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Interview with Katharine Cook

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Katharine Cook Main Page


KATHY (HOADLEY) COOK 9\5\95 with email follow-ups from 1999 fall worked in. Interviewed by DC.

March 2008 knee replacement email

A Green Gulch experience  involving pottery and power sent in early 2008


On 9-07-13 Kathy wrote:

Suzuki roshi said to me: "try not to think so much" I guess I
haven't learned how not to.

When I first came to Berkeley in 1959 my boyfriend had this game:
"tell me who you are in three words". I said "Kathy, girl, thinker."


I first came to Sokoji in a truck. I was still living near the Art Institute where I'd been a student and some of my friends from the institute had started sitting - Ginny Baker worked with Cheryl Faus at SF extension. Cheryl was a student at the institute and maybe my best friend at that time and Cheryl and Lynn and Jordan Goode started sitting, and one day they said, we're going to come pick you up in a truck tomorrow morning at five o'clock. And I said okay so that was the first time I went to Sokoji. Cheryl and Lynn were sisters. They were both at Tassajara for the first training period.

What impressed me first about Suzuki Roshi was he was so completely trustworthy. I had just come from my first attempt to work on myself to work on myself - it was with a psychiatrist and I had been abused in that situation so my hopes of finding help were really dashed. Suzuki Roshi was a model of someone that was trustable and I felt so safe with him because I felt like whatever destructive impulses I felt would be inoperable around him. It was a very powerful experience for me when I first met him. It was 65 or 66. 65 I think. He represented from my point of view a synthesis between the two sides of my image that I didn't know how to put together at that point and that I didn't see any models for in our culture. He had a very strongly developed artistic sense which I could see in his stone work and in his garden and he was also a very compassionate and humanitarian human being.

I had always felt I had those two sides too but I had never been able to find a track in our culture that acknowledged both of them. It was either choose to work in humanitarian endeavors or choose to work as an artist and there wasn't a track that combined both so that was a tremendous experience for me just to meet him. Another thing that impressed me tremendously was that he generated confidence in other people. He had the kind of confidence that said: because I have walked the path and because I'm no different from you, you're able to do it too. That was a tremendous gift to be around. My confidence to realize my own nature was constantly being reinforced by him, constantly spoken to.

We were building the zendo in Los Altos. It was being done in a garage in Marian Derby's house. We had a work party of folks who went down there. We were all working on the construction and carpentry together whether we had any skills or not. I was trying to work on one end of a long beam but it wasn't steady enough to do the work. Suzuki Roshi came over and sat down on the other end of it to make it steady. I thought it was a totally simple and beautiful gesture that this man had done. That was a quality of his that stood out - he had that totally unselfconscious simplicity of just knowing where to go and what to do to be of help. It was very important to me. It was the first time I saw Suzuki roshi outside of his role at Sokoji, teaching, sitting, carrying the stick - it was the day we went out to Los Altos to help Marian Derby convert her garage into a zendo. First time I saw him working. I was either pounding a nail into the end of a board, or sawing the end off it, and he just came over and without saying anything, sat down on the end of the board to hold it steady so I could more easily work on the other end of it. This impressed me greatly, the fact that he hadn't said anything at all, just went over and used his body to hold the end of the board (maybe a long 2 x 4 or 1 x 6) steady so I could do my piece of the work. I had never seen anyone behave this way before. Actually, this doesn't read too well visually. Anyway, he must have put something under the end of it and sat on it, but anyway you get the point. He just did it.

In those early days ZC was just about a dozen people. There was a small group who went to sit there. And Suzuki Roshi before we had Tassajara was always available to just go over and hang out with. So I remember often showing up at the kitchen of Sokoji and he would be there sometimes with Okusan. I remember sitting down and talking with him about women and children and psychology and him saying that Jungian psychology was much closer to the spirit of Zen that Freudian was. That was an affirmation for me because I'd just been working at the Jung institute.

I remember him trying to teach me how to slurp when I ate noodles. Okusan was serving us udon noodles and being as shy as I am it was really hard for me to suck em in and make a huge noise which is the way he wanted. So he'd kid me about that and try to show me how to do it. But he had time in those days for that kind of thing so you could go over and just hang out.

