Benjamin Suzuki: This passed by zen: extracts and excreta from the life of Pau-Pau

This passed by zen: extracts and excreta from the life of Pau-Pau


Utterances of Pau-Pau

Benjamin Suzuki

(in retirement)

[Archival note: Passed by zen, like Suzuki’s Zen journal, has neither external dating nor internal evidence suggesting date. Unlike the Zen journal, which biographers believe overlaps with much of his Court tenure and certainly his retirement (cf G. Ponti, ed., Remembering the Suzuki Court, entry 2 by Brian Page, former clerk to Suzuki), Passed by is thought solely a product of retirement. We know retired Suzuki sent the work to Henry Mitland, who still sat on the Court, with instructions that it be kept secret until his (Suzuki’s) death, then sent to Anthony Pau Cabrales (who also still sat on the Court). Mitland honored the request; Cabrales received the work shortly after Suzuki’s death was announced, Cabrales by then the only still sitting member of the Triumvirate (see, generally, K. Q. Binmore, A cacophony of silence: the personal journals of the Suzuki Court, for the Court Triumvirate Cabrales, Mitland, Suzuki). Cabrales had the work published without comment.

“Pau,” Cabrales’ middle name, is Catalan, having two meanings: “Paul,” or “peace.” The double play “Pau-Pau” is thought to evoke all four possible English combinations. Cabrales’ middle name was bestowed by his paternal grandfather, a nearly illiterate illegal alien from Mexico who refused to apply for U. S. citizenship (see Extracts from Cabrales’ journal, entry 6, end archival note). His grandfather carried an unverifiable tradition of Catalan origin; regardless, the double meaning of “Pau” was known to him, although he could not have known the language, as it was near extinct when Cabrales’ grandfather was a child, later revived in the Spanish region of Catalonia through regional government policy.

Passed by emulates an old collection of zen stories, Saying and doings of Pai-chang; perhaps as well a 2002 fiction by Robert Aitken, Zen master Raven: saying and doings of a wise bird, although Suzuki’s Pau-Pau is something of a magic culture hero, while Raven is not.

Suzuki’s “triangular” sending of Passed by to Cabrales via Mitland, with his death in-between, reflects his love of the Triumvirate, but also his reticence when conveying gratitude to these two essential colleagues. Pau-Pau is somehow derivative of the catholic Cabrales–how, however, we shall never know.]


I stand in the wasteland of unimportance, way station for others’ sojourn.


As I die my putrid body swells and stinks, final teisho on the diversity of life.

[Archival note: a teisho is a zen talk given before a session of zazen meditation, especially in week or longer zazen retreats.]


Pau-Pau, being enlightened, could fake many things. Once, finding himself in a resort town, he spied many important looking people entering a fancy hotel. Such places offer paradise; when their doors open, the warm sultry outside air, longing for perfection, rushes inward, while the cool, lethargic ecstacy inside slouches outward, groping towards its former life, knowing the inward soaring above will someday wonder where out is too. But the cool warning of perfection is too inviting to be understood. Even for enlightened Pau-Pau.

Pau-Pau’s nose twitched, his feet pulling him sidewise too close to the portal of paradise. Balance flees, smarter than Pau-Pau at the moment, Pau-Pau revolving toward the brief opening of other life, body thumping on exit-entrance making it wide, his feet dancing to avoid stumbling, all dancing is, enlightenment avoiding the whole matter of in and out by taking him inside, because that is what enlightenment does, taking here to there, thereby making a here.

Flung into paradise, he looks around–and is disappointed. Economists. He is amidst economists, economists in conference, shudder, it’s cold. Yet here is here, so now Pau-Pau is in conference. Of economists. He joins the talk. When asked his affiliation, his mouth pouts, I have several appointments; eyes widen, but then he speaks of a most interesting trend in economics… Appointments he has, but he never keeps them. His way of giving them back. A generous man, Pau-Pau is.

Later he practices staying awake during talks. Head jolts in interrupted doze, nods vigorous in agreement with speech noise. Others admire his form, begin to practice alongside. Then a jolt jolts him. Maybe he is missing Truth. Best way to find out is declare Truth discovered and see what people say.

He jolts once more, this time to his feet: “This is the foundational result I have been striving for! I shall devote the remainder of my career to elucidating the minutia of your thought!”

Silence. The speaker blinks, wondering what he said. Members of the audience wonder if they should have paid attention to the last slide. Everyone thinks somebody else has understood, will speak. Pau-Pau’s voice was so authoritative; he is enlightened, after all. And he has several appointments. Then–a chuckle. Another. Another. Relief expires the audience–no one has the answer yet. The speaker is relieved as well: he need not defend a Great Result. Pau-Pau is disappointed. Not only is this not Truth; no one has pointed out what Truth might be.

More appreciative chuckles for Pau-Pau’s inadvertent wit. But no one asks him to the conference dinner.


Why should God listen to my sayings?


I have become compassion, destroyer of worlds.

[Archival note: J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, said that while viewing the first atomic cloud at Trinity, he recalled the words of Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.]


