Suzuki Stories Interviews Brief Memories Groups People Index
Shunryu Suzuki Stories from SFZC Alumni
Remembering Suzuki Roshi
Tassajara Retreat Center, April 2012
DC note: This is the transcript of SFZC alumni sharing memories of Shunryu Suzuki at a group meeting. Overhead mics were used and the signal was weak. In addition there is intermittent noise that obscures what people are saying. Thanks to AW for working on the audio to bring out the voices as well as he could and to Layla Bockhorst Smith for spending long hours listening carefully and transcribing. Posting this on cuke now before starting to work on it. Plan to contact people to fill in the blanks. Posted 2-12-13
DC: Mark asked me to officiate here. John Nelson suggested we have some time when people who were around in the earlier days talk about that. This is being recoded. Why donít we start off by letting those who were here--when I do oral history, I include people who were around ZC during the period when Suzuki Roshi was alive. Why donít those of us who were here then, identify themselves, and say what they have to say, and we can open it up to discussion, questions, that sort of thing.
Iím David Chadwick. I came to Zen Center in late summer 1966. I was ordained by Suzuki Roshi as a priest in 1971 right before he died. He was so sick at the time that he didnít come to the ordination. Katagiri did it. It was Ed Brown, me, Lew Richmond and Angie Runyon.
Tim: [not audible!] Suzuki roshi was my first teacher. [inaudible] ... was invited to take ordination...[inaudible]... Peter Schneider...
I came to San Francisco after I graduated from University of ___ _____in 1965. Bob Gold brought me to Zen Center probably early 1966, at Sokoji. Tim reminds me that we used to call him Reverend Suzuki. When we heard the name ďRoshi,Ē it was actually hard for us to make ourselves say it. Katagiri was Katagiri Sensei, and Chino Sensei. I was here ___________, long time ago. Tim was here... [inaudible].... We didnít know how long the first Tangaryo... because everything was being invented for the first time. We couldnít believe that we would be asked to sit more than a day. [inaudible] Actually ended up being three days, but that was quite a bit for us. It was really hot [inaudible].... I was here when Tatsugami was here. I thought that he was quite a guy. He is the one who instituted the Doan Ryo... we were all hungry, he restricted our diet so much by cutting out bread and fruit. It was kind of like Berkeley on macrobiotics. We still had to do a lot of work, too. Thatís what comes to my mind right now. Except for, the more I talk, the more things come up.
DC: Youíll have plenty of time. Caroline?
I did come to Tassajara before Zen Center bought it. So that must have been in 1965, I guess. Then I started going to Sokoji. I went to the Art Institute. I was so impressed by [inaudible] before and after his first practice period at Tassajara, that I thought, Iíve got to see what this is. So I started going to Sokoji. So that was 68. I came here in 69 [inaudible] Angie was here at the same time. [inaudible] three years, went to Japan [inaudible]. Kind of a suburban...
[David: much of this was inaudible but I filled some of it in--Layla]
I wasnít actually--I didnít know Suzuki Roshi well-- he was in the City, and was not coming to Tassajara so much the first time I was here (summer of 1969). Then he visited; I felt an immediate connection with him. I came back down for two weeks in December of 1969. It was winter interim, but at that time we were following the regular schedule. We had oryoki three meals a day in the zendo. Which I found wonderful--to eat oryoki in the zendo, learn how to handle these bowls. Then when I came back here to Tassajara in Fall 1970, Suzuki Roshi was sick so he didnít come down here. But somewhere in there I sat a sesshin with him in the City, so I had some contact with him. One time I remember at City Center, I was sitting on the front steps, he came over and asked me what I was doing. I was carving some wooden spoons, a present for someone. He was very interested in this kind of handwork. One of my strongest memories is when he died, it was halfway into sesshin here at Tassajara, the middle of a period, the middle of the morning. Dan Welch spoke out in the zendo and told us that he had just died. I couldnít believe the grief I felt--first this strange kind of joy, then immediately this big wave of grief. At kinhin I went to the linen room and buried my head in the towels and sobbed.
