Interview with Milton Clapp

After a lecture, one day near the end of my stay I was able to talk to Suzuki Roshi briefly. I asked him, "I am very uncomfortable with all the bowing and ceremony at Zen Center. I am going back to the mountains in North Carolina and practice there. What do you think?" '

He said, "It will be the same where ever you go."

Milton's copy of Tony Artino's Suzuki lecture notes

by Danny Parker 18 October 2007

[Thanks to Danny Parker for doing this interview. He didn't include the questions but that doesn't matter so much. Danny is putting the Suzuki lecture notes Milton got from Tony Artino on disk so they will be linked from here at some point. Tony gave them to me years ago but I hadn't typed them up. I think most of them may be in the lecture archive anyway but I'll check that when Danny sends them. Here is the first installment of Tony's Suzuki lecture notes sent by Danny back in 2005. I got hold of him recently and said I was putting it on cuke and the following interview resulted from our correspondence. Thanks for your doing this Danny and thanks Milton for your generosity and honesty. And thanks Tony. - DC - 11-07-07]

I was at Zen Center from January to May of 1968. And January and February of 1969. He [Shunryu Suzuki] was at the old Bush Street Zendo.

How did I end up there? A friend of Silas Hoadley who went to Yale named George Daley lived a street behind me in Charlotte. I had dinner with George one night and he told me I should go to San Francisco Zen Center because two Japanese priests were there. He said it was the real deal. Look up Silas. I didn't like George so I said, "That's too far..." And he said, "Ok, don't bother me then..."

Strange. I woke up the next morning and a voice or a feeling said, you are going. And I went within a week. I had no desire to do that. I had just gotten out of a mental hospital and where I had a nervous breakdown. It was terrible. Now, I had a gun to my head. I knew I could cut, reduce my mental problems with zazen, or so it seemed. And without that I was bouncing off the walls. So, I might as well learn more about this. Without it, I couldn't function.

So with the 5 AM sittings at Bush Street, I saw space open up in my mind where I could live. I was sitting every morning. I was staying on Larkin street by myself. I was near Fields Book Shop. It was crazy in San Francisco at that time, so I wanted to come back home. I didn’t particularly like it and North Carolina seemed better suited to me. But still, the zazen seemed to make a world of difference. Maybe I should do it in North Carolina and leave San Francisco.

Suzuki was at Tassajara a lot and he seemed to be there [in the city] only occasionally. However, Katagiri was there a lot. Katagiri was my kind of guy. It [he] was middle class. Suzuki was upscale and he liked bright, exceptional people, very energetic types. When he was there, the rooms were packed. Huston Smith was there with lots of other important people. I felt a little out of place.

I felt like a second class type of guy, but Katagiri made me comfortable. Katagiri was every man. His lectures were stumbling English. He didn't exude; his energy was very different from Suzukis. I felt like Katagiri was like me. I think he was not so comfortable in the bizarre hippy culture of San Francisco. In 1974, Katagiri moved to Minneapolis. I moved there in the summer of 1975. I followed him. I had been sitting daily since 1968. During that summer of 1974, I met Tony Artino and his first wife, Judy. Tony showed me over supper one night, a handwritten notebook he had copied verbatim Suzuki's lectures. He had Suzuki's permission to do it. There were no copying machines, so I hand copied the whole thing.

Moving back to Charlotte in the fall of 1975. Again only being able to bite off little chunks of zen practice and Japanese culture, I showed my handwritten copies of Tony’s notes to friend, Ken Smith who was living at Zen Center for four years. He typed it up at some point. Since, then I have had Ken’s typed version, I’ve probably distributed over 500 copies of it to anyone who wanted it. I never told Zen Center about it­ purposefully. Tony said that if I copied it, that there need to be a disclaimer. Tony said, some of the words­ a few­ may be his. So I put in maybe 80% Suzuki and 20% Tony. [I think it's almost all straight Suzuki. - DC]

We were all speaking Japanese English then! So, it is important to note that the English has not been corrected in these notes­ the same problem that Ed Brown faced with Not Always So. [Ed said that, "I thought that by now, the year 2000, Suzuki’s English would be much better!"]

When Suzuki was there, it was difficult to see him. I do know that Toni McCarty (who did puppet shows) had a hard time getting through to see Suzuki because Baker Roshi wouldn't let other people through the fence. She was one of the original LSD experimental patients at University of California at Berkeley. In one of her experiences, she was certain that Suzuki Roshi would save the world. Completely convinced. And maybe she was right.

I was only able to see Suzuki for 4 or 5 lectures, but if someone asked me if what I remember about them I would say the word: Extraordinary-- Extra-ordinary. There was something unfathomable about him. After a lecture, one day near the end of my stay I was able to talk to Suzuki Roshi briefly. I asked him, "I am very uncomfortable with all the bowing and ceremony at Zen Center. I am going back to the mountains in North Carolina and practice there. What do you think?" '

He said, "It will be the same where ever you go."

[Milton laughs loudly describing that.] I was floored. Being a very troubled person (bi-polar), his response was not what I wanted. So I asked again. I got exactly the same answer, but very politely. Quietly. But then, I asked a third time. I wanted him to approve of my decision to move to North Carolina. So I said,

"Don't you really think it will be better for me to move back to North Carolina and practice there?"

And he said, "Maybe so." Ever so politely. And then he was gone from my view very quickly.

I was very bi-polar and was not ready for San Francisco and Zen.

They tell us we have to walk our own path. And it is so true. To this day, I still sit daily. For me, with my bi-polar mind, zazen is life or death. Here I have life.