Interview with Yvonne Rand
10-20-09 - Yvonne Rand dharma talk on Suzuki Roshi's compassion.
I think of him with his slight body, really like a young boy's body and his capacity for extraordinary focused energy and power.
February 11, 1994 - 9am to 11am
[edited 3/08 by dc – editing notes by dc in brackets]
DC: So what do you think about Suzuki Roshi?
YR: Suzuki Roshi was unusual in that he wasn't ethnocentric. What makes Suzuki Roshi particularly exceptional to some degree because of the stuff that I started thinking about just before we went to Europe that was stimulated by being in Austria and France for a while - to the degree that Japan is a closed, tribal culture, is a culture that has survived by having a strong impulse to reject outsiders, very much turned into itself, Japanese people very much referencing Japan and not much else. I think Suzuki Roshi is quite unusual for his very early interest in learning English and his interest in going to America - which I think is pretty unusual - and the second thing is his great clarity about fascism and his willingness to speak out about fascism and militarism - the more I read about who speaks out about such things, the more I appreciate what a rare compassion he had in human life.
DC: Yes, I agree, but I’d say expressed much much more subtly there than here say like we did during the Vietnam war.
YR: His willingness ultimately to die in the US is very unusual.
It was hard for me to understand what a big deal that was till I went to Japan and found out that that's the real world to them.
DC: Deshimaru died on the plane going back to Japan. It seems that as he approached death he felt compelled to go back.
YR: Suzuki Roshi made the decision to die here.
Another thing I’m wondering about - he used to tell about his teacher saying to him how sorry he was that Suzuki was destined to have only poor students. I do remember protesting when he first said that but in hindsight I guess his teacher was right.
If you look at his line it is at least troubled, some wouldn't agree with me - what was it his teacher saw that lead him to say that he was ambitious to make big institutional changes in the Soto Zen hierarchy and structure? Maybe he felt like what would happen in the US might have some influence.
DC: I think of Okusan (Mrs. Suzuki) saying what are you thinking about all the time? and he said "Buddhism in America" that was pretty ambitious - thinking of the big picture.
YR: He would also see possibilities - like when he first met Mary Shannon. He always went like this with his fingers, making the outlines of her enormous glasses that she wore and it made him think of her as a bug. She was part of that elegant New York ladies group, a designer, made denim in colors and stripes, effective and respected designer in textile world and she was the one who suggested Zen Center do the bakery - also as a place where people would meet and drink coffee. And the stitchery - she had this notion that doing businesses like those would be a kind of extension of what Zen practice was like out into the ordinary world. Dick Baker was still in Japan. These are ideas people associate with him, but Mary was the person who had clear ideas about these businesses and Suzuki Roshi said this is a very good idea, we should do these things we should listen to her. She sent clothing designs that she developed when she was living in the Southwest, adapted certain traditional clothing designs from the Southwest that could be interesting to people from all over the US. She sent models of designs with the idea that Alaya Stitchery would start producing a line of simple well-made clothes using interesting fabrics. She had a clear concept of the businesses as a way to support Zen Center but also as a way of expressing something in that realm that would draw people in. She lived at Green Gulch for a while and used to come out every year. She lives in New York, is elderly and frail but very lively - she used to talk to Suzuki Roshi and he respected her.
DC: I should get hold of her. [I didn’t] I want to make an outline of what I should be looking for and why was Suzuki Roshi different, or was he different and what made him that way. What are the most important questions to ask, what should I follow, who talk to, how get organized, what questions aren't being asked what were his weaknesses? [This was early on in working on the bio of Suzuki and, even though I’d been interviewing people for a year, I was still thinking about what approach to take.]
YR: Think about the different elements in telling the story of Suzuki's life so there's the story that has to do with his coming to America and the bigness of his vision which is no small piece of the bigness of Zen Center as an institution. But there's also the historical story, facts and figures, his life in Japan, being with Nona Ransom [his English teacher in Japan when he was in College].
DC: Suzuki told Grahame Petchey to look up Nona Ransom in England so he was there and had a zendo and was spending a day a week with her. She was somewhat famous, had interviewed with BBC, taught the emperor of China and some in the Japanese royal family. He said she wrote Suzuki Roshi a letter and got a response from Suzuki Roshi via a Zen Center secretary and she was furious and wrote him back saying don't you dare have anyone else write me, you're English teacher, back. I don't care how bad your English is, you write me yourself. And she got no answer. She was upset. Later Grahame was briefly at Tassajara on his way to Japan and saw Suzuki Roshi and said I don't know what your sense of manners is, but where I come from we would never ever do what you did to Nona Ransom. Why on earth didn't you answer her? And Suzuki Roshi said "I was afraid she would write a book on me." So I think that is an interesting point - she left her papers to Grahame but he didn't get them but he says they're still there - everything slips through Graham's fingers but her papers might still be there - her son is there and the Quaker group is still there. Graham also said that she gave him a 16mm film which included Suzuki Roshi at Rinsoin and he put it in a furoshiki [cloth used for wrapping] and maybe you have it he says but he doesn't know. He says Suzuki is barely visible in it. We should look for it.
YR: I do have a mysterious film - I'll look for it when I get back from India. I'll start plowing through boxes.
DC: Great. [The Ransom papers were never recovered. I did find an old film at the SFZC and made copies, and I think I know which shot is of Suzuki but it’s pretty distant. Yvonne and I are still talking about going through things.]
