Interview with Silas Hoadley
L to R: Silas Hoadley, Craig Boyan, Reb Anderson in abbot's study at SFZC City Center (c) 1971. Maybe having tea with Shunryu Suzuki.
post on Silas and his namesake on cuke blog 12-08-15
Cool photos at the bottom of page.
8\94 Interviewed by DC in Port Townsend around a fire burning in a big can on Niels Holm’s porch.
DC Comment: Silas Hoadley was one of Shunryu Suzuki's closest disciples. When Suzuki was dying, he told Jerry Fuller, "Don't worry, you have Dick and Silas."
DC: Greetings. So what do you have to say about Suzuki and those days?
SH: Each of us had an experience of encountering this man - we had a personal experience and then we encountered each other. It was a very large event in all of our lives. Many people came and didn't stay and I could never understand why. I felt that he was an extraordinary person in terms of the deed and the word being fused. That was the main thing that impressed me aside from the profundity of the teaching. To the extent that I was able to test him I never found any chinks that I couldn't rationalize.
DC: So when did you show up at Sokoji?
SH: I came to Zen Center on April fools day in 1964. Chick Reeder had come to California to check Suzuki out and invited me to go with him. I was living in the spaceship, a drug house in the Haight where we were experimenting with peyote mainly. And I was running an import export business. I had worked for [artist] John Varda the year before [who shared his houseboat with Alan Watts] and I'd talk to Alan Watts so I'd run into the verbal part of the tradition but I didn't have any understanding that it was an actual practice. It was living. I was always attracted when I read about it by the descriptions of Buddhism, especially Zen. Theravadan descriptions weren't so interesting to me - they always sounded pretty remote. Later I came to appreciate them. Alan was very seminal in making it feel very attractive. So I went over there that night and began sitting and didn't miss anything for about seven years.
DC: So how did Suzuki strike you when you met him?
SH: My first impression of Suzuki Roshi was that he was in touch with a truth that was bigger than the truth that I was basing my life on. I hadn't met anybody in Western culture that I could say that about. And there was the combination of his conduct and the teaching. And the seriousness of just his direct physicality and then his teaching of physicality of the body being necessary for practice and understanding. And the Western psychology that I'd looked into and other responses to suffering that I'd looked into all seemed to have a you-should-do-this and you-should-do-that but nothing like following your breath and the simple physicality made a lot of sense to me to explore - observing the body as it is, observing your life as it is, permission to examine things, it's legitimate to examine things in this way and it's an old tradition and I hadn't encountered this in reading or in anyone that I'd met.
And we sat at that lecture that I first attended - there was a brief sitting. We were sitting in chairs but he described zazen and what it was. He was lecturing from the Blue Cliff Records at that time.
I early on talked to him about quandaries about love and about suffering. Living in a culture where love is made a great deal of and personally feeling bereft - what I was into was save the world and have a lady, a relationship. Compassion but not a real compassion. I've been wrestling with that for all my life. He talked to me about love and I felt that he recognized me. I didn't really have confidence in my own grasp of what I was doing. He recognized that and gave me the feeling that it was legitimate to experience that.
He'd been critical about the intellectual reasoning behind the great co-prosperity sphere, Japanese expansionism in the thirties. It's my understanding that he spoke out against it but the response of the authorities who tended to be repressive of any criticism of the government, in the case of religious figures during the war, they just isolated them. They ignored them fundamentally but didn't repress them like school teachers and labor leaders. It got harder and harder to be critical but he wasn't arrested or even told to shut up. He was just ignored. But I don't know where I heard that.
DC: I get the impression from what he said in lectures a few times and to me about this, and from talking to people in Japan, that he did what he could as a temple priest but got pretty quiet when the army really took over and the war was on. [See Suzuki and War] He didn’t lead any pacifist movement or anything like that – but I’ve heard good things about how there were fairly open discussions in his temple going on quite a bit of the time.