There was a shift in Zen Center that came around the notion of buying Tassajara - that was our first venture into being an institution in a sense. I was the first paid employee of ZC and it was Dick's idea and a lot of people didn't like it. He put it over on people and said that Kathy's going to be a part time secretary and my job was to deal with the fundraising correspondence - that was the main thing I did. Dick took Suzuki Roshi down to the Horse Pasture and Tassajara and the first decision was to buy the Horse Pasture and then later it shifted and we started fundraising and we had this chart in the hallway and we were looking at the first $25,000 and Suzuki Roshi came out and said if we can do the first thousand we can do it and my job was mostly to respond to people who gave money toward that and it was a very moving experience to deal with all that correspondence because there were many many people who wanted to see something like in this country and it wasn't all big money - there were lots of small donations too. I felt very comfortable in that role and Yvonne said that the letters I was writing were very beautiful but then at a certain point Dick wanted me to start doing things like write press releases and it got amped up and I didn't feel competent or qualified to work at that level. So I was bumped out and Yvonne took my place and that was painful for me. I was just kind of fired. It was appropriate in terms of what he wanted to do. [I remember bringing you a $500 check and you and Dick being blown away.]

When we began fund-raising for Tassajara in 1966 someone put a chart on the wall, one of those thermometers with $20,000 at the top. I think maybe at point we were raising funds for the Horse Pasture, I'm not sure. Anyhow, $20,000 was the down payment we needed. That's when Suzuki roshi came out and said "If we can raise the first $1,000 we can do it."

At the first tangaryo at Tassajara I remember the rumors changed daily about whether it was going to be three or fifteen days and I remember that the folks who had been there at Tassajara had to decide if they wanted to stay or not and they all left. The fear level got pretty high. Sitting was painful for me - I have a bad knee. I was sitting more out of faith in Suzuki Roshi's way than a feeling it was actually benefiting me. The thing that stood out for me was when Suzuki Roshi said, just don't loose your own way. I remember him saying that in the midst of all the anxiety that was going on. [That was a distinctive thing about Suzuki Roshi. He frequently encouraged us to practice our way or not to loose our way. Hoitsu says that we only think of "my way" and that in Japan they think about entering the stream of Buddhism. The song, My Way is big in Japan but their version should actually be called, Our Way.]

I remember Suzuki roshi beating Phil Wilson with a rolled up newspaper in the Sokoji office. I don't remember what Phillip said, but Suzuki Roshi rolled up a newspaper and beat him over the shoulder with it.

After I was secretary I got very involved in sewing and I took it upon myself to help make sitting robes. I didn't have anything to go on - I didn't have any experience in that kind of sewing although I had quite a lot of experience in standard American sewing. But Suzuki Roshi just gave me one of his work robes that had elastic at the wrist of the sleeves. It had a pleated skirt and hung straight a dropped shoulder and he gave it to me and said make something like that. I laid it all out and tried to figure out how it was made and worked very hard to try to come up with some facsimile that would be suitable that was a slightly different design that would be suitable and students were complaining about the robes and having to wear robes I remember him saying, "I get so angry with the students because you work so hard and they don't appreciate you effort." Those are the first ones we used at Tassajara. They were a gray cotton poly mixture. Of course, it was put together in ways that were nothing I had ever seen before in Western sewing, but I managed to make a pattern from it and started sewing robes for the Zen students.

[I wore mine throughout the summer and the winter of the first couple of years without any underwear. Suzuki Roshi liked it that I braved the cold that way and encouraged me to keep doing it. It's like the most important garment I've ever had in my life.]

We had a wonderful sewing room at Tassajara and once the design was decided on we started producing them. We worked in the lower barn by the stream. We had these old treadle sewing machines and I was head of the sewing crew. I have a picture of myself from there and I was so happy. It was the best picture of me from my whole lifetime. I felt empowered by Suzuki Roshi and I felt like he was supporting my practice and I had a wonderful job to do and I was working with good friends. Suzuki Roshi came up to me one day and said, "You're doing very well, and I don't mean in terms of success and failure." This was before I was going with Silas or had Amber. This was my golden period as a single student.

