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About Suzuki Roshi
Memories of Roshi
4/7/2000 - from Daniel Abdal-Havy Moore, old Suzuki student,
poet, and thespian.
SHORT TAKES - RECOLLECTIONS OF SUZUKI ROSHI
One morning I was on my way to the Zen Center on Bush Street for zazen (4:30AM?) after a long, ecstatic night, and was crossing a newly dug-up portion of Geary Street, where a freeway underpass was under construction, and as I bounded up a rocky slope, a small chunk of asphalt caught my eye because of some bits of tarpaper that were stuck to it. To my sleepy and still imaginative mind, the bits seemed to form Japanese-like characters. Since it was such a spontaneous find, I put it in my pocket and thought I might to show it to Suzuki and ask him if the tarpaper bits spelled anything in Japanese.
After meditation, I was passing by the door of the front office, where Suzuki was chatting and laughing quietly with Richard Baker (not yet Roshi) and another student, and I suddenly remembered the chunk of asphalt, took it out of my pocket and stepped into the office. "Excuse me, Sensei, but I found this piece of asphalt this morning with these figures on it, and I wondered if it possibly spelled anything." He looked at it for a moment, then his eyes crinkled. He waved his finger above it, forming the same looping characters in the air. "Yes. It says: 60! The number 60. And today is my sixtieth birthday!" "Then happy birthday to you!" I said, happily, and bowed and went my way.
I was about to get married in the Zendo on Bush Street, and someone told me that it was correct to give Suzuki a present as payment. I was very poor, living in a little carriage house off Divisadero, but there was a huge pile of lumber stored next to the house, with railroad ties and bits of old weather-beaten wooden furniture, and I found a cabinet door made of something like cherry wood, not very large, with an inset panel that made it a perfect frame. I wrote out one of my poems on rice paper with black ink and brush, added some colorful squiggles and glued the paper onto the panel so that it fit exactly in the framed space. Since it had been outside for so long, there were cobwebs in the cracks and a cocoon in one of the corners. I thought, "How Zen!" and decided to leave them there.
On the evening we went to the zendo to discuss the ceremony with Suzuki, I wrapped the door-painting in brown paper and took it along to present to him. He opened the paper very carefully, and held it in front of his eyes, admiringly. "Oh, very nice," he said. Then he said, "Excuse me for a moment," and got up from the table and went into the back kitchen. When he came out, he had the framed poem in his hand and was carrying a wet rag. He sat down again and very carefully cleaned away the cobwebs and wiped the cocoon out of the corner. "There," he said softly, "that's better."
One afternoon the entire Zendo had been invited to a very wealthy house in the hills of Oakland with an outdoor patio and huge sparkling swimming pool. Everyone was there, dressed in their best, eating open-faced sandwiches and drinking punch out of crystal goblets. I was in a slightly sour mood, and felt out of place and even disappointed at our presence in such a bourgeois setting. What were Zen students and a Zen master doing here, soaking up these material comforts?
I found myself in a little group at the edge of the pool, facing it, and standing right next to me, talking to two or three of his students, was Suzuki Roshi, facing away from the pool, in his brown Zen master's robes. Suddenly I had a huge and unnamable urge to grab Suzuki and throw us both into the brightly glittering pool in front of everyone. It would be sudden and spontaneous, might go down in the annals of Zen history, would certainly not be soon forgotten. Would I be applauded or condemned, would Sensei find it proof of my enlightenment or proof of my total and even brutish misunderstanding of just about everything? It was a lovely warm day, and perhaps it would be seen as simply a way to get a swim. I stood there with these powerful thoughts pounding through me, but made no moves, and after a short time failed to act on them, losing the utter spontaneity of them, and finally quelled them completely. At that moment I heard Suzuki remark with amusement to his students, without looking at me, "Imagine! He was going to throw me into the swimming pool!"
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