Way Seeking Mind

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The route to becoming a zen monk; growing up Jewish and hanging out with the beats; meeting Suzuki Roshi.

AI Summary: 



This is not the perfect and penetrating Dharma. Okay, part two. I want to go back a little bit. Some things that I wanted to clarify. Can you hear me okay? Everybody back there? Yeah, they kept this. So, I think some people got the impression that my life was all very kind of easy going and it all worked out well. And that's not true. Because I said that I never worried much about money. But I worry about a lot of other things. And I remember when I was going to grammar school and four kids approached me.


And I could tell they were Christians because they were so white. That's really true. And they came up and they said, Hey kid, are you Jewish? And I said, In those days you had to make a choice of whether to say yes or no. I said yes. And they said, Do you know that Jews killed Jesus? And I said, They did? What does that mean? It was like, Do you want to kill me? It was just like this. I couldn't believe that they were saying this to me. And it really scared me. But this was the tenor, the tone of the times. This was the tone of the times. Nowadays, you see Jews, Jewish men walking down the street


with yarmulkes on, little hats. Never, you ever saw a Jewish person wearing a yarmulke before about 19, down the street, before about 1965 or 70. Until the Jewish people finally got, came out of the closet, so to speak, and could feel safe on the street. So there was always this feeling of not feeling really safe in America, in Long Beach, California, in Hollywood, California. Even though the Hollywood moguls were mostly Jewish. That didn't apply on the street. So I always felt a little bit out of society. So for many reasons I was out of society. That was only one of them. And so in my life,


there was a lot of depression. I was depressed a lot as a kid, and later as a young man, and so forth. So I just wanted to say that, I think in the genes, in the Jewish genes, there is a built-in sadness, a built-in heaviness. And no matter what your life is like, it's always there. And when Jewish people meet each other, they recognize this in each other. And so I was very sensitive when I see Jewish people that are depressed, for no special reason. But it's there,


and it's just part of life. So I was always attracted to music, soulful music. And one of my favorite keys is G minor, with three flats. That was actually a kind of theme in my life, that kind of heaviness, and brooding, actually. So you see me now, and I'm kind of light-hearted, and so forth. But that's the result of 75 years. Although, the other side is, I was light-hearted. That's the other side. I was so light-hearted that one time


somebody told me to shut up, and that stopped me. I was just being silly. I was about 15, and that had a big effect on my life. Interesting. I was then kind of like I am now. Well, the other thing is, that when I was an artist, we lived in North Beach a lot. I did say I lived in the Mission, but we also lived in North Beach. And I knew a lot of the poets, and the painters, and musicians, because those are the people that I hung out with. Ginsberg was there, and Gary Snyder was there. I was at, when Gary Ginsberg read his famous poem, Howl, that was at the Sixth Gallery. And that gallery was originally,


just before that, it was called the King Ubu Gallery. And I don't know if you know Robert Duncan and Jess Collins. They invited me, and one of my painting teachers to have a show there, the opening show at that King Ubu Gallery, which later became, the next year became the Sixth Gallery. And that's where they had that poetry reading, where Ginsberg read Howl. And then somebody came up with an axe and smashed the piano to pieces, chopped the piano to pieces with an axe. And the poet Philip LaMantia, who I knew very well, who was, yesterday I took his obituary out of the paper. It was very interesting. And the person who wrote the obituary, I think it was an art critic, said that Philip was the most,


well, best surreal poet in the 20th century in America. So there are all these people, just the people you hang out with, and later on they become somebody famous. It's very interesting. But to you, they're just who they are. And Michael McClure, he pops up in my life every once in a while. And the last time was just a year or two ago when he wanted to do a tape of him reading the Heart Sutra. And we got some people together at the Berkley Zendo to be the orchestra, the band. And, well, you were there. And I was playing the mokugyo in a kind of jazzy way. So these things continue.


