cuke.com  - Shunryu Suzuki Index  - WHAT'S NEW - table of contents
Suzuki Stories     Brief Memories of Shunryu Suzuki

Interview with Sue Isaacson

to interview index

I didn’t have a lot of contact with him but he let me know now and then ... that he was watching me.



Sue and I were at Tassajara together in the mid seventies. She was my benji, assistant, when I was shuso. She and I were later at Page Street and at Greens together. We've always gotten along even when she was making fun of me. She has a cutting and compassionate sense of humor.

On Nov. 14, 2001 Sue came to my home in Sebastopol and we talked and I took notes. In 2011 I read the notes aloud and recorded them. In August of 2016 I transcribed those notes and am putting them up here on cuke. Please excuse the delay. - dc


Sue Isaacson

When I first moved near the Zen Center I was living on Lily Alley in a duplex with A. He drove me crazy. He was so anal. Like he'd eat the whites of the egg and not the yoke. It bothered me so much I had to talk to Suzuki Roshi. I sat down with Suzuki Roshi in dokusan. Maybe he asked me what was bothering me. I somehow got it out that I had a roommate I couldn’t stand and asked, should I move? He about fell over backwards laughing and then told me I could stay or move. That was in the early seventies.

I was going upstairs at 300 Page Street after a sesshin fully depressed, angry, a whole lot of shit had gotten stored up. I was like a fire cracker, angry but I held back. Suzuki Roshi was walking down with a few people. I could barely gassho, He put his hands in gassho down and put them up like fuck you too or like get over yourself. He interrupted my heavy role. I was communicating fuck you to the world and he picked up on it. He was being very playful. Reflecting me back on myself.

During sesshin back then I got really depressed. A lot of dark heavy emotions came up. On a break I was in the laundry room Suzuki Roshi walked in. I didn’t feel comfortable with him. I kind of panicked because I was alone.  We'd just done a lot of work on the building like painting, had pulled library books out in hall and painted it. We did the Buddha hall. So he came in and came up to me in the laundry room and he said, "There’s a lot of work that needs to be done." And the walls fell away and the environment disappeared. Just him and me and the universe. I thought it was about the laundry room but he was telling me about my practice. Very sweet of him. I didn’t have a lot of contact with him but he let me know now and then like this that he was watching me.

I was sitting zazen during the Tassajara rohatsu sesshin in December, 1971. Everyone knew Suzuki Roshi was very sick. I was facing the stone wall and started experiencing Suzuki Roshi’s gross body disintegrating into the ethereal. Earlier during zazen that morning Katagiri had said, "Suzuki Roshi is dying." I was despairing completely because my teacher was dying. It was clear to me that a lot of the emotion and pain of going through death with him wasn’t fun. And we didn’t move at all – this entangling continued and eventually I felt lost. His body died. I could see it was dead but at some point he crossed over. I totally flipped out, lost it doing the slow Zen thing, but inside there was an emotional Niagara Falls. I  started calling out his name silently. Did that for some time. And he came up the aisle and stopped. He came from the altar touched my shoulder, adjusted my posture, straightened my back, calmed me down and went off. I was chilled for a while but got back into it. It was clear as bread and butter. It was real. He got into my dramatization.

DC: Others said they saw him after he'd died walking in the zendo. Even years later. You've heard that?

Right.

At a Green Gulch sesshin Reb was leading, more than usual I was missing Suzuki Roshi and the depth of practice around him. Without him, meditating and things in general were not as deep. And I missed him. It was a delight to be around him because he gave you a depth to dive into, a deep wide place. He made it accessible. I decided I’d experiment. Evoke him. Called his name and felt I got his attention, that he responded by being there. Felt Reb interrupted it saying you’re not ready don’t do that don’t disturb Suzuki Roshi. I felt he explicitly said that but during zazen.

I came to Zen Center in 1969 at the age of 21. Within the first couple of months I saw Suzuki Roshi for the first time in the dining room. He was giving a lecture up front.

DC: He'd go into the dining room after a lecture in the Buddha Hall and answer questions.

I had a hard time understanding him. The second time in the zendo I didn’t connect that it was the same person as in the lecture. Went into shock. Primal connection. Clearly found whom I’d been looking for. I would have done anything he said. I wanted to do zazen because he was doing it.

I did really weird things at Zen Center for so long. I was very suppressive in every way. I went for it. I think it stirred up my beliefs in karma in a negative way. I had spiritual experiences but couldn’t walk down the street to buy a loaf of bread. Being stiff, rigid, too serious. Suzuki Roshi didn’t get into that but didn’t know how to translate into our culture - especially sex which was beyond him. Yvonne said he said that. He brought a monastic male scene.

Within two months of leaving Zen Center I was having incredible visions of a beautiful young man in the center of a circle dancing freely, balanced. Pie wedges coming out of the center at the end of the wedges a person dancing responding to him and each dancer off balance in a grotesque way. But the whole vision came together because of the guy in the center. I saw it at ground level then up above and I couldn’t figure out who it was.

