|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
Memories of Roshi
Chronicles of Haiku Zendo
MEMORIES OF SHUNRYU SUZUKI ROSHI
Suzuki Roshi came to my house in Redwood City for meetings for a few months. On one occasion, he left his small emblematic stick. I thought that he might want it before the Sunday meeting in San Francisco, so I stopped by the Temple (then on Bush Street) to leave it.
He was there and when I handed it to him, I asked what the Japanese characters on it meant. "Whatever you say is not the truth," he replied. Thinking that he had misunderstood me, I repeated the question, with the same result. I thought, silently, how true that is.
Suzuki Roshi was so aware of each person and his condition, so sweet, full of humor, and above all, so helpful by his calmness and undeviating faith. He was one of the most inspiring teachers I have ever had.
The first time Suzuki Roshi came to my house, he entered the front door and then moved toward the back garden when he saw it through our glass door. He went into the garden and saw the rope swing hanging from our huge oak tree. In one continuous movement, he flowed over, took the rope, stepped up onto a rock, and flew into the air. His black robes sailed around him as he swung back and forth. He never said a word.
After serving the tea ceremony to Suzuki Roshi, one day, in what I felt was an awkward way, I said, "I'm clumsy." I quoted my former teacher Saburo Hasegawa's statement, "If you're born clumsy it's not bad, and if you're born clever it's not good. The proper way to serve tea is to find your own way." Roshi smiled in his inimitable way and so quietly said, "Yes."
My husband and I drove Suzuki Roshi back to his home at the Zen Mission in San Francisco one Thursday morning after our Zazen, lecture and breakfast. When we arrived he asked us in for a cup of tea. His wife served us tea and we invited them to have lunch in our garden sometime. Mrs. Suzuki immediately replied, "When?" We said anytime would be fine with us. Whereupon, she went to a large calendar hanging on the wall and said, "A week from Saturday at 1 o'clock, and could we bring friends?" I was startled and asked how many. "One," she said. Suzuki Roshi sat with a twinkle in his eye and smiled, amused at his wife's efficient way.
Suzuki Roshi liked to come to our home, particularly during those earlier years before his widened activities limited his time.
He particularly liked our garden which, in some respects resembles a Japanese garden. In the rear center of the garden is a rather large, full, loquat tree, and on one of Roshi's early visits he remarked that the tree should be thinned out so that the limb structure could be seen. So, fitting action to his observations, he quietly changed into his work kimono and proceeded to trim the tree. He would get back and carefully survey what needed to be done and then, climbing the tree, would cut away what he had decided needed to be removed. When he finished the job, the whole tree was transformed as only a skilled artist could do it. Thoroughly delighted with the transformation his artistry had effected, I remember asking him if he had had experience in tree care. He replied, "Oh yes! That was my job as a young man at the temple in Japan."
On another occasion, I came home before lunch, after a golf game, and found Roshi and Gertrude in the garden. Roshi pointed out to me that one of three border shrubs on one side of the garden was improperly placed. I should add here that our garden was laid out by a most competent landscape gardener; and in planting these shrubs, I had followed the blueprints exactly. Roshi showed me that by moving the shrub, we not only exposed another shrub behind it, but also exposed some earth which he said was "beautiful." I remember saying that I had never been aware of what he had pointed out, but it was obviously right, and that "One day I'll move it." I was tired from my morning's golf and hungry, and the last thing I wanted to do was to engage in such a major operation as replanting a fairly large shrub. But Roshi's response to my "I'll do it someday" was "Let's do it now." And despite my protestations, he started digging and insisted on doing most of the work.
Suzuki Roshi, quiet, unassuming; powerful as only one who is at peace with himself and the world is powerful; and with a twinkle in his eye; is forever enshrined in our hearts and minds and in our garden.
Roshi had understood when I told him that my Zendo was the green fairways of my golf course. That early in the morning, walking the dew wet green fairways, smelling the earth smells, aware of the stillness, the quiet broken only by birdcalls, the song of a meadow lark and the glory of a sunrise. Truly a time for listening to the "voice within."
Our last visit with Roshi was shortly before his death. Gertrude and I called on Roshi and his wife at their apartment at San Francisco Zen Center. He was very weak but cheerful, and before we left, insisted on our having tea together. As we left he smiled that wonderful smile; and weak as he was, he made the motion of swinging a golf club. A quiet way of saying, "Good luck and good golfing, David."
