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Narcissus Robert Quagliata on Shunryu Suzuki

Narcissus Quagliata website: Nquagliata.com  ----   Narcissus Quagliata cuke page with books by and about his work

Interviews



Following are a series of emails from Narcissus.

***

7-24-12 - I'll take the liberty to write to you some memories as they come up.

Even having a preliminary contact with you ( a genuine biographer of Suzuki Roshi) is stimulating a flood of memories regarding Roshi. If you permit me I will write to you about them as they come up, in disorder. This way I can be sure that I don't forget them, then if you wish to discuss them further when we see each other at least I have some topics to start with.

I should preface that I was a Zen student, but I had absolutely NO INTEREST from the very beginning in becoming part of the social fabric of Zen Center as an institution nor did I want to play a role in it. I knew since I was a child that my field of interest was the field of art, and the mystery of how it manifests itself ( something I knew very little about then), and that I saw my experience at Zen Center as a value for my personal growth in the understanding of life the broader universe and myself.

It was very clear to me then, that "practice" was an end in itself, and I did not identify at all with what I felt then was a general longing to attain "enlighten" . Maybe because I am very southern Italian, and always had a very down to earth feeling about life, and perhaps a somewhat cynical view that life is what it is, and there is no changing it. I also must say that I have been amazed that even in the counter culture atmosphere we were breathing then, I always felt uncomfortable with a certain "moral Puritanism" I felt in the air. I could say more about it but not now, only if it seems appropriate when we meet, if at all.

I also never felt that I should discuss or bring to Suzuki Roshi anything personal about me, ( something one would do with a therapist not a meditation teacher) and I was shocked at how people were so willing to do that. I came to Zen Center because Roshi I intuited was a holder of a wisdom and a view of life that was a breath of fresh air to my soul.

I wanted to stay anonymous, and I came to live on Page street ( only for a brief time) by pure chance, I had lost my studio home in the city and I was planning to move as quickly as possible to the house/studio in the California wilderness I built and was anxious to occupy, I was in a temporary limbo. 

MY FIRST ANECDOTE: It's a subtle one, hardly a story, but it turned out to be an event that did change my life.

One day OUT OF NOWHERE, Yvonne Rand comes to me ( or maybe someone else) and I am told that Roshi has expressed a desire for me to be the "head of the building" at Page Street and be part of the Board. I believe that all other people, involved with Zen Center as a way of life were somewhere else. Japan, Tassajara, or gone for a while.......I was told I had an appointment with him in two days to give him an answer.

Needless to say this caused a profound confusion and inner conflict inside of me. Let's be honest, I was amazed that Roshi even had focused on me, such an unexpected gesture of confidence in me was pleasant to receive. But the job and the responsibilities "in themselves" a total deviation from my true interests and a true departure from my life plan.

I was torn, really torn, and after I went back and forth in my mind and heart about what I should do, I made the decision that I would "reject the position". I prepared an explanation, a prepared a statement of thanks for the confidence...... etc..... you can imagine. But I had decided that I had to be true to myself, and appealing as it was to be so honored, being true to myself took precedence.

So I went to the appointment, and as you remember ,one entered sat down, and waited for Roshi to speak first out of politeness and protocol. I was ready, I had my speech ready. He said nothing for quite a long time, you remember he never seemed in a rush for anything. In retrospect I believe that he must have in that time read my body language, and intuited what I was about to say. So when we both had tea in front of us, he looked at me with a smile and said: "I thank you so much for accepting the position" Then he broke with an open and mischievous laugh , almost like someone that moves a chess piece and says with gusto: "Checkmate". He thought it was really funny.

Distraught, I tried to back pedal, I was not going to give up so easily, so I made one argument after the next, ( politely). And every argument I would suggest he would turn it around as a boomerang it back to me. The final argument I made is that I truly was not interested, I had no aspiration in the community etc......he turned that around and said to me then: "That is exactly why I picked you and you will do a great job, your ambition is not involved"

I caved in. I was somewhat distraught, I felt defeated in truth. And confused about how to handle my own life now. My art as a secondary thing was not what I had envisioned , ever !

When it was known that I was going to be in my new position, Reb Anderson came to me and said to me: "Out of nowhere you came up and very fast ! How did you arrange that, what did you do?" "When I answered : "Nothing," he got truly annoyed and walked away.

What I did not foresee however is that the months that ensued I had to have a near daily contact with Roshi, and that interaction transformed my way of thinking and being. All kinds of problems came to me, ( could this couple live together even if they were not married.?...... etc,,, etc..... and the lower level of these problems I could act upon myself, but all the ones that needed a critical judgment I had to discuss with him. This continuous interaction on a wide variety of issues made me observe how his mind worked. Up to this moment in my life I could say that I had two dimensional thinking, after those months I had learned how to think in multiple dimensions. You could also use your mind as a view point or your heart, or your gut. It was truly an inspiration watching him feel and think.... and decide issues.

