Interview with Don Deangelo (Crockin)
Don Deangelo (Donnie Crockin)
interviewed by DC
Don whom I always called Donnie, is a serious runner as he indicates herein - he does Double Dipsies over Mt. Tam and back - and he goes to the gym and swims at Muir Beach and is a photographer and artist and more. He started the Good Karma 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 Don at Green Gulch a lot when I go there and I notice he films a lot of special events and ceremonies there. He's got a lot of art and photographs I want to link to here but I can't get on the web right now in India for some reason. Later. - DC
I could sit full lotus for three hours and not feel any pain and I was totally focused and centered but I found that there was a time when I was asleep thinking about pretty girls and trees and I started running and I went back to that place and would empty 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 came to Tassajara and gave a lecture - not Trungpa - and that was their meditation - running and chanting while they ran. I tried that. 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 stuff that I see when I'm running cause you do get into a heightened state after a couple of hours of running.
In 67 I'd been living on a commune in Vermont and taking a lot of psychedelics and I was trying to sit high on acid 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 mountain behind the commune and I decided I was going to go to Japan and be a Zen monk the rest of my life. I was nineteen. I got on my motorcycle still high 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 Zen Center, they'll let you stay there and they'll tell you where to go in Japan. So I went to 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 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 till Roshi died. I was in the sesshin in the city when he died - it was pretty dramatic.
He made a big impression on me. I believed him. I didn't believe anybody - I was a really radical kid. My attitude was fuck you to everybody and life had no meaning and nobody'd ever really told me anything that had any 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.
Here I have a diary I made at Tassajara.
One time Roovane and I were in the garden - he was the gardener at Tassajara and both of us caused a lot of problems cause we weren't in the general mold and we weren't eating our meals in the zendo - we'd go out and graze - we thought food would get you high if you picked it and ate it 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 impressed me. We were talking about something and then he said, strongly, emptiness is the garden where you cannot see anything but from which everything will come. That was unusual for him - he usually dealt with real practical things. I really like gardening 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.
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.
I asked Roshi at a 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've got a poem somewhere - it was about maybe a Sufi poem - Rumi - the question was why are all beings trying to drown themselves on dry land? Like why are we doing things in our lives and our meditation that are counterproductive to our meditation and to our happiness? I thought it was a good question and real deep and Roshi kind of sat looked 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 cocreate 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 wanted to let me do it. I went to Roshi and he said sure. It was when I left Tassajara. I left Tassajara on my birthday on April 20th at Tassajara right after the practice period and I'd been there for two years and I hiked out that day. People were really pissed off about it at the time - it's Tassajara bakery. I started it in the little room off the kitchen at Page Street and I baked this one bread - Roovane and I had developed a sour dough at Tassajara and I took the starter to Page Street. I hired this big six foot tall Japanese freak with long hair who used to sleep on the roof. Fuji - he was a painter and was always stoned. I'd met him in my travels and some of the girls at the Zen Center helped too and I'd get up every morning and start the starter and get the loaves going and we had a Hobart mixer and we had our own little room and we called it Tassajara Sourdough and I had an old funky Volkswagen with no top and I'd go out to all the health food stores 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 and I wasn't very popular for doing it cause it was radical and I was doing my own thing and had too much ego and Roshi supported it.
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 harmonies all our conflicting philosophies so we could function together as an entity at Zen Center. There was no administration - I just did it myself and everybody was really pissed off about it. Roshi used to do that - 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 forced us to deal with them and see things in ourselves.
I think at least three fourths of us had been experimenting with drugs before we came to Zen Center. It gave us an inside into another dimension that people didn't have and that was the driving force behind the anti-war movement and the hippies in the sixties and seventies.
How I got out of the army was a friend of mine and I were in art school at the Philadelphia College of Art and we got really fucked up. All of a sudden they decided to do away with art school deferments - art schools were like hot beds of radical student anarchist freaks. But 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 and join the army, there were lots of ways of getting out of it. The easiest way was to say you were gay. Me and my buddy went to the draft board which was in a working class neighborhood and out of two thousand people we were the only ones who didn't want to go in and that was amazing 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 - they were filled with drugs - the administration, the teachers, everybody. So two days before we had to go in we started getting really fucked up taking acid and other drugs and the day we had to go in we dropped by the theater department and got some costumes at school and then dropped more acid 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 was adopted. I started off in an orphanage in West Palm Beach Florida. I tried to find out about my real parents - I was born right after the war was over and I think I came from a liaison during the war that they didn't want me to know about - they were real secretive - I tried to find out once. I grew up in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia. My father was a contactor for the FHA building GI homes. My adoptive parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia and they were real gung ho about anything American and super patriotic. My father's dead, my mom's still alive. I never got along with them and I left home at about fifteen and went to live with an uncle in Florida - he was a cool guy, a gambler, the opposite of my father. My father wouldn't talk to me when I got out of the draft and wouldn't pay for my college anymore. He tried to make me take ROTC in art school. They had to have it and I think there were about two and a half people in it.
I started college at the U of Penn and then went to art school and was there for two years and then went to NYC and then to the commune in Vermont. When I came here, I ended up getting my degree at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Since I studied with Suzuki Roshi my whole life has been permeated with him and I felt an incredible loss when he died and maybe I haven't recovered. I think Zen Center is doing okay now but I didn't get along with Dick. I always argued with him.
|To interviews What's New|