A memory of a great man I shall always cherish.
A couple of decades of reading about Zen didn't prepare me for the actual experience of practicing Zen. It was a wonderful feeling, and not a little frightening at first. I was rather awestruck at practicing with a real Roshi. I soon realized that we all have problems with aching legs and busy minds. The chanting and bowing seemed very alien to me for quite awhile; then they too became another kind of practice.
I found that Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Sensei (now Roshi) were not awesome but very real people. We had such delightful breakfast conversations around Marian's big dining room table. I remember Suzuki Roshi once saying that the Los Altos Zendo had a very true practice. Thursday mornings soon became a strong focal point in my life. They still are. I somehow feel that Suzuki Roshi is still there practicing with us.
I first met Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in the summer of 1965 when I started practicing Zazen in Marian Derby's living room in the house that was later to become Haiku Zendo.
I had come to Zazen, that first time, at a friend's suggestion, getting up alone in the early morning before dawn. I was excited and a little fearful; and very uncomfortable, sitting on a pillow with my long legs crossed, until Roshi offered me another pillow to sit on and straightened my back.
When I was introduced to Reverend Suzuki, as we addressed him then, I said, "I think I prefer Tai-Chi or meditation in movement." He just smiled in his beautiful, radiant way.
Later, Suzuki Roshi showed me how, sitting on the forward half of two pillows, my back would be straight and my legs more comfortable. In a lecture he said, "Accept the pain in your knees. Just sit, with effortless effort. Keep your mind on your breathing until you are not aware of your breathing. Our teaching is to live always in Reality in its exact sense, and to make effort each moment in what we do. Just concentrate on your breathing with right posture and with pure, great effort. This is how we practice Zen."
When I started to sit regularly, once a week, I experienced deep emotions each time. Sometimes I wept, while sitting, tears rolling down my cheeks and dropping off my chin. At times I would have an emotional insight while sitting. Later, Roshi would talk about a subject directly related to my insights and feelings, seeming to read my mind. I felt as if he were lecturing just to me. In dokusan, and individual interview, I asked him about this. Roshi answered, "Nothing special. Nothing special. That's the way it seems when you begin to get the idea of Zen practice."
Suzuki Roshi came to my house one day to look at my paintings and art work and to talk. He looked at a gnarled driftwood sculpture, partially carved and polished into a smooth S curve, and said, "-like your hair." I was wearing my long, brown and gray hair pinned up in a curved twist.
Translating the calligraphy on a Sumi painting, he said, "The words I have most trouble pronouncing; health, wealth, and happiness."
When being shown around my back yard, he gave just as much attention to a disarray of leaves, pruned limbs and weeds heaped and hidden behind a carefully landscaped hill, as to the flowers and shrubs in the cared-for part of my garden.
He illustrated this experience in a lecture: "We pull the weed and bury the weed near the plant to give nourishment to the plant. So even though you have some difficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves while you are sitting, the weed itself will help you. You should not be bothered by the weeds you have in your mind. You should rather be grateful, because eventually they will enrich your practice."
Suzuki Roshi's visits I recall as being rather noisy intrusions into a quiet meditation hall. Much rustling of robe and he got settled; the cold blast of air from outside when he entered; lighting the incense sticks; little things like that. He usually was rather critical of our sitting postures, especially after he had not been down to Los Altos for awhile. I certainly remember how he impressed on us that you simply can't do proper meditation when sitting wrong. This discouraged me because my posture was always like that of a sack of flour. His rather frequent "no-shows" were intriguing. There would be no explanation or word of any sort. I guess I figured that there was a Zen lesson there somewhere to be found.
One lecture, he was telling us that Zen priests did not marry. This was many years ago. "But," he said, "that was too easy." This brought down the house. Almost anybody can relate to that very human observation. He was such a diminutive form when seen standing among his students, yet, much power radiated from this little man.
I remember when Suzuki Roshi introduced Chino Sensei upon his arrival in America. That was a thrilling moment, too. Suzuki Roshi said that he had known Chino Sensei "was just right for us" the moment he met him on his arrival. We knew just that this personal appraisal was accurate, and so it turned out to be.
