Interview with Doug Bradle
phone interview by DC conducted in February, 2002. He now lives in Alabama.
I turn the tape on while we're reminiscing about old ZC friends.-DC
Doug: I remember Bob Halpern. He used to sit between you and me and he’d - you know, he was sitting full lotus and he could go sound asleep and just like rock over almost like a forty-five degree angle and not fall over. And his ear would almost be in my mudra.
DC: Bill Shurtleff called me today.
Doug: Oh yeah
DC: Yeah, there’s a voice from the past. He was trying to figure out exactly when Kobun and Yoshimura arrived. Do you remember?
Doug: Boy, that’s really haze. I remember Chino Sensei. He was there. He was like the junior monk when I was there. But I don’t remember –
DC: Was her there when you arrived?
Doug: He was already there. I came down there in July.
DC: And he was already there.
DC: You came down in July of ‘68?
DC: I remember I think in June of 67. I met him when he got out of the car at the top of the steps by the old zendo.
Doug: I moved to San Francisco in April and lived in one of those houses across from – what was the name of the temple?
Doug: Sokoji. Right. It was right across the street. I remember that they asked us sometime shortly after I moved there, they asked all the Zen students to wear their zoris. Not to come across barefoot. Cause they [the Japanese American congregation] thought that the American military would bomb them, cause they thought they were harboring hippies. I remember that. [He's joking - exaggerating - DC] But I only lived there for just like a week and then I moved over down across from the Japanese Cultural Center there used to be a walk-up place and I rented a room up there. I lived there for like three months. And then I went down to Tassajara.
DC: You mean like Loring Palmer’s. Over on Buchanan Street?
Doug: Yeah. Right on the corner of Buchanan and Post, on the west corner, across from the Japanese cultural center. It was like a group of apartments. You walked up a stairwell.
DC: Right. Loring Palmer lived there. Gavin Arthur lived up there.
Doug: Right. Gavin Arthur I remember – the astrologer – cause there was a girl that was renting a room in our little section that was a student of his. I rented a room there, I think it was like fifteen bucks a month. It was so cheap to live. Going over there in the morning for meditation, the afternoon – I can’t remember – Gary Pierce? – a guy named Gary.. No his last name wasn’t Pierce, Chris Pierce was the guy – see I found out about the Zen Center when I was in Ohio. I was going to Antioch and this guy named Chris Pierce who had lived in Japan with his family – he was in an air force family – came to Antioch just for one quarter, and that quarter was when my interest in Zen was just peaking. And he ended up leading a meditation group. And everybody when they found out it was at seven in the morning no one showed up except me and him. So we meditated together in the morning and the evening like five days a week for the whole quarter. And I kept pumping him full of questions. And he finally said, look, you need to go out and study with a real Zen teacher. And he told me about Tassajara. He had a friend there named Gary. Gary and I hung out together. Gary played blues guitar. Remember him? Little guy. I can’t remember his last name now.
DC: Well, I’ll keep it in mind.
Doug: But I went through the screening, and then Yvonne said I could go down in July. I think I went down like July 1 on a motorcycle. I remember that. Going down that dirt road. Oh, there were a couple close calls.
DC: No, you had an accident. I remember because I was involved with it.
Doug: Oh, well that was when what’s-her-name –
DC: Pat – who I just happened to see for the first time in twenty-five years or something two days ago. Maybe it was Thursday. At a book event. She writes for the local weekly newspaper. She writes about pesticides and stuff. So I got her card. I’m going to call her up.
Doug: Oh I see. Yeah, I remember, cause she was riding with me and we lost control and she skidded across the pavement on her butt. OH man.
DC: She was covered in blood and gravel. And I had just gotten to sleep. Diane had been sleeping with me that night [My first wife].
Doug: Where was that? Was that in the compound?
DC: No, no. I was living in Carmel Valley studying Japanese. I did that out there for five months. And you all were coming by to visit or something and you had that accident and Pat went running up. She woke me up. Literally I’d only had about an hour’s sleep. It was like eleven or something. I think I had driven Diane all the way back in to Tassajara and come back and finally gone to sleep. And she’s standing there covered in blood and with gravel all over her saying – there’s been a motorcycle accident and I think Doug might be hurt. So I leave her there and I go running down to the road and I find you and you’re fine. You had smashed something with your motorcycle and I go, oh my god – Pat is in shock and confused.
Doug: That was such a hazy memory. I just remember I lost control and she slid along the pavement. She was wearing shorts and flip-flops. Oh that was terrible.
DC: I had Dot Luce’s station wagon at the time that she’d loaned me. So I made a little bed and put Pat in the back of it and took her to the emergency room. And I remember the doctor there yelling at me about motorcycle accidents, and people who ride on motorcycles just want to commit suicide, and he’s sick of this shit, sick of seeing these people come in all wounded from motorcycles. Man, he was going crazy.
Doug: Gee, I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I didn’t know.
DC: Nothing you have to be sorry about now. Now it’s just an enjoyable memory.
Doug: When I lived in Marin County I had that motorcycle. We had a little bachelor Zen house. We were studying with Bill Kwong. I think that was back in like 1970. I left in January of ‘70 and I moved to Berkeley. I went into a severe depression and fortunately Dennis Samson came over with one of my other friends and he said, hey we started this Zen house and why don’t you move over with us. It really saved my life. Cause I was really suicidal and really depressed and everything. So that was a real turning point. But anyway I was living in Mill Valley above the library and I had my motorcycle, and one day I was riding back from Larkspur over the hills, and I was driving a little too fast, and all of a sudden I heard this voice, and it said, where are you going in such a hurry? It was an audible voice. I kind of really slowed down. And then the voice said again, if you continue driving this machine you’re gonna die. So I drove back home. I parked that thing. I never got on it again. I ran an ad in the paper and sold it a week later and bought a ten-speed and some camping gear and stuff. That was the end of motorcycles.