YR: So there's the straight story but there are also certain themes that have to do with him as a teacher that will help in how you go about bringing out some accurate picture of him. There are some people who think they have some ownership of him who have the least clarity about him as a teacher. Look how long it’s taking them to bring out another book on his lectures. Be careful on how to bring out teaching aspect. To try to express something about him as a teacher. There are certain themes that are big themes in Buddhism in the west - his openness to practice with some pretty funky folks, coming from a priestly monastic frame of reference, his willingness to practice with hippies, lay, women, all the things he had to say about us as practitioners, seeing something about the freshness and enthusiasm that Americans have.
DC: Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to Japan programming that being a hippie.
YR: That's right. And so there are all these ways in which his openness and accessibility and his ability to teach in the ways that he thought were possible to teach. It's like he was this changeling from Japan and I think it's a piece of his story that's really interesting. The times were important and he saw that something was happening with the psychedelics and hippies and the times, people were turning to practicing religion.
DC: I think it's important to preserve the original form of ZMBM lectures so anyone could access it and then with them and with all his lectures we could have various editions. [Wow – and I’m still working on this with so far to go]
YR: But Zen Center wouldn't tolerate that - wouldn't let loose of control they have over what happens to that material.
DC: We should make it public and that's how I feel about all this info - I'll make a book but I'll leave a larger data base for anyone else to do what they want to do with it. [Again – a lot of discussion going on now eighteen years later on this same subject]
YR: Is Lew Richmond working on it?
DC: Yes, he’s interested. We should encourage him.
YR: There are some themes that might give elements of structure. You should turn from an historical approach to turn to spiritual realm like the way Tassajara burst on the American imagination - not the first but the 2nd brochure that went to thirty thousand people and it was like scattershot but it put Suzuki Roshi, Tassajara, Zen Center on the map of people's minds in a way that couldn't happen in the fifties or in the seventies or eighties.
DC: Suzuki in so many people’s minds is so important - like Thomas Moore. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind must be the biggest selling book on Zen Buddhism in the world. It’s used as a text for college classes, is read widely. So many people know Suzuki Roshi through that book.
YR: Lawrence Rockefeller I hear keeps it by his bed, carries it with him.
DC: Maybe it can't be reproduced, done again.
YR: That's right, but to try to understand who that person was is important and it's important that Trudy worked on it - that she was a woman, that she had clearly an extraordinary understanding of his teaching. His openness to women practitioners from early on even though he was…he was still remarkably open to women practitioners it's important to notice that - the collaboration between Suzuki Roshi and Trudy. Dick Baker did the whole thing with Weatherhill and published the book and he did the look of it, but the really important thing in Suzuki Roshi’s mind was the work with Trudy. Look at how early he ordained Jean Ross.
DC: He ordained her? [he said "my friend" ordained her for him but he considered her his disciple and made her an early shuso.]
YR: Regardless, sending her to Eiheiji - Della [Goertz] would know. Get in touch with her, Jean [Ross], and Betty [Warren]. [See interviews for each] [Jean Ross was ordained by another priest in Japan for Suzuki. Not sure whom. Suzuki considered her his disciple though and she was an early shuso, head monk, at Tassajara in the fall of 1969.]
DC: I've had good experiences interviewing people. I've had the best of people, they open up and I have the most positive experiences with them. And they want to talk about more than Suzuki Roshi – about their lives and practice and what's happened since. [and this has continued]
YR: You should interview Margo Wilkie [link to interview]. There's lots of stuff in Nancy Wilson Ross’s papers. Margo stayed in her apartment in New York.
I remember the board meet at Tassajara when I read a letter to the board from Dick Baker from Japan and I could see Jean Ross’s face clearly and it was that meeting that lead to her resigning from the board and leaving Zen Center and I could see her dismay at what she felt was Dick Baker continuing to manipulate the Zen Center from afar.
DC: Her leaving was definitely tied to Dick.
DC: She was distressed at Suzuki Roshi dying and Dick Baker coming back. And Dick knew it and felt bad about it.
YR: She was very clear about what she saw. I've probably still got the letter and I have almost verbatim notes from the board meeting, the sort of stuff that would probably be interesting to you wouldn't it?
DC: I'm interested in everything. I want to ask people what's important to them.
YR: I think the story of Suzuki Roshi and Jean and Jean and Zen Center is important because it's a very early flash on Jean's part on what developed full blown in her religion with Zen Center and with Dick and you probably don't want to get into all that but if you're interested in looking at Suzuki Roshi weakness or his blind side, Dick is definitely the one to look at.
DC: How could you ask about Suzuki Roshi’s blind side and not talk about Dick being his successor. Or was he blind?
YR: Suzuki Roshi admitted he was - after he sent Dick to Japan he said he did it because he didn't know what to do with him and he wanted to try something - he wanted to get him out of Zen Center for a while to give other people a chance to develop.
DC: Do you know who told me that exact same thing?
YR: I also think that Suzuki Roshi saw Dick’s ability to make an institution, a vehicle that would carry Buddhism and his teaching and practice and he absolutely counted on Katagiri being present to be the real spiritual practice person.
DC: You really think so?
YR: Yes I do. I think it's why when Katagiri Roshi resigned from Zen Center the way he did, publicly and in a way that didn't leave Suzuki Roshi any room for renegotiating with him, that it was a terrible blow to Suzuki Roshi and I heard that Okusan thinks that's what killed him.
DC: In talking of Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri conversations frequently come to, "and that's what killed him." His illness and premature death is the big sad fact.
