Interview with Peg Anderson and Will Stocker

Peg Anderson and Will Stocker
Palo Alto at her home
Interviewed by DC

4-09-11 - Early Suzuki students from Palo Alto, Peg was born in 1903 and her path took her to some seminal spiritual teachers of the forties and fifties on the West Coast. Will, born in 1916, was in charge of building the Haiku Zendo in Los Altos and worked on the zendo and kitchen at Tassajara from the first.

I remember calling Peg back to check up on things and having to go through a special operator who would read me what Peg was typing. I wonder what has become of them. - DC

Sitting has nothing to do with it!

PA: Suzuki came here for tea and after tea I showed him this ancient statue from China - it's soapstone or jade - it's Fugen, the god of love, who rides through the sky on the back of an elephant and Suzuki enjoyed it so much and he sat here on the floor shaking his finger at her with a quizzical smile and he kept saying to her, "How now? How now?" And to me this is like saying, okay, but you can't fool me.

DC note: It's a lovely small statue that Peg got from an aunt who sent it from China saying it's one of the heathen gods. Maybe it reminded him of Miss Ransom's statue. It's on a nice dark brown base, stone of some sort, an ochre or reddish brown.

PA: She's rising as a mist out of the vase like Aladdin he said which produces a genie. As you can see, the elephant has lost its nose and he said that it had pearls in it at one time that were gouged out and something went through this hole.

Another time, Suzuki said, "I've had SUCH a good time, SUCH a good time," and he kept emphasizing how he enjoyed it. He was so normal - just a human being. He was at that time a very appreciative Japanese gentleman. He did not put himself above being just a human being. He always gave us this idea - not that he was something special - that was his greatness I felt.

DC - People talk about Suzuki Roshi's being nothing special as if it were a very special quality.

WS: Once Silas Hoadley and I were walking along with the "great" Suzuki at Tassajara and we were grooving on the trees and he walked over and started peeing on a tree stump. It just blew us away. You don't expect that from a saint like that.

PA: And he said that I should teach tea even though I didn't have a certificate from the tea school and I said who will study with me and he said, "I will recommend you." And I teach still. And I said, "Should I charge?" and he said, "Oh you must. That's very important, more for their sake than for yours." He said, "That will keep them from feeling indebted."

I studied tea with Saburo Hasegawa. I met him in 1955. Alan Watts brought him from New York to the American Academy of Asian Studies on Broadway and he lived and taught there. He was interested in Western art and particularly in da Vinci's unfinished sketches. He didn't think they were unfinished - he'd been to Italy to study them and said that in Japan they would have known they were finished. Then he went to Paris and then to New York where he was a leader of the avant-guard group. Out here he taught furyo [?] - mostly haiku, but origami and more. He said that in Japan they would laugh because furyo is something that can't be taught. It's like a veil in a wind. These are my notes from his class (showing me a notebook).

Breeze dream

Fragrant colorful blossoms are gone,
whoever in this world could be eternal,
today I have come over the deep mountains of worldly doings,
I feel as I awaken from a shallow dream,
it did not get me excited,
not too intoxicating.


He did beautiful translations. He studied at Oxford.

I'd read Krishnamurti and Gerald Heard - Trabuko College [which in 1949 became Ramakrishna Monastery] was his establishment in the hills above Santa Ana. He was an anthropologist who got interested in Vedanta. I was down there for seminars. That was in 1941 and 42.

And Harry and Emilia Rathbun in Palo Alto started teaching Christianity from a new point of view, following a man named Sharman who was in Canada. He was quite an atheist but one day there was a horrible rainstorm and he went into a church to escape the rain and heard something that got him interested in the gospels. He made parallel columns of the words of Jesus from the Gospels - nothing else and comparing who reported what and how they differed in the reporting. They took me down to Heard. That might have started in 1940. They were responsible for starting other things like Creative Initiative. After the War they made quite a splash. [See Harry's Last Lecture.

