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A Series on Shunryu Suzuki from the Hokubei Mainichi Shinbun 

written in 1972 by Rev. Ogui Koshin, now (2006) the Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America

Translated in 1993 by Kyoko Furuhashi and quickly edited by David Chadwick (in Feb. 2006) who made some changes where the facts were off Ė like saying that Suzuki was buried at Colma cemetery and that Baker practiced at Eiheiji for three years. This is just a working translation for now. - DC

See the original articles in Japanese

Interviews by DC with Rev. Ogui

note: Gordon Geist wrote the following: I was puzzled by the reference to Dai Bosatsu Zendo in your recent posting "A Series on Shunryu Suzuki from the Hokubei Mainichi Shinbun".  Dai Bosatsu Zendo is in New York -- Eido Roshi's temple.  I thought Page street was called Beginners Mind Temple.

I called Mel Weitsman in Berkeley and he reminded me that Shunryu Suzuki had originally named the building Dai Bosatsu Temple or the zendo, Dai Bosatsu Zendo [I guess I need to check on that exactly] and that Richard Baker changed it to Beginner's Mind Temple. - DC


(I)"This dictionary has become quite worn out, but it will still survive longer than myself."  (written by Shunryu Suzuki on Jan. 29, 1971)

English must have been a great barrier for you who left for the States at the age of 55 in May, 1959.  You must have felt special affection for the dictionary which was a silent helper for you who trained the Japanese Americans as well as the causations in spite of your age. This was written in January of last year, a little less than a year before you died.  You seemed to have known your own death even at that time. Your compassion even toward a small dictionary seems to illustrate what you were.

Mrs. Suzuki told me, "When he goes to the grocery store, he gets daikon that is not fresh, and when he buys charcoal, he gets the broken ones". She has also told me the story about the frogs that you had chased away before your schoolmates could arrive and catch them. We could sense the compassion that you held towards all living creatures.

(II) Everything is according to the dharma for you.  When you were in the zendo your solitude was as firm as rock, your dignity could be seen in the performance of the students there, in the balance of two qualities: compassion and strictness.

You spoke little and gave a chance for them to realize things for themselves.  I heard that there were some students who cried during the private training of dokusan.  The balance of compassion and dignity reminded me of the heart of Nyorai.  And this balance of compassion and wisdom coming from dignity resulted in training a successor, Richard Baker.

I heard that Richard Baker was not satisfied with the professors of philosophy at Harvard University, and left the university to seek for a teacher.  He was delighted when he met you in San Francisco.  It had been more than eleven years from the time his training had started till your death. 

(III) The dignified performance of Baker impressed and reassured the people who were present at your funeral.  He  was greeting the monks in well‑mannered Japanese in the waiting room.  I felt as if bowing to you again seeing him succeeding your spirit.  It must have been hard work for you to make a disciple like that.  I heard that it was January, 1969 that he left for Japan by following your wish for him to feel the Buddhist culture in Japan and grow in that atmosphere.  I assume it was a great effort for him to have gone through the strict training at Eiheiji and other temples there for three years until he returned a few months before your death.  You must have been delighted when you met Baker in Japan in October of 1970.  It seems that in December of that year, you completed the third level of ritual for becoming a Zen monk with Baker.  Sightseeing Kyoto with Baker‑shi (teacher) must have been of a special experience for you.  In an antique store in Kyoto, it was a beautiful koro (an incense holder) made of celadon that drew your attention, I heard.  You seemed to have insisted on getting it, but Mrs. Suzuki said to him, "We are travelling now, let's buy one somewhere on our way back."  Mrs. Suzuki told me this.

(IV)  I heard that you came back to the States in December, 1970, without getting the blue porcelain koro which drew your attention in Kyoto because of following the advice of your wife.  In March, 1971, you had a gallbladder operation.  When I saw you visiting each deceased Sokoji memberís place in the Japanese cemetery in Colma on the Memorial Day of May 31st, I was glad to see you being so well.  Your disciples must have been delighted in your healthier condition.  You also felt assured and went to Zenshinji Tassajara in July and August.  And in September you were told that you had cancer.  When your condition had gotten worse, the students of Zen Center sent a telegram to Baker‑shi in Japan.  It is beyond words to imagine that you met Baker‑shi again on your sickbed.  What Baker‑shi brought to you as a gift was the blue porcelain koro that drew your attention in Kyoto.  Baker‑shi who is different in race had read your face.  The love between the teacher and the disciple goes far beyond the differences of races.  Mrs. Suzuki humbly told me "I was surprised to see it.  I had forgotten all about it."

(V)  When you met your first disciple, Baker‑shi who came back to the States with the koro from Japan, alone on your sick‑bed, you responded happily, "He is okay. He can do it", said Mrs. Suzuki.  You must have been very pleased. 