My first contact with anything Zen Buddhism had Suzuki Roshi involved at the same time. Was very much....[inaudible] but a friend of mine, Esteban Blanco --anybody remember him?--who you wouldnít expect to have anything to do with Zen.. we were hanging out... having a conversation, and he said, you know, there is the real deal, meaning, a real enlightened teacher, right here in San Francisco. I didnít know he was practicing zazen at the time. But he told me about Zen. I didnít know anything about Zen, either. But he told me there was this little Japanese guy and a temple on Bush Street, and to check it out. So I did. One morning I went over there. I knew very little about meditation, and what to expect. I knew you had to sit in that kind of position. So I went to Sokoji Temple. I think I was a little late. I missed the zazen. In those days we sat in the big room--I remember there was a big room with tatami mats. And if you were late or you didnít know the ritual, and I had no idea what I was doing--they put you up in the bleachers. There were bleachers, and you kind of sat up in the balcony. So they told me to sit there, and there were a couple of people sitting there. I went there and checked it out and looked around, and sat there. With my knees pointing up, trying to eyeball whatís going on. It got real quiet. Then all of a sudden thereís this little fluttering going on in the background, like a butterfly [inaudible]. To me it was like a ghostlike presence, fluttering, robes and stuff, perched next to me, and faced me, and took my hands, and made it into a mudra, and I tried to check him out with my eyes. And Iím sitting there, and he sat there in seiza, this was, of course, Suzuki Roshi himself. And he sat there in seiza, just sat with me, facing me, kind of sitting like this, and he took his hand and put it in my back, and I straightened up. And he just sat there, and sat there... took his hand, moved it again. He must have sat with me for a considerable amount of time--maybe five, ten minutes. I was in agony! Wondering what was going on. Finally he got up and left. I said, whew! All of a sudden this door opens up and this real big guy comes out with a big stick, and goes whacking people! He is coming down the line. And he passes me by! You know, it sounds a lot worse than it is!
So that was my first experience with Suzuki Roshi. My first experience with Zen Center. Why I kept coming back, I really donít know. But I kept coming back. I had dokusan with Suzuki Roshi, and I got to work with him at Tassajara, on various occasions in the summer working on rock walls. I got some good stories about that.
DC: We can get back to it. We wonít want to miss that.
I talked to David earlier today. I still cannot remember, one year from the other, what was really happening. I heard him say, Oh, so-and-so was there. Yeah--I was at that practice period, but the years are kind of fuzzy. But my first experience of actually sitting zazen was at Tassajara. [inaudible] a half a block ... [inaudible] ... [inaudible]. And we got here at night [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible].. but it was very hard. I didnít move, but I was shaking. And especially when I saw this big shadow, with this big stick, and I heard this (makes smacking sound). I was quite sure that when that stick got to me that I was going to die. I really felt that. [inaudible] [inaudible]. It was real, thatís why I came here. It was real. And Suzuki Roshi was real. [inaudible] [inaudible]
[inaudible] Something came up... [inaudible] And so I went over there for zazen instruction [inaudible, inaudible, inaudible].
[She spoke for a while but it is all inaudible]
...and we used to all come over from Berkeley, a carful, anyhow, a bunch of us would come over to Sokoji from Berkeley for Wednesday and Saturday.
DC: Whatís the last thing you said?
Blanche: Thatís enough. I could keep carrying on forever.
DC: All right. Is there anybody else? Iíd like to do one more round, just to see who has something more to say.
Tim: Iím a great talker. I can listen to myself talk forever. People have often asked me what it was like to study with Roshi. I think, you know, I was a hard case, with a hard head. When I am asked that, what immediately comes to my mind is watching Roshi walk to the baths, with his towel on his head, moving down the path past the stones. For me, that contains a teaching, and continues. I think that the enormous blessing and privilege of being able to just share someoneís daily life--the way he held his chopsticks, the way he walked to the bath, the way I felt just to sit on his stoop. I wish I could say that I have vivid memories of his lectures, dokusan, and so on. But still what moves me, breathing the same, or watching him _________. I share very much that sense of endless of kindness, working hard [inaudible]. He was a small man...[inaudible] Itís not easy to be 6 foot 4. But Roshi was barely five feet. He wasnít five feet. But he had such enormous power and energy. He seemed like a frail man, but when you were with him, he was so present [inaudible, inaudible, inaudible.] How lucky we all were...[inaudible, inaudible]
DC: Rick, do you have something to add?
