Suzuki Roshi Jan. '98 Disciple Meeting - III
People who spoke at this meeting - in order of appearance
January 3 & 4, 1998, at the Berkeley Zen Center (I think) - dc
Tape 1B, Side A
MW: I'm trying to remember ‑‑ there's something missing in the story I'm trying to recall. Because I felt this incident was a kind of lesson in the same way ‑‑ I didn't really do something wrong, but he was trying to teach something through this incident. He got very angry with me for sitting in that seat.
DW: Was Dick present?
MW: I think he was present.
LR: There was a sign that said Zentatsu.
MW: I think this was the first day of the sign or something and I hadn't been informed of that. So I just sat down. And he was so angry. So angry. "This is where Zentatsu sits."
MW: . . . on my right hand side. I thought you were on my left hand side at Sokoji.
RB: For a long time Graham Petchey sat in the first seat and I sat in the second seat. But it just was by chance it became regular. No one assigned seats.
LR: I think this incident was much later, Bill.
??: If it was Zentatsu it had to be after Tassajara started.
MW: I wish I could remember the details because at the time it was very significant.
DC: Did he show up later and not have a place or something?
??: It was just that he wasn't there that morning and you sat in his seat.
??: I think you [RB] were there.
MW: He was there and it was a matter of who was going to sit in his seat, I think. . . . he wanted Dick in he seat. But I thought, why is he getting so mad at me. I don't mind sitting in another seat. I'm not trying to usurp this position. I was just going to sit down.
LR: David, I think you were the one who told me that . . .
??: Let's start from the beginning cause this is one of those Rashomon stories that I've heard many different versions of. Let's hear one.
LR: I recall it very vividly cause it was my question that started the whole interchange although I wasn't directly involved.
LR: Sokoji it was the day of a big anti‑war demonstration and I was very involved in the anti‑war movement as were several other people. It would have been '68. That was the big year for demonstrations. And there was a lot of confusion about Buddhism and the Vietnam War and what we should do and all of that.
YR: Also the march was on Saturday morning and there was this tension about would we go to the march or would we go for sitting in the zendo.
LR: My question to him.
DW: This is during the lecture or during zazen?
LR: After lecture. It was just the regular question and answer. The question before mine was very interesting too which was Janet Sturgeon asked a question about laughing and crying and emptiness. Do you remember that? She said, "What is laughing and crying and emptiness?" I'm going back now to the preliminary thing. She's back in town now so maybe I can ask her this and find out if she remembers what he said. He started to laugh. Giggled. Then everybody started to laugh. He said, "That's laughing in emptiness." Then he told a story out of Jataka Tales about a female monkey that gave her life ‑‑ some story I can't remember about a female monkey that was trying to care for her baby monkey. The baby monkey was dying or had been killed or something and the monkey was crying from grief or care. He gave that as an example of crying. I don't know where she got this laughing and crying and emptiness. I got the impression it may have been something he had said at some earlier time. But he seemed to know what it was all about.
My question was, "Suzuki Roshi, what is war?" I was in the back. He pointed to the people up in the front. They were on a goza. In the front there was not the tan there was just the goza. He said, "When two people sit down they want the wrinkles to be on the other side of the mat, so they smooth out their side and the wrinkles go to the other side. That's war." Somehow that opened up the whole question ‑‑ what about the Vietnam War ‑‑ and there were all these questions, one after the other. I can't remember who all the different people were. Ron Browning was very vociferous and had all sorts of stuff to say.
Then John Steiner at some point said, "Suzuki Roshi, what's the right thing to do?"
Suzuki leaped up off the tan like a bat out of hell and rushed over to John and beat the living bejeezus out of him. Really hard. Like twenty times.
"What are you dreaming?"
Used a chair I think.
DC: [What I’ve heard is] He was sitting on the floor. Knocked him over.
LR: "What are you dreaming?" That's what he kept saying. Then he got back onto the tan. He was white as a sheet and clearly furious. Then he said, "Big lie. I'm not angry." Which may have been right at that particular moment in time. He had ceased being angry, but he sure was angry a few moments ago.
DC: Then he said something about ‑‑ you talk about peace but you can't even tie your shoelaces. You're trying to save the world and you don't even know how to tie your shoelaces.
MW: Wasn't that another story?
YR: I remember ‑‑
LR: I remember him saying that then.
DC: I wasn't there, it's just what some people have said.