DC: That’s great.
Doug: I know. When I hear audible voices I’m not gonna ignore those. But the most powerful one was coming back one morning when I was living at Post and Buchanan. I was coming back from a morning meditation. I hadn’t gone to Tassajara yet. This was probably a month or so after I’d been there. I was just walking down whatever street it is – Sutter – the one that runs parallel with Bush as you go toward Buchanan. Anyway, I was walking down the street. There was a few cars and there was a few little newspapers blowing down the street. I was having this chain of thought about how will I tell people at college what I’m experiencing here. I had taken a leave of absence to go and study Zen. I heard this voice behind me say, you’re not going back to college. I whipped around. Honestly, David, it sounded like there was somebody standing about four or five feet behind me. I whip around and nobody’s there. Just a little wisp of wind. So then as I keep walking home the voice comes back inside my head. Just the thought of not going back to college – that was my anchor. What would I do if I wasn’t going to college? And the voice said, what they are speculating about back at college, you’re living, here, and this is where you need to be. That was a real turning point for me because it was really reassuring. I felt like, well, this is where I’m supposed to be. So I had no doubts about staying. Those were two sort of audible experiences.
DC: Yeah. Laudable. You came out in April of ‘68. Do you come from Ohio?
Doug: No. I went to Antioch and Antioch’s on a work study program. So I had my last work coop – I worked for Long Beach public schools. The public school system owns the school camp up near Mount Wilson where the observatory is. So I would go down on that work coop, we’d go down on a Monday and get a different sixth grade class every week and bring them up, and they’d spend a week at the camp. So I did that work coop. I guess I went out there right after New Year’s, and then left, and then I drove my motorcycle from the camp up through King City and up to San Francisco. I made the mistake of – it was really hot and I took my shirt off. I was riding along on my motorcycle with no shirt on and I hit a swarm of bees. I want to tell you, bees at sixty miles an hour – oh man did that hurt. I pulled over to the side of the road and there were bees all in the clutch gearing and everything. I don’t know how many there were – but – so anyway that’s when I came up to San Francisco and walked into a little office there. And they got me set up at that house temporarily.
DC: Across the street.
Doug: Yeah. Across the street. There were a lot of characters there. I remember Niels Holm was there. He was there and a bunch of other people –
DC: I just talked to his son yesterday. I see him a lot. His son’s name is Silas, incidentally.
Doug: Oh I see. Well who did he end up marrying? Cause he married Margaret Kress but then they divorced after five years.
DC: He married a woman named Sally from Port Townsend. He moved there. And they were married a number of years. Niels’s son Silas now is about twenty or something. Niels lives with a woman named O’Neill now. She’s great. They’re very close. And he’s got a little Zen group. They just sit zazen and bullshit. They drink wine on Friday nights and talk about Jung and stuff. It’s really good. He doesn’t really profess to be a Zen teacher or anything.
Doug: Is he still building?
DC: Oh yeah.
Doug: He is. He was a good builder, I remember that. One experience I remember – there was some girl – she had lived in Japan for awhile – real attractive girl. I don’t remember her name. But she said that she could sit in lotus position and concentrate and no one could pick her up. No one believed that so – this was at the house across from Sokoji.
DC: Was this Judith Weaver?
Doug: I honestly don’t remember. I don’t remember her name. Anyway, so she sat there and concentrated for about five minutes and then Niels went over and tried to pick her up and he could not pick her up. I don’t know if this was a concocted thing at the time. But you know, this big strapping guy. I mean literally he could not pick this woman up. That was sort of a strange little experience.
DC: That’s a good one.
Doug: Were you at Tassajara when we had the green rice? On St Patrick’s Day?
DC: I think I was.
Doug: You know who put us up to that? Peter Schneider. Craig Boyan and I were working in the kitchen, and we were always cutting up together, – so he came over one day – I guess it was the day before St Patrick’s day – and he said, hey guys, I got an idea. So we snuck in after the rice was put up after lunch, when no one was around, and we dumped a bottle of green food coloring in there. Put the lid back on. And nobody knew it until after it was cooked. It was this pistachio green. That was so funny. I’ll never forget taking that into the meditation hall to serve it. Of course, everybody’s eating in silence, scooping this green rice into the bowl. Chino Sensei – I served him and I remember putting one paddle of that green rice in and then he raised his fingers like, no more, no more. I don’t know what he thought. Maybe he thought it was moldy rice or something. That was really funny.
DC: When did you first meet Suzuki Roshi?
Doug: I guess the first time that I went to do zazen at Sokoji, whenever that was. I don’t really remember meeting him personally. I don’t have any recollection of that.
DC: When you first went over, what do you remember?
Doug: Well, I just remember that he was – I don’t know. I was a science fiction fan when I was a kid. I used to read all these science fiction books. And he kind of looked like what I imagined a Martian would look like. The shaved head, and he was only about – I don’t think he was more than about five-three –
DC: No. He was four-eleven.
Doug: He was a very small guy. There was just something about his face. His face was so animated. Just a great sense of humor. I don’t know. To me he was kind of like an old tree somehow. You know how like trees have character. That’s sort of what he reminded me of. And I guess he was really a father figure for me. He was sort of – because my dad died when I was eight. I think that part of my spiritual search in a way was like looking for my father. Not my physical father, but my spiritual father. Then I guess he filled that role for quite a while for me. Just everything about him. He seemed like such a balanced, poised human being. And he had a perspective that I’d never heard before.
DC: What was that?