Rick Morton: [inaudible]
I talked about discovering that I was going to die, but my immediate take on Suzuki Roshi when I met him was, He knows what I need to know. I donít know why I felt that way...the first time I came to Tassajara as a [sounds like grad] student, shared a room with ________,...encouraging me to go see Suzuki Roshi in dokusan. [inaudible]. Finally went. I was really nervous [inaudible]. ďIt is really nice to see you [inaudible] because of the sincerity of your practice.Ē I never felt quite all right about being here because everybody was [inaudible, inaudible, inaudible]. He said to me at one point, you know if you touch your head three times when you bow [inaudible]. I didnít even get it that he was reminding me [inaudible, inaudible, inaudible].
And when I put my head down he was sitting there, but when I touched my head three times and lifted it to stand up, he had jumped up and was bowing head to head. And he wasnít young then. I looked at him, [inaudible]. His response to my spontaneity [inaudible] [inaudible].
Jake Fishman: I have several [inaudible]. I donít remember exact details of going to dokusans. I remember, I wasnít very prepared... [inaudible]. Suzuki Roshi, when I had dokusan [inaudible]. When I left... doing well. I had a really unique experience of actually working with him for a while. One summer here at Tassajara, we were working, I remember the whole crew: it was Peter Schneider, Alan Marlowe, Ed Brown. We were all building this retaining wall right by his cabin. We were working with rocks. I didnít know at the time but apparently he[inaudible] rocks, he had built strong walls. He was ill at the time. I didnít know--I was a young guy, I didnít know how _____ he was, or wasnít. [inaudlble]So we were struggling with these rock, [inaudible]. Big rocks, stream, struggling [inaudible] had to be lifted right up...
[David, I canít hear much of this.--Layla]
He used to show up in the afternoon, he had his Japanese work outfit on, his sleeves rolled up. He would be so excited. He would come in, all these big stocky guys, and heís this little guy, and heíd start working with us; his energy; and then his wife would come out and start scolding and get really harsh in Japanese, kind of a universal ______; crazy old man, what are you doing out here, you are killing yourself, youíre not supposed to be doing this. He would leave, and then the next day he would show up again. I had one experience where we were working, we had to chip a piece of stone away from the cliff. So heís hand [inaudible] and he takes chisel, and he holds it, and he says, OK go ahead and hit it. So I had this big hammer, and there was this frail little arm, holding this big chisel. And I had to whack it. It was a kind of tense moment for me, I remember that. We did it, and worked on, and everything worked out OK. I remember his arms vibrating when I hit the chisel. But I donít know, maybe it is because I was young, and physically involved in practice and stuff like that, but that experience of working with him, really sent me over the edge as far as my Zen practice was concerned, with Suzuki roshi.
Layla: I didnít have so much personal contact with him, but like you said, we were so lucky, and we are so grateful that we got Suzuki Roshi. He is a product of practice and he brought us practice. He brought us this lineage, and thatís what [inaudible]. I too had a sort of death experience when I was at Reed College, when they showed us this film of nuclear disaster--the likelihood of it happening, and wiping everybody out. I walked out of that room thinking, All you really need to know is how to die. And then at a psychology class, Sammy Schrager and Lenny Brackett, who was Richard Bakerís brother-in-law, they gave us a little demonstration of zazen, sort of like show and tell. We sat zazen for five minutes. And I said, This is the answer. This is how you learn how to die. I just knew that. So eventually that brought me to Zen Center. And it was just the little things, like sitting zazen up in that balcony at Sokoji, my first time, I remember the sound of the foghorn came penetrating. Just sitting there and doing nothing else. What could be more amazing. And then I remember going to the Berkeley zendo and seeing that they had a wind bell hanging there. The wind bell was ringing in the wind, and the little poem was next to it. Just little things like that. We all had these experiences, but it is practice visible, and something responds. And then you come to Tassajara, and it is so everywhere. How you hold your bowls, and walk. So Suzuki Roshi brought us the practice and thatís what we all responded to. Thatís what I responded to. I donít know why--itís a mystery. But there it is.