What changed my life was that we laughed a lot. I don't remember the specifics of so many issues that were coming up, but some were pretty ridiculous so I remember his eyes meeting mine, then we would just laugh!

In one particular time he called me to organize the ceremony and protocol for some big wigs coming from Japan. He was nervous, I could sense it, he gave me a list of to does, and at the end he said it would be good if you would wear a robe, ( You know facing the zendo next to so and so......it would be good if you do so).

My response was :" WHAT? The best I can do is a discreet gray suit, with a black turtleneck underneath". He was not buying it , so since I did have some training as a mime, I then proceeded to make a whole mime act of what I would look like as a monk, adjusting the robes, mimicking monks. He was laughing so hard I almost saw he did not want me to stop......he came around and said :"ok".

Today looking back I am so grateful to him that he simply did not allow me to make the decision. Those few months rearranged my psyche my soul and more, What would have I done with that time instead? A few more bad paintings.

I'll stay in touch.

Narcissus

 

*** 7-25-12 - Continuing a bit......

You know David, it is not that I have an abundance of memories that are all catchy anecdotes, yes I have a few more as I see re-emerge Roshi's presence in my mind, but I have some feelings and views from a unique vantage point that might shed some light on his persona that maybe are uncommon.

Roshi was in my life a person and a presence of massive importance. I would say he had more influence on me than my own father. ( They met once, and that was a pretty funny episode too that I will share with you). His influence has been so pervasive that I think the changes he provoked in me permeated all my critical choices for the duration of my life, and they still do.

 THE MAN, THE ROLE THE PROJECTIONS MADE ON HIM 

These have always mixed, and they were mixing when he was alive as well.

Your book was so useful to me, because I understood so much more about him after I read it.

I more than ever understand now what I suspected he felt then. In certain life situation, given my success as an artist I am surrounded by students, that admire me etc..... To them I am a "maestro" that holds secrets that they wish to understand. Being around them is as the same time wonderful and a pain in the ass. I find their adoration/admiration truly annoying, while I find their enthusiasm and interest in art truly moving, and I love to engage with them because it's exiting watching them grow and know you are the agent of change in them.

When I could observe Roshi from up close I think that what he enjoyed about my presence and interaction was that I understood clearly even then, the difference between a man, his role and the projections made on him. We never discussed this openly, but he was always relaxed with me, and I believe this was because he felt I did not project on him anything, I did not expect anything from him, but was obviously grateful for the immense value of his teaching that he imparted through his example and lectures and presence.

To me knowing that he grasped the profundity of existence did not make me stop seeing him a simple man with very understandable needs. In a lecture at Sokoji, ( that was given downstairs in the theatre, and I don't remember why there) he raised his arms and said:" These robes are my prison" One that I must bear " His description of his robes, that everybody loved , ( because there was a fascination with the aesthetic part of Zen, the robes, the Japaneseness etc..) as a prison was start. It pointed clearly to the fact, that he saw his role as "necessary" but felt imprisoned by it, the man did not like it, it took away much of his freedom.

In life we have rituals and roles, and I must say I do love those rituals, he was my teacher and there were a series of implications and behaviors that should be there, but I was also keenly aware that those roles are a prison, that admiration imprisons a man, that a person want to simply be, relax, shed all that stuff and "be", interact openly and freely, and I might be wrong here but he had not so much of that around him. So staying within the appropriate boundaries I felt my presence did do that for him in a small way. I wanted nothing from him, and he knew it , but enjoyed him immensely. I could always see "the man"( as well as the teacher) and I would acknowledge and respect and make that man know I saw him, I think he enjoyed that. 

When I left Zen center to go and live in the wilderness in the house I built, he made plans to visit me.

He was "retiring" and he told me the following: All of his energy had gone to the creation of Zen center Tassajara, Page street etc......The active community lay and priests was his obvious focus, but he knew that after he had shed the bulk of this load he had a dream he wanted to act on. He told me specifically that he knew he had a number of students whose lives had been really touched by their "practice with him". This group of people is a very interesting group of people, they have their lives, their focus and their destinies in completely other realms, not very tied to Zen Center. He mentioned four or five names, and to be honest I don't remember who they were, I remember there was a woman among those names These are very interesting people, and I value them so much, and it would be so pleasant for me to take a trip and get to know them and their world .You are one of these people. He insisted over and over how much fun it would be. And I saw how his soul craved not be always "Roshi" the teacher , but Roshi the curious visitor exploring unknown worlds.

I have to add here that this conversation happened after I had already left Zen Center and was just visiting him . I had invited Roshi to come and visit me at my house in Northern Mendocino County. I told him it was in a spectacular wild place with a majestic site with a view of the Pacific from 1500 feet high. I told him that when he came he would enjoy walking on the beach.

He told me he would love to, and instructed Yvonne to set a date for such a trip. A date was set, three or four months later. When time approached you can imagine I made all kinds of preparations, my house was rustic still. Then less than a week before the trip I got notified that the visit would be postponed because a conflict had arisen, and that was the day chosen for the ordination of Reb Anderson.