I was told about the difficulty that you had gone through due to your illness at the time of kechimyaku no dempo which was to transmitted to a recognized disciple from the succession of teachers.  It seemed to have taken two hours for you as a sick person to do the dempo no shakyo.  It must have been laborious work for you.  Each word of the transmission that you were copying must have been significant.  Even for Baker‑shi, who is a white, to do shakyo in Japanese must have been hard. [This is referring to Bakerís transmission ceremony in Japan]

I was told that the shinsanshiki (Mt. Seat Ceremony) which started at 10:00am on Nov. 21 at Zen Center, and which was open to the public was truly dignified.  After completing shinsanshiki in which Baker‑shi was designated as the formal abbot of Daibosatsu Zendo, you came back to your room, and seemed to looked very tired.  In that tiredness, you said, "What I needed to do in my life has been done", and you did gassho.  What magnificent words they were to say as a human being.  Once you mentioned to me, "It costs your life to create a successor."  These words echo in my heart brightly and strongly.

(VI) On December 4, the thirteenth day after shinsanshiki, Seidokai no sesshin started at the zendo, led by Baker‑shi.  At the same time, the first day of sesshin was conducted by Katagiri Daishin‑shi at Zenshinji in Tassajara in Monterey county which was established with your effort.  This Seidokai is the memorial day that Shakuson had the realization of the way of the truth at dawn when he sat down under a bodhi tree after six years of severe practice in India three thousand years ago.  On the first day of the Sesshin to commemorate the Seidokai, at 4:00am, Dec. 4, you completed your life and left as if you were sleeping in, listening to the sound of the morning bell of the Daibosatsu Zendo.  What a magnificent state of mind to be able to say, "The work of my life has been completed!"

I was told that there were tears of love for the teacher coming from deep sorrow, beyond words, of the over a hundred students in the zendo and over fifty students of Tassajara who were informed about your death.  In spite of their tears, they sat with determination and completed five days of sesshin saying, "Nothing he has given us is greater than zazen."

(VII) Your body was moved to Martin Brown Funeral Home and for six days, until Dec. 11, was open to the public. 

Your mouth closed in a straight line showed your strictness, the smiling outline of your face showed your kind heartedness, and your quietly resting figure made people put their hands together in gassho saying, "like a statue of Buddha."  During these six days of your body being enshrined, the students took turns in keeping guard from nine in the mornings to nine in the evening.  Your body was placed in the front of the room, and six students at a time silently sat in zazen, three facing to the one side of the wall, and other three to the other side of the wall of the room.  At the entrance of the room, two or sometimes four Caucasian Zen monks welcomed in gassho the guests who came to say farewell.  I could not find any words to greet your students who were doing zazen withholding their tears in sorrow, doing gassho.  Greetings with gassho without words touched our heart strings and created beautiful music like the sound of a wind‑bell on a rainy day.  How great gassho is!

In front of the coffin, the words "Nyorai Gassho" that you wrote with the dead leaves of trees of Tassajara, was placed.  The fragrance of incense filled the room.  The fragrance of the words "Nyorai Gassho" imprinted so deeply into my heart that it has never gone away. 

(VIII) On the next day, Sunday, Dec. 12, your funeral took place at Daibosatsu Zendo at 10:00 am.  In spite of the rain, over 1,000 visitors filled the zendo all the way from the corridor to the yard and the stairs.  About 800 visitors were Caucasian.  It was an unusual phenomena that those white and dark students who were allowed to go into the zendo where your body was placed, sat on the tatami mats for three hours, some were sitting on the concrete corridor, and some were doing gassho in the yard and on the street in the rain. 

In the midst of the sorrow, the sound of the chanting filled the Zendo, the corridor, the yard and the streets.  It was a surprise for the Japanese‑Americans when they saw that the white and the dark sat and chanted together regardless the differences of their races.  In the Japanese-American society, there was a tendency to become neurotic about defining the Japanese ways or American ways, or English or Japanese, etc.  Here, people were living in what they believe, they were confident and unshakable in their lives in the tradition of Buddhism.  It was a valuable opportunity to see this.  I closed my eyes, feeling the nature of dharma, and did gassho in chanting. 

When I was outside in the courtyard, I saw a young Caucasian female doing gassho in the rain.  I could not see her clearly but I could see her moving her mouth.  She was in tune with the chanting coming from the zendo.

(IX) In the yard, a young white female was doing gassho in the rain in the same tune with the dokkyo coming from the Zendo.  Her chanting lips, her hands put together in gassho, her wet hair, and her tearful eyes in sorrow were reflected to the glass of the window.  The Buddhist teachings they learned from you by seeing your virtue echoed within the hearts of people beyond the differences of their races.  Like the rain falling in the yard, what you taught was penetrating into their hearts.  The solemnity performed by the Caucasian monk made us, the Japanese monks feel a little tense, yet respect toward him.

