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Interview with D*o*n*n *** D*e*a*n*g*e*l*o (C*r*o*c*k*i*n)
[Referred to as DD] - name broken up so it won't come up on search

to interviews

See Donny and the Birthday Photo about an oft seen photo of Shunryu Suzuki that Donn took.


interviewed by DC 8/25/95 - edited by Donn and changed 1-03-14

 

***

 

Donn whom I always called Donny, is a serious long distance runner as he indicates herein - he does Double Dipsies over Mt. Tam and back -and runs daily and he works out at the gym and swims at Muir Beach and volunteers at Green Gulch and is a photographer and artist and more. He started the Good Karma Cafe'  vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco in the early seventies. It was good too - natural and organic as one could get, a lot of Macrobiotic choices. I see Donn at Green Gulch a lot when I go there and I notice he films  and photographs a lot of special events and ceremonies there. He's does  alot of art and photography and has a computer graphics business- Dharma Grafix and has images on facebook. - DC


 

He was a little man - he was smaller than me. But I was struck with his presence like he was a giant. Like he was ten feet tall. I remember when he opened the door there was something about him that struck me as real and bigger than life and he had an inner strength that shone through his eyes and I've never experienced that with anyone else.

 


I could sit full lotus for three hours and not feel any pain and I was sometimes very focused and centered but I found that there was a time when I would  sleep or  think about pretty girls and tropical beaches and things like that so I started running meditation. I would go  back to that place of thinking no thought and would empty my mind and totally become one with my breathing - especially in the hills because if you don't breathe deeply you can't run. It forces you to look into your breath and empty your mind - especially at first. A Tibetan Lama and Two young monks came to Tassajara at Roshi's invitation and stayed with us   - and that was their meditation - running and chanting -om-mani- padme-om- while they ran.  My friend Jerry Fuller and I tried that.( we were the search and rescue team for lost guests) I asked Suzuki Roshi about it and he said, "You can do zazen and run and that can be your zazen but it's harder than sitting meditation. Just like in sitting, you can't have a goal or destination. If you can run with no destination then go do it. You have to run one breath at a time. Put one foot in front of the next and breathe one breath at a time with no destination and then you can do zazen running." I still think about that everyday when I go out running. In competition I get caught up in thinking more but running in the hills I empty my mind and don't think where I'm going and get into my breathing. In that way Roshi's with me everyday. I still feel his presence very strongly after all these years and all these things that I've done. I see his image in my dreams. And I see his image when I'm in the hills.

 

I do artwork and a lot of it is images that I see when I'm running because you do get into a heightened state after a couple of hours of running in the mountains.

 

In 67' I'd been living on a commune in Vermont and taking psychedelics and I was trying to sit high on LSD and I'd read some Buddhist literature and Paul Reps. I had some idea about doing zazen and I was on a trip one day sitting on a hill  top behind the commune and I decided I was going to go to Japan and be a Zen monk for the rest of my life. I was nineteen. I got on my motorcycle and drove to the airport and tried to book a flight to Japan but I didn't have my visa so I couldn't do it so I got a flight to San Francisco. I got to San Francisco and tried again to book a flight to Japan but they said it would take a couple of days to get my visa. I didn't have a place to stay in San Francisco and I started talking to a Hari Krishna in the airport and asked where I could spend the night and she said I should go to the ZenCenter, they'll let you stay there and they'll tell you where to go in Japan. So I went to Sokoji Temple  on Bush Street and I knocked on the door and no one came but it was open so I went upstairs and I knocked on Roshi's office door and he answered it and I said I'm on my way to Japan and want to be a Zen monk and I was wondering if I could stay here for a night or two and he said, "Well you don't need to go to Japan. You can stay here. He called Yvonne and she arranged for me to stay in one of the housing units and I stayed with Zen Center until Roshi died. I was in the sesshin in the city when he died - it was pretty dramatic. After the first sitting during Kinhin we filed past his body.

