Interviews with Grahame Petchey
[DC comments in brackets made upon editing in 07/04. I do not correct all of the mistakes of memory in here but it's mostly right.]
On the phone with Grahame - early 1994
DC: I like to hear what is important to people. I could divide what I've been getting into Zen Center history, Suzuki Roshi history, and teaching stories. I'd like to hear whatever you have to say.
GP: Three broad categories. I'd appreciate a prompt to get me started.
DC: What's the first thing you remember? Let other things come out of the history. What's your background.
GP: I came in 1961. Suzuki Roshi arrived in May of '59. I came approximately two years later than he did to the States. We were living in Paris prior to that. One of the things I was studying while in Paris was Buddhism. I found books on Buddhism in her mothers library, pretty much the extent of what was available at that time.
DC: You were familiar with some of the Buddhism in England at the time?
GP: Through the Buddhist Society, Christmas Humphreys --
DC: Had you met him?
GP: At that time, no. But I'd read his books, books which were contemporary at that time. When Pauline and I came to San Francisco, one of the first things we did in terms of, for want of better words, social life, was to try to contact Buddhist groups. Because we were conscious of the fact that there was a lot of interest in Buddhism in the Bay Area compared with Europe. I use the words social life - we weren't looking to have a social life, we were looking to try to find people who were interested in the things we were. As part of that process I found myself at Zen Center I think probably around June of 1960. I got the time wrong. Zen Center at that time in the evening started at 5:30 and I arrived at 6:00. I just waited until the thing was over at 6:30, and then I met Suzuki Roshi for the first time.
DC: You got there late, so you just waited outside?
GP: I just waited in the office, and was kind of surprised by the noises I heard. I heard the kyosaku [the stick], and I didn't know what was going on in there. And I heard a lot of heavy breathing. I was rather amazed that when the people did come out, I expected them to be dressed like they would be in the Buddhist Society in London, all in pressed shirts like I was. Instead people came out in blue jeans and sweaters and very hippie looking.
DC: Even back then?
GP: Yeah. Finally Suzuki Roshi came out and sat down and spent about 45 minutes -- oh no, longer. I remember now what we did. We spent about half an hour talking after everyone had gone. And then we went back into the sodo [zendo] and he showed me how to sit and we sat together for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes he said, "you take the sitting position very well. You have no problems." And then he said, "Can you come back at 5:45 tomorrow morning?" I said, "I'm a married man." We had no children. But I couldn't believe I'd get up at 5:45 and go to a temple when you've got a day's work ahead of you. But I did it. And having gone that one morning I don't think I ever missed another morning until probably David was born. I went every morning, every evening, every Sunday, every lecture. I just never stopped.
DC: The zendo then was where?
GP: It was in Sokoji of course, on the second floor. We had not extended at that point into using of the main synagogue. It was just the meeting room, social room. Probably a year or two later we extended the sitting into the top area of the main synagogue. At that time none of that existed.
DC: Was there any altar upstairs then?
GP: Yes, there was an altar. Check me out carefully, David, because I might be confused between '60 and '61, as you talk to other people. I can check that because I have my immigration papers. [It was 61]
DC: I will. In fact, I've got it written down. It's a question I can ask Pauline too. I'm a stickler for details, and I'll go back to that.
GP: I can tell you right now. I've got my baptismal certificate here, and somewhere I've got my draft card. Somewhere I've got my first green card which will put everything in total perspective.
DC: How was Suzuki's English back then?
GP: Reasonably proficient to the point where he could explain about Zen teaching. And actually in a very meaningful way. I think his lack of sophistication in the English language was really helpful in making it more comprehensible.
DC: Interesting comment. Was he going to night school then?
GP: No he wasn't. Actually, now you can get my year right, because I think Okusan arrived about the same time as I did. Was that '60 or '61?
DC: I don't think she came until '61. Was she there when you came?
GP: No, she arrived the same time. So put everything on '61, what I'm talking about. That'll keep us on track.
DC: Who was there when you were there?
GP: Phillip Wilson, Betty Warren, people probably you don't remember. Connie Luick, Bob Hense, the person who tried to get Zen Center together but never did, Bill Kwong. Bill McNeil had left. He'd gone to Japan.
DC: Had anybody been ordained at that point?
GP: No, no, I was the first to get ordained.
DC: That must have been a big deal.
GP: Well it wasn't actually in terms of the ceremony. It was extremely simple. It was Pauline, Okusan, and Suzuki Roshi and myself at six o'clock in the evening, and it was done symbolically. I didn't get my head shaved or anything like that. He just waved the razor over my head. We both needed to go through the process so I could go into Eiheiji.
DC: When was that?
GP: I'm going to guess. 1963.
DC: And Phillip went after you?
DC: And Jean Ross went to Eiheiji before you, but she went as a layperson.
GP: Yes. I went twice. I went in '63 from September through December.
DC: You went to Eiheiji in '63?
DC: Did you go to a whole practice period then?
GP: No. I was the first white man to ever enter that place as a priest. I went in September which is actually the worst time of year to enter, but never mind about that. And stayed through the rohatsu sesshin and then came back. [Rohatsu sesshin is in December]
DC: Well that sounds like the whole practice period.
GP: It actually wasn't, because the dates were different. I have it all written down somewhere. I kept a diary of that entire experience. That diary is something I often think about burning.
DC: Oh don't do that!
GP: Actually Lew Richmond begged me not to because I told him that I had it. It's a great resource for someone who's studying culture shock. I really fell apart. Being a person who prides myself, have done all my life, on trying to keep myself together, it's pretty alarming reading.
DC: I would just love to read it. Think about it. But you adjusted very well to Japan.
GP: Not on that trip. Eventually.
DC: I guess Japan, back then, there was more to adjust to than there would be now.
GP: I went back 2 or 3 centuries. The road between Eiheiji and Kyoto was not paved at that point. There were no freeways. They were building their first one between downtown Tokyo and Haneda airport. It was thought of as a backward country at that point. Eiheiji put me back centuries. I think I've written that in my diary somewhere.
DC: They probably hadn't built their hotel yet, had they?
GP: Oh no. You mean at Eiheiji itself? No, no. They had accommodations for guests and pilgrims, but they hadn't got their hotel there. But skip the whole period, we're talking about Suzuki Roshi.
DC: You went twice. When did you come back?
GP: The reason this all happened was that between '61 and '63, I think the only time I ever missed a zazen period was when David was born. I was really going for it. Nothing could stop me. I just focussed my life around zazen. And somehow made everything else work around it. But I didn't seem to be getting anywhere. And I kept on asking Suzuki Roshi questions which I now understand are stupid. "What is the meaning of all of this?" "Even though I practice like this, I still don't seem to deepen my understanding of life." I bugged him and bugged him until one day he said, "You know, I can't answer your questions. And very few people can. I'm only just a very little person in terms of understanding Zen. In Japan I only know six who really truly understand the Zen way. And they have much bigger understanding than I do." I'm trying to remember his English. So he said, "If you really want to understand the meaning of Buddhism you have to go and study there, study with these people." I'm sorry, I've skipped one trip. This is not the first trip, this is the second trip to Japan. I still have those six names written down in his own handwriting.
DC: Oh you do? I would be most interested in --
GP: I've got to find them. They could even be in England. But I kept that piece of paper. [It's never been found]
DC: I remember who some of those were. [He'd told me before]
GP: Rindo Fujimoto, Kodo Sawaki.
DC: I can't remember anybody else.
GP: You wouldn't for a very good reason. I think two of them had died before I got there. And that was only about six weeks from the time he wrote them down to the time I got to Japan. The other person I did contact, but I was told he was too sick to take any more disciples.
DC: Was Noiri one of them?
GP: Possibly. I don't have a list in front of me. I'll make a note to try to find it. Anyway, he gave me those and suggest that I go to Japan to deepen my understanding with people who knew better than he did. At least that's what he pretended. So let's skip again.
DC: On the second trip did you go to Eiheiji?
GP: Yes. He wanted me to go for one or two years. He talked to Pauline about it before we left. We had two children, and she was adamant that that was not going to be on. She said something like maybe one year. "But I'm going to go to Japan with him. And the children are going to go to Japan with him. At least that's some contact, but just disappearing into a monastery for a year is not on." So the whole family went. Pauline, and mother-in-law, the children, the whole lot.
DC: For Japanese going off for a year, they can do that.
GP: Their society is set up differently. It was a ridiculous suggestion. Within the context of California life at that time.
DC: What did Suzuki Roshi learn from your going to Japan.
GP: The first time I came back and said I really didn't want to talk about my experience too much. Because I was really horrified. I had gone there expecting to find a group of people who were interested and determined to deepen their understanding of their lives. What I found was exactly what I found when I went to Rome as someone studying in a Catholic monastery. I found corruption. All the way through. It horrified me. In some part of my diary, I just couldn't believe that this was the head temple of Soto Zen Buddhism. It was awful. Across the border. There was only one guy - he wasn't there the first time - I was thinking of our friend who is now in New Mexico. He was there the second time I went. Kobun Chino. We were students together the second trip. Anyway the first trip was pretty nasty.
DC: Tatsugami was there your first trip?
GP: Yeah, he was the nice guy. He was one of the guys I liked. I traveled to Tokyo with him. He was a good guy. To me, anyway.
DC: I liked him a lot. He tried to take over Zen Center, but that's alright. He was pretty clear. He didn't hide his motives.-He wasn't Machiavellian. But he wanted to take over. Actually, he thought he had. He was telling people in Japan that Tassajara was his monastery and he was planning on moving there permanently. That's the way I understand it.
GP: He was also a very straight person in a number of ways, which I can detail later, but we're talking about Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi, not Tatsugami. Anyway, the first trip had been a pretty awful experience, except for the Rohatsu Sesshin. I had been hospitalized several times during that first three months for malnutrition. I finally overcame it. My body learned how to live on the rice diet.
DC: It was just white rice, miso, pickles?
GP: No, it was brown rice, very good actually --
DC: They were serving brown rice at Eiheiji?
