Interview with Alice & Richard Haspray
Richard and Alice's cuke page (see an older interview there with just Alice)
this interview needs some correcting
from a radio interview on the Chronicles of CTR site
Here's an audio interview with the Hasprays talking about Shunryu Suzuki and Zen Center from the Chronicles of CTR. Dated March 1, 2017
Transcript immediately below - thanks Alice Dill - checked by DC
Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Chronicles Radio
Fifty years ago, Suzuki Roshi arrived in America and began to guide Western students into a life of Zen practice. Our guests today, Richard and Alice Haspray, are two of the young Americans who came to study with Roshi at [the San Francisco] Zen Center.
Q: So, Richard, when did you arrive at Zen Center?
R: Well, it was about 40 years ago. Alice and I were on a romantic motorcycle journey around North America and - we were - definitely one of the points of destination was San Francisco. We first encountered Zen Center then and I think you would say when we arrived at Zen Center was after we were married and, so that would have been in the Autumn - late Autumn of 1970, with the intention of - that we're here - this was a long-standing plan - long meaning a year and a half or two, based on our previous connection with practice and people we had met who specifically introduced us to Suzuki Roshi and the zendo and practice centers in California. So, we were planning to go there and we did.
Q: So he gave talks on a regular basis?
R: He gave public talks on Sundays and other talks on - I can't remember what day - Tuesday...[Wednesday?-dc]
Q: So like once or twice a week you would hear him speak?
R: Yep - or more often if there was a week-long practice period - practice intensives – sesshins.
Q: What can you say about those sesshins practices?
R: Well, do you folks on the Chronicle who might be listening to this are familiar with sitting all day or day after day for a week or day after day for a month or you are on a retreat - but one specific instruction that is important - or was important at the time - is that when you're sitting for your period of practice, which was very regular in the sesshin, there would be 40 minutes of sitting and 10 minutes of walking - but when you are sitting, you don't move and that was an important instruction that I had to deal with as a very tight person whose body was not at all flexible and it was hard for me to even cross my legs and sit on this little round cushion - so, for me, my experiences of sesshin started with this self - I suppose, because of my hope that I could do this - it was like torture and I learned yoga in this kind of very intense way because it would be much easier to do this if you are quite flexible and you could sit cross-legged. Sesshin, the formal practice, the discipline encouraged, sitting in half-lotus or full-lotus, you felt like a second class citizen if you could sit in half-lotus for 40 minutes without moving and a first class citizen if you could sit in full lotus for 40 minutes without moving and get up and walk normally for 10 minutes. So - that kind of physiological excruciating [laughing] that was my first experiences with sesshin.
Q: So the practice was very traditional Zen, in that sense?
R: Pretty traditional.
Q: What was it about Suzuki Roshi's teaching that was bringing all these Americans to this and keeping them there?
R: You know, I have no idea. I was quite amazed that I was doing this. I mean it's not really that I put up and went through this - there was something - but that's a very personal story - so I can't say - for me, I was quite desperate to change my life. Other people, who were already there, so they were living examples of how you can actually do this in a graceful way and the people seemed interesting - very interesting - but we didn't have a lot of time to exchange stories, because most of the time in these sesshins, you are not talking and, in my experience there, I was very busy because I would only just come home from work - be in this setting - and you do the practice. All the time that I was doing the practice, practices - leading a regular lifestyle of the Zen student, you really are not talking that much - so I didn't get to know people that easily - so that was a koan like paradoxically way of figuring out why I was doing this because - well, I had my reasons. I was interested in what Suzuki Roshi would say from time to time and at that point his - one of his first set of teachings was published - Zen Mind, Beginners Mind - and that created a lot of curiosity for me. You know - why is he saying like "no gaining idea, just sit. So the "just sit" you don't have to have any idea of why you are sitting - maybe why you are sitting -but what you will get from it - that allowed me to go through a long long time.
Q: Did you have, what I would call - the Interviews with Suzuki Roshi - during the sesshin, face-to-face?