 

He had made a big impression on me. I believed in him. I didn't believe anybody - I was a really radical kid. My attitude was screw you to most everybody in authority  and life had no meaning and nobody had ever really told me anything that had any personal  significance - nobody. And when he said don't go to Japan - just stay here and study Buddhism - I believed him. Right away. I believed that that was what I needed to do and I also felt that he knew that that was the right thing for me. He was the first person I'd ever met that I really believed. And there's been nobody since then either - since he died.

 

He was a little man - he was smaller than me. But I was struck with his presence like he was a giant. Like he was ten feet tall. I remember when he opened the door there was something about him that struck me as real and bigger than life and he had an inner strength that shone through his eyes and I've never experienced that with anyone else - I've been to India and met Sai Baba and Hatha Yoga teachers. I'm sure other people had it but I've never seen it with anybody else. He was sure of himself - there was no doubt in his mind about anything. About the rocks in his rock garden or the state of the world or whatever - no doubt and that really impressed me.

 

I have a diary I made at Tassajara in 1968.

 

One time  my friend Roovan and I were in the garden - Roovan was the gardener at Tassajara  at the time and both of us made waves at Tassajara because we weren't in the general mold and we weren't eating our meals in the zendo - we'd go out and graze in the garden- we thought  the food would get you higher if you picked it and ate it fresh. Roshi came out and he was in the garden looking around and we were talking to him about the garden and I wrote something down that made an impression on me. We were talking and then he said, out of context, strongly, "emptiness is the garden where you cannot see anything but from which everything will come". wow! I really like gardening now and I think about that sometimes. I spend a lot of time in my garden and it would be easier to go to the health food store but to me gardening is like zazen - it doesn't have to be goal oriented. It's zazen - especially I feel that in planting. I'll be working in the garden or running and I'll wonder where's it going to get me, how's it going to help me find my place in life or help me in my business but out of that emptiness everything will come.

 

DC - Got any other gems like that in that book?

 

DD - That's all that I remember right now.

 

DC - I think that a lot of the most important things that we get we forget - we keep them inside because they're private and we don't deal with them intellectually so much.

 

DD- I once asked Roshi  at dokusan in a sesshin - I didn't know what to ask him and I was really hard put so I was thinking a lot about all these complicated questions and I came up with this question - I had a poem somewhere - it was  a Sufi poem  - the question was why are all beings both divine and human  trying to drown themselves on dry land? Like why are we doing things in our lives that are counterproductive to our meditation and to our happiness? I thought it was a good question and real deep and Roshi just kind of sat  there looking like he was going to fall asleep and he closed his eyes and he said, "Breathe more deeply."

 

I think he just came to America by chance and I don't think he planned to form Zen Center or to co-create Buddhism in the United States but I think he saw the need for it when he got here. Westerners came to him and asked him to teach them Zen and he saw that there was this incredible void here - like the void that he found with the Japanese community in Japan town who didn't do zazen but he saw that the Westerners of our generation were receptive to it whereas the Japanese people weren't. He started to see that his calling was to teach Buddhism to Americans who were receptive to it and who needed it. But maybe he was looking for the right situation before he got here.

 

His teaching was just breathe no matter what happens - just take a deep breath. What causes all the suffering is being opinionated about things and seeing things in black and white and being opinionated. He worked against that. Then there wouldn't be jealousy and violence. That's why his emphasis was on shikantaza - whatever you do - if you're a gardener or a soldier.

 

I don't think he objected to anything in particular - more the context it was put into. At first he wanted us to all be out in the world just having jobs and being normal people but then coming to Zen Center and doing our zazen but within the context of being with everybody else. He was reluctant for the Zen Center to start businesses. Several times people wanted to start bakeries or the stitchery and Roshi vetoed it and said it would be better to do that job by going out into the world and not make it Zen Center this or that.

 

DC - I remember when we first started Tassajara Dick said we could buy books cheaper from some place in England and Suzuki Roshi said no we should just buy from local bookstores and help to support them and we shouldn't try to save money in that way.

