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David Chadwick on Shunryu Suzuki - First Thoughts

First thought, best thought.

These are notes that I wrote down quickly when I first started working on Crooked Cucumber early in 1993 and asked myself what do I remember right now, what comes to mind first? Wasn't thinking about dharma stuff. - dc


At the redwood tables outside of the dining room at Tassajara before the first practice period I saw Dick and Suzuki talking about the schedule and details and at one point they were talking about chanting and Dick said we should chant in English as well and Suzuki Roshi said oh we can't chant in English and Dick said oh yes we can it's very important that we do and I saw Suzuki change his mind inside of a minute. Same thing on women - Dick said something about women's housing and Suzuki said well this will be just for men and Dick said oh no we have to have women as well and Suzuki said we can't do that and Dick said that his wife and daughter would be there and finally said, "no women, no Tassajara."

Watching Richard Baker with Suzuki I saw him as a cofounder of Tassajara and I saw someone who took responsibility for what he thought and how he felt. He just was who he was and didn't try to sublimate himself to Suzuki.

But Dick couldn't get his way on everything with students - he kept loosing out on the food struggles and the macrobiotics kept pulling ahead because their diet was closer to the traditional Japanese monastic diet except for the brown rice and whole foods approach which was a little hard on Suzuki but he went along with it - Dick preferred raw foods and said we were into bird food - seeds and he said that the potato was the most appropriate staple for us and was a complete food.

At a board meeting in the spring of 1971 Suzuki said, I used to hate to listen to you all argue but now I've come to think it's pretty good.

My opinion is that Suzuki was just going step by step and groping in the dark like we were - he didn't always know what he was doing. But he had confidence in his way and in himself. But we can't look back on every word that he said and say that this is gospel truth. As we look at Suzuki discrimination has to coexist with nondiscrimination. If we have a one sided understanding of nondiscrimination, then we're screwing up what form is and what emptiness is. This can lead to the sedation of practice.

Suzuki taught patience and endurance.

He was against food trips and over-seriousness and too much greed and competition.

When I saw Suzuki with Bob Halpern he said that he wanted to ordain us together and he'd enjoyed watching us in action together but that our problem was that we both had to learn patience and it would take time.

We can't present any absolute truth of Suzuki because he always spoke to the moment to individuals or to the group. What he said then might not apply to every case. Suzuki even said in ‘66 maybe we shouldn't record lectures because people will get some idea and stick to it. We should have a fluid understanding and not get cemented into things.

I want to ask Kaz Tanahashi and others what of this is Dogen, what is Zen, what is Buddhism, what is Japanese culture or Chinese Culture or folk tradition, what if anything is uniquely Suzuki other than his personality. Have Peter Sherrill look at it and Ken Wilber and talk about it terms of perennial philosophy and western thought and rational empirical thinking.

Suzuki misread Katagiri and didn't communicate enough and didn't give him enough strokes.

Once Herman Aihara, a leading spokesman for Macrobiotics, came to Tassajara and Loring and I wanted him to speak in the dining room to students and I asked Suzuki and he said, "In Japan we'd never do anything like that. Zen masters are jealous of their students and temples and don't let other people speak there but this is America and you all are very open and so maybe here this time it's okay." So Herman spoke.

Here I had written that Suzuki didn't come only to be corrected by Brit Pyland who wrote:

I think that Suzuki roshi did attend, or at least to the last part of the talk. I remember SR coming up to Herman afterward in the courtyard outside the dining room door, patting him gently on the back, and saying "Don't worry so much." And the Summer night air of Tassajara absorbed everything.

Now I remember that - maybe Brit told me before. We've maybe even been through all this in a long forgotten cuke post. - DC 4-28-11

When the Berkeley Barb reporter came to Tassajara to do a story I talked to him in the dining room and I remember how much he hated macrobiotics and he interviewed Suzuki and he told me he asked leading questions and tried to get him to put down, to deny macrobiotics but Suzuki didn't bite and said that there is a link or some relationship between macrobiotics and Zen and the Zen diet.

Remember the time that I served breakfast and also cooked it and so for the first bowl I made brown rice cream without the milk, sugar, soy milk, and all the side condiments we were giving except for gomashio and some people were obviously pissed at me but it was a silent meal. Suzuki after breakfast said, "You notice that this morning we had the grain by itself. We should continue doing this. If you put milk and sugar or honey on your grain then you cannot taste the pure quality of the grain, you cannot experience the essence of the grain. In a monastery we should eat more simply and naturally so from now on this is how we will eat." I remember afterwards that a friend went on a complete tirade for serving gomashio with the meal, telling me I was on a food trip and we should just eat simple food and I said that's what I did, didn’t you notice? I eliminated everything but the sesame salt which is traditional and which Suzuki Roshi approved of. A month later or so I tried to talk to him about it again and he said, oh shit I thought you would have forgotten about that by now. I felt terrible about that and now I feel terrible again. My interpretation of what happened with him is that he had picked up on the simplify message just as I had at that time. It made me feel like I hadn’t really done what I did myself but had just followed some orders coming from the cosmos.

Suzuki said that Japanese mix food in their stomachs and we mix it in our mouths. He said you can't eat and talk at the same time and so we eat in silence.

What language did we have built into our lives - what assumptions? What trips were we on then and what ones are we on now?

Reb said that Tatsugami taught him the craft of chanting and ceremony and that Suzuki worked with that, taught the subtlety and nuance.

What did Suzuki say about koans - I remember him saying that he went to study with some teacher, maybe a Rinzai teacher, who gave him a koan and he worked with it and then one day the teacher said he'd passed it but he didn't feel so and so he came to think that monks get passed on their koans as a matter of course and that it didn't really mean so much.

Who was Suzuki's teacher at Eiheiji who he mentioned in the lecture? - the shoji story I believe. DC note: Later I discovered, and at the last moment before completing Crooked Cucumber that that was Kishizawa. Suzuki had the habit in lectures of just saying, “My teacher,” and not using a name. But in one of the last lectures I looked at, one he made at Esalen, he used the name Kishizawa for his Eiheiji teacher. That sure helped.



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There's a lot of old material that's as good as new if you haven't read it. -DC


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