Interview with E*l*i*z*a*b*e*t*h S*a*w*y*e*r
E*l*i*z*a*b*e*t*h S*a*w*y*e*r (Idon't think she wants this coming up if people Google her name - dc)
[This is a collection of various discussions I had with E, old Zennie friend and nearly neighbor with a lot of interesting things to say.--DC] [This must be from the late 1990s - DC,11-09]
I remember the difference between the impression of Suzuki-roshi's body in robes or in a t-shirt and pants. I think the robes added a certain mystique. I'd see him in his Japanese t-shirt and baggy pants in his apartment. When I first met him I was very intimidated by him - a sort of presumption that he was some kind of magical, special person. At our first dokusan he made me feel like I was the teacher, I was the Buddha.
Hands - his hands were so intelligent, delicate. I laughed at first because he was kind of monkey-like, chimp-like. He had a kind of impish look. He seemed frail and unusual for a Japanese. But he didn't look frail when he worked. He was physically enigmatic. He had both an innocence and a ferocity.
Chuck Hoy was sweeping and I was sitting on the front steps and there was a black girl of 13 to 15 across the street in an apartment and she had her radio in the window pointed out to the street and she was boogieing and hollering out the window to the rhythm of the music and Chuck was mumbling about how he couldn't fit this into his practice and SR came out the front door and hollered, roared at the young girl. And then he spun around on his heels and went back into the building. It was the perfect answer to Chuck's I don't know how to fit this into my practice.
I was a new student and I hadn't been at Zen Center long enough to merit going to dokusan. At the time they asked you to be around for a year. But SR heard that I was considering leaving cause I had been corresponding with Baba Haridas. So he asked me to come to dokusan so I did and he asked me what was my plan and I said I don't have a plan and he called me some kind of a Buddha - I wouldn't remember because I wasn't familiar with it. I kept worrying about spending his time because people were so protective of him at the time. So as we talked I told him about Babaji and that I was thinking of leaving and that he'd said some things to me that were psychic about me before he'd met me and stuff like that. He described me and my friends were coming back and I was going to leave. And then I heard the han for five thirty zazen and I thought this is my out - I'll let this guy off the hook cause I'm taking up his precious time so I said well there's the han I'll go to five thirty zazen and he said, oh, you're going? Oh. I don't usually go to that zazen but since you're going I'll go. So I went down to that zazen and he was there sitting and he started lecturing and he said, I don't understand yoga, but I know that it's very important to rock back and forth before you sit and after. It was clear that he was talking to me and that he cared about me and that he was tracking. He cared whether I stayed or left. That really impressed me. I was a Buddha to him and he really believed it and I was a teacher and he believed it. And I thought this guy has some special quality. He can see right through me and he can see all my foibles and he accepts me so why don't I accept myself? Richard Baker's teaching was I see right through you and you're not a very good person and you've got to knuckle under and I did cause I thought he was right.
And I had a dream around that time that Suzuki Roshi got on a train and when he got off he turned into Babaji. Around that same time of my being a new student and not knowing him at all, I stayed at the DiPrima family for a month while Dianne was away doing poetry readings. And one day I was in the building and SR came up to me and said, where have you been? I haven't seen you for two weeks. I'd been in their house and Rudra was a baby. I hadn't seen SR - remember he used to bow to people at the end of service. And he knew he hadn't seen me in that amount of time.
And then another time I was setting the table - I was taking care of the DiPrima family and I had to do my house job and come back and Okusan came down and asked me if I wanted to come to lunch and I said I couldn't do it and I regretted that.
Much later when Tada Sensei came - the Penners [Dentist with Japanese wife who helped us out so much.] in Pacific Grove were sick of him - he was an old guy who smoked cigarettes and burned holes in their tatamis and they wanted to get rid of him so they sicked him on Zen Center and I was a brand new student and I wanted to take classes with him. I asked Katagiri Roshi could I set up a class and he said sure. He'll teach us to paint. The staff were all mad at me for not going through channels but I didn't know about that. And I started following Tada around like an anja because I'd seen other women do that. Some people were mad at me. So I went to Yvonne and R.. R. said Yoshimura told people not to tell me what a problem that old guy was because I wouldn't take care of him if I knew what a pain in the butt he was. But lots of people thought he was a kind of saint. He drew Bodhidharmas with sumi ink all the time. I'd clean up his room. At one point Suzuki Roshi came into Tada-sensei's room and I was there and he thanked me for taking care of Tada Sensei and he pointed to a little piece of fruit in one of Tada Sensei's paintings and he said, this is you. He was very supportive of what I was doing. I think it was fairly pure and that Suzuki Roshi recognized that - my copying the other anjas and my wanting to take care of this man. G. was furious with me - she didn't want to give me the keys to a Zen Center vehicle so I could go pick up Tada Sensei every week. R. said I should pay for his room and board with the class money when Tada Sensei lived in the building.
