Interview with Pauline Petchey 

Suzuki had a very human style. He never put on airs. He was traditional yet able to take a chance which he sure did in San Francisco in the sixties - going there and starting Tassajara and all.


[I interviewed Pauline about ten years ago and saw her at Grahame's yesterday (7/24/04). She has an interesting mind and a good memory. Her memories came out in non chronological order and, since they were in Japan three times, America three times, and Britain once, I printed her interview out, cut it up, and pasted it together in something close to chronological order. Her hubby at the time, Grahame, defers to her memory in cases where they disagree. The only point of contention I can think of now is her saying that Dr. Kato rather than Iru Price gave them the address of Sokoji with the suggestion to meet Rev. Suzuki there. His interview will go on next. You may notice there are no questions herein. I think I just turned on the tape and she started talking. There are a few comments by me herein in brackets. - DC]

My mother was born in France but was an American who lived in New York. My father was French and I was born in France. Mother was a Theosophist who knew Krishnamurti. He wanted us to move to Ojai. I read a novel about a woman living in a Japanese temple and that turned me on and I told mother and she sent me a box of books on Zen and Buddhism - Benoit, D.T. Suzuki, Annie Besant. I remember meeting DT Suzuki with her. He was very nice to me and said, "There’s something to being a child." She gave Grahame and me a huge Buddha in Rome which we took to Paris and then to America.

My father was in the French resistance. He shot the head of the Gestapo in our town and killed him - right in his office. He was an artist, as my mother was, and helped British fliers to get to Spain. We’d keep them in the house and if someone came they’d go hide in the woods. They couldn’t leave any trace. If they were smoking my mother would light a cigarette when the local policeman came over to chat. I remember the policeman asking me when I was six if we’d had many visitors. I knew to say no. My parents lives depended on it. My father would take the fliers to the center of town at noon and put them on a bus for Spain. No one suspected. [I remember Pauline telling me that she also did that.]

In 1941 mother and I took a refuge ship to New York. We were allowed off because she was a citizen, but most had to go back. They were torpedoed and all died. The US rejected many refugees.

The consulate in Marseilles sent mother many letters telling her to get out of France so she went there and there were so many people there but she was an American citizen so they moved her to the front and I think we were the only Christians on that boat and the only ones allowed in America and the rest were Jews who were sent back to Europe and my sister told me the boat was torpedoed and everyone died.

In North Carolina mother had a dream that father ran up to her and tapped her on the shoulder and said the day has come. He was with the Americans at the time at the end of the war advising them of how to enter our area and what to expect.

When we left France, father drove us to the airport in Marseilles and we flew to Madrid. A woman at the airport asked mother to help her and when they tried to stop her from flying on at Madrid mother said she was our nanny. Her name was Lila. So we flew to Lisbon and got the boat there to America. Lila saw us off - she couldn’t get on. They took mother’s temperature boarding the boat and it was too high and we weren’t going to be able to go but she asked them to take it again and it was much cooler so we could go. We were the only gentiles on the boat. We were the only ones who could get off at the Azores and at Bermuda. It was dark and no one could have flashlights because the Germans were bombing boats and torpedoing them and we weren’t to have any light that they could see. At New York we were the only ones allowed ashore. The rest had to go back. I think they all died. My sister says the boat was torpedoed. We arrived in New York between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Christmas. I hated New York because I was used to the Southern French countryside.

Before I lived with Grahame I lived with Harold Nourse among other men. We were in Rome. Harold was one of the Beat Poets and is getting some recognition today.

Grahame and I started living together from the first day we met in Italy. We had that Buddha and I looked at it and realized we had a new life. We moved to Paris and then took a freighter to San Francisco through the Panama Canal. We arrived in April of 1961. I’d been there before with my mother. I had the name of address of Sokoji which had been given to me even before that first trip by Donald Chase, a Theosophist in New York. But that’s not how we got to Sokoji. I just remembered it later. We were in San Francisco because we hoped to meet Buddhists there. Grahame and I went to a lecture at the Jodo Shin-shu Buddhist Churches of America in Berkeley. We met Dr. Kato there and he gave us Sokoji’s address.

