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Except for our first meeting, tea seems to be associated with my contacts with Professor D.T. Suzuki. He invited me to help myself from the ever bubbling samovar of the light-coloured weak-tasting green tea which was the national Japanese drink. This was at the Engaku-ji Monastery, Temple, and Academy in those far-off years before the war. This was the fitting place, the pertinent atmosphere, in which to talk quietly about Zen. Then we met again, about a decade later, after the war, at the Los Angeles Japanese Buddhist Temple where he was staying as a guest. He offered some little round rice-cakes this time to eat with the tea. I noticed that he now put a lump of sugar between his front teeth and held it there while he drank. The third time he asked me to tea was a couple of years later at Columbia University, where he again was a guest. There we had Western-style toasted rolls as the accompaniment. After his secretary-assistant removed the trays, we went at great length and in much detail into a comparison of Indian yoga, philosophy, and texts with Zen Chinese and Japanese meditation methods, philosophy, and texts. I was amazed at his extraordinary erudition, for he not only knew exactly where the references supporting his statements could be found, but his ability to read Sanskrit and Chinese, along with his native Japanese and early-acquired English, gave a width and authority which few other men possessed. His basic point was that whereas Zen sought and achieved direct penetration to reality, Indian yoga sought and achieved mental stillness--not necessarily the same and certainly inferior. We were unable to come to a full agreement, so we gradually drifted away from the matter and he talked confidentially with touching humbleness of his own spiritual status. "They consider me a master," he said finally, "but I consider myself a student." Then before leaving I suggested that we meditate together, communing in the silent way that was well-understood in both Japan and India. "But I only meditate in private, alone," he protested, "or in the assembly of a zendo (monastic hall for group meditation). Nobody has ever asked me to do this before." But in the end he yielded, and there we sat with the grey university walls of Columbia all around, the warm summer sunshine coming in through the windows.


-- Notebooks Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 3: China, Japan, Tibet > # 173

-- Perspectives > Chapter 15: The Orient > # 28






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