Oh, yeah. And then when I was smoking pot for those years, those early years, that made me even more depressed. Because on the one hand, you feel high, and then the other hand, you feel depressed. So for a long time, I felt like I was underwater, like the sky was up here and the waterline was here. But I could never get above the waterline to breathe the fresh air. That was the feeling I had. So when I finally did breathe the fresh air, it was like the most valuable thing in the world is fresh air. You know, it's like the most wonderful thing. This was after I started practicing, that the most wonderful thing is your natural mind without any modifications,


which I had always felt until I started smoking pot. And then after, I realized that that was the natural order of mind, just clear mind. The most wonderful thing in the world is just to have a clear mind. Okay, so those are the things I wanted to say about last time. But this time, I ended up talking about that I came to Sokoji, 1881 Bush Street, which was the old synagogue, of course. I think it was the first synagogue in San Francisco, the oldest one. And the Japanese congregation, it was the congregation of another group before it was the Japanese congregation.


When they were in concentration camp in America, they saved their money, and when they got out, they bought this 1881 Bush Street. And they had a... The Japanese practice was called Soto Zen, but it was just a church. It was just like going... It was like a Christian church. And I think they modeled it somewhat on the American style of Christian church. And all the pews were there, and Suzuki Roshi started sitting in the pews with people before they had the zendo. And so they brought Suzuki Roshi over to... They needed a priest, and Suzuki Roshi came as their priest. And people just started coming and sitting with him. So... The building had a go club downstairs,


and that was the most popular part of the building, was the go club. And then the zazen was upstairs in this wonderful attic. It was just great. Beautiful light. And this is where all our silent dramas went on. You know, in those days, everybody was trying real hard just to sit zazen. So it was very... It was a little different feeling, because nobody had zazen before. And so we didn't have all this, you know, all these people who could sit well and encourage each other. But anyway, we did all that, and Suzuki Roshi... I didn't think of Suzuki Roshi as... We didn't call him Suzuki Roshi. We just called him Reverend Suzuki.


And later, I think it was Alan Watts who said we should call him Suzuki Roshi. But anyway, that was later. But as I got to know him, I began to really, you know, like him a lot. And I felt... After I'd sat two or three times at Sokoji, I don't know how many times, but it was a little while, and then I realized, one time I just felt when I was sitting that I felt what I thought was samadhi. And it was a certain kind of feeling that I had, which I can't describe, but I thought, this is samadhi. It's just my idea, you know. Suzuki Roshi never talked about samadhi. Very rarely did he ever talk about samadhi, use the word samadhi. But anyway, that's what I thought.


And I thought, I want to keep coming back and doing this. But I found out that every time I did it, my legs hurt. And finally I said to Mike Dixon, who... Mike's wife, Trudy, was the one who edited Jaima Bhagavatam. I said, Mike, you know, this always hurts. And he said, yes, it will always hurt. And then Mike always sat in the full lotus. And so little by little, I started to sit in the full lotus. I didn't think I could do it, but that was a little late. Maybe after a couple of years I started sitting in a full lotus. But... This was 1964. And so I started coming to Zazen every day. I would come to Zazen in the morning


and I'd come to Zazen in the evening. And I was very regular. And I realized this was the most important part of my life. And I was 35. And I said to myself, I know that this is exactly what I've been looking for. And if I don't do this now, it'll just pass me by and I'll be lost again. So I just, you know, really devoted myself to sitting. And so Suzuki Roshi, you know, he liked me. And he didn't... Suzuki Roshi's way of teaching was very subtle. And he would... He always adjusted posture. Every day he would adjust posture. And he would never let anybody sit slumped. And he would adjust your posture micromanaged over and over and over again.


And... He talked about Zazen a lot. He said, you people... During Zazen he would talk, he'd say, you're like loaves cooking in the oven. You know. Just keep cooking. You're cooking. And sometimes he'd say, don't chicken out. But I remember... Well, he got the idea that you should not move. Don't move. And I went through excruciating, painful Zazen periods for a long time. But he was always very encouraging. You know. Always encouraging. Always encouraging. And never criticizing. Never criticized. You know. He said, you can't judge Zazen. You just keep doing your best to do it the best you can. And...


