To solve our human problem doesn’t cover all of Buddhist practice, and we don’t know how long it takes for us to make the buddha trip. We have many trips: work trips, space trips, the various trips we must have. The buddha trip is a very long trip. This is Buddhism. Thank you very much.
~ Shunryu Suzuki, his final lecture, given on August 21, 1971
We spent the last couple weeks wandering through the vast storehouse of treasures filled with transcriptions and recordings of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s lectures. He wrote little, and apparently spent little time in preparation. But his expressions of the Dharma are brilliantly clear and bright. Like cool well water, encountering them is thoroughly refreshing, and for me, a half century later, moving and meaningful. We looked at his awakening, at his beginner’s mind, and at his teaching methods. This week, in this note we repeat a story of his last months:
Suzuki went into the hospital for a few days to discover the source of his jaundice, which the doctors originally thought was due to hepatitis. His secretary, Yvonne Rand, went to the hospital to get him, and found him on the edge of his bed with legs dangling below his hospital gown. The nurse had just brought his lunch, and he patted the bed and motioned Yvonne to join him.
He slowly mouthed the words: “I have cancer,” with a big grin on his face. She was confused because the two things didn’t go together—cancer and grinning. As she sat next to him, he pulled over the food tray. “I have cancer (and not contagious hepatitis). That means we can eat together again.” He took a forkful from his plate and fed it to her. She threw her arms around him and cried.
~ Crooked Cucumber, David Chadwick, p. 390 (see www.cuke.com)
“What is the sound of one hand when you die?”, is one of the companion koans of Hakuin’s famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I was sharing this version with a friend yesterday and he gave me an update on his best friend, Ed, who suffered a debilitating stroke just a couple of weeks ago.
“This is a friend of 61 years,” he said. “I met Ed the first day of college, we played basketball together, got married and had children in the same month. We bought cottages together at the lake, where we spent many summers.”
The stroke had affected Ed’s left side, and he could no longer speak. Transferred from a local to a metropolitan hospital, after surgery they sent him back to his local hospital. A few days later, he entered hospice, and has chosen to forgo food and fluids.
“During Sunday’s meditation,” said my friend, “I had a clear image of Ed and I together coming into a big, wide open space. And all of our kids moved in, and we all joined hands, and all the trees joined hands with us too. And I thought: ‘Wow, that is the sound of one hand! This is the sound when I die. It is the sound of connection, and love.” He added, “I am going to see Ed tomorrow, and I just want to hold his hand, kiss it, and tell him I love him.”
We looked at each other over Zoom. He said, “I stopped thinking about it, and the one hand just kept showing up.” He held up his hand. “That. And that too.” I silently held up my hand to the screen to join his. “All this stuff here,” he said. “And there is no end to it.”
“If you are not born in this world, there is no need to die,” said Shunryu Suzuki. “To be born in this world is to die, to disappear.” And Suzuki laughed. We don’t know how long it takes for us to make the buddha trip, but it is a very long one.