Doug: Well, I don’t know. He just saw the world in a different way. And that was one of the things that attracted me to Zen in the first place. It was not a western kind of experience. It was more like man was a part of nature rather than conquering nature. That’s one of the things I liked about that. Like the Sumi paintings it’s always like man blending in to nature. The western ideal is just control everything. There was just something more gentle and more balanced to me about that that I really liked. He seemed to embody that for me. He had a very peaceful way, but powerful. Not just like spacey peaceful. I mean like a very powerful centered kind of peace that I really admired. He was always saying funny little things. He really had a great sense of humor. I really liked that about him. I felt real at home.
I thought it was really interesting because I had that motorcycle. I bought that motorcycle at the school camp from one of the counselors. And literally the first day I owned it, I took it out – this was up in the mountains – and I was going down lickety-split down this mountain road, and I spun off into a turnout area. So literally I had just bought the bike and had an accident immediately. And I was out and unconscious in this turnout area for about a couple three hours before these people found me that were coming down from a camping trip in a camper and – anyway I injured my knee. I remember when I was first starting to meditate there, after about fifteen minutes, my right knee would really start to ache. All I’d have to do is just straighten the thing out for about five or ten seconds, and then put it back, and it was fine. A couple months after I was there the knee got fluid on it. I had to go into the Kaiser hospital there – on Van Ness or wherever it is – and have it drained, aspirated. I remember asking the doctor – telling her that I was doing this cross-legged sitting meditation – I said now is that something that is gonna hurt the knee. I fully expected the doctor to say don’t do that. Rest it. But she said no, the more you can do that, the better.
DC: Oh wow, that’s interesting.
Doug: I said really? She said, oh yeah, that would be really good for it. The more you can meditate the better.
DC: I wonder what she was thinking of. I could see a doctor saying stretch it. But keeping it in one position for long periods – I wonder if she really –
Doug: I don’t know. Maybe something was speaking through her. That’s all I can think of. I just felt that that’s exactly where I was supposed to be. And I’ve become a Christian since I moved to the South, and I really don’t talk too much about my – people aren’t really that interested in hearing about all this stuff. But I have no regrets, or anything. I felt that this was all a part of my growth and what I needed to do at the time. And Zen was a really valuable experience. I learned a lot of things that have stayed with me my whole life.
DC: I’m interested in that. I want to go back to one thing. Then I want to ask you more about Christianity. You were at Tassajara for how long?
Doug: I went there in July of ‘68 and I left – I went for the training period that started in January of ‘70. But I had already pretty well fizzled out. Then I talked to Chino Sensei and he said the best thing would be for me to go. I left probably mid-January of 1970. Went up to Berkeley –
DC: Oh so you didn’t go to the practice period. You came down for it and left right at first.
Doug: Yeah. I was maybe in the practice period for a week or two. But my heart just wasn’t in it. I sort of had my bubble burst and it would take a long time to explain all of that. My bubble had been burst, and I guess I realized that – oh I don’t know. It’s too hard to explain. I don’t really have the words. But I just knew that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I didn’t want to be a monk. I didn’t like what I saw happening to the women that were there. There was just a hardness about them that I wasn’t attracted to. So I left and went to Berkeley and sort of floundered there for a couple of months where I had no direction. And squandered a little inheritance from my grandmother. Was just living on the edge. And then Dennis came over and then when I moved over to Mill Valley and started studying with Bill –
DC: Would you call that studying with Bill like in 1970?
Doug: Yeah. He had the little Zen center there in Mill Valley. You know where I’m talking about?
DC: Sure. I used to drive Suzuki Roshi over there.
Doug: So we’d meet in the morning. We kept the altar and bells tucked away in the back. So we’d take turns setting it up in the morning and putting it away. We’d ride our bikes down there in the morning. Ken Berman and Dennis and myself and a guy named Mike who was a post office guy, I don’t remember his last name. He was a real character.
DC: Wasn’t Mike Daft was it?
Doug: Yeah. Mike Daft. He was really a neat guy.
DC: He had been around awhile when I first arrived at Zen Center in ‘66.
Doug: I think he studied over in Chinatown.
Dc: He studied with Tao Lun?
Doug: He was into Chinese Zen. And then this. He was a man of few words. Really just a very kind-hearted person. I really liked him a lot. Anyway – I started studying with Bill. Bill then began teaching at Sonoma State University and he had some students up there that really wanted to start a Zen center. So we sort of combined. We had this one piece of land, and we were going up and working on the weekends. Then the people decided they didn’t want to sell it to us.
DC: Right. But that wasn’t ‘70.
Doug: No that was later. That was like in ‘72. And then the piece of land that it’s on now Sterling Bunnell sold to us. The first wave of people moved up in the summer of ‘73. I had some work to do down in Marin County so I finished that up. I think I moved up there in about October ‘73. Then I lived there for – well I got married up there to Diane. I guess we lived there until a little while after my daughter was born. We bought a house in Kenwood. And we moved in there about February of ‘77. My daughter was born in February of ‘76. Anyway, I was really active up there. I was on the Board of Directors. And I did a lot of cooking for the retreats. Wore a lot of different hats. Then left from there. Departed Zen from there and went into other things. It was about fourteen years.
DC: ‘68 to ‘82?
Doug: Well, almost ‘82. We left Kenwood – we moved into this polarity group that had a place over in Calistoga. So we sold our house in the fall of ‘81 and moved in there in December.
DC: What was Diane’s last name?
DC: Did I know her?
Doug: I don’t think so. I met her at the Zen Center. Did you ever know a guy named Patrick Campbell? He was crippled from polio. He walked on crutches. Patrick came to live at Genjoji up in Santa Rosa. He was trucking around all over. He met Diane down at the Zen Center and invited her to come up for a sesshin. She came up and we had a grape harvest a couple months later. That property has a three-acre vineyard that was in production. She came up for the grape harvest and we were partners for that. And we sort of hit it off and started dating. Then she moved in with me, then we got married in August of ‘75. Then we moved down to Kenwood in ‘77. Lived down there until ‘81. Then we were having some troubles in our marriage, and we got some good – what we thought was good at the time was real good marital counseling at this polarity group. So we decided we wanted to be a part of that. So we sold our house and dropped all the anchors and took off, much to the amazement of our friends. One day we were the happy homeowners, and the next day we’re off on this adventure. Gone. So we did that. Then that group bought a forty-five-acre resort north of San Diego – north of Escondido. And we refurbished that place and ran it until ‘87 and then sold it to a new owner. He came in and ruined the place. I lived there for about two more years and then I left and moved to Alabama in August of ‘89.