Time past, and he became weaker, soon the window of opportunity for this trip faded because of his health.

I don't know if anything I said is of any value at all, but I can tell you a single specific thing he said that might be:

Discussing his upcoming visit, I was telling him I had a spectacular deck with view, I was telling him of the walks we could take in the woods and the beach...... etc.......I was trying to make the place interesting for him.

To that he said : "Everything you said we might do maybe later.... I will tell you what I want to do..... I want to know your world with you, we will experience together the site, and to do that I suggest we do this: we will get up when it's still dark before dawn and be still, go nowhere, stay put sitting zazen or just quietly enjoying , but without changing place. We will do this until it is dark again..... That way I will know the spirit of your house and the site you have chosen to be in."

It never happened. After his death I received a visit of Katagiri Roshi and his family, but that is another story.

Narcissus

 ***

7-26-12 - An entire new mode of communication

 having opened this fossil of memories and feelings, I have been encountering one anecdote here a tidbit there, but one perception is emerging more strongly than all others.

ROSHI COMMUNICATED IN AN ENTIRELY NEW WAY

For me, an Italian accustomed to certain modalities of communication, talking about ideas events, even gesturing etc.....Roshi presented me with a new mode of communication entirely.

If I focus on what I most enjoy remembering about him was not what he said, but what he did not say.

I would come into his room with my usual list of items to discuss, I would sit, and of course wait for him to speak first. Most of the time he did not start speaking for a long time. I would be sitting there and so would he, we were not sitting zazen, but he would not talk. Probably the first times this happened I imagine I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Remember up to when I had my job my contact with him was listening to his lectures and the rare interview during sesshin where I would only ask him questions about my zazen practice.

But I learned quickly to ease into that empty space where we were just sitting there until he was ready for the agenda items. Thinking back, that time was when "nothing was said" was in truth pregnant and full of life. I remember his face, the unhurried movement of his eyes. It was in those empty moments sometime short, sometime quite long, that I most absorbed his sense of life, his mind, his feelings. In that quiet , with calm he communicated in a completely new way for me. I assume he must have scanned me and the air, and his own self, whatever. He had a way to bring through that silence into play the a larger universe into the present moment. Ironically I think now that is in those quiet "gaps" that I absorbed the most from him. He was open then, he was himself in the most essential way, he was also a portal of sorts, without pretense, the day to day person merged with an man capable of connecting to a wider and vast reality.

Naturally when enough quiet had elapsed he would ask about the agenda items and we would begin the working session.

Now why am I writing this to you now?

Because remembering the anecdote about how he said he wanted to experience "my house" it was just "that silence" he wanted to establish, in his visit. As to say that a gentle stillness would be the most efficient conductor of all information and experiences.

Narcissus

***

On Wed, Jul 25, 2012 at 9:26 AM, David Chadwick <dchad@sonic.net> wrote: Wonderful.
May I start a page for you with the photos and links to relevant Internet material and these thoughts? It can all be edited and changed later.
One aspect of cuke.com and shunryusuzuki.com is that they are works in progress, always changing.

David
 ***

Let me think about it for a day or so. Do you think it would be useful? I am writing to you because I imagine you are the depository of so much valuable information on this man. I am also allowing myself to be very informal and spontaneous in my recollections. Do you think this material is appropriate for a larger audience? Narcissus

***

DC – I wrote him that I’ll just keep what he’s written, we’ll meet and talk more, and then see what comes of it.

***

7-28-12 - Re: An entire new mode of communication

Yes a agree, I think I have a cycle to go through, and when I finish that cycle we should look at it together as a whole. It will not take me forever to write out the core of what I have to say. I believe that by the time we see each other you will have it, so that when we see each other in person we can decide how to shape it into what would be useful. By the way I went into cuke.com and stayed there quite a while. I really enjoyed your article on Zen Center, I read about the various "fires" at Tassajara. Sad to see that no-one ever noticed that a beautiful stained glass window ( that took me months to do , cutting each grain of rice into a piece of glass etc..) that I donated was lost. Listed were only the losses of the Eiheiji donated bell etc......

Which by the way brings me to the issue if my windows that are still at Zen center, which I don't know. If we go there together to meet whoever is the director of the building, they should know that that donated window I did in my early years is probably worth today somewhere between 75 and 100 thousand dollars. 

I also want to comment that I read the piece on Claude Dalenberg, and was very moved by it. I did not know he had died, and I remember him as one of the people that I was most fond of.

-The topic I will want to expand in is again is the often not looked on relationship between ROSHI the NORMAL PERSON- THE EXTRAORDINARY BEING- AND THE CONTINUOUS PROJECTIONS HE WAS SUBMITTED TO. -I also want to comment on my experience in Japan. in 1981 and 1982 I went to Japan to lecture and teach , on my free time there I went to his temple. I stayed two nights, from there I understood many things about Roshi, Zen Practice and I must admit it depressed me a lot.

 

However I will write to you a funny story right now, a very lighthearted one. You might enjoy it.