SH: He told me he wanted Dick [Baker] to be his successor. There was a sense that what was important was the fundamental teaching, that Zen Center was a tentative fiction and not the main point. The main point was the teaching and Zen Center was an expression of that. He never made me feel or gave me instructions to stay and support Dick or anything like that but he knew that I probably couldn't have taken that anyway. I really didn't have an affinity with Dick so that I could stay to help make the institution work along the lines that I perceived that Roshi wanted it developed. I think what he was mainly interested in was in showing the culture of the yogic side to things - the fact of zazen. And he was quite specific about that - not like everything was cool. He felt it was hard to accomplish Buddhism in your life. By saying Dick is worthy of being called Roshi didn't mean he was thoroughly there. He always gave me the feeling that he didn't give his wholehearted approval to anybody.
I remember people asking him, if Buddhism is so hot, why were the Japanese so terrible to the Chinese and why did they behave so badly. He said, you should have seen them 900 years ago when Zen was just starting. It was like this is a commitment of hundreds of generations and that if you're really interested in humans you need to have an actual deep perspective and it's not a matter of certification but that it's a real stream of compassion and there were Buddhas before Buddhas and our problems are part of being human. The path that Buddha found out was an approach that was very helpful and that is what Suzuki Roshi was demonstrating.
I was very encouraged with my encounter with something that said your authority, your closed mind authority is not the complete story even though it felt like it. I'd come to some very early conclusions that started out with my going around in the world. I thought I knew what was what and what the truth was about the world and whether it was open or closed. He sort of knocked my socks off - encountering him. And I believed his authority about how big the situation is. My encounter with him was around existential issues of existence and death. Not who am I as much as what the hell is this? And what are words? Do they mean anything and can they be trusted? Something that legitimized silence, being silent - that was impressive and that there was a tradition of respect for wordlessness.
Part of it was the language he was using too - a new turn on language and a new way of putting things that had just enough of a spin on things that I found that began a process of loosening up on things that I held pretty strongly. I was very cynical about people and their motives and about the Western world and about the possibility of helping anybody. I was not at all interested in devoting my life to bringing consumerism into the world more fully which seemed to be the cultural tradition that I was born into. It seemed to me that Christianity was harmonizing with the situation as it is and psychiatry had bought into trying to get people back into the mainstream life and becoming a consumer. I understand that Buddhism doesn't conflict with that in Japan and he said it doesn't too. He said, don't expect too much results.
I've been practicing this my whole lifetime and this is it. There ain't no more than this and we've got to deal with this in our lifetime and that's the way it is. And I don't have any magic bullet for you either. But there's some magic if you follow your breath and allow yourself to be yourself as it is. He said things in those terms and that there was something else you can do with your life force that you haven't even considered as a way to go.
DC: What led up to getting Tassajara?
SH: We'd gone around and looked for land for a retreat in ‘64 and ‘65. Maybe in ‘63 even Richard Hieb offered a place to Suzuki Roshi up in Jenner and Richard [Baker] and some others went up there and I remember Richard [Baker] saying Suzuki Roshi went out and found some bracken, some young ferns that hadn't even opened and was delighted and cut them up and made a meal for them all and Richard said he had the runs the next day like he'd never had before. He was delighted Suzuki Roshi had made this meal for him though. Zen Center turned down the offer - probably Suzuki Roshi. It was incredibly lovely right at the mouth of the Russian River but it was awfully remote.
And Dan Welch had been through about that time and had run into Richard Hieb and he might be able to tell you about that. Great man, great man. He studied with the famous potter who made it big over here - Hamada. I think he had a spontaneous desire to have this beautiful place to go into some tradition and was impressed enough with Suzuki Roshi to offer it.
When I first came in ‘64 there really wasn't a strong idea of getting a remote place. But I think by ‘66 Dick announced he'd found this place and by the summer we'd gone out and visited Tassajara. And a bunch of us went down in October and Dick had found out it was for sale - it was the Horse Pasture that we were interested in. The first commitment was to buy the Horse Pasture for $150,000 and then we would erect tents and build it up and backpack stuff in. I had been elected treasurer the year before so I was involved in being included in any flow of information. I thought it was possible because my business was taking off and I felt pretty committed myself and I felt that we could make money as a group and I was really was excited by the possibility of being together with a group like that.
DC: You told me back then that if we didn't raise the money that you'd sell your business and buy Tassajara yourself.