DC: You said you sold it to a guy and you kept living there?
Doug: The new owner took it over. It was run by a non-profit corporation that was basically sort of a mini-cult. The guy that was heading it ended up doing some really outrageous things. It ripped the whole fabric of the organization in two. He left. The people that were heading it – there was a group of us that really wanted to keep it going in a more democratic fashion, but the damage was already done. So the people that stayed decided the best thing was to sell it. So we sold it to this entrepreneur down there. He came in and changed the format. It was a vegetarian resort. And there was no alcohol or tobacco on the property. It was family-oriented. It was a hot springs. We had all the spa facilities and lodging. We had conference groups that came out. It was really a unique, beautiful piece of property. If he had just left it the way it was it would have been fine. But he came in and changed all the diet things and brought in meat and set up a bar there. We had the most loyal clientele. We were almost booked solid year-round. And a lot of these people came from San Diego and Los Angeles every weekend, or every other weekend. Just loved the place, loved the atmosphere. Then they saw what was happening and started leaving. Then Diane and I divorced. I met a lady that was living in Alabama and came back here six or eight times to visit. Alabama’s absolutely a beautiful state. It’s so beautiful here.
DC: I’ve been in Alabama a little. I’ve been in Georgia and Louisiana a lot more. I come from Fort Worth.
Doug: That’s where you grew up, in Texas. Yeah, I knew that. Anyway, it’s been a bumpy road at a couple of points, but I’m really glad I’m here. I’ve kind of found myself, and became a Christian, and got involved in a church. I’ve been involved in a prison ministry for about five years. It’s real rewarding. I found a great company to work for. Have built a little career for myself, and have a little security now for the first time in my life. That feels good. I remarried in ‘97. We have the neatest house. If you’re ever here you’ll have to come and visit. We’re south of Birmingham.
DC: If I’m going from Fort Worth to Atlanta I’d go through Birmingham.
Doug: Yeah you would. That’s on I-20. There’s a main artery, I-65, that goes from Mobile almost to Chicago. You go down about fifteen miles south of Birmingham on I-6 and get off and we’re – it’s so cool because the road you come down is this US31 and it’s really kind of an ugly strip mall sort of hodge-podge sort of place. But then you turn off there, and you go up on a ridge, and you come down, and our property is down below this ridge. It’s just like you’re right in the middle of the woods. Literally, you drive out the driveway to get down to Highway 31 it’s about a minute. We have an acres and a half of land. I’m listening to the frogs chirp. It’s just the neatest place to live. And you can still afford to buy housing back here. As opposed to California where a regular tract home is like $400,000. I don’t know how people buy homes.
DC: You remember John Palmer?
Doug: All these names are very familiar, but I can’t place him.
DC: He wasn’t around a lot when you were around, but he’d come to Zen Center early on. His brother Loring lived right next door to Gavin Arthur on Buchanan. He might have been at Tassajara at the time –
Doug: I think I vaguely remember Loring Palmer.
DC: Loring was a full-time Zen student. John had sat there and been married by Suzuki Roshi and this and that. John was involved with the Oracle in the Haight and the whole psychedelic scene. He continued being involved with it. His wife Cindy – they were living with Michael Horowitz, Beverly Horowitz’s brother, and Michael was involved in all that psychedelic scene. Then Michael and Cindy became lovers and John was just – he accepted it. But then they had a daughter who considers both Michael and John her fathers and her name is Winona Ryder. And John did prison time – maybe ten years ago – not very long ago – he was back in Minneapolis where he came from and he was manufacturing and selling LSD on a very big scale.
Doug: People are still doing LSD?
DC: Sure. He told me a lot of them were Indians.
Doug: You talking about native American Indians? Maybe it’s in the Carlos Castaneda tradition.
DC: Well, I think it might just be more in the let’s get high tradition. I have a lot of respect for psychedelics – but I don’t know why they’re taking them. They certainly ought to be able to if they want to, as long as they behave themselves. Anyway, so in prison he – I don’t know exactly what the process was, I want to talk to him about it again – cause he could really go on about it. He became a born-again Christian in prison. I’ve talked to him about it at length. I’m dying to get him down – he’s one of the people I want to talk to some time soon.
Doug: Is he Winona Ryder’s biological father?
DC: No. He was the legal father. And there’s Chick Reeder in Laurel, Mississippi. He was an old student of Suzuki Roshi’s. And he considers himself a Christian now. I think probably his grandfather started that town. He’s probably Episcopalian or something. I don’t know. But if you have anything more to say about that I’d be happy to hear it.
Doug: You mean about Christianity?
DC: Yeah or in some way that relates to having been at Zen Center.
Doug: It’s hard to put into words. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really thought it out that clearly, but it’s sort of like I was trying to find something that made sense out of my life. If that makes any sense. I’ve always been sort of an all or nothing kind of person. When I got into Zen it was like there was no other way. Zen was the way. It was the only way. I think it really showed the state of my spiritual condition. That I felt that way. It was really reflecting my insecurities. I couldn’t live and let live. This was the only way it was. When I went to Tassajara it felt like I left my past totally behind me. I was like born-again Zen. When Dennis was down there in the fall of ‘69, and he and I got to be friends, and I was kind of hanging out with Margaret Kress. They had more of a – I guess they just saw more of the bigger picture. That there were problems there. I didn’t want to hear that, but I did. And all of a sudden my bubble was burst. And everything shattered. And I didn’t want to be there – it was maybe like marrying somebody that you thought you knew and then it turned out they were totally different. I’m sort of stumbling for an idea or an image. I just remember at that time – when I was getting ready to leave Tassajara – I just felt like I hadn’t found the answer.