THE RARE DAY ROSHI WAS REALLY TAKEN OFF GUARD !

I had a father a charming and charismatic person that really had not been much of a father to me . I left Rome at the age of nineteen and never looked back. In California I remade my life, but had broadcast to my parents in Rome I was living the life of an artist. It was precisely in those few months when I was the head of the Page street Zen Center that my father decided to take a trip to the US, visit my brother in Boston and me in San Francisco.

I was a bit nervous, my father, a left wing European socialist ( had been a member of congress in Italy ) hated priests with a vengeance. His childhood memories of the parish priests in Sicily were that they were manipulative and controlling vultures. I could see that in his eyes, a catholic of Buddhist priest would be exactly the same thing. I was nervous. But I saw no alternative, I had to bring him to Zen Center, also because I had asked for some free time to show my father the city , Roshi said yes to me but also indicated that he would like to meet him.

Shit! Of all times my father had to come was now? Instead of finding me in some bohemian-style studio I was living at Page Street? And to add to that I had an administrative-teaching role there. I was young, I wondered how I would fare at the contact of these two entirely different worlds. My left wing Sicilian father, my spiritual Japanese father figure.

I set up my father in a hotel. And I must say he arrived in a soft mood. I believe that happens when as a parent you knew you blew it and as you get older want to make amends with your children. He was relaxed , open to anything, anxious to connect and not judgmental , I was surprised. I took him to the San Francisco Art Institute, the heart of my art education, and then finally to visit Zen Center, where Roshi had set aside time for a visit.

Se we arrived , we knocked on the door, Okusan was there . We entered we sat, I made the introductions etc..... I was very nervous , how could worlds so opposite meet? What would they talk about? How? I was amazed first of all that my father was not ill at ease, he was quite amazed by the situation, curious, open. Roshi and Okusan were quite taken by my father. My father was amazingly handsome, to the day he died at 91. He had the kind of charismatic beauty of an elegant European, ( always impeccably dressed) . He was equally handsome and magnetic as Marcello Mastroianni, the famous actor. And he did live the life of a Don Juan as you might imagine.

I saw that Roshi and Okusan had not been exposed to that kind of person much in their life, they liked it, it put them in a good mood! It was truly fun for them! It blew me away because in my mind, you can imagine I wondered about, my atheist father , so nonspiritual etc.... etc....

None of that ! Everybody was having a good time, I was feeling a little out of it as I was truly surprised..

What would they talk about? No problem, they chatted about "the war"( after all Italy -Germany and Japan were allies). Anecdotes, would flow out of Roshi, and out of my father......then they began to reminisce further back , before the war , and further back and back...... Roshi began to get puzzled.... my father was keeping up with the time line without missing a beat.....

At which point Roshi puzzled , discretely leans over in my direction and asks me ; How old is you father? ( He did not want my father to hear) , and I say "older than you Roshi , he was born in 1899 and fought in World War I".

At which point Roshi was truly blown away, I could see his expression of utter disbelief ! Immediately shares the information ( in Japanese with Okusan whose face registered equal surprise) and I can assure you he had assessed my father to be fifteen years younger than him, maybe even more! You know how Japanese are, always subtly aware of everybody's position, age, role, etc......and they behave in a way keeping in mind the relative positions, and using the correct protocols.

With one phrase I had blown away Roshi's assumptions ! He was not the senior person in the room, this handsome young man was! There had to be a readjustment in attitudes and roles.

I had been worried about issues of "What would they talk about? What would they have in common?

None of the above. The conversation between them flowed effortlessly, Roshi was delighted to talk about anything superficial or casual...... but from the moment I disclosed to Roshi my father age I noticed Roshi's expression changed. He would observe my father with delight and amazement, and with a touch of awe. As if fascinated by this man five years older than him that surely had a "presence" "looks" of a "vitality"( the Chinese would say CHI) of a man twenty years younger.

My father, was relaxed amused, and absorbing without difficulty the fact that this strange Japanese man in robes obviously had an immense hold on the psyche and destiny of his son whose real life he barely knew.

The climax came at the very end. We all got up, Roshi my father and myself we were all in the hallway, about to say good buy. 

Then as if out of nowhere my father and Roshi face each other, Roshi begins to bow and my father imitates and does as well, but my father instead of going along with the formal mood of the moment looks Roshi in the eyes with an intensely personal expression and says : "Take care of my son please" and Roshi does not shy away from the intensity of the moment. He looks right back at him, in my fathers eyes. These two men, a Sicilian and a Japanese worlds apart in everything touch each other to the core , for a moment all the way...... Roshi says : "I will "..... and then the two bow to each other all the way slowly (.

I was still reeling from the experience. ( a profound connection suddenly happened between my Sicilian past, and my Japanese Zen teacher? startled ... I was starting down the hallway with my father at the top of the stairs when Roshi calls me back for a second and whispers to me ..."Is that really your father's age?"

***

7-28-12 - Suzuki Roshi, The archer.

