Subscribe to Our Newsletter




Painting of Maestoso II Catrina ridden by Shana Ritter. Painting by Janey Belozer.




Thomas and Shana Ritter perform a Pas-de-Deux to Music during the 2007 Open House Performance, aboard the Lipizzan stallions, Favory Toscana-18 and Conversano Mima. Photo by Amelia Gagliano.

Shunryu Suzuki
(previously published as ZenQuotes #3)
- by Shana Ritter

©2000 - All Rights Reserved

Shunryu Suzuki, the author of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," brought Soto Zen (one of the two main sects of Zen Buddhism, emphasizing "just sitting" or silent illumination meditation and its application to everyday activity) to the West. When confused with D.T. Suzuki, who brought Rinzai Zen (the other main sect of Zen Buddhism, emphasizing vigorous dynamic style and systematic koan study) to the West, Shunryu Suzuki once said, in his typically humble manner, "No, he's the big Suzuki, I'm the little Suzuki."

Huston Smith, the well-known Professor of Philosophy at the Massachesetts Institute of Technology, wrote in the Preface to 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind':

"Two Suzukis. A half-century ago, in a transplant that has been likened in its historical importance to the Latin translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century and Plato in the fifteenth, Daisetz Suzuki brought Zen to the West single-handed. Fifty years later, Shunryu Suzuki did something almost as important. In this his only book, here issued for the first time in paperback, he sounded exactly the follow-up note Americans interested in Zen needed to hear.

"Whereas Daisetz Suzuki's Zen was dramatic, Shunryu Suzuki's is ordinary. Satori was focal for Daisetz, and it was in large part the fascination of the extraordinary state that made his writings so compelling. In Shunryu Suzuki's book the words satori and kensho, its near-equivalent, never appear.

"When, four months before his death, I had the opportunity to ask him why satori didn't figure in his book... he said simply, 'It's not that satori is unimportant, but its not the part of Zen that needs to be stressed.'

'Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki,' by David Chadwick, a disciple of Shunryu Suzuki, chronicles Suzuki-roshi's life as a Buddhist priest in Japan, and then as the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Retreat in California, as well as abbot of many related zen groups. Full of warm antidotes and glimpses into his life, his story is an engaging tale.

Although not directly relative to dressage in particular, these stories of a Zen master provide an inspiring anthology that are relevant to life, and therefore to every aspect of life. It doesn't take incredible creativity to see the analogies between the lessons learned about ourselves through the discipline of dressage and the overall lessons we have to learn in life. They are often one and the same. So, for those that enjoy this perspective on dressage, I offer these passages from 'Crooked Cucumber.'


David Chadwick writes about Suzuki-roshi, (page xii):

"He came with no plan, but with the confidence that some Westerners would embrace the essential practice of Buddhism as he had learned it from his teachers. He had a way with things - plants, rocks, robes, furniture, walking, sitting - that gave a hint of how to be comfortable in the world. He had a way with people that drew them to him, a way with words that made people listen, a genius that seemed to work especially in America and especially in English."

(page xiii):

"He had a fresh approach to living and talking about life, enormous energy, formidable presence, an infectious sense of humor, and a dash of mischief."

(page xiii):

"From the time he was a new monk at age thirteen, Suzuki's master, Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, called him Crooked Cucumber. Crooked Cucumbers were useless: farmers would compost them; children would use them for batting practice. So-on told Suzuki he felt sorry for him, because he would never have any good disciples. For a long time it looked as though So-on was right. Then Crooken Cucumber fulfilled a lifelong dream. He came to America, where he had ,amu students and died in the full bloom of what he had come to do. His twelve and a half years here profoundly changed his life and the lives of many others."

(page xiiii):

"On a mild Tuesday afternoon in August of 1993 I had an appointment with Shunryu Suzukis's widow of almost twenty-two years, Mitsu Suzuki."

...

"I was a little nervous. I needed to talk to her, and although there wouldn't be much time, I didn't want to rush. What I sought was her blessing."

...

"After some polite chitchat about family members, and about a book I'd written, I brought up the purpose of my visit."

" 'Some publisher may be interested in... it has been suggested to me that I... might.... um... write some on Suzuki-roshi. Collect the oral history - stories about Suzuki-roshi, people's memories.'