LR: Everybody was really shocked.
BK: But he did go up to John Steiner afterwards and said he was sorry that he had to be the one to be the example.
DW: Here's part of the version I heard and I wasn't there at the time. Is that whoever was in the back had repeatedly asked Suzuki Roshi a question about the war. Suzuki Roshi turned it a little bit. He didn't answer the guy directly. I guess the guy asked a couple of times. Then what I heard is that John Steiner took it upon himself to explain to Suzuki Roshi what the question was. But I wasn't there so I don't know.
??: Something like that. That's what I've heard too. This guy was badgering the hell out of him. So it was Ron Browning who was asking that repeated question? Yeah.
MW: Ron was really badgering him. And then John was kind of a messenger.
BK: I was thinking on the other side ‑‑ on Suzuki Roshi's side. He must have felt very lonely. Because he was getting really angry ‑‑ we were missing the point ‑‑
YR: He said something. I don't remember what he said. But I remember understanding that he was pointing to what we were doing was about stopping the war. And that there wasn't this difference between we should either be out there demonstrating or sitting ‑‑ that one was not the other. Whatever it is he said, it was clear that was the point he was making. What did we think we were doing if right here in the zendo wasn't about the war.
?? I remember him saying at some point ‑‑ I don't know if it was around that issue ‑ he said ‑‑ don't just talk about it, implying, don't just satisfy yourself by talking about it, stop the war. He said that twice. Stop the war. I remember this having something to do with John Steiner. But it may have been a conversation I'd had with Suzuki Roshi separate ‑‑ I just remember it from that time.
PW: It may be a good approach. Because, when that thing comes out and does that, I see it ‑‑ I'm brainwashed ‑‑ I see it as an act of compassion and kindness to come and bring that thing out there and make this guy stop. He had to stop all of his functions and thinking with all of the fury in front of him. He wasn't thinking about the war any more, he had his life at stake. He didn't do anything. It may have been a way of bringing that group, all of you, close to just being right there. And that is helping everybody.
YR: Well he certainly got everybody's attention.
PW: He was a good priest to come out and do that.
DC: If somebody just knew what they were doing and went to a demonstration, if somebody said to him, I'm going to this demonstration, I'm going to a walk against the war, I don't think he'd say anything. But people would say to him, "Should I sit zazen or should I demonstrate against the war?" That would put him in the position of trying to communicate something to them about that attitude. People who knew what they were doing he wouldn't oppose that. He also wouldn't stop them from going in the Army if they wanted to go in. People would come to him and say they wanted to go in the Army and he'd say, "Very good." Others would come to him and say I think I should work against the war he'd say, "Very good." But if they came to him and said, should I sit zazen or should I do this or that. It was that facilitating confusion, dichotomizing of things that he seemed to react against.
[to RB] You took him on some peace walks.
RB: We went at least once. A couple times. One time Sally was on my back so it had to be after '62. We marched in a Peace march together. In San Francisco. Down around the Civic Center. He walked. He marched in peace marches in Japan, protesting nuclear weapons ‑‑ I don't know why, I don't remember now.
MW: Another question which I'd like to clarify. In Zen Mind Beginner's Mind in the Introduction you talk about Suzuki Roshi's peace activities in Japan. And that has been questioned by Brian Victoria who's book I haven't read. But I understand that there is a question that he brought up challenging ‑‑
DC: Not in the book. He brought it up at Zen Center.
MW: ‑‑ challenging that as a fact and wanting it removed from the book. My question is, where did this come from?
RB: He specifically told me a few things that relate to that. One is that at the beginning of the war he gave a number of talks ‑‑ he was hired, or paid, by some branch of the Japanese government ‑‑ that's what I remember him telling me ‑‑ to give talks against the militarism. Then the war started. Then he had to stop. He was told to stop. Then during the war I remember him saying that he was supposed to get a job doing some kind of ‑‑ you weren't supposed to be a priest any more, you were supposed to have a job outside for the war effort. As Kobori Roshi and many people did do. He refused to do that, or didn't do it, or avoided doing it, and the local people used to hide food somewhere because they couldn't openly bring him food. They'd give him food. But also there are photographs of him turning all the bells – [over to the war effort – for ship propellers]
PS: I saw that at Rinsoin. His hands are crossed and he's got this look. In my mind I had the soldiers taking the bells down behind ‑‑ like a staircase ‑‑ it must have been the outside tower with a bell. But such a grim look on his face
RB: They had a ceremony where all the metal was given to the war effort.