The first time I met Suzuki was in Redwood city at a Thursday night sitting at Amy Simpson's. That's what became the Los Altos group. I went up to Suzuki to talk to him personally and I told him I was not feeling that I necessarily fitted in with Soto Zen. I said I was an Obaku and the way of art.

 "Oh," he said, "Sitting has nothing to do with it!"

So make of that what you want. Obaku is the Zen arts. My tea is Obaku Zen. Soto is all about sitting. I felt that I belonged to tea, that that was my expression and my study. I thought that he meant sitting had nothing to do with enlightenment. It's here in my heart. But I did become a very enthusiastic zazen student. He was very flexible, non-rigid.

At my first dokusan [private interview] in '62 or so I had been attending the five am sitting at Marian Derby's [home cum zendo in Los Altos which became the Haiku Zendo] and Suzuki came and we had breakfast afterwards and it was a long time before he started having dokusan. So whenever it was, I was very ignorant about dokusan and I went in and was supposed to make three bows of course and I was very awkward in making my first bow and he said, "That's enough." I didn't know what to do and I just sat there and so he said, "In zazen I notice that your thumbs sag quite frequently," and I thought they were always way up high so I had something I had to watch.

Towards the end when he was in bed all the time, Yvonne called to make a date and she said he can't talk much really so I took the Fugen up and he held it and appreciated it and gave it back. We didn't say very much. But the last time I saw him was at the Mountain Seat Ceremony. I remember the staff. I'll never forget the strength he put into that. He couldn't hold himself up but he managed to bang that staff.

I was born at the end of 1903. I'll be 92 at the end of November. I was seven months older than him. I never thought about age with him. I always thought of him not in terms of years but as very wise and understanding. He always seemed in good health to me till he stopped coming down here and Katagiri started coming.

I remember sitting in Marian's living room - he sat with his back to the fireplace and I always sat the next person to his left facing the wall. We sat there a long time before the zendo was built.

I helped build the zendo in the carport. Will was my boss.

Will Stocker: The last time.

PA: I was wearing a hammer and that was the first thing that Suzuki Roshi saw. He went with William to shop for lumber.

He was a wonderful teacher non verbally as well. One morning I was in a tizzy and felt very negative. I was sitting at the breakfast table and somebody was sitting two chairs over and Suzuki came in and he was going to sit down next to me and I didn't want him to because of how I felt - he came to the chair next to me and paused a minute and then went and sat somewhere else. He could feel it.

What he give us is in the Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Those are the talks he gave in Marian's living room. I have been a student of very many different people and it's hard for me to single out one from another. I could tell you easier what Hasagawa taught me. He was my main teacher.

DC - Sometimes it seems like nobody knows what Suzuki taught them. Isn't that great?  At Zen Center that area of belief or strong conviction is something that people can't say.

PA: He talked about life. Just normal life. He told us how to sit. One morning sitting in Haiku zendo, I was sitting in the corner, sitting diagonally facing the corner when Suzuki came around with his stick and I asked to be hit so he hit me on the shoulder but he hit the wrong place because he couldn't get behind me properly and my shoulder made a reflex. There was quite a pause and then he came down on the other shoulder so gently. I talked to him afterwards and said I guess I should have turned myself so I wasn't sitting diagonally and he said yes. He was always so extremely careful but I messed him up that time.

I kept sitting there till some of us moved to Kannondo and I sat there for years. I don't go down there now. My tea group is my sangha and I treasure it very much and it's too hard for me to go down there. I think it's necessary for people to have a group of intimates but I've become a recluse.

I remember when Marian wanted us to support her with $25 a month so she could be a hermit in Big Sur, Kobun was against it and so was I. It was fine if she wanted to but we didn't need to support her.

Will Stocker: I was born at the age of six in a house I helped my father build. That's a joke son. We've been living together in sin since '63 or so - we have two houses. I've been painting rather intensely. Actually I worked with my father as a carpenter in Long Beach from the age of six.

I was living on Bridge Mt in Ben Lowman and she came to visit me in '61 and she invited me to come have tea and I came expecting crumpets and gee that beautiful ceremony you know and I got invited again. So I asked her where can I read about this and she said you're learning. I've done it but I don't keep it up. I'm a guest.