GP: Brown rice with gruel which is a mixture of white rice and barley. Great. I really loved that taste. But that's all we got was the rice and soup which was much too salty for me. Plus a little side dish. I found out all about it later when I came back I went to Kaiser and had a medical exam. The doctor there told me that the body can synthesize 24 of the necessary 28 proteins from a starch diet. But it does take 2 to 3 months to adjust to that. I didn't have that kind of time at the beginning and I didn't know what was happening to me. Combined with the culture shock and language barrier and all the other shit I had to put up with - missing my wife, my child - it was just a miserable period. Apart from the Rohatsu, which was great. Because there I could perform exactly on an equal basis. I was at a disadvantage doing everything else in that place. But sitting I could do. I could do it better than the others. It was not culture based, that's right.
DC: So, you came back after how long?
GP: Three months.
DC: Had you written him in that time?
GP: Yeah. We had some correspondence. The letters are unfortunately in storage in England. Nice letters. Encouragement. Pauline went to see him once because she was really worried about the stuff she was getting from me. You may want to talk to her about that. She would have a pretty clear memory of it.
DC: I haven't talked to her much in 15 years or something, but she and I used to talk a lot. I remember how good her memory was and how much fun she was to talk with. I'll definitely get back to her.
GP: She went to see Suzuki Roshi because she was real worried about my general state of health. Physically and mentally. He did write encouragement at that point. But he clearly did not understand what I was going through. He had no idea.
DC: When you came back and talked to him, did he get an idea then?
GP: No, not really. He asked me to give lectures about my experiences, but to shut up about the negative parts. You know, the eating of meat, the drinking sessions, all of the things that horrified me. Hoichi [Hoitsu Suzuki, Shunryu's eldest son] was there at that time. He was kind of taking care of me. He knows quite a bit about that period. I met Hoichi about 20 years later, briefly, and he said, "I really know now what you were going through." What he meant was he had spent some time in America and had his own troubles here. He didn't understand at that time. He was a young Japanese kid wondering why is this guy having these kinds of problems?
DC: He's a pretty savvy guy now.
GP: Yeah, twenty years later. He said to me, "I really understand what you must have been suffering."
DC: So you came back and you gave these talks and you didn't have a real heart to heart with Suzuki Roshi about what went on with you.
GP: No. He was pretty horrified to hear my stories. I don't know why. Why wouldn't he know? I asked myself were things substantially different when he went there? We just brushed aside the negativity and got on with the positive and I gave lectures which were well received and wore the robes and did all of the stuff as the first guy at Zen Center to be ordained as a monk.
DC: So when you came back to Zen Center, when you went to zazen you put on robes?
GP: Only for sesshin. He was very hesitant to get into all of that. But then suddenly one day he said, "Please wear your robes for sesshin." And I did that. He was definitely hesitant to get into the ritualistic aspects of Soto Zen. Very reluctant indeed.
DC: Well that's good, I'm glad. He did, later.
GP: He did. Tatsugami brought all of that.
DC: Right. But that was '70 and '71. And there was some stuff added before Tatsugami. I got to see some changes because of our getting Tassajara. When there's a critical mass - people and activity - then new people coming into it can accept it quicker.
GP: I think Suzuki Roshi clearly misjudged the extent to which people get wrapped up in the robes and the ceremony and the ritual: the formality. I'm skipping around all over the place. We now go back, I've been back to Eiheiji for the second time. I continue to have health problems which are not unusual at Eiheiji. Dogen couldn't stay there for more than a few weeks at a time. The place is very bad for the health. It's in that valley, and the mist comes on, it's damp. If you cut yourself the cut never heals. Because of the moisture and cold and the whole - I don't know there's something very unhealthy about that place. Dogen wrote all about it. He couldn't stay there. He only went there for political reasons basically, to get away. But because of his health he had to keep coming back to Kyoto all the time. I had health problems and I was forever - frequently - going to the hospital or even back to Kyoto to remedy something or other.
DC: Where were Pauline and the boys at that time?
GP: They were living in Kyoto. And that's one of the reasons I got sick, so I could go and see them. I just kept on, for six months, kind of being at Eiheiji most of the time, but being absent, or finding excuses to be absent, some of the time.
DC: What year was your second trip?
GP: The year before the Olympics. '64 would that be? I was definitely there the year before the Olympics.
DC: Well that's when you were there in '63. Then, I think, you went back in '64.
GP: Anyway, there was the ritualistic aspects, the trappings of the religion as opposed to the teaching. During the early months of my going to Eiheiji, I met Fujiyama Roshi and Sawaki Kodo Roshi in Kyoto. That was a very meaningful encounter for me. They had a very simple way, and zazen was about it. No ritual. No robes by which I mean robes just for practical reasons as opposed to what was going on at Eiheiji, where you changed your damn robe every time you sneezed or something. I really caught the sense of what I had hoped to find in Zen monasteries in Japan at Antaiji. Fujiyama Roshi and Sawaki Kodo Roshi never hesitated and used to say the most outrageous things about the sect of Buddhism to which they belonged [Soto]. Whereas Suzuki Roshi was always cooperating and putting it down as part of life or something and can't be helped. But these two people were just vociferous saying how stupid it was and god knows what. I don't think that Suzuki Roshi understood and certainly Tatsugami Roshi didn't understand what was going to happen to Zen Center by the introduction of the robes, the ritual, the form.
DC: That's what Tatsugami Roshi wanted Zen Center to be.
GP: What he thought Zen was. That's partially true. I understand, it's partially true. It is within the form that you can understand the non-form. There's truth in it. The problem is, that the other thing of the ego hang-ups, which can so easily prevent one's understanding of the meaning of the form, or the non-meaning of the forms. It's actually not difficult, but when you're there struggling like I was, it's difficult.
DC: So you met Sawaki Kodo Roshi?
GP: Yes. But he was already very ill. I met him virtually three months before his death. When I met him he was lying down and he never changed that posture until he died. But I was fortunate enough to meet with him and get some sense. It was very powerful.
DC: So, what happened to you at that point?
GP: I was in and out of Eiheiji. I was back in Kyoto to spend Christmas/New Year with the family. And also to think of a back problem which was just creating hell for me.
DC: You had a slipped disc?
GP: Yeah. The hospital was telling me to lie flat on the tatami. Things seemed to get worse and worse. Sometime just before Christmas, someone came to tell me that Sawaki San had died. And that there would be shikunichi sesshin. I understood that would be every 4 and 9 days because that's what that means - four and nine days [It's what the rest day in the monastery is called].-And despite all of the pain I was having I was so determined to attend that I walked the two miles - and remember these are days of dirt roads. Of course you could take a taxi, but that wasn't my life style. I walked the two miles and sat for some hours and came back home, and to my amazement I felt so much better. The pain did not disappear, but it certainly decreased. So I said, well, I'll go back on the next 9 day. I waited for five days and went back on the next 9 day, and then I understood that I had missed four days, which Uchiyama Roshi told me about. Shiku, as they were using it, meant 49 days of sitting, not 4 and 9 days. So, I decided, despite everything (I had a corset to support my back), I was going to try and do that. And I did. That was I think possibly the most important experience in all of my Zen travels. I loved the simplicity, I loved just the sitting, hour after hour, day after day. My mind became so incredibly calm and clear. I tell you, I could hear insects walking on the floor. It was beautiful. Morning till night, day after day, zazen, zazen, zazen. Just simple. No one saying they knew this, or koans, or anything like that. Straight, straight, simple sitting. And that's exactly what I love. At the end of it, I simply felt I'd found what I wanted, finally, after some five years of effort. It was like getting what I wanted. Really peaceful about having found what I thought was there from the beginning. But it was so hard to find it. There was so much extraneous stuff going on. Particularly within the Zen world. You're better off even not trying that route. You're more likely to get distracted, pursuing a course of self-understanding, for want of better words, or understanding of life. Anyway, I went that route and then explored all avenues until I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it in the first place.
DC: After that 49 day sesshin what did you do?
GP: Went back to England. Not immediately. A short time afterwards. For a year. I worked for an Anglo-French company as a liaison technical person. And I taught zazen.
DC: That's right. Did you have a correspondence with Suzuki Roshi at that time?
GP: Yes. That was the year Tassajara started.
DC: No wait - that was '70. You went back to England in '66 or '67 I believe.
GP: Actually, I had just arrived in England when I got a letter from him asking me to come back right away to Tassajara. I just didn't feel I could do that. My parents hadn't seen me for ten years. They hadn't met the children. We had come all the way across trans-Siberia, all the way across Russia.
DC: You mean you got a letter in England, soon after you had arrived in England?
GP: Exactly. It was a big deal in those days transporting a family around the world. It was not appropriate to dash off on a plane and come to help the Tassajara project. Plus, I just signed a contract to work with Anglo-French joint venture. It's not my style to say, "sorry, I didn't mean it." Anyway, I didn't come to join the effort for Tassajara. What I did do was start sitting in London. And just by sitting, the group started to come. It happened very quickly. We needed a place to sit. Suzuki Sachu [?] arrived at that point. He was a student of Yasutani Roshi [or maybe Soen Nakagawa Roshi. Later he says Soen. But Rinzai Soen and Soto Yasutani were renegade allies.].
A Buddhist group in London had invited him to come, and they weren't ready for him. They didn't know what to do. So I said, that's no good, I'll take care of him until you're ready. I went to meet him at the airport, and brought him back home. He stayed with me. I said, every Sunday I have zazen-kai. Would you like to join? Of course he did. I was somewhat afraid, because Yasutani was a persona non grata at Antaiji.
DC: Why would that be?
GP: Because of the emphasis on enlightenment --
DC: You mean, philosophical, stylistic difference? Complete opposites.
GP: Anyway, he attended. He said, "that's great. I'll just do the same." I'm talking about zazen-kai in London. He said, "We've got to find a place to sit, because it's too inconvenient for you to move your furniture and this that and the other." We went to see Christmas Humphreys, and he didn't want to accommodate us.
DC: Why was that?
GP: He was afraid of bringing a bunch of hippies around the Buddhist Society. He wasn't sure if the kitchen would be cleaned up afterwards. Anyway, we were able to give him sufficient reassurances that all would be taken care of. We got the use of the Buddhist Society premises which were very nice. We had day sesshins and weekend sesshins. Suzuki took over as a teacher, being the more experienced one. Then he got into his koan stuff, with the sanzen [private interview] and I translated. Very interesting. I liked him. We had a good group going.
