Blanche and Lou Hartman
10\09\95 by DC
[There was no credit on this photo that I got from www.sfzc.org - DC
In addition to this interview there is an article below from the SFZC newsletter sangha-e! called _Retired, But Not idle: Catching up with Blanche and Lou_ by Julia Sommer
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I interviewed Blanche and Lou at my home in San Rafael early on in the process of interviewing people. It was a treat to have them come by. She is a retired abbot of the SFZC. One thing I wish I'd asked Lou about was his experience with McCarthyism which cost him his job in radio, and, if I remember what he told me long ago, his sanity, for a while. Anyway, he recovered and they're both still active and living at the City Center. - DC
At the bottom there is a brief article on the Hartmans from the SFZC's online Sangha-e! newsletter. If you search the Internet through Google, you'll find a lot on Blanche including lectures and photos.
Took this off the internet: Zenkei Blanche Hartman began sitting in 1969 at the Berkeley Zen Center with Sojun Mel Weitsman and in San Francisco with Suzuki-roshi. She was priest ordained in 1977 by Zentatsu Baker-roshi and received dharma transmission with Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1988. Zenkei became abbess of San Francisco Zen Center in February of 1996. She is married to Shuun Lou Hartman. They have four children and five grandchildren.
DC: So, Blanche, why don't you start off and just say anything that comes to mind.
BH: I remember right after Suzuki Roshi died Masao Abe said you should have people tell their stories of experiences with Suzuki Roshi right away - this is the most important thing you have to do is keep a record of Suzuki Roshi and his teaching and we never did it.
DC: Well, there are some letters at the Zen Center that were used for that issue of the Wind Bell that had memories of him, and I'm putting a lot of time into it, and now it's you're turn.
BH: When I first came to ZC my life was shaky, our marriage was shaky and we had been to a marriage counselor and I'd learned things about the dynamics between myself and my family that made me feel bad about myself. It was '68. I met Suzuki Roshi in '69 and in the first lecture I heard him give he said, "You're perfect just as you are," and I thought, well I know he doesn't know me. But I kept going to his lectures and he kept saying things like that: You have everything you need, there's nothing lacking, you're already complete. It finally got through to me that he actually was including me cause he wasn't leaving anybody out. Then I had to deal with what in the world was he talking about? It became a real koan for me. I've come to see that that's the primary teaching of the Buddha.
When I started sitting it was like a drowning person grabbing a life preserver. I was sitting every morning and afternoon at the Berkeley zendo and my daughters complained that I wasn't ever home but I had no choice. He came to the Berkeley zendo every Monday morning and a whole bunch of us went to the city for his Wednesday night and Saturday talks and sittings. I was going to one day sittings but I didn't go to dokusan with him for at least six months because I was feeling so bad about myself. Finally Meg Gawler said go see him so I did. One of the things that impressed me about it - I was so devoted to him and very happy to bow to him and then when I sat down - I had made a black skirt for sitting zazen and I was arranging it and he said, "You're arranging your skirt carefully because you respect me." He could see that I bowed with a great deal of feeling and he said, You know, if you touch your head three times when you bow, you can bow to me three times instead on once. What unusual things he said. He could have said our custom is to touch our heads three times to the floor when we bow, but he picked on my attitude toward him in particular and used that as a way to teach me.
I went to Tassajara a few days after I'd first had zazen instruction and I fell in love with the place and went right back down as soon as I got the time off. My roommate was Meg Gawler and I wasn't sure it was okay for a woman over 45 to be there. Only Katherine Thanas, Pat Herreshoff and I were that age and there was a sprinkling of people in their thirties and everybody else was in their twenties and it wasn't clear they wanted someone around who looked like their mother. Meg made me feel welcome and I was totally grateful to her. When I left she said, don't forget to send care packages. At that time there wasn't any back door in the kitchen like now, no snacks and the kitchen was macrobiotic. So I sent cookies. Every time someone would go to Tassajara I'd send more cookies to Meg and then at a certain point I thought how come she doesn't send a letter and say how great I am. And then I thought, how selfish I am. I'm not being generous - there are strings attached. I just want something back. So I went to see Suzuki Roshi and told him about it and he said, "It's alright for you to take care of her. But first you have to take care of yourself! (he said in a rising voice and then he got right in my face and said very loudly) Do you understand!" And I jumped back and said, Yes. But when I got out of there I thought, no no first take care of yourself is selfish - Zen is about no self etc etc. But I'd said yes and he's a Zen master. And that became a koan for me and it still is. What self do you take care of and how do you take care of others?