So Grahame went there and met Suzuki Roshi who was sitting on a chair cross-legged. He offered Grahame a cup of tea and then more tea. No Buddhist talk or trying to convert him. Grahame came home all excited that he’d finally met a real Zen master, not just someone in a book. Suzuki took him into the zendo and showed him how to sit and told him if he wanted to join him in sitting he could come the next morning at 5:45. That made our life even more simple. We were already vegetarians, didn’t smoke or drink.

The legend is that Suzuki was wandering around Japantown and met Bill McNeil who said are you a Zen Master and Suzuki said, yes I am and Bill said can I study with you? And Suzuki said I sit in the mornings at six and you can come join me. [Right except I think that Bill came to Sokoji and met Suzuki there.]

The Kapleaus influenced us. They were a rather wonderful couple who came to Zen Center and lectured on their experiences in Japan - how they sat all night and hard practice - the kyosaku being used on you when you didn’t ask for it. It sounded horrific. We were so impressed. We had a party for them.

Way back at the beginning Grahame and I went with Suzuki up to Jenner to Richard Hebe’s place and Roshi performed a service in the home of a Japanese American at their Butsuden [home altar] - I’d never seen that before. At the Russian River at Jenner, Suzuki picked some mushrooms and put rusty nails with them [ferns I think] into a frying pan and we all got a little sick with stomach aches.

Bob Hense had a nervous breakdown. He was president of Zen Center for about a week then Grahame took over.

In the spring of '62 we went camping at China camp and walked down to Tassajara and Grahame said, "This would make a fantastic place for a Zen temple." We saw the valley and wandered around. I don’t remember Phillip being there or going through any buildings.

Politics didn’t exist back then. Grahame introduced Dick one day and we were close. It was a happy time. We saw a calf born on a walk at Muir Beach on Christmas eve. It must have been at Green Gulch Farm. We did a lot of hiking. Don Allen, an editor at Evergreen Press joined us a lot. Then Virginia came and we all got too close. We got a red Volkswagen, she and Dick got a white one; we got tatami, they got tatami; we got a Siamese Cat, they got one; we had a kid, they had one; we had a second one and they tried and couldn’t. It got sort of competitive. Before Virginia, Dick would come over to dinner a lot and we’d eat vegetarian food with our big Buddha and when he got together with Virginia he kept telling her, you’ve got to cook rice like Pauline and you should sit like Pauline. But Virginia and I were different. I was a committed Buddhist. He said, "Grahame sits zazen because of you and I do it in spite of Virginia."

They lived in the same apartment building that we did for a year or so and there was a third couple who weren’t involved with Zen but the wife went to the Art Institute like Ginny and me and we’d talk a lot and one day the other woman said, what would you do if your husband became a monk and Ginny said she couldn’t take that.

When Grahame became president before he went to Japan, we had to talk more with other people at Zen Center and the feeling we got from Dick and Ginny was why are you talking to them? Mike and Trudy and Hal and Pam came along and it was so cliquey. We had to break out of the relationship with Dick and Virginia to talk to other people. All groups are like that.

Grahame’s ordination - the whole thing was covert. It happened at ten in the night about a month before he left. It wasn’t announced. It was September of '62. There was no head shaving. Maybe it was secret because there were others who wanted to get ordained who Suzuki Roshi didn’t want to ordain like Warwick and there was a Canadian named Jil Gwe who wanted to go to Eiheiji. Suzuki didn’t automatically recommend people for there.

He always said I came to San Francisco, sat zazen and this happened from that. He began to take us seriously as we kept it up and he wanted to do something for us to meet our commitment. It’s a temple and he wouldn’t be there forever so there was a need for continuity. So he ordained Grahame and one thing after another happened. And he sent Grahame to Japan for the future of the group.

There was someone who it was said he ordained earlier but it hadn’t worked out. The lady with the hair pulled back knew him - Irene Horowitz.

I heard he ordained Warwick and regretted it. He wasn’t pleased with Warwick - he was never Suzuki's deshi [disciple]. I don’t remember him sitting zazen.

[No, I really don't think Suzuki ordained Warwick. Warwick left because he wouldn't.]

He appeared but wasn’t part of our group. But Suzuki became afraid to ordain people. Grahame had proved himself more, made zazen a daily part of his life. When he considered ordaining Grahame, Warwick came up. Maybe he’d asked to be ordained and wasn’t and that’s why Suzuki wanted to keep it a secret. [Warwick wasn't ordained by Suzuki]

Warwick was thick set, not fat, strong - a little older than us. Suzuki was perplexed by him. He brought a woman with him to our house.