SH: Dick announced that Suzuki Roshi wanted to do this. I think we may have gone up to look at Keith Deangelo's place too. We looked at a number of places. Dick had also put a down payment on the property up in Nevada City as an alternative should that deal fall through. So I think that people had been offering and there was an idea of maybe we should get a practice place where we can have retreats and I don't know for sure when we saw Keith's place up on the Eel River. Kathy Cook [Silas’s first wife] was there too I think about that time. I don't know whose idea it was - I never heard that we were looking for land but we were open to looking for land that was offered. But that wasn't a goal when I first came there. That seemed to happen in ‘65 and ‘66. It seemed like a natural thing to do because we were doing sesshins and there was a desire to do more sesshins. The idea of doing a whole Japanese temple and a traditional thing I think was more developed by Dick. But it was attractive because once you got into it you wanted to do it more. I think the Tassajara thing happened all of a sudden - the Eel River thing may even have happened later. The brochure went out right away to raise money for the Horse Pasture and the money for the down payment was raised [$20,000], Suzuki Roshi went to New York and some money came in and then I think Dick went down and was talking to the Becks about it - I think Beck brought it up that maybe you guys would like Tassajara and Ed had gone down to cook at Tassajara in the summer.
DC: I think Dick got Ed into that. I think he was looking ahead, thinking big. It all seemed to lead to buying Tassajara so that we quickly forgot that there was ever any other plan.
SH: So I think Dick thought Tassajara might be the place to do it.
DC: Dick discovered Tassajara first [for himself – others had been there and heard about it but when Dick walked in on day he got bit by an idea I think. Anyway, he didn't discover the Horse Pasture - it was just what came up as possible to buy at first but it slipped over to being Tassajara in November or December.
SH: And I agreed with him. And we thought, wow this is ground for Buddhism, this is a an authentic treasure. This really deserves to be supported and it's worthy of an institutional support - by this I mean Suzuki Roshi as a teacher, his personhood, the trust that we had in him. I was perfectly comfortable risking my fortune and life and devoting it to this project. And I was always uncomfortable with the idea of the tents and carrying all that stuff in and so when the possibility of getting Tassajara itself came up, I thought, oh this is much better. Cause then we could all go immediately into the gear that we all wanted to be in which was getting a place that was already going, it's beautiful, for $300,000 with rooms to move in. we've got a zendo - we can start practice right away and logistically the idea of camping out wasn't attractive to me.
DC: The money was raised to make the down payment on the Horse Pasture but it was put on Tassajara and all of a sudden it was for 300 instead of 150.
SH: And then a letter went out and said that this opportunity has come up that we were interested in down the road but we decided to do it right now.
DC: And all of a sudden we had a $48,000 payment due in a few months.
SH: The board made the decision to go ahead and buy Tassajara. Dick came back and said we had this opportunity - it was a group process. Dick did it but he included everybody. There was discussion of whether we could do it or not - I was for it. And there was the certainty of income down there which seemed like a wonderful opportunity for practice of serving. It gave us a commune and a community right off the bat. It was very exciting - plus the hot springs and the beauty was incredible. The Becks were ready - they were tired of what it took for them to run it and we impressed them with our ability to come up with the money to start with and our relationship was developing and Dick was a tough bargainer.
DC: Do you remember him telling Bob that he could build a house there?
SH: He did offer him acreage up on Grasshopper Flats which he never got. There was a lot of interpersonal stuff that went down between Bob and Dick. So we decided to do the whole thing and it wasn't that much of a stretch.
We got the Page Street building because Tassajara was taking more and more of his time and Suzuki was getting pressure from the Japanese community and they were saying gee we'd like to have our own temple priest and these gaijin [foreigners] are too much for us and maybe they should have their own place. I think there was some feeling that we should do that. Suzuki Roshi thought it was a good idea I think but I can't remember if he suggested it. He talked about it with the board. We looked at other places for some time. Dick had gone to Japan. I was president of Zen Center. Claude and I were looking and the search took us several months. It was in the wind also because all the apartments in the Sokoji neighborhood had been taken over and there were a lot of people coming there and the Japanese people were feeling overwhelmed. There was tension around it. There had been some feeling that we should be able to integrate, but that wasn't too realistic.