Then when I studied with Bill – that was a really powerful experience. I studied with him for about ten years. A long time. And I was very close to him and his family. I used to hang out with them. Big time. I used to hang out at their house. We’d go over to Chinatown. He’d take me up in these restaurants where all of the Chinese people ate. With Laura and the kids. We’re really close. And I really bonded with him. When I started having difficulty in the marriage with Diane, I realized that Zen really didn’t address marital issues. We kind of felt like we couldn’t get the answers and solutions we needed. It was a funny thing, because Bill advised us. He said, well why don’t you go over to Calistoga. Cause that’s where he and Laura used to go to get away. He hadn’t had a break from the kids for quite a while. So anyway, the place he recommended only took two-night reservations and we could only go over for one night. And the place we had called said there was a new place. That turned out to be the polarity group. So when we went over there, we had a polarity session. It’s sort of like an acupressure/massage. But they do a lot of psychotherapy when you’re doing that. And there were some things that were said in Diane’s session that really blew my mind. The person that gave her the session had really touched into some of our issues and had really spoken to Diane, and to say some things that I had been trying to have her hear for a long time and she refused to listen. She heard it from this guy, and realized she had to make some changes. Anyway that propelled us in a new direction. But I guess when all was said and done and the smoke cleared, I realized that I hadn’t found – there was something inside of me that wasn’t fulfilled. I hadn’t found what I was looking for. It sounds so trite. But I just felt like I was without a center. When I left California and moved here I swore that I was never going to be involved in organized religion again.
And just to show you how powerful God is, I had gone out to visit my kids, and I was flying back, and I ended up sitting next to a man and a woman that were both very devout Christians – not related to each other – god arranged the seating. We just talked all the way back. It just seemed like an hour. They were the first Christians that I had confided my Zen experiences and all of that. They were genuinely interested. This woman took my address and she sent me this book. There’s a real well-known Christian writer named Josh McDowell. He wrote a little treatise he called "More Than a Carpenter." She sent me that little book. I read that thing and it haunted me. Basically the book is asking the question, who is Christ? Because Christ was – a lot of people want to say Christ was a great moral teacher. But if you read what Christ said in the Bible – he doesn’t give you that option. He is saying, I am the way the truth and the light. No one shall come to the father except by me. That’s the famous John 3:16. It really comes down to – and I think every human being who has that awareness has to decide who Christ is. . . . Christ could have only been three things: he was either a liar, or a lunatic, or the lord. And you have to make the decision for yourself. That just haunted me. I could not get that out of my mind. It was almost 24/7. Something was just churning inside me.
I was dating this woman, and we went to this little Sunday service outdoors in downtown Birmingham. It was the most beautiful day. Everything was blooming. The magnolias. It was that perfect southern summer day, or spring day. It was idyllic. I was in the most pain that I can remember. I felt so alone. I felt like I was so on the outside looking in. Felt so much longing inside me to have god in my life. Then a whole lot of things started happening. I got invited to go to this little church. I guess I’d been going there for two or three months. Then just realized who Jesus was. I accepted Christ. Just fell to my knees as I was leaving Sunday school. The teacher gave witness to me and said, are you ready to accept Christ in your heart. I said I really am. And I knew it. I knew it in that moment. That was it. I was baptized the next week. I’ve changed churches and I’ve lost a lot of touch with my original Christian friends, cause that was a little tiny church. I guess I only ended up going there for about a year or so. My life is totally transformed. I can’t even tell you. I’m not spiritually searching. I’m working. Your spiritual work starts when you’re saved. So I still have a long way to go. I guess the thing – of all the religions available to man, Christianity is the only religion where you are saved by grace. The only religion. All other religions you are practicing, and are moving, supposedly, to higher and higher levels. Only Christianity says that that relationship with Christ, that solves everything. That one act of confessing Christ as your savior – because Christ did the work for us. All we have to do is believe in him. Sincerely. Then our work is done. The work of salvation - not saved by works. And so many other religions, they’re sort of like the in-crowd. People that somehow seem to have the inside track on the truth.
DC: What does that have to do with works? That’s not a comment on works.
Doug: It is in the sense that you know, accomplishment. That some people are – like you know D could sit cross-legged for three hours without moving. Wow what a man. He’s spiritually evolved. He’s like on some higher level than the rest of us. And there just isn’t that in Christianity.
DC: People have mistaken ideas wherever you go. But to point out a mistake and – you were sort of pointing out a silly way to look at D who just had his particular character. But you can’t identify that with Zen.
Doug: I’m not talking about just Zen, I’m talking about religion in general. That religion in general – it’s very easy for people to start worshiping other people.
Dc: That’s true. That is a real problem.
Doug: And you know it’s like this cult that I lived in, this polarity group. It starts very innocent. The group of people come together and it’s all very sort of childlike and systems are put in place. But then over time it becomes more and more sort of like the Nazis. Sort of a core group that surrounds themselves and they just basically agree with what the leader says.
DC: Yeah. So that was a group that centered around one person?
Doug: Yeah. It really was that way. And I think that’s sort of the nature of a cult. As time goes on the body is separated more and more from the leadership and there’s more and more incongruency. And what this leader did – Jefferson that was the head of our group – he basically was a very moralist kind of person and really insisted that the staff – there was just a lot of rules as far as conduct and behavior – and he broke every rule in the book. It was just such a blatant thing when it came out, and there were so many people that had sacrificed so much for so long that just felt so betrayed.
