Interview with David Silva
Interviewed at Tassajara on July 9, 2004 in the staff office. Also present were his wife, Linda, and Dennis Samson.
DC: I like to know how people came to Zen Center, what got them there, what’s important to them, what their memories are of Suzuki Roshi. That’s the center of the whole thing. I know you won’t have much to say about Suzuki, but you were here before he died so you can add to the oral history of that time. I don’t focus on post-Suzuki Roshi stuff but I’d like to hear what you’ve done since then that you wish to mention.
DS: Tassajara was the first time I came to Zen Center. It was the fall of ’71 just before Suzuki Roshi died. I came to Tassajara at the end of the summer of ’71 and sat tangaryo with my then wife, Margaret. I’m not sure why we came at the end of the summer, but we did come at the end of the summer and we sat tangaryo and we were here for like a week or so, and then they did this terrible thing, they did this end-of-summer sesshin. I barely had lived through tangaryo, and now I had to sit a sesshin. Then after that I guess there was a little bit of time, and then the practice period started. For some reason I came before practice period started.
DC: How come you came here?
DS: Some time about a year before we came, I had returned to Monterey. I had spent a year up at Humboldt State studying forestry and smoking dope and dropping acid. I was about 22. We came back to Monterey. I had missed getting into fall quarter at Humboldt because I had been off picking crops: apples, pears, beans, grapes. I lived out of a van. That’s a whole other story that doesn’t really fit in with this story. So I came back to Monterey where I had lived. I grew up in Monterey. Moved to Monterey when I was seven and lived there until I was twenty or so and then moved up to Humboldt to go to Humboldt State, and then went off on this little migrant crop picking number, then came back to Monterey. This friend of mine who I used to always smoke dope with came by and said he was going to go sit zazen and did I want to come. We used to always hang out and do things with Steve and I said sure, if that’s what you’re into now that’s what we’ll do.
We went to Jean Ross’s apartment in Carmel. Her little one-bedroom apartment above the movie theater that doesn’t even exist any more. We sat zazen and for some reason I actually thought it was a good thing to do. I couldn’t sit cross-legged and was terribly uncomfortable, and my back hurt like all get-out, but somehow the thing took. Margaret and I did that for about a year with Jean.
Somewhere in that process we had heard about Tassajara. Margaret and Steve and I used to come down to Tassajara and sneak into the baths – before Zen. We lived in Monterey and Steve was really into hot tubs. We used to go into Esalen also. This would have been about ’69 or so. I knew about Tassajara then. When we snuck in I don’t think I really knew much what was happening down here. We’d just come in and take baths. We didn’t party. We were quiet, clean, didn’t make messes. We came in the middle of the night. Everyone was asleep. Nobody knew we were doing it as far as I know. It wasn’t because of us they had a bath watch. It was because of people who made more of a mess.
Somehow in the course of sitting with Jean, Margaret and I got an idea – and having grown up in Monterey I sort of knew about Tassajara. In fact the first back-packing trip I ever took as a kid – I was nine years old – and my dad and my brother and I went down to Willow Creek campground, which is where Tassajara Creek hits Willow Creek, just up from Arroyo Seco. I took my very first back-packing trip. And some guy came through our camp when I was there and said he was going to this place called Tassajara. He came walking upstream. I still remember that as an adult. So we sort of knew this place was here and we used to backpack here as kids and we knew the area. We came down once, our family, but we didn’t have reservations for whatever was happening and we had to turn around and go back. First time I ever was here was probably around ’69 or so when I snuck into the baths. Then I came down in the summer of ’71 and spent a few days, then came down at the very end of the summer to stay.
I just can’t remember exactly why. Jean was hoping we would study with Suzuki Roshi. Jean didn’t know that Suzuki Roshi wasn’t going to be doing the practice period, and that it was going to be Katagiri. I think Jean might have pushed us a little bit so that we would be able to see Suzuki Roshi.
DC: It was planned for Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri (I think maybe we had just started calling him Roshi then, or maybe he was still Sensei) to do the fall practice period together.
LS: How long before Suzuki Roshi died had he known he was ill?