" 'Oh, thank you for writing about Hojo-san,' she said, with the pitch ascending on the thank. Hojo-san is what she always called her husband. Hojo is the abbot of a temple; san is a polite form of address.

" 'So you really think it's okay for me to do a book on Suzuki-roshi? '

" 'Oh,yes, yes,' she said emphatically. 'Tell many funny stories.'

" 'Umm... funny stories, yest... but not just funny. Serious and sad ones, too, everything, right? '

" 'Yes, but people like the funny stories. Mainly you should tell funny stories. That will be good. Hojo-san liked funny storeies. Everyone will be very happy to read them.'

" 'There may be some people who don't hink I should do the book.'

"She sat back down across the table from me and looked directly at me. 'When I speak now, it is Suzuki-roshi's voice coming through my mouth and he says, 'Please write a book about me and thank you very much for writing a book about me.' Those are his words, I speak for him.'

" It was time to go. She offered me a green metallic frog that fit in the palm of my hand. 'Here, take this,' she said. 'It belonged to Hojo-san. He would be very happy for you to have it. He loved frogs very much,' she said, drawing out the first syllable of very. 'I'm giving everything away. When I go back to Japan I go like the cicada. It leaves its shell behind. I will do that too.'

...

" 'Remember,' she said, 'tell many funny stories.' Then, 'Why would anyone not want you to do a book about Hojo-san?'

" 'Various reasons. You know that he didn't want anything like that. It would be impossible not to misrepresent him. And you know what Noiri-roshi said over twenty years ago?' Noiri was a colleague of Suzuki's, a strict and traditional priest, now old and revered.

" 'No, what did Noiri-san say?'

" 'That Suzuki-roshi was one of the greatest Japanese of this century and that no one should write about him who doesn't know all of his samadhis [deep states of meditation].'

" 'Good!' she said clapping, with delight in her voice. 'There is your first funny story!' "

(page 3-4):

"... on May 18, 1904, Yone Suzuki gave birth to a baby boy. Her husband, Sogaku, priest of the temple (Shoganji, a small four-hundred year old temple on a hill above the village of Tsuchisawa, on the edge of the city of Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture), gave his first-born son the name Shunryu, using the written characters for Excellent and Emerging, a rather formal Buddhist name full of high expectations."

(page 4):

"As a child, Shunryu Suzuki was called Toshitaka - Toshi for short. Toshitaka is the old Japanese way of pronouncing the characters that make up Shunryu, with a softer and more casual feeling."

...

"Toshi began his six years of compulsory education in April 1910, when he was almost six. It was at school that he became aware that his family was uncommonly poor. Most people wore zori, straw sandals with a dividing cord between the first two toes. When the cord broke on one, children would throw away both. Toshi would take the good ones home and make new pairs. Unwilling to spend money on a set of hair clippers, his father would shave Toshi's head like his own. All the boys at school had short-clipped hair, but not shaved heads."

(page 5-6):

"Sogaku made candles for the temple from an iron mold. He would pour extras, and when he had a good load he would walk five miles to Ohisa City to sell them. On the way back he would pick up discarded vegetables from the roadside, storing them in a bag he carried. It wasn't just because he was poor that Sogaku did this. It was his way. His son would talk about it half a century later.

"There was a creek in front of my father's temple, and many rotten old vegetables would float down from higher up the mountain. Farmers and other people would throw them away. They were vegetable-like things, not exactly vegetables! [laughing] They might have been good for compost, not for eating. But as soon as he'd find them he'd cook them up and say, 'Everything has buddha nature. You should not throw anything away!' Wherever he went, he talked about how valuable food is and how you shouldn't throw it away."

(page 7):

"Toshi especially liked to help his father move stones into place around the temple and in the rock garden. He was friend to stones, rivulets, plants, beetles, worms, and butterflies. He'd sit beyond the oak trees on the low stone fence around the ohaka (graveyard, place where remains, usually ashes, of the dead are interred) at dusk waiting for foxes, tanuki (Japanese raccoons), deer, and rodents. Massaging his mother's back in the evening, he told her and his siblings of his plans to build a zoo next to the temple; he wanted a train from the town below to run up to it, so that many people could come to visit the animals.