Tim: I want to emphasize the silent part. Being with Roshi. I donít know if you know that one of the sesshins--I think it was here, at Tassajara--someone said, Whatís the point? It was hard practice.[inaudible] So someone said, whatís the point? And he said, So you can die well. [inaudible]. I was also thinking some of his verbal teaching. I think it was second practice period, [inaudible] a little discouraged. Is it possible to waste time? He said, No. Another couple practice periods, [inaudible] asked again, is it possible to waste time? He said, Yes.
Woman (donít know who): [inaudible] It helped me to understand the difference between the Western idea of being good and being a good student. [inaudible] and I loved the ritual part of this practice[ inaudible] So somebody said, and I donít remember who, they said, whenever you see your teacher you stop and bow. No matter where it is, you stop and bow. So I was in San Francisco, and Suzuki Roshi was coming across the street and I was coming across the street in the opposite direction. I stopped in the middle of the street and bowed to him. And he said, Hi! How you doing!
DC: Carolyn, do you have anything to add?
Carolyn Morton: Well a couple of people have mentioned they didnít know why they kept coming back. Which I had the experience, when I spoke with Suzuki Roshi, the things that I thought would come from me [inaudible] like for instance [inaudible] Because I had heard about the schedule. But when I talked to him, I suddenly said, I am going to Tassajara. When I got down here, the first thing I thought was Iím going to hike out of here. Then I talked to him [inaudible] my real _____ would surface without me having any control over it.
Blanche: I have another recollection that is kind of typical. I was in a sesshin at 300 Page, and I was Soku for serving. I was still smoking at that time; there were a lot of people who were still smoking at that time. And [inaudible] went up to get the Buddha tray (inaudible) (much laughter). Now, when I think about that, I think what must it have looked like! Anyhow, he was coming downstairs from service, and he saw me (inaudible, laughter). A few years later, when I was really trying hard to stop smoking, that scene returned to me [inaudible] really helped me stop smoking.
DC: Iíd like to add to this transcript that Blanche was wagging her finger. All he did was say to me, and then she wagged her finger back and forth.
Blanche: He shook his head a little bit too.
DC: The most frustrating transcription experience I ever had was the interview that Peter Schneider did with Suzuki Roshi ___________________, Chino Sensei. So it had the names of all of these temples, and _____, college, all this stuff. I spent days, I spent a week on that one interview. I think I finally figured it out pretty well. But a lot of it went like this: ďWhen did you go here?Ē ďWell, I was there when...Ē ďWas that before you were here?Ē (laughter). Iíve never really forgiven Peter....(laughter) At the end of it he said, [inaudible]. It really doesnít matter, details donít matter.
Nancy Petrin: Why did Suzuki Roshi need a CV? Was he applying for a job somewhere?
DC: Peter was interviewing him about his life history for the Wind Bell. Thatís one way of doing it--they came up with that. It was a lot of awkwardness in the interview. But itís good we have it. He was not interested in talking about his past. But actually when you add up everything in all the lectures and what people remember, we have a very--we know plenty about his past. Itís not the most important thing in the world. But I think knowing about his past is important in one sense, to sort of humanize him.
Leslie: I just want to say, it is so much better [inaudible, inaudible].
