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Interview with Eric Arnow (emails)

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I was sitting there at 8:30 at night, wiggling in pain, when Suzuki Roshi said, "Someday you may be dying of cancer and there will be nothing you can do. DON"T MOVE!"


4-18-07 On Shunryu Suzuki

Since Eric mentioned Suzuki Roshi in the last letter of 4-17-07, I asked him what he remember of Suzuki and those days. - DC

Hi David,

I haven't written in quite a while. This was the first retreat time I had done in about a year and I kind of "blame Achaan, because I kept waiting for him, not realizing that he was deliberately putting me off. "Testing" or just being a jerk?

I came to ZC in March 1971. god that is a long time ago, no?

I heard  few of his lectures and sat my first couple sesshins with Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri. Had dokusan with Katagiri. I was sitting there at 8:30 at night, wiggling in pain, when Suzuki Roshi said, "Someday you may be dying of cancer and there will be nothing you can do. DON"T MOVE!"

Little did I know. But I remember him talking about "things as it is" deliberately mixing plural and singular, and this teacher does too. That is the main similarity.

I never actually engaged him, but was rather intimidated and awed so never spoke with him. but I gather he gave out a lot of Metta (loving kindness).

This guy is obviously more severe. I have to say I don't really like him.

But he does have a following, maybe among the masochist school of Buddhism, of which I was a strong adherent at one time, as you probably remember, David.

Cheers,

Eric

DC wrote Eric: Thanks for the great though short email. Nice SR quote. I want to ask you a few more questions. First, (and please feel free to elaborate as much as you wish, including, guessing other questions that might be asked and answering them), why did you come to ZC?

Eric responded:

Hi David:

Your question about why I came to ZC.

The answer to that has changed over the years, but especially since I came here.

My brief Biography of Buddhism.

When I was 9 years old, I was watching PBS, and they were televising a play about a beatnik party. This was about 1957.  There was a strange looking fellow with a beard and a beret and a turtle neck shirt. None of which I had ever observed before in a human being.

He was blowing smoke, presumably a joint, and airily waving his hand and talking about "Zen".

I thought, "Zen...Zen...what's Zen?"

Then a few years went by and I was about 14 years old.

These were really miserable years for me. My father had died when I was 8, mother depressed, nagging, miserable herself, and my self esteem in the tank.

But anyway, after school one day, I was in a little pharmacy in Brookline Massachusetts on the way home and I just happened to browse one of those paper back book standing circular racks, you know the kind that spins around and usually had dime romance or western novels.

But on the rack was a book called, "Zen Flesh Zen Bones". A BOOK ABOUT ZEN!!! WOW!!

So I bought it and brought it home. First story, Bodhidharma and the emperor.

What is Buddhism? (I forget the exact words) Bodhidharma: Vast emtpiness, no holiness

Who am I talking with? Bodhidharma: I don't know.

That just knocked my socks off, David. Never had I seen anything in the science fiction I was reading that touched that.

Later on when I went to college, I took courses in Goethe and Nietzsche. Opening line of Faust:

"Alas, I have studied Medicine, Jurisprudence, Philosophy and even Theology, and see that NOTHING can be known." Wow.

And Nietzsche was talking about revaluation of values, and many other topics that challenged conventional thinking.

Then, the last year, we had a special session where a psyche major from UC Berkeley set up a bunch of workshops on Biofeedback, Encounter groups, the emerging New Age stuff.

And he had a girlfriend whom you may remember, Nelda Foeste. An absolute Goddess of a girl, long blonde hair, beautiful sexy body, who had worked as a gogo dancer and had been at Tassajara.

So when we talked she told me about Zen Center and that I must go to Tassajara.

The flip side of going to ZC was that my family was hugely fucked up, as was I and I knew that I  1)Needed to get away from them 2)That California was were it was happeneing 3)I was fucked up and needed to get myself together.

After staying at Wheeler's Ranch, an infamous Hippie hangout outside of Occidental, and realizing that I was both a failure as a druggie and a failure with women, and that for their part, the folks at Wheelers were way of track, I got to thinking.

I was tripping by myself one day, looked at my self, dirty and disheveled as I was, and realized that I needed to go the Zen Center, since that was, as far as I knew, the only game in town.

Oddly enough though, David, one time, I went with a friend to Ananda near Nevada City. I had of course read Gary Snyder, a true hero of mine, but had no idea that he was leading a Zen group right next to Ananda.

Had I known that, my life might have taken a totally different turn. But that is how Serendipity works, I guess.

Especially because it would take me 28 years more to find Nelson Foster and meet Gary Snyder.

I mainly thought I went to Zen Center because I wanted to practice Zen as a way to express my manhood, rather than say the military, which I have always shunned.

I knew I had karma to work out, and I liked the whole Zen poetry, creative wildness. So that's what got me there, to Zen Center.

However, my answer to the question has changed. When I first got there, the issue primarily was about my personal pain and deep conflicts, shyness, depression, etc. That fueled my practice.

Now that I am here and have sat a lot more and allowed myself to do what I want, not follow what an institution or a society manipulated me to do, I answer, when people ask, that I started practicing Buddhism in this life (Remember, in Thailand, most people are Buddhists and are surprised and happy when a Westerner practices Vipassana and professes to be "A Buddhist"--whatever the heck that means, I mean I thought there was no self, how could ther be "a Buddhist"?) that I must have been a monk in a former life.

Indeed, as I grew older in America and observed the madness of American society, and how I tried and failed for years, to fit in, I began to realize that, even if I was crazy, they were more crazy, and that I was probably born in the wrong country.

Next week, I start an intensive 4 week TEFL --teach English course--so I may be a bit of a stretch for time, but do feel free to write back and I will almost certainly find time to respond.

Best regards,

Eric


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