YR: You've got to also keep in mind that Suzuki Roshi by his own description had a big issue with anger and in Chinese medical theory anger and gall bladder go hand in hand. I still think that it was such a closely held secret - such that all that early diagnosis when he was really sick that summer of ’71, he started not being well but no one really knew it but Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Okusan until the summer - he had his gall bladder out in the spring when he flew up to Portland when he went to see the Zen group at Reed and that was in March of ‘70 ‘ and he came home and they took his gall bladder out and afterwards when they did a routine biopsy they disc that there were some cancer cells in the gall bladder but the surgeon was so sure that they got all the cancer out cause all the tissue around the gall bladder was pink and healthy so that was that but then in August of ‘71 when I drove him back from Tassajara and he was by then quite yellow I remember we stopped at Soen's sesshin at San Juan Batiste and sat and had tea with Soen and then when I brought Suzuki Roshi back to the city and he basically went to bed and that was the last time he got out of bed [with some exceptions] and the doctor was so sure that he had hepatitis - that was the initial diagnosis and that went on for six or eight weeks. And how the doctor could diagnose him with hepatitis and no one brought forth that he'd had cancer of the gallbladder doesn't make sense to me.
DC: That's very common for Japan - I've heard a million stories about people not telling about cancer in Japan. They avoid speaking about it.
YR: it was a different doctor - but it had to be in Suzuki Roshi’s medical records but you know Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Okusan didn't say anything.
DC: After having lived in Japan nothing would surprise me less - it was considered a wonderful thing that the last emperor died without knowing he had cancer.
YR: It is one of the great mysteries though - to me.
DC: What are the important questions?
YR: There few questions for everybody: what they learned from him, what was his effect on them in his role as a teacher. Some people ask what was his weakness - not everyone, and what was his greatness. Suzuki Roshi been very idealized, by students while alive as well as later.
DC: Debbie Madison tripped over self when she met him.
YR: My experience is that he was completely willing to be who he was and how he was. Once driving Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Okusan back from Tassajara we stopped in Pacific Groove for lunch in a place on the water just on the rest a little cove where surfers get into water on south end of bay. I remember sitting there facing them and Suzuki Roshi telling me what a terrible father and husband he'd been and in retrospect that it was probably a mistake for him to have tried to be a father and husband given that really what was important to him and all he ever really thought about were his students - and how readily Suzuki Okusan agrees with him.
DC: She still makes that point.
YR: Yeah, well it's one thing for her to make it, but it's another for him to so clearly acknowledge that what was really vital for him, was what was going on with his students.
DC: However, Hoitsu is a great priest - my favorite, maybe not a great dharma teacher, but he's easy to relate to so his father couldn't have been that bad and he's also strongly anti-fascist.
YR: Dick was very critical of how peter handled those Windbells and interviews so who knows. (I think she means the interviews with the Suzuki family – see Interviews and look to the right for the list of Interviews with Japanese – some are by Peter Schneider and some are by me. She may mean Peter’s interviews with Suzuki himself – that’s how I respond to her. Anyway, thanks a million for your interviews, Peter. - DC.)
DC: Suzuki Roshi told Peter, if I'm understood in this way, everything will be in vain.
YR: If you do a book on Suzuki Roshi that can only be an element – history.
DC: Noiri Roshi told Peter in Japan that no one should write about Suzuki who doesn’t know all his samadhis. I told Okusan that when she was telling me to yes, please write a book about him and it’s him speaking through me asking you to do that and tell many funny stories and Noiri saying that can be your first funny story. See Intro to Crooked Cucumber. I say that Noiri’s point is to be taken but also I completely reject this, what I call this intimidation of emptiness. It stopped Peter. It won’t stop me.
YR: Hoitsu has a lot of body stuff that reminds me of his father
he does this clown thing.
DC: I said to Hoitsu that Zen Center's connection is to Rinsoin and Soto Zen is like outer space - just incidental connection, maybe Narasaki has 50 percent and he said no I have 50 percent him maybe less. [dc editing 3/08 note – this was fourteen years ago – not sure what this means – anyway, the connection is both stronger and more mature now]
YR: Zuiyoji [Narasaki’s temple in Shikoku] is a fascist event - it's scary, it makes me physically sick and I felt fine twenty minutes after I left - was there for three days. There were danka [temple members] who were munitions folks, right –wingers.
[I think there was a break here and we were talking about Suzuki and his relationship to his disciples and how some knew him better than others and how we’d value the opinions of some over others but that’s just our opinion and we got a little gossipy and petty and it’s years later now and we’re more accepting of each other so I take it up here:]
DC: Suzuki did ask Hoitsu to finish Kwong's transmission a number of times as I understand it. But then we make a bigger deal of transmission than Japanese do, Ananda said one time that Suzuki Roshi was going to give a lot of people transmission but he died to quick to do it. There's this idea about it - Halpern and I went to see Suzuki Roshi once and he took us into the office and said, let me tell you something, I'm going to Japan and I'm going to give Dick Baker transmission there and then you'll have an American priest – like he was real pleased about it and bob said, "Suzuki Roshi, if you give Dick Baker transmission, everyone's gonna think you're crazy," and Suzuki Roshi went "No no no no no no," and I said when you say you're giving him transmission, does that mean he’s fully enlightened? and he said, "It means he has a good understanding," and he paused and added "and a full commitment." And I told Kobun at Tassajara and he was horrified and went, "No no no! maybe Phillip!" and I'm sure others were shocked - transmission was such a big deal to us but really it's not an indication of anything - in Japan they wouldn't assume anything. Like Ananda says, it’s like getting a teacher’s certificate.
