Interview by Peter Schneider with  Betty Warren, Della Goertz, and Bill Kwong

(Parts were used in this 1988 Wind Bell article)

I remember my first reaction was the pillows were quite hard and the tatamis were hard . . . and I thought, next thing Roshi's going to do is give us each a nice rock and tell us that's what they do in the monastery (laughing) . . . nice rock to sit on . . . But he didn't.

Betty Warren, Laura Kwong, Bill Kwong, Della Goertz, c.2000

Bill Kwong:  In the zendo‑kai we would hear the children play . . .

WB:  Yeah, I heard that . . . incredible, all Sunday long . . .

(Somebody says something about sitting for a couple of days.)

BK:  Graham was there.

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Betty Warren:  Because Della and Jean and I were taking a class at the Asian Academy with Dr. Kadua . . .

Della Gertz:  Dr. Kadua was our teacher . . . and he brought Roshi into the (?)

WB:  I remember my first sesshin lecture, my first . . .

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BW:  At first we would sit in Roshi's office before meditation and he would talk to us a little while and then we would go up to the meditation room.  At the beginning, when we first began to meditate, the pews were in the zendo and there were no tatamis.  And two pews were set facing each other along the walls and we would climb up over the ends of the pews and walk along down to your place and I guess you had to go in and then sit down, each person to a place.

WB:  (Sounds like):  How many could sit in one of those boats?

BW:  I guess two or three.  About three.

WB:  Here are two pews, right, and here are two backs.  And you'd come in here and you'd go down to the end and put your zafu here, would you face this way or this way or this way?

DG & BW:  You'd fact the wall.  The pews were along the wall so you'd face the wall.  But you'd come in at the end of the pews and climb over each other.  (Laugh.)  We had all sorts of odd pillows.

DG:  And no zafu ‑‑ nothing round at all, just square ones.

BW:  Yeah, all sorts of odd pillows and then there were pews in the middle of the room also, and after zazen we would sit in the pews in the middle for the sutra.  He introduced all the rituals very gradually.  At the beginning we didn't recite the Dai zai geda puku.

BK:  Gee, that took a long time for that.

BW:  Yeah, it was a long time before we . . .

BK (laughing):  A couple of years later before he would let us do it.

BW:  He would say it but we wouldn't say it.  And then we did the sutra sitting down and just very gradually he made the ritual more formal.  (Something unintelligible.)  Were we standing up when you came?

BK:  Gee, when I came . . . the pews were still there but there wasn't tatami around the edge.

WB:  What I'm actually interested in first is . . .

BK:  . . . 'cause I remember going to lecture and sitting in those pews.

WB:  I once heard that Roshi let you chant by yourselves sort of when you first began . . . the chant sort of came out in a very strange form in the first year, is that true?

BW:  He chanted . . . no, he chanted.  We followed him except we didn't know what to do and everyone had a different idea of how the sutra should be chanted.  (Chuckle.)  Some said sort of harmonize it or do improvisations and . . .  it was a far cry from what it is now.  Then when he got the tatamis around the edge . . . let's see, who put those in?  Was Philip there?

BK:  (Sounds like):  maybe we all did . . . I think Philip was there.

BW:  I was just wondering who the carpenters were who put in the tatamis . . .

WB:  Where was it, though?  Was that at 1816 (sounds like).

BK:  It must have been, some time like that . . . we had the first sesshin . . .

BW:  We had the first week sesshin . . . yeah, the first week sesshin we had tatamis.

WB:  For the first February one did you have them?

BW:  I don't think so, no.

WB:  How many boats were there?  How many of those pews were there?  (Everybody chuckles.)

BW or DG:  I guess two or three, maybe three.

DG:  There was a girl's side and a boy's side.

BW:  Yeah.  Then when he put the tatamis down . . . I remember my first reaction was the pillows were quite hard and the tatamis were hard . . . and I thought, next thing Roshi's going to do is give us each a nice rock and tell us that's what they do in the monastery (laughing) . . . nice rock to sit on . . .  But he didn't.

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WB:  Bill, how'd you come to Zen Center?  I know about Betty and Della.

