Interview with  Lynn Hennelly (Hesselbart) via email

August of 2007 - Email exchange between Lynn and DC

[Lynn responded to my email asking her to look at the list for the Early Tassajara alumni reunion. She's at Ashland farm (with Clay and Lucy Calhoun) these days outside Atlanta.]

LH: Hi David. You got it right on me, thanks! Kept my married name, though divorced in 1989, cause I never really liked my 'maiden' name (WAY too German - was mercilessly teased as a kid because of it as I grew up during and after WWII - and add to that I looked somewhat oriental back then, which was immediately interpreted as Japanese!) - Figured I'd earned my new name! :-)

Went to Tassajara in the Summer of 72 (as a guest cook along with Rick Levine) then stayed for the winter & spring practice periods (worked in the garden first practice period and was Jo Shin San's anja during second practice period. I left sometime during the summer of 73 (REALLY bad on dates), after Jeannie (Dan Welch's sister) killed herself, and I was being called on to help set up and run Alaya Stitchery in the basement of the city center (I had worked for Jeannie making zafus, etc. when I first came to ZC, as a way to earn some money).

[comments on Early Tassajara Alumni list]

Glad you're doing this - not sure I can make it in January - depends upon our (equine) event schedule here at the farm.

Come see us sometime... some good stuff going on here.

DC: Also Lynn, can you tell me what year you came to ZC?

LH: 1970 - first 'encounter' was going to Tassajara for a week of working just before the summer session opened - I'd heard of it via Stephen Gaskin who led me to Suzuki Roshi in the first place - he spoke very highly of him. My roommate was Liz Horowitz, who was also new at that time. Tommy Dorsey was a warm presence there that spring - and helped to warm me to Zen Center as well...

DC: Oh please tell me more. Like what were your first and other impressions of Suzuki Roshi and ZC and anything you want to say if you'd be so kind.

LH: Oh my goodness... an invitation to talk about myself... who can resist THAT! You may be sorry you asked...

During that same (my first) week at Tassajara in the spring of 1970, worked with Roovain Ben Yuhmin (SP??) in the garden - he was a true 'original'- would run around killing earwigs, saying 'become Buddha!' with each kill. I also helped get the guest cabins ready (cleaning, etc.). Worked in the kitchen one day - Ed Brown was there - they still served meat then - remember having a dream that night about being stabbed - guess cutting up the meat was a little traumatic for me!

Also that week, remember first encounters with Paul Disco (and Ruthie!), Maggie Kress, Jane and Peter Schneider, and Diane di Prima, who I 'idolized', having read her poetry when I was a beatnik/hippy/radical living on the lower east side in NYC around the corner from Alan Ginsberg (in the 60's) - and was delighted to find her at ZC. Diane and Alan were helping to edit ZMBM at that time and she let me read the galley proofs that week (pre-publication). She also let me stay in her apt. when I went back to the city since I had nowhere to live before moving into ZC - stayed there for a couple of weeks until she returned from Tassajara - Grant Fisher was also there. Interesting days.

Finally moved into the building a few months later - assigned to be roommates with 'Betsy' (Elizabeth Sawyer). We immediately established a love/hate relationship (being so very different) - ended up sitting tangario together a year+ later - both flirted with Ken Sawyer (the best one won... lucky Ken :-) and finally acknowledged each other as 'best enemies' after I wrote her a poem called 'Betty and Veronica' (if you remember the Archie Andrews comic books!) - have seen her a couple of times since I left ZC and we're still in touch via email.

Another funny memory is rooming with Diane Goldschlag at Tassajara my first training period (or was it the second??...) - anyway, we shared a cabin, she in front and me in the back - and neither of us liked sitting on a cold toilet seat (it being winter), so we ended up covering the seat with foam rubber - and were immediately looked down upon by the stricter students for being indulgent and not very zen-like. We didn't care - we kept our tushes warm and that was what mattered the most! Diane was such fun!! I seem to remember that you were prominent in her life at that point as well...

Only had a couple of dokusans with Suzuki Roshi - but they numbered among my peak experiences at ZC. Remember also being in the bookstore at the same time as he one day, and asked him to autograph my copy of ZMBM - then didn't know what to do with myself and instead of standing there with him as he signed, I wandered off into another part of the room (thinking I didn't want to crowd him I guess, in my new student confusion) - he then snapped at me with some vehemence, saying I should have stayed by him while he signed. Hadn't seen that side of him until then - and that was the only time unfortunately, even though at the time it made me feel bad, I was later grateful for the teaching, regardless of how mundane.

Other memories of SR include his gentleness / firmness in the zendo - walking around with his stick - putting his hand on the shoulder of a woman crying next to me - and wacking me when I nodded off. Did at least two sesshins with him (maybe more) and remember one day facing him in the zendo - and our eyes meeting for the longest time - leaving me with a clear, compassionate feeling - feeling met and acknowledged in a way I had never felt before. I would say it was 'awesome', if that word hadn't been so overused. There was simply NO artifice in the man - and I really 'got it' at that moment.