DC: In the spring he’d had an operation. I don’t know what that was. Some people think he knew in the summer, but he didn’t know he had cancer. He thought maybe he had hepatitis. He didn’t know he had cancer until like September or so. But his gall bladder which was removed in the spring may have been cancerous.
DS: September is when I came down. What’s strange is that before I came down to Tassajara I don’t think I sat more than three periods of zazen in a week. I came down here and had to do tangaryo, five days, and then Jean hadn’t hinted that we were going to do a sesshin a couple of weeks after we showed up here. I actually tried to get out of the sesshin. The tangaryo was so awful, and I thought, well, this is a sesshin for everybody who worked through the summer. I didn’t do that, so I probably don’t really have to sit this sesshin. They all were aghast that I even suggested such a thing. They assigned Dan Welch to keep an eye on me to make sure I was okay, which was really quite wonderful because I had a nice bonding experience with Dan. I’ve always thought well of him ever since because he helped me through a hard period there.
So that’s how I ended up here. It was really kind of by a fluke. I wasn’t really a seasoned Zen student.
DC: Did Margaret come with you?
DS: Yeah, Margaret came. She spent the first practice period and then left. She went with a woman named Bonnie who was a student of Trungpa’s who also left and went back to Colorado. Margaret went to Colorado to live eventually. I stayed. I only stayed for a year. I did two practice periods and one summer. Then went back to Monterey and studied with Katagiri for a year and got lay ordained by Katagiri. The summer after that I came back for much of the summer. I think Katagiri had left for Minneapolis at that point. When I came back to Monterey Jean’s group had unfortunately dissolved with Katagiri’s leaving. I felt at loose ends. Mark Alexander said, “Why don’t you come up to Zen Center? We’ll find a job for you up here.“ I left Monterey and went up to Page Street and became sort of the first official Tassajara bread baker when we started selling Tassajara bread commercially. I was baking out of 300 Page Street kitchen. That was my flow. How I got from nowhere to somewhere.
DC: Donnie Crockin – I think he had broken the ice on baking in the Page Street kitchen and gotten Suzuki Roshi to give him permission to do that. Then I think he started that restaurant, macrobiotic restaurant.
DS: Good Karma Café. Suzuki Roshi I only saw once in my entire life, at the Mountain Seat ceremony. That’s my entire memory of Suzuki Roshi.
DC: What do you remember about that?
DS: I remember the whole thing was very powerful. I remember that I had some sort of powerful experience during the course of that. A lot of people did. But they were all people who knew him and I didn’t know him at all. I had never had any contact with him. I don’t really know how to describe it, except that I know I just broke down and sobbed. I sobbed a lot. I know other people were crying that day because they knew this might be the last time they saw Suzuki Roshi alive. I can’t say what exactly caused it in me. I had sort of an emotional dissolving. I remember I stayed in the Buddha hall after everybody left. I was very moved. People gave their speeches. I remember Bill Kwong doing his big “Kwatz!”
DC: This was for the Dick Baker part of the ceremony.
DS: Well it was the Mountain Seat ceremony.
DC: Suzuki Roshi comes in – and did he stay while Dick was answering questions? I think so.
DS: I don’t really remember that. I certainly remember when he stood up before everybody and shook his staff. I think that’s probably when I had my experience, and probably when everybody else had theirs too. When he stood and shook his staff. But I can’t remember the whole continuity of events.
DC: Yeah, me too. I just know it in terms of people telling the story. It’s what I call the emotional high point of Zen Center history. It’s the most often-referred to event.
DS: I’m still fairly impressed that it’s the only time I saw Suzuki Roshi. Whatever happened, I got it. It got to me. It happened. I didn’t feel like I was a spectator. I was completely in the soup.
DC: What do you remember about that fall practice period?
DS: I don’t remember a lot. We all left for the Mountain Seat ceremony. I don’t remember if anyone stayed behind.
DC: Well of course some people did.
DS: I didn’t go to the funeral. All of who were down here were Jed and Maria, myself, Ruvane and Patty. Patty actually came from Monterey but I didn’t know her before that. Ruvane and she were a couple. We were the only ones down here. I remember the experience of being at Tassajara with just those few people was very moving. Then Ruvane and Patty took off into the woods for some kind of survivalist camping trip where they were going to live off the plants. They didn’t take any food with them or anything. It was just Jed and Maria and me. That was actually after practice period was over, so that’s not technically practice period.