A WOMAN STUDENT
I started with Suzuki Roshi in the old house in Palo Alto that a Stanford student arranged for. Suzuki Roshi was very formal in these quarters. But when Marian invited us to her home, and the Zendo was built, Suzuki Roshi became very much at ease, and was very informal and humorous. I think I enjoyed the way he said things as much as what he said. (I cannot remember what he said.) He would have to grope for words to express his thoughts, and his pause to do this sort of took us into his thinking, and he shared this with us. His thoughts that followed these pauses were always surprising and unusual, so the expectancy I felt in awaiting his words must have kept me listening in concentration. My memory of him is impressed with the generosity of his thoughts, with the serenity that he felt and transmitted, and with the breadth and depth of understanding that he showed. In being so open and forth right with us, he also took us into the sharing of another culture; for his logic and patterns of thought were from his own native culture, and he allowed us to share and appreciate it. I have deep feelings of appreciation toward Suzuki Roshi.
MARY LOU SCHWARZ
.... beloved teacher
.... diminutive person; kind and gentle of voice.
.... Critical, though never criticizing.
.... Understanding, but never saying so.
With wisdom, in actual, guiding one willful young woman, having come, to look deeply and sincerely within herself.
"Essence of mind"-many times, visiting in this Zendo, Haiku, in which we sit today, Suzuki Roshi spoke of "essence of mind" and the "beginner's mind."
I remember his emphasis upon keeping the Zazen posture. "It's all right if you move .... but it is better not to." .... Come, sit with me- you needn't be Buddhist- you needn't be perfect-you needn't sit long. Just, "Come, sit with me." Suzuki Roshi offered to me more than many other teachers, preachers- more than any other strivings of my life. I stayed.
Many sittings passed.
Many more came.
Many sesshins concentrated.
Many moments met- and, many not.
.... This was at the old Sokoji Temple on Bush Street in San Francisco. Zazen cushions lined the walls of the room upstairs. We had Sunday School here- in this same room- the Japanese congregation and those of us, with children, who were students of Zen.
.... I can recall only having seen Suzuki Roshi angry- truly angry - once. Again, it was at Sokoji in the upstairs Zendo, following an evening sitting. I do not now remember the exact circumstance- or what was said- or done; but apparently Roshi was very displeased with our sitting. Standing in the center of the room that evening, he gave one loud and definite sound of anger. At us. For "knocking off" in our Zazen. In our effort. The sound uttered by Suzuki Roshi was like a yell. only not. It contained every sound. In the next moment, it was gone.
.... Continuing, I traveled in my practice to the newly purchased Tassajara. Here, my impressions of Roshi are vivid and strong. A buoyant, swiftly-moving Suzuki Roshi- such as the stream behind; imparting lilt and life to every one and every endeavor.
An intense quiet; calm- like the darkness that pervades the place at nightfall.
.... Gradually, over the years, my practice had extended myself- my initial quest into that self having far outstretched itself. Suzuki Roshi has given way to new teachers - new students- and new members.
Devotion gives rise to every dearness.
And this is the memory of Suzuki Roshi to me.
Suzuki Roshi was a little man always dressed in a brown robe. The place where we went to Sunday School was in San Francisco. It was on Bush Street. It had 7 steps to go up to the doors. Inside it was dark and spooky in the hallway. Up the stairs was the place where you went to Sunday School. We sat on little black cushions on the floor. After everyone was seated, the monks began to chant, "Han yah Hah rah." It took twenty minutes to finish the chant. After the chant everybody went up for offering. We had to get up and stand in a line around the room. For the offering you had to pick up a bit of incense and sprinkle it down in a big red pot with dragons and figures on it. You bowed to the monks and then went back to your seat on the floor.
After Sunday School we had refreshments: cupcakes and tofu. I didn't like the cupcakes because they were green and raw. This was a very long time ago, maybe when I was five or six. I am 12 years old in 1973.
Once, when this person's outer world seemed very dark and confusing, at a lecture, Suzuki Roshi said, "Wherever you are-it's O.K." I felt as if a heavy burden flew from my shoulders. Roshi always knew the one of us who was confused and in need, and he always spoke to that person.
My first personal conversation with Suzuki Sensei was after Zazen, probably my second sitting. "Sensei," I said, "I feel as if, at heart, I am an Obaku (of the activity school of Zen)." Said Suzuki, "Sitting has nothing to do with it."