The last Suzuki Roshi story actually happened about 9 years before I met him... I was in Paris doing a 'third year abroad' in college and went to a Japanese restaurant for the first time. I was simply bowled over by the clean, simple, unaffected atmosphere and simplicity of the food - I couldn't get over it. I ended up going to several different bookstores (the ones that had a few books in English - not as common back then) trying to find a book on Japan in English - something easy for me to read. All I wanted to do right then was go to Japan (and there I was in beautiful Paris!). I finally found just ONE book... written by a woman who had been the tutor to the child of the Japanese Emperor. In it, she talked about a priest who would come to her place and do the altar - I can't remember any of the details now - only that years later I learned that priest was Suzuki Roshi! (I think he spoke about her - not sure exactly how I learned of that at ZC).

Wish I had more Suzuki Roshi stories to share with you - there are other memories, but I've told you the strongest ones (except of course the ones so many of us share... the day he passed the mantle on to Richard - already quite sick and yellow - and then the day he died - the first day of a sesshin, when we all were led to his room and filed past his so recently living body - intense memories indeed.

His picture still looks out at me from my bookcase - facing out in the middle of a row of zen books (he looks a lot like my father) - even though I no longer call myself a Buddhist (many other teachings have sparked my curiosity and been added to the pot in the meantime), he is still and always will be my teacher. I didn't know him nearly as well as you and some of the others, but I felt - and still feel - such a connection with him.

DC: Served meat to the guests we should say - I always have trouble remembering there was meat that late. But didn't we stop doing it before the guest season of 70? Tatsugami is the one who told us to stop. We said oh no the guests have to have meat and fish and he said no, this is a Buddhist monastery and you can't do that. So we stopped. But maybe that was stopped for the 71 guest season.

Now that's interesting. Dianne and Alan were working on ZMBM? That's the first I heard of that. That's right before it came out. I'd say they were probably just reading it over to see if they had any suggestions, a post edit job.

Want that poem. Still got it?

Good toilet trick. Indeed Dianne (two ns - Daya since the early 80s0 and I were close. We slept together.

This is a shocking thing to read. I never heard that Miss Ransom published anything about this. She was interviewed on BBc radio as I remember but never have I heard anything about a book. That would be extremely valuable for the archive, at least a photo copy or scan of it. This is amazing. The timing though - 9 years before your met Suzuki? That's 61? How old are you? Tell me everything you can about this. Must find this book

Wonderful. Thanks. I want to put this on but want you to answer this email first - especially about the Nona Ransom book. I'm calling Graham Petchey immediately and think I'll call her son in England. He never mentioned this. Was it a hardbound book? Do you remember anything else about it?

LH: Wait! (before you call Graham, etc.) and read the following first...

I just gogled 'tutor emperor Japan son' and came up with a completely different name - i.e. NOT Nona Ransom, but Elizabeth Vine - apparently she died in 1999 at the age of 97. Here's the site I found:

SO - all these years I thought it was the same woman that SR knew, (since I had not remembered her name after 9 years and the disappearance of the book) - i.e. how many English-speaking women tutors did the emperor's son have??!!! I just ASSUMED it was the same person.

Oh dear - never thought to stir anything up like this... fact is, my memory is not clear on most of this... what I DO remember is that I FOUND AND READ A BOOK WHEN IN PARIS BY AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING WOMAN WHO WAS THE TUTOR TO THE SON OF THE JAPANESE EMPEROR. I'm also now thinking (i.e. just now, after reading your comment) that perhaps at the time I heard about SR's connection with such a woman when I was already at ZC, I might just have remembered reading the book by her and then in the intervening years put the two memories together in my mind, thinking that she also mentioned SR (or 'a priest') in this same book.

SO - if it isn't even the same woman, then she couldn't possibly have mentioned SR in her book! I'm a bit disappointed, I must say, since I had thought it such lovely serendipity. Oh well - at least I now know the truth of the matter... and now I'm wondering - how on earth did I hear at ZC that Nona Ransom was a tutor to the emperor's son??? I made that connection based on what I'd heard at ZC - and if she was just SR's tutor and not the emperor's son as well, then I either twisted the info in my mind or someone else was also under that misunderstanding. Guess we'll never know. Just asked Lucy what she knew and she wasn't sure either.

Sorry for all the confusion - but more sorry for myself since I'm now minus one great story :-(

P.S. Not sure about when they stopped serving meat to guests - just that I was there the week just before the guest season opened in 1970 and then at least a day or two into the guest season. Especially because of that vivid dream I had, I remember very well cutting meat the day I worked in the kitchen. I may be off on the English speaking tutor connection, but this I have a vivid memory of. They well have stopped it mid-summer (?)