DC: Interim. I’ve been here for interim. I was here once when I was the only person.
LS: This was when Suzuki Roshi died?
DS: This was his funeral. Everyone left for his funeral. What was the date of the funeral? He died on the second of December.
DC: He died n the fourth. Our sesshin here started on the first. Theirs started on the fourth. So the one here would be over on the eighth. They had his body embalmed, so they might have waited until the ninth. I don’t remember exactly.
DS: I don’t remember sesshin being cancelled or interrupted or stopped or anything. I think we completed the sesshin.
DC: Oh sure. I remember you knowing about – I was assistant director – fire fighting.
DS: I was a firefighter. I had been a firefighter for three summers before I came here. It’s what I did after high school.
DC: You were the main firefighting consultant.
DS: I was like the expert. At 22 years old I was the expert. Putsy used to come down and we’d consult together. Luckily they’ve got things a lot more together now than when I knew everything. Things are much more developed.
DC: I would imagine. But it’s not something I’ve noticed.
DS: We had one little fire that summer I was here. It was a compost – the piles got too hot and started burning. Grasshopper Flats. We had to put that floating engine thing in the creek and we had to run hose out to Grasshopper Flats –
DC: I was my fault.
DS: It actually spread into the brush and so it could have been –
DC: It went right into the trees. This was the stupidest thing on earth. It was long-term compost. So I chose a spot we didn’t use, under all these trees. This was a large, large pile of wood, as big as a house. It was so stupid. We don’t know how it started. I’d go out there and test the firefighting equipment and water it. There was all sorts of stuff there. Some people thought maybe somebody threw a cigarette butt on it, but I have no idea. I don’t know why anybody thought that. Here’s my memory of what happened on that. I think Jed discovered it, or maybe Jed told me about it. The fire started under all these trees in this dry weather. Tassajara hopped to it, was out there fighting it. By the time the fire department truck arrived it was put out, you all had put it out. And Daya – Dianne – was right on it. You and Diane were fighting it. That’s what I remember.
DS: I have no memory of the Forest Service – they would have been the fire department – I don’t remember them showing up.
DC: I think a fire engine from Carmel arrived the next morning or something like that. I think it was a very close call. It was one of my trips and really stupid. I wasn’t there – maybe in the city for a meeting. Thanks for that. Do you remember the announcement that Suzuki Roshi had died?
DC: I remember it. We were sitting in the zendo, the phone rang during first zazen. Dan and I sat next to each other – he was the director and I was assistant director and he sat in the first seat on the wall by the altar on the creek side. He got up and answered the phone and came back and sat maybe up on the altar and announced it.
DS: You’d think he’d tell Katagiri first or something. Or Bill Kwong who was the shuso.
DC: He might have. I can’t remember. I remember Dan taking care of it. He might have told Katagiri.
DC: We were told that Suzuki Roshi had cancer at morning tea. That would have been back whenever it was – October 11 or something – officers’ tea. I remember going and telling Diane on the steps to the dorm that Suzuki Roshi had cancer. I remember crying. I didn’t cry much after that though. Do you remember anything else about the practice period?
DS: Margaret and I had the cabin in the upper garden right next to Dan and Louise and Johanna. We had the cabin right next door to that, which they still use.
DC: Garden two, that’s where Clay and I just stayed. They put couples there, because of the noise. I’ll tell you one couple lived next to Dianne and me. Wow, they really needed to be out at Grasshopper Flats. They were great. They were very entertaining. They’re still together.
DS: What else do I remember. It was really cold. I remember pain. Did we have three sesshins that practice period?
DC: Yes, we did. Katagiri decided to do that.
DS: Now they do it all the time, right. It’s just standard. That was the first time. It was so insane. Tangaryo, end of summer sesshin, three sesshins.
DC: And you’d never sat more than three times a week before that. Ha ha. The last sesshin we didn’t sleep . . . twenty-four hours a day . . . I loved it. It was great, man.
