Interview with Mike Dixon
Dixon link page
Mike's pen name as an artist is
Willard Dixon. He's not only a wonderful artist but gifted musician as
This was an interview that's really
more of a conversation done sometime
around mid 1994 I guess. It was transcribed by Elizabeth Tuomi sometime
back then and edited by me 5/31/10 - DC
Mike did the cloud paintings at Greens
restaurant and the fly for Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.
In the long run, my own life, meeting Suzuki and following the way he
taught me, has colored everything. It's something that continues. I feel
now that I'm getting older, more the pull into practice. It's different
now. In many ways it's a lot easier to practice now. There's so much
baggage that's gone.
(Tape 1, Side A) –
DC: What's your most vivid memory of Suzuki?
MD: Trying to remember when I first saw him. Somebody at the Art
Institute told me I should go over and see this guy. I did go over. That
was probably '62 or so. I went and started wanting to go back. I had
this feeling you have sometimes that somebody's is a lifetime friend. Or
that someone is going to be very important in your life. It's
unexplainable, really. It's hard to say exactly why. Some feeling of
trust there. And you trust your own feelings about that person. He
seemed so interesting. There seemed to be so much attention of some kind
there. It was something you just naturally wanted to continue. As I was
leaving, the first lecture that I went to, I was walking down the stairs
at Sokoji, and just as my head got to about floor level I looked through
the banister posts as I was almost disappearing from view ‑‑ I looked into
the room and he was looking right at me. I told some stories that I wrote
in the Wind Bell anniversary issue – a lot of people were telling stories
about Suzuki. I mentioned a couple of interesting things in there. One
that I liked in particular. Every Saturday we would clean up everything
and sit three or four zazens and lecture. I was sweeping away, and some
new guy came in. Usually I would just keep to myself and not be terribly
helpful to new people who were wondering what they should do. This guy
was looking around, wondering what to do. I gave him my broom. Just
then, I turned, and Suzuki was holding his broom out to me. It seemed a
perfect sort of teaching.
DC: Maybe because there's such a physical component to it.
MD: Yeah. When I first started going I was living down on Pierce Street
and going to art school. I was living with a guy I'd gone to the Brook
Museum with. Trudy used to come over on weekends. Eventually I took her
to see Suzuki, when we were still living over there. She was very much
into studying philosophy, and had studied at Wesleyan and was continuing
graduate studies at UC Berkeley. She'd been studying Heidegger and
Wittgenstein. She was curious about it. I took her in there, we were
staying toward the back, and he talked for a while. Then he started
talking about philosophy. The study of philosophy, as opposed to the
study of Zen, or practice. He was always holding out the idea of practice
to us at that time. He didn't have so many students then. As opposed to
just thinking and being curious about it. The idea of actual sitting
practice was different. He told a story about a philosopher he knew in
Japan who had killed himself. Just as he told this story he looked very
intently at Trudy, who was studying philosophy. She went backward a few
inches. It seemed very relevant to her. Then we moved to a place on
Larkin and Pacific. We continued to go to lecture for awhile. Then one
day we got up and said why don't we just start sitting, start practicing,
and see what it would be like. We did. And we continued. That was
DC: What was he teaching?
MD: It was practice. Zazen. To me that was the essence of it. One time
we had dokusan. He asked me if I had any questions. I said zazen answers
my questions. He said, yeah, that's right. If there's a pencil sitting
here on this tatami, and all of a sudden it's gone, one person will say,
oh, somebody stole my pencil. Another person will say somebody just
borrowed my pencil. I took that to mean that you can really only answer
your own questions.
DC: You have your own interpretation of things.
MD: Our mind, after sitting for some sessions, just naturally calmed
down. We would think about enlightenment. What is it? Is it something
we were going to get? The idea of it. It seemed like the more we went
on, the more we wondered if there really was any such thing. Suzuki used
to say things like, on my second enlightenment ‑‑
DC: He didn't say that later on.
MD: I remember him saying things like that. Like you might have a small
enlightenment here, or a larger one later, or you might have many
enlightenments. That was my feeling. That is my own experience and I
think that's true.
DC: Ananda said that Suzuki always maintained that he wasn't enlightened.
MD: Well, if you say you are, you aren't. But you can't say that you
aren't either. You don't say that you are, and you don't say that you
aren't. Suzuki told me once, he said, "I knew a farmer in Japan who was
just like a Zen master. He was a natural man, a simple man, but he was to
all intents and purposes a Zen master. The only difference was that if
you said to him, you are a Zen master, he would say, no I am not." He had
a kind of innocence. You would have to go through a lot of stuff to come
out the other side and say, "Ah, so desuka," (Is that so?) or something
like that. Or not to deny it, not to claim it.
DC: The subject of enlightenment is what I want to deal with precisely
because we never have. It's something that hasn't been discussed much in
Zen Center history. I don't particularly like to talk or think about it.
It seems sort of sophomoric to do that. But Ananda brought it up first
thing. "First and most important. Suzuki Roshi was not enlightened!"
MD: I don't know what he meant like that.
DC: I called him up last night and got him to talk about it more.
MD: I think he was beyond enlightened or not enlightened. To think about
that is to miss the point. And I think that was Suzuki's teaching. We
don't want some fancy idea about practice, or some excessive experience.
The point is just to see things as they are in the moment and not to
attach to things, to let things change as they go, and let them come and
go out. That's more interesting than being enlightened. As soon as you
become attached to any enlightenment you might have had, it will be a
barrier to you. People who talk about it that way are asking for trouble.
DC: Helen Tworkov wrote an editorial for Tricycle in which she talked
about how Zen Buddhism in America is developing and at a crossroads. Sort
of therapeutic, socially responsible, and is forgetting about
enlightenment which is the first goal of Buddha. That's how Buddhism
began, with his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. She said Suzuki Roshi
never talked about it. I mentioned that to Michael Katz and Michael's
read all the lectures several times and listened to them all and he said,
oh no, he talked about enlightenment a lot. But subtly, maybe. He sure
didn't emphasize the sort of enlightenment you hear from people who were
going to Yasutani. Or working with Maezumi. Or with Tai San. To quote
Tai San, there's only two types of people: those who know and those who
don't. My god, if he's an example of those who know ‑‑ that's so
ridiculous. There's a whole mind field of bullshit.
MD: Especially when you get into ‑‑ when you get in some position over
other people. His teaching was so focused on not being caught by anything
or attached to any particular idea.
DC: I studied at this Rinzai temple in Japan. It would have been
impossible for me to get into it like that. They were going after
enlightenment and all that. I like sitting and having sanzen (dokusan)
and not doing too much. I was on a totally different trip from everybody
else. But the teacher was so cool, he didn't care. If he didn't care,
nobody else cared. It was partially because of who I am before I came to
Zen Center, but partially because Shunryu‑san knocked it out of me and
Katagiri too in that Soto trip. It's controversial in a sense in the Zen
MD: As soon as you sit your enlightenment is there, stuff like that, all
the time. You hear that enough you begin to believe, that's right.
Which, on the other hand, doesn't mean ‑‑ and Suzuki said one time ‑‑ that
you shouldn't just sit on the steps and play your guitar all day. Meaning
that you don't just give up and do nothing because everything has Buddha
DC: I think a quote from him is, "Everything you do is right, nothing you
do is wrong, yet you must still make constant effort."
MD: I would have the feeling, in sesshin especially, but it was there all
the time with him, that you would think you were putting out this huge
effort. You didn't have much more to give. But just by looking at him
you would feel that you'd just barely started, hadn't even scratched the
surface yet. There just seemed to be this infinite well of intention or
effort that was under there somewhere. I think our whole thing about
enlightenment is, in a way, a kind of ‑‑ he used to talk about candy.