I also remember Suzuki roshi telling me at Sokoji "You are too charming" . And of course, asking me to quit smoking, saying "you can do it." I couldn't. At least not then.

When he told me I was too charming, I thought maybe that meant I should wear sackcloth and ashes, and actually the next fabric I brought to him as a candidate for winter robes, was a heavy rough woolen weave. I actually spent a lot of time during those early years trying to figure out designs for zendo wear that made sense for western bodies, but it was the wrong time. Also making designs for women's bodies that were different from those for men. Someday it will happen, but maybe not in my lifetime.

I remember when my mother visited Tassajara and met him for the first time, they had a very sort of comical familial relationship. She asked him if something (I can't remember what it was) was his guitar, and he responded by asking her if her guitar was her samisen.

One thing he said that has always stayed with me was, "In Japan we say 'fighting the curtain.' You're still fighting the curtain." He was talking about my relationship with my mother and he said, "When your mother dies, you'll know how lonely you are." Fighting the curtain is fighting other peoples authority or being resistant to authority I think. [kuromaku, the black curtain - someone who pulls the strings from behind - the Empress Dowager behind her yellow curtain.] My mother was down there at the time. [I remember that.] She died quite a few years later. I'd already lost my father and later I lost my brother and each time I realized how lonely I was. [He never encouraged people to cut any family ties.]

I started getting in trouble in ZC when I got married with Silas and had Amber. I lost the relationship I had with Suzuki Roshi because for one thing, I didn't have time to be with him or to be involved with zendo activities. And at that point Silas was important to ZC and Suzuki Roshi said to me, "I need Silas to be at Tassajara to be director and to be shuso and your family life will have to be sacrifice." That did not sit well with me. I felt like I was being asked to be a Japanese priest's wife but since Suzuki Roshi had asked me I felt like I should try to do that. But it didn't work at all. I went to Tassajara and moved into cabin 16 with Amber and was with her all day. I couldn't do any work, I couldn't go to the zendo. Silas firmly believed that nobody should help me with childcare because they were there to practice. [You were the first mother at Tassajara.] Yeah. And I basically flipped out in the situation. The stress was more than I could handle. I didn't feel that Suzuki Roshi supported me at all any more or didn't support me to do anything but to take care of the baby. That was extremely difficult. I still have resentment about the way I was treated at that time. I felt like if I'd talked to Okusan she'd have just rubber stamped what Suzuki Roshi said. I kept trying to fit into that role but I was just dying in it. There was absolutely no one to turn to. Later when there were more kids I didn't feel so isolated but when I was the first one it was really really difficult. Ruthie Disco had Ben and Buncie Shadden had a baby - she was at the city center - she and Peter - who was born about the same time that Amber was. And there was a guy named Ken Campbell at the city center who had a baby. I left in a great deal of pain when Silas's term was over - I left before he did and went up to stay with the Katagiri's for a while and that was helpful because I was in a family context. I was physically and emotionally ill and started seeing a homeopath who treated me in a way that started to bring my energy back. And there were other mothers and children there and things began to get better for me. Silas was very cold in the city too being director and tanto and didn't really have any time for us. [Niels says that Silas has come to think that he never should have been ordained.] My relationship with Suzuki Roshi pretty much ended. Of course, after marriage to Silas, everything changed because Silas was a disciple he depended on. I remember living at 321 Page Street , desperate to rejoin the practice in some way, or reconnect with Suzuki roshi as a practitioner. But, I didn't see a way, being a full-time mother with Silas working full-time for Zen Center. I remember asking Suzuki roshi if I could get some help with Amber, and he said, he couldn't appoint someone to help me, but if I brought her around the building, she would find people that would help baby-sit. And he also told me she was my teacher.

He remarked once that if one person in a family were to practice, the whole family would benefit.

The first kids at Tassajara and ZC: Kathy Cook and Silas - Amber. Buncie and Peter Digesu's kid - ? Ken Campbell - his boy tragically died at 5 at Trungpa's retreat [in Wyoming?]. Louise and Dan Welch - Johanna. Ruthie and Paul Disco - Ben.