"In Spring when the rice fields were flooded and the frogs' ubiquitous croaking filled the air, children would dally and play on their way home from school. Some of the boys liked to catch frogs, insert straws into their anuses, and blow them up till they popped. When he first saw this Toshi (Shunryu Suzuki's name as a child) flew into a rage, but that didn't help - the other boys were all bigger than he. So he devised a scheme. As soon as school was out Toshi would be off and running ahead with a long stick, knocking at the banks of the rice paddies, yelling and trying to scare his amphibious friends into hiding."

(page 8:)

"Every little treat the children got, every piece of clothing they had to wear, they cherished. They appreciated it when, after a heavy winter snow, their father went down to school to walk them home. They loved it on a hot summer afternoon when he filled the outdoor iron bathtub with cold water for them to play in. And sometimes he would have a special gift for Toshi.

"The shirtlike garment of the samurai is called a hakama. Boys wore hakama for special ceremonies at school. Toshi's mother hadn't found time to make him one, so he felt left out on ceremonial days. In December of 1912 there was to be a very important ceremony at Toshi's school to welcome in the new emperor and his era, Taisho, Great Righteousness.

"The day before the ceremony Sogaku came home with a new hakama for his son. Excited, Toshi put it on, just as he'd seen his friends do. Sogaku insisted he'd done it incorrectly and retied the sash in a formal and old-fashioned way. None of the boys did it that way. Next morning, as soon as he passed through the temple gate, Toshi stopped and rearranged his hakama. Then he heard something behind him. Turning he saw his father furiously running toward his waving a stick. Toshi ran away as fast as he could."

(page 10):

"Snuggled up in the evening with his brother and sisters, Toshi often asked his mother to repeat a story about a famous mythical Japanese warrior, a story he would pass on to his students, his dharma children, sixty years later.

"People may say that the Japanese are very tough, but that is just one side of the Japanese personality. The other side is softness. Because of their Buddhist background they have been trained that way for a long time. The Japanese people are very kind. My mother used to sing a song that describes a hero called Momo Taro, the Peach Boy. An old couple lived near the riverside. One day the old woman picked up a peach from the stream, and out of the peach came Momo Taro. He was very strong but kind and gentle - the ideal Japanese folk hero. Without a soft mind you cannot be really strong."

(page 13):

"At elementary school Toshi had a teacher he greatly admired, who encouraged him to be strong and rise above sentimentalism. Toshi had doubts about being ordained by his father, who had no monks in training anymore. His father, though very dear to him, seemed a little weak. He often complained about losing his temple, saying he should never have left. And he was too attached to his son. Toshi just couldn't see him as a teacher.

"My father took care of me too well, so here in my heart I always felt some family feeling, too much emotion, too much love. My teacher at grammar school warned me about this kind of thing. He always said, 'You should be tough.'

"Shunryu was always at the top of his class. His teacher told him that he should grow up to be a great man and that the way to be a great man was not to avoid difficulties but to use them to develop one's greatness.

"He said there were no great people in that area because the local people wouldn't go to Tokyo to study hard, and didn't have the courage to leave. He said if we wanted to be successful, we had to get out of Kanagawa prefecture. So I determined to get out.

"Toshi had made the first two critical decisions of his life by age eleven: to become a monk and to leave Kanagawa. ;My ambition at that time was directed toward a narrow idea of attainment, but I made up my mind to leave my home and to practice under a strict teacher.' He had been impressed by a popular Buddhist belief that by being ordained one saves one's ancestors for nine generations back. But where should he go? With whom should he study? It was March 1916 and he had just graduated from elementary school.

"This was the time when a boy's career was often decided, when he became an apprentice in a trade, began military school or some other training, or started working with his father in the fields. Very few went on to higher education, especially in that region. While it was normal for Toshi to follow in his father's profession, it was unusual that he decided to go far away before his parents were ready to let him go, not even choosing to start with his father and move on later.

"While Toshi was considering these matters, Shoganji had a visitor, a priest who came several times a year to pay his respects to his master, Sogaku. Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, Sogaku's adopted son, had just become the abbot of Zoun-in, Sogaku's former temple. He was like an imposing uncle to Toshi - tall, tough, exuding confidence. Toshi was enamored with him.

