From Peter di Gesu
Peter was around Sokoji in 66 when I arrived or near then. Loved his art. Later he got involved with Trungpa's group. These stories sent by Peter August and September 2015 from Halifax. - DC
Art Links for Peter di Gesu
Peter and DC Meeting
PdG: I remember when I first met you in the backyard of the SF Art Institute introduced by Gene Horton. You wanted to score some speed. Buncie, now known as Shiwa, will remember much more about the wedding than me.
DC: I didn't take speed in 66 normally. Maybe I wanted it to drive back to Texas which I did once that year.
PdG: Maybe you were just arriving or going to Texas, or maybe it was me who wanted the speed. I remember what you were wearing and Gene Horton distinctly.
DC: [I've asked him what was I wearing and to remind me who Gene Horton was.]
Roshi and the student who thought he was getting enlightened.
During my first year or so of intense zazen practice I started having experiences that I thought were unique, unusual, and something to do with "attainment" of enlightenment. I requested an interview with Roshi, and told him of my experiences, expecting praise and recognition. He just said "hmm, soon you won't be having this problem. This is common with beginning students. Your practice is okay though, just keep sitting."
Roshi and the carnal activities at the baths
At Tass, the students got an hour or so to go to the hot spring baths after work period and before dinner. It was co-ed, and nobody wore clothes. We were all young then, and looked pretty good. There was a heavy sexual vibe going on, and some hook-ups occasionally occurred.
One day Roshi show up unexpectedly, got in the baths with us modestly covering his privates with his hands as he stepped into the water. He must have felt the energy that was going around because from then on the men and women had separate bath times. We sure missed the co-ed baths.
[This occurred in the spring of 1967 before the first practice period. - dc]
At the zendo on Bush St once a week or so there would be a little talk by Roshi after the sitting practice followed by a question and answer period. This was '68 or '69, at the height of the Vietnam War and subsequent protests against it. During the question and answer period some of us voiced adamant opinions against the war. There was an angry mood and suggestions that we zen students should be more active publically to protest the war. Roshi listened politely, even while being interrupted by some of the more strident voices.
John Steiner, who happened to be at the front of the group (although one of the milder voices) asked Roshi, "what action should we take?" Suddenly Roshi leapt off his cushion and with his little stick (the kyasaku) whacked John Steiner several times about the shoulders shouting "what action?...you...just...sit!!"
John was trying to bow during this onslaught. We were all stunned, amazed, and silenced.
Here's a page for versions of that story.
Wood and Hot Dogs
During the second or third training period at Tassajara, Jack Elias and I had the job of cutting and gathering firewood for the whole place. We had a daily work period, lasting about two hours, after lunch. Our woodcutting job involved us driving a pick-up a couple miles off the land to look for fallen trees, cut them up with a chainsaw, load them into the pick-up, and drive the load back to T and stack it.
Tassajara is located at the end of an 18-mile dirt road that starts at the last end of Carmel Valley. Just before this dirt road begins there was a ranch, the Lambert ranch, that included in its itinerary guided wild pig hunts involving dogs, horses, and guns. Bill Lambert, the patriarch of the ranch, was friendly to the Tassajara people and we would often stop there on the way in to visit him. He was not adverse to alcohol, so these visits usually involved beer and whiskey. He also had a little hot dog, burger, and beer stand on the road during hunting season.
DC: I didn't know that was his. Hmm.
Our diet at Tassajara was vegetarian, almost macrobiotic. Although very healthy and wholesome, this fare left many of us growing boys with a raving appetite for meat and sugar. That hot dog stand at the end of the road became a point of interest for the Zen students during training period. The general rule was not to leave the land for the three months that we were there.
Jack and I formulated a plan. We would work extra hard for a few days and make sure there was plenty of wood stacked up. Then, during work period, quickly drive the 14 miles each way to hit the hot dog stand for as much burgers and dogs as we could eat. We had calculated the two hours that we had was just enough time to do this. We did this a few times and never got caught. This was around 1970, so I feel like it's safe to confess now.
Around 1967-68 I shared a place across the street from Sokoji Zen Center on Bush St, SF. I had some of the "view" of Zen, by virtue of reading the Kerouac books and Alan Watts, but at that time didn't know that Zen involved sitting more than anything else. I had a friend, Rob Gove, a fellow art student who was seriously involved with Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi. Roshi at that time was known as Reverend Suzuki. He wasn't called Roshi until 1969-70. "Levland" Suzuki, as the Japanese pronounced it. I would often see Katagiri Roshi walking in the neighborhood. He had a glow around him, a stature, posture, and energy that made him stand out. He would nod at me sometimes, and glanced right into my confused being. At the time, Katagiri was Suzuki Roshi's assistant teacher.
