Beatrice Lane Kamakura, 1915.
Today I read a student essay which cited B.L. Suzuki. I was intrigued. B.L.?
In college I learned about two giants of 20th century Buddhism: Shunryu Suzuki and D.T. Suzuki. I remember many times mixing them up or naively conflating them into a single person. I later did the same with some of the prominent Sayadaws from Burma (Ledi and Mahasi). Such is the learning curve of the young scholar making his way from rural Montana, a bumpy road paved in error.
So when B.L. came up, I decided to double check. It turns out it was Beatrice Lane Suzuki (1875 – 1939). Before becoming B.L. Suzuki, Beatrice Lane was an American woman who had studied at Radcliffe University, taking classes from the well-known psychologist and philosopher, William James. She also earned a Master’s degree from Columbia University along with a certificate in social work. It was there that she met Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki.
Little has been written about Beatrice Lane’s life (there is not even a ‘stub’ of a Wikipedia page for her). The Theosophy Society in America has a biography documenting her life and activities within the society. For the non-Theosophist, the biography might not be too interesting, filled as it is with mentions of membership lists, brief encounters, and letters on relatively mundane affairs. It is, however, all one has in a brief search of the web for Beatrice Lane Suzuki.
Another link to her name turns up her book on Mahāyāna Buddhism, which has seven reviews on Amazon (several more than her husband’s on the same topic). The reviews suggest a text worth reading, even beyond mere historical curiosity; they note the clarity and quality of the writing, which likely hasn’t been matched even to this day. The book was published in 1938, the year before her death.
Writing of her death, Adele S. Algeo recalls taking the Bodhisattva vows with Beatrice Lane Suzuki when she lived in Kyoto:
I quote in part: “I pray that this merit will extend everywhere so that not only we, but all other beings may attain to the path of Buddhahood … All these merits I wish to extend all over the world and after my death, together with all beings I wish to be born in that Buddha land, where, listening to the Dharma, I may come to the realization of it . . .” The dying wish of Beatrice Lane Suzuki, I am sure, must have been the same wish expressed above. “There is but one road to the Path, at its very end alone the ‘Voice of the Silence’ can be heard.”
As we travel our own roads, let us not forget the many voices who have guided us and others along that path.
Beatrice Lane Suzuki: An American Theosophist in Japan – Theosophy Society in America
Rinzai Zen in the Modern World – Jeff Shore (photo credit)