DC: I have two memories about smoking. I wasnít there for this one. I think Bob Halpern was there. When Kobun Chin had just arrived in the States. I think it might have been in the kitchen at Sokoji. Kobun liked to smoke, and Bob had some cigarettes, he pulled out [inaudible] He said, You want a cigarette? He said, Yeah, sure. Suzuki roshi said, ďKobun Chino does not smoke.Ē
Bob and I drove Suzuki roshi to Mill Valley for Bill Kwongís sitting on Monday morning, one time, and then we went to Billís for breakfast, before we left to go to another breakfast at a pancake house type of place. Bill would serve these incredibly austere--really, like a tablespoon of cereal, and it would be very formal. Then what! we would go straight out--[inaudible, laughter]. Drink so much coffee, it was shocking. Three cups of, and then he would fall asleep. Bob said something like, Suzuki roshi, do you mind if I smoke? I donít remember quite how it got set up for what he said. But Bob probably asked him something. And he turned around and said, Zen is very difficult. It is at least as difficult as quitting smoking. Then Bob said, Did you hear that, David? and he threw the cigarettes out the window. Then as soon as we dropped Suzuki roshi off, he said, Letís go get some [cigarettes].
I think one of the most important teachings I got from him--he was very simple. He emphasized zazen. So many of us had read a lot about satori and enlightenment and this and that. We had all these ideas about that. So many people came with those ideas, which they had got principally from reading Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki. Of course, none of us would be here if it wasnít for them, probably!
Carolyn: And Kapleau.
DC: Kapleauís book came out in 1965. Three Pillars of Zen was 1965? But Three Pillars of Zen did not have the overall cultural influence--I didnít know about it in 1965--that D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts did. They really emphasized satori through intellectual understanding. Kapleau was practice oriented. Suzuki brought zazen. They would go to him and say I want to get enlightened, I want to go to Japan, and he would say, I sit in the morning, and you are welcome to join me. He really emphasized that. Once he said to me, You are going to have some breakthrough experience. He said, we all do, everybody will. But keep sitting zazen, keep practicing. When you have that experience, [word inaudible]. And if you donít practice, if you donít sit zazen, it will be just like [inaudible]. So that ...important thing. That emphasis on practice and on practice as enlightenment, which was Dogenís teaching. You donít need to have met--to practice his way, or Buddhaís way, or this or that. It seems to me everybodyís practice now--I think of us back then, and just the average student now--I think weíd all be bowing down! Anyway, well, Mark?
Mark: [inaudible] [discussing format, I think]
___________: I was on the east coast during all of these times, and not part of this whatsoever. But how much of a sense--how much [inaudible] Was there a sense that you were bringing the lineage to America? You read in the books, from India, to China, to Korea, to Japan. And this is, in the historical sweep, incredibly important. And this is it, right here. And for those of us in Cambridge Massachusetts, San Francisco Zen Center just seemed like ground zero. Did you feel it then, or was it just, O my goodness, it hurts to sit?
Tim B: I started out saying, No, no, we were, the wild half______ people who somehow miraculously ended up in the wonderful compassionate care of this amazing man. We had to invent what now people refer to as Tassajara. We were doing it day by day. Well, this will work. What about that? Maybe. Do we ____ or not . And Roshi was always gentle, but firm. I am waving my finger for the tape! But then I started thinking, and I realized that no, at some level many of us, after a few practice periods, not at Sokoji, it didnít feel like that, but after things began to be established here, there was some sense of this was important, something historic. Maybe not so much historical consciousness at that point, but it was clear that something a lot bigger than us the the pains in our knees was going on. As it emerged. I donít think we were too surprised. In Rick Fieldsí book, How the Swans Came to the Lake. Rick quotes [inaudible] and I think he was right. [inaudible]
were real bearers of the dharma [inaudible]
Layla: When Richard Baker was doing fundraising for Tassajara, he created this fundraising brochure, and in it he said it directly: This is very historical. This is the first Zen monastery outside of Asia, the first Zen monastery to be established in this country. So maybe his efforts and the efforts of fundraising for Tassajara helped develop a kind of historical consciousness. At least in other people, [inaudible].
DC: Well that was a little after the fundraising. A year or two after the fundraising. Maybe a year. I remember that article. I went over it with a group of people here. I think we identified that there was something a little off or just completely mistaken about every single sentence! The ______ wrote it was distressed.