DC: With Suzuki and Katagiri resigning at the same time it must have been difficult for them.
SH: I don't know what happened from the Japanese community's perspective.
DC: I think Yoshimura helped out till Moriyama came.
SH: I was in a funny position when Suzuki Roshi was ill - I was president. He'd asked me to give the Saturday lectures in July or August and I knew Dick would be coming back soon. My function was always to hold the fort, keep the finances reasonable, keep the commitments and hold the fort with the strong understanding that Dick was coming back. So once Dick came back I didn't have much communication with Suzuki Roshi cause I wasn't in the transition team anymore. Yvonne was maintaining communication about Dick coming back and what was going to happen. My job was to keep up the forms. Katagiri Sensei was at Tassajara. I had no desire to communicate more. I wasn't anxious. The focus was that my wife was in trouble and I had a new child - I pretty much had my hands full.
There was a communication going on between Suzuki Roshi and Dick in Japan through Yvonne and my involvement was being in administration. I knew things were changing and I felt pretty isolated. Suzuki Roshi had told me back in March or April or sometime that Dick was coming back and was going to be his successor. I'd known that for years. When Dick went to Japan it was pretty obvious.
DC: Do you remember Suzuki Roshi talking about starting some other place to work with people more closely – a smaller practice place?
DC: OK. Hmm. Maybe Peter was talking about that back then. Anyway, go on.
SH: I had been shuso the year before with Tatsugami in the fall and that's when Suzuki Roshi went to Japan to give Dick transmission.
I remember the elbow and the shoving in the zendo and who had precedence. Tatsugami seemed to exert a territorial message - this is my place - I'm the abbot and Suzuki had to fight with him to assert that no, you're the visitor, this is my place. There was a whole thing where they jostled each other at the door and who was going to get in and walk down first. It might have been when Mel was shuso. It seemed that it was natural for Tatsugami to do that and natural for Suzuki Roshi to demonstrate his authority in the situation. We were all rooting for him.
Niels: He was sitting up there on the altar. He did something. I think there was something on the altar that happened. Who was going first or something and all the students were watching.
DC: It was fairly subtle for a struggle. Most people didn’t even notice it. I think it might have been who offered incense. It was ridiculous Tatsugami making himself Docho [abbot].
Niels: Of course it was ridiculous - he was a strange guy wasn't he? It was boring for him to have a temple I bet and he wanted to have Tassajara for himself and Suzuki Roshi would have the city. He'd sit and smoke all day.
SH: You asked me about Katagiri being Suzuki's successor and probably in the spring he was clearing with a lot of the senior students what their feelings were but I thought that he'd chosen Dick and that was the direction things were going and Katagiri probably wasn't the person to be the head of Zen Center at that time from my perspective. I thought Katagiri wasn't appropriate.
DC: I think Katagiri couldn’t have been a successor because he wasn’t Suzuki’s student and had his own lineage. It would have just been giving up in a way.
Niels: I was Katagiri's jisha and Suzuki’s and Katagiri was coming to Tassajara and he'd given his resignation to Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi called up and talked to Dan and Dan came and told me to keep Katagiri in Tassajara cause he didn't want to see Suzuki Roshi cause Suzuki wanted him to stay but he wanted to leave and so I lied to Katagiri - Suzuki said that by any means he wanted to see Katagiri. Katagiri said, has he left the city yet and I said no and I was there when Suzuki Roshi came in and I have never seen them act this way but they did this Japanese trip on their knees and talked formally and Katagiri was like a schoolboy and they talked Japanese. So Katagiri stayed because Suzuki put the screws on him.
SH: He put 'em on Kobun too.
Niels: I was his jisha in that last summer when he had cancer.
SH: That was early in the summer when we had the ordination with the kids.
DC: That was that summer? Hey, but wait – Suzuki didn’t know he had cancer in the summer.
Niels: Yes he did.
DC: No – he didn’t learn till the fall.
Niels: He knew and I knew.
Sh: Yes. I knew.
