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Early Tassajara Alumni      Interviews    Brief Memories 

Taisan (Larry) Sheridan's Tassajara Journal
The biographical note he wrote when he sent it
His brief memory of Shunryu Suzuki

Tassajara Journal : Spring training period 1971

7-15-07 - Thanks to Taisan Sheridan for responding to the Early Tassajara Student email with these memories from his journal and the helpful list of students and jobs. We had no list for spring of 1971

I was twenty-three when I was at Tassajara. I had been sitting for two years at the Berkeley Zen Center with Sojun Roshi. This journal has somehow stayed with me. It is a joy to read it. I still sit and practice, and as Paul Alexander indicated while meeting with Tatsugami Roshi, my practice is going backwards. I am honored and grateful to be part of the big tide of San Francisco Zen Center.

Nine Bows,

Taisan Sheridan

----
Snippets from my journal, please forgive spellings and errors of understanding. Italicized quotes are my poems unless noted otherwise.

Jobs:

[Lots of misspellings here that will be fixed in time - DC]

Abbot: Tatsugami Roshi
Director: Dan Welch
Assistant Director: Paul Discoe
Godo: Katagiri and Yoshimura Sensei
Shuso: Peter Shneider
Jisha: Lew Richmond
Housekeepers: Amy Richmond for Tatsugami, Beverly Horowitz for Katagiri and Yoshimura
Ino: Jane Westberg
Librarian: Jerome Peterson
Transcribing: Julia Rundick?
Work Leader: Time Aston
Altar Attendant: Roovain Benjumin
Shoten: Chuck Hoy
Head Tenken: Chris Miller
Activities: Janet Sturgon
Ceremonies: Angie Runyon
Head Jikido?: Louise Welch
Attending Sick: Alan Klien
Plumbing: Steve Brown
Carpenters: Jerry Fuller, Marc Alexander, Todd Sullivan
Tenzo: Frances Thomson
Kitchen: Tommy Dorsey, Jerry Halpern, Sue Issacson, Bruce McCallister, Layla Smith
Treasurer: Margaret Kress
Work Forman: Niels Holm
Bookkeeper: Stan Swanson
Shopper: Maragert Crowly
Garder: Marc Harris, Debbie Green, Paul Alexander, Molly Jones
Baths: Lucille Harris
Sseing: Cheryll Hughes, Rita Roniti, Martha Trundy
General Labor: Norm Randolf,Terry Gragg, Ron Leyva, Peter Overton, Larry Roniti, Gary Sekarak, Larry Sherdian, Steve Tipton
Shop: Paul Shippee, Van Vorheis, Jacob Fishman
Masonry: Jeff Sherman
Woodwork: David Chadwick, Naome Rader, Dennis White, Mary Wiggins.

 

Snowing and rain on the road to Tassajara. Many troubles getting there, cars stuck in snow, people scarred. Rendezvous at Lampertís farmhouse with many people. Cars got stuck in the snow, so we stayed here.

Shimmering faces, deep sea eyes, laughter and smiles every moment.

Tangaryo instructions given by Dan Welch: ďA time to be alone and contemplate.Ē

There are different bells and drums rung or hit on various occasions. The Buddha drum is far out. My whole body shakes when they sound it. Before all meals a priest walks with an offering to the altar and there is a loud drum roll.

The mountains are tumbling into the sea
and the sky roars with thunder!

I really like Yoshimura Sensei. He talked about how he liked fishing. When he had T.B. the doctor told him to fish. So he stood on a bridge and fished, mostly for his health. Whenever he saw a splash somewhere else, he would quickly real in his line and cast at another spot. He could never just wait in one spot. This is like zazen he said. The two rivers in the city both came together and formed one big river.

Morning sunlight
gently awakening the naked tress
and hill across the way

Before and after bathing we say:

As I bathe this body
I vow with all sentient beings
To wash from this body and mind
All dust and confusion
And feel healthy and clean
Within and without.

Tatsugami Roshi came today and the vibrations went up.

I have a  lot of tension tonight. Iím very insecure about who I am. I think if I can touch this problem it will be good.

If Iím silent, my center is there and I can focus on my awareness.

Iím turning to Walt Whitman for consolation tonight:


            The bodies of men and women engirth me,
            and I engirth them,
            They will not let me off, nor I them,
            till I go with them and respond to them and love them.
                                                            Walt Whitman

Reading Dogen today. ď Time is existence, and existence is time. Time does not have a separate substance, it is established by existence. It continues from today to today. The so-called past is the top of the heart; the present is the top of the fist; and the future is the back of the brain.Ē

Peter Schneider was formally established as the head monk.

Iím really tired. Up at 3:45, as usual. Chopped wood and carted wood and chopped trees and worked five or six hours. So this is zazen in action ------#^$%#$&.


Had tea today with Tatsugami Roshi, Paul Alexander, and Terry. Dan Welch translated. Tatsugami is beautiful. Crinkly old face, eyes that sparkle with wisdom, rough yet gentle hands, and one-thing-at-a-time-ness. He wrote down our names and ages. Paul: 53. Terry: 27. Larry (Taisan)- 22!? I felt like a child and that my life hadnít even begun.  After our interaction he told us how a lion doesnít discriminate, it goes at all things with the same fore, be it a bird or a large animal.

Twilight was beautiful, a cloud reflecting the sunset. I was watching the stars come out, then someone yelled ĎHey everyone, come outside, quick!Ē. So we all did. There was this fantastic blue streak, and then a burst of white light in the sky. Robin, Katagiri, and fifteen others stood around making noise and excitement. Turns out it was a rocket from Vandenburg air force base that was probably destroyedÖwhat a magnificent death!