After we moved from Pacific Heights to the Richmond, Warwick came to our house for lunch and he was upset with Suzuki Roshi that he wouldn’t ordain him. Warwick was eccentric.

Grahame sent me bald pictures from Japan - it was a shock. Suzuki didn’t prepare him in any way. At the airport I said don’t you think he should take some aspirin or something and Suzuki Roshi just shrugged. He had that wonderful simplicity and didn’t worry. But I got concerned when I got letters from Grahame about there not being enough food or time to eat it. Everything moved too fast for him.

The physical aspect of Grahame’s stay at Eiheiji was so hard. He ended up in the hospital in Fukui. But later he could keep up. Suzuki Roshi was concerned about Grahame’s difficulty. His feet went on the meal board when he slept and they said that just can’t be and he said well should we cut my feet off?

Suzuki took a chance in going from this little lay group to having someone go to Eiheiji. He was the combination of the two - the small informal group priest and the traditionalist.

When Grahame was at Eiheiji for the first time he was writing me such tortured letters and I went to Suzuki Roshi and read them to him without Grahame knowing. I saw quite a lot of Suzuki Roshi back then. They must have upset him. And he got to see what we say to each other, what our relationship was like. He got a look at Grahame’s psychology. It was a trial for all of us. He’d even tell me what to write Grahame back - to encourage him. He was tough though, I got to see that side of him. He said to say the cold, hunger and despair are normal.

Grahame was struck by how military it was - like boot camp. Zazen wasn’t so important there. It wasn’t spiritual. It was just physically difficult. Grahame ended up at a doctor’s house and she fed him six pieces of toast and he ate them all because he was so famished. So she kept feeding him more because she thought that was how much he should eat and he ended up gaining weight and coming back sort of chunky.

Tatsugami was leading takuhatsu [begging] and they all went to some inn for a break afterwards and Tatsugami ordered sake and told Grahame to have a drink and he was horrified. Tatsugami said, why have you come all this way? And Grahame said my Japanese isn’t good enough to explain and Tatsugami said he already knew without speaking English. Tatsugami had a way when he was drinking of making the other fellow who wasn’t drinking to look drunk.

But Grahame was making progress and adapting to the situation. His letters got better. And the Rohatsu sesshin was great. He made his peace with Eiheiji before he left. Suzuki Roshi saw this too.

I remember Suzuki Roshi yelling at the students to make the zafus in a straight line - not here and there.

Phillip asked Suzuki Roshi why do Japanese make their tea cups so thin and delicate so they break. Suzuki said it’s not that they’re too delicate but that we do not handle them well. Again, you adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa - not to change the surroundings but the self. It was the gentle way.

But he wasn’t gentle and accepting when he heard Grahame’s letters - he was tough.

Grahame worked in San Francisco at Cal Ink - he was a chemist. He had permission to go to Eiheiji and his boss, an Irishman who called him a Limey, saw his short hair when he came back and Grahame ended up giving a talk at his Presbyterian church.

When Grahame came back from Japan there was an election held in January or so and you could see the factions starting - Mike, Trudy, Pam around Dick and Grahame and those who favored him. There were clicks. And because of that, of Dick and Grahame dividing the votes, Phillip Wilson was elected president. I think Dick was the treasurer and Grahame the VP. It was still small - there were three votes here, four there, five there, but we had an organization and politics were beginning. That election was a dividing line in the development of Zen Center. Phillip was sort of a new figure but he emerged as president.

When Grahame returned from Japan, we bought a house. We were in our twenties. He had an okesa [outer robe of ordination] and spoke at Zen Center. It was the first time that a member of the group did the priest thing. There was some thought about it like, wow, do we want to do this? Not just lay Buddhism but become priests - the commitment.

My mother went to Japantown and bought a Butsuden and Roshi wrote the names of my grandparents on some plain pine so, plaques, in ink and he came to our house and performed a service for them.

Once Grahame was late to zazen and Suzuki Roshi said, you’re no priest, you have no right to wear that okesa, and Grahame started to take it off and Suzuki Roshi said, what are you doing? No one has the right to tell you to take off the okesa.

