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To Shine One Corner of the World:
Moments with Shunryu Suzuki

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Here are a few vignettes not used in the book for one reason or another. I remembered most of the sources off the top of my head. The rest are followed by the note [source to come] and I'll get them in here when I get to it. - DC


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Once at the Oakland Museum, Suzuki Roshi was admiring a densho, a hanging bell used in Zen temples. He asked a guard if he could hit it to see what it sounded like but, after some further inquiry, was told he could not. Later, on his way out he bumped into the bell, as if by accident, and was quite pleased with the sound it made. After that, futile efforts were made to get the bell as a long term loan to the Zen Center. - Lanier Grahame

[I just got this story - since To Shine was finished. - DC]

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I remember he used to say that every teaching of every Buddha was really for that moment at that place for those people or that person and that it's imperfect. It's even imperfect at that moment - but it's close to perfect. - Toni McCarty (formerly Johansen)

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One day he invited me into his office to have some tea and asked me what I was doing. I said I'm building a subway between SF and Berkeley. He burst out laughing and said, "That's a long way to go by hammer. - Larry Hansen

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A senior student suggested to Suzuki that he learn to drive so that he wouldn't be dependent on others to get to appointments and go shopping in the city.

"I don't ever want to be alone," he said. - Richard Baker

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I told him I was going to Japan.

He replied, "You must not."

I inquired "Why?"

He then replied, "Because you don't know who you are." - Sue Satermo

 

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When I first saw Suzuki Roshi I said, "I've got this problem. I don't understand marriage, sex, and love. I've been married three times and had six abortions. It seems like I could love anybody, or be married to anybody, yet I can't seem to stay married to anybody."

 

He said, looking shocked, "Even me?!" - Sue Satermo

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "There is double difficulty for new students. Older students should help new students, make practice easier for beginners. There is also double difficulty for older students." - Rick Levine

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Suzukiís wife, said that her husband was so single-minded and paid her so little attention that one day as he was preparing a lecture at Sokoji, she said to him: "I have a boyfriend."

"Good, bring him over," he told her. "I want to make sure he's right for you." - Mitsu Suzuki

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Student: Does a dog have Buddha nature?

Suzuki: Yes.

- DC

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During one of Suzuki Roshi's last visits to Tassajara in 1971, he gave a very intense short talk in which he stood up from sitting on his zafu and even paced around a bit on the platform beside the altar. All I can remember is he paused and said with great conviction, "I want disciples who will follow me through life and death!" [Source to come]

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At one of the lectures he told about how he'd been invited to a college class to talk about Zen. "They ask me all kind of questions! 'When you talk about reality, do you mean phenomena, or the noumena behind the phenomena?' I don't know how to answer!" Suzuki laughed as if it was the biggest joke he'd ever heard. "I just had to tell them that that is not our way." [Source to come]

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One evening in the early sixties, Suzuki started off a lecture by saying, "I've come here to destroy your mind."

Eventually he made it clear he meant the small mind, but it was a chilling statement to many who were present. - Mike Dixon

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A student who had been promiscuous told Suzuki about all the women he'd been with and asked, "Is that okay?"

Suzuki said, "Only if you remember the name of each one." - Mel Weitsman about Alan Marlowe

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He repeatedly told me that what we've got to do is to establish an American Zen. He's Japanese, and so am I, but he wanted to establish an American Zen, whatever that turned out to be. - Seiyo Tsuji

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "We practice Zen so we can enjoy our old age." - DC

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A student took Suzuki and Katagiri to a planetarium in San Francisco one afternoon. Suzuki slept through the whole show and had to be awakened when the lights came back on, while Katagiri paid attention. Back on the street, the student asked them both how they liked it.

"Very interesting" said Katagiri.

"Wonderful" said Suzuki.

"But you slept through the whole thing!"

We all three looked at each other and burst out laughing at the same moment. - Irene Horowitz

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Once I was sitting on the front steps of Zen Center where another very serious student was sweeping the sidewalk. Across the street a small six or seven year old black girl was dancing and singing "Yeah, yeah," along with a blaring radio out a second story window. The student who was sweeping turned to me and said, half-jokingly, "I don't know if I can fit this into my practice."

 

At that moment the front door to the building opened, Suzuki Roshi stepped out, roared at the top of his lungs, spun around, and disappeared into the building. - Elizabeth Sawyer

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A student started to ask a question with, "I am curious to know..."

Suzuki cut him off. "Don't say 'curious to know.'" - DC

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Two students were serving tea and a snack of Greek olives for Suzuki and a visiting teacher from Japan. A plate was placed in the center of the room for everyoneís olive pits. During the meeting, the students watched as Suzuki picked up any pits with olive meat remaining and, one by one, cleaned them all off with his teeth. - Lewis Richmond

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When I arrived at Bush Street to meet Suzuki Roshi I had on a bright orange largeĖbrimmed floppy straw hat, purple aviator glasses, enormous hoop earrings, beads with bells, flowers, feathers, and shoes straight out of the Wizard of Oz. My sister was similarly attired. We exchanged quizzical glances over the dark and serious atmosphere of the Buddhist church, but when Suzuki Roshi saw us, his face lit up.

He gave us both some instruction in zazen and we sat together for a few minutes. Then he looked at us with a grin and said, "When you continue meditation, the more you come to understand life, the more you will see that life is suffering."

We nodded as if we understood, and hurried out to the street.

We didnít like what he said about suffering, but knew the smile was genuine. Although I was deep in a fog of confusion, some clarity began to enter my world - [Source to come]

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Towards the end of a period of zazen at Tassajara Suzuki suddenly leaped off the dais and whacked a student on the shoulder saying "Don't look at the clock!"

