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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
66 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 strong, opinionated, and charismatic people, with lively senses of humor. Then tragedy befell the Suzuki family: Shunryu’s wife was killed by a men- tally ill priest whom he’d allowed to stay at the temple during one of his absences. He was left with three young children. He needed a wife. The Rinso- in community (including Shunryu’s mother-in-law) quickly agreed that Mitsu was the only possible choice. The two were married in the fall of 1958. He was fifty-four, she was forty-four. Within the year, he had been invited to become abbot of Sokoji temple in San Francisco, fulfilling his lifelong dream of going to America to teach Zen to Westerners. His short-term appointments to Sokoji kept being renewed, and the longer he remained in America, the more young Western students began to come to practice zazen—not necessarily what the temple members were interested in. Eventually Shunryu turned over Rinso-in to Hoitsu, resigned his post at Sokoji, and threw in his lot entirely with the young Western students. By 1961 Mitsu had come to join him. She remained for thirty-two years— returning home in 1994, twenty-three years after Shunryu’s death. During those years Mitsu Suzuki became— by the account of the many American students who studied tea and, yes, in an informal way, Zen with her—an accomplished spiritual master. She inspired affection and respect and was a second mother to many. In her quiet yet forceful and definite way, she expressed and embodied Zen spirit and continuity with the founder. She continued to live in the small apartment in the temple building, where she taught tea, cooked, cleaned, tended altars, and received guests. She was an anchor. As long as Okusan remained, as long as she went on day by day quietly expressing her life in engagement and sympathy with the community, things would be OK. Suzuki Roshi died too soon. Even the most devel- oped students he left behind were young and green, full of idealism and Zen theory and moxie but not enough maturity. They had not lived through the sorts of challenges that Okusan and her husband had experienced during their years in Japan and so ZOKETSu NORMAN FISChER is the founder and spiritual director of the Everyday Zen Foundation and former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. No friend to share news of my teacher’s death— spring rain