At the end of that dokusan I got up to leave - I wasn't clear about the form but I thought you got up and fluffed your cushion and stepped back and bowed but there was a whole zafu and zabuton between me and Suzuki Roshi and I wanted to bow to him directly and so I stepped forward and bowed with my head right down by the corner of his zabuton. And when I stood up his head was head to head with mine. He'd jumped up and bowed with me. I walked out of there just stunned. I knew that however much I respected him he was meeting that respect with as much respect.
At another dokusan. Lou and our daughter Trudy had begun sitting. I was always going up there telling him what an awful person I was and how awful I felt about myself. Suzuki Roshi was very encouraging. And that day he said, You know, sometimes I look out the window and I see you and your daughter walking down the street arm in arm and it's really nice. It's wonderful that you and your husband and daughter are all sitting together. It doesn't always happen like that. Sometimes when a wife begins to sit, the husband gets jealous like she had a new boyfriend. It's because of your deep sincerity that they can practice. He was encouraging me because I was so down on myself.
On the other hand, one time I had been sitting a one day sitting counting my breathes and I really got into it and period after period it seemed like I'd counted every breath and never strayed so I went up to him in dokusan and I said, well now I can count every breath, what do I do next? And he leaned forward and said to me fiercely and sternly, "Don't ever think that you can sit zazen! That's a big mistake! Zazen sits zazen!" I was impressed by that. That was the first time I'd gone to him feeling proud of myself.
It reminds me of Jack Kornfield's story of going to his teacher and complaining that he was inconsistent and telling different people different things and his teacher said, oh I see someone on the road about to fall into the ditch on the right and I say go left! go left! and I see somebody about to fall into the ditch on the left and I say go right! go right! In that way when I felt discouraged, Suzuki Roshi was very encouraging when I was discouraged and when I was feeling proud he would knock me down.
There's one thing that happened that's very embarrassing but it's indicative of how he taught. Right after we moved into the building, I was still smoking. It was during a sesshin and things were a bit looser then - people would go down to Kirby's for ice-cream during breaks. Nowadays when you prepare an offering trey of food to be offered in the Buddha hall, it's received from the kitchen with great respect. It represents an offering from those working in the kitchen to those practicing in the zendo. At that time we were a little bit more casual about it and we hadn't learned the forms that we know now. What I did was so off the wall - it was sort of like going to the opera in my Maidenform Bra. I went out to get the offering trey and it was just before noon service - Suzuki Roshi had been upstairs doing dokusan and he was coming downstairs to sit in the zendo with the others I thought I had a little time and I lit a cigarette and was carrying the offering trey in one hand and holding the cigarette in the other and he saw me and he just waggled his finger in front of his face like no no no and went on down to the zendo. That waggling finger came back to me when I was quitting smoking five years later and I had a terrible time of it and that memory was the greatest help I had in quitting.
Lou: The first time I saw Suzuki Roshi I didn't know who he was. There was some sort of demonstration downtown at Union Square I believe it was - a Japanese firm had set up a long mechanical thing that made plastic coasters and they were giving them away and you saw the whole procedure under glass and I was looking at it from one side and I saw a very sharp little Japanese guy looking at the process from the other side and then the machine broke down and he bounced off. I thought he was a pretty neat upright person.