Jake: [inaudible] there was so much happening, all kinds of [inaudible] that at least at that time I didnít have a sense of being part of what was going to be a historical lineage or anything. It was just, this really groovy guy who knows whatís going on. From my point of view, I didnít have much of a background in Buddhist philosophy, or had done much reason. This goes back to what I think writes about being a bad Zen student. I didnít know much about Buddhism or anything like that. I knew that I was struggling to sit. [inaudible] you are a good student [ inaudible] Buddhism or anything else that surrounded Zen, anything like that. He really emphasized the sitting practice. I canít imagine from his point of view what it was like to come from his culture and his generation and into this kind of scene, San Francisco back in the 1950s.
Tim: I took him to the Be-In in Golden Gate Park! Timothy Leary and Alan Ginsberg. I was his Jisha and his driver, and sitting on this big flatbed truck. It was...[laughter], historical, passing out... Roshi just enjoyed it. After a while he said, I think itís time to go home. [laughter]
DC: I remember that. There was some picture taken of him holding flowers.
Tim: No, it was _______, and how important it was that people wanted to hand, especially, newton, small private, charles..[inaudible!] and it was very important that no one touched that flower! Everyone was stoned out of their gourd! Ten thousand hits...and we believed that ... world...enjoying it all.
____________ (maybe Meg?): Do you remember when he scolded us? He scolded us every once in a while. It was quite shocking. Because he really was angry. You think you are really special sitting here like this. But there is nothing special about this. And you are not special, either. And then he would take his stick and go down the line and whack everybody.
Tim: One time he said, You are all so selfish!
Jake: I think it might have been a one day sitting, or sesshin, something like that. And I canít remember all the details, but I remember he was very angry and made it known that he was very angry. He got up and went right down the line really rapidly hitting everybody, coming right down the like hitting everybody with the stick. We used to get hit twice. He would hit you on the same shoulder twice, whack-whack. Then I remember scolding: youíre not practicing right, being silly, not taking it seriously, wake up, get with it kind of thing. He could be very _________. Usually he was so quiet and gentle and caring. But when he got angry you knew he was angry and you could feel the force of his [inaudible]
Marc Lesser: [inaudible] and the first time we were there people would ask, who are the snorers? I raised my hand and said ______ sleep in the zendo. So I was one of the people sleeping in the zendo. The first night as I was getting ready to go to bed, I really wanted something to read. I was looking around, and I went to the back of the altar. There was a big box filled with books, Crooked Cucumber, each one of them hand signed by David Chadwick! I pulled out one of the copies of Crooked Cucumber, and I started reading it, and it was as though Suzuki Roshi came alive, reading it in Rinso-in. So moving. To think, being in that culture, in that temple, and to imagine what it was like for him to come here. Really feeling that. Then I suggested to the group that maybe we could all rad this as a group. _______ [Nori?] could read to all of us. People could pass around. And that happened on the trip. A kind of wonderful, you bringing it alive, and my experience of that, seeing what it must have been like for him.
DC: That thing about going around hitting everybody, itís called rinsaku. Itís a traditional practice. I remember once he was very angry at Tassajara--itís in Crooked Cucumber so I wonít repeat it all--but the key line is: If I told you the truth, Iíd just be sitting here by myself listening to the sounds of your cars going up the road. He was really angry. The next morning, during zazen, or after breakfast maybe, he said, Last night I got very angry at you, and I am ashamed of myself.
________ (woman -- practices with Everyday Zen, canít think of her name--she uses initials): A number of people have talked about how you were kind of making up what Tassajara forms and practice would be. But what was the nature and form of the practice in San Francisco? It sounds like it would have been not developed, or not a monastic environment so there would have been a different set of forms, daily practice, sesshins...
