Interview with  Audrey Robinson (Walter), stoneworker - via email with DC

Audrey's cuke page

Ah. Tho I revered him he also seemed like a grandmother to me, evoking my dear Italian speaking Nana, kindly & warm.

In the course of working on the Early Tassajara Alumni Reunion, I contacted Audrey - thanks to her and Bob Walter's son, Eliot, contacting me via cuke which happened originally because he'd put his rakusu on some site asking what the kanji meant. Eliot (and his sister L*e*t*h*e) had been one of the kids to receive rakusu (bib-like square cloths hung by straps around the neck and signifying ordination) from Shunryu Suzuki in a kids' ordination ceremony at Tassajara back in '69 as I remember. At least that's the summer they sewed them. I asked Audrey to share her memories of Suzuki, Tassajara, and anything else she wished. Thanks Audrey. - DC


During the summer of '69 and the following training period [at Tassajara] my job was cutting stone - corner stone, water basin, lantern. I was situated outside Roshi's cabin where he sometimes sat in the doorway warming his bare back in the sun. He loved the tapping sound of hammer and chisel that brought back good feelings of a former time and place in Japan. (I'm sorry to say I've forgotten where)

For me it was a special period of learning - sharing the love of stone, mindful hits, the slow revealing of form and the opportunity to speak with Roshi about Zen practice just by a brief reference to the work at hand. One day he suggested we look for a river rock to cut for a lantern. I was amazed at his agility and quickness as he happily stepped from stone to stone along the dry creek bed, asking me what I thought here and there (I was probably a bit iffy) then spotting without hesitation exactly the right one for the job - a long somewhat rectangular rock. It was winched up, I think, then dragged by sled to its work location and stood on end. A 4-sided opening was cut near the top allowing space for a candle. Where was the lantern going? What should it look like? Roshi wouldn't say. He was coy- "just cut." Or course.

Later I found out it was sent to New York as a gift [for the opening of the new zendo of the Zen Studies Society whose teacher was Eido Tai Shimano Sensei whose teacher was Nakagawa Soen Roshi].

Never during the cutting process was I given room for the attendant anxieties that might arise from thoughts such as where, when, for whom or adequate enough work.



How came I to Tassajara? I was married to Bob Walter at the time. We had been sitting with Tai San (Eido Tai Shimano sensei, later to be known as Eido Roshi) at the New York Zendo in 1967.

I've forgotten how a Wind Bell came our way, but the pictures captivated me- Zen folk working together in residence, an astounding location, and Suzuki Roshi. We visited the summer of '68 with our children L. and Eliot and stayed during the practice period. We returned the following summer and stayed through the training period and Christmas. I returned the summer of '70 with Don Robinson to whom I'm presently married.

My assigned work had been cleaning guest cabins, but at some date (can't recall) I volunteered to cut a cornerstone for the kitchen, a skill I had learned earlier at Kansas University's sculpture department. I had returned to Tassajara in '69 with a stone Buddha - a not very well crafted one, but a work of single minded practice striking the hammer - and was happy to engage myself again in this way. Stone Buddha sat on a wall somewhere (?) by the han [wooden board struck with mallet]. Anyway this stone business plus some stone poems led to the stone basin (where is it now?) and lantern I mentioned earlier.

A couple of odd memories: During the 7/68 visit of various teachers to Tassajara I was attendant for Soen Roshi. (I had sat sessions with both Soen Roshi and Yasutani Roshi in NY.) The students were preparing for the big event, sweeping the outdoors, dampening the ever present dust. I was raking and spraying. Don't rake too vigorously! Peter Schneider said to me in passing. He stops and shows me how to rake - one pull at a time, slowly. Strange, I think, not to hurry and learning how to rake at 34. It took me a while not to be pissed.

Later on when I showed the visitors to their guest cabins Tai San happily and promptly lay down. Ahhhh. It's hard to think I could have been so young and green as to be shocked by my teacher - the upright, militant samurai (or so he projected himself), flopping on a bed. Such an awakening. I'm glad I'm older. Such small curiosities to stick in the mind.

David, if you like and if you have interest and/or time, send me your address. I'll send some of my cartoons/comix. Don't know how to do it on this thing.

[I have asked her to yes, please send them. - DC]



I can't give you much anecdotal material. I don't keep a journal, am not a nat'l storyteller and am generally sieve brained. Maybe that sounds bad, huh? Not so much. Anyway, a couple of moments with side info.

When I arrived at Tassajara I could sit, still & long. I could listen, and hearing Roshi's talks vanish into clarity and space. Or else hypnotize myself rite out of there, yet retaining to this day the magic of his words, the wall, the cool floor, the sangha and quietness, the soft light, Ed's shaking, the smells, sucking the setsu... [part of oryoki eating ritual] Roshi gave us instructions for the session: Count from 1 to 10. Count! Sitting w/Tai San at the NY Zendo, at the Kensho Derby, hadn't I graduated from counting to pure Shikan Taza? Now a week of 1 to 10. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and again- to what end? To know I was in nursery school. What a gift.

And at the closing ceremony (called what?) [shosan] when it was my turn to appear before Roshi with our/my understanding, I snatched the stick from his hand. What did he see? A flash of bewildered insecurity that I couldn't begin to acknowledge? He said, so very gently- It is too heavy for you. Here, let me hold a while.

Ah. Tho I revered him he also seemed like a grandmother to me, evoking my dear Italian speaking Nana, kindly & warm.

When I visited him for dokusan (the only time) in SF, it was immediately a chatting session. I recall none of the conversation. He clapped his hands in delight, we ate cookies, and he sent those in line away. An afternoon of being there, exchanging this & that, and then I was gone to do the hippy thing in Humboldt county. In the day to day world I never saw him again. Conversation: leaves, wind.

-I know you'll return, he said to me at Tassajara after telling him I had to leave. (I had a a man to chase) -How so? -I just know, he replied, smiling, thumping his heart. -I just know.

Hello, Roshi.

It's interesting to have these few exchanges with you, David. Like a tap root seeking ancient soil. I've continued sitting here, there & here finding a sangha to share practice with. About 16 yrs ago I discovered a different sort of teacher, Master Hiang The, and threw myself into Shaolin Martial arts - a wonderfully complementary practice, again body/ breath/mind, again ego taking new knocks & healing w/sparring & forms. And Tai Chi (Lee Chia style), TC sword and Ba Gua. Forever revealing. I hope this body holds out.

A couple of asides- Tho I had planned to remain, Tassajara reminded Don of boarding school. Not for him. All those bells and rules. I met Don thru odd karma and Brother David Steindl-Rast. We stayed briefly w/the Johansens then I took an apt across from ZC.

Time past. Weird. Thanks for allowing me to reminisce. And thanks for all your archival efforts and writings. Audrey

12-26-07 - Tassajara: One day happy little Eliot was walking somewhere by the han & between the kitchen and the dining room when he blew his what-do-you-call those paper party favors that unroll and toot at Suzuki Roshi. Roshi turned and rapped him on the back with his kyosaku. I've heard this story many times. He left a mark! Eliot told me with some delight. -Was he kidding, I asked. -No. I was being noisy and disrespectful. An American kid, in other words.