Emails from Ardis Jackson
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2004
I loved your book the first time I read it (when it first came out) and amenjoying it even more now. I find it to be a real learning experience. I remember you. Don't know if you remember me.
[Yes I remember you Ardis but it was a long time ago. I appreciate the following which I put together from three emails and three attachments received from you. - DC]
Suzuki Roshi at Sokoji
In 1963, my husband accepted a position with the University of California Extension at Berkeley. This turned out to be a significant step in not only his life but my life also. The man who hired him was Richard Baker. Dick was a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.
When Dick found out that I was working on a Master’s degree in Japanese History, studying the language and a great lover of Japanese culture in general, he insisted that I had to go to San Francisco and meet Reverend Suzuki .
Shunryu Suzuki was the priest and abbot at Sokoji, the Soto Zen Temple on Bush Street in San Francisco. On the day Dick took my husband and me to Sokoji I didn’t know what to expect. I had only a superficial knowledge of Buddhism and knew nothing of Zen.
As I remember it, we entered a doorway into a large semi-darkened room. Way across on the other side, in another doorway, I saw a short, bald Japanese man in monk’s robes talking with an even shorter Japanese woman in kimono and a couple of other men.
Suddenly he flew across the room and was standing directly in front of me. He took my necklace in his hands and said "what kind seeds?" I said "beads". He said "No... seeds." "Thoroughly flustered by this strong presence, I said "I don’t know. I got them at Cost Plus!" He smiled a blissful smile.
That was our first meeting.
I can’t explain why it was such a powerful experience. But from then on I started sitting zazen every morning and every evening, sometimes at home and whenever possible with Suzuki Roshi. He was my teacher. We never had another conversation. I never took refuge or "became" a Buddhist. I just "sat". And he demonstrated his perfection: how to sit, how to bow, how to walk, how to listen, how to be awake, how to die.
Suzuki at Tassajara
My memory of practice periods at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center are of total, integrated, holistic, blissful living. Whether sitting or walking, bowing or chanting, gardening or helping in the kitchen, going to sleep to the sound of the creek or relaxing in the hot baths with other women.
How incredibly blessed we were to be a part of Tassajara.
And Tassajara was an outgrowth of zazen and specifically of the practice of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Richard Baker and the rest of the sangha. In turn, the practice was deeply affected by the land, the boulders, the creek, the hot springs, the difficult drive down the unpaved road, the isolation, the need for commitment to the practice periods, the discomfort of sitting more than we were used to, of too much heat or too much rain, cold and mud. Everything came together synergistically.
I went to the spring practice period of 1969. I was very pregnant with my first child. If one can rate bliss, I was even more blissful than ever.
I had always felt that it would be impolite to stare at Suzuki Roshi. In fact I went out of my way not to look at him most of the time. Most of my memories of him are seeing him from behind. One day after zazen I was walking from the zendo to the garden and to do so I had to pass Suzuki Roshi’s cabin. As I walked past, I glanced quickly to my left and there was Suzuki Roshi facing a huge boulder. It was taller and much broader than him. It must have weighed at least 300-400 lbs. It is hard for me to believe even today, but I saw him move the boulder several inches, all by himself. Then he looked over at me and smiled.
Suzuki at City Center
When my daughter Ananda was only two months old, my husband decided that we should live at City Center for a month or two to deepen our practice. After Ananda and I were comfortably settled in our room, it turned out that my husband never moved in with us. He said that he was too busy at the University in Berkeley and stayed in our home in the East Bay.
But it turned out to be a truly wonderful experience for Ananda and me. Since she slept until 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, I was able to get up and do morning zazen in the zendo, chant the Heart Sutra and then have breakfast with the sangha. Then I would go back to my beautiful baby and enjoy the day with her. I could carry her in a pack and help out in the kitchen. Since I didn’t have a house to care for or a husband’s needs to tend to, I was able to dwell in the true bliss of a new mother with no pressures or schedules. Ananda seemed to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of City Center and seemed to be in bliss herself.
I don’t remember seeing much of Suzuki Roshi during those two months. I remember the warmth and acceptance of the sangha. They made me feel that both Ananda and I were very welcome.
But as Suzuki Roshi once said "Just to be there in the corner of the garden is enough." I could feel his influence in every corner.
More from Ardis' emails:
When the plan emerged to buy Tassajara, I was on the first scouting trip. The only people I remember are Dick Baker, Yvonne Rand, Bill Kwong, Gary Snyder, Mike and Trudy Dixon, and Ronn and me. I certainly remember Yvonne Rand getting lost. High drama. I remember seeing a photo taken from a distance where we are all hiking in single file with Dick at the lead. It seems to me that there were about 12-15 people. I wouldn't be surprised if Jean and Mel were there. It would be nice to have a complete list. Suzuki Roshi was not on that trip.
Trudy Dixon and I made many, many hand-written notes to Dick Baker's contacts on the East Coast requesting financial donations. They were very productive.
I did go on a scouting trip to Rendezvous Island, B.C. shortly before Dick's Mountain Seat ceremony. Someone wanted to gift the island to Zen Center for a retreat center. I never heard if they accepted it. On this trip we stopped off in Vancouver for an empowerment by Kalu Rimpoche. I also met Bhagwan Dass and his wife and baby and spent a lot of time with them.
I participated in many sesshins and a couple of practice periods at Tassajara . But I mainly practiced at home. I was at Dick's Mountain Seat Ceremony and said my goodbyes to Suzuki Roshi then.
After Suzuki Roshi left us, I did not keep close ties to Zen Center. [Something personal that happened] left a bad taste in my mouth. I was a little concerned with Dick's behavior also. He seemed to be getting a little too big for his sandals.
I continued to practice zazen up to about 1985 (at home). In 1989 I started practicing Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Lodru in San Francisco. I went on pilgrimage with him to India, Nepal and Sikkim for three months in 1992. I loved staying in monasteries and meeting the new incarnation of Kalu Rimpoche, but I was disillusioned with my lama's behavior on the trip and broke off my ties with him upon our return. (spiritual materialism) In March 1993, I met my heart teachers, Shree Maa of Kamakhya and Swami Satyananda Saraswati. They are Hindu gurus. I had no intention of changing religions. But the moment I saw them and sat in front of their altar, I knew I was "home". They have an ashram and temple in Napa, CA. The temple is a goddess temple (Devi Mandir). I still follow their teachings and practice according to their instructions. They are the only teachers that I have met that have the simplicity, purity and humility that Suzuki Roshi had. Their website is www.shreemaa.org.
My spiritual life is my life. All the rest of the details such as raising a daughter as a single mom, various careers such as teaching and accounting: it all seems insignificant. I never married again and have no desire to do so. I love Idyllwild. It is a good place to practice and a good place to find interesting friends. But I am not attached to it. I have no idea what the future holds. If I were invited to live at Shree Maa's ashram, I'd jump at the opportunity. But it seems that they need younger more able-bodied disciples at this time of physical growth. So I practice at home. (I am 63 and a half and not in great shape).
Oh yeah, I met a lovely woman who is married to the head priest at the Zen Mountain Center. We may get together and start a Women's Spirituality Group. Wouldn't that be fun?