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Tr. McC. Zen Memories

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I'm one of those people who, though I didn't study formally with Suzuki Roshi, I had some contact with him in the 60s but feel that he permanently changed and influenced my life more than probably any other person has.



I am going to write here a summary of my friendship with Tim Buckley and our intertwining lives in relationship to Buddhist practice.  That's about all I have to tell.

You know, I first met Tim Buckley in 1962 in Cambridge Mass and we immediately became fast friends - he was a Harvard student and we had mutual friends in Alpert & Leary's post-graduate lsd program, and all the edgy types dropped acid and became Seekers. There was a New York/Cambridge psychedelic circuit that we were on.  We explored all different paths from Gestalt therapy (the Orgone box) to Gurdjieff, and by 1964 Buddhist became the focus of a lot us.  That year Tim and I shared an abandoned ranger cabin up in Maine.  I brought rice paper and ink and Tim brought his Saxophone and we played Go a lot.  Then in 1965 my girlfriend and I moved to San Francisco and soon after Tim came out and lived with us for a while.  He came home one day and said he'd found this amazing zen center up on Bush Street, and soon I went up there to sit with him.

Katagiri took me aside in that little alcove where the shoes went and showed me how to sit zazen and how to bow.  Of course I didn't know what I was doing - none of us did - and I was sitting there facing the wall and I could see that this Japanese Guy was walking along behind us.  He stopped behind me and leaned over and whispered in my ear "Greeting"  and then chuckled and walked on. I only found out later that I was supposed to gassho when he passed behind me.  That day I sat between Silas and Fran Keller. So then I would go sit sometimes and to the lectures, which were pretty hard to understand - I don't think very many people did, but it didn't matter - we all knew we were in the presence of the Real Thing.  There was no doubt that Suzuki Roshi had the goods.

Tim took to it like a duck to water and became really involved right away, but I was trying to do some other things to straighten my life out from the drug life I'd been living in NYC, so our lives took us in different directions and places but we stayed in touch.  Two years later Tim was living at Tassajara as the office Manager, and my wife Barbara and I went down to see him.  He asked us to pick up 2 bags of Koda Brothers brown rice on the way down and we did.

It was during the guest season and we were eating with the guests and David Chadwick was one of the servers.  It was the first time I had met him and he was hamming it up with the guests.  One of the female guests had a really low-cut decollage, and David was leaning in trying to get a good view and meanwhile a soup bowl on his tray was spilling down onto the table.

 I was really attracted to that monastic life but it just didn't seem possible for me for some reason.  Life went on and by 1971 I was living at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico and I sat a sesshin with Dr Seung Byung Seo, a Korean Zen Master, who I took Refuge with.  I took it really seriously and felt it was a turning point in my life.   I became friends with Jonathan Altman and through him met Maggie Kress and Niels.  Soon after that Maggie moved to Taos and she and I became an item.  But Fran K. was there, renting her root cellar and Fran and I got together and got married.  About that time Kobun Chino came to Taos to ski and got some funding to buy a place just up the hill from us in Arroyo Seco, and installed Bob Watkins as the resident priest.

Not long after that the shit hit the fan with Dick Baker, and he showed up in New Mexico one day looking for Kobun, trying to consolidate some support for his situation.

Fran and I got into the Peyote religion pretty deep and were putting up Peyote meetings in a tipi at our house.  Tim had gone back to school in Chicago, but came down to attend a Peyote meeting with us, and we formally adopted each other as Brothers at that time.

I know that he and I both kept altars and sitting cushions in our homes even though for several years neither of us had much affiliation with formal Buddhist sanghas.  I sat a sesshin here and there - with Joshu Sasaki in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, and at the Lama Foundation.  But I was busy putting together a career as a Librarian and being a householder, and didn't seem to have much time for Buddhist Practice.

 But then in 1993 I met Pat Hawk, a Dharma Heir of Robert Aitken, at Mountain Cloud in Santa Fe, and it clicked into place for me. I took Jukai with him and four years later went to Hawaii to spend some time with Aitken and the Honolulu Diamond Sangha.  I did a 90 day Ango with them every winter for 3 years after that, and sat sesshins with Pat during the rest of the year, becoming a senior student of his, and functioning as Jisha and Tanto for a good many of his Sesshins.

But Tim was having a hard time.  He hated his teaching work at Boston University and retired as soon as it was possible.  And then his house burned down and he  spent several years struggling with health issues.  He'd had it in his mind to start a Zendo and started studying with Peter Schneider with the ultimate result of becoming a priest.  I went to the ordination as his Jisha, and about that time, Pat Hawk died.  Since then we have been very close though we haven't seen each other.  This Thanksgiving we will be gathering together with dear friends in North Carolina for a reunion.

 I am currently sitting with a small Zendo here in Port Angeles [North Olympic Sangha], and Tim is being the priest at Great River Zendo in Bath, Maine.

From an earlier email:

The last time I saw you was when I had breakfast with you and your son and Stan White at the Taos Inn and I was managing the Kit Carson Home and Museum.

Soon after that I became a 32nd Degree Mason, and then dropped out of it because the thrill was gone, and got back into zen, which has had a way of sticking with me when everything and everyone else failed me.  So here I am living in Port Angeles, Washington for the past 3 years, about 50 miles from Port Townsend.  We had a 1 year memorial service for Pat Hawk in Tucson in May, and they asked me to make the urn for his ashes.  I have been a wood-turner for a few years, so I made an urn out of Brazilian Mahogany.

You know the Aitken line (Diamond Sangha) comes from  Yamada Koun and the Sanbo Kyodan school in Japan [and before that from Harada-Yasutani], and they have this blend of Soto and Rinzai ways.  One of them is they have a curriculum of about 500 koans that you do presentations on to the teacher in Dokusan.  I started the curriculum with Pat Hawk in 1994 and was very close to finishing it by the time he died in May of 2012, and just recently completed it with one of his Dharma Heirs, Kristen Larson, who is the teacher at the Diamond Sangha group here in Port Angeles that I sit with. She and I are old friends for 20 years, through sitting with Pat Hawk for all that time.

I also spent quite a bit of time at Palolo Zen Center in Honolulu, and on the Big Island around Aitken Roshi in his last years, during which I sat several sesshins with the great teacher Nelson Foster.  Interesting how this all curls around itself.

I'm one of those people who, though I didn't study formally with Suzuki Roshi, I had some contact with him in the 60s but feel that he permanently changed and influenced my life more than probably any other person has.


Tim Buckley cuke page

Pat Hawk

posted 9-21-13 from recent emails