DC: Then what did you do after your year in England?
GP: I was going to come back to Zen Center. The Anglo-French joint venture job was ridiculous. The British and French have never gotten along. There was no great meaning there. We'd done the family thing. We weren't really happy in London. We wanted to come back to Zen Center, basically. I wrote to my former company who had given me the leave of absence to go to Japan and I'd taken one additional year without permission. Could I come back? No problem. So we were on our way. It was at that point that I met someone. He said, "I understand you know Japan and speak Japanese. I want to start a company there. Would you be interested in being president?" I couldn't believe it. I was 29 years old. Had no business experience. That's what I did. Believe it or not, I got on a plane with Suzuki Sachu because he needed to go back. I somehow was able to get him a cheap ticket on the same package we had. So we traveled to Thailand together and back to Japan together.
DC: So, Suzuki Roshi really wanted you to come to Zen Center at that time?
GP: Very much so.
DC: Why did you not?
GP: Because of my family obligations in England, as I explained.
DC: But, at the point when you went to Japan?
GP: I couldn't resist it.
DC: Would it be something like - at some point after you've practiced for awhile, you might have felt, you loved Suzuki Roshi and you were devoted to him, and you'd like to practice and this and that, but you had to follow what really excited you. Was it something like that? You didn't want to go be at Zen Center at that time. Is that it?
GP: It wasn't a conscious decision in that form. I had something in Japan. I don't know how to describe it. I could perhaps describe it in stupid terms by saying, my last incarnation or something must have been there. Definitely I had not played out my karma with Japan. There was some very strong overriding force which persuaded me to get on that plane and do that job back in Japan, and resume my life back there. Rather than come to California. Although I only signed a contract for two years. And after two years it was my intention to come to Zen Center.
DC: So, during that two years - that was like '67, '68 --
GP: '69, '70.
DC: And you came to California.
GP: I came back and met with you all at Tassajara. That's when you and I met.
DC: I remember that. That was the spring of '69. I remember you sitting there. I can remember it's the first time we met. And Suzuki Roshi was there. He was very happy to have you there finally, if only for a visit. You gave us a talk about your experiences at Eiheiji. I wonder if a tape was made of that? I don't think so. What did you do then?
GP: That was a pivotal point. Probably because of a linguistic or cultural misunderstanding. It had a great effect. I had spent quite a bit of time with Nona Ransom [Shunryu Suzuki’s English teacher when he was in college] during my stay in England. I knew her through an introduction of Suzuki Roshi's.
DC: He was still in contact with her?
GP: No. Well, kind of. On that visit to Tassajara - it could have dramatically changed my life, in fact. I was on the verge of committing myself to the work that Zen Center was doing. It was really very, very - you could have put a pin on one side, bang it with a dart. But this Nona Ransom relationship had been a source of some disagreement between Suzuki Roshi and me because we had written several letters to him from England, the first of which, Connie Luick, acting as his secretary, responded to. Connie Luick was one of the students at the time who knew shorthand typing. [I think Connie Luick had helped Suzuki with correspondence in earlier years and gone, possibly dead by this time]
DC: You mean in San Francisco?
GP: Yeah. A girl from the Midwest. Wore a lot of make-up.
DC: I don't remember her. What year was that?
GP: She was there when I went, along with the very early group. Betty would remember Connie Luick. Della might.
GP: I was in England and Nona Ransom got a letter from Suzuki Roshi written by his secretary, Connie. You don't do that to an old English woman who has been your teacher. That is an unforgivable sin. And she was outraged by this. She sent a letter back in her own handwriting saying, "I don't care how bad your English is, I don't care how bad your handwriting is, or whatever, and you can put it on a postcard, but don't ever write to me through a secretary."
We'll talk about this next week. There's quite a lot about that relationship which is interesting in your information gathering. I thought I can finally clear up this relationship. While I was on that trip at Tassajara I had a coffee cup she gave me to give to Suzuki Roshi. I explained to him that he really should not have written a letter to his former English teacher through a secretary, and that was offensive, and he had not responded to other correspondence. This was just, by British standards, rude. He said to me, "You know, the reason I haven't responded is I'm afraid she'll write a book about that period."
DC: Oh how utterly fascinating!
GP: Yeah. I was a little offended about that. We had a little bit of a tiff, very politely. I said that I had agreed to go and do the work period. So I went, and I was digging the septic tank along with some other students, and someone came out and said, "Suzuki Roshi would like to talk to you." I said that I had agreed to do this work period. When the work is finished I will come down. We never had a further conversation about that subject from that point. That was the pin that somehow or other didn't get on the right side of the scales, and I continued to do what I was doing in Japan.
DC: Oh that is most interesting. I wonder what on earth he had in mind. Do you have any idea what in that period he would not want written about?
GP: Nothing scandalous. I don't know enough about Suzuki Roshi. This is what you're going to discover, and this is what you're going to educate me on. I think he was image conscious, about that period of his life at least. He was image conscious in a way which I am not.
DC: Maybe that's a bit to do with his being Japanese, and liking things to be presented formally and cleanly in a way that won't confuse the issues.
GP: That's it. He was Japanese to the core.
DC: This is different, but it might shed a little light on this. He was coming home with Louise Welch, and he had some false teeth, like his upper teeth, and he dropped them, like off the edge of the road or something and they couldn't find them. She said they just kept looking and looking and looking, he wouldn't stop looking, finally he gave up, went into Tassajara, went straight to his cabin and wouldn't come out until somebody would drive him to the city. Wouldn't see anybody.
GP: Let me finish up on this. These stories are about when he was a student at the university, and he came to knock at Nona Ransom's door in response to an ad for houseboy. I think that's his problem. Plus the fact that they developed a rather close relationship, I'm not saying intimate, but close. I certainly never delved into the extent of the relationship. It was certainly very close. And I think he didn't want her to be writing about it. She had appeared on British radio talking about her experiences in China, and she had written quite a lot, although not published, and he was somehow uncomfortable about that period of his life being written up.
DC: That is fantastic, Graham, really interesting.
Next phone call. Still early 1994. Just a week later.
DC: We were taking about Mrs. Ransom, which was quite interesting.
GP: We broke off at a point where I said they'd had a very close relationship. It's pretty vague in my mind now. She spent hours and hours talking to me, a lot of which was to do with the time that she spent with Suzuki Roshi. Basically, she was a teacher at the First Normal School, or whatever it was called --
DC: She was a teacher at Komazawa University wasn't she?
GP: No. She was a teacher at the school for aristocrats. She was a former missionary teacher in China. The Japanese got to like her, by that I mean, they both feared her and thought they might be able to use her. She was a teacher to Pu Yi’s wife, you know, the last emperor of China. That was her main position. The Japanese sent Pu Yi and his wife as emperor and empress of Manchukuo. I think for that reason the Japanese found her this job in Japan. [She did teach at Komazawa and other schools, taught Pu Yi as well as the empress and taught some Japanese royalty too as I remember it.]
DC: Was that through the war?
GP: When was Manchukuo? The late '30s.
DC: Where was she during the war?
GP: Partially in Japan and partially in China I believe.
DC: Was she a prisoner of war?
GP: No, never. She was a teacher. I remember her telling me that she very much thought that the reason she was sent to Japan was because they were thinking they could use her to influence China policy. She was a teacher. I'll get the name of the school later. She needed a houseboy. Suzuki Roshi answered the ad, and came knocking at her door. He was a student at Komazawa at the time. His motivation was not that he particularly wanted to clean houses, but he wanted to learn English. That was part of the deal.
DC: So he was like 19 or 20 then? [older – 25 or so]
GP: I guess so, yeah. It's hard to estimate how long he continued doing that work, but let's say that it was a 4 year course, and I suppose he started one year into the course, so probably 3 years.
DC: He graduated. He did some sort of paper on bowing I heard. I think he was in a full course of college, but they I don't think they had graduate work for degrees like there is in the States or Europe. [It was just a different system]
GP: When I first met her, I was really curious about Suzuki Roshi. She said, "I can't believe that that little boy becoming so well known as this. Going to America, and starting a monastery and all." She was really curious about what he was doing. That's how she regarded him, as her "little boy."
DC: I guess we tend to think of people we knew as kids, our own children or whatever, as sort of frozen in time in parts of our memories.
GP: Certainly from my conversations with Suzuki Roshi and her I know that it was a very enjoyable and happy relationship. Both of them gained a great deal from it. Nona Ransom learning about Japan and something about Buddhism. And Suzuki Roshi learning English the correct way. She was a Quaker. She was daughter of a Quaker missionary [don’t think so but maybe - see Harry Rose interview] who lived most of his life in China. She left me volumes of documents about both her father and her life in China. Plus all kinds of stuff about the Royal Family there. Because of some miscommunication, they were given to the Quaker Meeting House and it has lost them, disbursed them. There was a great collection of documentation there. It's all water under the bridge.
DC: Do you think any of that would have had any of her recollections of Suzuki Roshi?
GP: It definitely did. I read a lot of the stuff together with her.
DC: Don't you think that might still be existent?
GP: I did talk to the Quaker Meeting House and they really were totally vague. As far as they were concerned these documents were just throwaways. I think it's too remote to be of any help to you in your effort. I was going to say that her adopted son doubtless would have quite a number of her writings. I don't know if he's contactable. His name is Harry Rose, I think. I know where he lives, near Marble Arch. Sherlock Holmes street -- what's that called? [Baker] Wherever Sherlock Holmes lived he lives close by. [We did get hold of him]
She died while I was in Japan. It was a long period of time before I learned about it. As soon as I learned that she had left a lot of stuff in her will to me I called up the Quaker House, but it was like six months after the event. They thought I was not contactable and dispersed the stuff. Let's go back to recollections.
Suzuki Roshi was kind of offended that she had put her shoes in the tokonoma. In the tokonoma there was a Buddha. She remembers very clearly his admonishing her for having put her shoes in the same area as what she regarded as an idol. She was tolerating it nevertheless. Somehow or other that Buddha statue was broken. It was only a cheap ceramic gold [wood I think] thing, but as you doubtless know they put all kinds of sacred guts inside the Buddhas, and I have those in England. She asked me to give them back to Suzuki Roshi. I did at one time say do you know what these are? And she said, "Yes, why didn't you keep them?" I've got them somewhere in storage in England. Just little -- I don't know what they are, actually -- things with writings on them. That was one of the stories I remember.