DS: Sometimes I wonder why I left after a year. One was I think because Katagiri was in Monterey and now he was with my old group, and they had this thing that sounded pretty exciting to me, to go back and be part of that. Then I thought maybe five sesshins in four months, maybe I said uh-uh, I don’t want any more of this. This is way too much. I’d never been a big fan of zazen. I had an enormous amount of pain. It was just like, oh god, why do this. I thought I’d go back to someplace when you can just sit a couple times a day, a few times a week, something civilized. But I can’t remember exactly.
Then I stayed in Frances Thompson’s house when I first came out. For some reason she was leaving, maybe she came back to Tassajara that practice period. I stayed at her house in Asilomar.
DC: Do you remember anything more about Jean Ross, Katagiri Roshi, the whole trip there.
DS: Jean was really a nice person, a sweet old lady. I shouldn’t say old, at that time I was 22, so I don’t know. She was gray-haired.
DC: She was in her 60s.
DS: This would have been 1970.
DC: I could tell you exactly by looking at the article I wrote about her for the Windbell.
DS: She had this little walk-up apartment in downtown Carmel. Three times a week she would have people come and sit zazen with her. She never gave a lecture, I don’t think.
DC: I used to go sit at her place. In ’69 I sat with her. Suzuki Roshi was very insistent that I sit with her. I’d try as hard as I could to get him to let me just sit where I was living in Pacific Grove and let people sit with me. He wouldn’t. I tried to manipulate him. What if I want to sit zazen by myself – and what if I’m sitting zazen by myself and somebody else wants to join with me? “No,” he said, “You should sit with Jean.” He really wanted me to sit with Jean, he really wanted to support her.
DS: I’m glad to hear that.
DC: Totally. Very supportive of Jean. If you look at the succession of Shusos – when it became her time in the seniority to be shuso, she couldn’t do it so we had no shuso that practice period. We waited for her. That wasn’t done for anyone else.
DS: Jean was one of his very first students. She was the first president of Zen Center. She was his first student to go study in Japan –
DC: Well, she went before Grahame. She was really the first one that he sent. That’s true. But he had a couple of others who went earlier, but they didn’t work out. I think maybe they wanted to go more than he wanted them to go. But they were two of his strongest students - Bill McNeill and Bob Hense. And Bob Hense was the first president, then Grahame, then maybe Jean. But one of his very first and strongest students yes.
DS: I don’t think she ever told this to me or the group or anything, I think I learned a lot about Jean and Zen Center I think through Maggie Kress. This is my memory. The feeling that when Jean came back from Japan there had been a lot of power shifts at Zen Center, and there was not a place for her any more. I don’t know if I heard that from her – and that she was always a little bit on the outside of the power dynamics.
DC: Yeah, according to some there was a clique at Zen Center that developed around Dick and Ginny and Trudy and Mike and some others. These three old-fashioned ladies, Jean and Betty and Della, were not part of that younger Zen Center set. These other people were into the academic world, the art world, they knew the Beatniks, and all that. Jean was in her way the most conservative of the three. But she was also the strongest. She went to Japan. Even though she had nominated Dick to be president, she didn’t like the place that Dick was taking Zen Center. But those old-timers, all of them, really liked Zen Center when it was small, and they could sit around the coffee table with Suzuki Roshi, and Ananda.
DS: Ananda’s not well now. [Claude Dalenberg]
DC: Oh. Sorry to hear. They didn’t like it when it got bigger. They felt a little bit betrayed. It was too painful for her, she didn’t want to deal with Dick. And also Bill Kwong left and went to Mill Valley because of not being able to deal with Dick.
DS: What year did Jean come to Carmel?
DC: It’s in the article – after ‘66.
DS: She never talked about any of that though.
DC: She was very careful not to.
DS: She was conservative, of the old school, you don’t gossip.
DC: A couple of times I brought Ananda over there when I was driving him to the city. I’d talk with them a minute and then I’d leave so they could talk.