DC: Well, maybe you knew he’d had a cancerous gall bladder removed in the spring and he was pretty weak and so you suspected, but I think he didn’t know and then when he got to the city the doctor told him he had hepatitis and that’s what we all thought for a while. But maybe you’re right. I think that the gall bladder had cancer and Japanese tend to see cancer as a death sentence – that’s it, it’s over, it’s just a matter of time. So maybe he and Okusan had that sort of idea in mind. But they weren’t saying anything to anyone except that he should rest – which he didn’t want to do.
Niels: I'd be his watchdog and look out for Yvonne and Okusan who didn't want him to work and I'd stand there and whistle to him when they came. He had me do that. I knew he had cancer because they were being so protective.
DC: It wasn’t known till it was announced to the group in the city in the early fall when he called his disciples to his room and said I have good news - we all thought I had hepatitis and we were worried I was contagious but it turns out I have cancer and then he turned to Claude and said, Claude when I'm gone will you stay? and Claude was put on the spot and said yes and Suzuki Roshi had the tape machine stopped and rewound and replayed so he could make sure Claude saying yes was on it.]
Niels: Okay, but I knew he was pretty sick.
I remember him coming down from the city and I was washing him in the baths and scrubbing him down and I said, what is this mark you have and he laughed and he said, this mark was from the gall bladder. Then they found out so all that pain was for nothing, he said - it was sort of like he cheated the doctor. He thought it was funny. I asked him what the marks were for. They'd burned him with incense. He said they burned me for the wrong thing.
DC: Moxibustion. It’s like acupuncture with burning ends. People do it all the time in Japan. It’s not that bad.
SH: I remember when we had that board meeting and it must have been in September and it was announced that Dick was going to be installed as the abbot. I said we should have a meeting of the membership and ask for their approval. And I got shouted down by Yvonne. No no we don't have time, we can't do this. I was trying to retain a facade of democracy and it seemed important enough to involve the membership. I felt at that point that the force field was being established - this was going to be a monarchy and nothing to do with anybody's choice.
DC: It was imposed by Suzuki Roshi more than anyone don’t you think?
SH: But there was an administration and the board had 50% of the power and that wasn't respected. The disrespect of the board of directors as a co-equal decision making body with the abbot was cut even though that was our social contract. And then from then on that was trashed and the directors were meant to be good page boys. I resigned the next spring and got out completely in the fall. There was nothing for me to do.
DC: I remember when Dan Welch brought up at a board meeting a few years later that he was angry at Dick for pushing out all his peers and Dick blew him away and said that everyone who had a chance stayed.
SH: I didn't want the job to be responsible for all those people in a therapeutic way. It wasn't something that grabbed me and I didn't feel qualified to council people in that way.
DC: Suzuki did talk to some people about who to make abbot - he talked to Edward Conze who said Dick had the wrong chart for it and would squander the resources of Zen Center.
SH: Conze was great - I liked him so much - he was so biting.
DC: He could be vicious.
SH: But his viciousness was great and brilliant and entertaining and it was directed at pompousness and arrogance even though he had his own share of that stuff.
DC: I remember how Katagiri wanted out. We had a board meeting in the spring of 1971 after Suzuki had recovered from his gall bladder operation and I was invited – it was at Tassajara – and it was so great. Suzuki was trying to get Katagiri to stay. Tatsugami was uninvited for the fall practice period and Katagiri said he’d do it if Suzuki shared the responsibility. I felt like I was watching a chess game and the final moves were so great. Suddenly Tatsugami was gone and we would have both Suzuki and Katagiri there. Of course it didn’t work out for Suzuki, but Katagiri did it. But he still wanted out.
SH: My understanding was that Suzuki Roshi had asked Dick to be his successor in 1965 and that the whole development of Tassajara and Dick's confidence was based on that contract. You have to ask Dick but I think that whatever he was doing in clearing people was just to make them feel included - his mind was made up and it wasn't an open question. He had no such contract with anyone else. And Katagiri sensed the contract and several people perceived that there was something going on. I don't think Dick would have taken on Tassajara unless he felt there was a way for him to go with it and it was really Dick who wanted to do it all along and Suzuki’s response to Dick's energy was to say, okay if you want to do this I will support you to do this.