DC: That’s an old story.
Doug: Oh it is. It’s been around as long as man has been here. There’s that in Christianity too. I’m not saying that Christianity is pure and lily-white. No, there’s a lot of problems within Christianity. But as far as the – you know there’s a perfection in it. And god has a plan. And god completed his plan when Christ was resurrected. And from that moment on – in my mind that’s the most significant moment in history – because the old testament is the story of the Mosaic law, and all these laws, and nobody could keep them. Moses goes up on Mount Sinai for a couple weeks and all of a sudden they built a golden calf. The story of Israel was just the falling and the depravity and the repentance. Then they toe the line for a while, and then they fall. They could not keep the law. And really we can’t. Man is sinful by nature. He can’t keep the law. So Christ came as the sacrificial lamb. And by Christ taking the sins of the world upon himself when he died, then that is the saving power. When you believe in Christ you’re clean. Washed away. You know the blood of the lamb and there’s so many things. I know it sounds really strange to people that aren’t Christians.
DC: Oh well I was raised in a Christian home and I’ve never rejected any of what I was raised on. But it’s a very different way of interpreting Christianity than what you’re talking about. But still whenever I get – like Clay was snowboarding and I was at the ski place, and people asked me what I was writing and this and that. And this woman said, oh I’m a Christian but Buddhism – blah-blah-blah – and I said I’m a Christian too. I never rejected it. But I was raised on a very different approach to Christianity than what you’re talking about. But I certainly understand – I have no trouble hearing what you have to say.
Doug: I think a lot of the people that got involved in eastern religions it was in rebellion to dead Christianity. It had no life. It was completely secularized and had nothing personal about it.
DC: Maybe that was true of me terms of society but not in terms of what I got from my family at home I didn’t react against it. But I can tell you from interviewing all the people I’ve interviewed that my story’s unusual.
Doug: Well you were always a real open-minded person. I remember you just always were able to love the one you were with and be able to talk to pretty much everybody. I always thought of you as kind of a Zen ambassador. You were the guy that always ran to get chairs if there wasn’t seating room, that sort of thing. You seemed to be able to just talk and you weren’t really too hung up on any particular philosophy. And I think I was. I was more sort of a zealot and kind of rigid.
DC: And you were pointing out D and he was too in his way. But you know D is like really loose now.
Doug: Oh no I love him. I was just using that –
DC: I’m sure you do, but he was very rigid back then. But he went through some real transformations. Very big ones. And is in many ways the same but in others quite a different person.
Doug: Well you know what I remember David? One of the things that really just kind of stuck in my heart – and still does – was – remember E.L.? Hazelwood? I was working in the kitchen down there. I remember that E.L. used to stand outside the kitchen – this was in the old kitchen, that little corner thing – and he wanted to come in and ask for something to eat but he knew that he shouldn’t. And so he would take a step toward the kitchen door, and then he’d stop, and then he’d turn around and take a step away from it, and then he’d turn around and take a step toward it, and it was like a sort of catatonic behavior. And I just remember at the time, I was so condemning of him. Why can’t he get his act together and all that. And then later on I heard that he killed himself. And when I heard that – oh, man, I just thought, how could you be so heartless. What this guy needed was somebody to just give him a hug and say, hey, everything’s o.k., and you want something to eat, and I couldn’t do that.
DC: Well, that’s o.k. There was no stopping E.L. from killing himself. It was at the end of a long painful journey, and he was deteriorating in some ways. But there’s a lot of funny stories to it too.
Doug: Remember the pigeons? Those stupid pigeons –
DC: I got rid of them.
Doug: – pooping all over the coffee . . . Remember we set up that wash basin, and we ran the cornmeal out there, and we – remember we had this stick propped up and all those pigeons ran in.
DC: So you were in on that?
Doug: Yeah. Those were the stupidest birds. And then you took them up to Monterey or somewhere on a town trip and let them go.
DC: And they came back.
Doug: Well a couple of them did.
DC: A number of them came back eventually. We caught them again, and I took them on a trip to the central valley where I was buying a truckload of rice. I was buying several tons of rice. And they didn’t come back from there.
Doug: Who did we buy Tassajara from?
DC: The Becks. Bob and Anna Beck.
Doug: Right. He had trained some pigeons. I remember that. Somebody had told us that story. And then you told me that story about how when Tassajara before Zen center bought it was sort of a honky-tonk. And that hunting party came down with bandoleers one day. This was before I was there. And everybody was in the meditation hall eating lunch, and that used to be the bar, and they walked in and just about fell backwards. You told me that story. It was some hunting party that had come down there years before when it was a honky-tonk. And they didn’t know the Zen center had bought it, and nobody was around. They just drove up in their jeeps and clanked and clunked out with their bandoleers around and walked up to the door and opened the door and there were all these Zen students sitting there in silence eating lunch, with these shaved-head guys on the altar.
DC: That’s terrific. I want to see Bob again. He lives in San Anselmo not far from here. I’ve kept in touch with him.
Doug: What’s he doing?
DC: Selling antiques.
Doug: The other thing, talking about Suzuki Roshi. Maybe I told you this one when we talked before. He’d have those evening lectures in the summer so the guests could come in. I remember – it would be like the end of a long day, and it was nice and warm in there, and you’d sort of start to drift off to sleep. But I remember kind of coming out of a little reverie and hearing him say, a thousand lectures end in a poop. And it stayed with me for the rest of my life. And I thought well isn’t that great.
DC: Thanks for telling that.
Doug: That cracked me up. Forever and ever. It’s like all talking really comes to a poop. It’s what you do that counts. That was really good. To me, Suzuki Roshi was kind of formidable. I admired him and loved him. But then like when we had the sesshins and then we’d have our time with him, we’d go into his little room, and have a few minutes to talk to him. And I kind of never knew what to say. I just felt sort of inadequate to talk about anything. But he was always just kind. And then I left in 1970 and I think he died in 1970.