DS: Yeah. So sitting with Jean was a very simple thing. There was no ritual or anything. We had a little bell, we had a mokugyo, we did the heart sutra, that’s all we ever chanted. She would read from Suzuki Roshi’s book after we sat. Then we’d have tea and crackers. It was an odd thing for me – I was still a hippie, had long hair, and had just come from being a migrant worker, with a van painted red, white and blue, with pictures of Jerry Garcia all over it. Then I’m sitting in this little gray-haired lady’s apartment in Carmel drinking tea and Japanese crackers. But she was very sweet and supportive and kind. I think she supported Margaret and me a lot to go to Tassajara. I still feel some guilt over the fact that she lost her place in Zen Center. Katagiri came to Monterey, and then the group coalesced around Katagiri, and when Katagiri left the group kind of fell apart, and she lost that group also. It was her group.
DC: She never was clear to me if she resented him coming. She really wanted to support him, she wanted him here, she wanted help. Then I’d get an idea like she was sort of losing what she had. What do you think?
DS: I wasn’t there when the decision was made for him to come there. I was here at Tassajara.
DC: Who asked him to come?
DS: I don’t know. I wasn’t there at the time. He’d been here for two practice periods, and I stayed on for the summer. He left. I guess he went first back to San Francisco, and then came to Monterey. I don’t think he went straight from Tassajara to Monterey.
DC: He was not in San Francisco long. He didn’t want to be around Dick either.
DS: So I don’t know how that invitation happened.
DC: I think other people might have told me. Ken and Elizabeth Sawyer came down here and studied with him. Mark Lewis was down here, right?
DS: Mark wasn’t here when Katagiri was here, I don’t think. Certainly Mark was here before Katagiri, but Mark wasn’t sitting with us – where could Mark had moved –
DC: Maybe it was Tassajara. He was here in ‘74 when I was Shuso. He first came in here in ’69.
DS: I know his name more than him. I can remember seeing him, but I can’t remember actually being – I know he was very close to Jean and the whole group. I think he was probably one of Jean’s first star students. By the time I left Tassajara at the end of the summer to go to Monterey, Jean’s group had pretty much coalesced around Katagiri. He had his house in Monterey – right on the Monterey/Pacific Grove border actually. We were all sitting there. He had a little zendo set up.
DC: Was Jean coming and sitting?
DS: Well Jean would, but with what regularity I don’t remember.
DS: I feel that we abandoned Jean for Katagiri. And then when Katagiri left the group didn’t come back to Jean at all, just dispersed.
DC: Was she still here?
DS: She was. I’m pretty sure she was.
DC: I remember her telling me that before she left she knew she would have to leave at some point to take care of her mother. Did you read the thing I wrote for the Wind Bell?
DS: Yeah, I did.
DC: Her mother lived to be 105, her aunt lived to be 110. She got Alzheimer’s when she was in her 80s. She died a multi-millionaire. And nobody there had ever heard her mention anything about Zen. . . . she left with a broken heart. But frankly I don’t have much sympathy with her and with Claude and the earliest students who lost their cozy, intimate, somewhat casual relationship with Suzuki. Come on, this is what Suzuki Roshi came to America to do. To me they wanted to keep him for themselves, they wanted to keep this romantic little trip going. I don’t say that in what I write. I’m sort of respectful. But I saw that from the first.
DS: You saw the whole progression so it’s easier for you. I was just a young kid who felt I’d abandoned my grandmother or something. Jean wanted to keep it small. She wasn’t into expansion at all.
DC: She wanted something nice and small to continue. She was awfully old-fashioned. She was very mid-West.
I want to ask you about your present teacher . . . what was your sense of what the teaching and practice was at Tassajara, Zen Center in the city, Katagiri, Jean, -- what did you get out of it, what did you think the strong points were, what do you think the weak points were, what about the social milieu.