"I knew him pretty well and liked him so much. When I asked him to take me to his temple, he was amazed byt said it would be fine with him. I asked my father if I could go to Shizuoka Prefecture with him. He agreed, so I went to my master's temple when I was thirteen.

"Toshi was actually eleven, almost twelve, at the time. He calculated thirteen by the prewar counting method, wherein a person was one at birth and two on the following New Year's Day.

"Although Toshi felt he was making these decisions on his own, discussions had been going on behind the scenes for quite some time. His intentions and those of his parents were in accord except for the timing. They thought he was too young to go and suggested he wait till the next year. But Toshi wanted to go right away. He pointed out that his father, Sogaku himself, had chosen to begin apprenticeship with his master at a young age. Toshi wanted to do the same.

"It all happened so quickly that, to his sisters and half brother, it seemed like he was being whisked away from the family. Sogaku and Yone did not want to spend the rest of their lives at Shoganji. It was right that So-on, as the first disciple, would inherit Zoun-in from Sogaku. If Toshi did well with him, he could inherit Zoun-in from So-on, and then Sogaku and Yone could retire there. If Toshi's father ordained him and became his principle master before he left, then So-on would become his second teacher and Toshi wouldn't be in line to get Zoun-in. Sogaku was too old ot train Toshi anyway, and many believed that a father could not properly train his son. As the proverb went, 'If you love your child, send him on a journey.' So Toshi went off with his first master, Gyokujun So-on, at the age of eleven."

(page 16):

"When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, 'Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere.' "

(page 16-17):

"So-on steppedc off the train at the village of Mori. Behind him followed a new disciple, his young and very small devotee Toshitaka Suzuki."

...

"Although he was moving only from one temple to another, he was also entering into a new setting that would totally change his life. He showed up in the middle of the hundred-day practice period. Eight students had joined So-on for this trianing, including some monks and some young trainees. Toshi was the youngest. There were no small children or women in the temple. While not huge, Zoun-in was much larger and more impressive than Shoganji."

...

"He had never before lived with such a demanding schedule. Everyone rose at four in the morning and sat zazen, Zen meditation. Then there was a service where they chanted sutras, followed by a thorough temple cleaning, which the students carried out vigorously. They dusted, swept, and wiped the woodwork down with damp cloths. They ran down the wood floors bent over, pushing the towels befor them. Even in the cold morning they wore only kimonos and thin underwear - no warm layers of monk's robes. After a breakfast of white rice with raw egg, miso soup, fish, and pickes, some of the younger boys who were permanent residents went off to school. For Toshi there was work all day ad then more zazen in the evening. He had to learn how to sit in the lotus posture with legs crossed, instead of the traditional seiza, sitting in a kneeling position with bottom on heels. He was told nothing about zazen except just to sit and not to move.

"Toshi did not become homesick, because the activity at Zoun-in was so invigorating and because he was in love with So-on. Buddhism is not what motivated him; he had only vague, simplistic ideas of what it was. It was So-on who inspired him. Toshi focused on So-on, throwing himself into serving his new master, much as So-on had served Sogaku twenty-five years before."

(page 18-19):

"Big and strong, So-on had long practiced kyudo, the way of archery. One day when a guest at the temple asked So-on about an exceedingly tall bow that hung on the wall, he called his disciples and announced there would be a kyudo demonstration. He took the long, thick bow, taller than he was, and had Toshi set up a straw target. After placing an arrow in the bow with the same attention he devoted to offering a stick of incense at the altar, he pulled the string back slowly and deeply and let the arrow fly. Turning to the boys, he asked them to try to pull back the bowstring. One by one they tried but couldn't budge it, even though some of them were older teenagers, not weaklings at all. The guest then tried and couldn't bend the bow wither. The demonstration was over."

(page 19):

"So-on related to Toshi gruffly, mainly ignoring him, but also giving him some slack because he was so young. If Toshi didn't rise with the wake-up bell, nothing was said to him. He tried, but it was hard. Many mornings he'd go back to his sleep, and his eyes would next open when he heard the sounds of the Heart Sutra coming from the buddha hall - 'Kanjizai bosatsu gyo jin hannya haramita...' At Shoganji he'd heard his father chant that alone in the mornings and with others in ceremonies.