DC: Dick told me that Suzuki Roshi wanted to give him the transmission ceremony when he first ordained him at the start of Tassajara and Dick said he refused. Dick's trip is that Suzuki Roshi wanted him to find a place for practice that was isolated because only Dick could practice in the city. Only he got it. So that's why he got Tassajara and he sacrificed his practice at that point to make it happen and work. But Bob Halpern says that Suzuki Roshi said he didn't feel it was necessary to find a place in the country, that everything was going just fine but that Dick and some others, mainly Dick wanted to have a remote place so that was okay with him. But anyway, who knows. And it’s obvious that Tassajara was a dream come true to Suzuki – regardless of what he said to Bob.
SH: I think Bob is probably reporting accurately. Dick certainly would describe things in that way but I don't think he had to rationalize it the way that he did. I think Dick was the only one who got it at that time. I think he had an attainment of the practice and an ability to enter the form of it that was ahead of everybody else.
DC: Some people say he was never there and he didn’t practice. A lot of people were jealous of him. But Suzuki sure approved of him.
SH: He was always there when I was there. He was very present. Dick had done a lot of pre-training in his personal life, he'd studied a lot and taken risks, dropped out of school, studied yogic stuff and Eastern stuff and he had major experience with Charlotte Selver. There was some assumption in Richard's grasp of it that he had accomplished the whole thing and he asserted that with incredible vigor. And Suzuki Roshi gave him some kind of approval but my impression was that he was handling a very strong forceful disciple and was handling him in an appropriate way.
Grahame Petchey was at Zen Center when I was there and then he went to Japan. I didn't see him at Eiheiji when I went there in ‘65 but I ran into Brian Victoria [who was Tatsugami's disciple]. They put me in the Emperor's room. They took me to dinner and there were 300 old men and women who waited for me to sit down before they ate. I had just said that Suzuki Roshi asked me to come here and apparently that impressed everybody. Brian Victoria showed me around.
Phillip Wilson had a hard time with Dick taking over. He later burned his robes. He was frustrated because Dick was getting the nod and he wasn't.
DC: Well, he couldn't function. Suzuki had asked him to leave, at least for a while, because it just wasn’t working for him or for others for him to be around and so he wasn’t around much for the last couple of years. But he started visiting Suzuki toward the end. I think Suzuki loved him a lot. I think they had a feeling bond, but not so much a spoken one. But he couldn’t function.
SH: That's right.
DC: I told Kobun that Suzuki Roshi says he's going to give Dick transmission, Kobun freaked out and went no no no not Dick he didn't say that - Phillip maybe. He was desperate.
SH: I think that Suzuki Roshi saw in Dick an incredible energy form - a totally Western energy form and it was time for shock therapy. We can't just go by the formalities - this guy’s got the juice.
DC: Do you think Suzuki made any mistakes?
DC: Do you think he was infallible?
DC: Do you think everything he did was perfect?
SH: At the time I met him yes. He made mistakes with words but in the main I don't think he made judgment mistakes - in the main. I think he was out there on an intuitive level with people. It's one of those unfortunate things where I've got the true believer syndrome but the criticisms I've heard of Suzuki Roshi seem to be just throwing words at him like he was naive or he was this or that. I don't see real instances that I can't counter with a rationale that satisfies me - if I had real proof in my own situation I'd counter but I think he did okay by the culture, by Dick, by the people in Zen Center. He gave them a problem. We were all involved in a situation of transference. He said, "I've come here to destroy your mind." That's what he announced. He said that in a lecture and explained it a little bit and he meant the small mind but it was a chilling statement. Having studied Gurdjieff I had some idea of what he was talking about. I thought he really means it and that he's a ruthless, destructive force as far as the ego is concerned. He really asked for it - this is an authentic person who very strictly represents forces of life and is in tune with those forces of life in an authentic way. That's what I felt. That’s' a problem that I have - I don't know if anybody agrees with me - Ananda does I think.