BK:  Well, I used to deliver mail in Palo Alto.  So I read this story about Roshi.  It was in the (sounds like:  Nichi day or Time . . . and some more, very soft, hard to hear . . .) it said something about he and a bird . . . do you remember his bird?

DG:  (Laughing) and a cat got it . . .

BK:  A cat got the bird? . . .

DG:  He had a cat . . .

WB:  A cat too?

BK:  . . . well, anyway. . .

DG:  Remember, Betty, we felt so badly about it, and he felt badly about it . . .

BK:  Well, he had this bird, and it was his favorite bird . . . and one of the students, was it Bill, asked him why, if he believed in freedom, why he'd keep the bird in a cage.  This (bottom line illegible) . . . so I decided to come and see what's happening.

WB:  So he let the bird out . . . and the cat got the bird?

BK:  He let the bird out, yeah . . . (unintelligible)

WB:  You just found it by the address, and just walked in?  or what happened?

BK:  I knew there was a temple there before because the (sounds like Bonzai) Roshi was there.  But when I came it had changed a lot.  Cause the Boss was a quite different man.  He was a very happy man, but his altar was just full of oranges and . . . just . . . (chuckle) . . . junk . . . a heap of junk . . .

BW:  Cardboard boxes all over.

BK:  Just about.  (Laughing)  He was very good though, and so when I came . . .

DG:  He was a Sumi painter wasn't he, Bill?  Gosh, I saw him teach at the Academy (sounds like at the Ruban) . . .

WB:  So you had sat with him?  at all?  Fugasi?

BK:  No, I just came maybe once or twice for lecture, which was translated by a nun.  And it sort of lost something.  So when I came, it must have been a four or nine day . . . nobody was there (laughing).  (something unintelligible).

BW:  I remember sometimes when  (lines at bottom of pg 27 are garbled by being typed over)

WB:  Really?

DG:  That was the problem.  He lived across the street . . .

BW:  Yeah, he had an apartment across the street . . . and he would . . . I remember once we came on a regular day and he told us to go away.

DG:  Everyone thought it was so funny.  He told us to go.

WB:  Did you feel he was just being a Zen Master . . . or just didn't feel like coming to sit . . . or what?

DG:  Well, he might have had a cold or something (unintelligible).

WB:  Oh, I see.

DG:  Many days we used to have to wait to get in, didn't we?  Most of the time 'cause he lived across the street and we'd just sort of wait at the door until he came over . . .

BK:  There was one time he had overslept or something . . . and he came down with this clock . . . (laughing) and he said, you see this clock?  I didn't oversleep, the clock didn't ring.  (Much laughing.)  He was always like that.

DG:  He always asked us to stay for tea, didn't he, in the early days, after zazen.  We sat and talked again, we had tea in his office . . . or in the kitchen did we go?

BW:  Sometimes in the kitchen.

DG:  He always asked us to stay . . . until the group got to be a dozen or more.

BK:  I remember when we all came (voice gets too soft but sounds like he's talking about everybody having beards) and then gradually everybody started shaving (laughs).

BW:  Bill had a beard . . .

WB:  You had a beard?

BK:  Yeah . . . (something) . . . but he never said anything.

WB:  You had a beard . . . I can't see it.  (Voice too soft about how Peter remembers Bill clean‑shaven and stuff.)

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BK:  The first time I came what happened was . . . I had a goatee and (sounds like) bare boots on . . . and I came to the temple.  Gee, I think the pews must have still been there, but I don't remember it that way.  It just seemed so big and vast and simple.  And I came in and I was kind of (laughing) arrogant.  And so I stood there and I heard this door open behind me.  But I was so confident that I didn't even turn around.  It was Roshi.  And this little man came out and he started doing these little things at the altar . . . fixing flowers . . . and I said to myself, this is really for the birds.  (Much laughter) . . . that's how I felt, you know.  This man is really too much, you know, and so I left.

And on my way home, it must have been around Buddha's birthday, I passed by the bazaar place on Pine Street . . . and they had thrown away a Buddha picture . . . so I took that, and I went home.  (some missing)

And then after that I met Bill McNeill.  And he kept on encouraging me to come.

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WB:  Why'd you come, Bill?

BK:  Actually we had sort of an interest in it before . . .

WB:  In Zen or in meditation?

