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Elsie P. Mitchell (1926-2011)
MITCHELL, Elsie P. (Johnson). One of the pioneers of American Buddhism, Mrs. Mitchell co-founded the Cambridge Buddhist Association in 1957. Her recordings of Buddhists chants are housed at the Smithsonian. She wrote extensively about her experiences following the Buddhist path as well as a family history about nineteenth century Boston. In 1981, the Mitchells founded the Ahimsa Foundation, which supports humane societies and wildlife sanctuaries.
Elsie Mitchell main page in cuke.com
An article on Elsie Mitchell:
Elsie Mitchell, Cambridge Buddhist Trailblazer
by David Chadwick - November 2002
In 1957 Elsie Mitchell and her husband recorded the liturgy of the Zen Buddhist monastery of Eihei-ji in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. The recordings were later produced as an album by Folkways Records for which Mrs. Mitchell wrote an accompanying booklet describing the ceremonies and chants included. See the album box cover and read the booklet (digitized!):
The Way of Eiheiji: Zen-Buddhist Ceremony
This booklet was edited and published by Elsie Mitchell of the Cambridge Buddhist Association:
The Way of Zazenby 藤本隣道 Fujimoto Rindō (1894-1974)
Translated by 井上哲也 Inoue Tetsuya (1929-1997) and 谷川榮彥 Tanigawa Yoshihiko (1925-)
with an Introduction by Elsie P. Mitchell
Copyrighted in Japan, 1961
Cambridge Buddhist Association Inc., Cambridge, Mass., 1966, 1973. xiv, 26 p.
PDF: Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas: a Zen Quest
by Elsie P. Mitchell. Foreword by Aelred Graham. New York: Weatherhill,  214 p.
Elsie Mitchell's memoir starts with her first trip to Japan in 1957 at the age of 31. Elsie and her husband Jack had an interest in Buddhism and went to record Buddhist temple chanting, which was later released on the Folkways music label. She goes on to describe her East Coast Unitarian upbringing and her growing interest in a spiritual practice that might prove deeper and more satisfying than mythic Christianity.
Soen Nakagawa and Shunryu Suzuki make memorable appearances, as does the" Zen Catholic" priest Dom Aelred Graham in a long final section on their deep friendship, which brings Elsie aggravation as well as enlightenment. Contents
• Foreword / Dom Aelred Graham
• 1. The temple of infinite peacefulness
• 2. The teacher and the precepts
• 3. Some ancestors and early memories
• 4. "Perhaps you should get married and travel"
• 5. "Mother of God, Virgin, be joyful"
• 6. Asian Christians, Asian Buddhists
• 7. The man with the bamboo trunk
• 8. The orphan
• 9. In the blue dragon's cave
• 10. A Zen Catholic Roshi
• 11. Some queries
• 12. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
• 13. Separate vessels > http://www.cuke.com/bibliography/sunmoon.html
• 14. The death mask
• 15. Preparations for a journey
TEMPLE OF INFINITE PEACEFULNESS
In the autumn of 1957, Jack and I finally visited Eihei-ji, a seven
hundred-year-old Buddhist temple located in Fukui Prefecture
about six hours' train ride from the old Japanese capital of Kyoto.
As he had promised, the professor of Greek philosophy provided
us with an introduction to his friend, Tetsuya Inoue, then in
training there. We also had an introduction to a young temple
master, Dainin Katagiri, in Kyoto, and he accompanied us on the
long slow train ride to Fukui City. From Fukui City we proceeded
by taxi over potholed dirt roads to the then-remote mountain
Eihei-ji, one of the two main temples where priests are trained
for the Soto branch of the Zen sect of Buddhism, was founded in
1244 by Dogen Zenji, one of the outstanding personalities of
Japanese Buddhism. The temple is situated on the side of a moun
tain and is surrounded by stately cryptomeria, botanic relatives
of the California redwoods. In winter the temple is engulfed by
six or seven feet of snow; the sun is rarely seen for a whole day at
any time of year because of the heavy fogs and rain that dift up
from the Japan Sea. The rocks and trunks of the cryptomeria are
covered with heavy dark moss and the temple compound is blan
keted with this luxuriant vegetation, which the monks tend care
fully by pulling out small weeds and grass. From April to early
December the sound of rushing water can be heard everywhere;
mountain streams flow through the temple compound and
break and fall just below the main entrance. On early autumn
mornings, just before dawn, the songs of the cuckoo and cicada
merge into the waves of chanting and deep soft sounds of the
mokugyo* that pour down the mountainside from the main shrine.
*A large polished wooden drum that is struck with a heavy padded stick
to establish the rhythm of the chanting.
Eihei-ji comprises fourteen large buildings, as well as guest
quarters and numerous smaller buildings. These are joined by
long covered passages. The floors of these passages are so highly
polished that one must take great care not to slip or fall as one
pads up and down the endless stairs in floppy slippers. Monks
and guests all leave their shoes in a special building near the
Inside the main gate are two tall plaques on which are char
acters that may be translated: "Only those concerned with the
problem of life and death should enter here. Those not completely
concerned with this problem have no reason to pass this gate."
This was translated for us by our guide-interpreter, who im
pressed us with his simplicity and his irrepressible cheerfulness,
though he was obviously not in good health. With his help we
recorded, in a number of different buildings, fourteen hours of
chanting and, in its outdoor housing, the great meditation bell.
Mr. Katagiri, who had spent three years in training in the
temple, was an invaluable assistant. He always knew the shortest
way from one building to another, how to cool down a boiling
Japanese bath for sensitive-skinned Westerners, and where to
purchase fruit to augment the temple diet. One evening he
nimbly climbed out of a window onto the steep tile roof to locate
our microphone strategically. From the microphone trailed a
heavy cord about fifty feet in length, with which Mr. Katagiri
deftly avoided entanglements. "When I was in training here, I
used to air the futon, the sleeping mattresses, out there, and I got
quite accustomed to walking about over the tiles," he told us.
Most of the monks' day is spent doing manual work. The
monks clean the temple, bring wood to the kitchen, make char
coal, and wait on the guests. Several times a year they have
sesshin, or periods in which to "collect the mind" in zazen medi
tation. During sesshin, or retreat time, nearly all the monks spend
the whole day in the meditation hall doing zazen from two or
three in the morning till nine o'clock at night. During the retreat
periods the food is both good and plentiful. Ordinarily the monks
live on watery rice and a few equally watery vegetables.
One of a novice's first tasks may be to wash the lavatory floor.
After a gassho, palms joined in the attitude of prayer, before a
small shrine near the entrance, he ties up his long sleeves, dons
clumsy wooden clogs, and then washes up as quickly and efficient
ly as possible under the watchful eye of a senior monk. This task,
preceded by the gesture of gassho, is a more significant part of a
monk's life than any of the colorful and impressive ceremonies
performed in the temple. In gassho, the left hand symbolizes the
heart (the Buddha nature) of the greeter or the one who is vener
ating; the right hand, the greeted or the venerated. Monks greet
each other and guests, and venerate the Buddhist images, in this
way. At Eihei-ji the gassho also expresses "please," "thank you,"
and "excuse me." It is used by the monks before many of the most
menial of their tasks, in the spirit of the Chinese Zen poet P'ang
yun: "Miraculous power and marvelous activity, drawing water
and hewing wood!" The gassho is an attitude toward life. When
this gesture is made quite spontaneously and automatically before
a hot bath or a cup of tea, before going to the toilet, or in time of
pain or sorrow, then the way of the Buddha has taken its first
step beyond philosophy.
The Eihei-ji Zen master is usually available and ready to
answer the monks' questions. However, the answers that the
master gives are a source not of comfort but of frustration. A
typical response is a pleasant smile and the reply, "Be grateful."
Ordinarily, gratitude means appreciation for benefits received.
However, the Zen master's "grateful" is not gratitude for any
special thing or things. It is based not on discrimination but on
awareness, and the temple regime and rituals help to stimulate
For Buddhists, the most important aspect of their ritual is
chanting, and chanting requires deep and disciplined breathing. A
Polish Benedictine monk, Dom Cyril von K. Krasinski, has written
in his interesting little volume Die Geistige Erde (The Spiritual
Earth):* "In the Tibetan tradition of medicine, great impor
tance is attributed to the control of the vehicle of spiritual sound!
Music is considered a vital source of spiritual transformation, and
vibrations are recognized as cosmic manifestations of a spiritual
principle. The lamas, skilled in medicine, have developed a science
as well as an art of sound. They carefully cultivate sensitivity
to musical pitch and tone and to the moods thereby created,
which they believe have the power to heal, or, if misused, to sicken,
according to the vibrations involved. The bells and giant conch
shells used in Buddhist rituals are credited with particular powers
of spiritual healing."
*Published by Origo Verlag, Zurich, 1960. See also Hans Kayser, Akróasis:
The Theory of World Harmonics (Boston, Plowshare Publishers, 1971).
Buddhist monotonal chant is a simple and vital form of musical
expression. It is not discursive; it does not appeal to the mind or
emotions, and it does not draw them into interesting involvements.
An overstimulated mind and an ego with enervating defenses
produce anxiety, insecurity, and restlessness in modern man
which make it difficult for him really to listen to the wind, the
ocean, or music that does not express itself in a great variety of
alternately exciting and pacifying rhythms and tonal changes.
Another function of Buddhist ritual is that it provides a contact
with the layman. At Eihei-ji the monks' only contact with lay people
is with those who come to the temple for a night, for a meal, or for
one of the special observances, such as the memorial week in
honor of the founder or a Precepts-taking ceremony, Jukai, for
laymen, which are both held once a year. The guest quarters at
Eihei-ji are very large; they are modern, clean, and comfortable.