 

DD - But I had one of the first businesses and nobody  at ZC wanted to let me do it. I went to Roshi and he said-Yes-it was time.. It was just after I left Tassajara. I left Tassajara on my birthday on April 20th1970 ,right after the practice period had finished and I'd been there for over two years and I hiked out that day. After returning to SFZC I started the Tassajara Bakery. We worked in the little room off the kitchen at Page Street and I baked this one bread -Tassajara Sourdough. Roovan and I had developed a sour dough starter at Tassajara  from some rotten crab-apples and I took the starter to Page Street. I hired this wild six foot tall Japanese artist friend Fuji to help.  I'd get up at 3 am to get the loaves going and we had a Hobart mixer and we had our own little room and we called it the Tassajara Bakery, and we fashioned a crude label for the loaves.   I had an old funky Volkswagen with no top and I'd go out to all the health food stores  on one day in San Francisco and another in Berkeley and deliver all the bread and it was a big success. I made money and paid people salaries. It was the first business for ZC, and alot of ZC people were not very happy about it.Soon After Roshi died I left Zen Center as I had a hard time relating to Dick Baker,and I started the Good Karma Cafe , a vegetarian macrobiotic restaurant on Dolores St.and Zen Center started Tassajara Bakery in the Height and then Greens at Fort Mason.

DC - He had this ability to support a wide variety of people to express themselves in so many ways. He once said if there's not paradox there's not truth and it was a real paradox all of us with him - you couldn't add it up and make sense.

 

DD - We tried to make all the paradoxes work and tried to harmonize all of our conflicting philosophies so we could function together as an entity at Zen Center.  

 

 I  did the bakery  myself and everybody was really upset about it. Roshi used to do that - I think he just sometimes liked to shake things up.If you a had a problem communicating with people or giving orders or taking orders then he'd stick you in the kitchen where you had to interact intensely with people all the time. He took these paradoxes  and personal difficulties and forced us to deal with them and see things in ourselves in order to heal.

 

I think at least three fourths of us had been experimenting with psychedelics before we came to Zen Center. It gave us an insight into another dimension that most  people didn't have and that was the driving force behind the anti-war movement and the hippies in the sixties and seventies, and their revolution.

 

How I got out of the draft and going to Vietnam was a friend of mine and I were in art school at the Philadelphia College of Art .. All of a sudden they decided to do away with art school deferments - art schools were beds of radical student anarchists ,I guess they didn't realize that at first and they underestimated the extremes that people would go to- to not get drafted. If you really had your mind set that you weren't going to go into the army there were many  ways of getting out of it.. My friend from school and I went to the draft board which was in a working class neighborhood  in Philly and out of two thousand people we were the only ones who didn't want to go in the army  and that was amazing  to us and we stuck out like sore thumbs and I'd been seeing a shrink and bullshitting him, reading psychology books and trying to say things that fit in with psychotic patterns and whatnot. I had a letter from him and from the school shrink too who was cool. The art schools were radical hot beds of protest and dissent.- they were filled with drugs - the administration, the teachers, everybody. So two days before we had to go in to the draft board  we started  taking LSD and the day we had to go in we dropped by the theater department and got some costumes at school and then dropped more LSD to go down there that morning so we were stoned out of our minds in Elizabethan drag and they just wanted to get rid of us but we were so stoned and freaked out we got really disoriented and my friend kept bursting into tears crying and we got off - we didn't have to tell them anything - we were too stoned to take the test. I stared at one true false question for three hours. I tried but I couldn't do it. I ended up with  a conscientious objector status after I joined a Buddhist Peace fellowship.

 

I was adopted. I started off in an orphanage in West Palm Beach Florida. I was born right after the war was over and I think I came from a liaison during the war that my parents didn't want me  or anyone else to know about - they were very secretive in those days about adoptions.- I grew up in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia. My father was a contactor for the FHA building GI homes. My adoptive parents were Jewish so I was a Bar-Mitzva- but soon to become a Buddhist.

 

I started college at the U of Pennsylvania  and then went to art school at Phila. college of Art and was there for two years and then went to NYC to get involved in the pop art  and rock music scene and then to a commune in Vermont. When I came here to S.F. I ended up going to the San Francisco Art Institute studying painting and photography.

 

Since I practiced with Suzuki Roshi my whole life has been permeated with his essence and Zen mind and I felt an incredible loss when he died and maybe I  still haven't recovered.


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