Tim: Since I opened that can of worms--Sokoji, which was a very solemn and well-mannered practice, [inaudible], bowing... but it was all based _______ specific _____. But when we came here it had to be 24 hours a day, and it had to include work, and _______. So that was really quite an extension. That was why it was such a fantastic opportunity, and an important one. Tassajara being a first monastery. All day, every day, day after day practice. So we had to think, and figure it out. How do we brush our teeth? Even though our practice at Sokoji was--I remember it as [inaudible] [inaudible]
Leslie says something [inaudible]
DC: Late í69. I remember giving Jerome Peterson a ride home in 66. There was a little grocery store across the street from Sokoji, on the same side of the street. Jerome would be sitting there--luckily there was a light in the entryway--he would be sitting there--no standing there, reading like I donít know, mysteries or something, waiting for the door to open for zazen. He ran this little hotel over in the Mission. So I gave him a ride back there once, and I remember[inaudible]. I called it Zen Centerís Frankenstein. He said, Yeah, he was all enthusiastic and everything; it will last about years. Thatís about how long people last here. Very few stay over two years; I see them come and go. And that pattern changed when we got Tassajara. So I donít know what would have happened without Tassajara. They had been looking for years. Got all sorts of stories from people about looking at different places. Someone was just telling me about taking Suzuki roshi someplace in Big Sur. There were all sorts of places they looked at. And finally it happened here. Maybe had to wait for the right time. The hippie revolution happening created more immediate potential students, to give you the population you needed for here. But like you said, the brochures that Dick did--I think 80,000 were sent out. That seems incredible now. You think Iím right?
Tim: To us at that point, it was an enormous amount. Lots!
DC: Zen Center went from an $8,500 budget to $125,000 in one year! Dick used to explain why we needed Tassajara, why we needed to buy it and this and that. Of course his way of saying it would be--he would sit right next to Suzuki Roshi, and he would say, Frankly, Iím the only one who understands it, the only one whoís got it--the rest of you just donít get it. A lot of people had a lot of resentment toward him, back then. When I did Crooked Cucumber, he went over the whole thing, very carefully. He would say, I really like it but Iím a little hurt about how you presented me. I would say, well, you were a lot worse than that! I would say, It is really important to show that you were unpopular! Another thing: he would say these things with Suzuki roshi sitting right by his side and not disagreeing with him. He was the only person that Suzuki roshi would let speak about Zen. I really noticed this stuff.
Dick created Tassajara. Suzuki Roshi was like Andy Warhol--he never did anything, everything just happened around him. But the form that was created here, and then with Page Street, very important, and Green Gulch. Dick didnít get Page Street, so he didnít think it was that good an idea, but he allowed it to happen, right? Because he was in Japan. But Green Gulch he actually forced on Zen Center. I was telling Tim--I think Niels Holm was on the board then, and I remember him telling me that not a single board member wanted to buy it. But Dick -- a very forceful person, and he made it happen. And itís still an economic drain on Zen Center. There are people who--recently--Mike Phillips quit the Financial Advisory Board about a year or two ago because Zen Center wouldnít face up to the fact that Green Gulch is such a drag on it.
[inaudible question from someone]
Meg? [inaudible] before I knew anything about _______ it had a huge impact.... was just... quotes...when I think of Suzuki Roshi I think of Ed Brown. Thatís how I made it to Zen Center.
DC: That is a big factor in the whole equation that is forgotten. Ed Brown is like one of the biggest builders [inaudible-might be donors?] of Zen Center and nobody thanks him for that. Through the books. Both in terms of spreading the word, and financially. Dick Baker told me he was on an airplane, right after he became Abbot, and somebody was sitting next to him, and they said, Oh, really! Do you know Ed Brown? Edís books sold a lot more than Zen Mind Beginnerís Mind, which sold a great deal.
Tim: But I think we should add, in talking about Dick, who continues to be a friend, that we were all giving everything we had. Cars, stocks, shoes, hats! We were all living out of backpacks. Ed wrote the Bread Book for a flat sum, a tiny sum. And all the rest came to Zen Center. It really paid off, for Ed and for Zen Center. I worked on the second cookbook with him, and the contract negotiations were a little more mature. But Zen Center still got a great deal of money from that. Starting Tassajara, there were some very big, very important donors at that time. But there were also people like Ed.
DC: Marian Derby.
Tim: Marina Derby. Give them a car... whatever. That was very much part of the spirit. My wife...baking..[inaudible] she finally read the Tassajara Bread Book [inaudible] and now sheís making good bread!