DC: No, ‘71. December.
Doug: After I left Tassajara I didn’t see him very much. He had already died – cause I went over to sew the rakusu with some of the other guys – Ken Berman and Dennis Samson and I went to a class over there for the lay ordination. But I think he had already passed away. So I really didn’t see him much after Tassajara. But I had his book for years. I probably still have it somewhere tucked away. Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. I tried to read it later on. I didn’t get it. It made so much sense when I was a Zen student, but I guess after all the experiences I had and I tried to read it again I just said, I don’t get it.
DC: It’s not your trip any more. You did that and it was right for then, and you moved on.
Doug: What is your spiritual practice these days?
DC: I sit zazen. But I have to really try not to stay up late. I stay up late working – if I stay up too late I can’t get up and sit. I sit zazen, and I – but I don’t do anything with Zen center except like visit and go to the archive room.
Doug: Are there still some of the original people there?
DC: Mel Weitsman's running Berkeley. Jerome is living at Page Street. Blanche Hartman is one of the abbots. Linda Cutts is the other abbot. Reb is like retired abbot.
Doug: Remember Tim? He was one of the leaders with Bill Kwong. There was an older woman who was a Zen student in Mill Valley. I can’t remember her name now. But she turned me onto Alexander technique. There’s was an Israeli guy named Giora Pinkas that was living off of 19th Avenue – out in the avenues – so I started studying with Giora. Several times I rode my bicycle from Mill Valley over to San Francisco and we got to be really good friends. I guess I studied with him for about a year and a half. They were really into Sufism and he ended up in that same group that Craig was in.
DC: Meher Baba.
Doug: I think this was maybe a year or so before I came to San Francisco. Someone who was studying with him then, I don’t remember who told me this story but there were a lot of people at that time, a lot of drug people that really thought – there was some secret to Zen. And apparently there was someone that was really aggressive with Suzuki Roshi and said tell me the secret of Zen and he just wouldn’t get off of it. So the story I was told was that Suzuki Roshi said o.k. I’ll show you the secret of Zen and he took him upstairs, and they went upstairs to his room, climbed up that spiral staircase, and took him into the bathroom and opened the medicine chest and took out a bottle of ice blue Secret and said, here’s the Secret.
DC: I’ve heard that.
Doug: That’s a true story.
DC: I forgot all about it and I don’t have it anywhere. That’s very good. And it’s good to hear it again from somebody else.
Doug: That was going around. And the other one was, the one about – you know the one – the Zen students were asked to wear their sandals. And a lot of them that were living in those houses across from Sokoji were just running barefooted across the street for meditation –
DC: That is just so hard to believe
Doug: Then they asked them to stop. The Japanese congregation that he’d come to minister to were really concerned that all these American hippies – and that the military was going to come and bomb Sokoji. I got a kick out of that. But I don’t know. A lot of it’s sort of like a dream now. Seems like a dream. I just remember looking out from that little apartment I lived at at Post and Buchanan looking up at the Miyako Hotel and somehow thinking my god, we’re only 500 feet apart, but we’re like in totally different worlds. Somehow that was so amazing to me. I just really loved that time. I had my motorcycle, and I was working for the Hotel Workers’ Union. Actually right before I was scheduled to go down to Tassajara they offered me a job at the Mark Hopkins. I kind of think, well, what would my life have been if I had taken that job and not gone down to Tassajara. But that’s water under the bridge. You’ve talked to a lot of people I guess to gather their stories. . . . . .
When we were shaving heads, and I remember that Suzuki Roshi and I were in the bath together and he was shaving his head. He handed me – you know they had those little metal canisters that you can scoop the water out to dump over your head – and he scooped out some water and handed it to me. I thought he wanted me to dump the water over his head. He was actually handing it to me to dump the water over my head, to wash off the shaving cream or whatever I was using. So I just dumped the water over his head, and he was just sitting in the bath sort of sputtering and catching his breath. Totally caught him off guard.
DC: Ha ha, good for you.
Doug: I remember that. I kind of got a chuckle out of that. I was really appalled I had done that, when I realized that he was not wanting me to dump the water on him. That was a real special time. It really was.
And then of course when the ladies came down in the summertime – I’ve told people that – since I’ve lived here – that these women would come down in the summer. Usually they were coming out of a bad relationship and wanting to get away and commune with nature. And they’d arrive down there and of course there’d be like fourteen horny monks ready to greet them right after they checked in and take them down to the Narrows. Show ‘em the ropes.
DC: There was a little of that that went on.
Doug: Oh there was a fair amount of that that went on. The hormones. I don’t care how many rules you set up, the hormones are stronger. Passion is stronger than reason.
DC: That’s true. I can think of one woman. And I can remember going over to her house in Mill Valley. You might even have known her. She was older. She was like thirty-five and I was like twenty-three or something. That was neat. But that was once, only once for me.
Doug: Was she at Tassajara?
DC: Yeah. And we made love at the Narrows. It was sixty-seven. I can remember making out with a guest once, another time, a young woman. But that’s all that happened.
Doug: It was always in the summertime. Cause that was like we got to sleep in in the mornings and it was just –
DC: You didn’t get to sleep in in the mornings.
Doug: Compared to the training periods.
DC: Getting up at 5:45 instead of 4:30 or something.
Doug: Right. But that seemed very luxurious at the time. I also remember really looking forward to getting the chanting done so we could get over to the study period with that nice warm roaring fire. That was one of my first exercises – learning how to keep myself awake.
DC: I could never stay awake in there.
Doug: I taught myself how to do it. There was a way I could release energy up my spine. I still can do it. I don’t know what it is. Honestly I don’t know what it is, but I can wake myself up. I can just sort of visualize my mind and then just release a surge of energy up my spine. I learned to do that there and that would keep me awake. I don’t know what that was.
