Interview with Sterling Bunnell

Sterling Bunnell cuke page

Sterling Bunnell
by DC
9\04\95 or so

Suzuki Roshi was giving a lecture and a guy asked, "What is the purpose of marriage?" and Suzuki Roshi said, "Potato."

SB: I remember during a sesshin at a lecture in San Francisco a woman coming up (Evelyn Lentz) right in the middle of lecture ringing a bell and she got up on the altar and said, "No longer is it necessary for you to sit - Jesus Christ is now Lord and you'll all be saved." And Suzuki said, "Very interesting, but can you survive?" And she got quiet and sat down.

DC:  I never heard anything about her bringing Jesus into it. She had several events like that.

SB: Another time Suzuki Roshi was giving a lecture and a guy asked, "What is the purpose of marriage?" and Suzuki Roshi said, "Potato." It's like a koan.

He had a lovely sense of metaphor. One time he and I were standing on a street corner in Gilroy waiting for someone and I was saying that you can't walk in someone else’s shoes and he said you have to wear those shoes a long time.

The first time I ever saw him was back in the early sixties and my first wife was meditating at Sokoji - Marian Weston. I sat there then with her and I stood in line with her to bow to him and he asked me, "Do you have any questions?" and I had this sudden feeling that I was in a tunnel and he was on the other end and somehow his question shattered me and I went right through my center and I defensively said, "No," and for several hours I wondered why I was set so off course by that. Like there was some kind of direct inquiry which called for me to give an answer from someplace in myself that I hadn't accessed.

Dick told me one time he was with Suzuki in a restaurant in Gilroy or Salinas and Dick was wondering whether he should order something vegetarian and Suzuki ordered steak.

I think he was very psychically perceptive.

I had Trudy Dixon as a client and her mother and grandmother both had died of breast cancer. And the type she had was triggered by having children. She had had one breast removed and had another child and it came back. And for a year she was feeling alright but knew she had disseminated[?] cancer and she was very afraid and I felt very apprehensive about how she would face it because there was a great big monstrous charge of fear in the back of her mind but toward the end of her life she went on a fast to starve the cancer as she put it and she transcended the situation. I went to see her afterwards and she was a different person - she was the most positive, clear minded person that you can imagine and that was only shortly before her death and I remember Suzuki gave a talk at her funeral and he described carrying her ashes and saying goodbye to her and he was fighting back tears and then he gave a howl like a wolf and it was very moving.

Do you remember Dennis Anderson? [Cloud?] He said he was with Okusan and he asked if Suzuki Roshi was a good teacher and she said oh yes but he's a bad husband.

Bill Witherup is a poet who came from Richland [?] Washington and his father worked as a maintenance man at the atomic plant there and Bill had a girlfriend named Miriam, a Mexican girlfriend who was at Tassajara and she was apparently a pretty ferocious number who would have sacrificed people on the stone altar herself and they had a very stormy relationship and he wrote a very beautiful poem called Miriam at Tassajara - I can't remember her last name. People were giving Suzuki Roshi presents - maybe it was his birthday - and she brought one all wrapped up and he said, "What is it, a snake?" Absolutely right on the mark.

DC note: That might have been Marian Ebright (I think) who was with Clark Mason for a while. She had Aztec blood I think. She died some years back. She was intense and beautiful and dark.

SB: One time I was standing with Suzuki Roshi at Carmel Valley Road and Tassajara road and I said, look, it's a golden eagle and he said what kind is that and I said you don't see those very often. I didn't interpret it as a sign but if I did it would be that the sky god had taken notice of you. I frequently have had dreams where an eagle was circling in the sky.

DC - Maybe it was your totem animal letting you know you were in the right place.

At the first I think practice period at Tassajara during the sesshin I went out to Grasshopper flats and stood by an oak tree at the beginning of the flats after dinner so there was a good thirty minute break and as I was standing there a fox walked up to me and curled up at my feet and went to sleep. I stayed there and it did to for about ten minutes and then it got up and walked away. I'm not the sort of person that animals walk up to. Maybe it was my totem.

SB: That is remarkable. I've done it with dear and rabbits and with one dolphin at San Diego Marine World.

I didn't meet Suzuki Roshi often. He seemed very sensitive and lacking in decision and forcefulness. I've developed second sight in the meantime and I survey people and I would rate him as being pretty sensitive. I've heard others say he seemed to know what they were thinking but there would be a tendency to ascribe that. I wouldn't say that about Katagiri.

I met Tatsugami and he was very interested in rocks and crystals forming in rocks and I explained to him how atoms move around so that crystals can grow within solid rocks by replacing other atoms in the space. Suzuki assembled his favorite rocks in certain places at Tassajara.

DC - How would you interpret Suzuki saying that there are rocks that are alive and rocks that are dead?

SB: I think there are rocks that can pick up a psychic charge - maybe that would mean they are alive. There seem to be power spots on the earth that effect your state of mind and they're quite striking when you're there and I've seen some geological transects of the structure underneath them and generally there's a vein of rhyolite coming up from a granite batholite. Rhyolite is a very fine crystal granite that cools very fast so it has very small crystals and it also has iron crystals in it so it seems to me that it's paizo[?]-electric - it can turn a field of force into a field of electricity like the crystal in a crystal set. There's something about these things that seems to effect the subjective field that your mind is working in.

DC - Have you run any of this past the skeptics society?

SB: Well their minds are closed up tighter than a bulls ass at fly time.

Once Suzuki looked at me in dokusan and said, "It's not necessary to hold yourself in any one position."

Talking of Tassajara he said, "Something will come of this."

He said that Japanese used to be like Americans and not have any shadow but that now they've gradually gotten a shadow and he felt that Zen would take root in America. I suppose he meant by that an awareness of the depth of their own psyche but I don't think that's really true of the Japanese as a group. I don't think they have any more shadow than Americans or awareness of it, but I don't really know what that meant to him.

Another time he was talking about someone who died and was cremated and they went out on a boat - I guess it was one of the Buddhist churches, and they dumped his ashes and they came back and told Suzuki, "We dumped his ashes," and he said, "Oh you mean you dumped some of them," and they said, "No, we dumped all of them. Where are there any left?" and Suzuki said, "In your mind." He said that in a sesshin, the same one where the woman came in banging.

Otohiro, Suzuki’s youngest offspring, asked Suzuki Roshi about the war and Suzuki said, "Do what you have to do."

DC: You were brought in on the aftermath of the rape at Tassajara, when Barry Eisenberg assaulted the guest?

SB: I'm pretty sure that Dick was there at Zen Center when Barry Eisenberg had that event with the guest.

DC Note: No. Richard Baker was in Japan.

SB: She had gone down to the narrows at Tassajara and he followed her. I met with her and Suzuki Roshi and I thought Dick [Silas and Peter dealt with it] and out on the street on Bush street and she and about three of her friends who had agreed to accompany her - three guys and they were deciding what to do about it and we spent a couple of hours talking about it and they agreed that she wouldn't press charges if Barry went into therapy so I saw him a few times and he was pretty screwed up. He had a problem with his mother and he wanted to get back at her through other women. I don't remember Suzuki Roshi saying much of anything.

DC – I thought after that that he was a dangerous guy. Don't you think he should have gone into longer term therapy or something?

SB: Yes, but I wanted to help Zen Center. He probably should have been hospitalized.

See Deep Fool by Barry Eisenberg