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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
winter 2 0 1 4 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly 63 iN the summer of 2010, I went with a group of close students and friends on pilgrimage to Japan. We spent a week at Rinso-in, the original temple of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Fran- cisco Zen Center and of our Zen practice lineage in America. Author of the most widely read of all Zen books, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi was a beloved spiritual master. He was also Mitsu Suzuki’s husband. Her years with him, and all that they brought to her life, certainly fed the silent depths whose waters gave rise to the exquisite poems featured here. Rinso-in is a relatively small temple in Yaizu, formerly a fishing village, now a port city on the Pacific Ocean. In style and feeling, it is a far cry from the large Japanese Zen training monasteries, famous (if not legendary) for their tough practice. The students and friends I brought—many of whom were Zen priests—had all practiced Zen with me for many years in the United States. I myself have never trained in Japan and do not emphasize Japa- nese ways in my teaching. But I wanted my closest students to experience the feeling and flavor of the Zen that Suzuki Roshi expressed, the simple life of caring for a temple and its members that he had lived at Rinso-in, and that his son and successor, Hoitsu Suzuki, still lived. We spent the week sitting in Rinso-in’s small zendo, chanting in its Buddha Hall, cleaning around the temple, and watching Chitose, Hoitsu Roshi’s wife, their son Shungo, who is also a priest, and his wife Kumi, take care of the many tasks necessary to serve a local community of farmers and small-busi- ness people. The busy, if also essentially peaceful, life flowed all around us as we foreigners sat zazen, talked, drank tea, cooked our meals, and cleaned around the temple. Mitsu Suzuki lives with her daughter a fifteen- minute drive from Rinso-in. We phoned to wish her well, not expecting to see her. At ninety-six (her age in 2010) she deserved by now some peace and Haiku by mitsu suzuki quiet, and we had been told that she was no longer receiving visitors, especially people from her San Francisco days, because the effort to speak and lis- ten in English was becoming too difficult. But when one of our group who had been a close tea cer- emony student spoke to her on the phone, she said she wanted to come to meet us. We were surprised and delighted. Okusan, as we had been used to calling her, arrived at the temple with a burst of energy. She bus- tled straight past us into the Buddha Hall, where she immediately made prostrations and said quiet, con- centrated prayers, her head bowed, her prayer beads in her hand. She then got up without assistance and, beaming, said loudly in English, “Welcome home!” We were touched by this, thinking she referred to us—that, as students inspired by Suzuki Roshi, his temple was in some way our real home. But later we realized she was saying this to herself—“Welcome home, Mitsu, to the place where your heart is kept.” We sat for a long while having tea and cookies. She spoke English astonishingly well, as we sat on the tatami floor, she on a little chair, to preserve her knees, she said. She was like a queen holding court, self-contained and dignified, still able to hold her trim, tiny body as she had always done, energetically upright, with elegant hand gestures accompanying her words. She had brought photo albums of Suzuki Roshi in the old days. “Here,” she showed us, “is Suzuki Roshi at the moment of leav- ing Rinso-in for the last time.” Hoitsu was behind him: the two priests, father and son, were enjoying a private joke long gone by now. She had also brought a copy of Love Haiku, an anthology edited and translated by Patricia Donegan, in which two of her haiku appeared. Then she recited another haiku in Japanese, which had recently won a prize. No limit to kindness— winter violets.