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Shunryu Suzuki Stories - Suzuki Stories Index


MEMORIES OF SUZUKI Roshi FROM WIND BELL AND DC FILES

Letters on Suzuki Index - with more on these letters


David Chadwick - David Chadwick links page

This reads to me like an edited version of what I sent in. I'm making a few changes to my letter and I do that also for anyone who wants to do that. It's just a little easier for me. - dc, 4-11


When Suzuki Roshi first saw Church Creek Ranch [a several hour walk or half hour drive from Tassajara] he said, "We should buy it." Later that first visit we couldn't find him. Then we saw him up in a tree. He was very giddy on that trip. One of the things he did was to jump from standing on the ground up onto the bed of the flat bed truck.

I used to drive Suzuki Roshi around a lot and they would often stop at the Thunderbird bookshop on their way out from Tassajara. This is back when it was in Carmel Valley village. One day when we were on our way from Tassajara to San Francisco we stopped there and Suzuki Roshi had three cups of coffee. I wondered how a man 4'11" tall could drink three cups of coffee, get into car, and immediately go to sleep and stay asleep all the way to San Francisco.

One day as we set off to San Francisco I asked Suzuki Roshi, "If I just understood better, I'd know what to do. I really really want to practice Zen. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it." I went on like this for a while. There was silence. I looked over and he had gone sound asleep. I guess that was my answer.

Under the bridge that crosses the small creek is where the first stone work was done at Tassajara. Doing that work Suzuki Roshi crushed his finger. Bob Watkins had a truck and he drove Suzuki Roshi into Monterey to the doctor. After the doctor had seen Suzuki Roshi's finger they drove down the main street in Seaside. (Bob was not macrobiotic, but he had not had any animal products to eat for two years.) As they were driving along Suzuki Roshi said "I'm hungry." All Bob could see were a lot of junk food restaurants. Suzuki Roshi said, "Pull over here." It was a cheap drive-in. The best that Bob could do with a menu choice was to order a grilled cheese sandwich. It was his first animal food in two years and Suzuki Roshi asked Bob about that. Suzuki Roshi ordered a hamburger with double meat. When the food arrived Bob looked at his grilled cheese sandwich like it was a foreign body. Suzuki Roshi took a bite of his double hamburger and said "I don't like this. Let's switch." He picked up Bob's and his sandwiches and exchanged them. From that day on Bob said he couldn't take his food trip seriously anymore. He told me this story over a lamb dinner in Hollywood some years later.

We were moving Suzuki Roshi's cabin from the ledge where the zendo is now. All of Tassajara was disrupted with the high energy of it. Suzuki Roshi looked at all the chaos he had created. He turned to me and said, "I like work trips. I don't like food trips. But I like work trips."

Alan Marlowe is 6'4" and he often used to work moving rocks with Suzuki Roshi. There was one large rock that Alan couldn't move. Alan and Suzuki Roshi tried to move the rock together and they couldn't. Alan said that what they needed was a block and tackle and more people. Suzuki Roshi told Alan to go away. "I want to work alone." So Alan went to take a bath and when he returned the rock was moved and Alan found Suzuki Roshi asleep in his cabin. He also found vomit all over the floor. Suzuki Roshi slept for three days.

I remember someone who went from being a person who believed in free love to being celibate with a shaved head. He asked Suzuki Roshi: "There are those that say that in order to be a whole person you should have sex as part of your life. Others say you have to give up sex." Suzuki Roshi told him, "It's not so good to have too much sex. But it isn't good to have too little either."

Another time Suzuki Roshi said that sex is like brushing your teeth. It is a good practice to brush your teeth but it is not so good to brush your teeth all day long.

"When you say 'sex', everything is sex," he added.