They did some traveling together. There’s a movie of it. Part of the movie is at least about one of her trips to Rinsoin. I actually think she had a bed moved into Rinsoin because she didn't like sleeping on tatamis. When she stayed down there she could be reasonably comfortable.
DC: So he was her houseboy, or whatever, for his entire stay at Komazawa?
GP: I don't remember, but he was certainly the houseboy for quite some time. It was a continuing friendship.
DC: Then afterwards he went to Eiheiji for a year and Sojiji for a year, and she visited him at Eiheiji, I remember reading. It even said she stayed there for a period of time. I think what I read was that she stayed at Eiheiji for like six weeks or something. I'm a little skeptical. I can't imagine that.
GP: If she did she would have stayed in some reasonable comfort, I'll tell you. By standards of those days she never had any doubts about her own faith as a Quaker. She said, "I was interested to learn from him that Buddhism wasn't what I thought it was." She just thought it was idol worship. She learned through Suzuki Roshi that there was this much deeper side to the religion.
DC: It seems interesting to me that she could have been in China and Japan for that period of time and that Suzuki as a twenty-year-old would have been the person to open up her mind to Buddhism somewhat. That indicates that at a young age he had a gift of communication.
GP: Also, from the other side, she was a very very clever woman. Just in having read so many of her writings about her trips across Siberia and that kind of thing, and her experiences with the Royal Family, from having done that she had a very sharp mind and was very curious, but totally unshaken in her own British/Quaker way. I wouldn't necessarily say that one can say that Suzuki Roshi was a very clever teacher at that time. He had a very good student.
DC: Maybe it was the first time that she had talked in depth with somebody about Buddhism?
GP: Quite possible.
DC: I don't know what China was like back then, but from my experiences of being in Taiwan, Buddhism did not make a very good impression on me there.
GP: I don't think it would have done so in Manchuria either.
DC: It seemed terribly superstitious and more garish.
GP: More like idol worship.
DC: Then after he left Eiheiji - I guess his master had Rinsoin then and was still living there? At some point his teacher died, but Rinsoin was something that his teacher got later, like at that period. And she came to visit when it was Suzuki's temple or when it was his teacher's temple?
GP: I can't remember. Again, that movie, if you could find it, you might be able to identify the whole thing. Part of that is taken at Rinsoin. There are pictures of him in there, and her, and you can probably identify the other people. [This is a movie GP says he gave to someone at ZC, maybe Yvonne. It hasn’t been found yet but one was found though no one could be made out in it. And this not found one is also, according to Pauline, disappointing. – DC]
In case it never got opened, it was in a bright-colored furoshiki. I didn't have the right materials to wrap it in at the time. I was rushing over to the memorial service, and I just grabbed this furoshiki and put it in there and put a note inside. This was the year I came back to California.
DC: You delivered this to Yvonne --
GP: I believe that's what I did. I do remember the furoshiki and I do remember the letter I wrote. It could have been '83.
DC: When did Nona Ransom die?
GP: Probably '70.
DC: She died before Suzuki Roshi?
DC: Do you remember anything else she said to you?
GP: If I think of anything I'll let you know on our next talk.
DC: This is interesting, that she left you her papers.
GP: I'd been visiting her quite regularly. We were living in London. When I first contacted her she had a friend of hers in London - her solicitor or someone like that - give me a call to check me out, to make sure I was bona fide. It's about a two-hour drive from London to Cirencester. I spent a whole day with her just listening to her history and her stories about Suzuki Roshi. She was a wealth of information and was delighted to have someone who was interested to listen. A few weeks before I met her she had been on BBC being interviewed about her experiences with China's royal family. That has been a stunningly successful interview. She was interested in getting some help to gather together her extensive writings, diaries, etc., and put it in some sort of publishable format. I went to see her once a month and spend a day with her, going through her stuff. Then I remember that Pu Yi died. On that occasion I took some time off work and went down there to try to get a scope on the papers she had so that we could let the Times newspaper know that this material was available. Nothing came of it. I spent time with her, particularly on her papers, and she wanted me to have a good number of them.
DC: Probably she would have given you anything that pertained to Suzuki Roshi that she was aware of.
GP: Regrettably that is true. I say regrettably because I'm pretty sure that the Quaker Meeting House wouldn't know anything about them. I think it's possible that they just threw them away.
DC: I'm sure Suzuki Roshi would be grateful to them.
GP: She never had any intention of writing about him. The things that she had to write about were more interesting: China, the king and his wife.
DC: Did she come to Japan during the war?
GP: I think it was probably before and during. I don't believe she was there at the end - at the fall of China she left grabbing who became her adopted son, a Russian homeless boy. [This is all made clear in correspondence with Harry Rose.]
DC: Is she related to Arthur Ransom?
GP: No, not related.
DC: Because he was in Russia and he wrote children's books.
GP: Not related as far as I know. Her father crossed Siberia 17 times on horseback. He kept diaries.
DC: He went there as a missionary when she was young?
GP: Correct. I know that Harry Rose, her adopted son, says he has those diaries. Here's this man going through some of the most beautiful territory in the world on horseback, but all he writes is "got up. 6:30. Sun was up." Not related to Arthur Ransom.
DC: It would be interesting to try to contact her adopted son.
GP: Harry Rose I believe.
DC: How did he get that name?
GP: I don't know.
DC: How did you run into her?
GP: Suzuki Roshi asked me to go and see her.
DC: How did he know where she was?
GP: They had had this correspondence. He had written to her through Connie Luick, Zen Center's secretary at that time, saying that he was now in San Francisco. Obviously he had her address. They must have kept in some sort of touch. She didn't move around in that period of her life. There had been a long period of no contact. He said he wrote to her. He must have written a reply, she definitely would have written. She probably wrote him admonishing him for having written through his secretary cause she was so pissed off about that. He probably didn't respond to her communication to him. Which upset her again. This was happening about one year after I had first found Zen Center. I remember talking with Suzuki Roshi when he said, "If you go to England will you go to see my old English teacher." He gave me her name and address. "I'd really like you to do that."
DC: So Suzuki wrote her as soon as he got to America. And so Connie Luick is somebody who was at Zen Center back in '61 or '62 or something.
GP: He had made contact with her and - you know the rest of that part. As it happens I didn't make a visit to England until, I guess it would be '65. At that point I contacted her and that's when my relationship with her started.
DC: Maybe that's all you can remember about Miss Ransom at the moment.
GP: I know what he said in that letter. He got to America and wrote her a letter saying how grateful he was for all her teaching, because now he is able to come to the United States to do some greater work, or something. That's why he wrote to her.
DC: I had a very good Japanese teacher that died [so I thought] that taught at the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies who told subsequent classes that I was the best student she'd ever had. So I was beaming with pride. She and I were very close and we stayed in touch and she came to my ordination and my wedding. I was very sad when she died. I remember when I got to Japan feeling very grateful to her. Although I had studied Japanese with her in the late '60s and I didn't go to Japan until ‘88. [later she shocked me when she came to a booksigning of mine in Carmel.] I didn't meet Suzuki Roshi till '66. You met him in '61 when he'd only been there 2 years, but I've talked to so many Japanese whose English wasn't as good. I can appreciate that he studied pretty hard. Why do you think he was so interested in learning English that well when he was 20?
GP: It wouldn't have been exactly a fashion in those days. It was almost treason, wasn't it?
DC: That would have been 1924 [actually closer to 1929]. English was still basically regarded as something to learn to translate technical books.
GP: That's a good question, David.
DC: There's a tendency, I've noticed in what I've read and what people want to believe -- that already he had a vision in mind to bring the dharma to the west.
GP: I don't believe that's true, is it?
DC: I tend to be suspicious of such ideas. [no, it is true and was nourished by his relationship with Miss Ransom]]
GP: It is possible, however, that in that relationship with Nona Ransom he recognized the ignorance of Western people with regard to Buddhism.
DC: He also might have recognized some good qualities in her that she might -- for instance, Quakerism is awfully nice way to learn about Christianity. Maybe she had an openness, or some qualities that impressed him and made him want to teach westerners.
GP: I think Roshi might have said that she was his first student or something.
DC: I have read that. I've even read a statement in the Wind Bell that she was his first convert.
GP: Oh she would be enormously offended. I had long conversations with her about that. But certainly she did learn about Buddhism through him. He may have had some sort of idea about a mission, out of that relationship in fact, recognizing that there was enormous ignorance outside of Japan.
DC: Suzuki Roshi indicated another reason why he wanted to come to America. At least from '66 on, he said that the tree of Buddhism had grown moss on its branches in Japan. I think maybe he wanted some fresh place.
GP: He certainly did. He talked to me about that. He said he had no students except one old man. Not exactly a waste of time, but that there was no real interest. He was very negative about the state of Buddhism in Japan. Like the conversation I was going back to last week when he said he only knew six people in Soto Zen who he felt really understood the true way. He said, maybe in Rinzai, which I don't know about, maybe there are another six. That makes twelve out of the whole of Japan. Not a very good record, is it?
DC: That's the way it always is I think. Dogen said nobody understood Buddhism until his teacher for a 500 year period.
GP: But one would have to ask what kind of context that statement was made in.
DC: He'd contradict himself at times.
GP: Back to Nona Ransom. It was certainly an important relationship at that early period when he learned English, and he learned of the ignorance in the Western mind of the essence of Buddhism. That may have been very formative in the work he did much later on. Suddenly Nona learns a lot from him. She was an unshakeable Quaker woman who always regarded him as her little boy. "Is it really true? Building temples out there in America and that kind of thing? I can't believe it! What are you doing? Sitting here, obviously an intelligent man, calling yourself his 'disciple'?"
DC: You said you remember Suzuki Roshi talking about the state of Buddhism in Japan. Can you remember any more of that?
GP: You may know more about this period than I. I think he'd had several invitations to come here before.