When he first came to my house, I showed him some of my old and treasured tea bowls. Then when it was time to prepare tea, I said, "We will use a home-made tea bowl." "Ah, yes," said Sensei, "Homemade is best."
Then when I took him home, as he got out of the car, he said, "I've had such a good time, such a good time!" -a real human being, expressing his thanks with joy and mirth. No long face.
Another time we sat on my living room floor looking at an old Chinese statue of Fugen carved in soapstone. Fugen's expression is delightful - quizzical and mischievous, but warm, as if to see through all one's humbug. Suzuki Roshi was like a child who has found a fascinating beetle. He held it, felt it, turned it around; then, setting it back on its pedestal, he mimicked the posture and expression, raising his finger and pretending to speak for the mischievous Fugen, saying, "How now ? How now ?" I will never forget Suzuki's impish expression with his spirited "How now ?"
In June, 1965, my husband and I were guests at a dinner party, marking the end of a spring work session with Charlotte Selver and Charles Brooks. Among the other guests at the party were Gertrude and Dave Davenport and Louise Mendelsohn.
Afterward, Gertrude told me that Louise had informed her of a Zen Master who was teaching the practice of Zazen in Palo Alto, one morning a week. Louise gave Gertrude the phone number of Marian Derby in Los Altos- the person to call for information. Gertrude, of course, intended to follow this up with all speed.
I had become interested in the subject of Zen through painting in Sumi-e. (In fact, a book about Japanese Prints by James Michner was what started me off.) In 1960 my husband and I, with our friends, the Winfield Wageners, had started sponsoring a weekend seminar in Los Altos with Alan Watts. The Watts Seminar became an annual event, held every February at the Wagener house until 1970.
After ten years of reading and talking about Zen, I found it somewhat alarming to know that there was a Zen Master one morning a week in Palo Alto. With my family, I left town as soon as school was out, to spend the summer in the Sierras. It was sheer flight. In August, I talked to Gertrude on the phone, hesitant to ask, but curious- "How are the Zen meetings going?" Gert said, "I can only tell you, I like this as much as Dave likes golf." Considering how much golf means to Dave, this was very high praise indeed.
In September, we were home from the mountains. I was still a little afraid. I learned from Gert that the group had moved from Palo Alto to Marian Derby's house in Los Altos. The only requirement was to be there at 5:45 on a Thursday morning. Finally I went to my first meeting at the end of September, 1965.
I walked into Marian's front hall to find a Japanese gentleman in robes, just removing his sandals. Feeling shy and foolish, I nodded. He bowed in return and smiled. It was Suzuki Roshi. After he had gone into the living room, I took off my shoes and followed him. The minute I stepped into the room, I knew I had come home.
I had trouble sitting that first day, didn't know what to do with my legs. Suzuki Roshi helped me to sit on two cushions, straightened my back, showed me how to hold my hands, and told me to keep my eyes open. No mention of legs. (It took me about a month to figure out a leg arrangement I could cope with. Then, I found out I had evolved a kind of Half-Lotus.)
After Zazen and service, Suzuki Roshi gave a short talk. We then adjourned to breakfast around the dining-room table. It was the custom then (although I did not know it) to quietly arrange for the newcomer to sit next to Suzuki Roshi at breakfast. There were about eight people around the table.
I found myself completely tongue-tied, sitting next to Suzuki Roshi. Every time I looked his way, he smiled- a most beautiful smile. And with this encouragement, I finally managed to ask him how long he had been in this country. As nearly as I can remember, his answer was as follows: He had been here 6 years. He spoke of the scarcity of teachers here. What a large country America is. How there were only three teachers in California at that time.
Then he said, "I hope to stay here long enough to prepare a small piece of land (in the air, making a box-shape with his hands)- a small piece of land large enough to be my grave."
There was nothing more to say after that, so we smiled at each other and turned to the general conversation.
MARY KATE SPENCER
If I saw Suzuki Roshi, at a function at Zen Center, his face would wreath into smiles and he would bow a little and ask me how Los Altos was. I think he loved our group in Los Altos dearly and when he saw me he was reminded of all those Thursday morning breakfasts we attended together.
