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Shunryu Suzuki said his master, Gyokujun So-on, would call him

Crooked Cucumber

Here's a page on that


1-14-17 - A summary of what the nickname Crooked Cucumber meant.

The nickname Crooked Cucumber was what So-on called his small, young disicple. Shunryu never used the Japanese when speaking to us that I know of. At first we thought it was magatta kyuri which is a literal translation and which Gary Snyder thought it to be and said he'd heard used in that way. But after the book came out, Suzuki's son Hoitsu told me he remembered hebo kyuri being used and thought that was it. The hebo kyuri he said it the tiny little twisted one at the end of a vine. It's useless. The word runt comes to mind. An online dictionary translation of hebo is "bungler, clumsy, greenhorn." At the memorial for Shunryu's little sister at the SFZC City Center, her widower husband said "Hebo kyuri," when we greeted. - DC


3-07-15 - There's no record of Suzuki ever having said what the Japanese was for Crooked Cucumber. It's clear that the term was a put-down, like calling a kid butt-head. Go to the bottom of this page to read what conclusion I've come to. - DC

More links below.


The moniker "Crooked Cucumber" as found in the book by that name.
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The main title page: Crooked Cucumber
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The full title: Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
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In the front matter for copyright: Crooked Cucumber:  The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki. Copyright 1999 by David Chadwick.
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In the front matter again: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Chadwick, David, 1945–
Crooked cucumber: the life and Zen teaching of Shunryu Suzuki / David Chadwick.
p.   cm.
isbn 0–7679–0104–5

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From the Introduction:

From the time he was a new monk at age thirteen, Suzuki's  master, Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, called him Crooked Cucumber. Crooked  cucumbers were useless: farmers would compost them; children would use them  for batting practice. So-on told Suzuki he felt sorry for him, because he would  never have any good disciples. For a long time it looked as though So-on was  right. Then Crooked Cucumber fulfilled a lifelong dream. He came to America,  where he had many students and died in the full bloom of what he had come to do.  His twelve and a half years here profoundly changed his life and the lives of many  others.
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Chapter Two:
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On May 18, 1917, his thirteenth birthday, Toshi was ordained as a novice monk. He received the precepts, took the vows, and formally became a disciple of Gyokujun So-on. He also received a set of black robes to go over his Japanese kimono: a koromo, the Chinese outer robe with long sleeves; an okesa, a large rectangular cloth with finely sewn sections in seven rows resembling rice fields, which is the sacred robe of the monk; and a rakusu, a miniature and less formal okesa with straps, which is worn on the chest and over the shoulders like a bib. He was given the Buddhist name of Shogaku Shunryu. Shogaku, Auspicious Peak, was combined with his birth name, Shunryu, Excellent Emergence. He was called Shunryu-san by his fellow students. So-on had taken to calling him Crooked Cucumber, a private nickname for his absent-minded, idealistic, quirky little disciple.
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"I saw you under the bridge playing," So-on said, wagging a finger at Shunryu. "You crooked cucumber. You're sticking with it but I feel sorry for you. You're such a dimwit."
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My master always called me "You crooked cucumber!" I understand pretty well that I am not so sharp. I was the last disciple, but I became the first one, because all the good cucumbers ran away. Maybe they were too smart. Anyway, I was not smart enough to run away, so I was caught. For studying Buddhism my dullness was an advantage. A smart person doesn't always have the advantage, and a dull person is sometimes good because he is dull. Actually there is no dull person or smart person. They are the same.
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"Don't commit adultery, Crooked Cucumber!" Shunryu had been admiring an old tea bowl, and that is how So-on told him not to be so attached to fine things. He used that metaphor a lot with the boy, who had good taste in antiques and craftsmanship.
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At school Shunryu's favorite subject was English. He excelled at it. He'd always been interested in foreign things, true to his crooked nickname. The cucumber is kyuri in Japanese, the barbarian gourd. He did so well in English that a doctor named Yoshikawa in Mori asked him to tutor his sons in English.
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Chapter three:

Though Shunryu could now wear the brown robes instead of the monk's black, he would not yet change colors. That would be presumptuous. And though he was now his own man, he was still called Crooked Cucumber by So-on, who would continue to be in charge of his life for many years to come.
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Chapter four:

So-on let Shunryu have his say and then responded from an unexpected point of view. "Crooked Cucumber, you better be careful or you'll be a rotten crooked cucumber. One year is enough! I will not let you become a stinky Eiheiji student! Soon you should go to Sojiji," he said, referring to the other major Soto training temple. Once again Shunryu was crushed by So-on.
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Chapter five:

During the ashes ceremony, chanting the Heart Sutra, Shunryu picked up some of So-on's bone bits with chopsticks and placed them in an opening at the base, then picked up a bamboo ladle and poured water over the stone. How many times he'd watched So-on do this—for eighteen years starting right here and ending right here. Shunryu had many memories of the man who, more than anyone, had molded his character. Never again would he be called Crooked Cucumber. He could not help noticing that he did not feel much at the passing of his master.
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Chapter thirteen:

One day Suzuki casually mentioned that he'd like Katagiri to give the talk the following Wednesday evening—in English. Suzuki learned quickly and seemed to do everything well (in contrast to the youthful Crooked Cucumber). Katagiri was the opposite.
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From Notes on the Text:

For years I inquired about the Japanese term for "crooked cucumber," imagining the full-sized fruit, as suggested in the Introduction (P. xiii), and finding only the literal magatta kyuri.  After the book came out, Hoitsu Suzuki said he remembered that in his youth he had heard old people (though not his father) use another term:  hebo kyuri, signifying the tiny, runty, useless, weird, bent cucumber at the coiling tip of the vine (the vine as is represented in the typographical ornament used in this book).  That may well be it.

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3-07-15 - Just thought to post something that was said to me a couple of years ago that reinforced the conclusion that "hebo kyuri" is the term that So-on used. At the memorial service for Shunryu Suzuki's little sister Aiko Uchiyama at the SFZC's City Center on October 13, 2012, after the service, I joined the family at a table in the dining room. When I was introduced to her eldest son, Shuzo Uchiyama, he smiled and said, "Hebo kyuri!"


Comments on this nickname in Author Notes which mentions that Gary Snyder votes for magatta kyuri

See disciples discussion of this topic

Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Front Matter