The Holy Hallway

Today is the day when Zen Center commemorates the death of Suzuki Roshi, forty-eight years ago now. The story of his dying, and the timing of it (on the first day of the Rohatsu sesshin)  is told often enough. I picture him lying in the room that is now the kaisando, the room that all temples have where the founder is remembered.

But for the time that he lived at City Center, in the last two years of his life, he mainly lived in the suite of rooms in the adjacent hallway. They were created, I believe, for the director of the building when it served as a home for Jewish women. The first room, central on the wing, is now the dokusan room, where the abbot or abbess meets students, which also functions as the spiritual base of the abbot, where he or she signs the official papers during the Mountain Seat ceremony. Doors lead through to a sitting room, then a bathroom and kitchen, a bedroom, and finally a closet.

The closet is the outlier as it is not part of the original design of the building. Julia Morgan had designed the wing with a skylight above the west end to illuminate that end of the wing, and a glass section of the ceiling between the second and third floors (the other wing had windows in the west wall for the same purpose. By modern standards, though, the bedroom door was too far from a fire escape, and so the end of the hallway was blocked off; the elegant cupboard, matching the one at the end of the ground floor, was hidden away, and that end of the wing grew dark.

These days it is used as a waiting area for students who are having dokusan or meeting other teachers whose rooms are on the wing (hence its nickname).

After Suzuki Roshi died, his widow, Okusan, continued to live in the suite, and when she returned to Japan, Blanche and Lou moved in there. When I first lived at City Center, I was in rooms on the floor directly above that (where the hallway had equally been shortened, and a little suite of two rooms and a hallway created) known as the tea suite, as it had been used for that over the years. So we had the skylight above, and the glass below. At night we could often hear Lou typing in the closet beneath, quite late into the night.

After Lou died, Blanche continued to live in the suite, but as she grew frail, the rooms were adapated for her decreased mobility. Eventually it was decided that she should keep just the sitting room (as her bedroom), and the bathroom. I was director at the time, and the consensus was that I should move into the other two rooms so as to be in earshot of Blanche if she needed help in the middle of the night – which eventually she did after she broke her hip, and I was on hand when she set off her alarm in the night.

I didn’t really make use of the kitchen, and the closet was still full of Blanche and Lou’s things, but the bedroom was a wonderful space to live in, and was probably as close as I ever felt to being in Suzuki Roshi’s presence…

Kaisando morning of the 4th.jpgThe kaisando with the offerings from the monthly memorial on the 4th.

Flow rehearsal dokusan room Hoitsu jiden 2.jpgLooking for pictures of the dokusan room, I came up with this from rehearsals for the 2014 Mountain Seat ceremony: Fu and Ed are standing by the table where the documents will be signed. Hoitsu, Suzuki Roshi’s son, is sitting in the corner. I have a whole sequence of pictures of him interacting with the Bodhidharma statue on the table, and others of him doing calligraphy at that table.

Suite - kitchen table.jpgThis was the kitchen of the suite – I did enjoy sitting at the table and reading.

Suite - bookcase.jpgSuite - bedroom, bookcase and kitchen.jpgLooking from room to room in the suite.

Suite - bedroom.jpgThe bedroom – the door where my robes are hanging is the door to the closet.

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