The guests live in traditional-style Japanese rooms with cushions
to sit on, a pottery hibachi, or charcoal brazier, on which is an iron
teapot for boiling water, and a tea set. In one corner is a special
raised platform on which is usually placed a porcelain bowl and
above which hangs a traditional picture-scroll. In some of the
rooms the paper doors are decorated with ink sketches of bamboo,
birds, or fish. The guests are waited on by the monks; meals are
served in each room, and the sleeping quilts are brought out every
night and put away every morning by a monk attendant. These
attentions, as well as the various ceremonies conducted in the
temple, are one form of Buddhist gratitude. The monk is expected
to share his life with all who come to the temple. Lay people,
particularly if they know how to chant sutras, are enabled to
share the benefits of the monks' meditation, which has been
carried on through seven hundred years of uninterrupted dedi
The visitor may spend his time taking walks in the lovely
countryside around the temple or drinking tea with the senior
monks when they are free. The food served to the guests is com
pletely vegetarian. Eihei-ji's cook is a master of his art, and even
when the number of visitors is large, the food is varied and good.
It is served on lacquered trays in many little lacquer dishes and
includes such specialties as lotus buds in syrup and tiny oak leaves
fried in oil. Temple life is very agreeable for a Westerner if he can
sit comfortably on his heels for long periods, doesn't mind shaving
in cold water, and likes rice, pickles, and cold spinach with soy
sauce for breakfast. Each meal is preceded by a chanted grace,
which the monk who serves chants for those who do not know it.
The day ends with a Japanese-style bath, which is one of the real
delights of Japanese life. Just outside the bathroom is an anteroom
where one leaves one's clothes, makes gassho, and lights a stick of
incense. The incense is placed in a brass dish before a little plaque
on which are characters that mean "sweet-smelling water."
One night, after the bathing hour, I passed a room where the
paper door was just slightly open. Inside, a tiny little old woman
with a shaven head and wearing a very worn black cotton robe
was sitting on her heels in front of her hibachi. She was sitting
completely motionless. It was impossible to tell whether she was
asleep or awake. Her work-swollen hands were joined in gassho,
and on her thin wrinkled face was the "archaic smile," the enig
matic smile of the dancing Shiva, the stone Buddhas of T'ang
China, a Gothic Madonna. In that serene smile of the little old
nun lay the wisdom of "being at home in a homeless home," the
wisdom that cannot be taught but must be realized and lived.
The way of Eihei-ji, its Mahayana faith, ideals, and outlook,
can be effectively shared with outsiders in the special quality
of the traditional chant and in the great strength of the zazen
silence pervading the temple in the hours before dawn. Jack and
I were persuaded that sensitive, open-hearted Westerners would
feel drawn to these expressions of the numinous. We left Japan
with a suitcase full of recorded tapes. A good friend, Stephen
Fassett, edited our recordings for an album* later brought out by
Moses Asch, a venerable patron of ethnic music and founder of
Folkway Records. One day, after months of working on the tapes
with saintly patience and consummate artistic skill, Steve re
marked: "That wonderful drum, those vibrant bells, and the
extraordinarily moving chant convey an atmosphere of Shangri
La, evoke a vision of the back of nowhere. Moreover, the silences
in these recordings are really just as impressive as the voices and
the remarkable musical instruments! One can't help wondering
if beings of a saintly or possibly even a celestial nature live in that
temple of Buddha."
*Zen-Buddhist Ceremony, Folkways FR8980.
The first morning that we followed the long, roofed temple cor
ridors to attend the 3:30 A.M. services, the almost unearthly quiet,
a silence broken only by the rush of falling water, was indeed an
experience of transcendent otherworldliness. At that time, in the
late 1950s, Eihei-ji was still remote and somewhat inaccessible;
the tourists who stayed in the guest quarters were mostly tradi
tional country people with courteous and dignified manners.
However, even before Japan was comprised as it now is of a
largely transistorized populace, and before wide, tarred roads
pushed their ugly black heads right to the temple gates, Eihei-ji
was inhabited by all-too-human individuals who, as one old Zen
teacher put it, "sometimes went along with the Buddha but at
other times went the way of jigoku, hell."
The life of a novice is for young men only. Zen became a sect
in Japan in the Kamakura period (1185-1336), and the samurai
warriors were among the first to be attracted by its vigorous
down-to-earth philosophy. Present-day honzan training is a
militant sort of discipline for a professional priesthood. It is
exhausting for all except the most rugged country boys, some of
whom, we observed, seemed to have enough superfluous energy
to practice their judo holds on each other between clean-up tasks
and when they thought no guest or monk was about. For the less
robust sons of middle-class temple masters, or for middle-class
laymen in search of answers to their spiritual questions and prob
lems, the temple life and diet are an ordeal just short of martyr
dom. Of the young Americans who have gone there for periods of
training in recent years, most have left exhausted, sick, or, in
some cases, greatly disillusioned. Asceticism, lack of privacy or
choice, and long hours of heavy rough work in what even most
Japanese consider a feudally run institution, do not of themselves
produce the satori, or enlightenment, that people read about in
books. Enlightenment is not a commodity that can be manu
factured by any special regime of meditation training or austeri
Nevertheless, my first Eihei-ji sojourn impressed me deeply.
Here the atmosphere, the customs, were neither strange nor
exotic, nor even foreign to me. All was familiar in a curious sort
of way, and I found myself at home, an experience that was really
neither reasonable nor comprehensible. The great sonorous bell,
the voice of Emerson's "Eternal Buddh," spoke to all sentient
hearts, and its message awakened answering voices not only from
chanting monks but also from trees and flowers and the cascades
of water flowing down the mountainside. Clearly, at the center of
all creation there was a Great Enlightening Heart capable of
endless rebirths and transformations: a Heart, or Mind, as Bud
dhists usually like to call it, from which neither I nor any other
creature could ever become separated. This discovery was as
wonderful as it was unexpected. As I sat on the tatami floor
drinking ordinary hot water from an earthenware cup in the dark
chill of the predawn hours, suddenly and briefly I saw through
all my doubts about the nature of life. Quite inexplicably, I re
alized that despite the omnipresence of suffering, of destructive,
competitive hatreds, of hypocrisy and endless deluding manias,
there was at the heart of the matter a Great Simplicity. This
familiar yet ungraspable Simplicity the Japanese have always
expressed most appropriately in the music of the koto or flute,
and in haiku:
"The wind roars
on the anniversary of the Buddha's death:
the taste of the plain hot water."*
*Translated by R. H. Blyth in his A History of Haiku, vol. 2, p. 135.
After drinking the plain hot water at Eihei-ji, I lost all taste for
the cigarettes and alcoholic concoctions in which I had sometimes
overindulged. It was not a question of principle. Smoking and
alcohol were simply no longer a part of my life.
One afternoon during that first visit to Eihei-ji, two of the
monks invited Jack and me to accompany them on a walk u
one of the small, very steep hills behind the temple. It was a
warm day filled with birdsong, and though it was September, the
trees and underbrush were still quite green. The steep winding
path was wet and slippery from the rain that had fallen the night
before. The two monks were dressed in the baggy black bloomer
suits that are their work clothes, and they slipped around a lot in
the rubber zori, or sandals, that they wore. Nestled in the trees
and bushes along the narrow path were little way stations; each
contained a stone image of Kannon Bosatsu, to whom Eihei-ji is
"Why are there so many images, and all of the same Bo
dhisattva?" inquired Jack. "Why is Sakyamuni Buddha not rep
"Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is the heart
of Sakyamuni, the heart of all Buddhas, the heart of the Dharma,
of truth. The compassion of Kannon can be awakened in thou
sands of different ways in the hearts of all creatures. These images
are reminders that we must not look in only one place or in one
way for the Bodhisattva's compassion."
Jack and the two monks wandered off, Jack with camera in
hand, in order to take some photographs of a particularly fine
view of the surrounding hills. I sat alone in the warm sun, looking
down at the gray slate temple roofs below. One or two elderly
Japanese vacationers in rather threadbare kimono shuffled by,
obviously in search of a place to eat their picnic lunch. The gentle,
peaceful faces of those stone Kannons had impressed themselves
on my heart, and I wondered about the nature of the compassion
that they inspired. Was it more sensitive, more aware, less given
to histrionics and delusive self-advertising activity than so much
of our Western "charity"? Was it less abused as an aggressive
expression of status and a source of popular approval than much
of what passed for compassion and benevolence in my own
country? "The energetics of benevolence": I often thought about
that phrase of Perry Miller, the New England historian who took
a long hard look at the tradition of benevolence and "service"
among his fellow New Englanders. His observations resulted in a
number of salutary insights into the nature of Puritan charity.
Were human beings, I wondered, capable of active benevolence,
of the pursuit of goodness, without giving in to the inevitable
resulting frustrations and resorting to searches for scapegoats, in
quisitions, and revolutionary zealotry? Were there, or had there
ever been, Buddhists who would gladly torture their fellow beings
in order to achieve their own particular version of Nirvana in this
world, or any other, for that matter? Evil, I could not help feeling,
resulted all too often from good intentions or from single-minded
utopian efforts to uplift or to reform. Every day in every way we
should be getting better and better, and, if not, we must find
something or someone to blame for it! Furthermore, it did not
seem to me that it was always possible to know when one was
engaged in activities that would result in harm or distress to
others. Apologies and repentance for what has harmed or grieved,
however desirable, rarely right the wrongs involved, and seemed
to me more likely to bring peace of mind to the wrongdoer than
compensation to the wronged.