I remember going down to Tassajara when I was pregnant without Silas and Suzuki Roshi was there and I did pretty well and Suzuki Roshi said you should stay here and the implication was to stay there and have the baby and forget about Silas. Whatever the valuable positive things I gained as a single woman were totally lost in the situation of being a wife and single mother. And then pretty soon Suzuki Roshi was ill. Amber was born in August of 69. I remember being there when Tatsugami was there. I remember Janet being Tatsugami's jisha and getting her head shaved. There were other people there who I had felt like a peer with (except for Dick) and it was heartbreaking to loose that equal relationship with people. When we had this whole thing about men and women practicing together there was a community issue that Silas and Dick were at loggerheads about which was whether we were going to lie to the reporter from Time magazine about the fact that we unmarried couple living together at Tassajara. Silas sticks to principles and Dick came from somewhere else but Suzuki Roshi got it that men and women wanted to practice together in the same community and he got it that couples wanted to live together without being married and he gave that his blessing as long as they were responsible to the community that they were a part of. He was very forward thinking in that regard. But to make the next step of how we would integrate mothers and children I don't think he ever went there - we didn't even know what the problems were and then he started to get sick and his energy was elsewhere. It never occurred to me to talk to Suzuki Roshi about my situation because he'd asked me to sacrifice.

[I guess Suzuki was using the Japanese model that the women take care of the kids and the men do the work and there's not much contact between them.] Yes. [Of course if you'd been Japanese in Japan there would have been a community of women and children to be part of.] Exactly. [Katagiri came to think that priests shouldn't get married.]

Another memory. One of the worst periods of my life was being at Tassajara with Amber while Silas was being Shuso and Director. I had had a serious nervous breakdown after her birth -- poor girl, her early infancy must have been terrifying -- and really hadn't recovered when Suzuki roshi wanted Silas at Tassajara. Of course, that environment was about the opposite of what I needed to regain my balance and I got worse there. I remember Suzuki roshi saying to me "Get a clear picture of your illness and accept it."

All this illness and exhaustion was very much precipitated by my ill-informed decision to try to make a trip to the East Coast (perhaps Silas was there on fund-raising) to meet his family when Amber was just a month old, or perhaps two. I exhausted myself in a very serious way trying to prepare, sewing a wardrobe, taking Amber around in a Snuggli, shopping, trying to take care of her, etc., all for the purpose of trying to please Silas and meet his family. I ignored the warning signs of psychic and physical exhaustion and persevered and when I arrived in Connecticut collapsed and started having the shakes at night. Anyway, I was sick most of the trip which included meeting Margot Wilkie in New York, going to the Modern Art Museum with Amber on Silas in her Snuggli, and strangers stopping him to say "That baby is suffocating in there!". They'd never seen baby Snuggli's in New York I guess, or people wearing babies to the art museum. Flying to Georgia to meet Chick Reeder's family and home, and then finally going up North to stay with another friend of Silas's where I had makyo visions for 10 days a la the LSD descriptions of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As well as terrible headaches. Suzuki roshi was called, came up to visit me there and said "thank God you're all right." He seemed to understand what was going on with my brain, which was tremendously assuring. He assured me that my mind and body would return to normal within a week. And so I came back to Page Street with Silas to rest. At some point Amber went to Masa Snyder who wet-nursed her. And, unfortunately my mind and body did not return to normal. Suzuki roshi told me that sometimes one could have the same experience without much meaning. Anyhow, the "makyo" didn't stop and I wound up being hospitalized on heavy doses of Thorazine.

Okusan told me I should never have attempted the "trip East." I think she was the only person in the environment who had any idea at all about what I should be doing at that time, namely staying at home with my new baby and getting some sort to help take care of her. I was a new mother in a frightening, foreign and extremely unsupportive environment. I didn't begin to regain my balance until I connected with a floating child-care group in the city, had a home at 310 Page where I could take care of Amber, and then finally at Green Gulch when I found through the garden, a way I could support myself and take care of her.

The heavy duty suffering part is interesting to me partly because I heard Arnie Kotler describe at the last retreat of his I attended that when he was a Zen student he tried to make some kind of incredible effort to "attain enlightenment" and wound up just making himself really sick. I can't remember the details of what he did, but something extreme. He's laughing about it now.

