An Intimate Picture Of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi with Tim Burkett, Ph.D.

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After experiencing a spontaneous transcendent mystical experience, Tim Burkett sought spiritual instruction in Buddhist meditation. This was in 1964 before meditation was even on the American radar and there were hardly any Buddhist teachers on the scene. Looking in a San Francisco phone book he found a listing for a Zen Center. He says, I went up to the door and knocked on it and this little Japanese man opened it and introduced himself as Reverend Suzuki. I went up to his office, told him about my [mystical] experience expecting him to say, ‘wow,’ but instead he said, ‘Oh, that is good, very good, but that’s not Zen.” This was the beginning of a long and fruitful path for Burkett who later, himself, became a Zen teacher. Giving us numerous insights into the way Suzuki Roshi would teach, here Burkett shares many poignant and revealing memories of being a student of Suzuki Roshi who was one of the most revered and renown Zen teachers in the West. An example of a teaching story was when Burkett was considering going to Japan to study Zen for a year and was trying to evaluate the most perfect Zendo. He was doing a bit of “comparison” shopping. When asked for advice, Suzuki pointed to a collection of Raku teacups, each handmade and unique. He said, “If you try to pick and choose the best teacup, you will not appreciate any of them.” Burkett confided, “That was a big help to me and as a result of it I didn’t go to Japan at all and worked and stayed with him.” Burkett also shares with us that “kind attention” helps our mind open up to stillness. “If we’re not kind in our meditation, pretty soon our meditation is just as competitive and just as judgmental as all these other things we do. That competitiveness and judgmental attitude blocks our natural openness, our spontaneous quietness.” These are only a taste of what you will enjoy in this special dialogue. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Tim Zentetsu Burkett, Ph.D. is Guiding Teacher of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also a licensed psychologist and a former director of People Incorporated, a large mental health agency in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has been a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and later Katagiri Roshi, in whose linage he is a dharma heir. Suzuki Roshi’s book of talks, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Shambhala 2011), is a classic for all spiritual seekers.

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Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How Suzuki Roshi used the image of waterfalls in his teachings
  • Why it takes more than longing and aspiration to attain a calmness of being
  • What is Burkett’s advice for confronting the boredom of meditation
  • How stillness is not about pushing away our thoughts or spiritual bypassing
  • What is concentration meditation
  • What is the lesson of watching Japanese Samurai movies
  • What is the lesson of the raku teacups
  • What is the image of “butterflies on your shoulder” which is helpful in meditation
  • What does Burkett mean by “our kind attention”
  • Do we need a teacher to guide us in our spiritual practice
  • What is Burkett’s advice for choosing a spiritual teacher
  • What was the Zenefit that happened in San Francisco at the Avalon Ballroom in 1967 with Janis Joplin, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, and others
  • What was Suzuki Roshi’s introduction to Western culture
  • How mystical and enlightenment experiences can hamper our progression in spiritual practice

Host: Justine Willis Toms      Interview Date: 9/24/2015      Program Number: 3558

Music Playlist

From Album: Zen Pause
Artist: Thierry David
2007 Real Music #RM4210

Opening Essay: Track 05 Connected
Music Break 1: Track 09 It’s Safe to Sway
Music Break 2: Track 01 Rain on Me
Music Break 3: Track 03 Core Breath