"When we think about the limitations and ambiguities in this
life of ours," the monk Tetsuya Inoue had said to me earlier that
day, "I think it is really impossible to be aware of exactly where
lie all the rights and wrongs. It is impossible for us always to make
good choices for justice and benefit for all those around us in
our families, our temples, our towns, our country. Of course we
have the Precepts," and he enumerated them: "We are not to kill
—this includes animals— not to steal, not to commit adultery, not
to lie, not to drink, not to slander, not to insult, and not to covet.
We should control anger, and finally, we must not speak falsely
of the Buddha, his Teaching, or his Community. We follow these
Precepts to the best of our ability, not because we think we can
basically alter the nature of the world so that all will be satisfied
and at peace with each other, but because we feel gratitude to the
Buddha, through whom we can know the Great Mind, the Great
Heart. We express this gratitude by trying to live according to the
Precepts, which turn out to be very difficult and complicated so
long as one is not in a state of mushin, complete open-rnindedness
and selflessness, a 'dropping off of mind and body' and living in
accord with our Buddha nature. This is a state of being which is
hard to know. All our lives we must do zazen to clean our minds
of delusion and enable us to live in an enlightened way, in the
light of the Buddha nature, which is usually so well concealed from
our own and from others' view.
"To speak of what Westerners, Christians, call repentance," he
continued, "we do have an important ceremony in this Zen temple
where we must each make an important acknowledgment before
our Dharma brothers and friends: 'Shozai muryo.' Shozai muryo
means we recognize and acknowledge that our lives are lived at the
expense of other people, of other creatures, and of our home, the
earth itself. I can't possibly survive unless some lives are destroyed
to sustain me. Even if I do not eat the meat of fish or animals,
there must still be destruction and sacrifice if my life is to be
maintained. As a Buddhist, I cannot accept such sacrifice without
making my best possible contribution to the welfare of these
creatures, this earth of which I am a part and on which I must
completely depend for my continued existence. Though I know
my life will not be without mistakes, I must exert all my efforts to
live in the spirit of the Eternal Buddha, to act in accord with the
Buddha nature as it expresses itself through my personality and
I thought about this unpretentious, unvarnished, and straight
forward explanation, about the voice of the Buddha, of Kannon,
in the great bell and in the chanted Dharani* of the Great Heart,
Dai Hi Shin Dharani, as I sat on the top of that steep tree-covered
hill in Japan, overlooking the roof of the seven-hundred-year-old
temple. The ordinary everydayness of this truth was overwhelming
in its persuasive simplicity. There was also the mystenous working
out of the karma, providence, which had deposited me in this
place where so many questions were unexpectedly answered with
so few words; and where I knew I belonged, where I was meant
to be, impelled by the eternal Dharma.
*A dharani, like a mantra, is chanted not to express a sentiment or concept
but in order to penetrate as deeply as possible into the spirit of the dharani
or mantra in question and to realize our oneness with this spirit. Translated
literally, "dharani" means "that by which something is sustained." One
who recites or chants a dharani is sustained by the vibrations peculiar to it.
The monks had spoken to us of the annual training period that
they called Jukai, a week-long preparation for the taking of the
Precepts. I knew that it would be the natural and obvious
thing for me to take part in such a Jukai, or Precepts-taking
procedure, despite the expense of another long journey to Japan,
the physical discomfort, and other assorted inconveniences and
difficulties. Somehow it would be possible to express my gratitude to
the compassionate voice of Kannon, to the Buddha Sakyamuni and
the Patriarchs, and participate in that tradition of truth-teaching
that stretched back into antiquity further than my imagination
THE TEACHER AND THE PRECEPTS
Nothing whatever is hidden;
from of old, all is as
clear as daylight.
AFTER JACK AND I RETURNED to Kyoto I wrote to Tetsuya Inoue
and told him that I wished to take part in the ]ukai of Eihei-ji.
I asked for books and instructions as to how this could best
"A Westerner has never before taken part in our Eihei-ji ]ukai,"
replied the monk in a return letter. "However, we will send you
instructions in translation of what you should memorize and what
you should know about our tradition, about our way of under
standing and practicing the Buddha's truth."
I entertained nagging doubts as to whether I would be able to
live up to the Precepts. Not only were my inadequacies to be
considered, but also I suffered from the childish notion that I
would not have enough strength of mind to live as a Buddhist in
a non-Buddhist country. I discussed these doubts with a Japanese
Buddhist friend, and he told me the following story about an
interesting man, a Buddhist of Japanese-British parentage.
Captain Jack Brinkley was a half-Japanese cousin of George
Bernard Shaw, whom Captain Brinkley once shepherded around
Japan. Captain Brinkley became a Buddhist after a stint in the
British army during World War I. He liked to reply to Western
ers' questions about the Buddhist Precepts by telling them about
his first meeting with a famous roshi, or Zen master. This roshi
was the abbot of one of Japan's historic temples. When Jack
Brinkley visited him he was at the height of his career and prob
ably had hundreds of disciples, from prisoners and policemen
to a prime minister. The roshi had been in poor health for most
of his life, having been abandoned as a baby to die in a snowdrift.
The woodcutter who found him and adopted him was poor and
had no money to attend to the child's physical infirmities. Finally,
in middle age, the roshi's doctor recommended that he drink
some rice wine each day, which advice the roshi seems to have
followed during the rest of his life. Visitors to his room often were
surprised to see a sake bottle on his writing table. He never tried
to hide his drinking. This lack of interest in his reputation was
bound to displease some fellow monks, and a few lay people, too.
When Captain Brinkley visited the roshi, the first thing that
caught his eye as he entered the roshi's room was a sake bottle
on the writing table. He knelt and bowed to the old monk. The
roshi greeted him genially, then reached for the bottle on his
table. He poured himself a drink in a Japanese cup and then
offered the bottle and another cup to Captain Brinkley. Captain
Brinkley refused politely but rather uncomfortably.
"Oh," said the roshi, "you don't ever drink, do you? Well, that
is virtuous indeed. There is a Precept, I believe, that forbids Bud
dhists to drink, though not many people take it very seriously
these days, I've noticed." And he took a swallow from the cup
before him. "However, young man, when an abbot, the most
important person in a temple, offers you a drink, it is impolite
to refuse, you know. You cannot allow an abbot to drink by
himself." And the roshi again extended the bottle.
Captain Brinkley, the most polite and courteous of men, refused
a second time, despite mounting discomfort and embarrassment.
"So, you refuse to drink with a man who is your senior! Do
you think that proves your superior virtue? Do you think that a
layman is the one who interprets the Precepts in a temple when
there is a master present? From whom have you learned your
Buddhism, please tell me?"
Captain Brinkley replied politely but firmly that he felt he must
persevere in his vow to keep the Precept, however impolite and
inconvenient it might prove. And again he apologized courteously.
The roshi fixed him with a ferocious and piercing look, then
there followed a few moments of silence. Finally the old man said
in a severe and menacing voice: "I am the one who is to be re
spected and obeyed in this temple. If I say someone is to drink
with me, they drink! I order you to accompany me in drinking
a cup of wine!" Captain Brinkley refused still more firmly and
this time with real, though still courteous, conviction.
The roshi put down his cup and laughed heartily. "Good,
good," he said. "I'm glad to see that you actually have learned a
little bit about Buddhism. Yes, you have begun to learn in the
Jack and I were introduced to Captain Brinkley. He belonged
to the Tendai sect of Buddhism, in which Zen meditation had
been practiced before the development of Zen as a separate school.
We asked him if he had ever been interested in the practice of Zen.
"Oh yes," he said. "I used to go to listen to Master Harada, a
famous Zen master, when he spoke in Tokyo. He was a good man,
quite an interesting man. Once," he continued, "I went to a
retreat at a big Zen temple in Kamakura. It was in midsummer, it
was terribly hot and the meditation hall was full of flies. The monk
in charge saw me, a new man, in the hall for the first time. He
thrashed me with his 'warning stick.'* After several hours, I went
to sleep quite comfortably in my cross-legged position. The monk
came again and thrashed me until his arms were probably tired.
I didn't mind. Though it was rather painful, it was not unendur
able and it was what the monk was there to do, of course. After
several hours of zazen, I dozed off again, as it was a very hot day
and this seemed eminently sensible in such weather. Back came
the young monk with his stick. By this time he was obviously very
tired and cross. A few long hot days continued like that. On the
whole it was quite an interesting experience in the concentration
and focus of one's energies. But I didn't bother to go back to that
*This way of maintaining wakeful attention among meditants is standard
practice in most Zen meditation halls. Meditants are whacked on each shoul
der in turn with a staff called a kyosaku.
"Zen meditation is also practiced in other Buddhist temples
that do not belong to the Zen sect and it is a good thing, but it is
important that it be done in a Buddhist spirit. Different temples
have different customs and in some meditation halls the warning
stick is used with care and restraint. Actually it is meant only to
induce wakeful attentiveness, to stimulate the circulation, and to
relax tired shoulder muscles, nothing more. Unfortunately, the
monks in charge of meditation halls are often neither enlightened
nor mature. Compassionate wisdom and wise compassion are
matters of individual karma, of individual development, and
meditation disciplines affect individuals differently. Zazen can
be badly abused, and if it becomes an end in itself some people
may wander unnecessarily far from the way of the Enlightened
Ones the Buddhas and the Patriarchs. There is a name for that
wild Zen, they call it the 'wild fox Zen'!" .
"My husband and I have been reading the works of Daisetz
Suzuki," I said. "He writes a lot about monks pushing and shoving
and whacking each other into enlightenment. In your experience
does it often happen this way?"