BK:  We didn't know there was meditation (something too soft, everybody laughs).  It was more Alan Watts, and things like that I think.

BW:  Yeah, that's how I got started.  My interest was Alan Watts on the radio.

BK:  Yeah, yeah.

(Comments by Peter, Betty, & Bill that are too soft.)

BK:  . . . went to his lectures.

BW:  And read his books.  And that led to taking a course at the Asian Academy.  That of course gave a very different slant on things.  And then when Dr. Kadu introduced us to Reverent Suzuki . . . (Bill laughs) . . . started it all off . . .

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WB:  Where did the name come from (Zen Center)?

DG:  (sounds like she says ) Bill Hedge and Bob Hense . . .

WB:  Bob Hense wasn't it?  He became president.  He named it also?

DG:  We were going to (something).  Bishop Yamada . . . he had a Japanese name for us.

WB:  What was it?

DG:  I've forgotten.  Do you remember it?

BW:  uh‑uh.

DG:  But I think Bob felt that a Japanese name wouldn't attract American students.

BK:  Yeah.

WB:  So Bob thought up Zen Center, huh?  Too much.  It's really a nice name.

BK:  Yeah, we thought it was good 'cause it was like a center, Zen . . .

WB:  So did you all vote on the name?

BK:  Yeah (laughing) . . . (sounds like) I don't know if it was a good name . . .

DG:  Don't you remember the opposition we had . . . Bishop Yamada and  (?)  had another name.  Suddenly they said, felt like, there was another name we should have . . . and they gave the name . . . that Bishop Yamada said . . . but . . .

WB:  But it just didn't work out?

DG:  No . . . (laughing)

WB:  The first American (something) . . . (laughter) . . . so for the first year there wasn't any sort of name, huh?

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WB:  So maybe there wasn't a president until Bob got back (from Japan) . . .

BW:  We must have had someone while they were away.

WB:  I think they went in 'sixty.  I think they came back in the summer of 'sixty‑one.

BW:  Maybe we didn't even have an organization before they went, then?

WB:  Maybe not.

DG:  What did we need it for?  We didn't need much, did we?

BW:  No.

DG: . . . an organization.  We sort of each individually gave some money once a month, didn't we?  We just sort of voluntarily put something on the table for him . . . for his personal use, we thought.  And then later we . . . (?) bills came up.

BW:  I guess when we remodeled the zendo we had to have financial resources.

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WB:  Well, how'd it start then (Wind Bell)?  Do you remember?  It started somewhere.

BK:  I really don't remember how it started.  Maybe Roshi mentioned it or something (and something too soft to pick up).

DG:  Don't you think that was part of our early organization?  It was Bob Hense's idea that we had to get . . . track of people . . . and get a mailing list . . . send this out . . . and then we would be . . .

BK:  Yeah, that's probably how . . .

DG:  . . . advertise ourselves . . .

BW:  Who did we send it to at first? . . . We posted them on bulletin boards . . .

BK:  Yeah.

WB:  Where?

DG:  In colleges.

BK:  That's right, yeah.

DG:  We used to have newspaper ads, but they never really brought many people, did they?  (Laughing.)

BW:  We used to worry about getting people to come.  (Laughing.)  Now we . . . Is that why the sign is off the door?

BK:  No.  Someone just took it off.

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BK:  You know the four and nine days we would ask him but he would never tell us . . . Just the last couple of years he told us why we don't meditate on four and nine days.  But things like those questions would never be answered for a couple of years.

WB:  Really?  If you asked him why he just wouldn't say a word?

BK:  Or he'd laugh . . . or say it was mysterious or secret (laugh).  But he was more like . . . he was . . . well, he's always like he is . . . but at the same time he was more like (something) . . .Like now he'd really, when we'd ask him questions, he talks about it very openly.  But at the same time he seemed more like (?       ) than you feel he would have to.  And no answer.

WB:  Did you have the feeling he was giving you lessons all the time?

BW:  Oh yeah.

DG:  We were always saying, look how gradually he's teaching us.  How wise it was of him.  He couldn't have done it all at once . . . all the things we were to learn.  As soon as we'd get one thing mastered, he'd do another thing, another ritual.