YR: There's a way that we in this country make a much bigger deal about ordination, transmission. I remember when the whole scandal erupted around Dick that all these Japanese people said, what are you doing? You got into this mess cause you gave this guy too much power in the first place - we wouldn't dream of assuming just because someone was a roshi that they knew anything.
DC: Japanese I talked to in Japan look at it as the priests sitting in the monasteries with the windows open and with snow blowing on them and never going out and getting hit with the stick and so forth - those are the real ones and the ones that go out are not - they see it in terms of how much hardship you have - I frankly find Americans have fewer assumptions.
YR: The other thing I'd ask people would be tell me a story about a specific time you were with Suzuki Roshi - a specific story, not general. What is your clearest memory?
What questions would you like to be asked, would you like to have asked of others?
I could start doing a tape of specific stories on micro-cassettes. Try to find people who worked with Suzuki Roshi moving rocks, who worked with him in the summer of 71 on the wall at the ashes sight, on the rocks in the garden.
I can tell a Jizo story about him and I remember from a sesshin him saying, "Sometimes I'm the teacher and you're the student but sometimes it's true that you're the teacher and I'm the student," and a wonderful conversation I had with him in a car in front of Sokoji Thanksgiving night and the drive home and a lot of stories from when he was sick. The story of Jean Ross and Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi important. [look for these stories and if don't have then get]
DC: Who are the most important people to talk to?
YR: Betty, Jean, Graham, Phillip, Mike Dixon [not edited yet], Ananda - they had a lot of contact about the apartments on Bush Street after the first practice per at Tassajara, people came back and said they wanted to keep on living as though they were at Tassajara and I had a lot of conversations with Suzuki Roshi about his conversations with Ananda which were a little frustrating to him I think.
DC: Well, Ananda wanted it to stay small and intimate and be like Quaker meetings. He felt betrayed. A lot of the original students felt that way, at least missed those days.
DC: I want to put adds in papers [lord, I never did that], who knew him in China [got that], temple archives [is there such a thing?], get hold of his leaflets [Suzuki had told me he handed out leaflets or flyers or something printed which expressed his concern with the militaristic direction Japan was taking. Surely this was, this had to be before the war and something extremely subtly stated. No one else in Japan knew what I was talking about when I asked about this and pretty much no one believed it was true – but I don’t think he was lying. I think he did hand out something at least once and he said he brought copies of it to the government or US occupational authorities after the war so he could start a school. Brian Victoria said that’s impossible and I’ve talked to him and others about some sort of ban on Zen priests teaching after the war but it was left at some fuzzy place of not really knowing what happened.
I'm a little worried about the money angle - maybe there should be a board with you on it who decides where profits should go if there are any after my considerable expenses.
YR: I'm not so worried about that.
[I did make a lot of money but it’s all gone and now I beg to keep doing this work]
Yvonne Rand at my place fall of 94
YR: I was thinking about the way Suzuki Roshi would work with the students who he thought were serious and where there was some real connection - his ignoring someone for some long period of time even a year or so, so that the only way to have any interaction was to channel you into the dokusan room and how few people he seemed to have that kind of relationship to. How much we as American students took it personally, got hurt feelings.
DC: He did that to Mike Dixon and to Dick and Phillip and Reb as I remember it.
YR: Clearly it was an indication that he was taking someone quite seriously. I think he did it with Trudy too.
DC: It seems fairly traditional. I guess.
YR: Yes I think so - it's a way of cutting out the personal, social, familial relationship so that it would throw the student on himself or herself. How little confidence he had that American students would stick around. One of the things that interests me is that he had a pretty low opinion of what it would take to discourage us. We could be easily discouraged.
DC: In lecture he said, "I can't tell you the truth. If I told you the truth I'd just be sitting here by myself listening to the sound of your cars going up the road."
YR: It also shows up in his reluctance to talk about reincarnation. Maybe that's just not a topic that Japanese people talk about anyway and it may be that in the Zen tradition in Japan it's not talked about very much - but that's pretty usual in the teachings of the Buddha throughout all the other Asian cultures that I know.
DC: He seemed to purposely avoid talking about reincarnation. I don't think he wanted to.
YR: He definitely didn't want to talk about it.
DC: People would ask him about it and he'd say, "I don't know what happens after we die. He'd say maybe there is reincarnation. He might have even said I think there is, like he said he believed in a historical Buddha and Bodhidharma even though some others doubted that – especially Bodhidharma - but he didn't seem to want to talk about it. Yasutani said at Tassajara that you have to believe in reincarnation in order to be a Buddhist.
YR: When Tara Rimpoche said that at Green Gulch it caused people to be upset.
DC: Dick Baker has said he doesn't believe in reincarnation. David Padwa doesn't. There are Buddhists who don't.
YR: Tara Rimpoche said you can't be a Buddhist if you don't accept the teachings of past and future lives. I remember Norman just went through the ceiling but two years later he said Ah, I think I understand it now.
DC: It's not hard for me cause my mother believed in it - especially after my father's death. To me it's like believing in evolution. It's not if there is evolution or reincarnation, it's what is evolution and reincarnation. To me reincarnation is happening right now. Here were are and here we are again.
YR: I just came back from an institute in Arizona where there were eight teachers from four different traditions. Everybody except Robert Aiken held to the teaching of past and future lives and the importance of cause and effect. Bob was the one who did the Zen thing of I don't know and seemed not to get that intellectually it's a very important teaching to understand because a lot emanates out from that teaching. But here was another important teaching that Suzuki Roshi choose for one reason or another not to bring forth - in fact he seemed to have some reluctance about bringing it up because it seemed that he feared that American students would run away.