"Well." He laughed. "Of course the Lotus Sutra speaks of
skillful means. Most people cannot see the need for enlightenment
at all and they may need to be bribed, cajoled, even tricked or
possibly whacked into a knowledge of their true nature. There are
many sorts and degrees of illumination. However, the kensho en
lightenment that a few teachers talk so much about, really strict
teachers rather disparagingly call 'bright toys and ornaments,
candy and treats for the babies,' that sort of thing. Well, it can be
said of most Zen temples, they are very clean and nicely kept up.
Sorne of the other schools of Buddhism have become lax in their
requirements for priests, so there is a lot of distasteful slovenliness.
All that shouting and whacking and running about usually keeps
young Zen monastics from becoming passive and sloppy."
Two years after my first visit to Eihei-ji, following due instruction
and preparation, not to mention a rather egocentric preoccu
pation with my inadequacies, I returned to Japan, to that ancient
Temple of Infinite Peacefulness. This time I went not as a visitor
but as a participant in the temple life, in a monastic regime some
what modified for lay people. The monks' diet was to be shared
by Jukai participants, but heavy physical labor, such as carrying
wood and polishing floors, was not expected of laymen. It was
early spring, but snow was still on the ground and the large un
heated halls were almost unendurably cold. Bone-chilling damp
ness permeated the straw tatami, the cushions and sleeping quilts.
The Jukai schedule, while fairly comfortable for the Japanese
country people who constituted the majority of adherents of
Eihei-ji, I found very austere. It was difficult to rise at 3:30 in the
black, cold morning and to sit on my heels in reposed but aware
immobility for the better part of the day, which often did not
end until ten at night.
The memorial services for dead monks, temple masters, and
countless others appeared to stretch into an eternity. I sometimes
got the fidgets, at least mental ones, though I usually managed to
avoid overt manifestations except when I was exhausted at the
end of a long day. When I asked my teacher-interpreter, Tetsuya
Inoue, about the significance of the chanting for so many long
departed monks and Patriarchs, he replied, "For us they are a
reminder of the significant personalities and deeds that constitute
our long Buddhist history. For you they are zazen, and also a
kind of koan, a problem to be resolved without the help of the
faculty of reason." Now, more than a decade later, experience
has persuaded me that certain kinds of lengthy ritual are indeed
a far more effective means for removing delusion and for trans
lating religious beliefs and ideals into action than is any mere
preachment of doctrine. Initially, ritual should be an experience
of the numinous. However, it should also be an act of self-dedi
cation in which mind, heart, and body are brought to realization
of their inherent unity with one another and with all other hearts,
minds, and bodies, both present and unseen.
I often envied some of the elderly people, who, during these
interminable ceremonies in the great tatami-matted teaching
hall, occasionally curled themselves up in coats or blankets and
took catnaps. Other elderly men and women gathered around a
huge hibachi, where they drank tea, chatted, and laughed in soft
high voices. The voices of the chanting monks, the wind in the
trees, the song of birds, and the conversations of gnarled old
country people flowed together in a deep and abiding harmony.
In the afternoons, there were a few short lectures in which
simple and lucid explanations of the Precepts were given. Most
of the people listened intently, and every so often an old man
muttered, "So desu"—"That's so"—or an old woman exclaimed
"Namu Amida Butsu"—"Praise to the Buddha of Great Light."
These comments, like the tea-drinking around the hibachi and
the uninhibited napping, are a natural part of temple life.
Every evening, with the exception of the final one, there was
zazen and a special ceremony called Bussorai. In this ceremony
the participants prostrated themselves, chanting the names of
various Buddhas, both historical and mythical or symbolic.
Everyone took part in the hour-long procedure. By the end of
Jukai week, participants were supposed to have prostrated them
selves about three thousand times. I marveled that elderly people,
many with arthritis or rheumatism, were able to get themselves
up and down the required number of times. For me, physical
activity provided a happy escape from the rigors and discomforts
of long sitting, either cross-legged, for meditation, or on my heels,
for ceremonies. When I told Tetsuya Inoue that I found the
exercise of prostration quite self-annihilating, he laughed and
said, "It is difficult to be an intellectual."
The most important rite that took place during Jukai week was
the "repentance" ceremony. This ceremony is popularly under
stood as the confession of a kind of "original sin." Many Japanese
country people enter Buddhism with childlike faith or as part of
social convention and misunderstand Jukai as being only a prep
aration for an afterlife, which is probably why more old than
young people participate. I saw very few young people among the
participants of Jukai. In one of the final ceremonies of Jukai week,
each participant stands before the monk-preceptor and repeats,
"Shozai muryo"—"I commit wrongs beyond count," or "I am
responsible for an infinite amount of pain and destruction in the
world." Each individual's existence is responsible for more suffer
ing than his awareness can possibly grasp. No creature can avoid
bringing death, destruction, and pollution into the world. Such
is the inescapable nature of things.
However, shozai muryo involves a paradox, for it is the source
of gratitude for the costly gift of life as well as a resolve to limit,
to the best of one's ability, the creation of suffering and waste
on all levels, in every sphere of one's life. Bonno mujin, seigan dan:
"Suffering is infinite, vow to end it all!" This vow is important
because it can never be fulfilled, since fulfillment is indeed an
impossibility. A haiku by the Japanese poet Issa:
"Dew of this world
the dew of this world cannot last
and yet, and yet . . ."
The Jukai may eventually be followed by a second procedure
called Tokudo, which involves a ritual acceptance of a pupil by
a Buddhist teacher. Tetsuya Inoue, whom Jack and I both liked
and respected, introduced me to his roshi, a saintly old monk who
lived alone in a small meditation temple in Takatsuki, on the
outskirts of Kyoto.
At that time Rindo Fujimoto Roshi was blind in one eye and
very deaf. During the war he had refused black-market food, and
his health had deteriorated accordingly. The first time I saw him
he was still suffering from the effects of tuberculosis and was very
frail. His zendo, or meditation hall, and adjoining rooms were
old and drafty. The zendo, where one-day retreats were held
twice monthly, had a dirt floor. In spite of the old man's infirmi
ties, he walked daily by way of a hazardous main road with no
sidewalk to a small shop to purchase buckwheat noodles and
vegetables that the shopkeeper had set aside as no longer fresh.
These he cooked for himself in his small crowded quarters, sur
rounded by his many books.
Most of the roshi's disciples were then rather elderly, though
the youngest person I ever saw in the meditation hall was about
six years old. They were traditional country people. One old
gentleman corresponded with me quite regularly for a number of
years. Some of his letters were long, and he told me about his
garden, his wife's carbuncles, his children and grandchildren (the
"grandgirls"), and, of course, about our mutual teacher. In one
of his letters he wrote:
Mrs. Elsie Mitchell:
Thank you very much for your letter, Lady! Pardon me
for neglecting to call on you in such a long time.
Do you know that Fujimoto Roshi has shut up the Taka
tsuki meditation hall and has removed to Eiten-ji to live with
his disciple, Mr. Inoue?* I saw Fujimoto Roshi at our
meditation meeting in his new home. He said to us, "I am
very happy since my removal. Never hungry. I am able to
eat three times a day! Tetsuya's wife is very kind to me. Never
cold! In Takatsuki, there were many cars, many people and
bad roads. Many dangers! But now, no more danger for me,
so I have plenty of time to read, to write, to think. Now, I am
always very happy; yes, happy and grateful always."
*Zen monks after leaving the honzan, or training temple, usually marry
and have families. Tetsuya Inoue became the master of Eiten-ji, a five-hun
dred-year-old country temple in Hyogo Prefecture, in 1961. He married short
We all weep at heart—and are deeply moved. He is
becoming a Buddha, our Great Faith Man. He does not
think of other men's wrongs, he only returns good for evil.
Mrs. Tetsuya Inoue is a cultured woman and a gifted
painter. In her spare time she is making a large picture—
scenery, an old maple tree with red leaves, blue sky, and
old wooden temple gates.
Young lady Mayako, her daughter, is growing up, faster
than my last grandgirl. She grows more and more fat. She
is becoming plump and quiet, shyly lovely.
It will grow cold. Take good care of yourself.
This is all of my English ability. Do not laugh, please!
Seeing sazanka and camellia in my window.
Hearing the shrike and brown bulbul in the garden tree.
A year or so after this letter was written a Catholic Benedictine
friend in the course of a conversation with a German Jesuit
author of a book on Zen meditation for Catholics, said of Fujimoto
Roshi: "The roshi we met the other day at Eiten-ji, he was
almost eighty, and nearly blind. Things had to be written for him
to see, and he was deaf. He had goiter. He came in; you know
how Japanese kneel down, and bowed to me, because I was to
him, I presume, the Buddha nature, and he had respect for it.
And he got up and was laughing, as cheerful as possible, and sat
and listened. Then when he was asked a question (we had an expert
interpreter fortunately), what he had to say poured forth with
tremendous impact and real Zen spirit. So wise, so full of gentle
ness, kindness, and warmth, coming from that background, from
that tradition. I was greatly impressed."
In 1961 Fujimoto Roshi had accepted me as his pupil, and it
was decided that I would take part in a Tokudo at Eiten-ji, now
Tetsuya Inoue's temple, in Yokawa, Hyogo Prefecture. Though
I realized that I might have few possibilities for direct instruction
from this gentle teacher of such heartwarming Buddhist wisdom
and goodness, the sacramental aspect of the ceremony presented
itself as a source of inspiration, encouragement, and good karma.