DC: That’s terrific. They call that kundalini.
Doug: Yeah, something like kundalini. That was the hardest thing though. I loved the books. Loved studying. I was reading a lot of the – the Indian Buddhism. The stories of Gautama Buddha. His spiritual journey and all. It was just fascinating to me, but I kept nodding off. I just got to find a way to keep myself awake. We didn’t have coffee then, did we?
DC: Yeah. People made their own coffee if they wanted coffee. I don’t even know if they liked people to bring coffee in there, but some people would do it anyway. Maybe it was o.k. Maybe there was tea served in there. I’m not sure.
Doug: You remember Liz that was there?
DC: Young L. Young sexy L.
Doug: She was so – when she was there she was just so washed out, dragged out, she looked like something the cat dragged in. When I was living up at the Zen Center in Santa Rosa one day I was at one of the malls at Santa Rosa and ran into her there, and I’m telling you she was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.
DC: She got into a sort of sex group. That’s what she was into. She really wanted to be with people who wanted to concentrate on having a lot of free sexual activity. I don’t know what happened to her after that.
Doug: I don’t know either. I didn’t see a whole lot of those Tassajara people after I got involved in Santa Rosa.
DC: Like you said, Tassajara seemed to be sort of hard on women.
Doug: Yeah, it did. It wasn’t an easy place for women to be. I think they were conflicted because – natural maternal instincts were kind of – it was a tough life. Very Spartan. A male kind of life style. I just don’t think it was very well suited for women.
DC: Oh women are really dominant in it now.
Doug: What does that do to them?
DC: I don’t know. I would say that what you said about Tassajara back then still applies to a certain extent. I like them all, and some of them I find very attractive. I’m single again now.
Doug: What was Dianne’s last name?
Doug: Did you and she have a child?
DC: Oh yeah. We were married. Kelly’s twenty-eight.
Doug: Is that right. How long were you married?
DC: We were only married like – well we were married thirteen, fourteen years, but we only lived together married about two and a half and we just never got divorced. But actually we were together for about an eight-year period.
Doug: Were you married at the Zen center?
Doug: Where is she now?
DC: Spokane, Washington.
Doug: Have you been up there ever? To Bill Kwong’s?
Doug: You know the meditation hall is in the barn. I guess it’s still there, I don’t know.
DC: They have a very nice zendo now. I don’t know if it’s a barn or not, I guess it is.
Doug: It was a redwood barn. That was an old farmstead. Anyway, there was just like a cement floor in there. And we were – you know the light would come through the boards as the sun rose. Kind of a neat place. There were probably about – well Bill was in Colorado at Naropa Institute. He was going there every summer to teach cause he was pretty close with Chogyam Trungpa. So he was away for about a month or so. And Laura was in there. What do you call the guy that rings the bell and leads the chanting?
Doug: Yeah, I was the doan that morning. There was a group of us sitting there. Maybe fifteen people or so. I can only tell you from my perspective, but I was sitting there and – you know that’s up on top of a mountain – and I could hear a crop-duster – you could hear it off in the distance. Then all of a sudden, it was like right across the street. It was really loud. Right outside the barn, almost. Just after the sound changed, there was this tremendous screeching of tires. Like this car – cause the Zen Center’s up at the top of the mountain and there this . . . there. It was like this car was just speeding and just went out of control and jammed on its brakes and there was this huge screeching sound and this tremendous crash. My brother was there, he had come out to visit there, and my brother and four or five other guys ran out when that crash happened. I couldn’t leave cause I had to finish the meditation and do the chanting. Anyway, so I finished that. I came out and those guys were all standing out by the road, shaking their heads. I went out there. Nothing happened. The whole thing never happened. The amazing thing is that about half the people heard something. The other people heard nothing. It was like a group hallucination. It was the most bizarre thing.
DC: That’s a good story. You’ve had several unusual stories.
Doug: That was really mind-boggling. I went out there and those guys were all just standing there – they went out and nothing had happened. Anyway that guy Robert was up. He was an early riser. This was probably only about –
DC: He’s the guy who was the famous Gurdjieffian teacher.
Doug: Yeah. He had studied with him. And he came out and he was laughing, he said, that’s makyo. That’s Japanese [or Sanskrit]. It means like a group hallucination.
DC: Well it means hallucination. Makyo means delusional visions.
Doug: Right. This was like a group makyo. When Bill came back we talked to him about it and he said he had heard stories about that. Where there’s a group of people where something like that took place. And something seemed so vivid and so real, and other people didn’t experience anything. Cause Laura was in there, and she said she never heard a thing. Other people said they could hear the crop-duster down in the valley, but nobody heard the thing switch off the way I did to where it was across the street. But all of the men that ran out, myself included, heard those tires squealing, and heard some huge impact and glass flying and everything. Ran out there, and nothing. That was kind of a wild experience.
And then the other thing I remember, and this is the last thing, was going out one morning. Living here full time at this religious retreat, and seeing the garbage man dumping an entire fifty-five gallon garbage can filled with wine and beer bottles into the back of the garbage truck and thinking what’s wrong with this picture. It was just the local garbage man, but this was one of our garbage pails that we put out to be picked up. It was completely topped off with beer and wine bottles. Being dumped out of the garbage of the Zen Center. I thought well, hell, that’s an interesting picture. Bunch of Zen alcoholics.
David: Come on. It must have been just one or two of them. Most Zennies don't drink much.
Doug: Yeah, I can remember one person in particular.
It’s been fun David. I don’t want to keep you up all night. I appreciate your refreshing my memory. A lot of these people I wondered about.
DC: Well thank you. It's been good talking to you.
[Thanks to Cheryl (Bevans) Bennett for the correct spelling of Giora Pinkas. - DC]