When I first went to sit at Los Altos on Thursday morning we had one sitting, service, and then a talk by Roshi. Afterwards Marian Derby served us juice, English muffins and coffee for breakfast around the dining room table. There was chatter and laughter and mostly Roshi would watch us, joining in if he was directly asked a question. After a while I tried to ask him questions about Buddhism and we had a few serious discussions. In those days I was pretty much bewildered by my life as well as by my new practice. I remember him as a man who came to do his job, driving that long way from San Francisco to Los Altos, and back, at first twice a week. I remember his smile, his kindliness, the twinkle in his eye and his acceptance of whatever was going on. He did not try to change us in any way. He answered our questions. He told me I had an intellectual approach to my practice. He told a student, who complained that thoughts of his studies at Stanford filled up his mind during Zazen, to be thankful for these thoughts, be thankful that he had something to let go of. The Thursday morning breakfast became very important to me. The sense of community and acceptance, and the fact that he was always there.
Also I remember being at Tassajara. When he came, something changed there. The air held a glow, there was a magic and a life in everything. When he left, the glow went with him. Other students felt this too.
It is like he has come and gone in my life, and I can't think of him as a big important man; just as a casual friend at first and afterward as a source of light and magic. A friend of mine said to me one day, -"Just think, you and your old lady friends had that great Zen Master, the only one of his kind in the U.S., all to yourselves on Thursday mornings for several years." I do not think of Suzuki Roshi as a great Zen Master. I think of him moving quietly in and out of my life, and somehow, now, my Zazen and my practice. The Zen community and our present priest, Kobun Chino Sensei, have become the central integrating point of my life.
My acquaintance with Suzuki Roshi came from sesshin. I remember how gentling his easy, step by step, morning greeting was, and how he carried the short kyosaku across his chest with two hands. I am sure he noticed each one of us. When we were all tired and awful, he went from sitter to sitter, smacking 60 or 70 of us twice on each shoulder. It was very quiet when he at last sat down.
Roshi was a small man; maybe that is why he shook the Zendo when he whispered, DON'T MOVE. There is no word to express that utter urgency.
As I make my gassho, I think of his gassho. Somehow, mine may be impossibly sloppy, balanced on the verge of falling apart; and yet, it is at once- beautiful.
Beside the door to Suzuki Roshi's room at Zen Center is a banded granite rock from the stream at Tassajara. During work period at each sesshin, I cleaned that hall and that rock. I like his rock.
Roshi said- "I never think about anything. Only when something happens, then I think about it." In this way, I never think about Roshi. Only when I'm talking with a friend, I find myself saying- "Roshi said." One at a time, the memories are endless. And I always smile.
People said he could be stern; even, when he was angry, terrifying. I remember him smiling, laughing, full of joy and delight, sometimes playing like a child. Once in the Santa Cruz mountains, he climbed up on a deck railing that hung out over a canyon. The wind whipped his robe around his ankles and he said he was a kite. I wrote a poem about that, but I lost it. The last line was- "Look out, Roshi. No string!"
A thing he used to say a lot was- "Well, it can't be helped." That doesn't sound like much, but it always did something good for my sense of proportion, the idea that there are things you can't do anything about. I'm inclined to think you can do something about everything and then get depressed when it doesn't work.
One morning at breakfast, I got carried away with my own sudden understanding of some point of Buddhist doctrine, and held forth at considerable length on the subject. When I finished, Roshi put his hands together, bowed and said, "Thank you for the lecture. It was very good." The worse of it was that he meant it- absolutely. I felt terrible. I promised myself that I would never open my mouth again. But naturally ....
In an evening lecture Roshi talked about a woman who came to him because she would get mad and abuse her child. She wanted to know if doing Zazen would get rid of her bad temper. Roshi laughed a lot about that, the idea that Zazen would change anyone. He said that he used to be a very lazy boy and now he was a very lazy man. I think he meant that he took care of his laziness. So, if you are greedy or conceited or bad-tempered the way Roshi was lazy, you don't have much to worry about.
Bitter Zen. The only sad memory. He said, "There is also such a thing as bitter Zen." He had a look of deep suffering just for that moment.
I can't think of Roshi with any sense of loss. He keeps unfolding in the most living way.
The first time I met Suzuki Roshi, I was fourteen. I had stayed home from school with a sore throat; it must have been on a Thursday. Mom came home from Zazen and told me that Reverend Suzuki was in the living room, and would I please go talk to him while she did a few chores. I was terrified. Me? Talk to a Zen Master? I don't know quite what I expected, certainly not the quiet, kind, old gentleman who greeted me. I wasn't frightened of him at all, but I was very shy and awkward. There was a book about Medieval Japan lying on the table. We looked at it together and Roshi told me the stories that went along with each picture. I remember being impressed that he could do that without even looking at the captions.