So I was just in there, just doing the best I could. And his whole attitude was like, just don't ever give up. Just put your energy in it and don't ever give up. And I realized, this is the whole essence of the practice. Is you put your whole body and mind into what you're doing and you never give up. That's what it's all about. And then everything comes out of that. Whatever it is that you gain, which is nothing, comes out of that. So, I realized that I had gotten his Dharma, basically. And so, I was living in San Francisco and, well, I got a girlfriend. I was in a music store and this nice young lady was... We were both looking for music and she just picked me up. And then I moved in with her in Berkeley.


That's how I got to Berkeley. What happened to your wife? No. No, this is... First wife. Long before that. This is after... Oh, I'm sorry. My... Thanks for reminding me. My first wife and I were married for eight years. But as it goes, we parted amicably, because I realized, and I know this very well, that people, especially artists, meet each other, but each one has their own direction. And we may stay together for a while in a good way, but the seeds of your direction keep sprouting and they're not the same seeds. So, when the seeds of your direction sprout and drive you


in the direction that you're going, there's nothing you can do about that. So we were both actually going in different directions. And so, we understood that. And so, you know, we said goodbye, she went in her direction, I went in mine. So there was no animosity or bad feeling, just recognizing this fact. So, after that is when I met this other lady. And so I moved in with her in Berkeley. And then, but I would... Every morning, I would drive to San Francisco and go to Zazen and pick up people, because Suzuki Roshi had a little group of people in Berkeley who sat together every Monday morning. And it was in a different person's house. So, but not everyone was dedicated to the practice and they'd move and they'd,


you know, let it go. So he asked me if I would find a place and take care of it. So I found this wonderful place on Dwight Way and opened it up for Zazen. And I was the caretaker, I was not the teacher. I never set myself up as the teacher. But, I would give Zazen instruction to people and we had a schedule, but it was a morning schedule. And then my girlfriend moved out because it was not her thing. She was a musician, she was not, she had no interest in Zazen. So, we're paying $130 a month for this huge house, huge old house. And I started developing the practice there.


At the same time, always going to San Francisco. And sometimes, you know, they used to have four or nine days at Sokoji. They observed four or nine days like we do here. So, we'd forget that it was a four or a nine day and we'd show up and knock on the door and say, oh, hi! And then back in. He would never open up for us. So then, I asked Suzuki Yoshi, I said, is it okay after a while, I said, is it okay if we have afternoons of Zazen? And he said, yeah. He said, you can do whatever you want. So, we had afternoons of Zazen and Suzuki Yoshi would come over every Monday just like usual and then we'd have Zazen and a talk


and breakfast and we'd have wonderful conversations over breakfast with everybody. It was a group of about ten people, eight or ten people and he did that for regularly and then 1967, well, 67 is when actually when we started the Zen Dojo and that was the same year that we started that we bought Tassahara and then around 1969, 68, Suzuki Yoshi couldn't come over much because he was too involved with San Francisco and Tassahara, coming down Tassahara. So, Katagiri would come over and then Chino Sensei would come over and then Yoshimura would come over. So we had all these wonderful Japanese teachers who wanted to practice with Suzuki Yoshi and with us. So those are Suzuki Yoshi,


Katagiri. Katagiri came to Zen Center 1963 and he and I were, he was about a year older than me and he taught us a lot of things. He was very, very nice. I really liked him when he was with us at Sokoji. Then Chino Sensei came. He was supposed, Chino Sensei was supposed to go to Los Altos, to a little group in Los Altos, but Suzuki Yoshi collared him and made him stay at Zen Center and I remember we did the first Sashin here at Zen Center on the porch. It was not covered at that time. It was an open porch and it was the middle of the summer and it was about 120 degrees.