DS: Actually it was a very exciting thing. I remember now that I wrote tons of letters. I wrote regularly back to Jean’s group and to Jean. I was very stimulated by the whole thing. I hadn’t read Gary Snyder yet, but it was probably like those things he wrote – he has an essay in Earth Household about sesshin at the monastery he was at and I felt very engaged, and it was an amazingly exciting dynamic thing to be a part of. Some part of me feels like I really came alive coming to Zen Center. I was a kind of shy young kid who didn’t really know my place in the world, and when I came to Zen Center I found a place that stimulated me and made me feel like I belonged and felt part of a bigger thing. I hadn’t studied Zen very much. So in a way I had that beginner’s mind thing. I really didn’t come with any pre-conceived notions about what I thought was going to happen. It was great. And I got to hike over these mountains all the time. And had the hot springs. It would be great to see all those letters. Who knows where they ended up. When I came back people said they were extremely thrilled by the writings I sent out. They felt connected to what was happening here, and Zen, and the whole Zen practice thing. Having sat three periods of zazen with Jean in her living room up to this point – that was my only knowledge of Zen. To come to something like Tassajara where there’s so much ritual –
DC: That doesn’t happen now. Right up to the time Suzuki Roshi died people would still come here with very little experience. So the five day tangaryo, right into a seven day sesshin, and then three more sesshins with so little prior experience – that doesn’t happen now.
DS: Yeah, you have to prove yourself before you do all that. So I really felt I had been born in some way. It was really the beginning of some part of my life, a birth, a beginning. I started out developing in some way. I certainly wasn’t critical of anything that was going on, except for the fact that I was in an enormous amount of pain, I was critical of that. The kyosaku [the stick] – that was frightening. I’d never seen a kyosaku before. After my first practice period they had me carrying that thing. Talk about an amazing experience, to be 22 years old and be carrying a kyosaku around, whacking people. Scary and amazing.
We had one student of Trungpa’s. I can’t remember his name. Was Bonnie Miller a student of Trungpa’s? We always associated this other guy – always the odd guy out, he never really mixed with anyone very well. This guy came straight from Trungpa, he’d never been at Zen Center before. He wore big down jackets. Steve Bodian now who is actually a teacher of Adyashanti who is the guy we sit with now – Steve Bodian who went on to become the editor of the Yoga Journal and put out a number of books and became a therapist.
DC: In ’71?
DS: Yeah, the first practice period I was here he was here. Mark Gripman, it was his first practice period here. I don’t think it was Ken Berman’s first practice period, he was here before. I think it was Barry Mason’s first practice period. It’s a little hard to tell, because I had just arrived and I thought everybody had just arrived. I think it was Lucy Bennett’s first practice period. I made a lot of friendships that have continued on. This aspect of sangha was pretty important.
I made a lot of friends that meant a lot to me. I always felt the idea of sangha became really important, more than Buddha and dharma. Sangha is something I’ve always really appreciated. I wasn’t a person that had a lot of friends until I came to Zen Center. All of a sudden I felt I had friends everywhere. My famous quote: Zen Center is a place for loners who can’t stand to be alone. I said that to John Steiner down at the swimming pool back in about ’77 when I was a guest cook. John was in the kitchen. We had this great crew: Alan Block, Howard Durer[?], John Steiner. They were all the student cooks. Suki Parmelee and myself and Annette – she married the tall guy and live up north – anyway, we were the guest cooks. Steve Weintraub was the tenzo.
Katagiri was wonderful. I’d never seen a real Zen teacher. When I was t Jean’s, Tatsugami came by at least once, maybe a couple of times, and Peter Schneider and Jane would come by, and Dan and Louise. They’d all give talks. I’d seen Tatsugami, but just once or twice. But Katagiri was an incredible joy to be around. Because I was a new student I sat toward the back of the zendo. It was very dark in the old zendo, the lamps didn’t work too well. It was the middle of winter and you really couldn’t see very well. When he would smile, he would light up the whole zendo. His smile would beam all the way to the back. He had such extremes because he had that big frown he could do too. Then had this beautiful light smile. I can’t remember anything he said particularly but he was really wonderful to be with. Again, that might be one reason I left after a year. I’d done those two practice periods with him. The idea of being with him in Monterey with my old group was pretty appealing.
DC: He was so glad to get away from Zen Center and have some group. He chose Bob Walter to be his jisha and Bonnie Miller to be his anja. The officers fought him on it.
DS: But he did get them as I remember.
DC: Yes he did. He was running up against not only Dick Baker – he wanted to do things different. Against other people’s ideas of what he should do. And then he went to Monterey. And then he went to Minnesota.
DS: He got stolen away. He could tell he was going to be able to create something larger. We didn’t have any people like Dick Baker in our place. We were just a bunch of hippies. We didn’t have any great vision. Those people in Minneapolis, they were professionals. They had jobs.