BW:  I think he was afraid he would.  He didn't know how far he could go with us in the ritual.  How much of that we would take.  He was afraid he would scare us all off, I think, if he began with the whole ritual.  Now that there's such a group established that has accepted the ritual, why a new person just has to take it.

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WB:  So what kind of tricks would he pull on anybody?  Any kind of tricks?  (Hard to get these questions accurately.)
(Everybody laughs.)

BW:  I remember one trick he pulled on me.  Della, do you remember at a ceremony ‑‑ I believe it was a wedding ceremony ‑‑ that you and I were to carry something for him.  Remember that?  And we rehearsed . . .

DG:  Oh, that was the end of one of the sesshins.

BW:  It was the end of sesshin ceremony?

DG:  Yeah, and we got some special . . . remember?

BW:  For this?

DG:  Remember?  I never did figure out what this was because I never opened anything.  Now what was this, when we got this . . .

WB:  Oh, yes, I've seen these around.  These are like . . .

BW:  He said do not open it, it is your life.

WB:  It's a Zen name . . . I think . . .

BK:  Well, I don't know . . . it has something to do with Eiheiji . . .

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BW:  Before the ceremony we had to practice this.  And he was to walk around carrying incense holder and I was to follow him carrying something else, and you (Della) were next carrying some flowers and tossing them to either side.  What happens?  So we rehearsed this.  And he picks up his thing and goes on and I pick up my thing and go on.  At the ceremony he picked up the thing he told me to pick up . . . (laughs).

DG:  I remember, Betty, you said that was a curve, wasn't it?

BW:  Yeah.  So that left me there . . . (laughing) . . . so I had to pick up the incense holder, or whatever it was, that he had carried before and do whatever it was with that.

DG:  (to Peter):  You were at that ceremony then, weren't you?

WB:  I don't remember it.  But I was there though I didn't get a rakusu for this . . . I was a new student (something) . . . I remember that ceremony.  Alot of students got rakusus . . . fourteen or fifteen students got rakusus . . .

What did you think of Roshi doing takuhatsu?  going out begging?

BW:  We thought it was inadvisable (they laugh) . . . since it was illegal.

WB:  And you told him so?

WB:  Did you think he'd make you go sometime?

BW:  Well, we were a little worried about that, yeah.  (Laughs)

WB:  (another question that can't be made out)

DG:  Well, we thought we should . . . he didn't do it very long, did he?

BK:  No.  But he did it just before Bishop Yamada came to visit.  Said he was going to practice harder . . . or something . . . really sort of keep you in shape (laughs).  But it was kind of exciting . . . that he did go out . . . (something too soft).

WB:  Were the students watching him?

BK:  He wouldn't let us.  We had to keep on working . . . this was Saturday (something about in the kitchen of the zendo . . . too soft . . . then Bill laughs).  And he'd come back maybe with a quarter . . . or a pomegranate and a quarter.  Silas wanted to go but he said we're too young or something (laughs).

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(They're talking about early sesshins and length of sittings.)

BW:  I think he was trying to get . . . to have us not be used to a particular time of sitting . . . we would never know when it would be over, whether it would be half an hour or an hour and a half . . .

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BW:  We used to expect the unexpected from him and we would sort of take any whim.  For instance, there was something about taking the pews downstairs and upstairs.  He would decide that all the pews had to be taken out of the middle of the zendo and taken downstairs . . . and then they would have to be brought back upstairs.

BK:  (laughing) We did that for a couple of months.  I didn't know what was happening . . . You know, they were pretty heavy.  We had to carry them downstairs and back up.

WB:  Every period?

BK:  Oh, I don't know how it worked . . . maybe every Saturday or something . . . I could never figure out why . . . (everybody laughs).  Or out to the balcony.

BW:  He wanted the room cleared or something.  I don't know . . .

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WB:  Tell some more stories, Bill.

BK:  I remember one time I came and I was the only one there.  He looked out the window.  "I think Betty's coming," he said.  (Laughing.)  Sometimes he used to phone.  "Hey, Bill, did you oversleep?"

WB:  (sounds like really?  wow!)

BK:  But if just one person came in, he would do the whole thing.

BW:  I remember I was there once, and we went through the whole sutra three times.

BK:  If there was a thousand people or just one person . . .

