dc misc. index
Here's a brief
cuke.com interview with Huston Smith which includes links to his home page,
a letter of support for this site and work, blurbs for Crooked Cucumber, and more.
4-15-08 - Visiting Huston Smith.
I try to get by to see Huston Smith now and then and I had something to ask him so Katrinka and I went to Berkeley and met him last week. Huston will be ninety this year and he's in his new digs at a retirement home. His wife, Kendra, remains in their home where he frequently returns.
We arrived exactly on time, his door was open and as soon as it was touched he called out cheerfully, "Come on it." We did so and there he was with a big welcoming smile which we returned.
Huston's hearing is better since he had an ear operation last year. But still I don't try to do anything on the phone with him but to agree on when we'll meet. Thus I hadn't told him the final count of our delegation. In his careful, deliberate way, he first accessed the number of our party, two (Lew Richmond and Rick Levine were both occupied) and took care of seating arrangements. Katrinka could stay where she was. He had me sit in front of his computer and him with his back to the window so that he could see our faces clearly with the light on them and not in his eyes. He saw to it that the cashew and raison jar was "equidistant" from us on a stool. Huston is always thoughtful, charming, and humorous. He chooses his words precisely and with a sense of enjoyment.
He inquired about Katrinka - is she still managing the Pelican Inn? He knows that neighbor of Green Gulch Farm well and noted that Bill Moyers and family stayed there not long ago. No, she's at the Panama Hotel now.
And am I still working on Shunryu Suzuki's legacy? Yes, I said, but also on the whole story - not just his but those who were there back then as well. I reminded him that I have an interview with him on cuke and links and said that he should look at what I have on his old friend Elsie Mitchell who founded the Cambridge Buddhist Association back in 1957. I added that she had framed the letter of congratulations he had sent her for the CBA's 50th birthday last October. He said that it was at her home that he had first sat zazen - with her and DT Suzuki and Dr. Hisamatsu. [Read about all that in this interview with Elsie]
He asked how the documentary on DT Suzuki is doing and I said that the DVD was now available. He said he was most pleased with how it turned out.
I think we were praising the great anonymous Christian mystic, Pseudo Dionysius and then I was commenting and I hope not ranting about the disease of literalism. Huston said that when people ask if he thinks that various holy texts are literally true he uses the diplomatic phrase, "something like that" and he told this story.
He and Saul Bellow were good friends and Huston was telling Bellow one day how wonderfully he described things. Huston used the example of a scene in a Bellow book where a man takes another man out on a steel girder way atop a building under construction, takes out three hundred dollar bills, makes them into paper airplanes, and sails them away. Huston told Bellow he felt like he was right there with them and asked, "Did that really happen?" Bellow answered, "Something like that."
We were talking about spiritual practice and spiritual institutions and trying to get things done with institutions and how mind boggling it can be and he told a story about a man who reached for truth.
Back to the the story of the man who reached for truth with some embellishment from me because I can't remember exactly how he told it but it was a lot shorter than this. I'll print this up and give it to him and ask him to correct it or approve it and maybe he'll know the source.
There was a man who had been tangling with the devil. He told his friend that he could not get the best of the devil no matter how hard he tried. His friend and he talked and talked about how to beat the devil and decided that talking and thinking would not help to beat the devil, that the only way was to have at least some truth - but truth was so high, how could one ever reach that high? Surely there was no way to beat the devil. But the man did not give up. He bid his friend to come with him and, wearing a large backpack, walked to the highest mountain in the area where they lived. The man climbed the mountain and his friend followed him. When he got to the very top, he opened up his backpack and took out a bottle of water from which they both drank. His friend said that the backpack was awfully large and inquired what else could be inside it? The man took out a telescoping stool he had built just for this occasion. He opened the stool up and, climbing on the shoulders of his friend managed to stand on the top of it, his friend holding onto this unique stool so that it wouldn't fall and bring his friend tumbling down with it. Now on top of the stool, the man stood on his tiptoes and reached as high as he could. He still could not reach the truth so with all his might he leaped up as high as he could go and indeed he did grab a bit of the truth and held on tightly to it as he came crashing down to the ground. He had it! At least he had a bit of the truth! Surely it would be enough to beat the devil. He rejoiced. Just then the devil walked up smiling. The man's friend told the Devil that now the man had a bit of the truth with which he could be the Devil. The Devil continued to smile.
"Why are you smiling?" asked the man's friend. "Now he has at least a small part of the truth. Aren't you worried?"
"No, I'm not worried," said the Devil."
"Why not?" asked the man's friend.
"I'll suggest to him that he build an institution around it," said the Devil.
I got to run - more on the visit with Huston soon. - dc
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