SUZUKI ROSHI : THE REAL PERSON- THE EXTRAORDINARY PERSON- THE PROJECTION PEOPLE HAVE PLACED ON HIM.

 In your articles and book you have traced the history so well there is no need to elaborate, I can only focus on three aspects of interest to me. and they are three.

What was so unique about Suzuki Roshi?

His lectures and books speak for themselves so the only thing I would add my very very personal feeling that he was the only person that I met that understood the contradiction of life. He understood the absolute and the relative in one breath. He was unbending in his depth of believes of the meaning of practice , yet he was flexible like an infinite willow that could bend forever and never never reach the breaking point.

For me he understood the poetry of the moment to the maximum extent. He really was not ambitious in any way, to the core he understood the power of truth but he also understood the danger of defining that truth, because defining it would make true no more. He was humble, truly humble, and I believe he understood the contradiction of the whole issue of "enlightenment". I believe he did believe in enlightenment , but he also realized that the very act of striving for it meant you would not get there. His often repeated words "life as is". The acceptance of it "as is" were the ultimate statement of humility and marriage of reality.

( Will continue this later, right now I will continue with a personal view )

 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- SUZUKI ROSHI THE ARCHER : THE THREE ARROWS THAT HIT ME AND CHANGED MY LIFE : 

To me Suzuki Roshi was an archer, and I will explain why.

First arrow: During a question answer period a student did a question that I don't even remember precisely, but probably it had to do with attaining something even if it was spiritual..... BUT I REMEMBER HIS ANSWER. The key words were .......... "The fulfillment of your dreams and aspirations or desires ARE TRULY BORING...... and they do not compare with seeing truly life AS IS. Life as is is more interesting than the achievement of your dreams ...... he said it again......

So here I am sitting there and like a blank that an archer that has hit. IN MY CHEST AN ARROW TRAVERSED MY ENTIRE BODY I stood still, frozen and wounded, I NEVER HAD THAT THOUGHT IN MY LIFE! I thought that my life had meaning, if I could achieve being a true artist, or if I could marry the woman of my dreams etc....etc..... it never occurred to me that the attainment of all that was "boring", more interesting instead was seeing LIFE AS IS.

Second arrow: Again in a question answer period a student asked a very good question, HOW DO I DECIDE WHEN I AM TORN? I would really like to get married and have a family but I also so long to wonder the world and be a free spirit living day to day ...... How do I decide when I am so torn? His answer was : "Imagine that you are in the last days of your life, and think back to your life , would it hurt more to have not made a family or would it hurt more that you did not act and live out your free spirit? DO THE THING THAT WOULD HURT MORE NOT HAVING DONE!

The ability to make decisions has been critical in my life and this guide on how to view problems has been with me since that day. It works to perfection, because I believe it frames the problem in the right prospective.

Third arrow: Again a question from a student about how do you know if you really have picked the right profession? His answer was something along this line. : "You know that you have made the right choice when you HAVE CONVINCED YOURSELF TO THE CORE that you are ( for example) a carpenter. If you are a carpenter you will love your tools, you will love every aspect of the activity, but most of all you will be so convinced that people will feel it all around you. People will make you gifts of saws, hammers, etc.... and they will bring you projects........ But if you have not convinced yourself TO THE CORE , your hesitation will be transmitted to the world, and you will experience trouble. That trouble does not originate in the world, it originates from inside you.

To become anything, the first step is to convince yourself to the core, then everything else will flow from there.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

So by now I am the image of San Sebastian, traversed by three thoughts - Fortunately I survived, but these three arrow that he hit me with redirected my whole attitude toward just about everything, addressing the issues of: 1- What is worth while 2-How do you make decisions when you are torn 3-What is the first step in authenticity in your human activity.

Powerful teachings, and very clear.

 Narcissus

 *** 7-28-12 – I am picking this up again

SUZUKI ROSHI : THE REAL PERSON- THE EXTRAORDINARY PERSON- THE PROJECTION PEOPLE HAVE PLACED ON HIM.

 In your articles and book you have traced the history so well there is no need to elaborate, I can only focus on three aspects of interest to me. and they are three.

What was so unique about Suzuki Roshi?

His lectures and books speak for themselves so the only thing I would add my very very personal feeling that he was the only person that I met that understood the contradiction of life. He understood the absolute and the relative in one breath. He was unbending in his depth of believes of the meaning of practice , yet he was flexible like an infinite willow that could bend forever and never never reach the breaking point.

For me he understood the poetry of the moment to the maximum extent. He really was not ambitious in any way, to the core he understood the power of truth but he also understood the danger of defining that truth, because defining it would make true no more. He was humble, truly humble, and I believe he understood the contradiction of the whole issue of "enlightenment". I believe he did believe in enlightenment , but he also realized that the very act of striving for it meant you would not get there. His often repeated words "life as is". The acceptance of it "as is" were the ultimate statement of humility and marriage of reality. I could go on and on..... and I would never have the feeling I had surrounded enough an accurate description of him and said the entire story.

