Interview with Arthur Deikman

Arthur passed away in early October, 2013

There will be a service for Arthur Deikman (see below) on Sunday, October 13th, at 1pm at the Muir Woods Park Community Asso. Clubhouse, 40 Ridge Ave. Mill Valley

A Shunryu Suzuki memory from Arthur in Zen Is Right Here

Arthur Deikman photo 2010

Deikman dot com

Arthur Deikman Curriculum Vitae

Deikman on Wikipedia

Books by Deikman

Deikman on Sufism and Psychiatry part one on YouTube

look for other YouTube videos on Deikman

Mystic Experience and Two Modes of Consciousness

Commentary on Deikman's Essays
"Deautomatization and the Mystic Experience" and "Bimodal Consciousness and the Mystic Experience"~Sandra Stahlman

Interviewed at his home in Mill Valley, CA, by DC on December 21, 1997 with his wife Etta

Arthur J, Deikman, M.D. has done groundbreaking work in the scientific study of meditation and the mystical experience. His thirty years of research in this area has resulted in numerous scientific papers and three books: "Personal Freedom" (l976), "The Observing Self-Mysticism and Psychotherapy"(l982), and "The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society" (1990). These works reflect a modern perspective on spirituality based on developmental, psychodynamic, and cognitive psychologies- informed by personal experience with the Zen Buddhist and Sufic traditions. Currently, Dr. Deikman is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, where he combines teaching, research and private practice.

As with many of these interviews, I don't include my questions herein. - DC

I had an experience camping in the Adirondacks in 1951 in the summer and I wanted to understand it. I read some of the literature on it I got the chance to do some research in 60 or 61 and hadn’t forgotten my experience so I did my research on meditation. I’d read the Yoga of Pagantali and used his instructions on focusing on a blue vase. I had my students do it for fifteen minutes to a half hour and interviewed them on their experiences. There were some striking changes from their short period of meditation. I continued these experiments and it seemed to me that I was becoming a teacher of meditation and should know something about it.

I was in med. school in Stockridge Mass and came out to the SFZC. It was about 67. I met Silas and had an interview with Suzuki-roshi at Sokoji. I brought in a tape recorder but he didn’t want it. I said I was studying consciousness and wanted to know more about it. He said, "I don’t know anything about consciousness. I just teach my students how to hear the birds sing."

I asked him if his higher state was the same all the time or varied and he did this making a sign wave gesture with his hand.

He said if I wanted to know about consciousness I should go to LA and sit sesshin with Yasutani. Katagiri-sensei gave me zazen instruction. I called LA about the Yasutani sesshin and they said they were full but since Suzuki-roshi had recommended it they took me. I didn’t even know what a sesshin was. Maezumi-sensei was translating at the sesshin. It was hard but the food was great. Yasutani said we have to adjust our effort in working on a koan like a violinist tunes his bow. If it’s too tight it will screech, if it’s too loose it won’t work. In that sesshin I felt like my head was so big. I got into altered states where my dimensions changed. I had scary experiences. In time they all went away. I woke up one night thinking that someone was hitting wooden blocks and it was just the person sleeping next to me smacking their lips softly in their sleep. The best thing about the sesshin was that I found I could do it. Maybe Suzuki-roshi sent me there because of timing,

After the sesshin I came back and saw Suzuki-roshi. In the summer I took the wife and kids to Tassajara. It was my first trip West. While there I had my first glimpse of what Zen was about. I told Suzuki-roshi about it and he agreed that that might be the case.

Back in Mass I continued to practice zazen and made periodic trips back to the West Coast and when I went I always had contact with the Zen Center, interaction with Suzuki-roshi and some of his students like Yvonne or Katherine Thanas.

I had reached a point where I was going to quit because I’d get into higher states but they would pass. I mentioned this to Craig Boyan, the one who went to the Meyer Baba group, and Craig went running upstairs and he came back and said Suzuki-roshi will see you now. I went to him and explained that I had these higher states but they just passed so what’s the use and he laughed and said, "That’s right, no use. All these states come and go, but if you continue you find there’s something underneath." I said you can’t have it because in the act of having it, it’s gone." He said he was very pleased with my understanding of Zen. Of course, this could have just been a form of encouragement. So I continued and continued seeing him whenever I went there.

In 71 we moved to the West Coast. It was the year he died. In the final ceremony where he handed over the temple to Dick Baker, the Mountain Seat Ceremony, as he came down from the dais and walked out, he looked directly at me and shook his staff.

My focus wasn’t Zen, it was Suzuki-roshi. If he’d prescribed bactic [devotional] practice I’d have done that. After he died ZC didn’t have what I wanted. Where he was was where I wanted to be - in that place of sanity.

I interviewed Trungpa in Boulder but wasn’t interested in being his student.

Later with Etta, reading the teaching stories of Adris Shah, we had that same sense of there being something there we wanted. The teaching stories had a kind of nutrition, water for thirst.

At Tassajara we’d go to Suzuki-roshi lectures and our seven year old daughter who was quite hyperactive would fall asleep in Etta's lap and Etta was amazed. It seemed there was something going on there.

[A later phone call with Arthur. He had doubts about the letter about the Suzuki-roshi conference at Stanford [May, 1998] - bringing Suzuki's widow out and son and so much money needed. He thought that people should just sit around and talk about what they got from him, how their lives and experiences developed. What did those who studied with him get out of it? I asked him what he got out of it and he said that sort of information comes out best in a group experience.- DC ]

At Tassajara there were a few students who had done a thirty day sesshin together on the outside, thinking that if seven days was good that thirty would be better. They talked to Suzuki-roshi and described all their experiences and said that they had gained a higher state from it and asked what shall we do now? He said, "Concentrate on your breathing and it will go away."

The experience I had in 51 camping on a major lake. I’d done some soul searching and had come to the conclusion that there is a source in what I valued in music and art and I needed to get closer to it. So I sat daily on a rock. I shut my eyes and sat there for half an hour and attempted to focus on something though I didn’t know what it was. In time I started to notice more detail in the rocks and trees, started to perceive an emanation coming from them, from everything, something intrinsically very valuable. I wanted to get closer to it. I knew that most people couldn’t see it. It lasted for the summer. I began med. school and couldn’t find anyone there who knew anything about what I’d experienced. I wanted to understand it. I went back to my college and saw my old poetry professor. Someone said to read Saint Augustine and that wasn’t sufficient. I almost left med. school to follow up on it but I didn’t. I was determined to get back to that experience though and began reading mystical literature of various kinds.

In the late sixties when I had published a paper on meditation Ralph Metzner came over and told me about Millbrook and suggested that I go there and take LSD with them and my analyst said I should do that in a more legit way. So I went to the West Coast and looked up the Institute of Advanced Studies or whatever it was called. Willis Harmon later of the Noetics Inst. and Charles Savage, a psychoanalyst and MD - they had a permit to use psychedelics. I had a research grant also to study meditation. They had pure Sandoz LSD and Psilisibin and I took each of them once, the LSD with Mescaline. They gave me Meduna’s mixture - CO2 and Oxygen to get a taste of going out of your mind. It was like a freight train from consciousness. I brought in pictures of my family and things that were familiar. I think they were testing a theory that a big one time intensive experience could bring about helpful changes. I think you need more time than that. Thinking back on that I remember Suzuki-roshi saying, "If you’re dissatisfied with your zazen it shows you have a gaining idea in mind."