Interview with Patrick McFarlin

Pat McFarlin
Interviewed with Deborah Madison by DC at their home in Santa Fe

Deborah’s part of the interview and Pat’s were separated

I talked to them for four hours and so much of it was highly personal that I didn’t transcribe it. Here’s what remains. - dc

Patrick McFarlin Oil - the website for his painting

My first experience of sitting was at the Berkeley Zendo. It made total sense to me and confirmed how I saw the world. I'd listened to Alan Watts but he was extremely intellectual. I'd been involved in lots of social issues. I'd had nightmares in high school about nuclear war. I'd been in student strikes and was in the NAACP. Half the students in my high school class were Mexican American. I was involved in anti-war protests. I got interested in Zen because of LSD. I got some money from a car accident and decided to go to Japan. My brother had graduated from Harvard and studied Japanese stuff some so we went to Japan on a freighter and had quite an adventure there. We were staying with a family in Tokyo and after a week my brother decided to go back. He was supposed to stay for a year. He had a fire engine in the States he wanted to go back to. I stayed for a summer and visited temples and gardens for a year. Then I went back early too. The first time we had to take a bath it was so hot we couldn't get in so we just splashed water on ourselves to make it sound like it.

When I got back I got a card from Mel saying there was going to be a sesshin at Sokoji so I went. After that I stayed.

I met Suzuki Roshi several times and thought what's the big deal about him that everybody's so excited about? I wanted to be bowled over and he was meek and mild and wonderful and invisible.

I hung out with Trungpa a lot. He blew my mind and was outrageous. I did graphic work for him. I had more of a relationship with Katagiri than Suzuki and then I got hooked up with Bill Kwong. I started with him at Mill Valley and I wasn't interested in Zen - I was just interested in some of that Eastern stuff and oh there's some of it right her - it was the most available thing. I went over to the Zen Center on Bush Street. I was on the periphery. I met Dan in ‘65 when he was farmer Dan. But what did it for me was that after I met Bill I read Three Pillars of Zen and that blew me away but I burned out on that real quick. It was much more American. I went down to Tassajara and people said that's bullshit - forget it. I remember you - I said who's that jerk who's yelling and screaming and they said oh that's just David. When Bill went to Sonoma I went with him. Sterling Bunnel gave us the land - what a great guy. I went up to the prior place that Bill was fixing up and John Thorn put a teepee up there and we did all this work - we'd put a water tank in and this guy saw all the hippies there and he pulled out. He thought he was going to get this nice Chinese teacher and his nice Chinese wife and a little temple on the corner of my property and I can go over there when I want. And then after we were told it was off Bill still had us dig the ditch and put in the water line. So we did that.

DC: I remember talking to him. He said just what you did, that he had this idea of having a Zen monastery on one end of his property that he could walk over to and that a lot of work had been done and was going on and that it was even like the day before some event opening it or something and he said that he walked at night over to where everyone was working and went up to Bill and said, “Bill, I can’t do it.”

PM: I was one of the original seven at Genjoji. They elected me president and I did that for four years. It was wonderful. It was a problem to get along with Bill - I thought we got along great and I loved him a lot but he didn't think it was so good. He's so poetic. I was in it for the experience but he wanted it to be something else. I was into the art thing and he made me the work leader. It was a group thing and a nice place to live. At first it didn't have any form and there were all these Sonoma State students. It wasn't like a guru situation and he decided he was the teacher. I'd stand up at lectures and say bullshit - I don't know what you're talking about. He thought I was challenging and that I was trying to take over but I just didn't take it serious enough. I thought I was contributing a lot and he thought it wasn't enough. I got fired finally and haven't seen him since. I sent him stuff for a while and am on their mailing list and have never heard anything personal from him. I have Bill Kwong dreams. I loved him a lot but we had such different agendas. He was into those heavy Tibetans. It was kind of a funny ego battle with Bill - our ages were too close and he was trying to establish himself as the wise guru and I couldn't see him that way.

Suzuki would come over to Mill Valley but I didn't have any one on ones with him.

I'd already been fired by Bill and was planning to go back to Arkansas and Bill put in a slide bolt lock on the inside of the door so that the bell ringer could lock the door so late people couldn't get in. And one day it was torn off. So Bill went to a meeting and said he was withdrawing from being the guru till the culprit was busted. And there was a meeting and some people said they thought I'd done it and one hippie guy started screaming, he's the one! He's the guy who did it! Then there was a letter on the door that said, "You should be ashamed of accusing innocent people. signed, them." Or something like that. Then Bill had written a note saying he suspected a hoax. I thought this was very strange and something came into my head and Michael my sixteen or seventeen year old son came home and he and I went out to get a six pack of beer and I said there's this note on the board and told him about it and I said I've got a theory that you're the guy who ripped off the lock and he said, you're right dad. Okay, I said. I don't blame you. Then after that there was this big meeting and Bill came and said that the lock thief made a noble confession and everything was resolved and everyone wanted to know who it was and they said what about Pat? But he never told.

I don't think the military thing at Zen Center came from Suzuki or Katagiri. It was from the excitement of the times. When I saw Debbie here in Santa Fe, I said are you the chick who told me that's not the right way to use your spoon with the oryoki - who the fuck cares! I didn't feel there was any salvation with the militaristic side.