Another time my oldest sister Nancy came to Zen Center and wanted to dance in the courtyard and I asked several staff members and they said, we don't do things like this at Zen Center. So Suzuki Roshi and I were standing in the courtyard one day and I said, my sister wants to dance in the courtyard and he said, when? and I said, uh - Sunday." He said, Okay, I'll be there. So we did it. He and twenty other people showed up. I'd put up little posters with pictures of my sister on them and written in white ink on them that she was going to dance in the courtyard and people came and enjoyed it.
I was leaving and Daya and I for some reason decided to take Tada Sensei to Golden Gate Park. Day invited Suzuki Roshi and Okusan and he said yes. R. heard we were going to take them in the van and he wouldn't let us drive. He insisted on driving. He didn't trust us. And then when we got into the van, R. was very tense and he started the van and accelerated and it was in reverse and it went backwards and it embarrassed him. He was just trying to take care of Suzuki Roshi but he was too uptight to trust somebody else. So we went shooting down the street backwards and he was very embarrassed. He didn't join us - he just drove the vehicle and stayed in it. And totally loony S. who'd been found sitting in a box outside Suzuki Roshi's door, ended up getting in the van with us and sitting in full lotus - he was so destroyed. So the seven of us were on the way to the park and I was telling Daya about a dream I'd had and Suzuki Roshi turned around and said, you eat dreams. So we went to the park. We were in the Hall of Flowers and Scott was like a spook hovering around. And this drunk guy came up and started giving us a tour and he was talking to Suzuki Roshi and Suzuki Roshi was just nodding and the guy was pointing out things that were incorrect. I said what are we going to do and Daya said, Suzuki Roshi can take care of himself. So this guy was in front leading this group on a bogus tour and talking away and all of a sudden Suzuki Roshi veered off and started going in a different direction and the guy kept going on. At one point Suzuki Roshi was lying in the grass in his brown robes looking up at the sky and Okusan was sitting down and I told Suzuki Roshi I had a letter from Babaji, did he want to see it and he said yes and he read the letter.
I came to Zen Center in 1971. Pat MacMahon I'd known in HS. Debbie Madison, Blanch Hartman, Pat and I all went to the same HS. Pat was the valedictorian in the class ahead of me. We were friends and he'd listen to me talk about my immature view of spirituality. After he went to Reed College he wrote me - I was living in Mendicino at the time at B.R. Farm. P. had tried to capture me but even at my tender age I knew he was fucked up - and Pat said, I think I know what you're talking about now. I met this Zen teacher and I started sitting zazen. And then he wrote another letter saying I'm getting married and I'm going to Tassajara for my honeymoon, do you want to come? I want to introduce you to Zen. He thought I needed a container for my spirituality and he thought he had the answer and to some degree he did. So I was getting sick of Mendicino so I said yes.
Pat arranged for me to go to the city center first which I had to before I went to Tassajara. So he arranged for me to go in December of 1970 but I couldn't do it so called and asked if I could come in January and they said yeah. I showed up at Sokoji and they said Zen Center had just moved down the street [1970?] ten blocks and walked in the front door and Pat Herreshoff and crazy P.K. were the people I met. They got the shika [guest host] which was Chuck Hoy and he came down and showed me around in his very spacy way. He asked me what was my name and how I was and I told him and said I feel like I'm home. I stayed there for a year and moved outside the building and I asked if I could move into the building and R. wouldn't let me cause he thought I was too sexy like Darlene - he thought there'd be too much trouble around us. R. finally told me I had to talk to KR and Katagiri Roshi asked me why'd you come to see me? and I told him why and he said who told you to do that? and I said R. and he said, I think everybody should move into the building. So I moved in for six months then went off to Babaji's for a year and then I came back and Suzuki Roshi had just died. R. didn't think I should go to Tassajara but Yvonne thought I should and Ma Renu, Babaji's patron paid for my first practice period and I was on scholarship thereafter.
I was such a young student and I wasn't really a student of Buddhism but I got from Suzuki Roshi: I see through you and I accept you and enlightenment isn't something special. It took me years to see that he really meant it.