DC: I know he'd wanted to come but he couldn't get permission from his teacher in Japan or his superiors to give him permission until he got older and had a friend at headquarters who could get him the invitation. No, I do remember reading one thing that the opportunity came up but he hadn't finished the reconstruction of Rinsoin.
GP: I think Baker is the best source of this information. Or someone like Hoichi. There was something about that and the thatched roof. The danka of Rinsoin wanted to put on a tile roof. They were doing reconstruction. He was so attached to the thatch roof that he had it done in thatch, making a deal with the builder to pay for it separately. The thatch did not lodge, it was gone in a very short time. And he said, "Do you know, I'm still paying for that." I think he meant in monetary terms. That was part of the reconstruction thing. It may have been that he had not been free to come on a previous invitation.
DC: What do you know about Suzuki's early life? Do you know anything about where he was born, his parents, where he went to school?
GP: I remember that he was a kind of orphan, wasn't he? Maybe not exactly an orphan, but from very early on he entered the temple life.
DC: I think at the age of 13 he went to study with Gyakujun So-on. I don't know how traditional that is. That's an awfully young age.
GP: My father joined the Coldstream Guards at 14.
DC: I guess earlier in this century a person could enter into a profession, not only in Japan, but in Europe and America, at a young age.
GP: They frequently did it because of poverty. Especially if you come from so-called higher-born family fallen into difficult circumstances the choice of the Army was the traditional way out.
DC: Suzuki's father was a temple priest, so the normal thing to do would be to follow in your father's footsteps, so my understanding is So-on was his father's disciple, and his father sent him to one of his disciples to study with. I've seen so little information on where he lived, his father's temple. Do you know his sister is alive and living near Rinsoin?
GP: Yes. I met her.
DC: What do you remember about her?
GP: Nothing almost. Just one of those frantic afternoons at Rinsoin. Oh, pleased to meet you kind of thing, the usual Japanese frantic nonsensical busyness, that's all. But I do remember meeting her.
DC: Okusan's (Mrs. Suzuki) been very supportive. I've talked to Okusan about going over there and talking more to Okusan, Hoichi, and his sister. I've spent a lot of time with Hoichi over there at the temple. We've sat up very late. Some Japanese are easier for me to talk to. Some of them I can't understand very well. But he and I talk pretty well. I believe he would be very cooperative. I think he's a great guy and I respect him as a priest. He's socially oriented.
GP: I like him too.
DC: I know I can look into that. I saw some names recently that Suzuki Roshi had asked that something be sent to. So I xeroxed that list in Japan, certain people at headquarters and this and that - but Okusan feels that almost all his peers, and people that know him, are dead or going to be too old to talk to. Niwa Roshi, the Abbot of Eiheiji, just died about a month ago. He was very close to Suzuki Roshi but ten years younger. He was a disciple of Kishizawa, the scholar roshi that Suzuki Roshi studied with. And there was Noiri, also ten years younger, who is I take it one of the most revered Soto Zen priests in Japan. He has a reputation for being unapproachable. Looks to me like Suzuki Roshi would be quite delighted at knowing how difficult it would be to find out anything about him. There's another 14 minutes of time left on this tape. What if I asked you, what was your experience like being with Suzuki Roshi?
GP: That's a hard one. Very very close relationship. I found him after a long struggle in my searches for the right way to pursue what I could best describe as a spiritual quest. I don't know whether you know or not that I'd been pursuing this first through the Catholic Church. Earlier on I was brought up in the Protestant Church, and then through the Catholic Church as a young man.
DC: You were actually interested in Catholic monasticism, right?
GP: Yes. I was living in a monastery. In England.
DC: Did you actually go to Italy?
GP: I did, yes.
DC: To go to a monastery in Italy?
GP: No, I wanted to go to Rome and see what that was like. Not Rome as a city, but the Vatican. I was having a hard time. The monastery was great. There were some wonderful people there. But I couldn't understand how these great guys, thinking people, could go along with all the bullshit. They had guests like they do in Japan. They had their Sunday services which the public was invited to. And it was kind of uncomfortable. Anyway, as part of this whole period I took a trip to Rome, and I was absolutely horrified with what I saw. That sort of blew it for me. Plus all of the ridiculous books, some of which I found lying around the monastery. So I was gone, I thought irretrievably.
DC: What did you visit in Rome?
GP: The Vatican, to get the atmosphere. No big deal. It turned me off. Somehow I finished up by living in Rome. I obviously came back to England in a period in between, but I finished up by living in Rome. I met Pauline and her mother. Her mother’s ashes are at Tassajara. She was a Theosophist among other things. But certainly as part of her Theosophical and philosophical studies she was heavily into Buddhism. It was through her and her library that I first got connected in a meaningful way with Buddhism. I read prolifically while we lived in Paris and tried to meditate as best I knew how from the books. A large part of the motivation of Pauline and me coming to San Francisco was in order to find people who were interested in Buddhism. That's almost the first thing we set about doing after our arrival. We went to Buddhist Churches of America in Berkeley, and during one of those weekends we met Iru Price, an ordained American Buddhist priest.
DC: Price? Was he the guy who was with the U.S. Army in Thailand. [I’m thinking of someone else]
GP: Yeah. I believe that was where he learned his Chinese. Anyway, it was he who introduced us to - we said we were very interested in Zen - he said, "Well, there's a person over on Bush Street." We found out his name, and Pauline said, "I've heard that name before." She went and got one of her diaries, and sure enough, about two years before that time, she had Sokoji written down as a place you should visit if she came to San Francisco. Anyway, talking about what it (relationship with Suzuki) meant to me. It was overwhelming joy when I first met him, because I had been looking for the genuine product, and there it was. I just dedicated my whole life, this four years, around that.
DC: How did you know it was the genuine product?
GP: Well, one doesn't know. One goes by the totality of one's instincts and whatever. One thinks it is. Certainly it was strong enough in me to give it my everything. Which in my case is usually everything. It was a very productive relationship.
DC: Can you remember any particulars?
GP: Of course, thousands of things. But in the sense of your question was, what does the relationship mean?
DC: What was he like? When you first met him, or at any point, --
GP: It was a curious relationship, one which I'd never known before, because, I suppose in a sense I almost blindly followed him. The best I could get out of him was that the clear mind will arise eventually, or something like that. Whenever I got frustrated and asked him direct questions about my practice with him, he would quite frequently say, "Honestly, I don't know." Very simple answers. Nothing like you read about in the Zen books. No magical stuff. Till I got to the point that I said something like, "I've been at this for four years now, six days a week. Whole nights dedicated to this. And I still can't grasp what this is all about." Then I think I told this story already, he said, "I just can't answer your question. You've got to go to some person with a bigger understanding than mine." That led us to Japan and the names of six people. I went to Japan and that completely changed my life in ways which would never have been predicted. Simple conversations.
DC: Did you notice from the time you first met Suzuki until later on any development he had while in America? Do you feel he matured or deepened?
GP: I don't think I can answer that. I think he became much more committed to what he was doing. The first two or three years when I was with him he was often talking about going back. His danka [temple members] were expecting him, and he didn't like to say that he wasn't going to come back. It was partially around the time when Katagiri made his decision to stay. Ira Price brought him over here. He was brought to Los Angeles. He was not happy. He met Ira Price and Ira Price said, "Well come and stay with me and we'll do something in San Francisco." Then he found that Ira Price was not on the same path either.
DC: What sect was Ira Price with?
GP: Every sect.
DC: I've met him, I just can't place him now.
GP: Buddhism and Taoism association. I remember the representative of the Malaysian/Singapore Chinese Buddhist Association, he was ordained at Eiheiji -- but not in the way that you and I were. He was given tokudo but he took that as total ordination. Suzuki Roshi introduced him to Eiheiji and he went there for his ordination and then did nothing with it except wear his robes. He had a connection with Katagiri, and Suzuki Roshi was wondering what he should do, and Pauline and I were wondering what we should do, and finally I said, we'll go to Japan. And he said, "Well, all right, then Katagiri stays in America." I think it also meant that that was the end of it. I made a real commitment to the work we were engaged in.
DC: Was Katagiri in LA with Sumi, or was Sumi not there yet?
GP: Before Sumi. With Yamada.
DC: I had assumed that it was a formal transfer of Katagiri from Zenshuji in LA to Sokoji in SF. It never occurred to me he had the freedom to come up at the request of Katagiri or Price.
GP: I think the formal transfer was to Los Angeles. The move from LA to San Francisco was politically engineered after he kind of ran away. Run away is obviously the wrong term, but he came up to San Francisco, and I think it was a bit of engineering. He came to stay with Ira Price. Suzuki Roshi obviously wanted him.
DC: Michael Katz [my agent, also a Zen student back then] asks me things like, How did Suzuki Roshi teach without words? We have all these lectures and we've heard what he said, but what was it like just being with him, or working with him? I find it very hard to put into words. I've told Michael that he might be expecting too much, to expect me or other people to come up with much to say about this.
GP: His teaching was very simple. Beyond all the lectures which were another side of the teaching. What kept me going was very simple things, like he said it would take two years just to get used to the posture. Don't worry about anything else, just get used to sitting, sit, sit, sit. That satisfied me for two years. But then after two years, I could sit endlessly. So then it becomes a more complex process. But it never really got beyond anything with me any more than saying that this is the teaching itself. The practice we're doing is the teaching. It kept me going.
DC: That was his teaching. That was the most important thing he had to say. That's what distinguished him from most of the other Zen people who came to America is his extreme lack of goal orientation. Practice and enlightenment are one.
GP: Eventually it bore fruit with me after my experiences in Japan, and finally that 49-day session which I did at Antaiji. If you continue anything for 49 days, something extraordinary happens to your mind. You can literally hear the insects walking on the floor. Your mind just empties and becomes totally clear. It was then that the whole thing for me came together. He had nothing more to teach me than that. Don't interpret that in a negative way, it's a positive way.
DC: Do you remember Neville Warwick?
GP: Yeah, whatever happened to him?
DC: He became a Ajari-san, the head of the hiking Buddhists in San Francisco. Is an almost literary type character, something out of books. They used to have this bus that would go to fires and help people and give them coffee and take care of the firefighters and anybody who was hurt. They want around to disasters. And they helped parking at events. Just an amazing character. I know he had some period of studying with Suzuki Roshi.