He'd say it's OK to give young students some candy, so they would get
involved here and get going on something. But really, you have to be
careful about that. Like selling intoxicating liquor is the same thing.
I think a lot of it has to do with building up the intensity effort. It's
the effort which does lead to a kind of breakthrough. Enlightenment is
not something that you get. Enlightenment is realizing something that's
already there. It's more like getting rid of, than getting something. I
think that's the big mistake that everybody tends to make.
MD: They think they're getting some experience from outside that they
never had. When you build that kind of intensity of effort that you can
experience in a sesshin it tends to strip away stuff more than anything
else. Then you're just left with yourself. That's enlightenment, I
DC: He also didn't like us to sit too many sesshins.
MD: He didn't seem to like us to think that that was more important than
DC: He was Apollonian. (v. Dionysian). Ruth Benedict. Dionysian was
more like the way I was, more extreme. Apollonian was more steady‑state.
MD: I think of Apollonian as coming from ‑‑ emphasizing harmony,
rational. Dionysian is more concerned with the dark side and with
passions and working through that. I've always felt that Suzuki had a
tremendous well of humor, too. He had such a powerful presence that even
though he was a good speaker and knew a lot about the history of Zen and
Dogen, it didn't seem that was his sole effort to me. He would often say
things to that effect. Emphasizing the practice. One time in the early
days a bunch of us were sitting in Sokoji. There were only about 15 or 20
that sat regularly. We'd been sitting ‑‑ and it was very intense in those
days because we were finding our way and we didn't quite know what we were
doing. I don't think Suzuki knew quite what he should do with us either.
One morning we came in and we were sitting ‑‑ like a Saturday and it was
the second sitting, and all of a sudden he was talking up at the altar and
his voice got low. All of a sudden he jumped up really quickly and
started hitting us all with the stick. He just went around the whole room
just one after the other, very fast. He'd never done that before or
anything like that. It was accompanied by this tone of voice which almost
seemed like he was mad at us. He roared around the room hitting us and
boy did that wake us up in some way. As a group. Later he said something
about that, and about the fact that he felt that something was wrong. He
didn't know quite what it was, something about our attitude. The way we'd
been practicing was not right. That we were all doing something a little
off that he felt needed correcting.
DC: He did the same thing at Tassajara years later.
MD: One time I said something to someone else, that I thought in the
early days my experience was that there was something about it that seemed
particularly intense or difficult at times. He heard that and he jumped
right on it and supported it. Yes, that was really true. When we first
started sitting there was something going on that was ‑‑ in my own mind it
was finding our way ‑‑ something that made it particularly intense at
DC: This included who?
MD: Betty Warren, Della, Trudy, myself, Dick, Bill Kwong, Phil Wilson,
Norm Stiegelmeyer, Graham, Paul Anderson, Fran Keller. And then Mel (64)
and Ed (66) came a little later. Ed and his brother Dwight. Mel was
living at one point with Dan Moore ‑‑ the visionary ecstatic poet. Used
to smoke a lot of dope. A lot of people did. Mel moved into his
house. Mel played recorder. Mel taught me how to read music. I got my
flute and we used to play music together and I learned how to read with
him. That was before he came to Zen Center. I think Dan Moore brought him
to Zen Center.
DC: I remember Dan Moore coming around later. What about Daniel
Remember him? Very intense. I heard he was the first guy who shaved his
head. He was sleeping in a car in Big Sur that got hit by a car and
almost died from that and came out of it a little weird. He was involved
in drugs. Super intense. Ended up having a nudist/guns commune in
Montana. Everybody walked around nude and they had a lot of guns. He
seemed slightly dangerous. What about this guy Bill McNeil? Some guy
early on, I think he went to Japan and really didn't like it and quit.
Maybe he quit in '62, '63.
MD: Must have been before my time. Wasn't Bill the first guy who went &
sat with Suzuki?
DC: I've heard that. I've also heard Bill say that Paul Anderson was
there when he came. Bill is one of the people who really took the Zen
thing seriously. He's still doing it. It's hard to get in on his
schedule. He's very sweet. He goes every year to China. He really
believes in it.
MD: I haven't been up to his place. I want to do that. I haven't seen
Bill for years. Phil Wilson really disappeared. He burned his robes I
DC: Dan Welch did too. Reb wrote Dan a letter. Dan sent him back the
ashes. He's gotten over that. In fact, he and Dick just went to Japan
and Europe together.
MD: One thing that happened between Suzuki and myself. I don't think
I've ever told anybody. In his office one time, I was facing away from
him and he said, "You know. You have to be my successor." My blood went
cold. I pretended that I didn't hear anything. I left the room. I
thought about that for awhile. I never mentioned it to him and he never
mentioned it to me. I figure he probably tried that out on a lot of
DC: He said to me once that we'd be starting temples all over and people
would be going out and Zen Center would spread. He said I should go to
Texas and start a temple in Texas. I said no I'm not going to Texas to
start a temple.
MD: I have the feeling now that he was just putting out feelers for
possibilities in those days, who was up for it. And I definitely wasn't.
I was trying to be an artist and the idea of leading a Zen thing, or even
having any responsibility beyond a certain point was not what I wanted.
DC: Maybe he wanted to see which direction you were going to go in. The
lay direction or the priest direction. I think one of the things that
upset Ananda about Zen Center's development when we got Tassajara was the
shift from lay community to priest‑led community with hierarchy and more
rules and ceremonies.
MD: Yeah. I think Ananda always felt it should have remained small ‑‑
kind of like it was in the beginning. Go on like that forever. All the
stuff that happened because of Dick somehow got off the track. Somebody
used to say ‑‑ I don't know if it was Ananda ‑‑ that Suzuki himself felt
that way eventually. I don't know if that's true or not.
DC: He'd say things like Zen Center's getting too big. I don't know what
to do with it. Peter Schneider told me that Suzuki would say let's just
you and me go off.
MD: In my own mind related to that story I told you about, that I'd never
realized before. It must have been about ‑‑ when we lived in Mill Valley
‑‑ must have been '65 or '66 . He gave all of the old students a rakusu.
They were the kind you order from Japan. He had this little ceremony and
he gave everybody in the original group one except me. I'd been sitting
longer than some of those guys. Dick got all pissed. He said, "How come
you're not giving Mike one? What the hell's wrong with him?
DC: I would have been so hurt.
MD: I was cool. And for some reason I wasn't hurt particularly I just
thought it interesting. Trudy went in with everybody else. I wasn't even
there. They all got their rakusus. Trudy's was blue, like the ones we
make now, but it was bigger. It looked machine made and had a big circle
on it. I was wondering what was going to happen on this. Trudy said,
"Suzuki asked me, ‘What did Mike say?’" I knew that was coming up so I
was cool. When she came in with her rakusu, before she said what Suzuki
said I just said, "Oh fantastic. Congratulations." I did feel very nice
about it. I didn't really care, but I was sort of wondering. Then later
she said that Suzuki had asked what Mike had said. "So I told him, oh he
gave me a kiss, and said 'This is great, Trudy. I'm so happy for you.'"
So that's what he got back from me.
DC: Were you sitting with the group at the time?
MD: Yeah, of course. I did everything. I was treasurer.
DC: Typical Zen mind fuck, man. I would be so jealous if people who came
after me got ordained.
MD: You could say, well, I'm special. I didn't get one. I could go on
that trip if I wanted to. So then later when he was getting on in years
and I thought well, I want to get a rakusu from Suzuki. I want to get my
name from him. All the other guys got names. Trudy was Bai Ho Sesshin ‑‑
Winter Plum blossom. I just told somebody that I wanted to make a rakusu.
That was when we were at Page Street.