I think one reason both Arnie and I have enjoyed Thich Nhat Hahn so much is that he emphasizes the pleasure of practice, the positive rewards, and says something like "if you're in pain, you're not sitting correctly" which, of course, is in great contradistinction to Suzuki roshi's encouragement to sit without minding your painful knees. Pain was a huge issue for me, and I realize now, understanding more about what the surgery on my knee that I had in 1956 did to that joint, that the pain I experienced in attempting half lotus was horrendous, partly due to the fact that the right knee was damaged, the joint tightened abnormally. At a certain point in cross legged sitting at Tassajara, I gave up because I couldn't take it and chose to sit on a chair. Suzuki roshi encouraged me to go back to cross-legged sitting as a way of strengthening my knee, but he was completely wrong on that one. Darlene has the answer for the knee, if there is one, and it's rather complex. [See addenda letter at the bottom.-DC]

When I spend time with Thich Nat Hahn and spend time with his monks and nuns and with his lay ordained people, the boundaries are very clear for both of them and I really respect the way he's dealing with it. To me ZC is pretty fuzzy and too hard to understand. Thay's (Nat Hahn) way is so clear. The way he has it set up is great. If you're a lay person and you take vows to join the Order of Interbeing, your practice requirements are thirty days of mindfulness a year and follow the precepts. Within that you can take car of a husband or child. The forms that are set out match the life requirements. [I wonder if Thich Nat Hahn learned anything from ZC. Suzuki was a pioneer in setting up communities for men and women but didn't have time to figure it all out.We were just learning step by step together.]

The first one through makes a space by being there if they do it well or badly. The next one makes a little bit more and on and on. Now the space is much more opened up in ZC. Do you remember the children's ordination? We were learning how to sew rakusu from Tomoe Katagiri. The Johansen's were there and the Katagiri's. [The summer of 70?] Maybe. We all gave rakusus to our children and it was a very touching thing and we had the full ceremony and what Suzuki Roshi said is, "What this means for all you children is that you're going to be good and brave and beautiful." And I thought that was a good way to sum it all up. Amber was too little to have a rakusu with her name but Tony Johnsen's daughter didn't like her name at all. She had an animal name and she wanted a flower name or the other way around.

I remember Suzuki Roshi's relationship with plants and stones which intrigued me. I was just beginning to get interested in gardening. I was his anja for one practice period before I had amber and I worked with him in his garden and he had a simple and direct relationship with the earth. There was the steep hillside above his cabin and it was eroding and he asked us to put plants up there and I was impressed by the simple way he took care of that. I saw him work around Tassajara and it was an inspiration to me the way that he'd sat on that beam at Los Altos. I remember Suzuki roshi gardening in his underwear at Tassajara during the summer. He was wearing like a white tee shirt and some kind of maybe white cotton breeches about knee length. I remember the way he was able to squat on the earth in front of a row of plants in the garden and be so balanced there. I would see him squatting by a bench working with a plant dressed all in white - was it his underwear? Someone brought a plant to him that wasn't doing so well and he took it and tended to it till it was healthy. He talked about in watering the garden, not to give the plants too much water but to water the stones. . He said that if you watered the stones near the plant, the plant would grow. He said to me, "I love stones too much." He talked about the importance of planting the seeds and nurturing them and how human they are. This is in his garden by his cabin.

And he asked me not to wash his clothes so often, because they would get worn out.

He also said once at Sokoji in '65 that he had too many girlfriends, not like lovers, but like good friends. He had a strain of making do with less.

Who made Tassajara and ZC what it is? My intuition is that Suzuki Roshi might not have chosen to make it on such a grand scale. I remember people talking about having a farm and he said, we should just go out to the Salinas Valley and do it just the way other farmers do it. We don't need to have some special way. Dick's vision was so grandiose. [but if Suzuki Roshi had lived I think we would have had GG.] Yes. Suzuki Roshi was kind of following along and kind of trusting. [But he'd only go along if he liked it.] Dick would say, don't you think we need a monastery and he'd say, maybe that's okay, and then we'd do it. What were his choices when he was dying but to give transmission to Dick. If he'd given transmission to a bunch of them equally there would have been power struggles.

