David Chadwick and Jon Joseph

Watching Something Like a Sunflower

On Monday, February 28, we visited with David Chadwick, Shunryu Suzuki’s biographer and archivist, on the Zen teacher’s legacy 50 years after his death.

So even though you may sit watching something like a sunflower [laughs]– there is still someone looking in front of sunflower. Watching a sunflower in the hot sun, I tried it. It was wonderful, you know. I felt the whole universe in the sunflower. That was my experience, but I don’t know how someone else may have experienced sunflower meditation. [laughs]
The whole universe is there in–in the sunflower. It is not so simple [laughs]; it is a very wonderful, wonderful and complicated feeling. You can see the whole universe in a small flower…
~ Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, excerpt from Tassajara Mountain Zen Center talk “Obon Days”, given August 12, 1971 (four months before his death)


Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who died a half century and a few months ago, is one of the foundational teachers for Zen in the West. As Taizan Maezumi Roshi, teacher at Zen Center of Los Angeles, shared with David Chadwick in 1995, there had been a number of Japanese Zen teachers visiting and establishing sanghas in America since the turn of the previous century. But none had borne fruit. What was it about this teacher that his dharma has appealed to Zen students from many schools and across both space and time?
In the winter of 1966, Chadwick went to Soko-ji temple in San Francisco, where he meditated with Suzuki for the first time. Putting his sandals on to leave, Chadwick writes in “Crooked Cucumber”:

I could see Suzuki in his office, surrounded by a crowd of people on their way out. Still my mind was bubbling. He turned, caught my eye, and smiled, and for the tiniest increment of time, everything stopped, and I saw him…I still hold a snapshot of memory of that first moment of direct contact with the man who had just become my teacher.

Chadwick went on to study intensively with Suzuki and was ordained a Zen priest by him just before Suzuki’s death, in 1971. After his teacher’s passing, Chadwick became a practice leader at Tassajara, and eventually studied with several other Japanese teachers, in both Soto and Rinzai traditions. Since the mid-1990s, he has dedicated himself to establishing an archive and historical record of Shunryu Suzuki’s talks and calligraphy, found at www.cuke.comwww.shunryusuzuki.com, as well as the San Francisco Zen Center audio archives.