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Interview with Diana Hart (Cheryl Hughes)

We didn’t all come because of Suzuki Roshi, whatever blew him over here brought us there too. He wasn’t the center. Searching was the center. He was searching too.



Interviewed Diana Hart (Cheryl Hughes) back when I lived in Sebastopol where she lived too, somewhere around the turn of the century. Just getting it on cuke in August of 2016. - DC


Diana Hart (Cheryl Hughes)

I was walking to the basement at Page Street, walking down the corridor and Suzuki Roshi was walking up with a phalanx of priests. I was in terror.  What can I do? As he passed I was making it so special and I bowed to him so holy, not to show my fear, showing him how good I was, and he looked at me in disgust. He made a face.

Jed says that happened to him, that he was digging a hole and Suzuki Roshi came over and Jed made some Zen practice comment and Suzuki Roshi gave him a look like that.

Bill Kwong says he invited Suzuki Roshi to come over and see his and Laura's new baby for the first time and he said, “Big ears.”

I remember sitting with him how he’d touch me with the stick and let it sit there. I was a sincere sitter.

DC: You were quiet

When I started sitting at Sokoji in 68, I had long long red hair. I moved to a Berkeley studio and sat with Mel.

One day I came downstairs and Mel said, Are you coming to sesshin Saturday? and I said, What’s that? He said, You’re going to get up at the ungodly hour of four to sit zazen.

I did it and then I couldn’t believe it – we sat again. And then again. And then we turned around to face forward, the door opened, and a beautiful women came out with a tray. It was Beverly Horowitz coming through the door with tea. It was so wonderful not knowing what was going to happen. So wonderful. Then getting to be a server.

DC: Suzuki Roshi liked that too. He liked for people to come sit without instruction at first or with very little so they got to experience it without too much of an idea about what it was.

I was born March 14th, 1944 in  West Warwick Road Island. Came out to San Francisco with my girlfriend in 65 or 66. Worked for the phone company as a mail clerk till I could be a dental hygienist. I'd gone to the University of Rhode Island and become one but had to take the board out here.

Only worked to buy backpacking stuff. Went hiking a lot in Rhode Island. I found a copy of The Way of Zen in Newberries Five and Dime. Later granpa destroyed it. I got interested really young in why people suffered. Read a lot and it all seemed contradictory and then Zen cut through it.  I liked Haiku.

In San Francisco I heard a talk by Katagiri. People were sitting on the floor and people all seemed close so I went to  zazen instruction which was done by Bill Kwong. I started sitting, but I didn’t know anyone else there. In Berkeley I made friends – the Hartmans, Liz Horowitz.

I went to Suzuki Roshi lectures. I don’t  remember if I understood what he said, but was affected by his presence, manner, and liked zazen and chanting. I remember hearing the stick and not knowing what it was. Thought it was hitting the tatami to wake people up and then took a peek! But I liked it.

In a lecture Tatsugami talked about how we all farted like horses.

I remember Bob Halpern pulling Lou Musto over onto the tatami when Lou went to hit him with the stick. Bob said, "I’m not sleeping," and then grabbed the stick. Tatsugami just watched.

DC: I was sitting close to Bob then. He was the Ino, in charge of the zendo and ceremony - and proper behavior therein.

I remember when Suzuki Roshi died, the announcement in the zendo in the city, then chanting in the corridor as we waited to file by and bow.  His head was on a pillow with embroidery of Tassajara trees. Who did that?

Silas was the head monk in the winter. Tommy lived above the dining room. He had pastries from a bakery. Silas knocked on the door. He looked horrified to see so many of us in Tommy’s room.   Someone said, What do bees do in the winter? They stay in the hive and cluster around the queen.

Why did people come to sit? Why did they keep coming to the City Center? There was an ambiance. Something bigger than Suzuki Roshi happening. Remember all the people from Minnesota?

DC: Yeah, I wonder the same thing. What brought me there? All of us there? There was the whole exodus to the Bay Area and some of us we're just magnetically drawn there and to the Zen Center. I see it sometimes like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Us all going there like those who were drawn to Devil’s Postpile in that movie. They didn't know why.

I looked in the phone book. Nothing was there. We didn’t all come because of Suzuki Roshi, whatever blew him over here brought us there too. He wasn’t the center. Searching was the center. He was searching too.

DC: I like to see it that way too.

I worked in the kitchen with Tommy. Francis was the tenzo. It was tense. Then you came in and talked Donald Duck.

There was a guy I saw asking for money on the San Francisco street who ended up at Zen Center. He went to Tassajara and he’d overslept and missed breakfast. He said I’m hungry can I get something to eat? and Frances said, No it’s bad for your practice! I looked at Tommy getting agitated and he said, You’re not saying no because it’s bad for his practice. You’re saying no because you like saying no.

I was serving at a sesshin at Page Street and kneeled down.  Reb put his cup out and I accidentally poured tea on him. He gave me this look like You little shit. So much of that then.

DC: I'm sure he forgave you after it cooled off.

It was hard to be there with a child. So much a men’s practice. In '72 at Zen Center Dick said we had to fight for it. Louise, me, Toni Johansen.

DC note: Cheryl didn't have a child while at Tassajara, that was later in the city.

I was working in the kitchen at Tassajara and J. and I got in a fight about salt in the salad. He wanted more and usually I acquiesced but that day I said no and afterwards I obsessed about it for hours. He wore a dark wool hat and I thought he was very rigid. The next morning he was at the stove and I was on the way to the baths and I stopped off to explain my reasoning, why I had to do it that way. I was the cook for that meal and blah blah blah. And I saw the back of his neck and he was so vulnerable, just a lonely suffering person, and I felt his suffering and so I just said, J? and he answered, Yes. I’m sorry that we had to fight about the salt and he accepted it. Giving and receiving.

There was a woman there who was dying and not wanting to die. She said there was too much to do. Then before her death she experienced that everything’s okay. Don’t need to do anything. Everyone had loved her perfectly and she’d loved them all.

That’s what I remember – interaction with students. I wasn’t so focused on teachers. I went to Tassajara because Ann Armstrong (a psychic) told me to go. So I quit my job and went to Tassajara. Tatsugami had a bunch of us for tea and asked us why we came. A sumi artist gave a complicated answer about his painting. I thought – I came because of The Way of Zen and the psychic – oh shit, he’s going to throw me out. He got to me and I said, “Oh I don’t know,” and he said, "That’s the right answer. I don’t know is closest."

DC: Cool. That's the punch line to a famous koan.

I came to Bill Kwong's Sonoma Mountain in 74, left there in 77.