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A Readers' Comments

9-09-07 - A thoughtful email received a week ago from Robert Anderson in which he expresses concern about idealizing Shunryu Suzuki.

[DC's response]

David: I was a student at ZC from January 1972 up until July of 1982 and I very much enjoy your crooked cucumber web site: I think of it as a kind of living line or web that will hopefully out live all of us, as Suzuki's lineage continues to mature and disseminate throughout various parts of American culture (whatever that might be).

I am however, experiencing some trepidation at having such an idealizing fantasy about Suzuki's legacy: My anxiety hinges upon the fact that there are many books that mention, make use of, and "seek to integrate the meaning" of that legacy in the forever burgeoning, myriad, and willy nilly future books 'on, by, and or about' Suzuki.

As a clinical psychologist, I am finding that there are now quite a few clinical texts that make some reference to Suzuki and his legacy and often these references come across as unambiguously authoritative to the intended reader. I say this in the light of a comment that Richard Baker once made about a students question on the similarity between 12 step groups, psychotherapy and Zen: '...There is a considerable difference between having an intentional community and a therapeutic community'. One of the distinctions that I believe Baker had in mind rests upon similarities between individuals who compose these respective communities and the glue that provides each with it's inherent cohesiveness. Intentional communities do not have to rely on the same cultural rules as therapeutic communities. One example, from a clinicians perspective, is evident in the theoretical differences between various schools of psychotherapy; you will find for example, that Jungian clients tend to see their experience through Jungian lenses and so on (one interesting aside is that most people who go on to become licensed psychotherapists after completing a substantial period of Zen training, tend to become "depth psychologists"-often Jungian but most likely Freudian and today one is less likely to find people choosing the so called 'transpersonalists school of psychotherapy'----I recall your interview question with Steve Weintraub about his theoretical orientation when he said that he didn't feel that he needed to go into graduate school and take psychology courses on Zen'. My impression from your interview was that he wanted something that has it's sources located deep within western tradition. I think he has an interest in interpersonalists (read American 'latter day' Freudians) like Charles Speezano or "Control Mastery Theory" (read 'latter day' Cognitive Freudians) theorists like George Silbershatz, Joe Weiss or Hal Sampson.

If I were to simplify such a complex question as to why Zen people tend to develop these types of theoretical preferences, I'd guess that choice of clinical theory has something to do with an interest in tradition and lineage. Clinicians like these seem to have a lot in common with Zen students who develop a preference for studying the Pali translation of the Abbidhama over the Sanskrit: They choose the Pali version often because it is less polished in it's philosophical language and leaves the inherent incongruities and folk wisdom intact, visible, and accessible, thus rendering the text a more transparent (authentic to the historical epoch in which it was set to writing) document.

Despite the sentiment in the observation that there are similarities between preferences of Zen students who prefer Pali texts and Buddhists who become Freudian therapists, I think that Suzuki's legacy is far too important to allow it to be co-opted by psychotherapists of any stripe and I believe that the opportunity to codify all books that make reference to his teaching ought to have a place where they can be reviewed and evaluated (Ala Michael Downing's "Shoes...") Thank you for the opportunity to muse and ramble on about this topic. All the best R.

P.S. I would love to hear from you on this topic.

Robert Anderson
Lake Oswego, OR

DC - Will comment soon. Like later today.

Next day DC's response

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