R: Yes - sometimes
Q: So, was that powerful for you?
R: Yes, but I can recall quite clearly the - I think it was a question about why am I doing this, like you asked, and my response was that I found my ordinary life to be quite meaningless, which seemed to really amuse him. He was laughing away and, you know, I thought that was a serious problem [laughter] and he was laughing away and I didn't quite understand it at the time - was he just making fun of me for thinking that - but now I'm thinking that, oh, I recognized something that is true. Anyway, he was quite encouraging and he paid some extra attention as the newcomers and so that just helped a lot to be able to go forward with a practice that I wasn't all that - I didn't know that much about it before I began - but I was kind of learning by doing. Like another time that was really important is - he was strict - but it was strict in kind of unusual ways from my point of view. When you eat, you eat - when you sit, you sit - when you sleep, you sleep - that's a very famous Zen - so, I was offered a job working in the Page Street Center Buddhist community, right in the building, and my job was work leader and work leader had to do with taking care of the maintenance of the building and there were some problems with the ceiling in the kitchen and they seemed to require, I don't know, some kind of attention where we were going to have to raise money and so Roshi was coming along for a tour at the time that I was eating a muffin, pointing this out - and I was eating this muffin - and he, as you will discover, if you read his biography, he had quite a temper and he got really angry at me and I wasn't sure exactly what he was angry about until I recognized that I was eating this muffin and talking and doing ... [laughter] - so, that was kind of a way of learning that I experienced there and, obviously, I still remember.
Q: So, Alice, what was your early experience of being at Zen Center like?
A: So we moved in and it was kind of overwhelming because I felt - I thought that everyone there must already, pretty much, be enlightened - and people, as Richard said, didn't talk that much, so you didn't know what was going on - you didn't know what was going on behind the doors of their rooms, which were all incredibly neat and well organized and everything was very Spartan and very Zen-like, you know [laughter], the way people were. And this isn't a criticism of the people - it's just everything at the beginning - the way it looked - Richard had a job, he worked as a carpenter outside and I didn't. I did different day jobs and I was in the building a lot - you got up pretty early and practiced and Roshi wouldn't necessarily be at those sittings in the morning and then you'd do chanting and then the people would go to work who went to work outside and then you'd go on to work or I - just - sort of being along there and not really knowing anyone. But I would literally go to my room sometimes and just be sick, literally like throw-up, I felt everyone else knew what they were doing and I didn't know what I was doing. Then, people get to know you and your practicing early in the morning and then you practice again, maybe get together for lunch and then you'd practice at the end of the day and then again in the evenings - and then every other month there would be a 5 or 7 day sesshin and we sat all those sesshins and Roshi would be at those sesshins. Roshi would also, I think it was Saturday morning, actually, that there would be an oryoki meal and a talk and a work period and Roshi would give these amazing talks - and we'd sit in the Buddha Hall with him.
And, you know Bob Halpern was there and Alan Marlowe was there at the same time and Loring Palmer, Jack Elias different people that also became Trungpa Rinpoche's students were also there at the same time and we would gather in the Buddha Hall and listen to Roshi; and I guess my experience of listening to him was that there wasn't any other place I wanted to be or that - I didn't understand, exactly, what he was saying - but I knew it was true. Listening to him and being around him - there was no doubt in my mind that you just would sit more - that that's what you would do. You would have an obstacle, there'd be a problem - it wouldn't mean that you would stop sitting, you would just keep sitting.
What Richard said about the teachings about "no gaining" idea - I remember it was like an informal time when we were all in this little lounge area outside the kitchen and someone asked him a question and he said, "You know, if you have a headache and you sit, your headache might go away, but you don't sit to have your headache go away" and so that was very pure in that you weren't sitting to attain a certain state of mind - or a particular thing - and that sort of purity of that view as much as - although we all understood it differently and everybody had their own probably mixed up ideas about it -that was so much the ground of it that, you know, Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings about spiritual matters were just so essentially simple in the way Roshi presented them. So, being there I had no intention of ever going anywhere else - that we would just continue being at Zen Center and - but then, somehow, and I don't exactly remember when or how that we met Trungpa Rinpoche - he came to teach there and we went to one of his talks and I just became completely - I guess you could say fascinated - or I literally fell in love with him and that was a very unsettling thing because there we were at Zen Center and that was what we were going to do for the rest of our lives.