At some point when I knew an ordination was happening I said I wanted to
sew a rakusu. I was the leader of that group, the head student. I bowed
and said, "Please accept us." And he said, "Yes, I will." So he wrote on
the back of my rakusu. My name is Ko Kai.
What would your idea be about what Ko Kai means?
DC: Ko Kai could mean something ocean. It could mean dark ocean.
MD: I'll tell you what he told me it was. When he was dying I went up
and talked to him and I asked him, what does Ko Kai mean? He said it was
Out of Kalpa Camellia Tree.
(discussion of calligraphy on Mike's rakusu)
MD: Dick said the camellia is called the guillotine flower and it's like
death because it all of a sudden falls off. Suzuki said the name was
something very old that just comes out. It seems to be one of those
things that's very open to interpretations.
DC: I'm sure this is the same ordination I was in on.
MD: Do you remember me leading it? You were already ordained. I just
waited around until I thought, well, he's going to die soon, I've got to
get ordained. It was an ordination before he was sick.
DC: It's interesting that he would single you out for that. It's just a
personal thing between you and him.
MD: But then I thought ‑‑ because I told you that story ‑‑ that he was
just giving me what I wanted. He told me there had to be a successor and
I didn't even answer him. So why should he give me a rakusu? He figured,
he doesn't want a rakusu. And he was right.
DC: Oh, god, maybe that's it.
MD: I just finally figured that out.
DC: Suzuki talked with Silas and various people. Dick became his
successor because he was the one who had demonstrated the ability to that
beforehand. Plus ‑‑ and I talked to Suzuki about this ‑‑ Does this mean
he's enlightened or something? No no, just means he has good
understanding. Don't make too much of it. He said also, full
commitment. He saw he had the organizational and fundraising ability so
he seemed like the right person. But people who say that he was given
that just because of his administrative ability ‑‑ that's ridiculous.
That's not enough.
MD: As I told you on the phone, when we had that election, he became
president by one vote, I missed it by one vote. I think I probably voted
for him. I think he took it as kind of a mandate and he just took over.
From that point on he was gangbusters.
DC: Was this the point where Bill left?
MD: Bill was still around.
DC: Bill has told me that story in great detail. How they had an argument
over who would hit the bells. Suzuki had gone to Japan, the first time –
64 or so – and asked Bill to hit the bells and so he was hitting them all
and Dick said he should share and Bill said no he asked me so Dick called
a meeting and Bill said he couldn’t take the conflict and started sitting
in Mill Valley except for Saturdays.
MD: It didn't happen immediately, the changes to ZC when Dick took over,
but you just look around, from that point on he changed everybody's
consciousness about what we were doing, what could happen, what was going
to happen. Plus we're getting Tassajara next month, then we're going to
do this. He had a whole agenda.
DC: I heard Dick talk about Timothy Leary once. He's sort of like
Leary. He said a lot of people had taken psychedelics, not millions, but
many people had had psychedelics of different types. Leary thought LSD is
going to change civilization as we know it and helped to make that
happen. This entire vision came with it. Terrence McKenna (mushrooms)
said Leary is a completely unspiritual person.
MD: He just saw it as a chemical aid to living. He wasn't thinking about
DC: To me he was somewhat. I read Leary's stuff before taking LSD, and I
considered him to have a very responsible attitude. Fast, meditate,
prepare yourself, have a guide, take it, and go for the clear light.
That's the way I took acid. I thought that was great advice. And Richard
Alpert, the spiritual one, was telling people to just take it and not be
afraid to go romp around and have fun. Anyway, that’s the impression I
So Dick got that job. He realized he had a hot product there.
MD: He realized there was potential there. He was a great organizer ‑‑
the poetry conference at UC Berkeley. That was right down his alley. If
he wasn't doing what he was doing he'd probably be president of GM or
DC: Movie maker. That's what he told Bob Beck he'd like to do.
MD: I've spend years defending Dick in various ways. Especially after
the great debacle. A lot of people think he's some horrible rapacious
person, which he's not at all.
DC: He's got his problems but ‑‑ he's still doing that Zen thing. Ananda
says Dick got exactly what he wanted. He said Dick always said he didn't
want to be head of a large organization like Zen Center. He just wanted
to work with a small group of people. That's what he's got now.
MD: Better for him. I think that's what he needed. But he thought he
wanted a giant ‑‑ Green's and all ‑‑ and he was socializing so much. It
was getting ridiculous.
DC: I feel that his socializing was part of his vision for world change.
That he basically wasn't that much of a social person.
MD: And when Brown was in on all that it was hard not to think that if
you weren't there you were not at the center of things. When the Governor
was coming around, it was really looking like this is it.
DC: It really had a strong element of hubris: pride cometh before a
fall. It got top heavy.
MD: He got caught by it. My feeling was that when they called him on it,
eventually, he was surprised. He was rocked by it. Like he had no idea
what he was doing.
DC: His life style had diverged so sharply from what he was encouraging
people to do in his lectures and dokusans. It was unsupportable.
MD: It's interesting, knowing him so well, that he had to go through all
that. Very heavy stuff. And come out where he is now. I think he had to
just cut of everything here. He just felt that all that was gone or
lost. That everyone in California thought he was horrible.
DC: He thinks that the only reason for him to come to California is so
people can throw tomatoes at him.
MD: We aren't talking about Suzuki. But we are in a sense, because
everyone sort of wonders, why did he pick Dick?
DC: That is a frequent question. Some people will say it was a mistake.
MD: I feel the same way you do. I have a feeling that he wanted to do
it. He was there. He's smart. He has a good understanding. Personally,
I think he did a lot of great things.
DC: He was part of a great period of experimentation.
MD: He made this whole thing happen which is still going on. If all this
hadn't happened, I wouldn't have Green Gulch to go sit at right now.
DC: I'm looking at Suzuki Roshi's life. What did he do in Japan? When
he died he left all these places. But it's not just him. It was him
interacting with America and some particular Americans and what happened
there. Without Dick and Graham and you ‑‑
MD: I don't think Suzuki was ambitious for all that stuff. I think he
had some feeling about having a monastery. I think he had a humbler
vision. He seemed so unambitious most of the time. He seemed ambitious
in an inner way. If you were there as his student ‑‑ and he would accept
any student ‑‑ he would be incredibly sincerely open and involved with
that person in a real way. He would be there in every possible way for
that person. That's pretty ambitious ‑‑ spiritually ambitious. But not
in the sense of getting bigger. More like deeper.
DC: But the time at which he arrived, '59, giving him until '66 to
improve his English and get a good base ‑‑ historically what better
possible timing could there have been. The time was one of enormous
curiosity, looking to the east, looking to non‑materialistic practices.
Maybe if Dick hadn't have been there, the nature of the situation, there
might not have been a real impetus to achieve that level of activity.
MD: Something else would have come along. I remember we did the Zenefit
to raise money. Big Brother, Gary Snyder ‑‑
Side A, Tape 1 ends.
DC: Alan Watts gave a great talk.
MD: Suzuki walked forward on the stage and just opened up his arms like
that. Do you remember that? There was a great cheer, a great yell from
the assembly. He just smiled. Just opened up his arms like that and just
radiated to everyone. It was like the guru ‑‑ people were eating it up.
It went along with the music and the whole consciousness raising thing.
Everything that was going on at that time. I don't remember him saying
much of anything. He might have said a couple of words. That was the
event. When he was actually up there in this rock and roll situation
doing that. It was surprising for me to see because usually we would just
be alone at Sokoji or something.
DC: The other time I can think of was the big Be‑in where he sat up on
stage with Alan Watts ‑‑ Ginsburg. I remember going with him, and I think
it might have been Loring Palmer who took him. I think Dick took him on a
peace march once.