I studied with Katagiri and accepted Dick Baker sight unseen because he took over. Since then I've realized that enlightenment isn't something special. When I left Zen Center I started to get in touch with something I had shunned which was my intuition. I started studying with women teachers. Women at Zen Center weren't treated with as much respect as men. I wanted to reclaim my intuition. I had understood that I shouldn't study the occult or psychic reading and I had talent in those areas. And I started opening up to that again - astrology, the enneagram, psychic reading. I studied with Helen Palmer. And I reclaimed my creativity. Baker Roshi told me point blank I couldn't pursue that if I was going to be a Zen Center. Suzuki Roshi never gave me those ideas. It was the party line. I thought I'd been told to give those things up. I reclaimed the feminine and my identification with myself rather than with a male teacher. And I reclaimed female power. The spirituality that I've investigated since then has been earth based eclectic shamanism. I recoiled from Japanese forms when I left Zen Center. I've also studied Youruba [sp?]with Lusiah Teish [sp?]. I kind of threw out the baby with the bath water and I've come to see there's a real solid integrity there at Zen Center and that people there really are interested in compassion. In spite of our delusions some value remains. Women are influencing it more and it remains important to me.
Once Baker Roshi left a book on his table when he went away and when I was cleaning up I picked it up and opened it and saw a post card and I didn't turn it over to read it but I picked it up to look at it and stuck it back in and when he got back, after two weeks he said to me that someone who reads someone else's mail can't be trusted. It took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. And he had a book of mazes that he'd figure out by just looking at without putting his finger or a pencil down and he did one and then said here you try it and I wouldn't but when he left I did and I could see the trail of his energy left on the page by his concentration and all I had to do was to follow it to solve the maze.
Once Governor Brown, Jacque Barzagi, Grey Davis and their women arrived and Baker Roshi had to go and he told me to take care of them and I didn't know what to do and was feeling overwhelmed and Jacque was being a real asshole, heavily flirting with Grey Davis's girlfriend, Kate, and he was lying down in BR's study reading stuff at his desk and I didn't know how to handle it and Dick had told me no one messes with stuff on my desk. And then one Sunday Jacque asked me to get two dozen eggs at the sale and they wouldn't give me two dozen and Jacque demanded another dozen so I went down under the barn and got another dozen eggs. I asked Paul R. to come hang out and help me out. He wouldn't do it but he must have talked to Dick because I got fired because of that. And ZC was sort of an heirarchical organization that it hurt a lot.
I remember Ruthie D. saying that she was on the bridge and she was having an affair and Suzuki-roshi took his stick out and hit her with it and said you should sit more. He was furious about that and about Kobun and her and Kobun marrying red-haired Harriet. [I don't know if he was furious about that but Harriet was furious at Suzuki and never forgave him for continuing to postpone their marriage because Kobun's father was a big wig in the Soto-shu. Suzuki was on the spot about it. Okusan kept asking me if they're staying in the same cabin and I told her to forget about it--that we weren't in Japan. It got so bad that Kobun and Harriet (who'd come to see Suzuki to talk about wedding dates, left Tassajara in tears. I carried Harriet crying to their Volkswagen and she and Kobun drove off and got married--at some city hall I think. After that, anytime I visited them, I'd talk to Harriet and her mother for a while before I visited Kobun (she hated the way people ignored them and fawned all over Kobun). She and her mother would talk about "that nasty little Suzuki" and go on and on saying terrible things about him. I loved it. I hardly ever got the chance to hear anyone say anything bad about Suzuki. I found it refreshing. And I also thought that she was right in that Suzuki should have married them.--DC]
We teased Okusan [Mrs. Suzuki] because she was angry at Dianne cause she wouldn't sew David's robes. We were talking about what a meanie Nakamura Sensei was. I always called her a lioness - so hard on her students. Okusan said Nakamura told her she was always angry and Okusan said she wasn't angry then Dianne reminded her how angry she was about the robes. She said Okusan wouldn't talk to her for a year and a half.
DC - I remember Okusan used to sew my robes but I don't remember her being so angry that Dianne didn't. But then I wasn't necessarily aware of anything back then (Not saying how much I am now either).
Louise said the same thing. She said to Okusan you were very angry at me for not wanting to be a good priest's wife. Okusan said that was then, this is now. I said yeah, that was 25 years ago. I have some nice photos of it. Lynn Hesselbart came to see her and we all went out. Okusan has always been really supportive of me, almost effusive. When Jonathan was born she came over and brought me a can of beer. I was never her student and rarely lived where she was but I had a connection with Suzuki-roshi in the early days and she reminded me how well I took care of Tada Sensei in the early days. She reminded me of that. The staff in the building didn't like it but she and Suzuki-roshi thought it was great. I was almost taken aback by her warmth. She said she'd been inundated with invitations.
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