During the first practice period there was a tug of war between the macrobiotic believers and the more raw natural food types. The whole‑grain school won out somewhat ‑ maybe because it was closer to a traditional Japanese diet, though Suzuki Roshi didn't like the fanaticism. Both schools of thought, however, were down on sugar, especially unrefined white sugar. One day I was standing by a big pitcher of lemonade that had been put out near the office for the afternoon tea break. There was a little group of anti-sugar types standing around the sugar bowl that was on the table next to the lemonade. (Remember that everyone, no matter which of the food camps they belonged to, hung every word Suzuki Roshi said and every move he made). So I was there too drinking the lemonade and looking at the sugar bowl next to it. Suzuki Roshi walked up and bowed and someone offered him a glass of lemonade. Suzuki Roshi: "Is there sugar in it?" When he found out that there wasn't sugar in the lemonade he put in one spoonful then another then another until his glass was maybe half full of sugar. And he drank it with great relish to the amazement of those of us watching.

Bob Halpern and I were coming back from the Mill Valley zendo one morning after Suzuki Roshi had given a lecture and we had all had breakfast together with the Kwongs. I remember each of us getting like a tablespoon of hot cereal with green tea. We stopped for more food at a regular breakfast place with coffee on the way back. Then we were back in the car on the way to the city. I was driving and Suzuki Roshi was in the front seat. Bob and I were jabbering about Zen and was smoking. Suzuki Roshi said, "Zen is very difficult. It is at least as difficult as quitting smoking." Bob said, "Did you hear that, David?" and threw his cigarette out of the window. As soon as we'd dropped Suzuki Roshi off, he lit up. Bob stopped smoking a few years later.

During the time that there were riots in the Fillmore district in San Francisco, a few blocks from Sokoji where Suzuki Roshi lived, Bob and I ran over to Sokoji. We were terrified for Suzuki Roshi and Okusan and excitedly told them: "You have to leave! The riots may spread up here!" Suzuki Roshi said he wasn't worried and added "Black people like me. They like to put their fingers on my head. In fact, I think I'll take a walk over there." We both went, "No! no! Please don't!" And told him if he promised not to do that we'd go away. [I hear "black" now but maybe he said, "Negroes," or "those people."]

One time I asked Suzuki Roshi, "What did you do in Japan to oppose the war?" Suzuki Roshi: "I printed up leaflets and would hand them out when people came to the temple." "Well then why didn't you get into trouble?" I asked. "Because I didn't oppose the government. I said that the government and the country of Japan would be stronger if we weren't at war." [I think this was before the war with the US. - dc]

At Sokoji during the question and answer period after a lecture, a woman said she was told by Sasaki Roshi in LA that he would not be her teacher. She asked what should she do. Suzuki Roshi told her to go back to Sasaki Roshi. She said: "First he rejected me and now you reject me!" Suzuki Roshi said, "I do not reject anybody," with his arms and robe sleeves wide open to her.

Yvonne Rand Interview with DC to add to what was in the letter.

How did you begin to study Zen?

Because of the experiences I had had with LSD I thought that meditation would help me cultivate such experiences.  I was in San Francisco, planning to go to India via Europe the next week (in hopes of finding a guru and to sit in a cave or something like that).  I looked up Zen Center in the phone book.  I think someone must have told me that there was such a place. I thought I should try it out before I went to India. I went to Sokoji on Bush Street and Paul Alexander answered the door. He showed me the organ he was re‑building and told me that "Reverend Suzuki" was in Japan. He gave me zazen instruction. I had some idea that I should do meditation with others. I talked to Katagiri Roshi who told me I should have a teacher.  I asked him, "Can you be my teacher?"  He said that Reverend Suzuki for my teacher.  I asked him again "But can't you be my teacher?" He said yes.  All during my conversation with him he was drumming his fingers rather nervously.  And I thought that if someone can be enlightened and be nervous and drumming their fingers then that person could be my teacher.  I went back to sit four or five times in the gaitan, outside sitting area, but I somehow didn't go to service.  I'm glad I didn't then because I might not have gone back because the first time I opened the door to the zendo and saw people bowing to the floor to statues, I got a really weird feeling  Then I missed going to sit for four or five days. I ran into Katagiri on the street (buying some grass across the street from Sokoji) and I told him that I was sorry I hadn't been to the zendo for a while, but that my back was hurting.  He patted my back and told me, "Take good care of your back."  At that point I decided to sit every day no matter what for a year and to see what would happen.



what's new this year

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


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