Mrs. Suzuki used to come over and play piano. We were quite friendly. I was amazed at Tassajara in '71 to find students who hadn’t met Suzuki Roshi.

Bill moved out and started the group at El Monte Hall in Mill Valley. Bill put his own feelings first and couldn’t work with the group and Suzuki didn’t like that. I remember once he was to hit the bell and a branch from a flower arrangement was in the way and he tried to move it and Suzuki Roshi said don’t move the branch, move yourself.

Grahame and I moved to Filmore Street, bought a house, mother moved here and got an apartment. We were settled in. Grahame had a good job and was fully involved with Zen Center giving lectures. Suzuki Roshi was supposed to come to dinner. We made dinner but he never came so we drove over to Sokoji and found him watching a movie. We brought him to the house and ended up in the kitchen. I guess he’d already eaten. So we sat there in the kitchen talking with the dinner table set but he didn’t notice that. In the kitchen he asked me what I thought of Grahame going back to Japan for a year. I said I’m not staying behind. We had two children and if he went to Japan, we were going too. Mother was up for it. So we agreed we’d all go to Japan, Grahame to Eiheiji and us to that little town where Fujimoto-roshi lived because Jean Ross had been so close to him and had lived there. But I said, no, we go to Kyoto - that’s important.

Suzuki gave Grahame a list of six masters to look up: Fujimoto, Sawaki, the abbot of Dogen’s original temple in Uji. They were all too sick or old or dead.

Mother wanted to get ordained but Suzuki wouldn’t ordain her because she didn’t sit, so he said when you go to Japan, let Tatsugami ordain you. So she did that. And I got a rakusu from Uchiyama-roshi on which he wrote "cucumber is cucumbering." I also got a rakusu from Tatsugami and later from Suzuki.

When Grahame and I first went to Japan together we met Katagiri’s wife and son. They were sort of an exchange for us. They came over to America right after we got to Japan.

We’d been very close to Katagiri also. We’d helped him with his English. Mother gave him a Kwannon. He had a hard time there without his family. He was depressed till his family came.

I remember once when Phil left Eiheiji he arrived at mother’s apartment and immediately threw off all his robes. Mother said you don’t know what letting a Zen master into your life can do to you.

Years later when I living in Kyoto I went to Eiheiji. There was a Western monk there named Brian Victoria who spoke perfect Japanese and he helped me out. I’d been studying at the Urasenke school [tea ceremony] and I was a lay student at Eiheiji and we lined up according to seniority and a Japanese monk was saying move on, move on and I fell on the steps and cut myself. Then I was trying to chant in the hondo with my eye bleeding. I had to get back to my class at Urasenke in Kyoto and I went in with a big bandage on my eye and my leg also wrapped up. Soon after that we went to England via Russia.

I had the impression Jean Ross was a lay Buddhist. She didn’t sit in the zendo at Eiheiji. At Eiheiji Jean Ross had the same status as me, a lay student. She wouldn’t shave her head. I remember her talking about it.

In the West we had a pared down version of Buddhism. In Japan there was much more to it. It was hard to take all the hungry ghosts and all.

Before Grahame and I and the kids left Japan to go to England, we stayed at Rinsoin for a month with Suzuki Roshi. It was October of ‘66. Suzuki took me to a village and I gave a lecture to a group of ladies about family life in America. Suzuki translated. I told them how we lived and they were curious about everything like when we fed babies solid food.

The early sixties at Sokoji were odd days - a pioneer situation - we didn’t envision what would come. When in '66 at Rinsoin Suzuki Roshi showed us the brochure to buy the land, I wondered do you really want this?

When we were at Rinsoin in '66 we’d spent days preparing for the ceremony where Suzuki Roshi would turn the temple over to his son and there was a great typhoon and we were sleeping in a big room in the back of the temple and a huge branch came through the roof and ceiling. Phillip and Claude were also there - and David and Julia. Tile had blown off the roof.

When we were at Rinsoin in '66 with Suzuki Roshi, if he had asked Grahame to come back to Zen Center he would have. The trip to England could have been a visit - maybe the money did it.

Suzuki Roshi left you nebulous, not knowing where you’re heading - no guidance, no agenda. It was a little bit of an odd thing. He could have given some direction at Rinsoin but there was none of that.