And just between you and me, I also remember you and Dianne in the other room of our little (not very soundproof) cabin... (at the time I was being intentionally celibate - and it didn't particularly help my resolve to continue in that vein :-) (I have seen her since I left ZC - when I returned in 1993 - do remember that she started calling herself Daya)

DC: What a relief. Pu Yi had another famous English teacher, a man. Nona Ransom was mainly close to the empress. But she was tutor to both of them. Not the son but the emperor. Maybe he had a son - I can't remember or maybe the other woman was tutor to him when he was the son of the prior emperor. Nona went to Japan in the late twenties to teach the Japanese royal family after that. And she got a job at the Soto Zen university, Komazawa - which was not yet named that.

Sorry about the noise. Ha ha.

So what brought you to ZC and why did you leave and where did you go and what did you do and what are you into now? If you're not a Buddhist what are you and how do you see that?

LH: - Interesting... they BOTH were connected to the Emperor - so now I don't feel quite as crazy that I came up with the conclusion that I did - especially since I didn't remember her name.

Will answer other questions soon - gotta get some work done here :-)

DC: Am waiting with eager anticipation.

LH: Am carving out a few minutes to go on another adventure into the past... this is fun for me! By the way - the English teacher whose book I read (Elizabeth Vining, a Quaker) went to Japan in 1946 to teach Prince Akihito when he was 12 - at the behest of Emperor Showa (and Gen. MacArthur after he declined to put the emperor on trial for war crimes). Nona Ransom was PRE-war apparently (according to what I read on your site).

To answer unanswered questions: 1. I don't know what official role Diane (di Prima) and Alan played in editing ZMBM, if any, I just know that they were in the process of reading or proofing it (and I guess I assumed editing as well) the week I went to Tassajara. I imagine it's as you suspect, that they were just brought in to it at the end - but I have no way of knowing for sure. (I remember I wasn't supposed to tell anyone that she let me read it - not that it matters now!! :-)

2. Don't remember the poem (Betty & Veronica) - just the last two lines... "Sibling rivalry, we've made it an Art, Betty and Veronica till death do us part!" Elizabeth may still have it - but I rather doubt it.

3. I just turned 66 (in July).

As to why I came to ZC.... after Paris, my folks couldn't get me back to Ohio - I just wanted to be a beatnik and live in the Village. My mother insisted that I go to Columbia (not NYU as I'd wanted to), but it didn't really matter in the long run, since the pull toward alternative life styles had become so pervasive.

Finally, at the end of the 60's, the anti-war movement in NYC and the rest of the country as well was winding down - the sense of community that was so strong initially was waning and turning a bit ugly at times - and the hippy life was becoming more appealing (love, peace, etc.). We were also hearing about what was going on in CA - and people like Ken Kesey and Peter Coyote, who I didn't meet in NY, but knew about him and remember when he was there - (was so happy to finally meet him much later at ZC - he's visited us here in Atlanta as well, some years ago).

In particular I heard about Stephen Gaskin's group when I was in NY and it appealed much more to me than 'fighting against' everything - so ended up hitching my way out to CA - with another woman friend who wanted to do the same - and finally (after a few months - with stop offs, and more adventures, etc.) ended up in San Francisco, where I became a Gaskin groupie - but he did such a sales job on Suzuki Roshi (as being the 'highest' person on the West Coast - descriptions like that), that I ended up being drawn to Zen Center. The first time I sat (that first week at Tassajara) was the first time I had felt grounded in many years - after way too many drug experiences - LSD, etc. - and knew that I had come to the right place.

I left 12 years later because I realized I was still searching - I had come to ZC with little or no knowledge of Buddhism (I always felt I 'washed up on ZC's shores'). I learned a lot, but just couldn't force myself to fit into that particular mold for the long haul (daily zazen, rituals, robes, etc.), though I feel I gave it a good try - even choosing to be ordained.

Left with Patrick (the guy I ended up marrying) - and then realized the extent to which I'd 'sat' on my problems (that I brought with me - family-related, painful stuff, etc.) and hadn't really dealt with them or let them go. Made my way through The Course in Miracles several times and went down a few other spiritual paths as well, ending up with Abraham's (via Esther and Jerry Hicks) teaching - which isn't that much different than Suzuki Roshi's when you get right down to it... kind of like going full circle to get to where you already were :-) So now I don't call myself anything anymore (religion-wise)... but am increasingly happy and feel more and more connected - to myself and everything / everyone around me. And on it goes...

Thanks for asking... and listening - I of course could go on and on and on - but that would be mostly for the sake of myself. It's been a nice exercise!

Do come visit us sometime - whenever you get to the Atlanta area - it's lovely here. Actually, Lucy tells me you've been here already - but I think you'll find there's new stuff to see!