DC: He never caught on quite enough here. It was disappointing to him.
DS: We started small and stayed small. We weren’t developing in Monterey.
DC: He felt the same way about Minnesota too. After what happened at Zen Center, I think he always felt he was in Suzuki’s shadow.
DS: I’m sure he got something out of it too. If he hadn’t come to Zen Center in the first place, and been in Suzuki Roshi’s shadow, maybe nobody would ever have known who he was at all.
DC: Yeah, and Suzuki Roshi forced him to give lectures, forced him to learn English, forced him to be a teacher. He pushed him into all that. But he resented Suzuki Roshi somewhat. He told me. He’d tell me things. After Suzuki Roshi died we’d talk. I was learning things about how Suzuki Roshi wasn’t so perfect. He had this wife who was murdered. Mitsu said he was a bad husband. Before I went to Japan I didn’t have any thought of writing anything. But Peter Schneider called me Tassajara’s newspaper. Katagiri and I were walking at Green Gulch and I told him some of the stuff I knew about Suzuki and said, I’m watching you really carefully, I’m going to find out your weak points. I already know some, but I’m going to know more. He said, you’ll never find out. I’ve hidden it too well. We were just joking around the notion that teachers have to be perfect in every way.
Anyway, from that point one, now you’re studying with some teacher . . . what was your spiritual path from then to now.
DS: I left Zen Center in about ’79 or so. Since then I haven’t done any organized kind of practice thing. If anything have been more connected to the Vipassana people, but again not seriously. Go to some lectures by them, read some of their books.
DC: When did you get together with Linda?
DS: Linda and I got together about ‘81/’82. I trace it back to the first Greek Theater Grateful Dead show we went to which was ’82.
DC: When you left did you leave – was it like I quit, or was it like time to move on.
DS: It was a moving on thing. I’d moved out of the building and was living up the street a block. Once I moved out of the building I wasn’t working for Zen Center. I’d stopped working for the Green Gulch Greengrocer. The whole time I was at Zen Center I worked for Zen Center. I started out as the baker, then I was the buyer, then I was fukuten [asst. head cook], then I came back to Tassajara as the guest cook, then I became manager of the Green Gulch Greengrocer after you, so I always worked for Zen Center. When I stopped working for Zen Center I stopped having very much contact even though I was just up the street.
DC: Were you right after me (at the greengrocer)?:
DS: I was. You and Jim, you were the first two, and then there was me and Neil Rubenking right after you. So I did that for my last couple of years at Zen Center. I think through that time I became less engaged at Zen Center. Instead of going to the zendo I’d go off produce shopping. But I was liking it. That separated me somewhat. As you know there were other events that separated me a little bit from some of what was going on, having to do with some relationship I was having.
DC: That separated you from Zen Center?
DS: From that point on things became a little rocky. It never really got back on great terms. So when I stopped working for Zen Center and went to school. I finished my bachelor’s. I’d never finished my Bachelor’s, I’d dropped out after three years, so I went back and got my Bachelor’s, and then I went to graduate school. All of that moved me further and further. So once I’d stopped working for Zen Center I just drifted.
LS: You had almost no contact with them by the time you met me which was only really two/three years later.
DS: Yeah. I’d come back and visit people.
LS: Your close friends, a lot of them, were ex-Zen people. You had this whole community of other people who also no longer had a lot of contact with Zen Center.
DS: This was before the big break, so there were not quite as many ex-Zen people yet. When things came down around the crisis of Richard Baker, I got drawn back in a little bit, just because it was something I was interested in, and people invited me to some meetings and stuff. I got drawn back a little bit more. But then I just sort of floated around Zen Center on the rare occasion. I’d go to Buddhist lectures here and there. I always thought of myself as a Buddhist, but I wasn’t doing anything in any serious way. When Kendra [his daughter] started coming back to Tassajara as a Zen student, both Linda and I started coming down to visit her and got tied back into the whole Tassajara thing. That was really good. She was about 19 or 20 when that happened. Six years ago. About six years ago I started coming back to Tassajara with some regularity. We had some reunions too. We both have dabbled in Buddhist stuff. We both think of ourselves as primarily Buddhist, but don’t really do anything in any sort of organized way.
