Interview with Rick Fields
by DC early December 1995
Memories of Suzuki-roshi by Rick Fields (from October '75 New Age Journal)
Rick Fields wrote How the Swans Came to the Lake: a narrative history of Buddhism in America (third edition, revised and updated). Shambhala, 1992. [A great and significant book in which Fields does a terrific job in describing Shunryu Suzuki and his teaching] Shambhala link.
Rick Fields memorial page including obits
a selection of poems from Fuck You Cancer & Other Poems
RF: I have something written about Suzuki-roshi which I could find and show to you but itís nothing great. I remember a couple of things which arenít momentous but theyíre momentous to me.
One time I was smoking dope in Golden Gate Park and some people said, ďletís go over to Zen Center and sit and I guess that was the first time I went over and I went over and people were sitting in the old Synagogue, Sokoji, and we sat for a while and as we were going out there was a very long slow line going out and I couldnít quite figure out what was taking everybody so long and then all of a sudden I went out this door and there was this guy with this little stick standing there bowing to everybody as they came out of meditation, one after the other and so he looked - I was surprised. I wasnít thinking, now Iím going to go bow to Suzuki‑roshi cause I didnít know thatís what was going on. All I knew was that everybody was walking real slow. So my impression was that he looked right through me - or right into me but it sort of felt like right through me and he bowed to me or I to him - no, we bowed to each other. That was the first time I met him. It was 69 or so.
There was another time when I was sitting in the zendo on Page Street and he came and he put his arms around me not touching me and took my hands and sort of um lifted them up and down - not lifting them but like I was being too stiff. There were in the meditation mudra. So all of a sudden I felt these hands come behind me and he sort of shook my hands a little bit or moved them around - like they were the branches of a tree or something. That was an interesting transmission in some way till they were more relaxed and soft and so on.
At another time at Page Street there was this table for lunch or dinner and he was sitting there and the table was pretty empty for the moment so I sat down beside him and then I realized as maybe Dick Baker or Reb or whoever the heavies were at the time went and sat that I had sat in an exalted place where I wasnít supposed to sit if Iíd known what the scene was but since I was so innocent - but he never said anything to me although everybody else liked like what the fuck are you doing here?
[DC comment: Anyone could sit anywhere in the Page Street dining room and anyone could sit next to Suzuki but some people might have given him weird looks though itís also natural for people to feel intimidated unnecessarily in new surroundings]
Iíll try to find this other thing.
Tim Buckley was a friend of mine at Harvard and I stayed in his room across the street from Sokoji and that summer I was up at Tassajara for a day in the summertime and I hiked out with Alan Marlow and a women who had lots of books - Maggie Kress. We hiked out with someone else to Big Sur.
Not much more than that really. I remember once I took acid and I felt that Zen Center was not a very acid-friendly place - the core.
DC: Did you hear Suzuki give any talks?
RF: Probably I did.
DC: Do you have any other impressions of him?
RF: Just those I gave you.
DC: Do you have any idea what he was teaching?
RF: Um. Not really - I donít remember any of that particularly. You remember that guy Tatsugami? I was there when he arrived at Page Street. I remember that he had this big stick and that he went through the halls hitting people who were sitting zazen. It was shocking.
DC comment: Tatsugami Roshi arrived in the spring of 70 to be a guest teacher at Tassajara which he did for three practice periods. Iím sure what Rick is referring to happened during zazen. When Rick said ďin the hallsĒ he was surely referring to the gaitan or sitting area in the hall outside of the zendo downstairs at Page Street. Going down the aisles and hitting everyone with his stick would be a normal sort of ceremonial greeting in this case, and also an encouragement to practice. Suzuki Roshi used to do it now and then. Itís called rensaku and is definitely a Japanese Zen thing.
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