I was waiting to see him once for dokusan and the bell rang and so I went in and he was in his kimono on the floor with his hand on his head leaning his elbow on the floor reading a book - and what had happened was that someone had come to see Okusan and had rung the bell outside her door and I said, shall I go out again and he said no and so he put on his koromo and okesa and sat down and we had dokusan.
I had done a lot of reading and what I was most involved with was Daisetsu Suzuki's no mind book which I can see now by all the underlinings I was really into and there were diagrams and it was a very German approach. So for my first dokusan I had spent a lot of time sharpening up questions from the book and I was really going to lay it on him and see what he knew and I came in and bowed and sat on the cushion and arranged my robes [lay robes] and looked up at his face and I started to ball - all gone! all gone roshi! wife, children, job, work, all gone! And he let me carry on like that for a while and he said I think you should go sit some more and I've been doing it now for 27 years. He blew me away. I'd never met anyone in authority like that before that was this way instead of this way (arms open instead of fist clinched ready to fight). I'd never come up against anybody in authority that wasn't ready to let me have it and so I was treating him the same as I would my grandfather or the head of the House un-American Activities Committee.
After we had dokusans we'd sit around and talk. Since I was older and had experience with the community in a broad and superficial way he wanted to find out about what things were like in America. We'd talk about the news. He wanted to find out more about what sort of place he'd come to and what sort of people lived in it and I was bold enough to tell him a lot of things. For example, I warned him that sooner or later the social conditions that were so supportive - like the rallying for Zen Center to buy Tass - would change. It would not necessarily be as rosy as it had been. And I used the metaphor of a private garden over in the East Bay that I used to take people to go see - you could stop your car and see it from the street. So one day I took some people to see it and the garden was gone - it had been washed down into the ravine. And I said, everything grows in the Bay area and it may be that the Zen tree will continue to grow down in the ravine but don't expect that it's always going to be on the top of a hill.
He once said that introducing Zen to America or to a new country is like holding a tree to a rock with your hands and waiting for it to take root.
And then there's the time that Mel rang the wake up bell too early. I like to get up early. It may have been rohatsu sesshin of '70 [December]. So before they could get to the zendo, Mel had gone around telling everyone to go back to bed. I was already up so I thought it was a good time to get sitting anyway. Evelyn Lentz and I were in there sitting and he came in and he sat for fifteen minutes and then he left and then the bell started formally at the right time and everyone came in and zazen started and then in the middle of the darkness of the first period he started to talk. He starting talking in a fierce voice I'd never heard before, "You are foxes and badgers sleeping in your zazen caves. Tell me! Who is priest? Who is layman?" He then jumped off his cushion and took his stick and started going down the Lily Alley side of the zendo beating people. I can still see Yvonne leaping up to the wall to get away from the blows. By the time he got around to me it was just tap tap tap tap. But he started out strongly. There were two people who I saw there in the room who swore it never happened. They didn't want to see that aspect of him.
BH: I remember you telling me when you came home that he'd said, "When the bell rings, get up! Go to the zendo!"
LH: The question of priest and layman was a deep ongoing problem for him.
BH: There weren't lay people sitting in the zendo together on a daily basis like us.
LH: And after all these years we still haven't resolved that question of priest and lay.
Trudy was sixteen and she spent the summer at Tassajara and she wrote us a letter. She said it was a wonderful day at Tassajara and I was up before the wake up bell. As I was going past Suzuki Roshi's cabin I saw him walking in his garden. Do you know what he was doing? He was walking in his garden! (Underlined, exclamation.)
BH: Okusan arranged for each of her tea students to make tea for Suzuki Roshi and I know she was quite excited about that.
LH: At the time that Suzuki Roshi had his gall bladder problem, I saw him in the hall and I knew immediately that he was a dead man. That's happened to me several times. I was coming in from the courtyard and he was coming down the hall and we looked at each other and I knew.