And I had an interview with Rinpoche over in Berkeley and he was sitting in this chair like in the famous picture of Huey Newton of the Black Panthers - he was sitting in one of those rattan chairs with the big back and I think the thing he said then was that as long as Roshi was live that I should stay there - that there was no other place to be - and I don't remember the timing, but to sort of pick up where Richard was talking about Rinpoche coming and visiting during a sesshin, when he came to visit the sesshin, I left - which I left the sesshin, which is a thing you don't do, but I followed him around, as a group of people were with Rinpoche and Suzuki Roshi going around the building and I sort of followed and was kind of hiding behind things and to just keep looking at them - seeing him - and then he and Roshi went out on this courtyard at Zen Center and had tea together and that image is like the main image that stayed with me all these years - of this incredible wisteria that was growing there - this beautiful, purple wisteria all against one wall of the courtyard and Rinpoche and Roshi sitting there and it was one of those moments that's perfect. I wrote this little sort of fake Haiku then that for years - you know, now it is sort of faded, although not completely, but it is very simple, it's
through the garden courtyard
Seeing them together, they were perfect - that moment was perfect and then there was a lot - for Richard and I there was a lot - it was a very difficult decision to leave Zen Center. After Roshi died, we went to Tassajara and Rinpoche wanted us to go to Tassajara because we hadn’t been there yet and we went to Tassajara and then people at Zen Center wanted us to stay there and we were very connected to that - so it was a very difficult thing to leave, but essentially Trungpa Rinpoche basically told us that we couldn't keep seeing him - we couldn't keep running up to meet him constantly every time he came to town, that we had to make a shift and you know make a commitment and so that's what we did.
So, for me, and I don't exactly know how Richard experiences it, but there are these two parts of my life and in some way they are perfectly connected because the teachings the way Roshi taught in all the talks and sesshins that he gave - all the talks that I heard him give, all my encounters with him, and then all my encounters with Rinpoche - the truth and the feeling of what they taught was completely the same - but it is two very different worlds to have left Zen Center and then had to come into this community - so it's, I don't know, it's one of those things that's hard to talk about or hard to really understand.
Q: How did Roshi work with you?
A: I'd say that the way I had a relationship with him was that he sat with us - he sat with us on all the sesshins while I was there. He would walk around at certain times during the sesshin behind you and correct your posture - he would hit you with the stick, which I'm forgetting the name of - the kyosaku - he would hit you perfectly on the muscles in your shoulders so that your shoulders would relax - he wouldn't miss, as the rest of us did, and hit you on your bones -he would hit those muscles. He was present, so it was sort of a body teaching - listening to his talks during sesshins, sitting with him, his presence coming in taking his seat, being there - sitting with you - you know, day after day in a sesshin, and then I honestly can remember the room where I had Dokusan with him, I can remember looking at him but I have no memory of what he said. Roshi would see you - he would look at you and I always felt like he would see me and then of course, I projected everything on what it was he was seeing - maybe my own feelings of what was wrong - what was I doing wrong or why wasn't I some other way, but he would just be looking at you. As he got to know us, then we were also, aside from being married, we were one of the few people who had a car - we had this little red Volvo - and then we took him, we were really beginning to get to know him before he got sick and he would go watch Japanese Samurai movies at Sokoji, at the temple, and so he would ask - we had a car, so we would take him and Okusan, his wife, to those movies.