Suzuki Roshi remains for me an archetype. The impression that he made on me remains a part of who I am. He gave my psyche the impression that certain things were possible that I didn't know about before. He demonstrated the possibilities to me of what I could be. The message I got from him was, because I've traveled this way and because I'm an ordinary human being like you, I know you can do it too. That was a big part of it - I know you can do it.

Suzuki Roshi went down to the narrows and almost drowned and he said that he decided after that that he hadn't really been practicing so well.

We'd be having tea at Tassajara during a break and someone would say something funny and Suzuki'd break out laughing. There was a student at tea time who said she missed ice cream and he said, "You'll just have to pretend." [People would come in saying how can I live without meat and five days later they'd be talking only about ice cream. It was the no. 1 desire.]

He said to me once, "You can't always be a wise man."

An event that impressed me very deeply was - not the first lay ordination but the second one - Laura Kwong made a rakusu and he was talking about how Japanese practice had degenerated when people got too serious about sewing their kesa - they got too hung up on the details of form - they'd sew three stitches and bow nine three times and he used Laura as an example of what practice is all about - she's a busy wife and mother and she hasn't had much time to sew her rakusu [and she had to do it quickly] but her life is really the Bodhisattva spirit. It's important not to take the details of the form too seriously.

I remember how his voice broke when he talked about Trudy at her funeral and he obviously loved her very much and valued her as a disciple. And he really started to cry and it was so moving to me. She's gone and I'm here and I have to be true to her example and it's hard for me to talk to you all about her - that's how I took it.

During sesshin once it was time for lecture at Sokoji and we all rolled out our mats on the floor and there were two of us to each goza. We'd be sitting on them on our zafu and we'd be smoothing the wrinkles out so that the two people on a goza would spread the ripples toward each other. He pointed that out and said, this is how war starts.

[Kathy and I talked about how so many of the older more powerful students don't get along with each other. I said it seemed like we should have gone out - he wanted many of us to go out and start temples and spread his teaching all over. We all stayed too close. But that's been happening little by little.]

At the first Shosan I asked Suzuki Roshi some question which mentioned "from the heights to the depths," and he said, "Your understanding is correct, but it's not real - try not to think so much."

Another time he said to me, "You've gotten too quiet. It's time to stir something up." At another time (maybe a shosan ceremony) I asked him: When I work in the kitchen, I feel like I'm in the heart of practice. Why do I have to sit so much? "To open your mind wider and wider."

I was in the room when Suzuki roshi met Trungpa at Tassajara and heard the initial conversations as well as Suzuki roshi's comments the next day, which were that the biggest problem Trungpa would have would be getting over being Trungpa. The meeting was in one of the stone rooms. I remember distinctly the "flavor" of the meeting in the stone room. It was evening. It must have been summer or fall, it was still warm, we met by kerosene lamp. Suzuki roshi and Trungpa greeted each other sort of like father and son. I don't remember the substance of the conversation , just the feeling tone and Suzuki roshi's remarks the following day.

[I asked her if she remembered the date. I had so many different memories of this experience and the dates. Now I'm sure it was between June 13th - 18th of 1970 because Rick Levine had it in his journal.] In terms of the year, maybe I can piece it out with Silas. Frankly, I can't remember right now if this meeting occurred before Amber (1969) or after. But maybe Silas can. Or maybe you could ask him. I'll try too. The best Silas and I can put it together goes like this. Suzuki roshi met Trungpa summer or early fall of 1970. Silas, me, maybe Amber, Suzuki roshi, Trungpa and his wife Diana met in one of the stone rooms. Silas thinks it was still guest season as Diana was talking about swimming a lot in the pool. I remember it as being dark early in the evening when the meeting took place which places it more towards late summer or early Fall. I think Amber was present, actually, because there was no one who could have baby-sat her. Probably she came in a snuggli or backpack. She would have been about 1 year old. Silas thinks Diana might remember and that it would be interesting for you to talk with her. I think it could have been during practice period, in fact the more I think about it the more sense it makes. Often the pool is open well into the Fall as I remember. Anyway, I think you could confidently say the meeting took place between July and October of 1970. Or to be completely safe between June and October of 1970. It might be interesting to talk with Diana.