I sat my first period of Zazen shortly after that. I had been bugging my mother for some time to let me go, and Roshi had finally told her I was old enough. I hated every minute of it. People's stomachs made noises and it was awful. I wasn't ever going to do that again. I don't remember when I started going back; it was a couple month later, after Haiku Zendo was built. I usually went in the evening. Katagiri Sensei was coming pretty often then, and I remember sleeping through most of his lectures.
I liked Thursday mornings best. The lecture was short and usually not as scholarly as the evening one. Eating breakfast together afterward, with everyone sitting around the big dining room table, gave me a much stronger feeling of the solidity of the group. The people were open and warm and supportive. Whichever priest was there would answer questions, and it was most encouraging for me to know that other people had problems with Zazen similar to mine. It was also encouraging to laugh; Katagiri Sensei and Suzuki Roshi both seemed to have a knack for making the hardest things the funniest.
Most of my time with Suzuki Roshi was at San Francisco or Tassajara. The most important thing I noticed at Haiku Zendo was that he made his constant effort here week after week with very few students. Doing his best, spending his time, here.
One time I drove Roshi to Los Altos from Sokoji. I rang the doorbell around 4:00 A.M. and he soon came to the door. I was standing on the steps and my car was parked directly in front. He went through the door rather carelessly, pulling the doorknob so that the door swung but did not fully close behind him.
I remember when he was here for Chino Sensei's installation. Yoshimura Sensei sat on his left. Chino Sensei sat on his right, at the front of the Zendo. Roshi's remarks were very warm and fairly brief, and they left some room for Chino Sensei to spend time away from Los Altos.
My favorite memory of Suzuki Roshi is of meeting him for the first time face to face. I was a brand new student attending my first sesshin and feeling very unsure of myself in the midst of the strange Zen rituals. When I came before Roshi to have the private interview called dokusan I didn't even know how to get down on my knees to make the customary bow before him. Roshi saw the difficulty I was having and got up himself to demonstrate the bow for me. He made a full bow at my feet, then I practiced several bows in front of him. After this we sat down and I asked about the Zazen posture. "You have not yet learned how we put strength in our stomach," he said. Again he got up from his cushion and came around to show me how to sit correctly in Zazen. First he adjusted my own posture and then he sat down in front of me and demonstrated the Zazen posture and the way of breathing himself. Watching Suzuki Roshi paying such careful attention to his breathing, I no longer saw Zen practice as something strange or separate from my own life. And upon leaving Roshi's room I found a bow to be the most natural way of expressing my deepest feelings to him.
The last time I saw Suzuki Roshi was at Tassajara a few months before his death. I had not seen him for over a year. I had heard that he had been very ill and friends warned me that he was weak and pale. He invited me for tea. In the privacy of his room, he revealed a body and spirit surprisingly strong and light-hearted. "I looked out of my window day before yesterday," he said to me, "and I saw you." (Day before yesterday I had been 100 miles away with no idea of going to Tassajara.) He continued. "But then I said to myself, 'No, that can't be Marian. That girl is too young."' He smiled at me and his eyes twinkled mischievously. "But now I can see that it was you I saw through my window."
I talked to Roshi about what I had been doing since I had left Tassajara. I confessed that I was not practicing Zazen and did not ever expect to return to formal Zen training. I was living a simple, primitive life in the mountains of Big Sur learning (literally) to carry water and chop wood. I had discovered that ordinary people who knew nothing of Buddhism had much to teach me about Buddha.
Roshi listened intently, nodding his head now and then. "You are much more humble that when I saw you last, so the life you are living must be good for you. I can see that you are healthy and happy and that is all that matters to me."
Roshi had poured much time and attention into my training. He had hoped that I would wear the Buddhist robe and give my life to teaching Zazen. But he let go of my life effortlessly- just as effortlessly as he would let go of his own life a few months later. Suzuki Roshi was not one to cling to life. Suzuki Roshi is not one to cling to death.
Elsewhere, Les has mentioned some incidents that stand out in my memory of Suzuki Roshi.