Later the student told Suzuki that he was looking at the clock because it was his responsibility to ring the bell at the end of zazen.

"I made a mistake. Iím so sorry," Suzuki said. - Niels Holm

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "I think that when I die I would like to be a mountainóbut I am not so attached to my desires." [Source to come]

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Every now and then Suzuki would say, "Sometimes I'm the teacher and you're the student, and sometimes you're the teacher and I'm the student." - DC

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Once when Suzuki was quite sick and being helped to a bed, he said, "Now I can be a little child, I don't have to be a Zen Master." - Rick Levine

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Suzuki Roshi and I were walking down a path at Tassajara where there's an old slide of sandstone and granite on the steep hillside.

"There's a rock I like," he said. It was not a river rock like the ones he usually went for. "Come on let's go get it."

He ran impetuously up the hill kicking loose rocks down on me. I followed him up a ways until we lost our footing and were dancing downhill in a new slide. He lost his sandals in there. I couldn't understand why he'd do something like that. - Jake Fishman

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Suzuki and his senior student were on the East Coast sharing the same hotel room. The student gave Suzuki a book to look at. Later he woke up and noticed that Suzuki wasn't in his bed. There was a light on in the bathroom. He found Suzuki in there sitting on the toilet reading. He hadn't wanted to disturb his student's sleep. - Edo Tai Shimano

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When I first started doing serious casting I went to Suzuki Roshi and said I'd like to make a bronze bell for Tassajara. He looked at me and said, "What does the bell sound like?"

I thought about it for a minute and said, "Gee, I don't really know. What should it sound like?"

"Deep," he said, with a deep voice. - Jack van Allen

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One day Suzuki Roshi was up at the altar getting ready to perform a service. He was adjusting some of the many memorial tablets for the Japanese American congregation. Suddenly the whole bunch came down like an avalanche. He turned to face us, smiling happily, and pointed to his head as if to say, yes, my mind wanders; it's no big deal. - Stan White

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At a Zen Center picnic in Golden Gate Park, when Suzuki arrived in his robes, a baby blanket on the ground caught his eye. He lay down on it, rolled up in it and just lay there a while. - Stephen Gaskin [Gaskin on cuke]

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Katagiri Sensei's son Yasuhiko had just started kindergarten. Suzuki asked him how school was going. "Oh, school is terrible," Yasuhiko answered.

"What's wrong?" Suzuki asked.

"Other children say, 'Your father is bald.'"

Suzuki told him to shut his eyes and said, "Touch my head." Yasuhiko did so and Suzuki said, "See, my head is bald, but you can feel the hair. So tell your friends, 'My father isn't bald. If you touch his head you can feel he has hair.'" [Source to come]

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A student went to Suzuki and invited him and his wife to go for a sail on The Bay in the middle of winter.

"I'll ask Okusan", he said. "Call me Friday and I'll tell you what she says."

On Friday, Roshi told him, "I asked Okusan, but I'm sorry, she got sick."

"Oh, that's too bad. What's the trouble?"

"I don't know; maybe it's seasickness."

An awkward polite silence. Then, "Well, maybe you can come without her?"

"I can't," said Roshi quickly, "I have to stay home and take care of her." [Source to come]

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Suzuki told an old Chinese folk tale about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell everyone has very short arms. They sit around tables full of sumptuous food, trying to eat with very long chopsticks, but they can't get the food in their mouths because the chopsticks are too long and their arms too short. They try in agony to feed themselves, to no avail.

In heaven everyone also has short arms, but they are feeding each other across the table and having a lovely time. - DC

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Once, taking a walk by the creek with a group of students, Suzuki came upon the two inseparable young women friends who were skinny-dipping. One called out that the day was so hot and the creek looked so cool that they just had to jump in. Suzuki shook his finger at them and said, "Remember, you're two fishes, not one." - Daya Goldschlag

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An enthusiastic new arrival asked Suzuki Roshi if he could move into the temple to be closer to Suzuki. Nobody had lived there but the Suzukis.

"That would be good," Suzuki said, "but it would make the other students jealous. So why don't you come to the temple before morning zazen and we'll clean together?"

For some weeks he joined Suzuki at 4:15, and they cleaned the zendo and halls and bathrooms till 4:45, when people began to arrive for zazen. They vacuumed, mopped, and dusted.

One morning as they were cleaning Suzuki excused himself. Suddenly there came a sound of knocking and then a voice calling in Japanese. Suzuki was in the bathroom by his office, brushing what teeth he had left. He went out to the stairway to see what the racket was. He and the student tried to locate the source of the ever-increasing pounding and yelling.

Suzuki opened the door to the basement. There was Okusan, full of fury, screaming at him. She'd been locked in all night. The women's club had met the night before, and they had gone around and locked up too thoroughly before they left. She'd been taking a bath, while Suzuki was upstairs reading. Finally he'd gone to sleep not noticing that she wasn't back. He even got up in the middle of the night to pee as always, not noticing that she wasn't in her bed and her sandals weren't at the door. She yelled at him machine-gun fashion. Suzuki realized what had happened and began to laugh. He laughed so hard that foam from the toothpaste ran down from his mouth onto his kimono. The new student got out of there. - Robert Front (Roovane ben Yumin)

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "Our way is to practice one step at a time, one breath at a time, with no gaining idea." - DC

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "Enlightenment is not any particular stage that you attain." - DC

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "Buddhism is transmitted from warm hand to warm hand." - DC

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Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "Encouraged by trumpets, guns, and war cries, it is quite easy to die. That kind of practice is not our practice." - DC

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Shortly before he died Suzuki said to a student, "What I needed to do in my life has been done." [Source to come]

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