The ceremony took place on a fine but cool spring day. It was
part of a four-day festivity called a Shinsan-shiki, the investiture of
a new temple master. Two days earlier, Tetsuya Inoue had been
created the new master of Eiten-ji, with his family as well as the
temple's patrons and parishioners as witnesses. The Shinsan-shiki
was preceded by a procession of country people up the long dirt
road to the temple. All wore traditional Japanese dress, and the
new temple master was transported in a traditional palanquin by
two of his robust parishioners. This antique conveyance was
followed by about sixty children in colorful kimono and several
men carrying great sheaves of wheat.
The Tokudo ceremony, in which a master accepts a postulant
disciple, was about an hour long. The Ten Precepts were chanted,
and some water was sprinkled on my head by the roshi's disciple
Tetsuya Inoue. The roshi's benevolent simplicity filled the tatami
floored hall. We all sat on our heels together, the roshi, his as
sistants, myself, and the temple's parishioners in their worn but
carefully ironed black kimono. The birds' brightly persistent
songs were not banished beyond the tall sliding doors, nor was
the damp spring wind.
Elsie Mitchell, Cambridge Buddhist Trailblazer
by David Chadwick - November 2002
Source: An Article on Elsie Mitchell
Elsie Mitchell is one of the quiet pioneers of American Buddhism. I heard about her and the Cambridge Buddhist Association from the time that I came to the San Francisco Zen Center in 1966. I've talked with her many times on the phone since 1995 while doing research for Crooked Cucumber and regularly since then and have visited her once, in 1999. This article on Elsie is based on the conversations we've had and a bit on a book she wrote called Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas: a Zen Quest (Weatherhill, 1973).
In 1976 she came out with Our Own Day, 168 pages Publisher: Branden Press. She has contributed to the anthology Ways People Grow and to Studies in Comparative Religion, Young East, Zaike Bukkyo (Lay Buddhism), and Monk's Pond, a magazine edited by the late Thomas Merton, and other journals.
In recent years Elsie has concentrated on reducing the suffering of our animal friends. In this capacity, she is the founder of the Ahimsa Foundation, which supports humane societies, wildlife sanctuaries and shelters for pets, farm animals, primates and other forms of wildlife.
There is a touching poem of hers in the summer, 1999 Tricycle, p.50 called Dogs of Buddha, and her most recent book is The Lion-Dog of Buddhist Asia, (Fugaisha, 1991).
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and she were close and he dearly loved to visit her in Cambridge. I wrote a couple of pieces about her which, alas, didn't make it into Crooked Cucumber , though she was mentioned. She has done zazen with and known most of the first wave of Zen teachers, Soto and Rinzai, who came to the West, as well as many of the East Coasters, such as Huston Smith, Nancy Wilson Ross, and Mary Farkas of the First Zen Institute in NYC who helped Buddhism to take its first steps in America. Feeling Elsie's story was important and somewhat neglected and that making it available in the archive is the sort of work I want to do, I have gone over the material I have on Elsie, spoken to her on the phone recently with lists of questions which she kindly answered, and come up with this report on her life stressing the Buddhist angle with some links to other relevant material. And Elsie kindly and thoroughly went over the whole piece. I thank her for that and also thank Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis Flemings for proofreading. Read on and meet this American Buddhist trailblazer. - DC
Born Elsie Johnson in Boston in 1926, Elsie "grew up among Unitarians who regarded the Christian saints as masochists and Buddha as a ‘noble hero and reformer.'" At a young age she was fascinated with books in her paternal grandfather's library on mythology and the religions of Egypt and India. She attended Farmington, a boarding school in Connecticut (also attended by Jacqueline Kennedy). There, she continued to pursue her interest in Asian thought and religion, consuming everything she could find on Buddhism. Boarding school was a restrictive environment and she lived for the day when she would no longer be "incarcerated." Her father, Edward C. Johnson 2nd, who founded Fidelity Management and Research Company, was not at all pleased when she told him she had no interest in going to college. So, after graduation from Farmington, on her father's insistence, she joined the Junior League and attended lengthy lectures on socially beneficial work. "All the speakers were overwhelmingly boring," she remembers. However, in 1950, after 3 years of marriage, it was through the Junior League placement service that she became a volunteer English tutor for the International Institute in Boston, and thereafter an English tutor for the Harvard University Yenching Institute.
In the fall of 1944, she moved into a friend's apartment and worked first for the Boston Dispensary and then for the Boston Music Company. After about a year, she enrolled in a Berlitz school which offered (during and just after WWII) a special interpreter's course in French which she had studied for years in school. Upon completion of the course, she was interviewed at the FBI where she thought she could use her language skills (French and German) and they were ready to hire her. She was ready too, until she learned she'd have to move to Washington, DC and live in a dorm with other unmarried women under the age of 25.
In 1947, Elsie met and married her mate for life, John Mitchell, an Englishman born in Austria where he spent most of his childhood. John was an investment analyst and researcher who shared Elsie's interest in Buddhism and Asia. After about three years of European travel and sojourns, the Mitchells moved from an apartment on Beacon Hill across the river to Cambridge where Elsie began some years as English tutor to mostly elderly people from Poland and Russia, and finally to young Iranians interning at the Forsyth Infirmary. Then she was assigned to a Korean professor, one of the first visiting professors of the Harvard Yenching's Visiting Scholars Program. He was adequately impressed with her teaching ability (and surely charm) to recommend her to the Yenching Institute. It was assumed she had a college degree and she was hired. Wonderful karma brought her many Asian friends, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, during the ten years she worked for the Yenching Program.
The friends that the Mitchells made through the Yenching Institute opened new doors of Buddhist study. Shoren Ihara, a Shingon Buddhist and Sanskrit scholar, was the first Asian Buddhist whom Elsie knew well. She tutored him in English and he, in turn, taught her a lot about Buddhism. One way they went about it, she remembers, is that he would carefully write a Sanskrit Buddhist term, and then the equivalent Sino-Sanskrit character followed by lengthy historical and philosophical explanations in English.
In 1957, Elsie and John "began to think of spending a month or two in Japan in order to stay in a Japanese temple or temples." This interest was encouraged by a Yenching scholar who offered an introduction to a friend and classmate from Tokyo University, then living at Eiheiji, the Temple of Eternal Peace, one of the two large head temples of Soto Zen. His friend's name was Tetsuya Inoue and he spoke English. The professor wrote a letter, received a positive response from his friend, and plans were made.
In the fall of 1957 Elsie and John traveled to Japan, carrying with them boxes of tapes and a small but high-tech tape recorder encased in stainless steel. Within this case was a sturdy battery powered tape recorder specially built to withstand the demands of field recordings. They had been told that most of the buildings at Eiheiji had no electricity. The Mitchells were accompanied to Eiheiji by Dainin Katagiri as guide and translator. He was thin, friendly, energetic, and smoked continuously, always having a cigarette hanging from his mouth. The Mitchells called him "Mr. Katagiri" because he wasn't wearing monk's garb. He'd been ordained and had spent three years at Eiheiji but he was doing various jobs for Komazawa, the Soto University, in regular civilian clothes. Katagiri did zazen, not with the monks in the zendo, but in the outside sitting area called gaitan. He did zazen in western clothes and his pants were baggy which was convenient because he sat on the floor most the time.
Katagiri went everywhere with the Mitchells and usually kept his portable typewriter with him. The Mitchells' bedroom was turned into a sort of general sitting room during the daytime and Katagiri was always there typing away. It was a Western typewriter, a little Olivetti. "He typed some things for us including various translations and he made out daily schedules for us. He was so busy," Elsie said, "and though he was our translator, his English was lousy. He was enormously helpful, however. I have a picture of him on the roof of the hondo holding a microphone." She remembers taking Katagiri to dine at the Miyako Hotel in Kyoto. It seemed he had never used a knife and fork, couldn't really manage them. It didn't embarrass him at all. He told them, "I want to go to America." He was avid about it, Elsie remembers. Tetsuya Inoue, their original contact at Eiheiji, wanted to go too, but, being from a traditional temple family, he was too bound by responsibilities. Katagiri wasn't from a temple family, his own temple was a tiny one by the sea not far from Eiheiji and he wasn't there much. Seven years later, Dainin Katagiri went to San Francisco where he took on the role of Shunryu Suzuki's loyal and loved assistant teacher.
Elsie and John stayed in Japan for almost three months, one of which was spent at Eiheiji. They arrived in the high humidity and searing heat of mid August, but by the time they left in early November it was getting terribly cold. During that time they recorded not only the chanting of the monks, but also the sounds of the bells, drums, and other ceremonial instruments. When they recorded the bells in the rain Elsie especially appreciated the stainless steel box that housed the recorder. Though this recorder had batteries, it also had "a heavy iron flywheel and had to be wound every five minutes." John took care of the mike and the settings and Elsie kept an eye on the machine and wound it up so that recording could continue uninterrupted.
The Mitchells became friends with Tetsuya Inoue, the monk who had arranged for their recording project. "He was then in his third year at Eiheiji which was rather unusual, and was the oldest of the novice monks, being well into his thirties. He did a great number of jobs for the Kanin, the administrative head of the temple," so he was too busy to translate much for them though his English was good.
Elsie says that the Eiheiji she saw was probably the Eiheiji that Shunryu Suzuki knew because very little would have changed, adding that "change was not something that the Japanese Buddhist training system went in for until fairly recently." She says that some of the changes which have crept into temple life with the advent of modernity, I talk about in Thank You and OK!, which she, to her credit, found fascinating.