"Not long after Toshi's arrival, the aging Oka Sotan came with his close disciple of many years, Keiza. They were referred to reverently by So-on as Okay-roshi and Keiza-roshi, roshi being a term of respect for older priests. Seeing his master with them, observing the strictness with which they all conducted themselves, Toshi felt he was in the midst of the greatness he had heard of. His task in life was to be like them.

" 'I was lucky to be there and was encouraged by them, but the difficult thing was to get up in the morning as they did.' This was the first lesson Toshi learned at his new temple. It took time, and nobody would help him, but eventually he discovered that he could do it if he jumped out of bef before he had a thought. Once he knew how, he never stopped. It became a lifelong practice and teaching of his: 'When the bell rings, get up!' "

(page 20-22):

"On May 18, 1917, his thirteenth birthday, Toshi was ordained as a novice monk. He received the precepts, took the vows, and formally became a disciple of Gyokujun So-on. He also received a set of black robes to go over his Japanese kimono: a koromo, the Chinese outer tove with long sleeves; an okesa, a large rectangular cloth with finely sewn sections in seven rows resembling rice fields, which is the sacred robe of the monk; and a rakasu, a miniature and less formal okesa with straps, which is worn on the chest and over the shoulders like a bib.He was given the Buddhist name of Shogaku Shunryu. Shogaku, Auspicious Peak, was combined with his birth name, Shunryu, Excellent Emergence. He was called Shunryu-san by his fellow students. So-on had taken to calling him Crooked Cucumber, a private nickname for his absent-minded, idealistic, quirky little disciple.

"Life with So-on was harsh. Even in the winter they weren't allowed to wear tabi, the socks worn with zori, on the cold wood floors where young Shunryu would often work all day. Some of the boys would walk on tiptoe when So-on wasn't looking, so as to reduce the amount of skin that came in contact with the freezing floor. So-on suspected that the only reason the boy was at Zoun-in was to inherit the temple from him and to return it to his family. He was obligated to his master, Sogaku to train the little fellow, but if the basis of his being there was suck an ambition, then he wouldn't be a good priest.

"In addition, So-on still had some feelings about Sogaku, who had been a severe and unsentimental master himself. So-on taunted Shunryu about his father, whom Shunryu loved and felt loyal to, and who had mellowed since the time of So-on's apprenticeship. There was nothig Toshi could do but listen to So-on. He told the boy how Sagaku had often hit him on the head when he was young (a common disciplinary practice of the time) and claimed that it had made him dim-witted. So-on siad that once when he got into mischief, Sogaku had hung him upside down on the temple gate.

"So-on sent Shunryu to the village upper-elementary school but did not provide him with proper clothes. His kimonos were old and tattered. A woman who lived near the temple took pity on the boy and made some new kimonos out of scraps, but they had a different pattern on each sleeve. He was so embarrassed at his appearance that he'd wear his coar even during physical education, saying he was sick. In winter he was never warm enough. Though his family at Kanagawa haf been poor, and he didn't have as much as the other boys, at least his mother had always sewn him good kimonos, so he never had to suffer this sort of indignity. Zoun-in want't that poor a temple, so there was nor reason for this except to test his endurance.

"We say, 'Only to sit on a cushion in not Zen.' The Zen master's everyday life, character, and spirit is Zen. My own master said, 'I will not accept any monastery where there is lazy training, where the rooms are full of dust.' He was very strict. To sleep when we sleep, to scrub the floor and keep it clean, that is our Zen. So practice is first. And as a result of practice, there is teaching.

"Instead of complaining and asking to be taken back home, Shunryu tried to show his sincerity through is actions. Taking to heart So-on'd admonitions on daily practice, Shunryu applied himself with energy in each activity, especially cleaning. He vowed to clean the blackened kitchen pans and surfaces. All boys worked in the kitchen, and some of them were lazy cleaners. So-on said that Dogen, in his instructions to the cook, had emphasized the importance of finding liberation in kitchen work. So Shunryu threw himself into scrubbing off the layers of soot that came from smoky, open-fire cooking.