I mean, everybody was just falling all over themselves trying to sit and I just kept on crossing my legs and you know, it was just impossible to sit. We'd do Kenhin out there and then after that was over we all signed this little scroll for Sashin and we all put our names down there and Suzuki Yoshi looked at my handwriting and said, you should study calligraphy sometime. I didn't know what he meant by that, and he called me into his room and he said, I would like you to join our order. Those were exact words. I would like you to join our order. I said, what do you mean? He said, you know, to be ordained as a priest. What do you think about that? And I said, sounds okay to me or something like that. So it was totally out of the blue because I didn't know anybody. He had ordained


one person who left. I don't know, it was a little murky about who he ordained in the beginning, David Chadwick knows about that. But Graham Petchy, Graham was English. He was one of Suzuki Goshi's first students and he sat in the full lotus and he sat like a piece of iron. I couldn't believe the way he was sitting zazen and everybody was just so admiring of him, you know, because of his strength in zazen. So he was like everybody's model. But he soon left and never came back. Anyway, he was ordained and Ananda Dallenberg was ordained. Ananda said, Ananda never quite understood what that meant. He said, I was in Etsukoji, I think, with Suzuki Goshi in Japan, 1960 something.


And he said, Suzuki Goshi took me to his room and he did all these funny little things and threw a robe on me and he said I was ordained. I don't know anything about all that. It's very funny. But he was ordained. He never wore a robe. then there was Richard Baker who was in Japan when all that happened. And Phil Wilson had been ordained. So I'm maybe the fifth one who was ordained. And there was no model. There was nobody nobody else. So I said, well, where should we be, where should we do this? He said, well, I'm trying to figure out whether I should do it in Tassajara or in Berkeley because Berkeley was where I where I was you know most of the time. And so he decided


that he would ordain me in Berkeley. This is only about after about 60's and 60's that he he asked me this was in 64 is when I started. So five years to when I was ordained. I was ordained May 19th, 1969 which is Buddha's Suzuki Roshi's birthday. It was also the day of my first marriage. The wedding day of my first marriage. It was just interesting. But there was something else and I can never remember what it was that was coincidental like that. Anyway, so he finally said I'll do it. I said, well, when do we want to do that? When do you want to do the ordination? He said, when you're ready and when I'm ready. So it was something that he wanted to do but he wasn't ready to do it. He just wanted you know.


So two years later in 1969 we had the ordination in Berkeley in the Zen Do. And that was very nice because he wanted the people to he wanted Berkeley to have a priest and here I was doing all this. So he was kind of bringing me up this way. So I felt that he really trusted me and I felt that he wanted to see what this would be like to you know to do this in America to have a Zen Do with an American priest in charge of the Zen Do. But I still was not teaching. I never called myself a teacher. I didn't call myself a teacher for a long time even though de facto I was teaching. I just kept developing the Zen Do and


I had an idea of what I wanted to do. You know I knew what I wanted to do and the feeling I had was I wanted a grass roots Zen Do. Local Zen Do grass roots meaning that whoever the people the members would develop the Zen Do and support it. And he sent Dick Baker over who was the president to talk to me about support about our relationship between Berkeley and San Francisco because we were I always felt we were an affiliate of San Francisco Zen Center. So Richard came over and we talked and the question came up well should San Francisco give us any support? And he said


I don't think so. He said I think that if the members don't support the place then it shouldn't be supported. And I thought well I agree with that. I didn't agree with him that Zen Center shouldn't give us some support but I agreed with his idea that the members should support the place otherwise what is it? So and that's I've always felt correct about that but it would have been nice for him to say well we'll give you a little support you know just camaraderie right? That never happened. So we just kept developing the people would come by Blanche and Lou came by Richmond came by Peter Overton came by and his sister and all these people that we know now as teachers


all came by and they were practicing there. Then when and so Suzuki Roshi had was ill so I was ordained in 69 Suzuki Roshi died in 71 and which seems like not so long right? But in those days when you're younger it's a longer time. It's really true. The older you get time just kind of what? Anyway so in those days it seemed those two years were fairly long and we'd all go to Tassajara and help develop it you know I remember when we were building the kitchen that kitchen was built from the rocks that are right here and we built it by hand and stone by stone


and Paul Disko was the master builder but he was just you know another student but he was really good and he developed himself here at Tassajara before he went to Japan and so he was kind of in charge of building the the kitchen which was a big summer project I can't remember how long it took but people came from all over you know to help build it so it really generated a lot of interest and it's beautifully built so that project and at the same time you know there are all these projects to deal with this place is very run down as a resort you know so we had to put in a lot of time and everybody was working so Suzuki Roshi