The other one encounter I had with him that was around the time that Katagiri Roshi was going to move to Minnesota and Katagiri Roshi as the other Zen teacher that was there with Suzuki Roshi and he was going - he had already moved to Monterey and now I believe that the people in Minneapolis wanted him to come there and so he was going to move there. Roshi was, because we are from there, Roshi was asking about that and I was saying it was very cold there and roshi said, "I would never get cold there" and I thought this was because of his yogic powers that he wouldn't get cold and then he said [laughing] that he'd never go outside [laughing] and he just laughed.
And I studied tea with Okusan - with his wife - tea and flowers - and their little suite that they had - was wonderful to go in there and have tea with her. We were really getting to be close to her, as well. There were other people who had spent longer with them - like in Crooked Cucumber or reading other things - you read their stories and he would be very direct and very directive, but with me he wasn't so - it was more like being watched and then he knew that Richard and I were connected to Trungpa Rinpoche - that we were really connected with him and so many students - a group of students were going to his talks and it was a big, kind of a flurry at Zen Center of what was happening, that people were going to study with this other teacher and Trungpa Rinpoche's style was so apparently different than Suzuki Roshi's - that he was younger and he was married and had young children and then all the other obvious things that were different.
It was confusing to people and some people were confused by it - like how could a teacher be - have that kind of lifestyle that Trungpa Rinpoche had and at one community meeting - at a meeting with Roshi and people were asking Roshi about Rinpoche's lifestyle - what was he doing - was he doing this to teach us something and I really just remember Roshi kind of smile, like they were connected - the way - there was no sense of criticism from Suzuki Roshi about Rinpoche. They really had a meeting of hearts as two men coming to North America, working with Westerners and completely and that's what I felt from Roshi, was his complete acceptance - they loved him and Okusan loved him. I think it's very personal how Roshi worked - but for me it really was that he sat with us - that he sat with us so much, you know, that you'd be in there - in the zendo - and I don't know whether I could have really done it unless he had been there.
Q: So there is interest in - what was the relationship between Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche and, perhaps, any way of addressing that is to read this little essay that was written by Trungpa Rinpoche on the occasion of Suzuki Roshi's death and I think you'll see in the side bar of the reproduction of the calligraphy that Trungpa Rinpoche presented on the occasion - he calligraphed it and the essay is Suzuki Roshi, a recollection of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and the calligraphy is entitled "Solitary Rock." - essay and calligraphy
R: A very important reason why I left Zen Center to study with Trungpa Rinpoche is it felt like I was going to be studying with the same person - the same kind of way of finding out what I was looking for or the kind of feedback - that was very personal, very direct, not necessarily all that often - but on occasions where something important needed to happen, it happened. And when we were visiting on the occasion of the gathering of people who had been at Tassajara for 25 years, a lot of people present there told stories and encounters like this, that made a quite powerful difference and there's one in particular that I wanted to share here. It's called Remembering the Dragon and it's a collection of interviews that took place in preparation for writing a biography of Suzuki Roshi [It's a collection of Suzuki memories done for Sati Conference on SR - see links to it at Bibliography. - dc] which was finally published as Crooked Cucumber - but these interviews were made and recorded before then and this story - or 2 stories - were told on the occasion of the memories - time, memories, recollection, time - during this 25 year celebration.
This is by Mel Weitzman who was one of Roshi’s first students and who is now Abbot of the Berkeley Zendo and he was well known - it doesn't say this in this little story here in this publication - but in his recounting of the story, he was well known for being extraordinarily literal about how he was going to follow the discipline and he was extremely extremely militant and - so he would always sit in this full lotus posture - no matter how much pain he experienced, he would just cut it out and go through the whole process and limp around and so he was famous - I guess infamous - for this kind of strained and extreme adherence to the discipline and during sitting - maybe a sesshin, I remember - I think it was - he was approached in this way:
Suzuki Roshi gave me “turning words” - that's how he put it - short teachings that had a profound effect on me. During one of these sesshins, Roshi just walked up to me and said, "Just being alive is enough." This statement gave me a new dimension to the way I thought and still remains a koan for me. Another time I asked him, "What is Nirvana?" he replied "Just seeing one thing through to the end." Speaking to the core of what he taught, Suzuki Roshi would say, "I can't give you anything but my Zen spirit." So those were his experiences at what he called "turning words."