"Then I felt some joy in cleaning the smut off the pans. In this way each of us must have some vow; then we will find joyful mind and big mind and kind mind. When we clean because of our vow, we will find that we are kind to everyone, instead of angry. That is bodhisattva mind.

"After a while little Shunryu's conscientious effort softened big So-on a bit. While continuing to be tough, imperious, and critical of Shunryu and his father, So-on began to take the boy seriously and respect his motives.

"The honeymoon phase was over. Now So-on wanted more from Shunryu than puppy love. He wanted him to listen to the intent of his teaching, get beyond his limiting idealism, meet him on the dharma (teaching) ground."

(page 23):

"To encourage a student by setting a good example is one sort of mercy. To shout at me when I was proudly showing off was another sort of mercy, another kindness."

(page 23):

"So-on did not have any particular teaching or system, and his students were often in the dark about what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. Suzuki said that So-on was usually silent, so much so that his disciples had to learn most things on their own, just watching what he did. But they weren't necessarily supposed to be doing exactly what he did, so they'd get nervous and feel lost. Suzuki siad they actually developed a liking for the sound of So-on's scolding voice, because then they knew what to do. How to clean a pond with concentration and selflessness was one thing, but So-on was also mute when it came to more complicated subjects such as how to conduct a memorial service.

"The boys often went out with So-on to perform services in the homes of danka (danka is the community of lay members/supporters of a temple in Japan). The details of what they chanted and how they went about it were always changing. And the nuances of how to strike the bells and mokugyo, the wooden fish drum, how and when to bow, and so forth were so various and subtle that they could never do it quite right. Right in front of a family seated solemnly before them, So-on would look over at Shunryu hitting a bell and suddenly growl, 'What are you doing?' Then he'd take the striker out of Shunryu's hand and show him how it was done. It was embarrassing, but at least in that way he'd been shown something. Later Suzuki said that through this sort of study he learned how to apply himself to new problems without preparation, developing confidence in his ability to meet situations as they arose.

"Returning from such a memorial service one summer evening, having just been well fed and carrying gifts of food, the boys walked with So-on on a path in the twilight. So-on had taken the tabi off his feet at the door and slipped them into the sleeve of his robe, but the boys had their tabi on. When they reached a wooded area he told them to go first since they were wearing tabi, and it was the time of year when mamushi, poisonous snakes, would be out. Mamushi are not large snakes, and tabi offer a certain amount of protection. So the boys said, 'Hai!' and went ahead feeling like brave monks.

"When they got to the temple So-on said, 'Why don't you boys sit down?' They knew something was up but they had no idea what. 'I knew you boys were not so alert, ' he told them, 'but I didn't know you were that dull. When I am not wearing tabi, why do you wear them? You should have noticed.' Then the boys were deeply ashamed. They were not supposed to be dressed more formally than their teacher. This subtle and indirect way of communicating is what Suzuki-roshi later called, 'learning to listen to the other side of the words.' "

(page 24-25):

"So-on kept cakes and other goodies on hand to serve to guests who dropped by the temple. The boys, usually hungry, were always pilfering these treats. He kept hiding them in new places, but his young disciples would find them."

...

"They'd find a cake and take off little slices so that he wouldn't notice; later they'd go back and cut the corners off; finally they'd realize that they were going to get caught anyway, so they'd divide it up and eat it all. He wouldn't get angry at them for this sort of mischief, but if he thought someone had taken something to eat all by himself, he'd get very angry.

"Once So-on put a large persimmon in the rice so it would ripen there. When he came to get it, it was gone. He asked who had eaten it. Shunryu said he didn't know. So-on found out who ate it and gave the thief hell - not because he took the persimmon, but because he hadn't shared it. Shunryu regretted that he hadn't taken the blame."

(page 25-26):

"Suzuki's favorite story about his novice days with So-on was a cautionary tale, not of selfishness but of discrimination, and of pickles gone bad. At Zoun-in pickles were made to eat year-round but especially in the winter, when there were few fresh vegetables. There were pickles made from cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, cabbage, and daikon, the giant white radishes. A batch of takuan daikon pickles, had been undersalted and had gone bad. So-on was told about it. He was just like Sogaku when it came to food. He wouldn't throw it out. 'Serve it anyway!' he ordered. So for meal after meal decomposing daikon were served, and the pickles were getting worse with the passage of time. One night when they could take it no more, after they were sure So-on was asleep, Shunryu and a couple of cohorts took the pickles out to the garden and buried them.