DC: You mentioned the hippie days. Tassajara was very remote. But the Vietnam War is part of the history of Zen Center and the hippie thing. And also the gay thing. Zen Center was an early refuge for some gay people, anyway. Del Carlson said he loved to come to Zen Center--he was an older gay art teacher--he said, there is no ____________ here. It was not a deal, though. Nobody really cared [inaudible]. There were a number of conscientious objectors at Zen Center, people doing their conscientious objector time here. Because of the Tassajara fire department, not because of Zen. Being on the fire department. And of course the whole thing about hippie lifestyle and grass and acid and all that--it is something Suzuki roshi was very aware of. He was aware that people were coming to practice because of the experiences they had on psychedelic drugs. And all sorts of food trips were important in the history. Macrobiotics...there were sort of wars going on between macrobiotics and raw food people, this and that. He was very skillful in not taking strong positions. I remember a Berkeley Barb reporter to trying to get him to say something about macrobiotics. A lot of time macrobiotics people were sort of fanatic and he hated fanaticism. But he sort of appreciated all the different trips that were going on and co-created with all of us a practice where all our trips could recede. And one of his main teachings, like Trungpa, was donít go on any trips. Let all that just calm down a little bit.
Tim: But the food wars, he did in typical fashion, the macrobiotics and the mucusless diet people and the quart of milk a day people--the food wars! So for a while we were quite macrobiotic. Roshi, very politely requested that we have white rice at least every other meal, as I recall. as the main meal. So he did deal with this food ideological argument by just simply saying, Oh Iíd actually like white. He would eat white rice, and would pour a little tea in his white rice, and stir it up.
DC: But he supported brown rice, too. There were people who wanted to have only brown rice, but he had really bad teeth. In Japan during the war and after the war there was a very strong brown rice movement, which was strong in the area that he came from, which was identified with people who were--went into strenghtening Japan. He had friends who were involved in that. So that sort of brown rice thing he had experineced in Japan, too. And he had a certain amount of respect for it.
Marc Lesser: As a way to transition, maybe we can each turn to a person next to us, and talk about in what was Suzuki roshi is alive for each of us now.
DC: If so, I should turn off the recorder. So first is there anybody else who wants to say anything else.
Michael Gelfond: I had a question about what you said about Richard Baker and Suzuki roshi--what I think was his apparent respect for him. You said he was the only person that he would allow to speak. I never knew Suzuki roshi personally, but his book spoke to me so much and is what brought me to Zen Center. But Baker roshi was the only teacher that I knew while I was here, and I was gone before the shit hit the fan and all the bad feelings. So I just wondered why--I wonder what you make of that fact, that--
DC: Things like that always happen with institutions, and religions. I donít know any more than you do. Like Tim said, he is close with Dick, and I am too; I am very close with him. And you know, things like that happen. I will say that Japanese people who knew Suzuki roshi and other Japanese priests were not as enamored of him as we were. To this day Japanese people I know, like other priests, this and that, they just thing, whatís the big deal? And his son feels that way. Richard Baker is an engima that everybody has to deal with. I love seeing him myself, he is great. But people have their strengths and their weaknesses. Suzuki roshi was a particularly likeable teacher. They are not all likeable. They donít all have a good sense of humor. His teacher was so mean to him that he said that he wasnít sorry when he died. That he didnít appreciate him until years, decades later. Soyen Shaku, who was very pure, and he was the first, or one of the first Zen priests to come to America, in 1895, said that there are two types of teachers. Those with good conduct and those who donít have good conduct, and that itís good to study with both. But that also would apply just to a particular moment. A person might have bad conduct for a certain period of their life, but it doesnít mean thatís the only thing about them, or thatís the way they are all their life. Anyway, those things always happen. And all of our practice is up to us. Other people really donít matter. In a sense. Their understanding, their conduct. All that really matters of your conduct, and your practice. Life is very messy.
Marc and others: Thank you, David.
Marc: Maybe thatís enough.
Thanks to AW for audio work and to Layla Bockhorst Smith for transcription.