One thing she noticed at Eiheiji was the importance of obedience and doing what was expected. "Novices in the zendo were farm boys and as long as they were inside the temple gates there were no arguments. They were all smokers. After tea, as they sat at long low tables outside the kitchen, you almost couldn't see them for the smoke and they all had packs of cigarettes in their sleeves. There were great clouds of smoke around them during their breaks out in the woods behind the zendo. They smoked very strong cigarettes, Players among other brands. There were three strengths, the strongest of which was almost black." I told her I bet they smoked a lot of Peace cigarettes as well. "And in the temple courtyard," she said, "nearly all male visitors smoked." She liked it when she and John were looking about on their own because "In those days the Japanese countryside was so fragrant that we wanted only the natural smells of the woods and wild flowers."
Elsie says you could usually smell incense as you walked by the wide open doors of certain buildings in the temple compound which "had a tranquil charm. There was a dirt road that led to the main gate and very bad dirt roads for miles beyond. It took a full day to get there from Kyoto by car and the roads were full of large ruts and stones." However, Elsie was glad she saw Eiheiji in the old Japan. "There were many visitors, little old people in Japanese dress who came for memorial days or for special services. They talked in quiet gentle voices."
Several weeks after the Mitchells returned to Cambridge from Japan, they met Dr. Shinichi Hisamatsu (Professor Emeritus of Kyoto University) and Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki at a lecture at the Andover-Newton School of Theology. That school's Museum of Religion had a rather bizarre ambiance. In the entrance hall were displays of trophies that missionaries had brought back from Africa and Asia. There was a woman mannequin with lipstick, no wig and a saffron robe, a monk's robe. Dr. Suzuki and Dr. Hisamatsu were lined up beside this tasteless display at the end of Dr. Hisamatsu's lecture, and a reception line filed past to be introduced to the "guests of honor."
Professor Hisamatsu was the first Buddhist lecturer at the Harvard Divinity School. He came to Cambridge with Daisetsu Suzuki and Richard DiMartino, his translator, to deliver a series of lectures. The two old Japanese gentlemen lived in adjoining apartments at the Continental Hotel in Cambridge. Mihoko Okamura, a Japanese-American from New York who was Dr. Suzuki's secretary and caretaker, stayed there too.
In November of 1957, the Cambridge Buddhist Association was formed. The first board was made up of Dr. Hisamatsu, Dr. Suzuki, Professor Shoren Ihara (a Harvard Yenching Scholar), Stewart Holmes (an editor of educational books), Chimyo Horioka (a Shingon Buddhist priest who worked in the Asian Art section of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ), and the Mitchells. Dr. Suzuki was the first president.
A zendo was created in the large library of the Italianate house, (built in the 1850s), into which the Mitchells had recently moved. Dr. Hisamatsu created the zazenkai (zazen group) of the C.B.A. rather to the distress of his sponsors at the Harvard Divinity School. Not a lot of people came to meditate at the C.B.A. in the first year of operation, but his Harvard hosts had never invited Dr. Suzuki to speak because they thought he might be a Buddhist proselytizer looking for converts, a projection of their own mindset. Harvard wanted a scholar.
A well-known lay Zen teacher in Japan, Dr. Hisamatsu lived in a teahouse at Myoshinji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto, where he conducted his own zazenkai for Kyoto University students and scholars. His field of study was Japanese art and aesthetics. He was also au courant with German philosophy then in favor with Japanese intellectuals. German philosophy and theology (particularly Paul Tillich) were also included in the curriculum of the Divinity School, probably an important reason why Dr. Hisamatsu was considered an excellent choice for visiting lecturer for the school.
In the winter of 1957, Folkways Records expressed an interest in the Mitchells' recordings of the sounds of Eiheiji. Elsie worked with an engineer named Steve Fasset who did the mixing and mastering of their recordings in preparation for cutting records. There were at least twenty hours of tape and they went through them all to get the best final product. "We'd put in a piece and splice in the sound of water and take out something else. It was a very long business. While recording, John had set the volume low and Steve said that was good because it meant there was very little distortion."
Elsie decided to return to Japan, to Eiheiji, alone in the spring of 1959 to do some final recording. While there she also participated in a one-week Jukai ceremony in which she was ordained as a lay Buddhist. She also visited her old friend, Tetsuya Inoue, and the impressive old master, Rindo Fujimoto.
Folkways put out a boxed multi record set including an explanatory pamphlet with pictures in December, 1959. "The Way of Eiheiji: Zen Buddhist Ceremony" was, in the sixties, a fairly common item to see in the record collections of Zen students and those interested in Asian culture and religion. "Moe Asch who ran Folkways died in 1986 and then all the Folkways collections went to the Smithsonian where they are in good hands. A CD and cassette version, made from the master record, are available from the Smithsonian today."
The first time Elsie Mitchell met Shunryu Suzuki was in the fall of 1959. She was staying with her aunt in San Francisco on her way home from Japan. She had the address and phone number of Sokoji with her. Chimyo Horioka, who knew a good deal about Japanese and American Buddhist affairs, had provided an introduction and a telephone number. Reverend Suzuki, as he was called back then, answered the phone when Elsie called the temple. She told him she was from Cambridge, Massachusetts, mentioned the C.B.A., and said that she would like to see him and sit with his group. She says his response was "quite hospitable." So she went the next morning. They did zazen and then there was an informal meeting with a very small group of six or so, more than half of whom were women. Afterwards they had tea and talked. It was a "very friendly atmosphere." Suzuki's students were excited about meeting Elsie. East Coast Zen had been established decades earlier than in the West - though Nyogen Senzaki's LA and the San Francisco "floating zendo" should not be forgotten. They knew of the Cambridge Buddhist Association and that D.T. Suzuki and Dr. Hisamatsu had been there. Also, Elsie wore a rakusu, the bib-like garment of ordination that she'd received after her Jukai at Eiheiji. Only Suzuki wore that at Sokoji.
Elsie was interested in everything about their group, the nature of their organization. Suzuki let the students talk. They told her of the schedule but they had nothing organized - no president, no dues, not even a name. Their group had just begun and Suzuki was letting it grow at its own unhurried rate.
She says she liked Suzuki Roshi very much when she met him and felt "very comfortable with him. Reverend Suzuki had an approachable, appealing personality."
Shunryu Suzuki had just arrived from Japan. She says his English wasn't as good then as it later became. She was pretty used to that, having spent a good deal of time with Japanese people. He didn't understand her awfully well either, but she added that, being a Bostonian, she talked rather faster than people from California. However, she'd learned to make an effort to slow down for her pupils. Still, her pronunciation simply didn't sound like California and he mentioned this. He knew people who hadn't lived all their lives in California but he had become accustomed to a Western accent. Elsie and Suzuki were happy to have met, and a bond was formed that would last.
A couple of years later Elsie received a letter from a former C.B.A. member mentioning a student in San Francisco named Richard Baker who wanted a new zendo in the mountains and who had big plans for Sokoji. According to the letter, Baker thought it was important for Western people who wanted to sit to have a separate group from the Japanese community. The group in Cambridge had Japanese members and they were all very comfortable together, so she wondered what this was all about. She didn't realize at that time how much distance there was between Suzuki's Japanese-American congregation and his zazen group, and how much the Japanese-American congregation wanted their own temple. They finally asked him to choose between the two. Some of the Japanese-Americans did zazen and some of the zazen students joined in the festivities of the host group, but in November of 1969, Suzuki Roshi left the temple, taking Katagiri Sensei with him, and he founded the Zen Center's City Center on Page Street.
Every year Elsie and John went to Lausanne, in Switzerland, near Geneva. They were there around Christmas of 1961 and made a world trip of it, going on to such locations as Bangkok, Singapore, Australia, and finally, in March, to the San Francisco Bay Area. They stayed with Elsie's aunt in Oakland. Sally Unger, a former member of the C.B.A., had written to her that Shunryu Suzuki's group had developed nicely and that she should visit them. Also, Suzuki had let her know that it would be nice to see her again, and she felt the same. She showed up at Sokoji for the second sitting on the first morning after her arrival in San Francisco.
Of Suzuki's students, there were a few women who had met Elsie on her prior visit, but there were, naturally, a number of new people. They were all eager to meet with this woman who had made the recordings of the ceremonies at Eiheiji. Most of them had never met anyone except Suzuki who'd been to Eiheiji of which Suzuki spoke so much and so often. Suzuki felt that Eiheiji, and Zen in Japan in general, had lost some of the spirit of Zen. He said that the branches of Buddhism in Japan had gotten covered with moss, but he also spoke about Eiheiji with gratitude and nostalgia and his students tended to think of it as a high and distant goal to be able to go there and practice zazen as Dogen had eight hundred years before.
Also, as in her earlier visit, Suzuki's students wanted to know about the C.B.A., about D.T. Suzuki, Shinichi Hisamatsu, and Holmes Welch, author of several voluminous studies on Chinese Buddhism, and vice president of the C.B.A. for many years. Elsie was interested in finding out how things were done at Sokoji. She was interested in useful details about their California zazenkai , what sort of organizational challenges they might share. Suzuki's zazen students were just in the process of establishing their group officially - one of them was anyway. A student from England, Grahame Petchey, would soon submit papers to the Secretary of State and by the end of the summer they would be incorporated as Zen Center. But there was hardly any noticeable form or formality to their group at all - except that they met regularly to do zazen and chant the Heart Sutra. They had lectures and sesshin , one day, three, five, and week long sittings. It did seem that, as a group, they had no idea of supporting this meditation program, activity, and they didn't even realize that three of the original members were giving money monthly to cover expenses. They didn't know that members of the Japanese congregation brought envelopes with money to put on the altar every Sunday. The zazen students were mostly young and without a lot of extra cash. They just didn't think about this. It all seemed to happen on its own. As she had experienced on her first visit, Suzuki was letting his group find its way in its own good time.
