Acquiring the Beginner's Mind Draft

DC Remembers. - In October of 1995 I interviewed Toni, an early student of Shunryu Suzuki. She was one of the original group that sat zazen in Redwood City at Tim Burkett's, the group which soon began meeting at Marian Derby's home in Los Altos. Toni often picked up Suzuki at his temple, Sokoji, in San Francisco, drove him to Los Altos on Thursdays early for zazen, his lecture, and informal coffee and treat get-together afterwards.

Toni was there for his talks that Marian recorded and transcribed, talks that comprised all but one of the chapters in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind published in 1970 by Weatherhill, subtitled Informal Talks on Zen Practice and Meditation. Toni, her husband Tony and their kids spent a lot of time at Tassajara in the first summers. They lived for a while next door to the new Page Street City Center in 1970, and then moved to Santa Barbara where they were involved with a Zen group. I'd hear something about them now and then. At some point I heard they'd broken up.

I can't remember where the interview happened, how I got hold of Toni or she got hold of me. That was twenty years ago. It could be it was over the phone though I avoided that when possible. I can hear her voice when I read the interview and remember her person clearly. She's short, has a high, innocent-sounding voice. But she wasn't a helpless lamb. She'd become a lawyer. And her memory was sharp and served her well in the story-telling. She'd had some problems, mental or emotional that she vaguely referred to outside of the interview.

And she mentioned that she had a copy of Marian Derby's original manuscript, Beginner's Mind. I sat up straighter. Marian had given it to her for feedback. I told her I remembered looking at that back in 67 or so at Tassajara when Marian had just finished it, but I didn't recall seeing one since. It evolved into the book and was forgotten. Toni said it was her most prized possession. I asked if I could see it and she was quiet and then softly said, "Later maybe."

I was in the early stages of gathering together all the Shunryu Suzuki lectures I could find in transcript or audio form. Now on and there are over forty lectures in apparently close to verbatim form from Marian's Haiku Zendo in Los Altos, but in 1995 I'd found almost nothing other than the chapters within Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Checking the chart on Suzuki lectures, only one transcript appears to have been available then. All but two of the audio tapes were and still are missing. I was pretty sure that the lectures in Marian's draft would be minimally edited.

After a while I called Toni up with some follow-up questions and, among the questions, suggested we get together so that I could make a photocopy of that draft. I can hear her distant-sounding, melancholy voice now slowly answering, "I don't know, David." A pause. "It's all I have left of Reverend Suzuki."

I pointed out that she'd still have it, that she'd then be sharing it with others, surely many others over the years who would be most grateful to her. It took several months for her finally to say she was ready to show it to me.

I invited her to a lunch at Greens, the San Francisco Zen Center's gourmet vegetarian restaurant in the Marina district with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Toni agreed and said she'd bring the manuscript with her. I picked her up at noon in the Mission district of San Francisco. She was waiting in front of a cheap hotel where she had a room. She carried a handbag large enough to hold the manuscript. I got a window table and a bottle of Chalone Chardonnay. Didn't ask about the manuscript. We talked. She talked a lot - about her past and problems and children who'd grown up. We shared pasta with creamy cheese, spinach salad with roasted walnuts and hot olive oil, pumpkin soup, brochettes, and another bottle of wine, probably a step down from Chalone. We sat there for two hours and finished the feast off with espresso and tripple chocolate cake.

Over desert she pulled out the manuscript. As I see it now, or at least as I imagine it now, it was in a blue heavy paper binder like I used in school, typed on standard-sized paper. I think it was a photocopy of the original, could have been a mimeograph. "Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki" on the cover. A cover page inside with that and "Edited by Marian Derby." A table of contents. Only thirteen lectures starting with Beginner's Mind - one third the number of talks used in the final book. It was in good condition. She put it back in the bag and we got up to go. We were pretty out-of-it.

At my suggestion, we wandered out across Marina Blvd. to the Safeway where I bought some Drum tobacco. We went back to sit by the bay, smoke the hand rolled cigarettes, and watch the boats bobbing in the marina.

She nodded toward the Golden Gate Bridge and said, "I went there to jump off."

I gasped slightly and then with a sympathetic and sincere sigh told her I was glad she obviously didn't.

"You know why I didn't?"


"I remembered this Beginner's Mind. I thought maybe it's the only remaining copy and it's back in my hotel room. And if I jump now, it will surely be lost. So I went back to take care of it."

We walked over to a Kinkos right across a side street from the Safeway. I copied the manuscript, gave her the original back, and drove her to her hotel. I don't remember any contact since then. Toni's husband from the early days died recently and I made an attempt to get in touch with their children but never heard back. I don't know where or if Toni is now.

Thanks Victor Sergeyeve for urging me to write this and reminding me multiple times. - dc


Beginner's Mind - a retyping of Marian Derby's original draft manuscript. - thanks Toni

1995 cuke interview with Toni   &  the cuke page for ZMBM

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