When I got diagnosed with cancer, it sort of said, oh, time to get spiritual again. A wake-up call. So we started doing some things more seriously. We started sitting regularly, meditating regularly. We had this friend who’s into various spiritual teachers, and she first took us to see Ganga-ji. She’s in Marin. Papa-ji was her teacher. She did a lot of Zen stuff and then got to sudden enlightenment with Papa-ji. I don’t even know what the name of her tradition is, but it’s got a name and it starts with an ay -- It’s a no-path kind of thing. Just get it right now. Don’t think about it, don’t try to figure it out, don’t try to do anything, don’t meditate, just -- So I went to Ganga-ji. It’s called the Strawberry Community Center in Marin. Our friend who took us there showed us how to meet with her in a small group after the big group. I had a conversation with her and it was pretty moving. I felt she had a strong presence, and I felt like I could talk to her sort of face-to-face. I did some other small group meetings with her. I had some pretty powerful experience of experiencing, what is it? – yeah. I like to think of it as that old Zen thing of that which you are before you were born and after you die. Or what was your original face. It’s kind of a funny question, cause you don’t have an original face, you know. Original energy, or original being, but it’s not a face. I don’t know where the face thing comes from.
DC: Well, but you know all that stuff develops through cultural reasons. So you use what words or methods or phrases you’re comfortable with.
DS: So anyway I had an experience with her in which basically I felt that she took me back in a sense of being aware until you’re just keeping aware of another layer that’s behind what’s aware of that, and what’s aware of that, and what’s aware of that, and all of a sudden I felt I was in this place that was that which is aware of everything. Like the last step back. Keep taking one step back, take one step back, and all of a sudden it’s like you go off the edge and there’s like oh – So that was really kind of important to me. And then the same person who took me to see her, took Linda and I also to see this guy Adyashanti. He studied with Bill Kwong for four or six years, very seriously. Then he had another teacher but I don’t know who that person is. He woke up one day and he’d had some sudden enlightenment experience and he also tends not to use any tradition, he doesn’t use any lingo, he’s a really ordinary guy who walks out in his shirtsleeves, sits down on a chair, gives a little talk. Both he and Ganga-ji do the same thing, they do satsang. They give a little talk, then people come up and dialogue with them in front of the group. It’s a Hindu term. I don’t know why he uses a Hindu term or why he has a Hindu name. I haven’t really looked into his history that much. He’s only got one book out and he doesn’t talk about it. I did a retreat with him recently – about 45 people. And I had another one of these – first of all when I talk to him directly, he’s one of these people when you sit in front of him you don’t have any more questions. It’s like, okay, I got it. No point in talking about anything.
DC: Where does he teach?
DS: He teaches mostly out of Palo Alto. He lives in San Jose. Comes to Oakland once in a while. Anyway, when we were doing this retreat with him – the whole thing was really great and I liked it a lot – but I had this one day before we went to meditation, sitting drinking a cup of coffee in this easy chair outside of the meditation hall, and, man, I had this thing happen. What was really amazing – in one instant I felt that – the only words I had was, everything I’d ever heard about Buddhism, ever studied, ever thought, the whole Buddhist canon, whatever it is, was like instantly understood, in a total flash, in its total dimensions, was all understood, and it was understood as being empty, both. And it didn’t have any language connected to it. I put that language on it myself later. It was before meditation. Adyashanti didn’t actually sit with us. This was early in the morning. He had us getting up at the reasonable hour of seven o’clock, which was very nice of him to do. It was a five-day residential retreat. Very easy schedule. Did a little yoga. He gave two dharma talks, called satsang. So I’m into him a little bit. But I don’t know what it means to be into him exactly. We don’t see him all that often and I haven’t talked to him personally since that retreat.
DC: That’s fine.
DS: He’s really ordinary. After the retreat he came out – we were all having lunch, I was washing dishes, and he was out talking, and Linda was out there, and he was talking about how the fact that he hadn’t – this was Easter week – he hadn’t taken the reindeer down off his house yet from Christmas. He’s pretty ordinary. When he’s out of his teacher role he can just be an ordinary guy.
DC: I appreciate this. Thank you most kindly.
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