Do you remember him talking about Japan? Or telling about important
MD: One thing he said about Japan ‑‑ He said in Japan we just accept our
role, what we're doing, and we tend to just do that. But in America
everybody thinks they have a choice about everything. If I don't like
this, I can do that. He was talking about it in relationship to the
practice of Zen, that it caused us some problems, because it kept us from
committing. We always thought, well, if this doesn't work out I'll just
do something else.
DC: I've never totally accepted his trip on that ‑‑ or any Japanese
person's trip on that because it's so strong. It's a clash between Japan
and America, not just Zen and non‑Zen. I was talking to Hoitsu about
somebody that wanted to get transmission from him. I was presenting it to
him in a non‑prejudicial way. And he said, "Let them get transmission
from Mel or Reb or Les or Bill." And I said well this person is sort of a
peer of those people, and was very close to Suzuki (his father) and that's
why they're interested. And he's not on particularly good terms with
those other people. And he'd say, "God, you Americans are always talking
about 'my way,'" My way is this, my way is that. I want to do it my
way. In Japan nobody thinks about my way. There's the stream of practice
of Buddhism that we throw ourselves into. We follow THE way. It really
MD: There's something about the spirit here that induced him to stay here
and start practicing with people here. Something about the openness that
he appreciated and wanted in his students. He said a lot of the Japanese
people here in America ‑‑ he was working at Sokoji as their priest ‑‑ are
not interested in sitting. In Japan nobody's interested in sitting
anymore. That's why he was here. He was interested in practicing, and he
wanted to be with people who were interested in practicing.
DC: He would go back to Japan and tell them that Americans are great and
really sincere and want to practice and are interested in Buddhism. Even
now in Japan ‑‑ older guys I was interviewing about Suzuki ‑‑ they would
say, "In America you practice Buddhism with your head. Here we practice
with our body." They come with this superficial dichotomy trip. The same
things we used to think back in the sixties. East inclusive; west
dualistic. East both/and; west either/or. They tend to do that. They
have a lot of set ideas about that. They tend to think that Americans
can't study Zen. There's no way to get ahead in a Japanese system.
People who go from here to there to study anything will study awhile, but
ultimately it has to do with being Japanese and almost nobody gets
anywhere with anything they do. He was not unique, but rare in his
ability to leave his culture behind and work with westerners. As far as
Ananda is concerned, to transcend Japanese Zen.
MD: Being willing to change it. Although he seemed very faithful in many
ways. At the same time it was changing just to fit us. To make is
understandable, workable, practical.
DC: I think he had to continue to stand in the robes that he'd grown up
in and in the Buddhism that he'd been taught. He couldn't go too far
MD: He said it was important to have rules. A lot of Americans' idea of
freedom is no rules. He wanted to disabuse us of that idea. So he had to
emphasize quite a lot in his lectures that rules were important. The
rules in practicing Zen are not just to have for the sake of rules, but
are the way that we become free. You can turn somebody loose on the
piano, and they can think they're very free, but if they don't know how to
play the piano they're not going to be able to play music.
DC: Witness your painting. It's about following rules that you create
something beautiful, wonderful to look at.
MD: The freedom comes within the form. Americans, especially young
Americans at that time, had some problem with understanding those ideas.
Why do we have to sit hour after hour in this rigid position?
DC: And then later when we got Tassajara, why do we have to go to bed at
this hour? There were a lot more specific things where you were being
treated like a child. To me being treated like a child is a typical thing
of Japanese culture. And then you can have your freedom. Like in art,
they teach you exactly how to do everything, and all you can do it copy
everybody and do it the way they've been doing it ‑‑
MD: That's interesting. The idea is that if everybody does the same
thing then you can see how everyone is different.
DC: At a certain point you can go off and be free. There's abstract
calligraphers and everything happening in art in Japan. But the road to
getting to that level ‑‑ once you're up there there's no restrictions at
MD: Often those people are doing something that looks very traditional,
but if you know the tradition, and know the other artists who are masters,
you can see how different they are from one another. Like playing
shakuhachi. I've been studying that for five or six years now ‑‑ learning
how to read the music. At the beginning you just have to play those notes
one after another, and it's rather a difficult instrument so there's
nothing else you can do. You can't even get a note out of it for awhile.
Eventually your breath becomes more and more efficient and you get
stronger, and then you can start doing more expressive things. You just
play the music the way it's supposed to be played and you will be playing
it in a very personal way whether you're trying to or not. Everyone has a
different way of breathing and a different approach. It's our nature.
DC: I used to write a song every day. At least one. If I felt like it
or not. One of the ways I'd write a song is I'd hear something I really
liked and I'd try to write something just like it. Invariably I'd come
out with something that was to me better than average and different from
what I was trying to copy. I found that to be a really good way to do
something. I was just reading something like that too. Somebody ‑‑ Mark
Twain or Oscar Wilde or somebody ‑‑ saying that if you have the creative
urge that it can't be taught or learned, it's just there. and it can't be
suppressed. The person with the creative urge would create original
things ‑‑ all you have to do is let them go. Tell them to copy other
things. It doesn't matter. It will come out. I've always tended to
think that everybody has creativity.
MD: That's more Buddhist idea about it. As opposed to this idea that we
have more or less of the genius, or the gifted ones, the inspired one, who
is different from everyone else.
DC: At least in Japan they have this idea of the national treasure ‑‑ the
great Zen Master, the great poet, the great artist ‑‑ I almost feel that
we have ideas here of limitation. Their idea over there is that you're
unlimited, it all depends on how much effort you make. We have the idea
that you're born with a certain amount of talent.
MD: In Japan it's like the genius of effort. It has the genius for
putting out extraordinary effort. That's why so much is achieved. I
sometimes think about art in general and people who are create ‑‑ it has
to do more with sticking to it and going on with it. Whatever the ability
is in a person that allows him to become involved more than some talent
for putting the paint on or whatever ‑‑ that that's the most important
DC: That's the 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.
MD: Well, that's not right either. In music there's undeniable talent
that comes out in people at young ages. There is something called talent
and it's undeniable. But at the same time there's this other thing where
a person who you might not think has a lot of talent has a lot of interest
and a lot of something that leads him to produce some very interesting
stuff. And then there's the person who has only the willingness to work
and no talent at all and no matter how hard he works never comes up with
DC: It's hard knowing the laws of art. How much is nature, how much is
nurture, how much is effort. I can remember, in terms of music, having
definite ideas about what I liked and what I didn't like as far back as I
can remember. 4 or 5 years old. Stuff my mother played. I didn't like
the schmaltzy crap. I didn't like overproduced band music that was too
undefined. I didn't like things that were too silly. As far back as I
can remember just from what I heard I had definite tastes.
MD: I liked Leadbelly more than Glenn Miller.
DC: Although I liked Glenn Miller. I tended to not like big band stuff
as much as ensembles. I'd like a string quartet better than an
orchestra. I had a definite taste. In movies, songs, rock and roll.
Almost genetic or something.
MD: Getting back to Suzuki. Somebody told me that he was always taking
millions of naps. Have you heard that much? A lot of naps in the
afternoons. In the early days, even before he was sick. Maybe he needed
to. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I suppose us Puritans here
in America might think you should be working or something. He seemed to
be free from those kinds of petty ideas completely. Simultaneously, he
was very free and relaxed. At other times he would be somehow evoking
this incredible effort ‑‑ from you and from himself. But he did seem very
relaxed most of the time.
DC: Terribly relaxed. Terribly at home with himself and the world. At
ease and comfortable to be with you whoever you were. And he did take
naps. But he’d get up so early.
MD: One time I took him over to some lumber yard ‑‑ some big work yard in
San Francisco. We drove into this place and we went into this little
house where they hang out. There were 3 tough working men in there. They
were talking about football and swearing and carrying on. Suzuki just
swaggered in there and started talking about football. He had his robes
on. I'd never heard that tone of voice before coming out of his mouth.