One thing Elsie wondered about was whether the group was planning to keep its small, intimate form, or wished to expand. Everyone was talking about Suzuki's student Richard Baker and he seemed to be of a mind to make the group expand. Others seemed inclined to keep it small. Most of the members of the C.B.A., Stewart Holmes in particular, were against expansion. His wife was an avid Episcopalian and he' been to that church for years and didn't want the C.B.A. to become institutional. He liked the intimacy of a small group.
Elsie says it's amazing that Shunryu Suzuki adapted to California life as well as he did, "really quite extraordinary." On the other hand, when he wasn't with the German-trained theologians at the divinity school, Dr. Hisamatsu found it hard to communicate with some of the younger people, and not only because he refused to speak English. Elsie thinks he just found the American mind-set quite foreign.
When their conversation turned to Fujimoto Roshi, Elsie learned that he was one of the few Soto Zen teachers that Suzuki Roshi revered at the time. He was ten years Suzuki's senior and had been tanto, training leader, in Yokohama at Sojiji, the other large Soto Zen head temple. Elsie was told that he was too strict. He left Sojiji and went to take over a very run down, small village temple. She says that it's amazing he even survived his time there because he was elderly and had a lot of health problems.
He also had poor eyesight though he still could read. "He was a voracious reader," she says. He had a large library and the interest in German philosophy that she had noted in other educated Japanese Buddhists. Shunryu Suzuki's student, Jean Ross, who was to be close to Fuijimoto some years later said that he liked to read detective novels. He was very deaf. He showed Elsie a collection of hearing aids and said that none of them worked. But she noticed that when she spoke to him through Inoue, as interpreter, that Fujimoto looked closely at Inoue's lips and seemed to be able to read them.
Elsie doesn't remember how Suzuki and Fujimoto Roshi knew each other but she remembers that they did. She says that since Suzuki's temple was near Tokyo he may have known Fujimoto when he was at Sojiji. Suzuki visited Fujimoto a year later on a 1963 trip to Japan as well. Fujimoto was one of the few people Suzuki corresponded with though no letters remain. Elsie was another. She doesn't remember what Suzuki said about Fujimoto but though he didn't say much he managed to convey his respect and admiration for him. "It isn't the Japanese way. One could tell by the warmth in his tone of voice that he thought highly of him. There's a circumlocution at times in the way the older Japanese speak of each other. They tend not to say very much about other people, and if they don't like somebody you can tell by their tone of voice or when they say something oblique like, 'he used to spend a great deal of time reading magazines in the subway.'"
In 1962, after her visit to Sokoji, Elsie again returned alone to Japan. She went first to Ryutakuji not far from Suzuki Roshi's Japanese temple, Rinsoin. She went to sit at a seven-day sesshin with Soen Nakagawa Roshi, and arrived the day before the sesshin . She says the sesshin was very hard. After that she went by train to Inoue's temple, Eitenji. She knew some basic Japanese and asked someone at the station where she should go to find the train. On the platform she checked with a Japanese man to see if she was in the right place and she showed him a note that Nakagawa Roshi had written for her. It had the Chinese characters for the station she was going to. The man looked at the piece of paper she showed him, checked with the schedule posted inside the station, then grabbed her bags, and ran with them across the tracks. She followed him, hoping she wouldn't get run over by a train, ended up on a platform far from where she had been, and in an instant was boarding a train to her destination, Eitenji in Yokawa, Hyogo Prefecture.
Once at Eitenji, she again met with her friend Tetsuya Inoue. And there she also was reunited with her teacher Rindo Fujimoto Roshi who had moved to Eitenji from his tiny temple near Kyoto. A festival with lots of people was to be held in the main hall, the Shinsanshiki, Mountain Seat Ceremony, that would install Inoue as abbot of the temple. Two days later Elsie was to receive tokudo from Fujimoto. She was ordained by him into the monk's order. In an hour-long ceremony, she chanted the precepts and officially became his disciple. A year earlier, Inoue had written a transliteration and translation of the whole ceremony for her. Fujimoto told Elsie he thought it best for her not to shave her head as her husband would be upset if she returned to Cambridge without hair. That wasn't the only problem. She'd been away for close to two months, the longest Elsie and John had ever been, or ever would be separated, until his death in 1994. She says that when she did return she found many not so subtle hints from her husband that he had missed her - dozens of shirts to be washed on the banisters and all the dishes unwashed and set about the kitchen.
In Cambridge Elsie continued her relationship with Fujimoto and Inoue through correspondence translated by Inoue. It occurred to her that it would be good to bring out a simple, basic booklet on Soto Zen and zazen. They agreed with her and work on a book was begun. "It was all done through the mail." It was to be a translation of a lecture that Fujimoto had once given and was sent to Boston in English and Japanese. Inoue told her to transpose his Japanese English and make it idiomatic which she did. Thanks to the tutoring of Professor Ihara as well as the Buddhist courses she sat in on while with the Yenching Institute at Harvard, she knew Buddhist terminology. Yoshihiko Tanigawa, a Yenching scholar who lived in the Mitchells' house, painstakingly went over the manuscript with her. This version was then sent back to Eitenji to Inoue who translated it back into Japanese so Fujimoto could make sure nothing was being misunderstood or badly translated. Inoue's comprehension of English was very good, Elsie says "and every sentence was gone over with a fine tooth comb." Through this process the final version was finally arrived at. Fujimoto asked Elsie to do an introduction. She wrote one. It too was translated into Japanese and he approved it. The Way of Zazen came out in 1966. The handwritten Japanese version was put in the C.B.A. library. It was the only book on Soto Zen meditation available at the time in America other than Reiho Masunaga's Soto Approach to Zen [I think]. Everyone at Zen Center read it. In addition to being available from Shunryu Suzuki's office, it was sold at Field's Metaphysical Bookstore on Polk Street in San Francisco and, a block away from Sokoji, at the Buddhist Book Store located inside the Jodo Shin Shu temple and headquarters for that sect in the US, the Buddhist Churches of America.
[Letter of 9/9/64 from Shunryu Suzuki to Elsie]
Whenever I receive your letters, and even when I read them later, I find great encouragement in them. Now I have decided to visit your home one of these days after the 20th of this month. Please let me know what day is convenient for you and where and how I can meet you. I think I can stay there more than one week. I have no idea of forcing our way on anyone but I want to be sincere enough to accept people and help people improving for the better. I am sure we will have interesting talks between us about the matters that concern us most.
Rev. Shunryu Suzuki
I am always in black robe with Japanese kimono.
Suzuki said he wanted to see New England and to find out about Zen in Boston. The Mitchells and C.B.A. members were eager to have him visit. In 1964 there were not many Buddhist groups in the United States that catered to Caucasians, and just a few small Zen groups where zazen was practiced (the oldest being the First Zen Institute of America in New York City). Elsie says, "Yasutani's peregrinations came later." The Cambridge Buddhist Association wasn't a temple but a friendly Buddhist group with a zendo and Elsie's Soto ties in Japan. Shunryu Suzuki had actually joined the C.B.A. - an unusual act for him. I asked Elsie if he paid dues and she didn't recall but she said they were only a dollar a year.
It wasn't just the group Suzuki was going to visit. He and Elsie had made a personal connection. He appreciated the non-fanatical, mature way she committed herself to Buddhism and to helping to establish it in America, step by step, without making a big deal of herself. She admired his low key, open-minded style, the fact that he had worked so hard on his English, and had adapted to American life. He was less culture-bound than many other Japanese priests she had known. She had been "greatly impressed with his integrity, his goodness, and particularly his willingness to work out ways of traditional Buddhist practice suitable for contemporary Westerners." Her favorite story about Suzuki was about the evening she and other C.B.A. members were preparing for his arrival in Cambridge.
She had enlisted the help of a few C.B.A. members in order to prepare for Suzuki who was scheduled to fly in on the following evening. They were cleaning up the library cum meditation hall. On a table in the entryway, there was a recently received card from the soon-to-be honored guest giving his time of arrival, and flight number. "Since I bought the ticket, I have started to feel excited - I can hardly imagine how I'll feel when I meet you at the Boston Airport, at the other end of this continent."
Everyone was wet with sweat or mop water in old work clothes, feeling rather unpresentable, when the doorbell rang. Elsie's husband John stopped his dusting, stepped down from his ladder, opened the door, and who should be standing there with traveling bag and grin as a taxi behind him sped away, but the Reverend Shunryu Suzuki. They had been so sure he was coming the following evening.
"Oh, we didn't think you were coming till tomorrow!" said Elsie.
Oops. He'd obviously written the wrong date on the card, Suzuki told her and laughed unashamedly, most amused at the situation. "Well, let me help you prepare," he said, tying his koromo robe sleeves up behind his neck, "for the important day of my arrival."
Everyone protested "No no no no you can't work!" and efforts were made to persuade him to rest after his trip, but of course there was nothing he would rather have done than join with them in cleaning. And they cleaned and cleaned until it was late and past bedtime. Suzuki was completely at home in his new surroundings and everyone was charmed by him. Elsie says that the main thing that endeared him to those who met him was how, "he just walked into the house, made himself at home, and immediately joined in whatever others were doing, really charming of him we thought."
The next morning after zazen and breakfast, Elsie told Suzuki to take it easy for a while, that she had to go out and do some shopping. When she got back with her groceries she found him outside the house on a tall ladder cleaning windows in his white long-underwear - in plain view of her very conventional neighbors and passers-by on the sidewalk whose customs were different from those of rural Japan.