But there is one that I would like to add. It occurred on the day we had an open house shortly after moving into Marian's house. Mrs. Suzuki and Roshi attended the party, as did many people, and the house was quite crowded. I was chatting with Roshi in the living room, when he asked me to get him a glass of water.
He accompanied me to the kitchen, and when we were away from the crowd, he said, "How do you feel about living here?" I think he wondered if I realized how much I was getting into. I answered that I was enthusiastic about all my new responsibilities, but that I did worry somewhat about Marian's teenage daughters, whom she left in our care. He said, "Their behavior is beyond your control." That simple statement of fact gave me a new perspective in relating to the girls.
It is still difficult for me to believe that Suzuki Roshi accepted me so readily and completely as one of his disciples. I know now that it stemmed from his open and compassionate nature and his full acceptance of all persons. However, like other Los Altos students, I didn't see him very often and felt hesitant in approaching him or in taking any of his time: he belonged to Zen Center, I thought, and we were lucky enough to see him once in awhile.
When I did go to him to speak about becoming ordained, I went with a hesitant, cautious feeling. We exchanged greetings and became silent. He asked my why I wanted to be ordained. I gave him a reason that was not very profound, but rather ordinary. Without a word, he stood up, went into the other room and came back with a tape measure and Okusan (Mrs. Suzuki). They immediately began measuring me for robes. I let them turn me, tape me, hold my arms out, and listened to them discuss the finer details of tailoring for the next hour. I left in a kind of daze, not being sure when my ordination would take place, only that it takes a few months for the robes to come from Japan.
Suzuki Roshi was always at the center of things. He did not need words to understand a situation- he could take it in instantly, hardly without observing it. He had a great kindness and never hesitated to go someplace or do something when requested. He also had that wisdom that enabled him to say the words or do the thing necessary at the moment. As an example of this attitude, I remember how he handled a particularly anxious moment at my ordination in January, 1971. The ceremony had begun, and we were crowded together in the Los Altos Zendo, when my mother arrived. She was obviously nervous, anxious about the strange, unorthodox step her son was taking, and finding all eyes on her as she entered the Zendo - late. I'll never forget Roshi's eyes, glancing at her as she entered and took the seat someone offered her near the platform. Very gently he reached over, put his hand on her shoulder, and said, "You came at the right time."
So I became one of his disciples. But I didn't visit Zen Center very often, again for fear of disturbing him or taking his valuable time. But I made it a point to see him at least once every three months. I didn't want to run to him with problems, but I did want to be with him occasionally, and I decided to tell him about whatever was of greatest concern to me at the time.
I wasn't really sure of all the formalities and once asked if we were having dokusan. He said it was just a student visiting and having tea with his teacher. In every way, he just let things take their own natural course without pushing. He provided encouragement when he had the opportunity; as he always invited me to come back but never said "should" or set a date- it was up to me. I realize now that I could have visited him twice a week or more, if I had wanted to.
Suzuki Roshi had a sense of humor. He was always smiling. He easily laughed at even the smallest bit of whimsy. Whether at a fancy party prepared in his honor, or eating the simplest meal at Zen Center, he gave the impression of enjoying himself tremendously.
Roshi was also a little mischievous. Once when we were at Tassajara, my wife, who is a bonsai enthusiast, found an oak tree and dug it up. She eagerly showed it to Roshi, who said, "Oh, thank you very much," and took it away, leaving Mary open-mouthed.
Katagiri Roshi once asked Mary and me if our Zendo was ready for its own teacher. We thought about it, discussed it with others, and later told him we were ready. We asked him what to do next, and he said to see Suzuki Roshi for advice on who to invite. I spoke to Suzuki Roshi about Katagiri Roshi's suggestion, and he proposed that we invite Kobun Chino Sensei, to return to the United States to be with the Los Altos group.
Months later, after Chino Sensei arrived and became our teacher, it dawned on me that the whole thing was planned by Suzuki Roshi, with the help of Katagiri Roshi. Catching two birds with one stone (getting Kobun and making us independent), he worked it so that we did the soul-searching, decision making, and made the necessary steps. It has worked out perfectly.
Suzuki Roshi died a little less than a year after my ordination. I sometimes regret not being able to be with him, physically, anymore. But then, I think of how lucky I have been just to have known him, for however brief a time, and to have been accepted by him so completely. His memory fills me completely. I try to do things with his spirit in mind, not because he is "watching," but because he trusts me. He trusted everybody, before he met them.