At some point they started looking at him, like, who are you? We somehow
got our boards and left. I remember watching him another time ‑‑ a woman
came in and did tea ceremony for us. She did about 20 or 30 teas. It
took like 3 hours or something. We were just sitting there watching her.
At the very end he said, "Instant tea." While the woman was making the
tea he was watching her in zazen position, and he was so into watching
her. His hand would be moving a little with hers. He was totally out
there. Interesting to watch.
I remember him talking about his teacher sometimes, and the tremendous
feeling of gratitude he had to his teacher. Not his father, but his
teacher. He told when he realized ‑‑ a story about when he did something
that was unthinking and unconscious. It was his monkey mind showing. He
was so ashamed of that. At some point he realized something ‑‑ had a
powerful realization ‑‑ and felt this overwhelming feeling of gratitude
toward his teacher. Tears were coming out of his eyes and his nose and
his mouth. He finally realized what his teacher was trying to do. Why
his teacher had been hard on him at times. What his teacher had given
DC: I don't want to sound too cynical but I really think the Japanese are
programmed to have that experience. I've heard so many Japanese people
tell me ‑‑ one of Suzuki's kids will tell me about their experience with
him ‑‑ which wasn't much fun. He was aloof and busy with other people and
just barked at them and didn't pay any attention and never touched them
and didn't listen to them and left them. His first wife was murdered by a
monk whom he insisted on keeping in the temple. But they all say, I'm so
grateful to him, cause I realize now that blah blah blah.
MD: Do they have to tell that to themselves to make it alright?
DC: They rationalize everything bad that happens to them. Every hardship
is rationalized in terms of a kind teaching. (In looking at Suzuki's
teacher) ‑‑ I can't see much there. Sort of strict disciplinarian. I
don't think he taught much zazen. Just doing services and being a temple
priest. It's great to be able to squeeze the good out of things.
MD: I certainly had the feeling that it was more than that the way he
described it. When you look at Suzuki, if you knew him, you had to feel
that it was more than all that. His teacher must have been something
special ‑‑ someway.
DC: I'm not convinced that So-on was so special. I think Suzuki was
special . . . Do you think that for Suzuki to be special he would have had
to have a special teacher?
MD: I don't know. If you look at it traditionally you'd have to think so
wouldn't you? Otherwise he'd be like that farmer. That farmer Zen master
who doesn't know he's a Zen master, and if you say he is, he would say he
was not. To actually become a teacher in a formal sense and take
students, especially as a Japanese, you need certification.
DC: But you can climb on the shoulders of your teacher. You can be
greater than your teacher. Dogen said that his master was the first truly
enlightened teacher in 500 years. So he would have to have been more
special than who came before. So-on was a guy that yelled at the
neighbors and intimidated people around his temple. He was a feared
person. He was a fierce landlord. The temple owned a lot of land and
there were a lot of farmers on it that had to give a percentage of what
they grew to him. He looked at it and said they weren't giving enough.
He was like a feudal landowner. He was taking care of the temple. But
the temples were important institutions that had land, and were supported
by people. The temple priest was a great person, someone you would look
up to, somebody above the other people. This was broken up by the
government after the war – and before the war too. Buddhism was
suppressed during the war because Shinto became stronger. Shinto was more
in line with the goals of the militarists. They were drafting the
priests; Buddhism was on a shoestring. It didn't have the nationalistic
possibilities that Shinto did. After the war they took land away from the
shrines and temples both to sell them to the people cheaply. Buddhism
lost out there too. It seemed to me that So-on's reputation is one of
being gruff and aloof. Suzuki was aloof with his family but friendly with
neighbors and members of the temple. Everybody liked him. He had a strong
social conscience and at least after the war talked about peace. And
before the war too. He started a kindergarten because he wanted to help
revitalize the culture; to get kids into a Buddhist school.
MD: I see him almost as a kind of adventurer. Someone who was willing to
leave his wife and children and come over here; call them up and say he's
not coming home. He had the ability to go as far as he had to go to
accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. He wasn't restrained by any
bourgeois concerns. In that way he seemed like an artist. He would say
things that art and religion are the deepest expressions of human nature.
Art was right in there. He had a tremendous respect for art and the
people who made art. So even if I didn't want to become a gung‑ho Zen
instigator or organizer, I felt that I was still OK with Suzuki because I
was an artist. I never got any message from him of, "Why don't you stop
painting so much and come over here and help run Zen Center?" I never got
that feeling at all.
DC: I think he was an adventurer. It's hard to see that when you look at
him in Japan because it's hard for anybody in Japan to do anything but
MD: That's why he wanted to come over here too, so he could be somebody
DC: He tried to get out at other times. He tried to go to China during
the war. He went over there and had to run back.
MD: So there was something about him that was out of the ordinary as a
Japanese, and among Japanese that led him to want to come over here and
DC: I think he was out of the ordinary in that he wanted to get out and
go somewhere else. There's so much security in being Japanese ‑‑
MD: Why did he want to do that? He wanted to explore different parts of
DC: I think that's true. The idea that Suzuki Roshi was a great person
in Japan, who had a great enlightenment and great enlightened teachers,
and wanted to bring those great enlightened traditions is so romantic or
MD: But when he came over here there was nobody.
DC: He didn't have any students there. Ananda said that the only time
Suzuki got mad was when he said that to some younger students at Zen
Center. Suzuki called him up and said, "What's this you say about I
didn't have any students in Japan?" Ananda said he was just repeating
what Suzuki had said. But he was sensitive about that. And his son makes
that point so strongly to me. Politics.
MD: So he was totally free when he came to America from all that
hierarchy. He would bring Japanese people over. Or he'd go over and
check in with them. Let them know what was going on. But then he'd come
back here and do his own thing.
DC: There's another thing that affected his life more than the
hierarchy. He was head of an important temple with 200 sub‑temples. He
had 500‑700 families, and that's what took up his time. He was pretty
free from hierarchy because they have a pretty loose system. He hadn't
chosen to be involved in the big systems of headquarters in Tokyo. But
the amount of time he had to spend taking care of temple obligations with
these families was prohibitive. Non‑stop funeral, memorial services.
That's what he wanted to get away from. I only heard that from one person
in Japan. I had to make an appointment with a neighbor of the temple
through somebody who lived across town because the Suzuki family didn't
want me to talk to the neighbors. I had to talk to the neighbors going
around their backs. I'd tell them I was doing it. They'd say, don't
disturb the neighbors. They're so nervous. I love Hoitsu, I love his
wife, but if you get out of their stream of things, get out of what's
accepted, it starts making them nervous. This guy who lived below the
temple said that Oh yeah, he used to come down here all the time, sweeping
the road, he'd come down and tell me, "I've got to get out of here."
MD: So if you see Suzuki coming from that, coming over here by himself
with the excuse of taking on a small Japanese congregation, and then
getting involved with all these hippies, and ending up on the stage of the
Avalon Ballroom with Janis Joplin ‑‑ that becomes an interesting image.
It makes him look like a wild west cowboy. I would assume that would be
pretty damned radical to a lot of old priests back in Japan.
Unimaginable. That's how he's an adventurer. Like these guy who decide
they're going to kayak down the entire west coast of the United States.
DC: Mitsu, Okusan, talks about hippies. What was the sociological
breakdown ‑‑ you say there were 15 key people ‑‑ would there be 5 or 10
coming and going?
MD: When we were pretty filled up there was about 10 and 4 or 5 in the
back ‑‑ usually anywhere from 2 to 10 other people would be coming and
going ‑‑ or more ‑‑ and more who would just come to lectures. There might
be 40 or more at lectures. We started taping the lectures at some point.
I remember going through that routine. I don't remember what year.
