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Memories of Shunryu Suzuki

Gordon has done a great deal of work on the Suzuki lectures, sending me corrections, creating many light edits here on cuke.com and on shunryusuzuki.com. He has translated Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Not Always So into Norwegian. For the later translation he asked the SFZC if he could refer to the original lectures and was refused so I sent him a floppy with the transcript archive. This wouldn't go in Reader's Comments now but back then in 1999 cuke was under a different organizational matrix. Now it's linked to from Interviews- dc


11/02/99--from Gordon Geist: 

Thank you for “Crooked Cucumber.” I am also grateful for your web site, and particularly in the interviews you have put there.

It was great to get some background info on the man who was perhaps the most important person in my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was at Zen Center for a couple of years, from ’64 when he was still sensei, and he was not special. This quality of “not special” was most striking in retrospect and I guess what made him so endearing.

I remember after sitting, before he left the zendo to go into his office and receive everyone, he would say “Thank you for your effort.” I thought it was so strange that he thanked everyone for their effort.

My first meeting with him was one Saturday afternoon when I wandered in. I had heard that there was a Zen master in SF and looked him up. Don’t know how I found the address, but there I was. Suzuki came out of his office and asked me what I wanted. I said that I was interested in Zen. He then proceeded to give me a five-minute introduction to the sitting posture, and told me that I could come to sit at 05:45 the next morning. I turned up and was struck by the silent reception as I entered the zendo. Suzuki bowed as I entered, but otherwise, nobody moved at all. It was striking, since I had the distinct feeling that everybody was aware of my entering. In any other gathering, heads would have turned.

Something kept me coming back. At the time I was struggling with a personal problem, which surfaced in the silence. Also, since there was nothing to assimilate, no teachings to master, nothing to become familiar with, there was nothing to preoccupy myself with and there was no keeping it down. I had spent two years in Europe, returning early in 1963. I had been together with a Norwegian girl in Paris prior to returning, and she went back to Norway—pregnant. However, I was grateful to have seemingly gotten off the hook of parental responsibility. After all, I was not ready! (When does one become ready for anything?)

At some point, the thought occurred to me that if I had any intention of ever having a family, perhaps I should take responsibility for the child that I was already father to. I remember that Suzuki was the first person I tried the idea on. His response was simple and direct: “She will help you.” That was all I needed to hear. I knew what I had to do.

I went home to my parents, who lived in Northern California, to announce the fact that I planned to get married. When they asked who it was, I told them, “The mother of my daughter!” I had fun with that one. Anyway, six months later, my wife to be arrived in SF, and we were married in June 1966. I had wanted to have Suzuki perform the wedding. We went to visit him once, and I remember him offering my daughter some cherries. My wife to be wasn’t so keen on the idea of a Buddhist wedding, and I quickly realized that it could easily estrange family members, so we were married in Grace Cathedral in an Episcopal ceremony. I don’t think I ever asked Suzuki about performing the wedding. Didn’t get that far!

After that, my attendance at ZC was more and more sporadic, since I was working more on my relation with my wife. In 1969, with two children, we decided to move to Norway, since my wife was homesick and I was fed up. When we got here, I realized that there were no Zen masters in Norway, but I continued to sit on my own. I had brought my zafu, and received copies of the Wind Bell. I ordered a copy of “Zen mind, Beginner’s Mind” when it came out, and used many years to get through it. When Suzuki died in 1971, I thought, “Well, that is the end of that chapter!”

In 1985, my wife happened to see a little announcement in a local paper for a sesshin with a Zen master. That is how I came back to practice with a Zen master: Joshu Sasaki Roshi from Mt. Baldy. He was in Norway in 1984 (before my time) and 1986. After that, he only made one annual visit to Austria for a sesshin with one of his senior disciples, Genro Koudela Osho, who had returned to his native Austria in 1979 after many years in the States. From that time on, I have gone to the sesshin in Austria with Sasaki every year.

The sesshins in Norway were held by a Zen group which had existed for many years, unbeknownst to me. Since then, I have been practicing with them, but that is another story!

In 1989, inspired by the Dalai Lama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, I decided to work on translating “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” to Norwegian. I worked on it for six years, and with the help of several Norwegians who fixed my poor language, had it published in 1996. That was a fantastic way to work with Suzuki. Since then, I have read everything I have come over about the man. I have read a good deal of Zen and Buddhist literature in the course of the past 15 years, but there is something very special about words from Suzuki. I guess I am a bit touched in the head!

Thank you again!


In the same month Gordon wrote:

From Gordon Geist in Norway: I ordered CC last March from Amazon and had it sent by air at added expense because I couldn't wait to get it. No sooner did I have it in my hands than I happened by the bookstore in Oslo which is most up to date on alternative literature. Lo and behold, there was a big pile of CC at a much lower price that I had paid! I have been used to them having ZMBM on the shelves for many years, and it moves. Just shows that the buyer is awake!

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