BH: Trungpa Rimpoche came to ZC whenever he was in town and gave a talk. Once he was there and he'd come late and had been drinking and he sat there smoking and talking and it was a great talk and one person got up and was irate and said, how can you sit up there and smoke and you've been drinking and he went on like that and I happened to be walking down the hall next to Suzuki Roshi afterwards and Suzuki Roshi shook his head and said, "He's such a good teacher. If only people could see how he's teaching them."
LH: And then there's Suzuki Roshi and Okusan together on the enlightenment question. What was she hitting him for with her chopsticks in the picnic picture? And he was hitting her back. [Just clowning around for the camera.]
BH: At Meg and Ed's wedding, her father brought 11 cases of champagne and everyone had a lot and it was the last wedding we had at Tassajara for many years [except Niels and Maggie in December after Suzuki Roshi died.] They'd set up a bandstand. David was playing a guitar and Lew Richmond was on electronic keyboard and Craig Boyan was on drums - he had his trap set there. I remember Suzuki Roshi sitting on the band platform playing a kazoo.
LH: And he wore Bill Lambert's hat.
DC: That was the ultimate bash we ever had at Tassajara. I met him that morning at sunrise on his way back from the bathes. He was staggering up the road. He wasn't used to drinking. He shook his head and said, "Too much."
BH: The kids were popping the tops off the champagne and filling everyone's glasses. It was a very heavy wedding. I remember Suzuki Roshi saying, all of you are going to have to help Ed and Meg. Okusan was crying. He said it's going to be very difficult for them.
LH: After the wedding he said to me shaking his head, "Too serious."
DC: I remember him saying you two are going to suffer a whole lot and are going to have to make a very strong effort.
BH: And it was true - they had a very hard time.
LH: One time I happened to be looking down - I was doing the han for zazen maybe - it was the old stone zendo and Suzuki Roshi was on his way to the zendo and Meg was coming out and like a sheepdog he guided her back. She'd go to his side and he'd hold his stick out and guide her back and she'd go to the other side and he kept going forward and she went back in.
BH: In addition to being in such a difficult period of my life and feeling bad about myself, I'd had an experience the year before I came to Zen Center at the San Francisco State College student strike in a confrontation situation. One of the leaders of the black students union or whatever had come on the radio and invited citizens to come to pose themselves between the police and students to prevent further violence - students had gotten beaten up and arrested. So I went out there to do that. My son had gotten arrested. I was there before the rally and I noticed that some of the strikers were making it awfully difficult for other students to get in the door and some jocks came along and took some pictures of them and were standing in the way and one striker grabbed his camera and threw it on the ground and there was some jostling and I was wondering, where's my side? I was a pacifist and I wanted to support the strike but not the confrontational rough stuff. I was in a state of confusion.
And then there was the rally and one of the black leaders got up to speak and there was an announcement that this was an illegal assembly and the police tack squad came out in full riot gear to clear the quad and so I positioned myself between the police and students just a few feet from each and it was a moment of heightened awareness and I made eye contact with the policeman and my background was left-wing politics and the riot squad policeman was in my mind the epitome of not me and yet I had eye contact with one and had an overpowering experience of identity with him for which I had no preparation in understanding what that could be all about. My whole history up to that point was black and white judgmental good guys and bad guys and the good guys were the ones who agreed with me but I had that experience of unmistakable identity with the policeman and it blew me away. That night I went to a meeting of parents and the next morning there was a press conference asking parents to support the strike but that ended my political activism as it had been up until then because it was clear that the world was not the way I thought it was. That was '68. I hadn't read anything about Zen or heard much about it but I began to look for who understood that experience because it was the most real experience in my life. It had nothing to do with ideas - it just had to do with direct experience. My feeling when I met Suzuki Roshi was that he understands that experience - how me and not me can be identical. And the way he met me with total acceptance and not being different from him is how I came to sit.
