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About Suzuki Roshi
[This section is about the work going on at the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) to get Suzuki-roshi's lectures in order and preserved, the tapes and the transcripts. I have worked a lot in this area too, but the area I'm concentrating on is the oral history of those who met Suzuki, of folks whose lives he touched.--DC]
Winter Solstice-December 22, 1998
Greetings and happy holidays to you and your loved ones.
As you may know, I've been working on a biography of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi - actually for six years, having started while I was still working on Thank You and OK! The book will be called Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki. The publishing date is February 9, my birthday.
One reason it took me so long is that I got quite involved in collecting the oral history surrounding Suzuki-roshi and generally in working on an archive centered on his life and teaching. A most inspiring part of this was studying his lectures. I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months reading transcripts and listening to tapes of his talks. In doing so I met the man, Buddhism, myself, something wonderful anew.
As a natural result of this study I got involved in working on this archive with Michael Wenger at the San Francisco Zen Center, and with other groups and individuals in Suzuki's lineage. The work I have been doing is just a part of a renaissance of interest in Suzuki-roshi's teaching. The SFZC has, for instance, already spent over thirty thousand dollars making a complete archival back-up and catalogue of Suzuki-roshi's lecture tapes. Michael Wenger, then the president of Zen Center and now Dean of Buddhist Studies there, made this a top priority. Alan Watts's son Mark made the copies at his professional studio, and a Zen student named Bill Redican donated many long hours day after day for several years to see that this work was done according to the highest standards. Bill has a PhD in psychology and has for years written and edited technical books and produced instructional videos.
Seeing to the preservation of Suzuki-roshi's lecture tapes was, however, just a first step. On a trial basis, Zen Center has hired Bill Redican full-time to go through all the Suzuki-roshi lecture tapes to create a complete set of verbatim transcripts, something that has never existed. Of course much excellent work has been done by a number of people in the past but this project will be a quantum leap. Several years ago, Jose Escobar in North Carolina, put all the transcribed and edited versions of Suzuki-roshi lectures on disk (adding some versions already on disk). Carefully checking these against the tapes, Bill began this fall to compile a set of master transcriptions. He is already more than half-way through one year, the last year, 1971.
There's more work that needs to be done even on those lectures - getting the Buddhist and Japanese references, the Japanese and even English words right, and having others double-check Bill's work. Of the approximately 400 lecture tapes, 80 have never been transcribed, some were only partially transcribed, and almost all of the existing transcripts have errors, omissions, and even additions. And every now and then a missing tape or transcript pops up to add to the archive.
Bill has taken a significant salary cut to do this work, and I consider it of utmost importance to see that he completes it. He estimates it will take him about two years to finish the task at a total estimated cost of $108,000.
Having a well-printed, well-presented, accurate, complete set of unedited Suzuki-roshi lectures will be a treasure for students of Buddhism in the future and will encourage further study of Suzuki-roshi's teaching by his disciples in the few years that remain for us. Many new edited versions of his lectures will surely result from this work.
At the May 1998 Sati Conference on Shunryu Suzuki, Suzuki's disciple Peter Schneider gave a report on the discrepancy between existing transcripts and the original tapes and urged the Zen Center to rectify the situation. At the August meeting of the Suzuki-roshi disciples, support for this project was the foremost topic. It's really something that unites the disciples and all others interested in Suzuki-roshi's legacy.
It has taken so many years for the Zen Center to commit to doing this job thoroughly, not in piecemeal, and I regard this fact as being partly a healthy sign. Although his students loved and respected him completely, there has not been a cult of Suzuki. He taught us to forget him and depend on ourselves. But ours is neither an anti-intellectual lineage nor one that abandons the details of the material world. The time has come again to add some form to the emptiness.
A few people have made generous donations to Zen Center to see this project along. My wife Elin agreed that this work was important and so we have donated one thousand dollars toward its completion. I hope that you can join us in supporting this most worthy task by sending a tax-deductible donation to Zen Center at 300 Page Street, SF CA 94102, stipulating the Archive Project.
May the new year bring you health and happiness,David Chadwick
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