WB:  You used to cook for him, didn't you?  (something more)

BW:  There was a girl named Alice . . . that used to cook for him.

BK:  Oh, Alice.

BW:  She sort of mothered . . . before Mrs. Suzuki came Alice was looking after him.  It was Alice that got him to go to the dentist.  He had some very bad teeth . . . and Alice discovered this.  We got up a collection and got him to the dentist.

DG:  . . . (says something like): . . . she got him to wear long underwear, eat health foods, carrot juice . . . (all talking at once and laughing).

WB:  Yeah, I guess she introduced him to all that.

BK:  (something about eating rice and straightening out) . . .

BK:  She was very sincere and innocent.  I guess when we had those breakfasts inside the kitchen she would ask, "Please, Roshi, tell me about Zen.  I'm really trying hard to understand."  I mean real (ignorant? innocent?)  (And he didn't)?

DG:  (sounds like):  She was a doctor (an adopted?) student and that was quite a confusion for her . . . Indian student . . . I think she went back to India . . . Well, after Mrs. Suzuki came she disappeared, didn't she?  She didn't come around so much.  She was there all the time, morning and evening with us.  Wasn't she cooking his meals?

BW:  I think so.

DG:  She was a fixture there, wasn't she?

WB:  He claims that he didn't like it.  Didn't eat (like?) any meals at all.  (All laugh.)

BK:  But he ate 'em, huh?

WB:  Yeah.  He said American food is too sour.  I think it's because you eat meat.  You have to have sour things.  (?)  Isn't that strange . . . (something) . . . Roshi is too sour.

BW:  We think of some of the Japanese food as being sour.

WB:  I know, he said that American food is too sour for him.  Like pineapple, he doesn't like pineapple, 'cause it's too sour.  It's funny.  That's very strange to say that.  He said that the women used to take turns making his breakfast or making food for him.  But I guess not 'cause Jean doesn't remember that either.

BW:  I think it was mostly Alice.

WB:  How did Roshi spend his time, then?  The Japanese didn't have very much to do with him, sort of.  They didn't want a priest.  They were just fighting all the time, apparently.  He wasn't even the official priest, I don't think.  He was just sort of Tabasi's helper.  Tabasi wasn't there for two years.

BW:  He went to school.  He went to adult education, studying English.

WB:  Oh, he did?  I didn't know that.

BW:  I think he went every day.

BK:  Right after zazen.

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(They're talking about Japanese culture, tea ceremony at first sesshins.)

BK:  That tea ceremony, it lasted so long . . . it was the third day.  We had sat for three days and then some of the Japanese people from the congregation were very impressed by our effort, so they wanted to show us something.  So they gave us . . . this couple gave us a tea ceremony.  The third day, I think it was in the afternoon.  We were pretty tired.  And there were a lot of people to be served.  There was a whole room full.  They had to make the tea, bring it over (something too soft).

WB:  To each person she went?

BW:  Each, one at a time.

BK:  Yeah, it took a long time.  It was very formal.  We were all sitting.

WB:  How long did you sit for?  couple of hours?

BW:  Yeah.

BK:  A long time.  (Giggle.)  And just when it almost finished, three more or four more or five more people came in.  We started getting kind of crazy after that . . . (everybody laughing) . . . laughing and giggling . . . 'cause like it was going to go on forever.

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WB:  Would you ask Roshi about why you'd have so much pain in your sitting?  What would he answer to that kind of question?

BK:  (too soft) . . . Once I asked Bishop Yamada what do you do for pain.  He was sitting in full lotus, and he said this is what I do . . . just wiggled his toes (giggles) . . . that was his answer.

WB:  I remember during the first sesshin I went to . . . I lived in the temple with Philip.  For that week.  And every night Roshi insisted that we have a bath for our stiff legs.  And we had a bath every night.

BK:  In the basement you went?

WB:  In the basement (laughs.) . . . each had a bath.  We ate there then we used to have lectures after dinner . . . (something too soft) . . . then I would go down and have a bath and then I would sneak down to Blum's for some cake (uproarious laughter).  I figured I deserved it.  It was so great too . . . one of the (something unintelligible) . . .

BK:  Must have really tasted good . . .

WB:  To walk down at 8:30 to Blum's to have some cake and walk right back and go to bed in the zendo.