The ceremony was conducted by Sotoshu Kan‑in, Tanba(?) [Niwa] Roshi, Moriyama‑shi, and Katagiri‑shi who had worked as your right hand.  Baker‑shi has now completed tokudo for 20 students, led the students to place your remains, and delivered a talk:  "In the evening of one day before roshi had passed away, I went to see him and asked where would we meet next time?  He reached his small hand out of the sheet, drew a circle in the air and smiled."  You seemed to have taught them with strictness and gentleness till the end.  Your words, "Without risking your life, you cannot create a successor" came to my mind.  If I put it in a modern language, it will be "nikui" (difficult to do).

Out of many mourners, the stillness of a devout woman in gassho was impressive and caught my heart.

(X)  Among many mourners, the devout woman was no one but Mrs. Suzuki who had been a helper all the way long from behind as your wife.  I heard that being a wife of a Zen monk was hard.  Even though you were there, it was as if you were not there.  Mrs. Suzuki said, "Well, on that day, after the dinner at the hall in Soko‑ji, I was locked in the basement.  I expected that Hojo (abbot, meaning roshi who live within one jo, a small space) would notice my being missing.  I was waiting in the bathroom.  He did not come even after one or two o'clock in the morning.  Eventually I slept in the bathroom.  He should have noticed that I was not in the room next to him.  At that time I thought I would go back to Japan." 

You should not have forgotten your wife.  You were lucky that she did not divorce you. 

The funeral started at ten and went on till after twelve as the line of mourners continued.  And the next morning at 9:30 on Dec. 13, leaving Martin Brown Funeral Service, your body was cremated in the presence of your students.  "Seeing the sorrowful tears of the students, I could not stop crying. "  said Mrs. Suzuki. 

Looking at the students in sorrow, the words spoken by Shakuson were remembered:  "Those who see themselves don't see themselves.  Those who see dharma see themselves.  Let the dharma be your light.  Do not rely on others.  Let the dharma be your master and live accordingly."

(XI)  Absenting themselves from school or work, out of nothing but their love for you, people gathered at the funeral home.  Someone smilingly said, "There was a person who drove an old car which could break down any moment."  It reminded me of a story of Tsuneyo Sano (?) who came to join his master riding on a thin (weak) horse out of his loyalty.  Mr. Brown, the undertaker expressed his respect at what he saw there by saying, "I have never come across a gathering of such serious people in my life."  My wife who has been raised as a Christian was deeply impressed and said, "I am so lucky that I have an opportunity to appreciate the depth of Buddhist teachings."  Acknowledging that everything flows according to the law, you tried to make people aware of, feel and realize the teaching of Buddhism with the strict, kind, compassionate, and intelligent eye of your mind.  Your heart continues to shine and live more strongly in the heart of people beyond the death of your body. 

Dai Bosatsu Zendo has been established on Page Street in San Francisco.  There is Zenshin‑ji Tassajara in the mountains of Monterey County where you can see clouds down below.  There seem to be over 2,000 people practicing Zen, some of whom are professors of universities, students, business people and housewives.  Baker‑shi in Dai Bosatsu Zendo, Katagiri‑shi in Zenshin‑ji, and Moriyama‑shi in the Japanese‑American temple, Sokoji, are doing their best to follow your spirit.

(XII) A lot of New Year greeting cards came to you.  "They knew that he had passed away, but still they sent them to him," said Mrs. Suzuki showing these letters with pleasure.  There was a letter from a Caucasian person who was living in New York, which was written "GASHO GASHO" in English.  Mrs. Suzuki related what Baker‑shi said to her, "Okusan is happy to have had a good husband, Roshi was happy to be with a good wife, and I was even happier to have both as my parents."  He also said that he and his students would take care of Okusan, so please stay in the Zen center.  They would ask her how much money she needs for her living expenses.  "Hojo (Roshi) takes a good care of me even after he died.  I appreciate it very much,"  she said bowing her head.  How beautiful are their respect and love for each other which go beyond life and death! 

Your 49 day memorial ceremony was also completed on Jan. 21.  The construction of the kaisando (founderís hall), where your ashes will be put in rest [not so] is about to be finished. It is the expression of your studentsí yearning for you.  The light of the kaisando will forever shine upon the suffering of humankind and illuminate our minds as the light of dharma.

Acknowledgment: I am thankful from my heart to: Hokubei Mainichi Shinbun which supplied the space for this column over 12 issues,  Mrs. Suzuki and Mrs. Kaino(?) who contributed materials for the articles,  Mr. Noguchi who donated the photos,  the President (of Hokubei) Mr. Shimizu who wrote the titles,  Mr. Yoshitsugu who made the layout.  Gassho.

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