Chadwick studied intensively with Suzuki and received Zen priest ordination from him just before his death in 1971. Chadwick became a practice leader at Tassajara and eventually studied with other Japanese teachers in both the Soto and Rinzai traditions. A lively conversation with Jon Joseph recorded February 28, 2022.
David Chadwick, Shunryu Suzuki’s biographer and archivist, talks about his 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 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 his Tassajara Mountain Zen Center talk “Obon Days,” August 12, 1971, four months before his death
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi is one of the foundational teachers in establishing Zen in the West. As Taizan Maezumi Roshi of 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 appealed to Zen students from many schools 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 his book, 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 received Zen priest ordination from him just before his death in 1971. After his teacher’s passing, Chadwick became a practice leader at Tassajara and eventually studied with other Japanese teachers in both the 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, which can be found at