LH: In the difficult time that we were talking about we were working with a therapist who worked with mescaline and I was an old man eager to have a chance to take drugs but I wanted my money back because I was cold and hungry and I had no visions. Afterwards he said to me, I think you need a religious discipline - there are many yogas, there's Bahai, Vedanta and there's a new one in town called Zen, but I don't recommend it - that's the hard one. So for various reasons I ended up at Zen Center and the news got back to the young man who was sort of Dr. Colt's heir, he'd died of Leukemia. Tom said, you go back and tell Lou this story. When he and I were talking about what we should recommend, Dr. Colts said, you know, Lou belongs in Zen, but he's such a stubborn son-of-a-bitch that if I recommend it he won't go, so I told him not to do it." He was a real teacher, right?
BH: Lou and I were having a hard time. Somebody gave him a copy of the Three Pillars of Zen and someone gave me a copy of the Teachings of Huang Po. And he went off to stay with his father for the summer in the country and while he was away, I went to sit zazen in the Berkeley Zendo. Paul Disco's mother had told me to go over there. By the time Lou got back I was going everyday. And while he was back East he read Three Pillars and he started sitting zazen from the directions in the book. So when he came back we were sitting zazen but our marriage was still pretty shaky and I told him I was going over to the Berkeley Zendo and he said, that's your trip. I am tired of having women run my life and I'm gonna sit at home. So he made a little zendo at home and sometimes I sat with him and sometimes I went to the Berkeley Zendo and one day he went with me because Suzuki Roshi was lecturing and once he met Suzuki Roshi it was kind of irrelevant whether it was my trip or not so he started sitting at the Berkeley Zendo. So he got over not wanting to do my trip and it's been my trip ever since (said in jest). (laughing)
LH: He opened a lot of doors for a lot of people.
I was raised by this German fascist grandfather, a Hitler supporter and a real good German and the house was regulated just like a real German household. He owned a big piece of property which had woods on it and fields and a stream. So anytime I got out of the house I was absolutely free so there was an immediate dichotomy set up in my life between real life which was inside the house and my life which was outside the house. I was five or so. And one day I was on a rock by the stream at evening time and the swallows were flitting and the sun was setting and there was a pearly sky and towering tulip trees and all of a sudden I disappeared. I was swooping with the swallows and shinning with the sky and towering with the trees and it was such a towering transformation that I said to myself, You just disappeared. And I immediately ran to the house to tell my mother about it. That's not what you do, right? In between the experience and going to the house I stopped a second and I said, wait a minute, if you disappeared, who is it that remembers the experience. And it got away from me and I went in and I told my mother I'd just seen God because at five years old the only big word I could have for a situation like that was the one I'd heard in Sunday school. And she said, that's nice. Now wash your hands, it's time for supper. All of a sudden hand washing was more important than God-seeing. And there I was hung up for many many many years between God-seeing on this hand and hand washing on the other and not realizing that one washed the other but it gave me a direction in my life that without which I never would have even gotten far enough to see Suzuki Roshi. I've discovered that children have these sorts of experiences all the time because they have so little ego which drop off like their shirts and pants and there you are right where it's at. They sit zazen but not the posture of zazen. I've done some reading in that and met people who told me of similar experiences. But it was absolutely no doing of mine - I just sat still. I just sat still, that's all, and all of a sudden, there was the world. Like Celesius [?] says, God's joy and love are everywhere but he can't come and visit you unless you aren't there. He's a fifteen hundreds German philosopher.
DC: Do you have any Jewish blood?
BH: I'm Jewish and he's not but everyone has always thought it was opposite. There's a story that Shulteis [?], which was his grandfather's name, was a name that was given to all Jewish bastards at the time that he was born but that may not be true.
LH: I have been mistaken for a Jew many many times by Jews. When Blanche and I were married a neighbor gave us a party so the people in the neighborhood gave us a party and later the neighbor came over and told us that after we left they sat around and talked about are the Hartmans Jewishness and the consensus is that she isn't but he is but he tries to pass.
BH: The person who said that knew him well and said that with great certainty.