The Mitchells took Suzuki to their country place on Cape Cod. They had eight acres on a little peninsula called Wing's Neck. It was quiet, especially in the morning, though one could hear the buoy bells from miles away. There they let Suzuki be alone whenever he wanted. He did zazen in the morning on a large rock on the beach, chanted with the waves, and walked back to the house as the sun came up. He called this his secret hobby and said his wife wouldn't have let him do it because it was too cold and wet. He weeded around the house, adjusted a few stones in the rock garden, raked leaves, and trimmed their bushes. There were large boulders in the garden and Suzuki worried his hosts when he climbed up onto these big stones and jumped from one to another. He made a miniature garden of moss, berries, and sand in a large shell so he could "take a bit of New England back to California with me." John put it sideways into a wide mouth jar to protect it.
They also had time to chat. They talked about Buddhism and Christianity, Japan and America. Elsie told him about her tokudo with Fujimoto Roshi in Japan. And they talked about her good friend, Dom Aelred Graham, the Zen Catholic prior, as she called him. He was the author of: Zen Catholicism and Conversations Christian and Buddhist . I met him when he came to Zen Center and I appreciated reading about him in Elsie's book, Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas, a Zen Quest.
Walking around outdoors, Suzuki got down on the ground for a close look at what little bugs and rocks and plants were there and then he rolled over and peered up at the trees. He was almost giddy. Elsie had to keep him from wandering into poison ivy. He wanted to plant a sprig of it in his garden-in-a-jar. He kept remarking at the beautiful colors of the fall leaves on the deciduous trees. Not much of that near San Francisco. So much reminded him of Japan - especially the pines. And parts of old Boston were like areas of Tokyo. All in all he felt at home. She thought he appreciated New England because he missed the change of seasons in California. Suzuki said he'd come back to New England as soon as he could.
"Another nice thing about Suzuki Roshi" Elsie told me, "was that I never thought about him in terms of practice. He was a supremely likeable, wonderful example of the human race and had a simplicity and friendliness and a splendid sense of humor. There was nothing pretentious about him. I'm sure he talked about practice in lectures but with me he never talked about his practice or anybody else's. He was just very natural and easygoing."
Later that month, Elsie received another card from Suzuki Roshi.
Tues. Sep. 29, 1964
Dear Mr. Mrs. Mitchell,
I have just come back without the beautiful but poison oak-like-plant and my Japanese coat. I told my wife all the rest of the things which I did at your home, except my secret hobby. Will you please keep my coat till I visit you next time?
With Gasho, Rev. S. Suzuki
John found Suzuki's coat on the rock he'd done zazen upon at the beach on Cape Cod. It was a big boulder. John couldn't figure out how Suzuki, only 4'11", got up there. John was six feet tall and a climber and it was not an easy task for him to retrieve it. Elsie sent the coat back in a wooden box with a donation which Suzuki set aside for his next trip to Boston.
Shunryu Suzuki made a few other visits to the East Coast with Richard Baker or Silas Hoadley. On some of these trips he'd return to Cambridge to see Elsie and John Mitchell. Elsie says that Dorothy Schalk, who would be in her nineties if still around, "wanted Reverend Suzuki to found a zendo in Vermont where she had some land and when he visited he'd also go up there and stay with her." He always called her Mrs. Chalk or "Chalk-san." Elsie says that Jeannie Schroeder wrote her recently. Jeannie had found a little note in the back of a file drawer. It was from Suzuki saying, "I'm so sorry I can't come to see you this time so I'm sending you a stone I hope you like." He was referring to his '66 visit.
Elsie says that on subsequent visits Suzuki came with Dick Baker. They'd all go out to eat and "Dick would tend to talk a lot. Rev. Suzuki would go to sleep." Elsie says that older Japanese can just go to sleep sitting upright, while appearing awake, when their company isn't needed. They were at one Japanese restaurant for four hours and she was sure Suzuki slept through at least half the evening. The times she saw him with Dick she says that Suzuki was very subdued. "He was an older man and at night he'd be tired." She said, "Dick had too much energy." She thought it "would have been better if Reverend Suzuki had gotten more sleep. Especially the last time I saw him. He just looked very tired and drawn. He didn't look well." I told her I thought it just had to be that way, that the combination of Richard's and Suzuki's energy is what made Tassajara possible.
I asked Elsie if she remembered Suzuki saying anything about his life in Japan. She said that he was quite reticent about talking about Japan. A lot of Japanese of his generation are like that, she said, and that unless something comes up to remind them of a specific custom, it can be hard to pry much out of them. She suspected that Suzuki Roshi in his last years had become quite Americanized in some ways. His English was better and he knew people better and it's possible that the people he spent a lot of time with, talked about Japan or the war with him.
Elsie thinks she last saw Shunryu Suzuki in '66 in Boston. She said he didn't write long letters but she received some little notes [reproduced herein]. She says that once he left a whole pile of stuff there - "some flannel cloth or woolen things that warmed his stomach." Those were haramaki which he almost always wore. Elsie says there was a pile of them, some incense and a couple of brushes that she put in a package and sent back to him. She got a note thanking her for sending them and saying how glad he was to have the haramaki because he couldn't find them in America. Actually, he could have. I know, because some of my fellow students and I were copying him at the time and bought them - at SK Ueda department store in LA.
Elsie's husband John died in 1994. They had been married for forty-seven years. "It was a big adjustment. I've never met anyone like him. We were so lucky and had wonderful karma together. But that's the way things happen."
The C.B.A. continued to meet in the Mitchells' house through the 60's and 70's, but didn't have sesshin at her home in Cambridge because of the lack of space. So she arranged for sesshins to be at her Cape Cod house. In the mid sixties they had several there led by Yasutani Roshi, who honored Mr. Horioka's request for a quiet shikantaza and no kyosaku . He was assisted by Tai san, later to be known as Eido Tai Shimano Roshi of the New York City Zen Studies Society. And there were people such as Dr. Huston Smith (then teaching at MIT) and Dr. Mickey Stunkard who were interested in attending sesshin though they were not involved in the weekly sittings in Cambridge. With the surge of interest in zazen all over the U.S. many Zen teachers came to America during the sixties and early seventies. "They were on the prowl looking for students." She says that Yasutani made many trips to the States but he had a hard time. The chest x-ray he was required to take by the INS showed TB scars. She remembers that once she mentioned to Fujimoto Roshi that the students of Yasutani didn't do shikantaza . Fujimoto, when questioned about the differences between the traditional Soto zazen and the samurai-like agitations of the Yasutani (Harada School) teaching style said, through Inoue's excellent translation, "there's the traditional Soto way (which he followed) and there is the Yasutani way. I find the traditional way the more gracious."
In a letter of 1965, Suzuki had told Elsie about visiting her teacher Fujimoto when he was in Japan in 1963. Yasutani and Fujimoto were Dharma brothers, both having studied under the renegade Harada who taught with koans. Fujimoto had gone on to become a traditional teacher of shikantaza, Dogen's zazen, just sitting, whereas Yasutani had continued and developed Harada's forceful way. His sesshin was full of yelling, kyosaku smashing on shoulders, with high spirited Yasutani urging people ever onward to attain kensho . Suzuki told her he would never forget Fujimoto's "noble silence" as he listened to Inoue talk about Yasutani's sesshin, a silence that conveyed volumes.
Elsie says that some of the people who are doing zazen now don't seem to be Buddhists. "They do it more in the spirit of "working out" or jogging. People today are fixated on zazen, she says. "If there's no zazen, they think there's no Buddhism. There are no feelings of tariki (other power). It's all jiriki (self power)." As he got older, D.T. Suzuki also put emphasis on tariki (and the Jodo Shin Shu) as an integral aspect of Zen. Elsie says that many in the West have been critical of Japan and of the influence of the samurai spirit which they see as the epitome of jiriki . It is ironic that many of these same Westerners are drawn to only this jiriki part of Zen themselves.
Elsie doesn't like the use of the word "train" as in, "I'm going to the monastery to train." She prefers, "to be in training." Another pet peeve of hers is the use of the words "practice" and "practitioner." To her a practitioner is someone who's doing something to create an impression or who is selling snake oil, something without much use. And there is a preoccupation with "practice." She says maybe when Suzuki's students talked about their practice, he went along with it and said, "Well, okay, your practice is this or that," but she says that in the years she knew him she never heard him use the word. Nor did she hear Dr. Suzuki, Dr. Hisamatsu, or even Yasutani Roshi use it.
On the nineteenth of April, 1966, Suzuki spoke at the University of Massachusetts. From there he wrote to Elsie Mitchell thanking her for paying for his trip. He was sorry she was ill. "I have come at a bad time for you but I am anxious to see you."
They did see each other briefly on that trip. He wrote to her later in the summer and told her about the Brundage Collection of Oriental art opening at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. He expressed his sincere respect for the late D.T. Suzuki, and underlined it. He had conducted a memorial for the big Suzuki as he called him, for the great communicator who had more than anyone made the West aware of Zen, at Sokoji on the 24th of July, 1966. D.T. Suzuki had died on the twelfth at the age of 94, saying "Thank you, thank you," expressing the grateful mind of the Jodo-shin sect he had grown up with. Shunryu Suzuki had hoped they would meet but they never did. "It is a great loss for us, isn't it, Elsie! Now I realize it when it is too late."
In a letter of January 16, 1967 Suzuki wrote:
In the end of February I am coming to visit your place. There is no need for you to do anything special as I want just to see you and hear your suggestions about our plans and how to extend our way in the West, as I feel a great responsibility for future students of Zen in America.