you know of course his main idea about practice was Zazen but Zazen and work work was equal to Zazen matter of fact one of his mantras was cleaning first Zazen second cleaning first Zazen second that all changed after he died but he really was felt the necessity for work so I felt that you know and I'm sure a lot of us felt that we were on the frontier of doing something you know really vital and we were building this thing with our own hands and we were putting all our life energy into making it work and it was like from scratch


practically so it just felt like a whole very wholesome kind of way to do things Dick Baker was doing a lot of fundraising that was his forte I never knew how to do anything like that even when I was avid at Zen Center they wouldn't let me do fundraising but so a lot of people were getting interested in Tassajara and then Zen Center started growing started getting big you know and a lot of students started coming when Tassajara was in the beginning days of Tassajara and so people were coming to Page Street a lot and people would show up at the door of Tassajara you know and start practicing and a lot of them were still around


or some of them Sir? When was the move from Bush Street to Page Street? Oh 1969 we moved from Bush Street to Page Street so I remember that yeah we felt that we really needed to have a bigger space because the Japanese congregation let us have this space for Zazen but you know it was their space and they were very nice they stood they were just out of the way you know it was like two different countries or something and every once in a while we would meet and do something but it was I remember the president lived in Berkeley and I Suzuki Roshi asked me to visit him so I did and we had a nice talk he was a very nice guy and we talked about Zen Center and you know and the Japanese congregation


and so that helped a little bit but Suzuki at some point were just getting too big and more and more students were coming so there was this need to buy to have a place of our own and this was excruciating for Suzuki Roshi because he felt so obligated to the Japanese community but he had to make up his mind to he said I really want to be with my students so he had to resign but first Silas and Ananda were commissioned to go find a place and so they found the Page Street building another Jewish establishment for all those homeless Jews so then he I remember Suzuki Roshi saying something like at the time


that we were buying this thing given the fact we'd have to pay for it and he'd have to leave the congregation you know which was very hard for him to do have to resign he said he didn't know whether he was washing his hands in the toilet or peeing in the sink so we bought the Page Street place and that made things even more complicated and I remember cleaning the place out and painting it and doing all this stuff how are we doing? with the Page Street the Page Street thing changed the whole ambience


of Zen Center you know because we moved out of Sokoji Sokoji was like our home we were just you know all the as I said the silent dramas in that window you know just felt like leaving something so much a part of us and then we moved into Page Street of course I didn't because I was in Berkeley but but my connection there was a new connection for me because Sokoji nobody lived at Sokoji people lived across the street you know and rented similar houses across the street but nobody lived there so it was not a residential practice at all and so I was I really you know was used to a non-residential practice and that's what I had been we'd had a few residents


in Berkeley but you know nothing to speak of so the move to Page Street with all those rooms and people moving into them just made it a whole different kind of practice completely different kind of practice which I was not exactly a part of I was a part of it but not in that way so then 1971 well 1970 you know Suzuki Yoshi when I was shuso I was shuso in 1969 is that right? 1970 no I'd been I'd been ordained in 1969 and then I was shuso in 1970 with Tatsugami Roshi Suzuki Roshi you know was not really well enough to do a practice period at that time so and he wanted


he didn't feel qualified to set up a monastic practice the way he would like it to be so he wanted somebody to set up the monastic practice who was a monastic because Suzuki Roshi although he had done monastic practice when he was young he was a temple priest and he had a very strong dedication to lay people and lay people felt that lay people really felt that Suzuki Roshi was dedicated to their practice because everybody was a lay person anyway who was practicing so except me so I can't remember where I was Shuso Shuso Shuso so Dick Baker knew about Tatsugami


and Tatsugami Roshi had been the Ino at Eheji for 10 years or something and so invited him to come to to set up the monastic style at Tatsuhara in 1970 and I was his Shuso and he couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Japanese and I'll continue tomorrow if that's okay with you so