DC: I don't think people would have run away.
YR: He had a very clear sense that he had to be careful or he'd run people off. He was careful in the way that he taught Americans.
DC: It's true that he didn't want to scare people off. If people wanted to leave he'd say anything to get them to stay. Maybe it was a weakness or his soft heart or a desire for lots of students. He once told Bill Lane who came to him about leaving to go to that island for a year, "I can fool most people into staying but I can't fool you. There's nothing I can say to you to make you stay, so go on and I hope you come back."
YR: But I don't think that's why he didn't teach reincarnation - I don't think it was part of his agenda.
DC-Now he also didn't want to talk about astrology but that's not a central part of Buddhist teaching - he said, "When I was young I was interested in astrology, Chinese astrology, and I studied it and it was interesting but I came to feel that maybe we don't need to know so much about ourselves." Now I think that that's more of a rejection of interpretive systems that interfere with our intuition which does all that work naturally.
YR: That I don't know but I know from conversations with him that he in fact did say that people would run away if he talked about reincarnation. And it's interesting to me thinking about that to think of how many brakes he had on himself depending on what he thought students were ready for. Over and over again when the subject would come up I'd see him touch it as little as possible and then back away. He seemed to think that with few exceptions it was something that American students would balk at.
DC: I can't believe that. Maybe it was Dick - because Dick didn't believe in it.
I actually think he's right. It's one of the major stumbling blocks that I run into. It's on of the subjects that people have the most difficulty with. Most people who grew up in the West come out of the philosophical tradition of materialism. I think it's interesting as an indicator of his interest in being skillful in keeping students long enough for them to eventually really get the Buddha Dharma in some deep way. And his willingness to keep some things quite hidden if that's what it took.
My experience of taking care of him while he was dying which was such an extraordinary powerful experience. I think his own ease with the dying process had something to do with his own deep understanding and acceptance of the teachings on past and future lives. People who believe in reincarnation have a different relationship to their own mortality. He was very clear and consistent, totally absent of any kind of fear. The only shadow was his feeling of I don't have time to do what I want to do before I die. I don't have time to do the things that I need to do to have things work out okay. I think he had a real panic about what he had set in motion vis a vis Dick being his successor without the right surroundings. All the karma of Katagiri Roshi's decision of not to stick around. He had a clear amount of agitation or eagerness because he had some things he wanted to do before he died and actually kept thinking he was going to live longer than he was going to so when he realized he wasn't going to live very much longer that was hard for him but not out of fear.
My experience in Japan is also that nobody thinks much about reincarnation.
DC: Japanese Buddhism does not emphasize reincarnation but it's not devoid of it.
YR: It's like it's not an issue one way or another.
DC: I don't think there was much talk about Buddhism or any of that in his early training with his father and Soon. It would be interesting to see what Kishizawa's teaching was on reincarnation and all - what his emphasis was and see how that influenced Suzuki Roshi. Jeff Broadbent has a book of Kishizawa's lectures and thoughts. And I could ask Kaz Tanahashi about that. We could ask Hoitsu what he thinks. I think Japanese are mainly thinking about their duty. They don't have time to think about reincarnation.
YR: All the stuff that comes up around ceremonies around death, it's a very odd combination of magical thinking, superstition and Buddhism mixed in. There's the idea that if an aborted child is not appeased it will come and make big trouble for the family.
DC: And there's the Obon festival when spirits are said to come back. In Ways of thinking of People's of the East (by Hajime Nakamura – 1964), the author said that the central concept of Japan was the nation and that they were pro body and pro life and that the way Japanese understood reincarnation was that it was an opportunity to be reborn Japanese whereas in other countries the idea was to be reborn as a human if one couldn't escape the wheel. An old friend of mine who died in Japan told me before he died that he wanted to be reborn an American.
YR: Kenji Muro would be interesting to ask about this. He knows the current and the historical. I wouldn't rely on Okusan for what Suzuki Roshi thought. It's a chance for her to have an opinion. There's a lot she didn't understand about where he was coming from. She has a place in ZC and she claims to have an understanding about what he thought and what was going on with him and sometimes I don't think she knows what she's talking about. Look at the introduction that was written about her in her book of poems. It's very sentimentalized and exaggerated view of her role with Suzuki Roshi. At the time that I knew them when they were living together she was a hindrance, he was get out of the way, leave me alone. So I would listen to what she has to say with a little reservation. She has an opinion on everything and there were times when Suzuki Roshi would get kind of cranky with her.
DC: Suzuki gave a weird lecture once at Tassajara about how she got enlightened. I didn't know what to make of it. He said that someone had died in the city and needed a priest and that she couldn't get hold of him for one reason or another and that Katagiri was also unavailable and she tried Ueno in Monterey and someone else and that she got so out of sorts and uptight and it kept building and she was about to have a nervous breakdown and that she finally gave up and he said she had a satori experience as far as I remember and he said he never thought it would happen but it did and he went on and on about it. He laughed and laughed and I wondered why is he telling all these people this when he must know that many of them will get the permanent idea that now she's an enlightened Buddha.
YR: Yes, and again, we have to ask, to what degree did Suzuki Roshi know his audience? There are ways in which I don't think he did know his audience. I think it was part of the problem in his picking Dick as his successor. There are certain kinds of things he just didn't read and Katagiri Roshi didn't either. Look at Y___ who had gone around the corner in Hoshinji or even before it.