Pau-Pau rushed into a zendo, unnoticed upon arrival; such is the cost of enlightenment. Buddha not enlightened. Always commissioning self-portraits anonymously, yes, even in this day. Yet he never comes to visit. Too busy remembering himself, unable to forget, not knowing forgetting is the key lost when won. So his self-proclaimed great sacrifice, staying in the world, postponing nirvana, remembering so we can forget.

Buddha nods. I am not in my portraits, but in the anonymous thereby lost into oblivion. My portraits allow escape elsewhere, your curses part of my loss through fame. I remember the world so you need not. Compassion is the path toward oblivion, a path beginning in memory. I am the nexus of all loss so the greater loss does not become the property of enfeebled rapture, vanquishing itself in momentary bliss. My vanity keeps hope alive; bliss needs not hope.

Pau-Pau has better things to do than listen to Buddha’s excuses. Like looking around right now. He’s good at looking around. From practice. In the zendo unnoticed, he notices an acolyte engaged in walking meditation. Ah! Notice comes! Pau-Pau blocks the monk, shouting at this emblem of culture, arms aflay, reddened in face for extra effect. There! Certainly I am noticed now.

The coming monk tilts his head down, grateful for this instruction, walks forward, downcast, not seeing Pau-Pau’s apoplectic face. Bump–right into Pau-Pau, two steps back, then forward, bump again. A dance of unclear social import.

Several bumps later, Pau-Pau steps aside, exacerbated. He sees a sink with glasses nearby, rushes to fill one, struggles to see his reflection in the tiny pond of filled glass. No reflection! Pau-Pau does not exist! The walking monk continues to tour the walls in meditation. Pau-Pau joins, following or leading–hard to tell in the squared circle.

Several hours later Pau-Pau’s feet hurt. What’s wrong with this monk? He trying to walk himself into, thereby out of, the earth? Remembering the tiny pond which refused his existence, he rushes to drink it. Now pond doesn’t exist either. Nonexistence returns the favor!

A door. Another room to make a wind. He rushes through. And is noticed! Waddle comes the abbot toward him. Here I become noticed? Or has the light dimmed to make me bright? Cannot say without several committee meetings.

Waddle waddle. Panic. Soon he will be here. Eyes search room, bare walls holding only a single scroll of calligraphy. Waddle waddle. Pau-Pau rushes toward the scroll, make him waddle some more. The abbot, reaching where Pau-Pau was, becomes confused, momentarily unbalanced in the wind of what no longer is. Ah. A guest by the scroll. Waddle waddle.

Desperately avoiding the coming future (waddle waddle), Pau-Pau greets the scroll. Shows I am enlightened. In dim room. The scroll, a one line calligraphy by Kōgetsu (Pau-Pau pulls out his ever book from a pocket never noticed–Kōgetsu, 1574-1643. All understood, ever book goes away, having embedded this moment in moments that must have been). Strong, thick brush work, dense as a shout:

When the follower of zen

is in doubt

his eyelids droop!

Pau-Pau, being enlightened, reads this. Waddle waddle. Stop.

“Ah! Visitor! You admire the zendo’s admonition! It is original. Priceless.”

Original? Who can hold the moon?

“Yes, a true statement.”

“We cover our eyes with doubt.”


“Bodhidharma removed doubt by removing his eyelids. This is true instruction. Always see.”

“What? Bodhidharma sat in front of a wall. Eyelids were superfluous.”


“He had no path to make. Eyelids droop to see the ground. Where to step next. Doubt is the placement of steps. How did you waddle over here?”

The abbot looks at the shouting ink, makes a hoarse cry.

“Your zendo has performed well for Kōgetsu.”

Another hoarse cry.

“Then what do we do next?”

Pau-Pau shrugs. “Get eyelids? Look down?”

Now I know why I arrived unseen. No eyelids to make a difference.

With a nod to Kōgetsu, Pau-Pau rushes unseen into the world.


You want words to solve the day? Then let the cortex flare, spinning vision, until, staggering to a drunken stop, you cry pivot! Find where you are then. No solution but that.


You see no counter-current, feel not the gentle push of hands keeping you from spilling life on the exuberant shore.


Into the desert of days Pau-Pau went, where no one always is, the ever companion to some someone, always a someone there. Walked deeply he into the blinded bright, his staff warning for no one to keep distance, stopping when the far images of vastness thin grey into sky. There, where so many have been and will be, he spoke, hoping only none could hear:

“If we did not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, there would be no need to write. Attend: reproduction is a bubble of no-mistake until colliding with another such bubble. Then–pop! pop!–mistakes abound, a sea of grass, wind made patterns effervescent. And so too with Truth: encountering itself, pop! pop!, what remains is–an audience.”


Into the abundant grass Pau-Pau dances, another breeze from nowhere.



I see things not there so others may move beyond what they see.



asked for my death

I offer this final innocence

(death poem)



I enter this delusion unto its end.

[editorial note:  this also appears as Suzuki’s final comment during the hearing of the Right to Bear Arms Cases]
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