I remember being invited to tea, or to noodles with Suzuki roshi, Okusan cooking, him trying to teach me to slurp my noodles on the in breath. I couldn't do it. I was shocked that Okusan told he she made him meatballs with whiskey. (We were all pledging allegiance to macrobiotics at the time).

Suzuki roshi and I talked about Jung and Freud. I was working at the Jungian Institute at the time (say 66-68). He said Buddhism was closer to Jungian thought than Freudian.

Every Saturday morning Bill Kwong cooked breakfast for the Saturday morning sit. We ate in the zendo on those blue plastic trays. I remember watching the way his toes curled as he stepped on the wooden floor. [Me too!] We ate raw eggs on hot white rice and miso soup. with some pickle as a garnish.

And then there were the first cooperative houses on Bush Street for those who had returned to the city after having spent a practice period or two at Tassajara. Shared cooking. Victorian flats, common kitchen, private rooms. That's where Amber was conceived, actually - 1848 Bush, I believe was the address. I remember feeling an enormous and passionate commitment to Suzuki roshi at that time. And the feeling of wanting to continue to develop as a leader, which I was in those early days.

Funny how when there is an interested listener, you remember all kinds of things you forgot you knew.


From a March 8, 2000 letter from Kathy Cook:

I'm scheduled for total knee replacement surgery on march 23. During my initial recovery period of 4-6 weeks I will need to stay home and not much on my feet at first. I will be able to access the internet, would treasure any communications from old friends in the sangha, or new friends. [I got that posted in Sangha News. You can see it there and still write to her. - DC]

The knee to be replaced is the one that gave me such a problem in my early days at Zen Center. It was surgically altered when I was 19 to correct a subluxating patella and consequently very painful when I attempted to sit cross-legged. My struggle with this fact is a major player in the history of my early days at ZC. Suzuki roshi encouraged me to continue to try to sit cross-legged even when it was excruciating in order to "make my knee stronger". I know now, however, as it has come to the end of its functional life and I've studied my x-rays and knees a lot, that further cross-legged sitting with the knee in the condition it was in without lots of other therapy would only have made it worse. I wonder how many of us struggled with this kind of issue around pain. VA, I know for one, had to quite sitting because of having damaged her knees, and had to completely start over with zazen after a period of knee rehabilitation using rest poses from Ayengar yoga.

Presently I live in a very nice apartment complex for seniors with low to moderate income in San Rafael. I'm spending lots of time offering corporations with corporate giving programs the opportunity to give us plants, garden tools, soil amendments and other materials to get us out of acres of ivy and into a producing orchard on site. Also looking for computers and other goodies like a chipper to bring life to programs that might enhance this very wonderful physical plant we have. (There's more I could say about my knee pain issue in the early days of Tassajara. I remember DB telling me that he went to ask Suzuki roshi what to do when I could only cry helplessly on my cushion during sesshin, being in excruciating overwhelming pain. DB said Suzuki Roshi said it was O.K. as long as I could sit still.)

Darlene Cohen also feels that she got rheumatoid arthritis from pushing herself over the edge physically for the same reason. In a way, this relates to the clumsy article I sent you earlier about the weird forms of suffering that people endured which is really an important part of the history of the institution and should be part of the archive, I think. Not to complain, but to honor the mistakes of our ancestors and learn from them. Arnie Kotler also says he made himself very very sick by trying to sit too hard. This is a whole chapter in itself, as you pointed out in your last response to me. And one which should be written it seems to be. "Pain as gain" is a lively topic in the medical world these days, with a lot of research and cutting edge thought proclaiming the opposite. 