GP: He did. I do remember him. Also I remember some more names. Ernie, the deaf person. I had a whole list of people I didn't mention.
DC: Was there anybody Suzuki ordained back then that you know of? There was you and there was Phil. Jean Ross. Did she get a priest ordination?
September 5, 1995
DC – [I told Grahame about talking to Kathy Cook about how fuzzy she felt Zen Center is about priests and lay and what one is to do and all and she said how clear Thich Nat Hahn made it all.]
GP: Suzuki Roshi liked to leave things up to us - liked to leave us with messes to deal with. He wasn't always known for clarifying things and putting them in their simple sense. He'd just leave us. Like he'd leave us in zazen and go off. He forgot about us once for hours. It was very painful. I may have been the only one who didn't move.
I did tangaryo at Eiheiji twice. I was the first white man to do it. The rule was we had to be there for 6 months so I was there only three months because that was all I could get off from work and then when I went back I had to do tangaryo again. [Tangaryo is an initiatory all day sitting lasting, at Eiheiji for up to a week or two.]
DC: Suzuki Roshi wanted the first tangaryo at Tassajara to be for seven days and Dick said no way that people couldn't do it and they'd leave so Suzuki said how about five days then and Baker said no let's do three and we ended up doing it till late in the afternoon on the third day. I heard that discussion myself. But then everyone who'd done it had to do one day of the tangaryo before each practice period. I remember sitting next to Dan Welch once during a five hour period and he moved once in the middle to shift from right full lotus to left full lotus.
GP: Yes, that's the way I did it, but that was just my idea back then.
DC - Dick said that all we had to do was to stay in that space.
Dan and Phil Wilson are the two that burned their robes [though they’re both back into Zen these days]. It seems that some people buy so much into a particular vision or picture of what Zen is that when they see through it or it doesn't work, they crash and get resentful.
GP: Sawaki Kodo said there was nothing to transmit anyway. He was the templeless monk. And he walked around Japan with many disciples. He was driven to Antaiji because he was saying the war was wrong [couldn’t confirm this]. So he was given a temple (maybe not Antaiji) without a congregation where he was to sit and shut up and sit. So he did that only with Uchiyama. Uchiyama was great. He used to fool around with my kids and roll on the floor and do origami. Uchiyama became my teacher after Suzuki.
Joshin was at Antaiji. She sewed all my robes. She and I used to love to walk down the street with me in Kyoto - the smallest and the tallest (less than 5', I think, to 6'2").
She made me a beautiful rakusu which Uchiyama painted on the back side and it was so exquisite. Dick was in Kyoto staying at Gary Snyder's place and he wanted to see Antaiji and asked if he could borrow my rakusu and he visited Uchiyama with it who was offended by that. Years later Uchiyama said to me, "From the first I could see that he was a fake." But it wasn't all that bad what Dick had done.
From various note taken 10\96
There were two people at Sokoji shinsanshiki who’d been ordained by Tobase. Porter at the Fairmont and someone else. I talked to the former. He was nice. Ordained as a priest I think. I remember him on the stage with Bishop Yamada and Dr. Kato at Suzuki Roshi’s Shinsanshiki in ’62. [Mt. Seat Ceremony making him abbot of Sokoji].
Phillip Wilson and I used to go camping in the Los Padres National Forest and one day we went down to Tassajara and saw it - couldn’t get in - 1961, '62 or so. Dick and I were best friends and I surely must have told him.
Pauline and I went. Mrs. Suzuki was horrified that we took our son David there. She said that the car would shake up his brain. He was 8 months old. That was 1962.
At Eiheiji Phillip was so big and strong that they didn't harrass him so much. One day a Japanese monk was bullying a younger monk and Phillip went over and picked him up by the back collar of his robes and just walked him away.
Ernie was a deaf mute who lived across the street from Sokoji. Jan Haley took care of him. She was very regular student. Suzuki wanted her to live in the back of Sokoji but the Japanese congregation thought that would be too close to Suzuki's son Otohiro who was living across the street. It didn't really make sense.
DC: They were very concervative. Tomoe Katagiri said they were Meiji.
There was Bob brown the postman, Joe Lopressley who went off to Japan and became an English teacher and then a professor at a Japan university.
We used to go to Esalen a lot - Pauline and Phillip and I. That’s how we discovered that area. Phil and I liked to test our zazen strength by sitting in the freezing cold stream near there. And to Nacimiento further south - we used to go there - often - many weekend - so we tried China Camp [on the way to Tassajara]. Al Levinson was there. It was mid summer. We put eggs on the frying pan for breakfast and 1000 wasps descended on it - we’d camped below it. We drove to Tassajara but didn’t go in. It didn’t look inviting. So Al, Phil and I thought it might be the greatest place in the world for what we want to do. Actually, Al went there first and came back and reported to us.
Katagiri went to stay with Iru Price in San Francisco after he fled LA and went to Sokoji and started getting involved a little. We all wanted him. He sat zazen and there was the fascination in having Japanese monks around. It wasn’t working for him in LA. By being in America he was loosing out in Japan and had an urge to go back but Suzuki Roshi didn’t want him to go back.
Then Pauline and I decided to go to Japan. Suzuki Roshi came to dinner and when I was out he asked her if I could go to Eiheiji for a year and she was horrified. But it was worked out that we’d all live in Fukui [the prefecture where Eiheiji is and also a city near Eiheiji] and see each other now and then. After zazen one night I saw Suzuki Roshi in his little office and said we’ll do it - go to Japan. And he said, "Then Katagiri has to stay." I suspect he went to Katagiri and said Grahame is giving up his job (research chemist with a division of Tenneco) and house so please stay here and help us.
My mother-in-law paid the bill to go to dinner with Katagiri and Pauline. It was pivotal in his decision to stay. His brother in Kyoto entertained us beautifully in his shack. I think it was a Burakumin area of Kyoto. [untouchables, though literally it means "village people."] I worked in the leather business in Japan with baseball gloves and I know about these areas.
Iru Price had done tokudo at Eiheiji and Malaysia though he didn’t spend much time there. He met Suzuki Roshi at Sokoji. At the Buddhist Church in Berkeley he’d go through a whole sutra in a lecture and Suzuki Roshi would do a half page in month. Price told me he was surprised Suzuki Roshi was married. He’s the one who gave me Suzuki Roshi’s address. We’d only been here about a month. We had been to Rev. Fujitani’s Jodo temple in Berkeley and we met Iru there. We said we were interested in Zen and he said should go see Rev. Suzuki and I went there the next day.
We were at Price’s house for dinner one night - so early I thought it was for coffee. He said he was surprised Soto Zen priests married. Suzuki Roshi arranged for him to go to Eiheiji and he received lay ordination there. Suzuki Roshi said to me what’s going on here? I got a let from Eiheiji saying he got ordained and so why doesn’t he come to help us - why isn’t he around? so I got hold of him and he gave a slide show and lecture of his trip to the East and it started with his getting ordained at Eiheiji. I never remember him sitting with us outside of lecture.
Iru had more titles on his name card than anyone I’ve met in my life - rep of Pa Nang Buddhist Association, the Gensing Buddhist and Taoist Organization in Chinatown – many of those. I remember him showing someone his card one day, a Japanese who couldn’t und why he need all that.
There was no Zen Center when I arrived at Sokoji. It was a concept and Dick and I were more like Phil thinking they didn’t need it and Bob Hense was president of it but he couldn’t get anything off the ground though the group looked to him as a possible leader but nothing ever happened. it was fortuitous that he threw in the towel but I have to question if that’s true. There was only talk then. The words Zen Center hadn’t even been coined - that was Dick. There was talk about various names. It became Zen Center, not the San Francisco Zen Center. Dick was good at that sort of simplicity.
In October of ‘66 when Suzuki and I went to meet Komazawa Roshi who was head of Eiheiji - that’s where he first met Tatsugami. Komazawa asked if I had a temple yet and Suzuki Roshi said he was getting ready to start Tassajara and what do you think of Zenshinji as a name and I don’t know if there was a direct reply. We were well received consider our lowly status.
Tatsugami considered Suzuki a junior, an insignificant priest who’d gone to America. Of course Tassajara would be Tatsugami’s. He was the former ino of Eiheiji.
When I took Suzuki Roshi to meet Uchiyama Roshi in 1970, they had the same commitment to zazen as the center of life but Uchiyama wouldn’t bow to the Shumucho [headquarters]. They saw him as a renegade. Later in his life Suzuki went along with the flow of politics in a way that Uchiyama and Kodo never did.
Uchiyama got back into good graces when a commentary he’d written on something of Dogen’s was recognized as being an exceptional work.
I went with Suzuki Roshi to the shumucho. We stayed at Eiheiji Betsuin, a small temple near headquarters and the cigarette smoking, booze drinking, bureaucrat priests there treated Suzuki poorly. I was surprised at how little attention they paid to him. He’d done something enormously important in America and they disregarded what he’d done. But he didn’t get upset. He just went along with it. Uchiyama would have told them off. He was very outspoken and would tell them they were out of line and to get back on the right track. Suzuki accepted them. If they didn’t see things his way he didn’t care.
On the meeting with Uchiyama there was a tremendous respect which is unusual at Antaiji with mainstream priests and Uchiyama had heard a great deal from people and me about Zen Center in America and we spent thirty minutes or so having tea in his room in the summer and Suzuki asked to go to the kaisando to pay respects to Sawaki Kodo and said the Daihishin Dharani and there were just the two of us - Uchiyama unlocked the door and left us to it - the people there didn’t normally participate in church affairs, not that this was one, but for whatever reason there was just the two of us. We met with students that night and spent the night there. Earlier in his life Suzuki had very much questioned about the various colored robes and things like that but later accommodated that and accepted it as an inevitable part of Zen, whereas Antaiji was a much more radical place. This pull between these two poles is a key element of his life.
Antaiji was trying to bring some light into the great darkness of the religious life of Japan which is almost impossible they’re so ingrained. So they were trying to wake the people of Japan using a different tact whereas Suzuki was in America where those things didn’t apply so that was implied in their meeting - they were working in completely dif worlds but it was a reconcilable difference. There was no fundamental difference at all. It was a very warm meeting
Suzuki had introduced me to Antaiji, specifically to Kodo, as one of the six people who understands, and it was a confirmation that everything was right that he went there.