Before '66, I think. Dick could tell you. [July 1965]
DC: Dick and I are on good terms. He's really into this. He's already
outlining my book – suggesting things. We're closer now than we ever have
been. He appreciated the support ‑‑ Dan Welsh and me going there during
the first practice period. I just sent him the definitive pictures of
Suzuki's father and the guy before that. That was a painting. The others
were photographs. Reproduced for the book, for Zen Center. I also got
their photo albums from Japan to America and had the best pictures all
MD: I always did have the feeling that there was a hidden part to
Suzuki. Something mysterious. Where it was all coming from seemed
mysterious. He had so much commitment and drive of a certain kind.
Unusual. So you couldn't help but think where does he get it?
DC: He was always there. If he wasn't sick he'd be at zazen.
MD: He seemed constant, but not in a negative sense. In a sense of
faithful to something. He would often talk about the inmost request.
Remember that? That we had to listen to and respond to our inmost
request. It seemed he did that in some way. My experience, during sesshin,
of people, of layers, was getting down to something like that, where the
sincerity of that the meaning of it, became uppermost in your mind or your
feelings. The depth and the levels of that that seemed possible in his
presence seemed almost limitless. I sometimes I wonder how much we
project our own best nature into all this though. That's part of the
game, I guess.
DC: I'm not a firm believer in there being some truth, like one truth and
one story, to Suzuki, that I can look at.
MD: I think you should be doing the Rashomon approach here.
DC: That's exactly what I see. What type of book do you think would be
best about him?
MD: I think just that would be fascinating: to have everyone's point of
view, and just put them all out there and let the reader draw his own
conclusions. What else is there?
DC: Dick could do a book that was his point of view. And I think he
should. And he can have a say in this book. I'm going to do it the way
Japanese bring things into their culture: they don't homogenize them.
They don't stir things up. Everything's separate. So you can see Dick as
Dick, Mike as Mike, etc.
MD: And not try to cross‑reference all this stuff and correct everything
for them. Even if there's actual mistakes in there, you could just let
them stand I suppose.
DC: I could throw in a correction right after in parenthesis.
MD: It's appropriate for a book about Suzuki, or anyone like that, to
have all these different points of view. It's so Zen that way, so
DC: I pretty much have to because I don't have opinions about a lot of
things. I don't want to have to be sensitive and profound about a lot of
things that I don't feel that way about.
MD: I think that'll be fascinating, to hear everyone's feelings and
thoughts about it.
DC: Michael Katz, my agent, and I are talking about this a lot. There is
a strong contingent that wants a straight biography where the process is
invisible. I'm willing to try that. And I don't mind trying it as part
of the process of doing it, but I think it would be pretty boring.
MD: I think if you work the biography into this thing, then you could
have both. That would be the best. If you try to be as objective as
possible about laying the facts out about his life, then we can all draw
certain conclusions from that that are different from opinions. If you
know these are facts and you put them out there without editorializing too
much about it, then we can draw a lot of conclusions about him just from
those things. That he had all these commitments in Japan and then he came
over here. Those are facts. There are conclusions that most of us would
draw from these various facts.
DC: There were commitments to the Japanese congregation at Sokoji that it
didn't bother him at all to drop. [I don’t see it that way later] He and
Katagiri both resigned and went over to Page Street.
MD: It wasn't a huge group there. They could easily get somebody else.
He didn't have any problem with that.
DC: Did he ever disappoint you in any way? Were there ways that he
didn't come up to expectations?
MD: Sometimes I would think he was rather buffoonish. He'd act clumsy
sometimes. Not in a bad way. Nothing that worried me. One time when I
told him that Trudy had died (in the hospital) ‑‑ I think perhaps I should
have called him before she died, or at the time she was dying, if that
would have been possible. I didn't know when she was going to die. I
think he might have liked to have been there. When I told him that she
had died he was very emotional on the phone. It almost worried me. But
when he came to the hospital he was completely in control and more his
DC: How was he very emotional?
MD: His voice was cracking with emotion. He was making a very obvious
effort to control himself. I'd never seen that side of him before. It
disturbed me, because I didn't know he was like that. A picture that goes
with that, is a picture of him later, sitting on the altar, and separating
her ashes with chopsticks, one by one. Part of her ashes went to Wyoming
and part stayed here. He looked at each one and would say, "Beautiful
DC: Is there anything else you could say about Trudy?
MD: Her working on Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind was a very satisfying thing
for her to have been able to do, the kind of thing she always wanted to
do. Her philosophy had been leading up to it, and her interest in writing
and everything else. It all came together with her intense interest in
Suzuki and Zen. She had a chance here to accomplish this book which has
grown on to be a very significant thing for a lot of people. She did it
right at the end of her life. She and Suzuki became quite close. That's
probably why he was so emotional when she died.
DC: He said at her funeral he'd never hoped to have that good a disciple.
MD: She had a real way‑seeking mind. Even before she met him she had
that very strongly. When she was young she had . . . quotations from
thinkers and writers ‑‑ trying to distil everything down to some truth.
Then her study of philosophers. It all went to Suzuki. I encouraged her
a lot toward Zen and awakened philosophy. . . .
DC: The idea of philosophy for me is so boring and tedious.
MD: I used to know some of these guys in Berkeley. They were pretty . .
.weird. There was one of those guys that Suzuki told us about, he was
going to commit suicide over there ‑‑ I don't know if he did ‑‑ mad
philosophers getting so overwrought ‑‑ trying to figure everything out
would put you over the edge.
DC: In my particular case, I tried to read philosophy in high school,
college, I just couldn't follow it. I'm just not constitutionally
capable ‑‑ something about attention span ‑‑ but when I read Zen stuff...
MD: Dick used to be interested in some of that and he would talk to us
about Heidegger. Dick would get a Heidegger book and skim it or get a
summary, and then that was Heidegger. Trudy would consider that very
DC: I admire somebody that can skim it or read a synopsis and come up
with a little world‑view ‑‑ I couldn't even do that. I'd forget it.
Way‑seeking mind ‑‑ he used to talk about way‑seeking mind. It would be
interesting to make a list of key things he would bring up like
way‑seeking mind, grandmother mind . . .
[Tape 2 Side A]
DC: Grandmother mind was his interpretation of kind mind, one of Dogen's
3 minds in his Tenzo Kyokun, instructions to the cook. I felt like I had
complete permission not to get involved with the complexity of things.
Not to have to figure out what all the philosophers said. Not to have to
even figure out what Dogen was saying.
MD: You'd just get hung up on it. Why bother?
DC: I really wasn't interested. I did, however, study Dogen and Sandokai
in Japanese and I studied it with Suzuki and other Japanese priests. But
I was just doing it for something to do.
MD: Remember when he would be expounding on the Blue Cliff Records? Bru
Criff Records? That could get a bit tedious, I must say.
DC: They're thinking of publishing the Sandokai lectures. There are
disagreements if it should be done or not. Peter Schneider pointed out
that his lectures on particular texts were not as interesting as the
MD: He'd get sort of technical. You'd have to interpret everything. It
seemed so obscure to us. He'd have to go to great lengths just to make it
barely understandable. Then he'd start talking about what it all meant.
Seemed kind of tedious. But he always ended up making it kind of
interesting ‑‑ at the end. He seemed very interested in it all. He had a
side of him that was kind scholarly.
DC: Definitely. He studied with Kishizawa. But the more I look into it
in Japan, I can see our tendency to exaggerate and idealize things. Some
of that comes from Dick. Dick is Zen Center's primordial exaggerator.
MD: He's a mythmaker.