DW: So somebody, the military, came in to take away the bells?
PS: All the temples had to give their bells up to be melted down for the war effort.
RB: The third thing is that he told me that at the end of the war he marched in peace demonstrations a number of times. I remember it being against nuclear weapons, but I'm not absolutely certain now. But that after doing it two or three times it wasn't something he felt he could continue. But he did do it, and was quite criticized by Soto people for doing it. He specifically told me this. So of course I assume it's true. And I'd be happy to argue the point with Brian Victoria.
PS: In college of course he graduated in English. And he got a certificate from the government that said you have graduated and can be an English teacher. Somehow or other he got this government certificate which said you are qualified to be an English teacher. I don't know if he took education courses or not, but he got this piece of paper. The paper's the important thing here. So after the war, everyone assumed, all the Americans assumed that all the priests were involved in war things. The American government took away his piece of paper saying he could teach English. He refused that and he fought it and fought it and they gave it back to him. He never taught English. But he refused to give up that piece of paper saying he could be an English teacher. Because they were accusing him of being like a war criminal. And he was not.
YR: That sounds like that piece of it got mixed up with this thing about he marched or protested. The story I heard is that because he protested the war somehow or another he was allowed to be a priest during the American occupation after the war. It sounds like maybe there's a conflict ‑‑
??: I've never heard this story ‑‑
YR: ‑‑ I haven't either but I wonder if it isn't an element of this other story.
RB: It could be but he very specifically said he'd walked in public in peace marches.
PS: I would think it's separate myself.
RB: I'm absolutely certain he said that.
LR: It sounds like it was post‑war anti‑nuclear demonstrations.
RB: It was post‑war.
PS: He may have also marched in the Yaizu thing too. The boats left Yaizu and went over to Bikini and there was radioactive fallout and some fishermen died. That was from his home port. I believe that's where he marched. I believe he marched in protest of the atomic tests that were killing the fishermen.
DC note: That’s right and I’m pretty sure only that one time. And it wasn’t the Sotoshu that was upset about him doing it, but just some temple members or maybe just concern of his family because there were communists in the march but he did it. I believe it was the biggest demonstration in the history of Japan.
RB: That might be the case. And he said that in support of us marching against the war. He also told me ‑‑ I think this was said in a lecture ‑‑ that when the war occurred ‑‑ after the war occurred when the Americans were victorious, and the Americans were going to come into Yaizu an ‑‑ they were completely afraid that the Americans were going to rape the women, etc, and they were going to pull the statues down of Japanese heroes or something?
DC: Chukonhi ‑‑ the memorial to Japanese war dead.
See Chukonhi in Chapter 6 of Crooked Cucumber on the war
RB: He told everyone that it would be okay and not to hide the women and to just go out and greet the Americans when they came. So when the American troops came in Yaizu was one of the few cities where all the Japanese people came out and greeted the soldiers and it created a whole different atmosphere and it was never a problem.
KT: In Yaizu or in Japan?
RB: I don't remember if it was Yaizu or Shizuoka, but I thought it was the area. But definitely it was Yaizu.
PS: Story: A friend of our was in charge of an ice cream machine of someone who had left and it was the only ice cream machine in Kyoto. In 1945. So the general of some type was coming to Kyoto. Some sergeant came to this person's house and said, "We want the ice cream machine. We're taking it for the American government." She said, "No you're not. Send me your officer." So the officer came down and they argued for a long time. So they borrowed it for one day. She said, "I'm responsible for this person's ice cream machine. I cannot give it away." So Americans were actually rather reasonable.
DC: What Brian Victoria questioned was the statement in the Introduction to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that Suzuki Roshi was the head of a pacifist organization during the war. He asked me where that came from. I said the best I can figure out is that at the time that you [RB] wrote that, that was the way we thought about it in America. What was happening here, there was a war happening here, and there were pacifist organizations here. And that you didn't know the details. You just talked to him about it and ‑‑
RB: I'm certain if I said that, he must have told me that they had some group that met several times ‑‑
DC: They did. They met in his temple before the war. They had constant meetings in his temple even during the war. Meetings with young men and young men lived there. It's very hard to figure out exactly what, because there's nothing that remains from it. And Hoitsu is so opposed and so angry at anybody saying his father did anything against the war. Suzuki Roshi said there were a lot of documents to prove it [his opposition to war, not the government, and not necessarily, surely not during the war but before it]. And that after the war he had [shown papers to prove his position and was allowed to teach or open the kindergarten and escape] the purge by doing that. So I'd say that Hoitsu is trying to find some of these documents. He'd say, "There were no documents." And I'd say, "Well your temple's full of drawers."