DC: I saw her there and told Y___ she should get out of there and that it was definitely driving her crazy and she wouldn't listen she kept saying it was all her fault.
YR: And people tried to tell Katagiri but he wouldn't listen and he said she's such a fine student and if only my other students were like that. That's the problem when you don't know your own conditioning enough to be able to begin to understand the conditioning of someone in another culture. We had a tendency to glamorize or idealize Suzuki Roshi and I think it's an invalid picture. I think it's extremely important to realize that there were also places where he was blind. He didn't always know who he was looking at.
Again, about Suzuki Roshi and Okusan, I told you about stopping at the place in Pacific Grove? At times he treated her like a kind of moth, an irritating gnat. He had something he was trying to describe to me about himself and what he was thinking about in terms of could he be the kind of teacher he wanted to be and be married. He was trying to talk to me and she wanted to put her two cents in and he wanted her to be quiet and he was extremely gruff. He was talking about the reservations that he had in his role as a teacher because he wasn't present for a lot of his lifetime with his family. The most important relationships to him were with his students. And his conclusion that it was actually a mistake for him to have tried to be a priest and have a family.
DC: That's what Katagiri thought – at least at times he had doubts.
YR: Yeah, I think it is.
DC: But in Japan he wasn't a bad family man because of students. It was because of his duty. He didn't have students in Japan as far as I can see. I remember Ananda telling that to some students and Suzuki Roshi getting mad at him and Ananda said well, that’s what you told me. His only dharma heirs were Okamoto Shoko who never studied with him but who he gave the transmission as far as I can see so that he could take over Zounin. And there was his son who never formally studied with him. But he did tell my once that he did have a good student in Japan. I asked him when I was driving him if he'd ever had a student who understood his teaching and he said yes and I asked if that was in Japan or America and he said Japan and I asked where they were now and he said dead. I’ve always wondered who the heck that was.
YR: Go to Soto-shu and see if you can get anything.
DC: Maybe Moriyama could help.
YR: Talk to Betty. Her steadiness and support of Zen Center is really what made it happen in a practical way. She gave a good percentage of her salary every month for years. She and the Japanese community supported the temple and Suzuki Roshi for years.
In the Soto Zen world or in Japan there is a kind of attitude of don't talk about it, don't read, don't study, just practice. On the other hand, Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi for two studied like maniacs.
DC: When I got on a study trip Suzuki Roshi was completely supportive. After I got back from five months of studying Japanese in Monterey which he didn't want me to do to begin with - and Peter had told me if I went there and didn't do the guest dining room for the whole summer that I'd never be able to come back to Tassajara again and I told him baloney don't be silly - but anyway when Suzuki Roshi saw how much I was learning he said I should stay at the Monterey Inst. Of Foreign Studies for two years and then go to Japan and I told him no I don't want to do that I want to go back to Tassajara and be at Tatsugami's practice period and I'll study there but I can't do this any more out in Monterey and I actually had been sick at my stomach for weeks or more and it went away the hour my sister Susan and Bob Halpern and I drove out of Monterey to go on a trip. Anyway I said no way. So he gave up and let me go to Tassajara and this shows not only how supportive he was of me studying Japanese which was a precursor not only to being able to use contemporary Japanese but to studying the old texts and when I went back to Tassajara I got so into studying - I started with the han and studied it and then everything that we chanted one by one and I studied with Katagiri and Yoshimura and Kobun and then with Suzuki and after a year or so of this including staying up all night one night every week and till late every night and one day I went to him one day and said Suzuki Roshi I think we need to talk. I've been so involved in studying that it's really getting in the way of my practice. I sleep in zazen and some days like this morning I go to sleep at the wake up bell and just get up to go to tea with you in the morning. He said don't worry about it. It's good. People might think you're crazy but keep it up. He loved it. He loved that I was throwing myself into studying even though it was totally at odds with the harmony and schedule of the monastery.
YR: Yes, but that was not the official picture. It was not the official picture. It was not a path that he laid out unless we discovered it and went to him and said this is what my path is.
Suzuki Roshi had a study at Page Street on I believe it was the third floor. What he had was a closet. He walked through the closet to another one behind it that had a skylight. Or it was on the second floor behind his bedroom and it had a window. Yes - he only let me in there a few times. It was like a real secret place where he would go when nobody knew where to find him. He studied there all the time - texts. I remember one time when Bill (Sterling – her husband) and I discovered that Katagiri didn't have the complete cannon or whatever... (phone)
Anyway, the more I understand the early scriptures and Abidharma the more I understand how classical the teaching is in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It's a very skillful series of teachings that's quiet classical and complete. You can read it like it's some nice old Zen teacher giving lectures to suburban types in Palo Alto but it's also a very classical teaching and I think it's easy not to go deep enough into it and not to realize that one's own understanding is enhanced by studying the classical texts and commentaries.
Beginner's mind, for example, is a brilliant term that translates a goal that is described in the Abidharma literature, namely, cultivating the capacity to see each thing as though for the first time. It's just straight out of those texts. I think that the degree to which Suzuki Roshi had a practice of studying, of using his intelligence and studying in a rather classical scholarly way as a legitimate aspect and structure for practice even though that wasn't the official or popular or romanticized picture of Zen I think it's a very important aspect of him as a teacher to present. I think there's a big misunderstanding of what Zen is in the United States that is romantic and which stinks of Zen - chop wood and carry water - just sit zazen. It picks up on the anti-intellectual tone in Japanese culture from the perspective of our own American anti-intellectualism. It doesn't take into account enough the clear training aspect, mind training the mind, that is at the core of what Zen practice is about. It's tough and clear and can be talked about. Katagiri Roshi knew it was important to study the early sutras.