And for me this is the beauty of the man, he was there, a man, a child , and a gateway to the very dimension we live in but don't often see. He could make you sense "the moment", he could make you sense "the infinite that it contained", and it would be all bathed in normalcy, it would not be a mystical experience. For me there was no rapture, no mystical transport. His presence and practice inspired me. To do what? To be myself, to clean up my room , my life, and to "get to the point of who I am". He was to me an inspiration and a living example of how to cut through all the unnecessary bullshit. At the end of the day, I could summarize his teaching as being of an absolutely elegant simplicity. Be still, be yourself. But in an undeniable way it was obvious that his presence generated a tremendous movement in his students. This capacity to move the life energy of others was I think his most amazing quality.

Suzuki Roshi, the real person.

Reading your book was truly satisfying, much of the blanks of the real person were filled in, in retrospect I understood more. Unfortunately I felt his students isolated him. I had frequent contact with him for only a few months, and I could always sense that Suzuki Roshi the teacher was an overwhelming winner over Suzuki Roshi the person. He loved teaching but it was my observation that Suzuki Roshi the person did not have enough space to interact. I might be completely wrong here, I am just telling you my feelings, and they are generated from the memory that when I was with him, and scrupulously applied no pressure as a student on him to act as a teacher, I saw that he relaxed. And this leads me to the last issue.

The projections people placed on Suzuki Roshi,

I can explain this process much more easily if I explain in in small and in first person. I will teach a course starting next Tuesday at Pilchuck college in Washington State. I know that people are flying from all over the world to take my course. One student from Turkey one other one from Holland , others I don't know where from. I can assure you that the more effective my teaching is the more they will idealize and distort the image of the real me in their minds. My task as a teacher is to somehow liberate their creative drive, start a chain reaction of creativity in their being. The irony is that the more I am successful the less they will see me as a real person. They will be affectionate with me, devoted, etc.... etc.... but they will surround me and entrap me with their projection of me. And being around that sublimed devotion is truly difficult, as a said already a real pain. It's kind of like when you go in a circus and see yourself in those "distorted mirrors".

I am only an artist that occasionally teach, I protect with draconian energy my real life, but this process that I described with Suzuki Roshi I could feel happen at an exponential level. The deeper he moved the lives and energies of his students lives the heavier the prison of his robes, and what I saw that people were quite happy to keep him in this prison with their projections. Somewhere there must be a record of the lecture he gave at Sokoji , when he said :"these robes are my prison". Would love to re-hear that lecture. Of course he had a fertile relationship with his beloved students, the people that still today carry on the energy of his teaching. But I must admit I have a hard time in any "devotional" energy field, because I am keenly sensitive on how this sublimation of love can isolate a simple human being. And I truly don't know if I am right or not, but I had a feeling that he too longed for normalcy and had a desire for freedom beyond" being Suzuki Rosh for others". And I qualify this as being my subjective perceptions and opinions, based on my personal experience. You have had contact with hundreds of his students and surely you can paint an objective picture, something I cannot.

( I think I coved this issue as best I could )

***

 7-28-12 - 6 more Topics and we are done.

Just to give you an idea of what I will be writing about to close this cycle of memories and reflections.

- My visit to his temple in Japan in 1982

-It was because I was living at Zen Center that I started my carrier in glass, the link between light -glass- and practice is quite unusual.

-A couple of more anecdotes

- The last time I saw him two days before his death.

-A few final thoughts on how his presence transformed my life and my artwork

-Finally a brief discussion of the works I did and I am still doing utilizing his image.

It is six items.

Narcissus

***

7-30-12 - IT WAS MY FRUSTRATION THAT GENERATED THE SPARK OF A NEW LIFE

The gassho hands of Suzuki and Katagiri Sensei were my first windows.

***

7-30-12 - I sent you a file by mistake, please ignore it

I was setting up six mails to correspond to the six issues I wanted to write about, and I pushed SEND instead of SAVE , ignore it Narcissus

***

 8-05-12 - Dear David,

my dates in the Bay Area are from the 19th to the 26th. I will have a car to move around. And afternoons are better for me as a time to get together.

When I left Rome I had to put aside my recollections of Roshi and those times , I got here North of Seattle at Pilchuck School of glass , and I got literally devoured from my students. Getting the class off the ground took all of my energy, but now for the first time the energy is leveling off, so I will begin again to close the cycle item by item on the six that I felt I wanted to do before we get together.

So I you will get material from me , bits at a time. And I am looking forward to seeing you and discussing it with you.

Narcissus

***

MY LAST VISIT WITH SUZUKI ROSHI

I was already living in Whale Gulch, in the house I built, and was well into an entirely different cycle of life. But when I came down to the city, once every six weeks or two months , I would hang out near Zen Center, visit with my friends, both my Zen Friends and my artists friends. I would sit a few zazen sessions at Page street, in the evenings I used to go drinking in North Beach bars, I was young, I loved every aspect of my life.

I knew Roshi was sick, very sick, I was getting ready to go up to the wilderness again, and something inside told me, go to see Roshi, even if for a moment.