DC: Right. The idea that Suzuki was a close disciple of Kishizawa Roshi‑
not quite. So-on Roshi was his first teacher and Kishizawa was his second
and he worked closely with him and studied with him for thirty years but
he wasn’t a disciple. He'd go once a month and hear a lecture. I think
Suzuki was important to Kishizawa. They did big ordinations together ‑‑
400 people at a time. They were revitalizing Buddhism. He was inspired
by Kishizawa. He was more than a scholar. He was a Shobogenzo scholar.
But also he was into zazen and practice with an emphasis on Sandokai.
He's got 300 pages of lectures on Sandokai. Sandokai is the meaning of
unity and multiplicity. We chant the text at Zen Center. It came in in
1969 with Tatsugami's arrival. I think there's stuff in there of
interest. But I think it would be a great disappointment to bring it out
the way it is edited at this point.
MD: Regarding Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: I was busy making my
paintings. I was not so involved. When we moved to Mill Valley we
stopped going to zazen every day like we had been in the city for years.
I was getting more into art and less into Zen at that point. She and Dick
would meet and talk about it. She would work on it. She went over the
original tapes to some degree. She would talk to Suzuki a lot about it.
She talked to him about particular points in the lectures she wanted to
clarify. She went non‑stop on it with a real intense interest and
I'm pretty sure that was when were when we were in Mill Valley. She
already had cancer and didn't know what would happen next. Hoping it
would go away, but it was slowly getting worse. She had breast cancer.
She was going through intense stuff ‑‑ my trying to help her by fasting
and being very thin. Diets. Eventually the hospital. I tried to keep
her out as much as possible as she preferred to be out and could do more
things. But it got more and more painful. I don't think she was into all
that when she was working on this. She had a respite. The book came out
in '70 and she died in '69.
So she was working on it in '68 and '69 probably. My memory for dates is
real bad. I don't remember her talking to me a lot about it though I'm
sure she did talk to me about it. I don't remember things like that very
well. It was very satisfying for her to do the book and it brought her
closer to Suzuki. I remember being at Tassajara when she was quite sick.
She had trouble moving around. We were all in Suzuki's cabin. She was
lying there. She seemed very happy to be there, with him. He seemed
happy to have her there. That was just at the end. I on the other hand
was getting kind of weird dealing with it. I was getting fed up and
impatient. Emotionally confused about a lot of things that were going
on. Difficult time. She seemed quite calm. The whole experience was
rather intense and quite inspiring. Interesting.
DC: Did Angie come here?
MD: She was in Mill Valley. She helped take care of the kids. I sent
the kids back to my parents at one point because it got impossible and
they were willing to take them on for awhile. Then Angie and I just took
care of Trudy together. Eventually just me. It took quite a lot of doing
‑‑ cooking and carrying her around a lot to various events. Carrying her
out to the car and carrying her into a restaurant and stuff like that.
She got lighter and lighter. But her spirit was great. She became a
lightning rod for a lot of people. People would come around and get
whatever they got out of the experience. It would happen that people
would bring a lot to it. She could just be herself, and they would take
something away from it. She wrote quite a lot of poetry toward the end of
her life which was quite good. I've got it someplace. Maybe you can look
DC: One thing I've got in mind is archiving, so that has no limits to
it. Something like that would be good.
MD: That would be good to get out there in some way. Some of it's really
DC: Zen Mind Beginner's Mind is the magnum opus of Suzuki from one point
of view. Everything he said that's recorded can be divided into Zen Mind
Beginner's Mind and everything else. That's a lot because of Trudy's
work. She did a great job. Everybody wants to come up with a book that
other people love. There's hardly anything like it.
MD: I've met people from time to time who have told me that the book has
saved (seized?) their life. And twice my son Will had been trying to get
into college, or something, and Zen Mind Beginner's Mind will come up and
he's had the opportunity to say well my mother edited that book. We can't
help but think it helped Suzuki to accomplish what he wanted to
DC: Definitely in this book I should tell the story of how Zen Mind
Beginners Mind came about, so any details that could make that story more
MD: I think Dick could give you the best information on that.
DC: Here's a Dick story: Why did Tassajara come about? Well, Suzuki's
original idea was that everybody would just have their jobs and come sit
at Zen Center and practice in the city. But he was disappointed because
nobody but me got it. That's Dick's explanation: nobody but he could
practice in the city. And because nobody could practice Suzuki wanted to
find a place to practice in the country. Not only does he say this now,
he said this back then. I almost think I remember him saying it in front
of Suzuki. Dick did a lot of outrageous things that people didn't like
him for, but he tended to do them in front of Suzuki.
MD: To test things.
DC: He got a tremendous amount of support from Suzuki.
MD: But was it Dick's or Suzuki's idea to get Tassajara.
DC: Dick says it was Suzuki's, that he needed the place to work with
people closer because it wasn't working in the city.
MD: I remember hearing something to that effect. That Suzuki did want
something like Tassajara where he could get away and work with people. I
don't know much about that. I was always trying to get away from having
to take a lot of responsibility at Zen Center. So I was just happy to go
mail out the goddamn mailers. Graham and I were down there doing that.
And I designed a couple of posters for benefits.
DC: I have the impression of Graham having been somebody that Dick
modeled himself after.
MD: They were quite close. The story I heard from Dick was that Graham
was a hopeless alcoholic.
DC: I know Graham very well. I see Graham these days and he is a
MD: At some earlier point in his life, before he got into Zen, Dick said
the doctor looked at him and just said, you're through, you're dead, he
was so bad. Then he became like the drill sergeant. Graham was the
toughest guy who never moved and always sat in full lotus, back straight
as a ramrod. He was Mr. Tough Guy. That went along with being an
alcoholic. If you have that tendency, perhaps you have to be extra strict
so you won't start drinking. He was a very inspiring figure. He seemed
able to tough out any sesshin without complaining.
DC: I talked to Graham recently. He lives in Healdsburg now. I used to
see him in Japan. He and Dick were very close, but their relationship
fell apart when Graham went to Santa Fe to help him with the restaurant.
MD: I was there and saw them both there while he was working on the
restaurant. I saw them working together. I didn't see any fights or
DC: Dick would say that Graham was drinking too much to be effective.
Graham will say Dick was too crazy. Graham would be happy to speak with
Dick again, but there was a definite falling out.
MD: Some people just change, like that, when they drink. I've never been
DC: He's not a person who has a radical change, but he tends to drink a
lot. It's amazing he's still drinking. He was talking to me about
dying. He felt like his life was over about 6 years ago, he was so
MD: That's so funny. You see a guy who seems so strong in Zen, and then
he's like that. He was making such a big point about being tough. Too
much. Interesting to look at people and how they turn out. Suzuki told
an interesting story about ‑‑ there's a group of people walking along a
stream. Everyone's looking for the best pebble. Some people are up in
front and they're searching very intensely, running forward. But there
are a couple of guy in the back who are just enjoying the day, laughing,
talking. One says, "Oh, what's that?" And pick up a pebble. He didn't
want people to get caught by that and try too hard. He looked the
cucumber. His teacher always called him the third cucumber ‑‑ the one
that's all bent up.
DC: Crooked cucumber.
MD: Sometimes they also refer to it as third cucumber.
DC: I plan to call the book Crooked Cucumber.
MD: And the horses. That's a great story. The one that runs when he
just sees the shadow of the whip. The one that runs when he feels the
whip on his skin. The one that runs when the whip strikes him and the
pain really sinks in. The last horse only runs when the whip sinks into
the marrow of his bones. He would say that doesn't mean that the first
horse is better than the second horse or that the second horse is better
than the fourth horse. It's all the same, really.
DC: I look forward to finding what lecture that's in. In your life as an
artist, is there anything you can say about what you learned from him that
you've applied? And what you didn't learn? And what other things you've
learned since then? How does he fit into your life?