Tatsugami took care of me at Eiheiji. I walked behind him in Takuhatsu. He drank there - whiskey.
Kobun was the strictest student at Eiheiji and once he caught me eating a sandwich in my sleeping bag and he said, "You’re supposed to be bringing Zen to America! How can you be doing that?" And he berated Phil and me for having Margarine in our private desk area.
Kobun arrived at Eiheiji after I did. When I came back from the hospital from being sick, Kobun was in the sodo. We were fellow students. It was the 2nd time I was there. He spoke good English for a Japanese. He had been at Komazawa University. He was one of the most sincere students I ever met, one of the only students who was in the shuryo [study hall] because he wanted to be. He was full of what it should be and slight transgressions that Phil and I did which were nothing compared to what others did he’d speak to us about. He was very helpful to us and a nice person to be around. I suggested to Suzuki Roshi that Kobun come to America.
In 1970 I met Suzuki Roshi and Okusan in Tokyo at the Eiheiji Betsuin and he asked me again to return and I said I’ll think about it but I was heavily committed to building the Tokyo English school. We had breakfast and it seemed almost whimsical to me at that point to go back to Zen Center. I loved it and wanted t be part of it, but there were more than 100 people committed to this project and it was unthinkable to quit it and I think that was the last time we met. I had to rush off at ten or so to get to my office.
He assumed that my commitment precluded further involvement and that was when our relationship was concluded. It was not necessarily my true desire but I was so involved at the time. I was a businessman in a suit looking at his watch.
He was concerned about Dick at Eiheiji and I was at Rinsoin but it was Hoichi who asked what should his father do about Dick who was having trouble there. I went to Eiheiji to see Dick and we spent couple hours together and I understood what he was going through. I’d been through hell there. What he had was a country club compared to what we had in the earlier years. He had milk and I said he should stay for the six months that he was expected to and he said, "Why? There’s nothing here but a shell." I said it involves more than his opinion. That he should just give up a few months of his life for Suzuki Roshi and the people at Zen Center. I went back to Rinsoin and told Hoichi
DC: As I remember it, and Dick talked to me about all this after he’d returned to America, he said it was totally intolerable there. And there was some monk who had it out for him. Dick had said something that offended the guy, just some innocent joke or something that the guy felt insulted him, and he said the guy said he was going to kill him and would glare at him and was sort of stalking him. So he said that when Suzuki came there to visit him he told Suzuki that he was going to leave with him and Suzuki tried to get him to stay but Dick insisted and so he left with him. That must have been a big embarrassment to Suzuki.
Also he said that then he went to Rinsoin to work on transmission with Suzuki but Suzuki just had him sit in this room in the back of the temple while he entertained all the temple members who were coming by to say hi to him and Dick said he finally stormed in on Suzuki and said if he didn’t spend more time with him that he, Dick, was going to leave. So he said that Suzuki spent more time with him after that.
I saw him again. at Rinsoin when Dick was there from Eiheiji. I remember the kerosene stove and Suzuki Roshi getting moxiburning from Okusan.
When Suzuki Roshi was dying Pauline was in America and I remember she lent a carpet to Zen Center to make his room nice.
More notes taken later, no date.
GP: Neville Warwick showed up one day at Sokoji for afternoon zazen when I was in the office with Suzuki Roshi afterwards. He was English and had on the robes of a Russian orthodox priest - full regalia and splendor. He said he wanted to join us. He couldn’t wait to get ordained. He said he’d been a celibate priest for eight years and said his big problem was celibacy. Suzuki Roshi typically disregarded the celibacy, the whole thing - if you want to join us you may do so like the others. Come join us for zazen. He made no big deal out of Warwick’s being a priest and celibacy was like not eating meat - not something he required or even liked to see someone overemphasizing. And Suzuki wouldn’t respond to his desire to be ordained. About three weeks later Warwick appeared still in his orthodox regalia and with an okesa in his hands. His said this is an okesa, the robe of priesthood in Zen - it can be worn inside or outside.
DC: That's a strange thing to say. I've never seen it worn on the inside of anything.
GP: Again Suzuki paid him no mind except to be polite and to nod.
I invited him over to dinner since he was a Brit. And we miss a certain sense of humor and flamboyance, eccentricity and whatnot. He was a bullshitter who claimed to be a medical doctor, an interesting character, fun to talk with. He was about five eleven and very well spoken by British standards, well educated, articulate - an exaggerator, a real character. Janet Haley knew him. It seemed maybe they were quite close.
There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle at that time where he was interviewed about Buddhism. He said that Beat Zen was over the dam and gave a vision of huge numbers converting to Zen. It was an embarrassment to Suzuki Roshi and to Zen Center at the time. He drew blank cards with Suzuki and went elsewhere.
Warwick was very unresolved in his life He had no kids, no family, his celibacy was a huge hangup and not so successful though central to his idea of priesthood.
In Zen it’s quite normal to study under more than one teacher. Suzuki strongly recommended it and he knew that just to study with him wasn’t enough. So I studied with other people. In the end I found the purity and simplicity of Antaiji quite meaningful to me. That’s what I got out of Japan.
Somehow Suzuki and I parted ways and the loss of simplicity is central to that. He got involved with Tatsugami and the way Dick was doing things. I couldn’t take it. I’m Tokujun - full of virtue, a Virgo. The problem with Miss Ransom was coincidental. I was torn to come back and I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t claim to be Suzuki's dharma heir.
After I came back from Japan the first time, I went to Suzuki and said I’d failed the first time at Eiheiji and I needed to go back to Japan for three to six months. I hadn’t been able to deal with the problem of Eiheiji - I went under and it was a problem for me. I talked with him about this. I’d been sitting for three years and was not into grips with what I was doing. I don’t like to fail - I wanted to go back and try again. He asked Pauline over at the house and she said she and her mother wanted to come too. She wouldn’t let me go for a year. The first thing my mother-in-law said was if you go we go too.
Nineteen sixty-six would have been an ideal time to get me back. I was running around Japan with a shaved head doing memorial services at Shizuoka. I could have gone to England for a month. My life was 100% committed to Buddhism. We practiced Buddhism in London. The grandparents hadn’t seen the children. Shortly after arriving in England Suzuki Roshi wrote me to come back but I wrote and said I can’t come now. We’d leased an apartment for a year. I planned to go back after a year of teaching zazen in London - got involved with Christmas Humphreys and Soen Nakagawa’s disciple Suzuki. I couldn’t just rush off but I planned to come back to Zen Center. But then I got committed to running the Japanese school, signed a contract. Three days later I got the letters from Suzuki and Dick and someone else saying Tassajara is happening and come back but I couldn’t.
Bob Hense was supposed to get things together but couldn’t seem to do it. He had some sort of breakdown. One day he was there and the next not. It was not a crisis. That’s what got things together. We had our Saturday meeting and I was elected president. And then we had Zen Center.
Christmas Humphreys thought that unless you were studying with a master that kundalini was dangerous.
Phillip and I were good friends at Eiheiji. He wasn’t with it in his life and that became apparent as he drifted off. No sense of organization - he actually became president. You couldn’t imagine a more difficult person in that role but others picked up on it. He didn’t believe in organization. Even Dick and I questioned the necessity of Zen Center - but we were collecting money and needed a tax free status. Some people, like Phil, wanted to keep it loose. I remember responding to one person who was very concerned about us becoming an organization. There were by-lays that had to be written. Jean Ross, maybe Betty Warren or maybe someone else, and I wrote them with an attorney from Berkeley who donated his time. I don’t remember his name.
Bill Kwong was engaged in his job and family and unable to make some level of commitment. He had children ahead of us. There’s that practical aspect but the great reluctance of Bill to get involved with organization is more important. When Suzuki Roshi went to Japan in 1963 there was out and out antagonism between him and Dick.
Suzuki taught Dick, Bill and me how to do the morning and evening service and when he left for Japan he never left any clear instructions. He just left it up to us. I would do the evening because I was the only one there most of the time. I left it up to Dick and Bill to do the morning service. Bill said to Dick unilaterally that he’d do it.
DC: Bill told me that Suzuki had asked him to do it before he left and that when Dick asked him to share it he said no and that Dick called a meeting and Bill said he couldn’t handle the conflict and then stopped coming. I got the impression that after that he just came on weekends.
GP: Bill was uncomfortable with Dick and Dick wanted power. But it wasn’t an ongoing daily confrontation. We said we wouldn’t discuss it with Suzuki Roshi when he came back. There was a rift - they had differences in their understanding of their responsibilities.
Later on I used to stay in the Village Inn in Mill Valley and sit with Bill. And I used to visit Sonoma every time I came. Bill always resented Dick I think. When Suzuki Roshi died I worked hard to resolve their differences - tried to get Bill face to face with Dick.
The reason I didn’t come back when Dick went to Japan it not just that I’d grown beyond an interest in being at Zen Center, but that I had an enormous responsibility founding the International Language School (ILC). There were 2500 students, nearly 100 teachers. It was in central Tokyo - the Kando Jimbocho student annex. Most of the teaching was outside of the school. When I was released from the school, so much had taken place at Zen Center and in my life and I’d come under the influence of Sawaki Kodo. I liked the simplicity of Antaiji, the lack of hierarchy - contrary to what I’d been as the leader in creating at Zen Center. I wanted the robes and ceremonies but then I came to wonder what was I doing at Eiheiji. Like when I was into Catholic monasteries and went to Rome and threw up my hands. I’m very much a person into ritual and carrying out exact forms. As the son of a Coldstream Guardsman I’d get irritable at people at Zen Center who couldn’t get it right. I wanted to learn the right way so I went to Eiheiji and threw up my hands again - it was sickening, the hypocrisy and lack of depth. But at least I worked through Eiheiji and got to Antaiji and looked at how I got into ritual and looked into it and gave it up. People at Zen Center didn’t see the corruption I saw with formal Zen in Japan. There was no real teaching. And people at Zen Center didn’t find what I did at Antaiji. Both sides can get caught in form.