Zen Center was preparing for the sesshin,( it would start in two more days) I could sense the busy atmosphere , I remembered so well the preparation of those sesshins when I was living there........

I asked to see Roshi, and I was grateful to Dick Baker that he allowed me to. He said to me, don’t try to talk to him, he is very sick.

I did not try. I went into his room he was sitting, with Okusan massaging him, kind of sustaining him. I was surprised at how frail he looked.

I did nothing, I simply stood there, held my hands in a gassho. He looked at me very calmly, raised one hand as if wanting to gassho,, not both.

There is nothing to say, these moments are facts, unadorned, and it would be indulgent to try to describe what I felt, because it is utterly unimportant, This is a time when verbal communication simply does not do the job nor do I wish it to.

I left, went to my car, and as I drove away toward the Golden Gate Bridge starting my five hour drive, I understood I had seen him for the last time.

I heard the news he had died two or three days later from Yvonne Rand. ( If I recollect she called my friends that had a telephone , twenty miles away and left a message). I was alone in my house......and I suppose it is highly likely I felt truly alone, but don’t remember.

Narcissus

***

8-06-12

DC – will do

*** By the way, answering your comment on Dick and how he gave me permission to see Roshi just before he died. And yes Dick must have sensed I did have a very authentic relationship to Roshi, and did respect it. Focusing on that, TELL HIM I AM VERY GRATEFUL TO HIM FOR IT , those 120 seconds meant a lot to me.

Narcissus

 *** On Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 7:21 PM, David Chadwick <dchad@sonic.net> wrote: Will do.
*** David cuke.com On 8/6/2012 2:19 PM, Narcissus Quagliata wrote: Please say hello to Dick for me, maybe you can tell him about what I am doing a small contribution of memories to focus on a side of Roshi that probably few people know because my vantage point was unique, European, artist etc..... maybe show him an image of my Dome and an image of the watercolor of Roshi.

narcissus ***

On Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 12:46 PM, David Chadwick <dchad@sonic.net> wrote: Very touching.
Obviously Dick respected your closeness to Suzuki Roshi because not many people were seeing him then.

I'm going to be spending some time with Dick before you get here. He arrives tomorrow and leaves the 20th I think. He's got a room at Page Street abbot Steve Stucky arranged and he'll probably stay with Ginny some - they have remained close.

***

8-06-12

DESPERATION AND A WATERCOLOR

Desperation was the driving emotion that drove the creation of my watercolor of Suzuki Roshi.

In 1979, I believe about seven or eight years after Suzuki Roshi's death, I was living in Project One, on Howard Street and 10th. I had a big studio in the famous or infamous Counter Culture Building,

I hit the wall in every possible way. It was one of those times when absolutely everything goes wrong. I passed two or three months in utter desperation. Clients I had cancelled their orders .Clients I had hoped to have did turn me down on my proposed projects. No matter where I turned the answer was "No". My deteriorating finances reached the breaking point and I seemed unable to turn my situation around. I felt like a fish caught in a net, the more I agitated the more I found myself entangled and desperate.

It came a point where I felt I had reached the end of the line. I had no hope left. I knew that in a mere 21 days I could not pay the rent and I would be inevitably evicted.

As I said in a previous recollection I never asked anything of Roshi, I kept my problems to myself, but undoubtedly simply being around Roshi had the effect of balancing one's own soul. Given my destitute state I must admit I missed him. If I could just "be" with him I knew it would be profoundly beneficial to me. Just his presence, that's all.

So it is then that I had an idea. It went like this, talking to myself I said to myself. "You have three weeks to live here, use them well. Your project is to BE WITH ROSHI. Pull him into your life, BE WITH HIM". I stretched the watercolor paper, a four feet by six feet surface.

So I took his silhouette from a classic image of him. And I began to think and feel his presence. him, I asked myself " WHO IS ROSHI? For me? In himself? The image of the vastness of space emerged, by itself. So I imagined his actual person defined by his silhouette, I imagined his presence to be the vast Universe. The Universe would be inside of him. 

But the trick here is that I would not do an artist typical action, to splash the stars or something like it. I instead took a number one brush, a very very small brush, and began to paint the Universe, star by star, nebula by nebula. I needed to be in that universe and place every single feature if this Universe in it's place.

Calm began to set in, I loved the work, it was a slow meditation, day by day I would advance, adding a new square foot of stars and empty space to his figure. There was no place like any other in this Universe. Small stars, large stars , small clusters, irregular clusters...... one star at a time. The stars would weave into the folds of his robes, I like that, The Universe as a robe, the robe he had defined as his prison was now the vastness of space.

It took me approximately two weeks to do the main image, still had to finish the simple background. But by that time I had achieved a level of inner calm that I could only compare with sitting two sesshins back to back. I was in balance again, and like a mirror the outer world responded to that inner balance. Soon , by themselves projects emerged, good things began to happen, I was being lifted out of the dire situation I had been, without effort. Life started to flow again. I understood on my skin and fully what Roshi meant when he said that the outer world is but a manifestation of the waves of our mind. 

