August 8th, 2005 - updated August 15th.
Comments by DC on the brief bio of Shunryu Suzuki on SFZC website
I clicked Suzuki on the home page of SFZC.org or .com - they got em both - and went to an abbot's page where I found the following bio of Shunryu Suzuki:
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, a Japanese Zen priest belonging to the Soto lineage, came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of fifty-four. Already a respected Zen master in Japan, he was impressed by the seriousness and quality of "beginner's mind" among Americans he met who were interested in Zen and decided to settle here. As more and more people of non-Japanese background joined him in meditation, Zen Center came into being and he was its first abbot. Under his tutelage, Zen Center grew into City Center, Green Gulch Farm and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential Zen teachers of his time. Some of his edited talks have been collected in the books Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. Suzuki-roshi died in 1971.
See a suggested Revised Brief Bio of Shunryu Suzuki.
And, with apologies, here are my comments suggested changes in my email to a new friend at the ZC who works on this stuff.
This brief bio of Shunryu Suzuki is based on a paragraph from the original intro to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. It was written before 1970 and, like the whole intro to that book, represents what I would call the legendary period of Shunryu Suzuki historicity. I recommend the paragraph on the SFZC site be brought up to date. Suzuki may have come down a little from the clouds but his teaching is intact.
Now to take that paragraph sentence by sentence -
I'd leave the "roshi" out but I know that's what we usually say it in America. It's more humble, better form I think, to say Shunryu Suzuki here and not to use roshi too much for your own teacher.
a Japanese Zen priest belonging to the Soto lineage, came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of fifty-four.
age of 55. He was born in 1904, his birthday is May 18th, and he came to America on May 23. I think this is an old Zen Mind Beginner's Mind Dick Baker intro mistake - it also said he came in 58 - the new edition in 1999 changed both those errors and also, after lengthy discussion, left out the totally erroneous part that said Suzuki led a peace movement in Japan during the war. [See Suzuki on War and Peace]
Already a respected Zen master in Japan,
That's how we saw it long long ago but it's the opposite of the truth. This statement also comes from the ZMBM intro. We were wowed by any Japanese priest back then and visiting priests would praise Suzuki as they do and we thought of him as a Zen master and had all sorts of ideas of what that meant. Of course he was respected by many of those who knew him in Japan and he had transmission from his teacher but so did fifteen thousand or so other priests. He was an obscure temple priest who didn't give lectures and had no disciples who came to America and had many disciples and students and founded a major Buddhist institution. The Soto Zen hierarchy in Japan is still coming to terms with that. Some Japanese saw him as going to America to escape the shame of his wife having been murdered. That's what Kodo Sawaki's dharma heir Uchiyama told his main disciple Tom Wright. Almost no one there thought of him as a dharma teacher. The notable exception is Noiri Roshi and that is quite notable. See interview with Noiri Roshi. Anyway, I suggest this be replaced by later in this paragraph beginning a sentence with "Although an obscure figure on the Japanese Zen landscape."
The one sign I see that the Soto hierarchy respects Shunryu Suzuki is that his son, Hoitsu, has just become tanto, head of training for monks, at the prestigious head temple, Eiheiji. And I expect that he will become quite important in Japanese eyes because, as translator Fred Harriman says, Suzuki brought something completely Japanese to America and was successful in planting it here. But to the establishment there he wasn't qualified so it will take time for him to be recognized in his own country.
he was impressed by the seriousness and quality of "beginner's mind" among Americans he met who were interested in Zen and decided to settle here. As more and more people of non-Japanese background joined him in meditation,
this phrase "non-Japanese" is not necessary - it's mainly true but why say it - some of Japanese background sat with him and this is an insult to them. I know why it's there - it comes from the fact that there were two distinct congregations - the Japanese Americans and the Caucasians - but there were some Japanese, others of Asian decent and some blacks in the zazen group. Why not just say "As more and more people joined him in meditation, "
Zen Center came into being and he was its first abbot.
This is true eventually but at first it is true, I believe, only in spirit. I'm pretty sure Zen Center had no abbot at first. Suzuki was the abbot of Sokoji, the temple where he lived and taught. He was officially installed as jushoku, the Japanese term for the chief priest of a temple, on May 20, 1962, after having been acting as the chief priest since he arrived. No one used the term abbot back then. He was just the priest of the temple or the teacher or sensei. Zen Center was incorporated in August of that year but just as a regular church. There was no mention of Suzuki in the by-laws as Grahame Petchey remembers. I just called him. Suzuki became the abbot of ZC later, maybe 68, when it became a corporation sole. I think Dick Baker saw to that before he went to Japan. I'll transcribe my notes from two phone conversations with Grahame Petchey and include them because I think they're interesting. But anyway, he was ZC's first abbot in people's hearts - but not officially for the first six or so years. But that's just splitting hairs. This comes from the SFZC's abbot's page so I leave it like this in my version.
Under his tutelage, Zen Center grew into City Center, Green Gulch Farm and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.
Again, correct maybe in spirit but ZC acquired GG Farm in 1972 after Suzuki died. Baker made Suzuki the founder because Suzuki had talked a bit about getting a farm and also because everyone on the board was against it. Dick threatened to quit if we didn't buy it, quit and take the lineage with him. I'd say something more like "Under his tutelage, independent branch groups were formed in Los Altos, Mill Valley, and Berkeley, and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and the City Center were acquired. Soon after his death his wish for Zen Center to have a farm was fulfilled when Green Gulch Farm in Marin County was purchased."
He was undoubtedly one of the most influential Zen teachers of his time.
This is not true for Japan (although it may come true there in the future) and an understatement for America. I'd replace it with something like "He is one of principle founders of Buddhism in America." He'd like the "Buddhism" there rather than "Zen" I think. A lot of these Zen teachers emphasized that they taught Buddhism.
Some of his edited talks have been collected in the books Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai.
I suggest including the latest book: Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. [That's the Amazon.com link cause I couldn't find anything on the SFZC web site about this most recent book.]
Suzuki-roshi died in 1971.
I'd like using "roshi" here because it's a term of both respect and affection. Now we're at the end of his life and the bio and it seems to work. I'd suggest "Suzuki-roshi, as his students called him, died in December of 1971."
I also notice that the link to www.cuke.com which used to be there at Suzuki's name (before this abbot's page was made) is no more. I would think it would be helpful to say something like "for more on Shunryu Suzuki see www.cuke.com. But of course I'm prejudiced.
Also, I see no link to how to get books or tapes on the SFZC web site. I get requests all the time for stuff like that and I'd love to be able to send people to a marketing page on the SFZC web site. It should be prominently displayed there I think.
Sorry about all that. I'll stop suggesting things now.
See a suggested Revised Brief Bio of Shunryu Suzuki.
Here's what I suggest the Shunryu Suzuki bio be changed to for now:
For more on Shunryu Suzuki go to Shunryu Info
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