Interview with Dot Luce Kostriken

Cuke Podcasts with Dot 🔊

From the SFZC Sangha News 9-30-2015

Memoir from the Early Days

[I remember Dot (Luce back then) from the first summer at Tassajara in 67. She lived in Carmel which was not far and would help me out when I was out there, especially when I spent five months studying Japanese in Monterey in 1969. We've stayed in touch. - dc]

From SFZC member Dot Kostriken

Dr. Dorothy Kostriken, a longtime member of San Francisco Zen Center, shares some memories about some of the earliest days at Tassajara in 1967, practicing with Suzuki Roshi, and how these days, at age 81, she is relating to Zen practice and to SFZC. The first practice period at Tassajara was held in 1967, and tangaryo would take place more often than it does now, for anyone interested in joining the students for any extended time. Tangaryo, a kind of traditional sitting initiation at a monastery, would last from one to three days at Tassajara during that time.

Finding Tassajara

Desperately unhappy, feeling trapped and with my soul disintegrating, I came to Tassajara and to Buddhism with “my head on fire.” An older woman in a group therapy class at Monterey Peninsula College had told me about what sounded like adult summer camp. Having not been away from my husband or my three children since they were born, it was with fear and trepidation that I drove my rented car down that dirt road, burning out the automatic brakes.

So, I started out ready for better and different, not having a clue, really, about Buddhism except what I’d heard from my body movement teacher, Helen Morgenrath, when she shared about her meditation practice.

At Tassajara, I began sitting on a regular basis with the students and eventually sat tangaryo, which felt like boot camp, and was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I remember leaving the zendo and telling Peter Schneider that I had to go. That I couldn’t do it. He said gently and firmly: “Yes, you can. Go back in.” And I did.

Suzuki Roshi

I observed Roshi from the bridge, directing Phil Wilson, who was moving rocks: here—then there—then here again. Ox herding in real life!

I was in awe of Suzuki Roshi, and didn’t talk to him until our first dokusan. The questions I wanted to ask were about a painful decision—whether or not to divorce. I tried to hold back tears (I didn’t want to waste his time, crying). As we sat together, I understood that my question held my answer and that he could not answer for me. After a few minutes, he stood up and circumambulated me. He sat down again and said, “Your posture is very good.”

In that moment, the question formulated: “If I make a difficult decision, and it is wrong, will sitting help me?” He said, “Yes. Right or wrong, it will help.”

My three children came back to Tassajara with me for a time. They liked Roshi because he was the only adult they were taller than, and he hid candies in his sleeves to sneak to them.

These Days

My zazen practice is what guides my private psychotherapy practice and my desire to serve others, to be in authentic relationship. On occasion, my clients begin to practice meditation after we have shared a few sessions. It works for some, and not for others. Staying connected to San Francisco Zen Center and my SFZC membership keeps me in touch with a changing Western Buddhism: dynamic and sometimes unsettling.

Wrote Dot that this was on cuke and she responded:

Thanks, David for giving my married name, Luce, to the article. So long since I heard "Dot Luce"I'd forgotten it.

Was a student the summer when I did tangaryo for 3 days, had Bill Shurtleff as Oryoki Drill Sergeant, Jed Linde and Maria and Monica were there that summer, and me with my 3 kids - think it was 69. Roshi made a concession to have children stay thru the winter training, but Ray wanted to "go down the hill" to school. I was teaching then, at Tularcitos school, where little Tommy Nason, my favorite bad boy, later drove the tractor to fight the fires at Tass. We lived in Carmel Valley for several years, and I remember Bill Lambert, my great-uncle, by marriage, and his big heart. I hated how he treated Marian [his wife].
When Roshi died, I lived in Carmel, worked counseling at Soledad prison, and sat with Jean Ross.

Since '67, I was able to be a work student, and meditator, regularly because of my nearby residence. As a single Mom of 3 with no training or education, no financial or emotional support, my meditation became  my foundation, my sanity.

Wonderful to see Meg, Reb, Bill, Marian, in film.

My kids liked you best at Tass, because you were so evil - candy & ice cream and cookies in the shopping basket before any food.

Love & gassho,