I think he had a teaching of selflessness and he inhabited the teaching that he was giving. He was at one with the central teachings of Buddhism and he seemed to have an extraordinary grasp of people. I never saw him fail in terms of people but he couldn’t stop everybody from killing themselves. He didn't claim to have the power to save Jeannie [who killed herself after he died] or Mrs. Bragdon and there were lots of people. Ann Isaacson had contact with Suzuki Roshi and then later she jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. He couldn't stop that. In that sense he didn't have the magic zap, but he didn't claim that and Buddha didn't claim that. But I didn't find the fallibility - if I had I would of left. I was in it for the whole hog, I wasn't interesting in a relative teaching. From my point of view, he satisfied that. I don't know what I was looking for but I sensed through him that there was a bedrock that's available to all of us and that it's very meaningful.
I understood Tatsugami had failings and I knew Katagiri had failings but his failings were more along the lines that he didn't have the breadth to handle people at the time and Suzuki seemed to be able to handle everybody who came his way in a big inclusive way and he would give them full attention and accurate response but he didn't lay anything on people. Not from what I could see.
After Dick left Zen Center it seemed fashionable to see Suzuki Roshi as having failings but I didn't see that - oh maybe his memory failed once in a while. My only hope is that memory isn't a criteria for it.
Niels: He couldn't remember the Heart Sutra one time when he was chanting at someone’s home. He forgot things all the time. I saw his trickster side all the time. I had to help him cover up for Okusan.
SH: I never saw him do that as his attendant. I didn't see the trickster side of Suzuki Roshi like how he got Katagiri to stay at Tassajara. He didn't let me see that side of him.
DC: Like when Alan Watts came to see Suzuki Roshi and he let Niels do all the talking.
SH: With me it was an issue of faith but to me he was a very accurate human being and I think the training works. But I don't know how Tatsugami got the way he was - maybe he was born that way to a degree and Dick too. Suzuki Roshi harmonized his life with the situation. He did it well enough that it worked for me and I suppose that's really all that counts. He didn't have self interest. He didn't seem to be looking out for himself in any way and I guess that's what I mean by infallibility. And he taught selflessness and he was available to interact with people and when he did so I felt it was good for them. It was as good as you could get. He didn't try to do what he couldn't do. He understood that if we could spend 24 hours a day with Mrs. Bragdon that maybe there was something we could do with her. That's what he said, that if she could have been around more then maybe we could have helped her out more. But she was very far away. He said that to me spontaneously one day. But I was thinking what could we do because my wife was suicidal on and off all the time. It was a threat in her makeup.
[DC note: Mrs. Bragdon was the mother of a student, a woman who lived on the East Coast, and she went into the woods near her home one day and killed herself, cutting her throat with a razor blade (as I recall) while clutching a copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Suzuki went to Massachusetts and spent time with the family and did her funeral.]
DC: What do you remember about when Suzuki was dying?
SH: I remember the meeting in the dokusan room, the living room - his meeting with all his disciples - it was a big deal.
DC: It was after the Mountain Seat Ceremony where Dick became abbot.
SH: Katagiri cried and crawled to Suzuki.
A few days before his cancer announcement I talked with him and he was fingering his mala with the sculls - that’s the first sense I got he was going to die - a foreshadowing - I was giving lectures - I gave three or so in August and September.
DC: Did he tell his disciples he had cancer from his bed or did you meet in the tatami room?
SH: The cancer announcement was around the bed - yes.
The last time I saw him - I was going to sesshin in Quadra Island and a three day sesshin in Portland on the way. I went to say goodbye - he was sleeping so I sat with him and later Yvonne said he was a little mad I didn’t say goodbye.
DC: Anything else?
SH: Suzuki-Roshi asked me to ask Bill to teach Dan and me about the transmission ceremony - the names of the patriarchs.
The night he died he told Okusan he wanted to talk to Dick about me. He never got to. She told me when I came back and gave me a scroll and one to Dan - it says something about a dot on the Dragon’s eye.
DC: She gave one to Ed later I think.
SH: I figured I was moving out of the picture so I didn’t need to talk to him.
DC: Thank you most kindly.
Photo of Silas taken in Port Townsend by Tim Buckley in 2014. - thanks Sandy Hollister
Silas sent this 12-15:
Enclosed photo must have been taken around 1850. maybe an office party? Guy in he middle showing off the clock is Silas .(looks a bit like Neils to me). His company stopped making wooden movements for clocks around this time. He went into politics as a next career.
|To interviews What's New|