DC: He had Nonin study Abidharma with Reb and Nonin loved it.
And you need to do your own work in emotional psychological terms in the context of your own culture or you're only half-baked.( we talk on about this sort of thing) I know people in the Tibetan and Theravaden traditions and others who are not effective teachers for exactly the same reasons.
I remember at the early days of Page Street when we doing all this stuff in the Buddha hall, imagining there were pillars in different places and we lined up as though they were there and Suzuki Roshi said I know how to teach you how to do certain things in the context in which I know them. You have to learn what I know in the context in which I know it. And then you have to ground it in your own experience as Americans. And I feel we had permission from him after some point to figure out what makes sense in this place in this culture. That's one of the reasons I talked to him about a lot of the work I was doing with Harry Roberts and some other American people because those are the people who could tell someone coming from North European immigrant stock something about America. But I think that study is an important element in resonating with Suzuki Roshi's teaching.
DC: Yes - it's definitely an important part of him - the Komazawa [the Soto Zen university in Tokyo] and Kishizawa's part. I don't know if it's the best of him - I think that happened when what he was met America.
It seems that when he was in Japan he was just a country priest who disappeared into the woodwork and when he came to America something in him came alive. And also look at the passion he had for such a long time about learning English and coming to the US.
DC: So you turned Suzuki Roshi on to various American non Buddhist things.
I did? Like what?
DC: Like American Indian stuff.
YR: Oh yes. In 1970 in the spring I think I went on a trip to the Southwest with Ron Patterson and John Steiner and Mary and David, friend's of Ron's and Jack Elias. We went on a trip to the Havasupai canyon which is one of the side canyons that drains into the Colorado. We walked down there and camped down there for a while with Havasupai Indians. Went to the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Shay, Hotevilla on First Mesa and spent five days with Grandpa David. There were three of us who were Zen students, three who weren't and then John was like the emissary between the two groups. I remember sitting in Grandpa David's little house in front of his son's wood stove the first day and a half there, not a word - just sitting. The ones who were used to meditating were comfortable with that and the others were climbing the walls. Anyway, when we went to Canyon de Shay we walked down into White House Ruins, that part of the Canyon, and I had a very big experience down there. And coming back out of the canyon late in the day it was as though I flew up the hill - I was in quite an altered, transcendent state. and part of what happened to me being in the canyon was a kind of opening to interdependence and I stayed in a transcendent state for quite some time. But I particularly remember coming out of the canyon almost like floating I was so blissed out one might say. And when I got back to Zen Center in the city I had a book of photos of the Navaho lands and Canyon de Shay and that area and I brought the book with me when I went to see Suzuki Roshi and tell him about the trip and what I'd learned and what I'd seen and what it was like. He opened the book and he brushed the pages quickly aside and came to the picture of the trail coming out of White House Ruins and he said, "This is where it is. This is where it happened." Without my saying much at all he knew that something big had happened to me and he knew exactly when and where it happened. It was like some other level of communication had happened. It was really powerful. From that point on he was very supportive of my interest in native people and the hunger I had to know about the geology and the land and the plants and sense of place which he didn't think was weird at all.
When I started doing camping trips with Harry Roberts I told him a lot about that. I told him a lot about Grandpa David and the whole connection with the Hopi in particular. I told him that Grandpa David was very interested in the Heart Sutra and chanting the Heart Sutra. And I remember after sitting for a long while with him and his saying that it's wonderful that there's the sort of resonance between the spiritual path that your on and the path that my people are on but please honor your own path and don't try to be Indians. Which I remember striking me because I also heard don't try to be Japanese either.
DC: I once went by Grandpa David's (or Chief David’s) house with Susan and Bob Halpern cause we wanted to meet him and he opened the door and said, "Come in, do you want to spend the night?" A few years later I went by there and asked if he was around when he didn't answer his door and an old Indian guy said, "No, he's out with white people."
YR: Also Trungpa coming to Tassajara and meeting Suzuki Roshi was something I was the agent of.
DC: A lot of people say that was a meeting of great importance.
YR: That's a very exaggerated trip.
Get from Ananda or Silas about the day we all went to the Page Street building and Suzuki Roshi said, "Let's get it."
Yvonne at another time on the phone probably:
YR: Find out more about the rock behind Rinsoin and how he moved it and how the villagers thought he was mad. [He moved it there from a long distance. I’d say people were pretty impressed.] There's a photo of the rock in a Windbell. That's when he broke his finger moving the rock at Rinsoin.
DC: I thought it had happened at Tassajara. [Later I discovered he broke his finger at another time working on a wall at Rinsoin.
YR: The window Robert Quagliata Narcissus did of him and how the broken finger can become a detail of his physical body that can knit together a whole body of remembrances. I think of him with his slight body, really like a young boy's body and his capacity for extraordinary focused energy and power.
I also remember the physicalness of his presence in sesshins. The kind of care he always took in both settling to sit and starting to move at the end of sitting. I don't think I ever saw him begin or end a period of sitting without moving, rocking from one side to another after and before he crossed his legs. He always moved in and out of zazen with such attention and care. He'd do it even when he was going to get up to carry the stick and after he carried it, even if there was only two minutes of zazen left. The can remember the slowness with which he crossed and uncrossed his legs, the attention with which he settled and gathered up his robe around his legs, how he folded and placed the sleeves of his robes. His pace had so much patience.