"The boys were pleased with themselves, thinking they had gotten away with their prank. But a few days later when they sat down for breakfast at the low wooden table, So-on brought in a special dish - the rotten pickles back from the dead! So-on ate the pickles with them. Shunryu gathered his courage and took the first bite, then the next. He found that he could do it if he didn't think about it. He said it was his first experience of nondiscriminating consciousness.

"The pickles saga wasn't quite over, though. The boys decided to boil them to see if that helped. It did; they were much easier to eat. So-on said, 'What is this? You boys must have cooked something extraordinary!' And then they all ate the cooked rotten pickles together. He never asked his students to do anything he couldn't do himself."

(page 26):

"When Shunryu arrived at Zoun-in there were eight boys studying with So-on. After the first year there were only four, and midway through the second year they too had gone. So-on was not just hard on Shunryu; one by one the boys had been driven away by his imperious manner and the privations they had to endure with him. Now it was just Shunryu and So-on. He had a lot of responsibility for a fourteen-year-old. There was schoolwork, cooking, cleaning, memorial services in homes, assisting with ceremonies at the temple, and serving So-on and his guests. Shunryu was lonely without his friends, but he was getting lots of personal attentiont. That often didn't work out the way he wanted it to. For instance, he had some resistance to making full bows, down on the knees with forehead descending to touch the bowing cloth and hands extended palms up. So-on noticed Shunryu's resistance and told him that from that day, instead of bowing three times to Buddha a tthe end of the services, they would bow nine times."

(page 28):

"'Don't commit adultery, Crooked Cucumber!' Shunryu had beed admiring an old tea bowl, and that is how So-on told him to be so attached to fine things."

(page 31):

"So-on (Shunryu's master) arranged for his students to study with another teacher for a while, a Rinzai Zen teacher. Before they left, So-on had some words of advice: Don't forget beginner's mind; don't stick to tany particular style of practice. When you go to a Soto temple, practice the Soto way; when you go to a Rinzai temple, practice the Rinzai way. Always be a new student."

(page 34):

"In 1919, when Shunryu was fifteen, Sogaku and Yone killed the deal with So-on and took their son back to Shoganji from Rinso-in. Yone had been complaining about her son's mistreatment for some time. Sogaku hadn't been so vocal, but as far as he was concerned, So-on had been treating Shunryu as though he were a nuisance. Three years was enough.

"Shunryu had passed the entrance examinations for middle school at Kaisei Chugaku, a first-rate institution."

...

"When not in class at Kaisei, Shunryu helped his father with temple duties, performed services in people's homes, and gave his father the envelopes of money he received. He got special treatment at home and accepted it. He had gotten used to that as a monk and as a male. His mother would make him special meals, different from what his sisters got."

(page 34-35):

"Even into his late teens Shunryu's faults remained. Despite his kind nature, he had a short temper, thgouth fortunately his bursts of anger would rise and fall quickly. He was a fairly quiet person until he got into an argument, and then he could be explosive.

"Shunryu had a compulsive weakness for sugar, an expensive item that laypeople often gave to the temple as an offering. Shunryu regularly raided the big pot where it was kept, and when he got to the bottom he'd add water and drink the rinse. After his mother put a stop to that, he hid a can of sugar by his desk so he could make hot sugar-water.

"But Shunryu's most notorious weakness was absentmindedness. He'd lose everything but his books and his mind. Everybody loses umbrellas, but Shunryu lost them in record numbers, mainly on trains. Once his mother stayed up all night making him a coat. She watched him walk off, with his gaitered legs and new coat, down the hill toward Hiratsuka, wehre he got the train for Kaisei. He came home that evening without the coat.

"My habit is absentmindedness. I am naturally very forgetful. I worked on it pretty hard but could not do anything about it. I started to work on it when I went to my master at twelve. Even then I was very forgetful. But by working on it steadily, I found I could get rid of my selfish way of doing things. If the purpose of practice and training is just to correct your weak points, I think it is almost impossible to change your habits. Even so, it is necessary to work on them, because as you do so, your character will be trained and your ego will be reduced."