The watercolor became the basic image for a glass project that today is the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in NY. Once in a while it is pulled out and exhibited there.

The watercolor has followed me from studio to studio, and it keeps the presence of Suzuki Roshi alive for me. " Waves of the Mind" ,

I have begun a new portrait of Roshi, when I go back home in Mexico I will finish it, slowly. The image is of Roshi drinking tea. ( from a foto I took myself). But Roshi is the light blue spring sky, fresh, and where the sky would be, ( the background) I am placing fresh yellow spring flowers , hundreds. " Spring remember Shunryu Suzuki, drinking tea."

I will finish this project before Christmas this year, then when I am closer to the end of my life I will do one more portrait of him, and I have no idea of what that will be.

He gave me a Buddhist name, on occasion of the lay ordination, Ko Kai Yu Shin. ( I had no clue what it meant... Katagiri Roshi when he visited me later in my home in the wilderness explained that it meant something like vast ocean of everlasting mind/heart? I really don't remember it was so long ago) I never used that name, and forgot it altogether for the subsequent 30 years , I never lived the carrier of a Buddhist, but now writing this small recollection I wonder for the first time if the vast Ocean was the image of space I would paint inside of him, and the Shin, was his mind and his heart that I had the luck to see). Who knows?

Narcissus

***

8-22-12 - IT WAS FRUSTRATION THAT GENERATED THE SPARK OF A NEW LIFE AND CARRIER

The gassho hands of Suzuki and Katagiri Sensei in the swinging doors between the kitchen and the dining hall at Zen Center were my first windows. Roshi's decision that I be the director of the Zen Center in the city , as I have stated already had the immediate effect of derailing my artist life, or at least that is what I felt at the time. But now for the first time about forty years later I see that it was "that decision" that I did not take but Roshi unilaterally took to make me the director of Zen Center was the very reason for which I had the international career I had as an artist in glass.

Connecting the dots, I realize that I was so frustrated at Zen Center for not having the painters studio I was always accustomed to having, that out of desperation I took a hobby class in the evenings in stained glass, just to do something creative, on the side. In that class I fabricated my first two windows , the gassho hands.

Roshi recognized his hands, because the forth finger he could not extend fully I showed the window to him in his room. Then when the windows were installed, he appreciated the gesture of homage , and smiled on the first meeting we had, he was amused and grateful for the gesture. 

As I write these words I realize that Roshi determined my life and provoked my taking that class, and I also realize that he was the first subject in glass I ever represented.

Narcissus

8-23-12

HOW DID SUZUKI ROSHI'S TEACHING IMPACT MY ARTISTIC ACTIVITY

In essence Zen practice under the guidance of Suzuki Roshi gave me immensely valuable tools to pursue my beloved creative life. Without getting lost in long musings, the main points of the effect of his teaching were these.

Understand that the only thing of true value as an artist is to express my true nature, to the core. Like many other artists I have been so influenced by what is current, fashionable in the cultural moment, or I have seen my artwork as a tool of my ambition and need to attention. This list of deviations that make artwork not truly authentic could go on and on. The message of practice is" be yourself, be authentic", be a beginner for ever, keep that spirit of true discovery alive. This ever present message of his teachings has impacted my choices and has given me courage throughout my carrier.

 - Understand that my ambition was a powerful energy driver , but always keeping on eye on not being seduced by it.

-Take my artwork seriously , and also not seriously at all.

- Know that I had to invest all of myself with all my heart and energy to get anything done , no half measures, and risk , with the only sustenance being internal not external.

Much like practice is in itself an end, and should not be viewed as a tool to obtain enlightenment, I learned how to value love and honor the creative act in itself and not focus on the result.

Narcissus


DC notes on meeting with Narcissus Saturday 9-25-12

*** Narcissus and I met at the City Center at noon. Blanch and Tova joined us for lunch. Genine for a bit. Introduced him to David Zimmerman and Shundo who couldn’t find tape measure. He needs inner dimensions of stained glass. I think he said that these were his first stained glass pieces - the hands of Suzuki and Katagiri in the swinging doors between the kitchen and the dining room. There's also the piece at the end of the hall downstairs outside the entrance to the dining room. He said that it's worth over $100,000 now and ZC might want to insure it - and the others. There's another one that went somewhere else - in the entrance to 340 Page maybe.

Narcissus said

ZMBM reaches the soul, appeals to lay people. His brother who's not into anything else like that keeps it by his bed.

People related to Suzuki Roshi as a therapist. Should ask questions on meditation not relationships or artistic life which he never did. He said, “My view of Suzuki Roshi is based on his presence. He was a person of extraordinary talent to convey and move. People projected on Suzuki Roshi." And he said, as an art teacher he's experienced students projecting on him. "So they don’t have a realistic picture of who you are. Suzuki Roshi was continuously projected on."

He did the water color of Suzuki based on the stained glass of the same size with a #1 brush and has one more of the same size to go.



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