Standing on the little wooden bridge
over the wintry stream
Seeing the mounts and sky alone
I knew that I would one day die.
                                    -Tai

Zen is Paul Alexander. He is the nicest, humblest, shy to the point of being meek person around. When Roshi asked him how long he had been practicing he said ten years. Roshi said he practice must be very good, to which he shakingly replied, ĎNo, Itís going backwardsí.

My energy is starting to flow into whatever Iím doing. The more I fully involve myself the less my mind wanders. I felt like a child several times today. A very strange feeling.

Itís there, and itís not there.
I feel it, and I donít feel it.
Itís quiet, silent.
I can just watch it.
Itís where words and sounds originate.
I can see it in other peopleís eyes who also see it.
Itís elusive, like looking at a bamboo garden.
It is just being born within me.


The candle blinked
and a tear drop rolled off the brim
into the hollow center.

                                   

We had the Shuso ceremony this morning. It was fantastic. Roshi wore a dragon outfit that was beautiful. Crimson robes with green and a gold over robe and a hat like lamas wear. Peter Schneider read something about Bodhidharma then shouted ĎLetís go!í.

Itís raining! Look, itís raining! Iím filled with inexpressibly joy. I can hear the drops on my coat.  Two girls crossing the garden, one with a shawl, one with a bamboo umbrella! The tops of the mountains shrouded with mist, then sunlight making the rain seem like a beautiful dream. The bell is standing getting wet.  I fill my wheelbarrow with sand and push it. Green things sin with life, water glistens on them. Look, itís raining!

I have learned from seeing the beautiful stone wall in the garden that has just been finished, that a big task is done little by little. Just being involved and doing that little task is enough. The wall will then complete itself.

Tassajara is only the people that live here. That is how I have grown. There is nothing but these beautiful people.

I feel very joyous. After tea I had another talk with Yoshimura Sensei. When I was through telling him about the change in my practice he said, Ďyes, you now have zazen mindí. I have watched you practice hard, that is why the change in your face after sesshin is remarkable. You should have no trouble now developing the mind of a childí.

Tatsugami Roshi would often should during morning zazen: ĎOpen your eyes!!!í.

My eyes are open,
The world appears,
Colors and forms,
Always now.


Thatís all. Nothing special.


End


2-10-08 - This is the note I received from Tai that accompanied his Tassajara Journal. Going through things just came across it and realized it wasn't in here so here it is. - dc

July-07

Hi David.

I've somehow managed to save my Tassajara journal from Spring 1971. I've attached snippets, including names of residents and jobs. Use what you like. My name was Larry Sheridan at the time. Became Tai in 1993, and Taisan in 2006 with priest ordination.

I came to zen in 1969 after some sunlight hit my cheek when I was twenty. Realized I was alive and would die, and wanted to understand what life itself was. Read books, ended up getting zazen instruction in Buddha Hall from a young monk named BIll Kwong. He said some guy in Berkeley named Mel was teaching, so I was living in Berkeley and went there to sit with a few people: Alan Senauke, Lew Richmond, Lou and Blanche Hartman, Norman and Kathy Fischer, Maylie Scott, Peter Overton, Fran and Al Tribe, Grace and Peter Scherison, and many others. We used to carpool into the city to listen to Suzuki Roshi. I went to a couple of sesshins he led. Went to Tassajara after a couple of years with wonderful and serious zen students, then wandered in search of things that would teach me about myself and life.

Zen has always been my main practice, but turned to psychotherapy, tai chi, yoga, and host of other things to learn and heal. Still at it on this endless path to wholeness, love, and acceptance. Trained as a psyhologist and did decades of therapy and organizational development, had four kids, and romped in nature on boats, motorcycles, hiking, canoes. Also like painting abstract art. Guess I'm a renaissance type at heart. Had good fortune to use my skills to help out Buddhist Peace Fellowship Board, Soto Zen Buddhist Association, and various zen centers.

I was ordained as a priest in 2006 by Myogen Steve Stucky, who's been a friend and teacher for a long time. I am part of Dharma Eye Zen Center in San Rafael, which he started and leads. Mel and Myogen choose my name, Taisan, to mean enduring mountain. Tai also means peace. I pray each day for a little of both!

What do I remember: the sound of the han and bells, snow at Tassajara, the powerful excitement of the early years of practice, and the wonderful people who have helped me learn and who continue to do so. Bows all around.

The main thing for me is to keep learning about how to be of some help while on this beautiful planet, and to listen to people deeply and with great respect and appreciation. I'm very grateful for everyone who has contributed to zen center and it's many affiliates, from the ancestors to sitters and worker bees.

I don't wish to promote anything except sitting still in the moonlight. Anybody wants to call me and talk about life, please do!

Thank You and Gassho!

Taisan Sheridan


Wrote Tai and asked for any specific memories of Suzuki Roshi and he responded: [linking this to brief memories of Shunryu Suzuki] - DC


July-07 - hey david: memories.

i was once walking through tassajara on my way to dining hall. i was completely focused and unaware that suzuki roshi was walking with a group off to the side towards me. i looked up, he stopped and i kept walking, our eyes met, i didn't even realize it was him and didn't even have presence of mind to bow! it was as if he looked right into my core and right through me, i felt as if i had been swallowed whole. i just kept on walking. felt like i missed a big bow.

i once saw tatsugami roshi walking among the big trees near the old baths. he looked like he was a tree to me, like he was so planted in the ground he was just part of the forest.

i wasn't too close to suzuki roshi or s.f. zen center crowd since i was mostly in berkeley, so i don't remember too much. sorry.

best,

Tai



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