(page 35):

"When the six-week summer vacation arrived, to his parents' surprise Shunryu was off on a train to Yaizu to be back with So-on. He would continue to go there whenever he could to help out at Rinso-in and Zoun-in, sometimes missing school. Shunryu had no intention of quitting his study with So-on, but he was getting a new perspective by living away from intense temple practice; the absense helped him realize how wonderful it was. So-on used to emphasize Dogen's teaching of beginner's mind, and this is when Shunryu first experienced it, because he was losing it. During this period he experienced a sort of temptation, a clinging to purity and an attachment to Zen. He was becoming aware of Buddhism in a new, self conscious way.

"When we were little boys, we were all innocent buddhas, even when we were sixteen or seventeen years old. But Zen can be dangerous to innocent minds. Such minds may easily see Zen as something good or special by which they can gain something. This attitude can lead to trouble. An innocent young person can become careless of his buddha nature and instead attach to an idea of innocence, creating problems for himself. We need beginner's mind, not innovent mind. As long as we have beginner's mind, we have Buddhism. If we know our unchanging original nature, we can believe in the innocence of beginner's mind. At the same time, we should beware of slipping into hell through attachment to this or any idea.

"So-on had his own ways of dealing with Shunryu and his fellow monks thinking they were special. Every now and then he'd tell them, 'You stinky boys, wash your underwear!' "

(page 39):

"Even a mistaken approach is not a waste of time."

(Page 36):

"At school Shunryu's favorite subject was English. He excelled at it. He'd always been interested in foreign things... He did so well in English that a doctor named Yoshikawa in Mori asked him to tutor his sons in English.... Dr. Yoshikawa became Shunryu's sponsor, giving him spending money and friendly advice. When Shunryu got pleurisy the doctor kept him in his home till he was well. Dr. Yoshikawa didn't want Shunryu staying with So-on at Rinso-in when Shunryu was sick, because he'd end up obediently serving So-on and neglecting himself. Shunryu would come home feverish and coughing and report that he'd been up late the night before tending So-on's smoky hibachi... "

(Page 39):

"In April 1924 Shunryu Suzuki was almost twenty. Having skipped his last year at Kaisei, he was now a junior at the Soto preparatory school in Tokyo, living in the dorm, and studying hard. In terms of age, he was still way behind because of all the time he'd spent serving So-on and helping with the two temples. But that was not considered a handicap. This school was attached to the Soto college, where Soto Zen monks from all over Japan came to get the degrees now required by the government."

(page 39-40):

"Shoganji wasn't far away. One Sunday on the way back to school after visiting home, Shunryu got off the train in Yokohama to see a section of the bustling port city that was said to have a few fine shops selling antique ceramics. Dressed in his quasimilary-style school uniform, he ambled about, following his fancy and eating an occasional sweet. One shop led to anohter and one street to the next; by and by he found himself among storefronts exhibiting all kinds of imports: clothes, shoes, jewelry, records, and books. He looked long at a magazine that had photographs of San Francisco and carefully made out the captions below. He wandered on past sidewalk tables full of Japanese items bound for export: cups, paintings, umbrellas, toya, and tables, and all of it junk - tasteless, gaudy junk. He felt a profound embarrassment that this was what Japan was offering to the world. It wasn't really Japanese; it was superficial, pseudo-Japanese.

"Shunryu thought about what he considered really Japanese: handmade crafts, furniture, scrolls, and ceramics that embodied the culture and traditions and would add to the harmony of the house they went to. Then he had a little epiphany: if only he could go abroad and bring to foreign people not the worst of Japan but the best - something truly Japanese that could be applied to another culture. The best way to do this would be to completely understand Zen first and then bring Zen to otheres. Maybe, he thought, maybe I could do that."





ArtisticDressage.com is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the art of Classical Dressage.
©1998-2009 ClassicalDressage.com & ArtisticDressage.com     All rights reserved.
No reproduction or use without prior written permission. Links forbidden except with prior written permission
Site Created November 11, 1998   Last Update: January 28, 2009
Contact Us: Email Us... at ritter@artisticdressage.com     Cell Phone: 360.631.1101