PW: When I was there he took a lot of the old tiny carvings of little Buddhas that people had brought there. There's like a dirt entranceway. There was a big pile of all kinds of things. He'd just burn them up. Clean the temple out. Hoitsu did this.
??: Hoitsu doesn't like it that Suzuki Roshi opposed the war?
DC: Hoitsu does not believe that he did anything to oppose the war.
DC note: He doesn’t like to hear people glorifying his father.
PS: Here's what he said. This may not be the real truth, but Suzuki Roshi thought that he was not drafted because he was against the war. His children said, oh, it's because he was so short. That was their belief.
DC: There are three different ideas on how he got out of the draft. His way of looking at it is because he had opposed Imperial Buddhism and Militarism which the Soto‑shu supported which you were talking about yesterday and they came out and apologized for. He was against that and had discussion groups in his temple. You know, Japanese talk about things so differently, and they relate to things so differently than we do, it would take a long time to figure out what sort of things they were talking about. How to translate it into how we talk ‑‑ make any sense of it. All he would say is, “I showed them the documents. If I told you what sort of things we talked about, you wouldn't understand.” It wouldn't seem like any anti‑war review. It's much more subtle than that. He said, “I was questioning [the militaristic assumptions]” and he was very quiet, he said he handed out leaflets that questioned ‑‑ the militarists who were taking over the country, questioning their line of thought, their assumptions, and whether they should just go along with them.
PS: Yeah, he was always questioning the thinking.
DC: He said, "I didn't oppose the war, I opposed the basic thinking, which is worse than war." He's down on record saying a certain number of things about that. I've interviewed some of his students from that time. It's very hard ‑‑ they said, well, no, he didn't really oppose the war, but they weren't mouthing the propaganda of government here. There was no other place like it. What happens is that we tend to express it in terms of our experience with the war in Vietnam.
PS: You couldn't have done that in Japan.
DC: There was nothing like that happening there. And he says that before the war he was more outspoken. But you know he's a pretty quiet person anyway. And they experienced him as very quiet. So what was happening before the war in the temples around there, he said had upset some people. But it hadn't upset them enough to stop him from being offered this position [to represent the Sotoshu]. There were Japanese priests who would go around giving talks. And he said he was offered this position to be a head of some sort of Soto‑shu ‑‑ some position there to support imperial Buddhism. He couldn't turn it down. It wasn't that easy. So what he did was he accepted it. Then the next day he resigned. He couldn't say no, but then when he resigned they couldn't say no. [Maybe the transcriber got this wrong and it’s Peter talking on this last part, because it was Peter who told me this. My understanding is that he accepted this position and resigned the next day.]
PS: I do remember something ‑‑ he talked about the aggression of the Japanese into Asia. Also about the Russo/Japanese War. As best I can recollect, he said that the Japanese had good reasons for expanding. They needed materials. They needed all these different things. He said when someone has a reason for doing something, usually they're wrong. He said the Japanese were wrong. They had good reasons, and they were wrong. He said they were not motivated by necessity. He said in the first war with the Russians they were motivated by necessity and they did wonderfully well. But with the aggression into China, he said it was no good. About that period, he told me that he didn't want to be in the war. He didn't want to fight. He thought it was wrong. But that he felt he should join his ‑‑ he said, "I should do what my generation does." So he went to Manchuria as a chaplain.
DC: He wasn't a chaplain. The Soto‑shu ‑‑ everything was falling apart so bad that he just called somebody on the Soto‑shu and said he wanted to go and they said, great, you can be so‑and‑so. But basically he was going as a priest on his own with people he knew that ran the whole immigration thing to Manchuria from his part.
PS: He thought he should go there for his generation, but as a priest.
DC: But he went over there to see farmers, not soldiers. To support the people from Shizuoka who had colonies in Manchuria.
DC note: He did do ceremonies, memorial ceremonies wherever there were Japanese because there were few or no priests where he went.
PS: That's interesting. He expressed it to me as his generation. His generation was going to do this and he probably should participate.
End Side A, Tape 1B
contact DC at <firstname.lastname@example.org>