Trungpa came to Zen Center. He was in a wheel chair and on crutches. There were not many people there that day. Suzuki Roshi came down in the courtyard and they moved to the dining room. We sat together silently. He said Any questions? I felt embarrassed thinking, You didn’t say anything. What are we supposed to talk about?

Who was the young man in the vision? Suzuki Roshi? Trungpa? I finally dropped it.

So I became a little nun who went around telling everyone what to do.  After a while I got miserable at Zen Center. I was so rigid. Adi Da said I institutionalized all my tendencies.

In 1972 Robert Lytle and Mary Williams got the Knee of Listening [by Franklin Jones later Da Free John then, among other names, Da Love Ananda and finally Adi Da Samraj]. Everybody read it. I got on the list after Robert. The first half is the story of his life, the second half was spiritual stuff. It was interesting and though I thought it was copying from various spiritual traditions I loved reading it.

After Suzuki Roshi died Mark Harris was looking for a new teacher. We were friends and that was very disturbing to me. I suggested he check out Da Free John. He got involved in the way of heart. It sounded like a major cult to me. I was involved in the Bodhisattva vow.

Then Dick did one bad thing too many. Dick got stoned out of town and my life fell apart. I thought I’d be a Zennie all my life. I was pretty non functional and devastated at about that time I had a childish relationship to Zen Center, a lost waif. Peggy the acupuncturist turned me on to a psychic whose wife wanted me to get involved with Adi Da.

Sometime after Mark left instead of falling asleep one night I saw Adi Da in a vision and knew he was what he said he was - a completely bright being of light, not a person. I prostrated at his feet. When I got up he was already walking back. When I went down I said I’ve avoided other relationships. I’m avoiding relationships by bowing. I woke up and said I’m doing so good they’re coming to see me. Trungpa had come once. Then I knew Adi DA was who he said he was.

Adi Da was in Northern California. The Zen Center guest house, Hodge House then Conze House rented the space out and there was going to be presentation on Adi Da. I’d had my nervous breakdown and Zen Center had its nervous breakdown. I wanted to have an ordinary US citizen thing - a job. Have a guy. No spiritual practice. So I went to the talk. They said Adi Da was the Divine God Man and that this is an incredible opportunity while he’s here. I thought How stupid falling into a trap of worship of a human being. You’re in for such a fall. As soon as the lights went on I bolted out of there.

Later hanging out with the psychic and his wife, they wanted me to meet Adi Da. I was at 340 Page St. occasionally and finally decided I should check it out. I was hanging with Michael Canright. He was really upset I was going to check Adi Da out. Everyone wrote me off – Betsy, Darlene, Why give up your power and get involved with this person all over again? Thomas (the psychic) was putting pressure on me. We went to the orientation in Terra Linda then took a bus to Lake County. The person who gave the presentation was not nice like at Zen Center. He said, "You slobs are going to see the god man." I wanted to leave but felt Suzuki Roshi. I consciously invoked Suzuki Roshi going up in the bus and asked Suzuki Roshi is this OK? Yes – only the most positive energy, only that. Sitting next to the guy. He asked, "Are you ready?" Ready? "Are you ready to see him?" I saw Jonathan Condit, Molly Jones. People were friendly. There were booths selling Adi Da things.  People were chanting. There were tents, incense, talks. A woman talked about what’s happening. Adi Da had gone through death. I wanted to get out of there then I came in for darshan. He was just a little man. So what? I was beside myself, mind chattering. Trying to be Zen. OK, he’s real but I’m Zen I thought. A lot of people should be here but not me. I got more interested in Zen practice. Thomas tried again. I said, I did it. I'm not interested. He said, "You should see his aura. He’s a world teacher."

So I did it again. I went three times. Each time in the middle of the week. I’d find myself in Samadhi. I’m melting. Wow. I didn’t do this. Obviously it's a gift from Adi Da. The third time I saw my distraction. He’s there. I’m not. I was blissed out sitting by a bonfire and time melted. I was receiving everything I wanted and then some. OK I said, I’ll do it. You’re giving me too much. I started getting involved. I went back up. He wasn't there. I was bummed and came home with a book and tape, and incense. I felt an incredible descending force where I became him. It wasn’t my body. I was sitting luxuriating in incredible bliss but had an appointment at Zen Center. I didn’t want to go but I went over. I was telling Brian there what an incredible being and spiritual master Adi Da was. I thought they’d say wonderful but they said, Nice, glad you found someone. With Brian I felt myself taken to the Dixon painting of Suzuki Roshi at the stairwell. I walked over, stood in front of him weeping because I’d fallen in love with a new spiritual master. I had to say goodbye. I gasshoed. I was bowing but so was Adi Da. I felt his total blessing about becoming a devotee.

I went up north [to Persimmon] and got involved. It took years to purify, to release the Zen Center stuff. The whole vibe at Zen Center was Japanese at least then. I went from Oriental chic to Western chic. I went walking back into Zen Center after sitting with Adi Da and felt no light of infinity I'd felt with Suzuki Roshi. It had faded. John Lipscomb came up to me and said, "What’s with you? You’re like a light bulb, radiant."