Suzuki let us develop a diet we could live on. At Eiheiji we ate white rice on the first and fifteenth of every month. We ate a sort of partially milled brown rice with 40% mugi, barley. The monks all had cans of meat to supplement their diet. When I got back from Japan, Suzuki Roshi asked me to speak about my experiences at Eiheiji. But he said, "I don’t mean the meat eating." There was that and the lack of sincerity. But the food at Tassajara was much too rich -sauces and stuff. And for breakfast there were nuts and raisons. The rice wasn’t cooked as I knew it. At Eiheiji they’d boil the mugi for hours.
More from Grahame Petchey on another day
My father was a Cold Stream Guardsman, the palace guards of England, one of the most austere military regimes in England. Our home life was not much different.
I had a nagging question that I tried to answer in the Church of England where I was baptized and, not finding satisfaction there, then drove me toward the Romans. I pursued this question in a Carmelite monastery - that came to an end when I saw the incredible hypocrisy in Rome.
At nineteen I was in a monastery in England - lived there and worked with the monks. I was deeply interested. Went to Rome and it disgusted me.
I did zazen on the boat coming over as best as I could, in a chair, for four weeks. The Buddhist Society in London had warned that over fifteen minutes was dangerous.
I arrived in America in May of 61 and was at Zen Center by June. Okusan had just arrived.
In August or so of '61 Hense had disappeared. He sat nervously and was nervous with the group. He had a major breakdown. He was the first president of Zen Center. One Saturday morning there was a meeting in the kitchen and the topic came up that he was trying to form Zen Center legally and that we needed a new president, someone who could continue that and someone said how about Grahame and Jean said yes I should do it.
What attracted me in the first half hour of zazen that I did with Suzuki was that I didn’t have to have faith anymore - just the blank wall. All I had to do was sit. Suzuki demanded no more than that - and he was humble.
I met Watts at times with lots of other people like at the Jodo Shinshu temple in Berkley. I listened to him but wasn’t impressed. He came to Eiheiji while I was there. I was excited, wanted to see gaijin. He brought a group. I shaved my head and went out but he was gone. He wasn’t nice about what we were doing. His KQED program on Sunday nights was wonderful - the Orient was just yellow people back then.
DC: He didn't believe in doing zazen or practice though he started to sit some toward the end of his life. He loved ceremony though.
GP: Suzuki got angry at a student who tore up that little green book - the Way of Zazen. At Sokoji there was a collection box at the top of the stairs on the left side of the window with plants. I was there with a student who’d been coming for a month. He had been confronting Suzuki with me in the office about the meaning of Zen. He took the book and ripped it up in front of the collection box saying, "This is not Zen!" Acting out a DT Suzuki type thing. Suzuki got pissed. He was very angry - first time I saw that. He said loudly, "No! That is not the way!" The student went down the stairs and never came back.
My time at Zen Center was just quiet zazen - nothing happened.
I went to Vancouver in '62 to avoid the draft. I’d received a notice from the draft board to show up at the induction center in Oakland. I was a British citizen and not about to get caught up in the army or any war that might come along. I was working for Tenneco and they had a subsidiary in Vancouver. Suzuki understood and he gave me the name of a Canadian there he was in contact with. I went and checked it out and came back to get Pauline. We sold furniture and were all packed but then she got sick and it turned out she was pregnant so I was off the hook. David was born in 62.
Warwick came in '63 I think.
The first time I came I expected cloth-robed monks to come out of the zendo or at least people suitably dressed like at the British Buddhist Society where the men wore collar, tie and suit and the women wore proper dresses. The people that walked out of the zendo at that time looked like laborers. The good news was Suzuki. I told him I’ve heard about him and I came to learn about Zen. He asked if I knew how to sit and I said I’d tried it in chairs. He said it would be better on the tatami. Could I do that? I said I didn’t know. I made it through the first thirty minutes. I was extremely proud of myself. He said I took to the position well.
At first I didn’t ask questions. After a year or more I started to ask. I said I’d been coming morning and night, weekdays and weekends and still didn’t understand the meaning of Zen. He’d just put me off - brush aside my questions. It didn’t bug me - I didn’t really expect him to answer.
Dick and I couldn’t see what the purpose of the first Wind Bell was. Why do it?
Going to Japan for the first time - I had decided to dedicate my entire life to this quest so I think I asked Suzuki if I could go to Eiheiji and of course that would mean to become a priest. I still had that nagging question - what is the meaning of life?
Tatsugami and I went to Fukui together - I had a medical appointment and he a dental. We came back to the monzen at seven - before the gate - there were a lot of shops there - and he said let’s eat. We went into a little place where he was known and the girls in kimonos were fussing over him and he was at a kotatsu [blanket covered table with heater underneath] drinking and eating and I ate but didn’t drink and then he offered me a drink from his glass which is an honor and I bowed and politely said I don’t drink which I didn’t realize was insulting. He asked me why did I come to Japan and I said something stupid and he said who’s more drunk - you or I?
Hoichi met me at Fukui Station, I’d taken the overnight train from Haneda [the old Tokyo airport]. Hoichi was in charge of the Joyoden - Dogen’s tomb. He had seniority. We went to get my robes - to Nakamura’s at Fukui. It was for poor monks. Zen Center now buys robes from the rich place in Kyoto. Tatsugami introduced it to me and I unfortunately to Zen Center.
I blamed myself for the failure of my first experience at Eiheiji. The second time I did better. There was a guy from Chicago who said from the beginning that he had a weak heart so no one bugged him. He was ordained by a priest in Chicago.
I said to the monks around a cup of tea in the shuryo about one guy, "That’s why he’s so crazy," and he broke a gourd with his fist and said, "That’s Takujun! [Grahame's Zen name] I tried to say that’s just a joke but he was on my case. He was removed from Eiheiji before I came back from the hospital. That was on the first trip there. He wanted to kill me it seemed like. He was bigger than me. It’s in my diary - horror at Eiheiji. There was not so much drinking in Tatsugami’s room when I was there, but there was some. I had thought this was the clear straight way. I learned to smoke there. At first I hated it. They'd eat meat out of tins, survive there for six months, get a certificate, and qualify as a temple priest.
I was at Tassajara digging the septic tank the time I saw Suzuki there when he sent for me to come back and talk to him more. Where did Suzuki turn from simplicity to complexity? I couldn’t believe the hierarchy in 69.
talk with GP and a bit with Pauline on the phone- eve of 3\2\98
DC: Who is the other student mentioned by Suzuki in the letter of 4\11\66?
GP: I don’t know but I remember when Suzuki and I went to Eiheiji in '66, that at that time there was a Westerner there and we were guests and I looked at him and thought oh I know what he’s going through. We stayed in Kaninryo at Eiheiji [abbot's quarters] and met with Kumazawa-roshi, the kancho, abbot.
That night we had a dinner with priests in Fukui and missed the last train out and sat on the platform till the five AM train. Suzuki Roshi put a newspaper in his robe to keep warmer and I paced. A drunk Japanese guy got miffed at me walking around and told me to stop and started going on about ware-ware [we, meaning we Japanese] and Nippon [Japan] and Suzuki Roshi just sat there and the guy started to make martial arts type jabs at me and got madder and madder and luckily a few other Japanese people came out and pulled him back. Suzuki Roshi never paid attention.
DC: Pauline gave a lecture at some temple near Rinsoin. Do you know where that was?
GP: The lecture Pauline gave was probably at Zounin - Suzuki Roshi translated standing next to her. She talked about things the women would be interested in - baby formula and orange juice.
Suzuki Roshi brought brochures about the horse pasture purchase which Zen Center was raising money to buy and Pauline and I were shocked - such big talk. I was going around rice paddies in waraji [straw sandles] and back there they’re having Zenefits.
I was doing memorial services with Phillip Wilson and we were in robes and had shaved heads. That was in Shizuoka and Suzuki Roshi was with Claude coming along in people’s homes and Dutch Reform Claude was horrified that we were becoming Japanese
Okusan was not there. She didn't come with him on that trip. But Kobun was there at Hoitsu’s ceremony. Pauline and the kids and I left for England via Russia before the ceremony.
Kinu Obaasan, Suzuki's mother-in-law, was quite a character at Rinsoin. She sat there and observed and commented. She was tough, abrupt, and carried weight.
It was a peaceful wonderful experience being at Rinsoin. Except for the typhoon. There was a typhoon and Suzuki Roshi was out at a village meeting when the storm came in and didn’t make it back to Rinsoin. There was a large hole broken in the wall and ceiling by a branch. Shoji were flying horizontally across the hatto and Hoitsu was battling with them. I got knocked out going through a door then got back to and wrapped the kids and Pauline in a futon to protect them.
The next morning at zazen with Phillip and Claude, I saw the downed trees and debris through the opening where shoji doors had been. Phillip had slept through it. He didn't even know. Suzuki Roshi got back while we were having breakfast and we learned that many people had died.
Pauline, the kids, and I left before Hoitsu's ceremony. We had bought some silly blue jeans with Mickey mouse on them and boots with Donald duck. When we went to the Yokohama port to take a boat to Russia. Our baggage was not there. We had to go across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway with only the clothes we had on us. On the boat the Russian women insisted we eat borscht and sausage. We'd entered an entirely different world.
3-01-11 - Grahame H. Petchey sent the following excerpt from a letter he wrote. Don't have a date for the letter and won't bother him for that detail. He must have sent this within the last eight years. - dc
Re: Your request for a portion of my letter to a friend:
Now, the sound of one hand clapping (I loved your use of conundrum). The solution to the koan is simple indeed but it defies the relative. With the aid of rational thinking one is driven batty trying to understand it and with the help of persistence one eventually comes to curse the devils who implanted it one's mind. I gave up a very comfortable and successful life in my early twenties to find the answer. Five years of arduous life in Zen Temples facing the wall hour after hour. It wasn't so bad when it was painful sitting cross legged but when the pain ceased I had to face the real problem. I think most people are like this. They marry, have children, struggle with their jobs and are endlessly occupied. The real problem is only faced when the noise stops and it becomes an issue between oneself and God. Only then can one perceive and begin to understand the sound of the great void. Having raised that awesome word of God, I would like to continue in a similar vein but that is not for today.
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