It was such a big sacrifice going to Japan the second time - we never got back to Zen Center. Grahame got into running the company - after the year in England. I remember walking down the Ginza with him saying the house is gone, the job is gone, you’re going into Eiheiji.

Mother helped get us out of Japan to England. Grahame could have been a priest at the Zen Center, but sending him to Japan for the second time lost him.

Kapleau turned out to be a disappointment. We had been so impressed with them when they came to Sokoji in 62 or so. We loved everything Japanese - went to samurai movies and all. Kapleau’s talk added to it. He and his wife were like mentors. But at the end of our year in Japan, before going to England via the train in Russia, we dropped by the Kapleau’s in Tokyo and he was very insulted and angry that we’d been in Japan a whole year and hadn’t visited him yet. When he heard what we’d been doing he said oh none of them are enlightened - not Suzuki or Uchiyama or anyone at Eiheiji. Grahame said, I’m very happy to be studying with teachers who are not enlightened." To me, talking about enlightenment or not-enlightenment is not on to begin with. So that was the end of Kapleau.

In London Grahame sat zazen and I had a tea group. Grahame got involved with Christmas Humphreys and the Buddhist Society. They were stuffy. He said foreigners couldn’t do sesshin. He thought they should have lessons on Buddhism and then sit. There was a strong conflict between the intellectual old fashioned approach and practicing new-comers.

In England Grahame got a letter from Suzuki Roshi, one from Dick, and one from someone else saying to come now to Zen Center, but it was too late. Dick wrote later that there would be support but it was still too late.

In England Grahame did write to Suzuki Roshi that he’d go back to Japan, study Japanese more, and then return to America but it never happened.

After we came back from England, I was dying to get back to tea ceremony and Antaiji. I studied the sencha way, the five cups and all.

Mr. Yagi took care of monks who’d run away from Eiheiji. He was friends with Morishita Hodo who taught tea at Eiheiji. He was the eimoto [head] of the sencha tea school which he founded. He also did the tea ceremony using bancha. He did it simply. I became a tea teacher in that school.

In Japan after England Grahame started the first school in Osaka. I became the Kobe wife. It was Colonial. I missed Kyoto. I tried to keep a link to Antaiji. Graham moved to Tokyo to start a school there. I stayed in Kobe five years. I left Kobe to join Grahame in Tokyo before we came to America to have the baby and then bought a house in the States and I stayed there two years but I went back and I was in Kobe another five years.

After England I rented a place across from Antaiji and lived in Kobe and Grahame and I would meet at the Kyoto apartment on the weekends. In Kobe I led a double life. I’d run around in my kimono and do tea and at the Kobe Club I’d toast the Queen.

I had a terrible time getting into Urasenke. I became a sencha tea ceremony teacher but went Urasenke as far as becoming a teacher but not getting a name. I got a sencha name.

We were in England from the autumn of '66 to February of '68. We were in Japan from March of '68 till May of '70. I visited Zen Center and Tassajara one summer of '69 on the way back to Japan after visiting mother and sister in Paris and father in France. Grahame flew straight with the Japanese monk.

I visited Tassajara briefly in '69. It was so different in the city. I couldn’t get Suzuki on the phone at Sokoji. I met you and Yvonne.

Grahame and I flew back to the US to have a baby - I’d moved to Tokyo three months prior to that. We were living with the Kwongs but I considered it to much to have a baby while staying with them so we moved into the Corte Madera Village Inn. I wanted to have Suzie in the US so she’d have full citizenship. Neither Grahame nor I were born US citizens. We both are now. We bought a house. Suzie was born in June. Grahame went back about a week later. That’s when we went down to Tassajara and Grahame gave that cup to him from Nona Ransom. Grahame visited a few times the two years I was in the States. I went back to Kobe. Grahame would visit now and then. After three years I returned to America in '77. Grahame was in a troubled state. He’d resigned the school. He kept going back to Japan. I’d put the kids into boarding schools in England but they ended up in Mill Valley and they wanted to stay there.