DC: Elizabeth Sawyer said that when she'd decided to go study with Haridas Baba that he called her in to talk to him. She said she didn't know him that well and didn't know he even cared but she said she was impressed he took it so seriously and he said he didn't know much about yoga but he knew it was very important to rock back and forth before and after zazen.
YR: He's an illustration of the cultivation of patience. I see him teaching patience in a very physical way, in his pace, the way he walked and the way he stood up after sitting. Not macho at all. I think that zazen is a kind of feminizing principle in terms of cultivating receptivity in terms of nurturing and gentle and receptive and he completely demonstrates those qualities coming forth and at the same time being capable of an incredible power and energy and fierceness which was manifested particularly in his moving those rocks. The physicalness of his relationship to rocks. Remember the woman who was a stone carver who was at Tassajara and did all those water basins? He was so conscious of what she was doing with those stones. [Audrey Walter]
Not so different from when he was sick and he began to not talk so much and not eat so much. I'd be sitting by him and this little skinny arm would come out from under the covers and he'd stick it straight up into the air which meant, rub me. And I'd massage his arm and then it would slowly go back under the covers and then a while later here comes another arm out from under the covers and then straight up in the air towards the ceiling.
I took care of his body while he was dying. I rubbed his arms and his legs and there was a lot of stuff around what he could eat and drink and what he liked and it's an interesting focal point.
I gave Suzuki Roshi a little basket with a tea cup and pot in it that belonged in it and I asked Okusan for it but she couldn't find it.
The fullness and slightness of his body and the way it was deceptive because he was so amazingly strong - he could move rocks that two or three big strong guys in their prime couldn't move. I had a sense of how slight his body was because I massaged his arms and legs so he wouldn't get bedsores - it was like a child's body to me as an American. So he had the enormous power and slightness of frame.
At the end of the summer ‘71 August I went down to Tassajara to get Okusan and Suzuki Roshi and drive them up to the city and he was beginning to be quite jaundiced and we sat part of the day with Soen Nakagawa Roshi at a sesshin at San Juan Batista and we went to the garden at the mission. we had a surprisingly long leisurely drive back up from Tassajara and he got back home and got into bed and basically never got back out of bed again.
The doctor who was taking care of him thought he might have hepatitis and there was a period of about six or eight weeks when we treated him as though he had hep and went through all kinds of tests and there was a lot of complicated stuff about keeping him quarantined his dishes and all and one of the things that stopped happening was he and Okusan and me eating off each other's plates - a sort of coziness. But all that wasn't possible when there was this thought that he had hepatitis.
At some point all the tests came back negative and it was more and more serious and the doctor said, let’s put him in Mt. Zion. I think he was there for three days and one morning I went in to see him and just as I was coming down the hall to go into his room and several doctors came out of his room - they'd just had a consultation with him about the results of his tests. And remember that the only people who knew that when his gall bladder had been removed in March of ‘70 after the Portland sesshin and he was sick and had his gall bladder taken out and when they did a routine biopsy they found it was malignant but the surgeon who'd taken it out was sure he'd gotten everything cause the flesh around it was pink and healthy looking. The only people who knew about that were Suzuki Roshi, Okusan and the doctor. I don't know if the doctor who was taking care of him in ‘71 didn't know about that but cancer hadn't been on the map.
So I walked into his room and he was sitting on the edge of his bed with his legs dangling in his little hospital gown. And the nurse had just brought his lunch in on the table next to the bed and he patted the bed and he motioned to me and he mouthed the words, "I have cancer," and he had this big grin on his face and I wasn't quite sure what he'd said because the two things don't go together and I sat down next to him and he pulled the table around with the trey with the food and he reached over and he said, "I have cancer. That means now we can eat together again." And he took a forkful from his plate and he fed it to me. Lovely story isn't it.
He took the pain killers because he knew it would make his doctor feel better.
[I think he stopped taking them pretty soon – didn’t like how they made him feel.]
Yvonne Rand at another time:
Katagiri submitted his resignation to Suzuki Roshi in ’71. He went to Pacific Groove next to Monterrey. It was in the summer and Katagiri did it publicly so that Suzuki Roshi had to accept it - bound by rules of Japanese etiquette. Okusan thought that it was a major blow to Suzuki Roshi and that his decision of having Dick stay on as abbot was predicated on Katagiri being there.
DC: That seems so naive.
YR: I think Suzuki Roshi was blind about Dick and when Katagiri made a move that so clearly said, this is someone I can't coexist with, it was a blow.
DC: Well I don’t think he wanted to be with Suzuki either – he wanted his own place, his own sangha.
YR: He heard about Dick a lot and knew people were right but thought we could handle it. Katagiri was more savvy about Dick. People can't read across culture. People in Japanese culture couldn't get this sort of thing - they can't see the missing piece.
DC: Harada (who I studied with in Japan) didn't know how to work with people's craziness or didn't even see it as far as I’m concerned.
YR: It's the down side of working with a foreign teacher and I think it's one of the reasons people adored Suzuki Roshi so much - it was safe - there was a kind of distance because he wasn't from our own culture.
DC: He was so idealized. Maybe not his fault - our projections.
YR: Remember that grocery store on the corner? He'd buy the funkiest vegetables because he felt sorry for them, and when vegetables would fall to the street from the grocery trucks he would run over and rescue them - even if they'd been run over.
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