LH: That sort of thing happened over and over again. [ He tells the story about being in Oklahoma city and signing up some Jewish department store for the radio station he was working for, for a Cherokee named Bonebreak, and Mr. Mayo (?) saw him walking around on a Sunday and canceled the contract cause Lou was walking around on the high holy day. He tells another story about the Ukraine bakery and how he showed his business card which said Jim Grady and the guy said, is this a name for a nice Jewish boy.?]
There was a display at the museum of modern art and somebody had found a catch of pictures of a Jewish community in Poland and it looked just like a picture of my grandfather and his wife and three children from back in the old country.
BH: And I'm from a German Jewish family.
LH: I have a friend who I was pretty close to - the one who showed me Three Pillars so he's fairly responsible for me being here - Reuben. He said, I saw Suzuki Roshi once just walking down the street. And his voice changed and his face changed and his spirit changed in the memory of having seen Suzuki Roshi. He was a totally transformed person from the moment that that memory was on him. Sort of like Trudy seeing him in the garden. I saw him once, he said excitedly. But he got a glimpse of something. I think a lot of the Buddhist teaching was when he was just walking along and the women look out their windows making supper and they see him and that's all that was needed. I think that Suzuki Roshi had that quality. And in the full moon ceremony that we had today the priest responds to one of the prohibitory precepts something about testifying with his body being foremost.
BH: It's from the Sojukaimon [?] about not abusing the three treasures.
LH: But he wanted another three years and that's the tragedy. He said so.
BH: He said, you make me greedy to have another ten years.
LH: I was at Tassajara when he died and I was stricken but our relationship from the beginning was on an intellectual basis. I was the word man. I didn't have the sort of association that Blanche had.
BH: I remember him saying that things teach best when they're dying. I remember when he came into the mountain seat ceremony looking so gaunt and ill with his staff and on Hoitsu's arm and everybody just burst into tears. He was clearly dying and it was obviously overpowering. He was there participating in the ceremony just on strength of will. I feel that he held on to complete that act. The obviousness of it made the questions in the dharma combat part of the ceremony very sharp. Dan Welch talked about Dick wearing the brocade okesa which Suzuki Roshi had asked him to wear with the hat and all and then he took it off and put on the brown okesa and I remember Dan saying with emotion, why are you wearing a brocade okesa and Dick started to say something and Dan thundered, Is wearing a brocade okesa Dogen Zenji's way? And he said, no it's not, please excuse me. But Suzuki Roshi was so ill you could cut it with a knife.
I was sitting in sesshin when he died and I just remember that the zendo was full and the hallway was full and what's now the men's dorm was an overflow zendo and I was sitting there and all of his old students started coming to join the sesshin when they got word of his death and many people I'd never seen before who had scattered around like Phillip Wilson was walking kinhin in front of me and he had big broad shoulders. His wife was teaching up at Sonoma State. I had to go back to work and then I went over and sat with him at the funeral home at night. He continued to darken as we sat day after day.
BH: There was a group of people visiting from Japan and I was sitting next to them and Okusan and one thing that was very clear was that he would work so hard preparing for his dharma talks and one day she said to him, (you know the talks at Los Altos that were in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, sometimes there were only three or four or five people there) and she said to him, what do you spend so much time preparing these talks for? Nobody comes to hear them? And he said, it doesn't matter if it's one or one thousand. It's the dharma and I have to do my best." I was very moved by that. It makes me ashamed every time I do a dharma talk. The result that many many many people still today come to Zen Center to study and sit because they read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. There's somebody there now from Bulgaria who sold a piece of land to come there to study for six months because she had read it. That book did so much toward making his teaching available.
I heard that when Suzuki Roshi was young he used to see all the poorly made manufactured stuff that came from Japan to America and he saw that crummy stuff that was coming over here and he said, when I grow up I want to take the best that Japan has to offer to America.
LH: I've heard that too.
BH: You'd open them up and they'd be made of old coke cans. Back in the thirties.
DC: Well, he did bring the best. And thanks a lot for the best from you two.
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