And I'm quite sure that each of us has stories like this from our meetings with - even if you didn't meet Suzuki Roshi - you may have met Trungpa Rinpoche and words like this that come in any kind of situation, very ordinary situations, really are ways that turn your life in a new direction and that you remember and they guide you in ways in which you can say are mysterious or magical - but certainly colourful - and very ordinary, though.
R: His anger at my eating that muffin [laughing] still gives me pause when smacking [laughing].
Q: Okay - so Richard, after Roshi died, what was the sequence of events that brought you and Alice into the Shambhala community.
R: Well, since we had made a very direct connection with let's say the presence of Trungpa Rinpoche, as the heir or as the - in his words - the son of his accidental father - we were also feeling this kind of familial connection and so we went to Vermont to a seminar in the summer - this was about 6 months after Roshi's death, with the point of view of checking it out and see if this is a place we could live or move into and, requesting an interview, we asked Trungpa Rinpoche about moving and we told him our intentions - that we were very interested in practicing in one of his communities and what would he like us to do, if anything. So, he said, "Well, come back in a few days."
And when we did come back, he asked us very practical questions like, "Do you have a car?" [laughing] "Do you have any savings?" and "Could you - have you been to Tassajara?" and we said no because we had been in the city the whole time - so he very specifically told us that he wanted us to go to Tassajara in the summer - the end of the summer, actually, because we were already in the summer - so there are training periods at Tassajara that are in the autumn and in the winter and those are very traditional, monastic trainings in which you sort off thoroughly enter the mainstream of the Zen tradition as a practitioner and he wanted us to go to both of those training sessions - in fact he called up Richard Baker, who was then the Abbot and asked him if we could attend - and we were on our way. We went and did that training.
He also said that at the end of that training we should go directly to RMDC [Rocky Mt. Dharma Center] and if we stopped in Boulder, we could only stay overnight, but we had to go directly to RMDC [laughing]. I never actually understood that until we did go directly there and discovered that there really wasn't a lot that was already there in place and we had no particular way of entering that community. We just went there. So we ended up going back to Boulder for more than one day and it took a while for this whole invitation to play out, but the role that I think was intended was to bring a lot of the disciplines and training and forms that we had experienced and we were very familiar with to RMDC. So when we were there initially - I was there in the Spring rebuilding and getting set up for practice session and the first public dathum was held there and one of the interesting things that he wanted to have happen was he wanted us to present oryoki and that was an impossible request because there is a lot of ritual planning that needs to be in place, which didn't take place until much later in like1979 - 1980, but we did actually start with some version of oryoki with trays and bowls set up and chopsticks and there was that emphasis. He also invited Bill Kwong, an heir of Suzuki Roshi, to come to that dathum. He had already met Kobin Chino and Suzuki Roshi introduced the two of them because they were both calligraphers and because they had similar interests and training and a very elaborate relationship evolved from that meeting and that relationship that actually eventually brought oryoki to us - all the implements and the introductions to the places where you find these things and buy them and it also brought Shibata Sensei who was the kyudo [Zen archery] teacher for Kobin Chino. It brought further interest in calligraphy and Kaz Tanahashi is a friend and calligrapher who is still living and practicing with us. Tea - many of the cultural forms that we now have the opportunities to practice in our community were introduced through this initial relationship that was established by Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche meeting.
A: Walking meditation
R: Walking meditation - the way it's done
A: The original zafus.
R: The zafus, the zabutons
A: Roshi's picture was on a shrine -
R: Ya, that was on the shrine since the - 70s -
Q: ... and then continued to be on the shrine throughout Rinpoche's life.
Q: As in all his centers.
R: - Yep. Official shrine photograph.
Q: Okay, well, thank you both very much for being here. It's very interesting.