MD: I continue to sit. I've been doing that since I started 30 years
ago. I mostly sit by myself. I combine it with shakuhachi playing, quite
Occasionally I go and sit with a group and recently I've been sitting with
Ed at Green Gulch, one‑day sittings. I like the way Ed has changed over
the years, and I feel kinship with him. He's very relaxed about
everything. He gets more out of people that way. I enjoy sitting with Ed
and the group that he has. A lot of beginners like to go there. I
mentioned earlier, before Trudy and I went to start sitting, and just were
going to lectures, in my own mind I felt the words were ‑‑ that I was
going to blow over in the first windstorm. That's the way I felt. I felt
vulnerable. I wanted to do something about that. I wanted to feel less
vulnerable and more solid, more grounded. I wanted to feel less
vulnerable to the winds. My study with Suzuki and practice with him has
made me feel more rooted, more stable. I have quite a few mental problems
in my family. That might be part of my desire ‑‑ You read about people
who got deeply involved in spiritual communities, then wake up one day and
realize they have no life, no children, no wife. I'm glad that I didn't
(get so involved), because at a certain point I was really torn. I
couldn't figure out if I should be a full‑time Zen monk or an artist. I
was having a terrible time figuring that out. The life style seemed so
different. One seemed so strict, the other not. I was going back and
forth trying to sit on two chairs at the same time. Finally I decided I
should be an artist. As soon as I decided that, everything got cleared
up, and I didn't feel tense any more. I was more relaxed about it. I
could do art first, and then I could sit. I could still sit. The other
way around would have been hard.
DC: There's something perverted about the idea of full‑time Zen. It's
such a strong idea, such a strong feeling that people have to grapple
MD: Or just helping in a community. There's a lot of work to be done.
Older people have to have all this work to do for others.
DC: Is it for others, or is it for an institution that has a life of its
own? You have to spend all your time updating the mailing list in the
MD: But I'm glad that Zen Center's still around. That I can participate
with the group if I want to.
DC: It's a matter of balance.
MD: In the long run, my own life, meeting Suzuki and following the way he
taught me, has colored everything. It's something that continues. I feel
now that I'm getting older, more the pull into practice. It's different
now. In many ways it's a lot easier to practice now. There's so much
baggage that's gone.
DC: I find that I have less frenetic energy.
MD: Yeah. Impatience, distractions. Much easier to just sit there and
have a little peace and quiet.
DC: What other things have you brought into your life besides art and
Zen? Have you been influenced by any other teachers, teachings, readings?
MD: Other teachers would be art teachers. Fred Martin was an important
teacher for me, at one time the director of the Art Institute. I haven't
sought out other religious teachers. I occasionally think about it.
Sometimes I used to sit with Mel, too. Sometimes I sit with Ed. That
seems what I'm looking for there. I don't feel the need to search for
DC: Or there's the search for the great teacher. Many people are doing
that. There's a guy named John Tarrant, a Zen teacher in Santa Rosa who's
a really neat guy. He's an Aitken student. He writes good stuff. He's
very clear. Andrew Cohen is interesting. I’ve suggested they invite him
to speak at Green Gulch.
MD: Michael Wenger was thinking about asking me. I can't talk to a bunch
DC: The reason I'm doing it, even though I don't want that kind of role,
is that I think it's good for it to be spread around.
MD: You can do it too. You could always just read part of your book.
DC: I don't want to do that.
Mike Dixon on the phone October 10, 1994
DC: (I told Mike of Ananda's point about Zen Center moving from a loose
lay community to a priest trip and Mike said that that might have been
Dick Baker's making as much as anyone.)
MD: "Without Dick,
it might have stayed very much the way it was and Zen Center might not
even exist now. The year he became president, probably 63 or 4 or
something, I lost by one vote. And he just started doing everything. He
had all these ideas and eventually I found myself (in 66) down in the
basement sending out 15,000 fund raising brochures to raise money for
Tassajara. Dick stated talking about how we could be priests and we could
be masters. He was the first guy to have that idea as a possibility and
we all thought he was nuts.
DC: "Did you see SR as having an unattainable status?"
MD: "Kind of. I don't think that most of us ever thought beyond the fact
that here he is and we're studying with him. It's not like he was a God,
but we didn't have the idea that we could be like that, or something."
DC: "That's exactly the difference between Reb Anderson and me. From the
moment he arrived at Zen Center he was on a crash program to get
enlightened, be a priest, be abbot, become a Zen master and all. I was
there for a good time. But Reb and Dick also had an element of devotion,
they were strongly devoted to Suzuki. Anyway, before I was ordained, Reb
brought me to his room at Page Street and lectured me on taking ordination
seriously, realizing that I was embarking on a new course, leaving behind
the lay world, becoming a role model, an example for others. We were
worlds apart. I understood what he was saying but I had no interest in
it. Now I think maybe he was right. I had no business being ordained as
a priest. I was just doing it to be closer to Suzuki, and there was that
to it at least at the first. But when I was ordained he was clearly
dying, Katagiri suggested we postpone the ordination, and I strongly
insisted we go through with it - I think that made a difference as my
fellow ordainees were less assertive than me. I did not trust the future
and I wanted the status of priest, disciple of Suzuki sealed. So I was
ordained partly out of ambition and I think there is an element of that to
ordination. But the ones with greater ambition went farther, and maybe so
it should be. Silas once said that Zen masters are people who, among
other attributes, wanted to be Zen masters. So the point I'm getting at I
guess is that Zen Center must have been shaped not only by the vision,
plan, ambition and intention of Suzuki but by the same of his disciples
and students - especially Dick Baker whose vision was fairly clear.
MD: "Well I was thinking about being an artist, thinking seriously about
that and going to art school and was terrified about taking responsibility
in the Zen thing even though I was really interested in sitting and being
with Suzuki. I didn't want to be running things and was really glad that
I lost that vote and didn't have to do so much - though I did become
treasurer and I think I was vice-president - I didn't have to do much and
I really didn't want to. I just wanted to sit and be there with him. But
Dick had big plans right from the beginning - well he'd been around for a
while so he'd probably been working up on it. I always had the feeling
that Suzuki just went along with it. Like, oh okay, let's do that but if
it hadn't of been for Dick I don't think those things would of happened."
DC: "Do you remember Suzuki wanting to get a place in the country or
anything like that - where did that idea come from?"
MD: "Well I don't know. I don't remember him talking to the group about
it but maybe he talked to Dick or some other guys about it - I don't
know. Hmm - as a matter of fact I guess I do have some vague memory of
him wanting some kind of a retreat, some kind of place where he could get
away and do that kind of practice. So I wouldn't be surprised if he did
have some idea like that and maybe that is what lead to Tassajara."
DC: "Who wanted it more, Suzuki or Dick?"
MD: "I don't know, I just remember events and feelings that relate to me.
Trudy had studied Philosophy at Wellesley - Heidegger and Wittgenstein. I
took her to see Suzuki and it didn't take her long to latch on to that.
Heidegger had supposedly read D.T. Suzuki at one point and had said that
if he understood correctly what he'd just read it was what he'd been
trying to say for the last fifty years. I'd heard about Suzuki through an
art student who said this is a really interesting guy who you should go
check him out and so I went over and heard a lecture and thought he was
really interesting thought at that point it was hard to figure out just
what he was talking about because he didn't speak very good English. And
the whole idea of Zen was pretty far out to us in those days - not too
many people were talking about things like that."
DC: "When was that?"
MD: "That was in '62."
DC: "And his English still wasn't that good."
MD: "You could understand him but it certainly wasn't as good as it got
DC: "It sure got good later in the late sixties and till he died."
MD: "More than the English it was just some of the concepts - the whole
thing seemed very impressive and exotic but to me personally it was more
his presence than anything he was actually saying that made me want to be
around him and know him."