photo by Lisa Law

Brief Memories
of Shunryu Suzuki,
Zen Center
back then, etc.


Cuke Podcast with Dennis 🔊

On not trying to be perfect

Dennis White

from December 2007 - January 2008 email correspondence with DC

The two really life changing meetings for me are as follows....

The background is that I was a vegetarian for a number of years and very rigid (and quite obnoxious) when it came to issues surrounding eating meat.

So... during a sesshin Loring Palmer who was the head cook, put fish stock in the soup. I got into it with him, quotes I can remember are (him) saying: "I'll throw your ass out of here" (the kitchen that is), and (me) "yeah, you and what Army?."

Reb happened to be around, so somehow I was lassoed and taken up for an interview with Roshi right away, as it was a sesshin and all.

I went in, and bowed, sat down in zazen with Roshi, and blurted out : "Roshi, Loring put fish stock in the soup, and we don't usually do that here, and I haven't eaten meat or fish for six years, blah, blah, blah." And Roshi sat there just listening with no sense of judgment or reaction, and at a certain point my batteries just ran down, as there didn't seem to be any sense of resistance or support for my rant, and I shut up, and we just sat for what seemed like a long time (but it probably wasn't).

Then all of a sudden Roshi spoke, and it felt like thunder rolling through my head, (although I'm almost sure he didn't raise his voice at all) and he said, "Let me tell you something. Your ideals are the death of reality." Then he said, "You can be 99% perfect in this world if you like, or even 90%, but don't ever try to be 100% perfect, because you just push the world away from you, and have no relation to it."

From there he talked a bit more, the one thing I remember is him saying something about that he didn't really prefer to eat meat, but when he visited friends who served it, it was just easier to go along with it.

In any case, I didn't run out to get a cheeseburger that night, but things percolated, and two weeks or so later, I was on my way to Tassajara for two training sessions, and I was walking in from Carmel which we Zen pseudo-ronins often did, and I stopped at a restaurant at the last outpost, and ordered my usual plate of mashed yeast and scrambled sprouts, or whatever it was. At a certain point the guy next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I just ordered this steak, and I haven't touched it, but I'm not hungry, do you want it?" Somehow I heard Roshi in that moment, and I said "yes," took it and ate it, and felt like a big bag I had been carrying was suddenly off my back. And although I was at Tassajara for a while, somehow I never had to carry that particular heavy aspect of "being a certain way" (and insisting that others should be also) again.


My other Roshi story was the last time I spoke with him (or saw him up).

I came in from work to Page Street one day and went upstairs to my room, and ran into Roshi in the hallway. I hadn't seen him up for a while (it was probably about two months before he died). So I said, "Roshi, I haven't seen you for a while, how are you?"

He just looked at me and said, "Oh, not very well. But I don't worry about it."

Somehow to me that was very powerful, as I've always had a touch of hypochondriac-ness, and here was Roshi dying of cancer, saying that, in his direct 200% present and complete way.


I contacted Dennis about the Early Tassajara Alumni Reunion in December 2007. I asked if he knew about the reunion and if it was true, as I'd heard, that his wife from back in those days, Bonnie, had died. - DC

David - I hadn't been contacted, but Ken Campbell told me about it so I knew, thanks for your e-mail. Yes, Bonnie died about 15 years ago of cancer, just before her 50th birthday. We had been divorced for quite awhile, but stayed close because of our two children (now 35 and 32). Our daughter has an 11 year old son, and our 32 year old son is marrying Kanjuro Shibata Sensei's (the Imperial Bowmaster of Japan who has taught in Trungpa Rinpoche's Sangha for many years) granddaughter in the spring. I have 5 other children ( 46, 44, 23, 18, 8 ) and a new granddaughter at this point, work as a case manager at a homeless shelter, and teach at Naropa University half-time. I was hoping to come [to the reunion], not sure I can because of other obligations. But please keep me on the list, next time maybe...