During this time, I had just made a confused mess involving my friend's wife and the woman I was living with. The big bridge was looking good. My friend Rob said, just go across the street and sit, Pete, all you have to do is cross the road. He finally took me over there for zazen, and I immediately started feeling better.
I moved alone a few blocks away to a room on the roof of some artist studios on Fillmore St. I was into tarot, cards found on the street, numbers, signs in the sky, etc. All the secret world stuff that was popular at the time. I took great store in omens, particularly playing cards found on the street. I would look up the corresponding meaning in the tarot. The first four mornings I walked to Sokoji to sit I found, on separate days and from separate decks, the four different aces, in different spots, and no other cards for those four days. On the fifth day, I came across a whole bunch of cards scattered in one spot. They had backs like regular playing cards, but the fronts were white, completely blank. I took all this as an encouraging sign, to just sit and give up the voodoo. It just goes to show you that everything is everything, on the other hand there isn't a goddam thing!
They say that the three things that bring a person to dharma are suffering, intellectual inspiration or view, or connection to a teacher or guru. My starting on the path had more to do with suffering.
Suzuki Roshi would tell us over and over, don't get attached to your practice. Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a whole book about it called Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.
Despite all these good instructions, many of us materialistic Westerners couldn't help ourselves. The immediate change many of us felt right at the beginning of our practice was something we didn't want to let go of. I personally feared losing the spaciousness zazen produced. I didn't want to miss a day of sitting. Plus there was an unspoken awareness in the zendo of who could sit the stillest for the longest time. All the better if Sandy, Ellen, Nancy, or Kathy were in the vicinity to witness these amazing feats. During an 8-day sesshin, "I, Joe Latzbahos, sat 8, count 'em, 8! days in full lotus--didn't change position once.!"
Despite all this ego stuff, something did happen when we sat still for a long time. Body pain, lack of sleep, claustrophobia, self-revulsion, and many other discomforts lost their solidness and became transparent. Resistance to sitting still started to vanish after 3 days or so. We started to look forward to getting on the zafu.
Shortly before Roshi died, I had an interview with him, as I was thinking about becoming more of a full-time sitter and less of an artist. I showed him some small paintings that I had done--"hmm" he said. "I think you are really an artist--paint more, sit less."
I finished graduate school at the Art Institute, various personal situations occurred, and around 1975 I got on the road and ended up living in Arizona for a couple of years. Those desert landscapes with all the space really got to me. I painted a lot where I lived, in Jerome.
DC: I remember Jerome. Small place. Sent Jerome Peterson a card from there.
I left Arizona in 1978 for Boulder, Colorado, where my ex-wife and daughter (Tara) lived. This was the town where Trungpa Rinpoche had his main practice center and sangha. I had some old friends there from Zen Center, and found work in the construction industry. Since art school, I had been learning how to make a living in the building trades, thanks to friends I had in the trades, such as Clarke Mason, Bob Halpern, and my stepbrother Rich Stout.
I continued painting in Boulder in various studio spaces, and stayed in that town for about ten years. In 1988, my second wife Dominique and I moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we currently live, along with my stepdaughter Miro and her two children.
Through all these years I have kept painting, almost daily. The large, open Western spaces remain my main inspiration. Photos of landscapes as a point of departure, long drives, and big rivers, high mountains in the background.
When I was in art school in San Francisco there was a group of us painters that the local media caught on to and named "Bay Area Visionary Artists." The art was characterized by mandala-type patterns done in a realism sort of way. I guess the mandala is still there in my paintings, just not as obvious. Mostly, I like driving on long roads, seeing a horizon line way-off and the lights of a small town in the distance, with the promise of a nice motel.
DC: Peter said he'd been in touch with John Clarke Mason also asked about stone sculptor and dedicated, industrious early student Rob Gove whom neither of us in touch with.
[Linking to both of the following in the Dubious page. - dc]
Roshi and the Rocks
Roshi liked to make rock gardens at Tass. Often a large fellow named Phillip used to help him move boulders around. One day, Phillip was having trouble rolling a particularly heavy boulder in place. Roshi watched for a bit, then came up and grabbed the boulder, yelled "Hai!" and lifted the boulder clear off the ground and put it in place.
[This first one is only exaggerated - Suzuki knew how to use his body to move stones well and people who worked with him at times told of him moving a heavy stone that surprised them. There was at least one time strongman Phillip Wilson was having trouble with a stone and Suzuki got in there and moved it to where he wanted it - not lift it, move it. - dc]
Roshi and Acid
In the mid-sixties at the zendo on Bush St, a lot of the young Western students were taking LSD and talking about the profound experiences they were having. Roshi took a dose to see what all the fuss was about. He sat zazen during most of it, and then said more or less "so?" no big deal.
[It' unclear whether Suzuki ever took LSD. There were students who asked him to and one or more who gave him some to try. Some think he did and some think he didn't. This story sounds like the Neem Keroli Baba story transposed to Suzuki. - dc]