Darlene's work with arthritis is a case in point. The whole point of the book, and what makes it different from conventional approaches to arthritic pain is that healing is built on the creation of pleasure in the brain, and not on treating the pain, if you follow me. At its root this is a very profound Buddhist approach to the question of suffering, but you have to look at it from a certain angle. The neurophysiologists are just beginning to get it, and it is having a significant influence on modern medical thought. Darlene is one of the pioneers here, and that is one reason why her program is so effective. I ran into this early on when I was having to deal with large amounts of knee pain. It's a lot like Thay's [Thich Nat Hahn] approach, too, which is that first you have to create a pleasure bank (in simplistic terms) before you can be effective at dealing with or transforming pain. Pain can only be transformed with pleasure. It cannot be transformed with pain. If you follow me. 


A Green Gulch experience  involving pottery and power sent in early 2008

Totally different situation, Green Gulch Farm, circa 1982 or 3.

The Perfect Tea Bowl

I am back from the “family practice periods” at Tassajara, where we had a school, and Amber was there, as well as a number of Zen Center families --  1980 or so.  Baker roshi invites me to take a year off from the standard staff positions, and put all my time into doing research and development

for the pottery he still hopes to create at GGF.  He bought the kiln from Jamesburg II specifically for that reason, and Harry Roberts had a lot to say about what kinds of ceramic crafts we could do at GGF for cottage industries.  I saw myself as doing R and D for that possibility.

I’m getting pretty good with my throwing, and developing glazes that fit the Green Gulch clay, and have a tea bowl I want to show to Nakamura sensei, because I’m aspiring to throw pots, or build pots for tea ceremony.  At one time earlier, I had taken in a hand-built pot, which Sally Baker had expressed admiration for. . . . and Sensei had said “this is the one Sally chose, it must be the best.” --  this was all about unselfconscious art making, folk art, wabi sabi, etc.  I’m being flippant, but I think you know what I mean. . .

I’m walking buy the ranch house window where Br is studying and I show him my new tea bowl, and he remarks “it’s almost perfect. . .”  (like you, was the implication). 

Later, I leave the bowl in the ranch house kitchen for Nakamura sensei to check out, and give me feedback on.

When I return, Dick has the bowl, and he asks “Can I have this one, is this for me?” to which I respond, “only if I can charge it to the rokochiji.”  Following this incident I am asked to leave Green Gulch permanently.

The back ground is that my understanding of what I am doing with the r and d on GG clay, is evaluating the potential for a pottery as an income-producing cottage industry for Green Gulch.  I’ve been working hard on it.  I’ve come up with some figures about the economics involved, and some recommendations, which I leave for Baker roshi.  He does not manage to get to the report, for a long time.  I get angrier and angrier, because I am doing my best to create a self-supporting cottage industry for GGF and he is not doing his part to partner me on this project.  And I know I can’t do it without him.  That is why I explode when he asks me if he can have the pot.  He is not recognizing or respecting me as the craftswoman trying to create a viable business for Green Gulch that needed his cooperation to carry the project forward. 

(It is interesting to me that in a recent story about Zen heroines in Shambala Sun, I believe) much was made of a female Zen teacher who supported herself by doing pottery in Japan.  There’s a good reason for that.  Making pottery, especially from local clay is totally compatible with studying Zen as a livelihood . . . more than that, it can become an expression of understanding of Zen.)

I was excommunicated, and he would not speak to me.  I went to Reb who explained to me that Baker roshi was seeing me basically as his property, and himself as the patron, who had rights to whatever I made.  Which is exactly what I was furious about. 

I considered leaving at that point.  A large part of me wanted to, but facing the job market with a young teenager I had been out of for 20 years or so was to terrifying for me to pull it off.  Plus I had no support for doing so.  I hung in, and after awhile asked to speak with Richard. 

I told him why I was angry with him.  His response was “I can’t stand it when people are angry with mel”  End of discussion.  I left, and whatever good opinion I had of him, patron, or teacher or otherwise, was forever shattered.  From that time on I saw him as a small boy who couldn’t get what he wanted, and couldn’t stand to be told no.  From then on, I knew he was not a teacher for me.

Postnote:  By the way, the third book I would like to do is the story of that pottery. . . the beauty and versatility of GG clay --  and that of the whole Franciscan range --  is a secret whose time will come I am sure. . . . all those recipes, and examples will some day have economic value somewhere in California, I expect. . . . so that is a book I want to do.  #3.


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