Miss Ransom was proper, delightful, pleased to see Grahame. She gave him the movie of Suzuki Roshi. She left Grahame a box of the Emperor and Empress of China’s stuff. He was too late to get it. I took David and Suzie to her Quaker church a few years ago and a nice man who knew her tried to give me her favorite picture of the Empress. I told him to keep the photo. She gave Grahame a cup to give to Suzuki Roshi and he gave it to him in 1970 at Tassajara and I saw him using it when he lectured in 1971. It was dark brown, a special ceramic from Summerset where she was from. I don’t remember if it had a handle. She said Grahame looked like a Mormon all dressed up. She was thin, tall, shoulder-length hair pulled back, elegant, not showy - like Katherine Hepburn. She was always good with Grahame - teased him - he was always in his black suit, shaved head, a bit stiff. She told him to loosen up. She left her diary and box of stuff to him but he never got it. I think her son who she wasn’t too fond of got it. I think she taught at the school for aristocrats in Tokyo. I think that she took a letter from Pu Yi to the Emperor of Japan to try to ease tensions around Manchuria. It failed.

Miss Ransom handed that film to us. I think I saw it - I remember it being a bit disappointing - Suzuki standing in the garden and scenes like that.

The strangest thing is how Zen Center went from a little relaxed group in a small place with $100 in the bank to the large organization training priests. We used to bring our sleeping bags to Sokoji for sesshin. There were no training temples like today. That’s why Suzuki Roshi wanted to send Grahame to Japan to train. So he could learn some of that.

Grahame became a citizen soon after that - before he went to Japan to work for Rawlings. I was born a US citizen.

Studying Uchiyama’s simple way, I was disillusioned when I came back and could only get Suzuki's answering machine.

Early Sokoji students’ experience of Rev. Suzuki and the experience of those who came later is completely different. Ours is kind of like the first marriage.

At Gary Snyder’s house in Kyoto once, Grahame said if he couldn’t sit because something happened to his legs he’d become Jodo Shin-shu and recite Namu Amida Butsu. Dick said, what? You’re no more committed to Zen than that?

Meeting Uchiyama at Antaiji had a tremendous effect on Grahame. Uchiyama became my guru. Suzuki was a family guru.

There are so many important transitions in our lives. The elections at Zen Center and going to England and even the time at Tassajara.

I always felt sadness that Grahame went into the marketplace. My mother and I were into the spiritual path and it seemed too bad, but now after talking to you there seems to be some closure.

I sewed a rakusu in 1971 for myself and three for the kids. Tony Johansen [sp?] said why do them all at once and I thought of the scales in Suzuki's room at the baths and, for some reason, said, he might not be around for so long. Katagiri helped with the kids ordination. Lynn and her husband who studied with Katagiri later helped a lot too.

Suzuki never told us about the murder of his first wife. Dick told us before Suzuki died though.

I taught tea in San Francisco and Stan White was a student of mine.

I tried to ask Suzuki Roshi philosophical questions like if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there does it make a sound - sort of if I’m not there does it exist and he’d just say it doesn’t matter.

Early on in a sesshin I had such great pain and I wanted to move and I saw Suzuki Roshi's feet walking by and I latched on to them and I had this experience all of a sudden. I was calm and the pain was separate - it still hurt but it didn’t matter and I couldn't see my chattering mind. Things at that time were getting a little more political and I could see Dick and Virginia and love them and it all seemed okay and there seemed no need for competition. I saw Roshi about it and I thought I had a permanent enlightenment and Roshi said, "Very nice you’ve reached deep zazen." The important thing was he didn’t make anything out of it.

At our last meeting at Tassajara in '71, I said, "I’m here because you’re there and you’re there because I’m here." and he said, "Yes."

Suzuki had a very human style. He never put on airs. He was traditional yet able to take a chance which he sure did in San Francisco in the sixties - going there and starting Tassajara and all.

Once Suzuki was asked what’s the difference between sitting zazen on the floor and in a chair and he said, "The only difference is the legs."

I’ve never met anyone like Suzuki since.

Suzuki Roshi gave permission for my mother’s ashes to go to Tassajara. She died in France in 1977 and Grahame smuggled her ashes to America to escape all the red tape. I added holy water from Lourdes. I made a sculpture for her out of tombstone from San Francisco.

I made a bronze sculpture of Suzuki Roshi and it went into his garden at Tassajara and they asked for another for Green Gulch so I got it back to make a mold and haven’t done anything yet.