very angry head monk standing over us proclaiming that Tim and I were totally out of line and he wanted us gone from Tassajara.
Loring and Bob, backed by all the others from the zendo corrected him, saying we were blameless and it was he who was out of line, that we had only accepted what had been offered by the cook.
We watched the head monk deflate. We had him, and for once he was speechless. Justice and humor had been served that morning in the zendo.
I am not ever separated from our friend Suzuki San, he inhabits me , and I don't mind. Thanks for all your efforts. I continue to practice with Norman when he comes to Van. - not the same, all the same. Much love.
LH: Yep.. you found me. I remember giving Mary my address when she visited for our recent 2 day sit in Port Townsend.
So great to hear from you... seems like yesterday...
Aston is on Quadra Island. Masami and Liv and I are sailing our boat up there in August and I will get his contact info for you.
DC: Now remind me who Masami and Liv are and what's happening with you and when you came to Tass and so forth.
LH: Hi David; Dick invited me to go help build Tassajara just after we purchased it.. I arrived during the first practice period and did a 7 day Tangaryo. Moved in to cabin 1 with Ed, Silas, and Doug. I lived there until I walked out to the coast to get Married to Laurie in the spring of 69. I used to ring the bell, running between the cabins to wake everyone up for morning zazen ( no alarm clock) and beat the tattoo on the Han ( even broke one! our first broken han party!). Suzuki Sama Married Laurie and me at Sokoji.... Much Later Silas married April and me.... Laurie and I are still best of friends, and April is a famous artist in Victoria. In Japan I met Masami on the train to Narita. We have been married now for 8 years, and have an 8 year old daughter whose. name is Liv Kai. My 32 year old daughter ( Fannie) is in med school and lives in Newport Beach. My 34 year old son is a ski bum like his dad. Here are some pictures of Liv and Masami. [And Larry!]
DC: [Inquired further.]
LH: I was there from the second half of the first practice period, and until an embarrassing and for years ( still ) integrating kensho during the 69 spring period.
DC: Integrating kensho?
LH: Re; spring 69 practice period - Forgive me . I don't do kensho speak.. no one can find it. What was embarrassing that happened during the spring practice period was that everyone who I was trying to save, including me, disappeared... and are still not even here, and there was this voice asking what took you so long. And then when I went to tell Suzuki Sama about this earth shattering truth, all he did was shake my hand and say wonderful, wonderful, like he had just eaten a piece of birthday cake. Very embarrassing!~
It's like I told him I had just eaten his being, and his response was for me to take a bite, enjoy, then spit it out.
Of course his response was appropriate, but tough to take when you're 23 and thought you had just split the atom
DC: Very neato. Thanks. I'm going to add this all to your interview unless you protest. Thanks. d
LH: I only protest when the wind dies, the snow melts, or we're out of Tabasco sauce. cheers, L
DC: Another thing - I have friends whose HS age daughter is in Tokyo for a while doing home-stay and studying Japanese. She's very cool. Got anyone or anything you'd suggest for her while she's there? d
LH: D... as for your friends daughter, All my wife's friends in Tokyo are now married and living in little apartments.. hardly the stuff of teenagers. If I was still around I would take her sailing on Lake Nojiriko near Nagano, I still own a lazer [?] that I loan to the "Yacht " club there.. Or if it was winter, I'd take her to meet my friends who teach skiing where I taught in Myoko Kogen. I also have a dear friend who teaches Japanese at Kyoto Univ. ( he's American, I went to the U of Mich with him) I think he has teenage kids now.. I could put her in touch with them.. Kyoto is rich and very cool
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