DC: That's the role I take in tea ceremony too, that of being a guest.

WS: After I'd known Peg for a year or two she read in the paper that there was a Zen master and she said there's a real live Zen master practicing in Redwood City and her teacher had died in 57 or so, so we went and we walked in and there were two people I knew real well - the Johansens [Tony and Toni]. And there was Marian Derby sitting straight as an arrow and we got into the habit of sitting and Amy couldn't keep us there any more - she moved I think - and Marian said come to my house and Marian cornered me and said let's build a zendo and we worked for several weeks getting that double garage into a zendo. We did it in '63 I think. I had moved up to San Francisco to sit at Sokoji and I was coming down to Los Altos so I stayed at Pegs. We'd have twenty people on the weekends.

I remember sitting with Suzuki Roshi in Redwood city and at Marian’s. And I got the conviction that Soto Zen was the greatest thing that humanity had invented but I had the conviction that all you had to do was to sit like Buddha did under that tree and you'd let go of all the jazz or something and that was all that it took and all zazen was was to sit there until you dig it and I came to see that there's a whole lot more to it. Somebody had to guide you or you won't let go of the things that you like so much.

I was at Tassajara at the first for a week and I was back at Los Altos and I talked to Suzuki about coming back to help them with the kitchen and he said there's a great big stone right where we want to build the kitchen. We need to remove a very great obstruction before we can proceed. He said, "So when you get down there I want you to look at that great big stone that's in the way. It's very important to remove a very great obstruction before we can proceed." So I got down there and looked at that stone and it was more like a mountain and there was no way to remove it. They already had the foundation in and weren't planning to remove it - it could be built over. It took me a couple of days to realize what he meant by the obstruction - my stupidity or ignorance or whatever. It was the lesson he gave me and it stuck with me. I don't know if I removed the obstruction but I understand anyway and he went out of his way to teach me that day.

When we started building the Haiku Zendo Suzuki would come every weekend and he would work with the machinery we had. He saw that I hadn't quite fitted the wall with the floorboards. Course that was going to be covered up so I didn't worry about it cause I was going to put a little kickplate at the edges that would cover it up. He ripped narrow pieces on the saw and ran them through the plainer and he had his hands right by the blade and I watched him and was about to stop him and decided that he had cool I'd never seen before so he could take care of himself. He put those boards in although no one would ever see them - they’d be covered up. That's the way they do it in Japan - they put as much care into what's under the chair as what's in front of it. He was very skilled and made himself skilled about everything that he did. He would make sketches how he wanted that zendo - how he wanted the altar and the decoration around the altar and then I translated into our dimension of lumber cause he'd have it a little wider or narrower and he said that was okay. That altar is still in Kannondo and the tan are there too. And he had me carving a pair of arms to hold the altar and he looked at them and said, these won't do. He brought some back from Japan and had me put those on. He was good with materials. He'd done building in Japan but they fitted things together and he had a sure hand.

Kobun got me a job at Hakone Gardens in Los Gatos assembling a gate at the lower end of the parking lot - it had been taken apart and parts of it were rotten. And I did a lot of work on the main tea house.

I never got into regular zazen but I went to Shasta Abbey for six months but I left there for the same reason - some of the students weren't practicing the way I thought Suzuki did and they seemed to think the only way was to sit zazen all the time. I lived up at Spring Mt for two years. Six of Kobun's students split off from us and bought a ranch up in Mendocino County, sold it and bought a ranch at Spring Mt in the town and they maintained that and I thought finally - but the folks from Santa Cruz made it a vacation resort. I guess I thought practice was something rigid. I got my best learning meeting other gurus one of the best of which was Triveti [?], Gandhi’s right hand man in India. Bill Copland sat with him in India and I met him through Bill. Bill mentioned to him that I made videos of singers and poets for channel six. And Krishna Triveti told traditional Indian stories and I videoed them - nine tapes.

Peg's my teacher as much as Suzuki.

Bill was born in 1916.

PA: Suzuki died too soon.

In Peg's log of her studies with Saburo it says Basho's log: to obey - zoka - create and change. And then it says creation not static.

Obey creation. Become friends with the four seasons. Always look at blossoms. And think about the moon. When the thought is not on the flower you are barbarous. When the heart is not on the moon you are beasts.

PA: At the Academy of Asian Studies one day Saburo told us now you're ready for tea and he took us into his apartment and he went into the kitchen and brought out some utensils and made us some tea and I thought, how spectacular, how ordinary. He taught us Rikyu's way. One of his disciples inherited the tea house on the front of the property and that was the Omotesenke school, one got the property in back and that was the Urasenke school and a third one got the property on Mushakoji Street and that's the Mushakojisenki. They all have depth but it depends entirely on who's serving. I stopped studying at the Academy when Saburo died of cancer of the sinuses. Alan Watts was still giving seminars then at the Wagner's house in their living room. Alan introduced a great many people to Asian thinking and he was right on the mark till I think he damaged himself with too much LSD. I had a fine first LSD experience and then on the second trip I felt like I was just trying to repeat the first so I flushed the rest down the toilet.

DC - Suzuki Roshi had some LSD that Bob Soloman gave him and he thought about it for a week and finally flushed it down the toilet.

PA: I was busy teaching kindergarten in 59 when Suzuki arrived and I'd lived in this house since 50. I did that for thirty-three years.

WS: Somebody told Suzuki Roshi that they had some LSD and they asked him what they should do with it and he said get rid of it. One time during a lecture he was trying to say aestheticism and he said, "Acidheadism," and all the room cracked up.

He came from Japan and pretty soon the kids from Berkeley were sitting with him and then there were unwashed long haired barefooted people and one of the Japanese people there said can't you get rid of them? He said, "I am a Zen teacher and if anyone comes to sit with me they are welcome. If you want me to, I'll take my students somewhere else."

I was in the hardware store in Japantown right after Tassajara's second payment had been made and the proprietor there said, Do you think Suzuki's gonna make it? Is he gonna buy that place? And I said yeah, we're going down there this weekend to sit and he was very surprised.

Peg: We were talking about buying Tassajara and I found it on the map and tried to show it to him but he was completely disinterested in the map and turned away.

One morning in the zendo when it was time to distribute the sutra cards I was doing it and I felt awkward because Suzuki Roshi was there and the person on the other side of the zendo was very smooth and when I put them down afterwards at the altar I thought we're not supposed to be perfect anyway so I put them down and the pile was askew and I went back and Suzuki was about to give his talk and then with the sweetest smile he leaned over and straightened the cards. It wasn't just that he straightened them, it was that beautiful sweet smile.

I wish my friends the Davenports were alive because Suzuki Roshi worked in their garden at 1015 Middlefield here in Palo Alto but they both died and their ashes are at Tassajara near Suzuki's. Gert was one of the original sitters at Los Altos. Dave was a very influential leader in AA. He was president of everything and he and Suzuki were quite good friends and Suzuki worked in their back garden I'll bet a dozen times. The garden's still there. Dave went out in the garden one time and Suzuki was up the Loquat tree pruning it and Dave was a little concerned that it was unsafe. "Oh no don't worry, said Suzuki. Pruning was my main job at Eiheiji." They had a lovely backyard with a nice Japanese flavor and Suzuki took delight in helping with it. David was a golfer also and he used to get up at four am and go golfing and he just loved being out there alone and one time Gert said something to Suzuki about how she wished David could sit and Suzuki said, "Dave is your teacher." He and Suzuki were really buddy buddies in a way I saw him with no one else. Dave was his own man. He didn't kowtow to anybody. He was a businessman. He worked for Westco, a commercial cleaning chemical company. So many lectures and events happened during the day while I was at school and Gert would tell me about them later.

I was born in Nebraska but moved to Tampalpais Valley when I was five. The house is still there. It's right next to a church on the floor of a valley. My parents helped to get it going. They were Presbyterians and a man came down from the Seminary in San Anselmo and then they changed to Methodists.