Steve Weintraub interviewed by DC on 7\5\03
DC: We're with Steve Weintraub on July 5th, 2003, at Tassajara in the abbot's cabin where he's staying now. Linda Ruth Cutts, his wife, is one of the abbots of Zen Center. This is the same cabin used by Suzuki Roshi when he was alive. It's a little bigger now but still pretty small, a few tatami, a little alcove built out with an altar, a door leads to a small room with a toilet and sink, boxes on shelves and robes hanging above futons tucked away for the day. Everything here is as tight as a ship. There are shelves for books and two funky low tables which, with all the skilled carpenters and cabinetmakers around ZC through all these years, it amazes me are still there. I'd built them in 1967 during my breaks in the first practice period first things I'd built since a birdhouse when I was a kid. We sit on zabuton facing each other.
So when did you come to Zen Center?
SW: I came in the fall of '68.
DC: What got you there?
SW: One of the more obvious causes was that I had read Alan Watts and thought it was really far out. And then, in the fall of 1967, I think it was, I came back from working in Alabama for a program that was documenting discrimination in a federal farm program. Because of that I'd heard of an opening as a mail clerk at the National Sharecropper's Fund in Manhattan. The person who had been doing that job was Jeff Broadbent. He was leaving to do his conscientious objector work at a place called Tassajara in California.
He told me that the only way to survive this job, which otherwise would be very boring, was to do Zen meditation. So he took me to the Zen Studies Society, Tai San's Zen center. He's called Edo Roshi now but back then he was called Tai San. And Yasutani Roshi happened to be visiting and I heard him give a lecture. I don't remember too much about it but I remember Tai San saying to imagine cracking a raw egg over your head and feeling it drip slowly down. There was something interesting about that. In meeting Yasutani and Tai San, I don't remember too much about it, but I remember the feeling of hitting the nail on the head in a way that I hadn't ever heard before.
A year later I'd received conscientious objector status myself and at that time in order to do your two years of alternative service, you had to be at least fifty miles from your home community - to make it similar to military service. I wanted to get out of New York anyway so I decided I'd go to San Francisco to do my CO work and by that time I knew that Tassajara was no longer a possibility. Maybe Peter Schneider had canceled the program.
DC: Maybe it was still going but it was no longer possible for a new student to go to Tassajara as a CO without being in the city first like everyone else.
SW: Oh. Yes, maybe so. But anyway I didn't try. For the first two weeks I lived with my brother-in-law out in the Avenues and within those two weeks, I'd gotten involved with Zen Center and arranged to move into a new Zen Center house that was being started by Tim and Betsy Ford. It wasn't on Bush Street. It was around the corner on 2139 Pine. So two weeks after arriving at San Francisco I was living there and practicing zazen at the Zen Center.
DC: And Maggie Kress was in that house too.
SW: Maggie was there. We became friends and I remember visiting her later at her place out in Bolinas.
I remember when I first got there I walked into the office - remember when the office was across the street from Sokoji on Bush Street? I walked in and a very thin guy was painting the walls. It was Bill Lane. And I met Yvonne. So I practiced there my first two years while I was doing my two years of alternative service. I was a line staff person at a half-way house called Baker Place. It became Baker Places. So during those first two years I stayed in the city and, as you may recall, that was unusual. Most people would get their six months in the city and the moment they hit six months, they sprinted for Tassajara.
DC: Though they couldn't go to a practice period in the middle of it.
SW: Yes. But I was kind of locked into the city for two years. And then when my two years were up, instead of going to Tassajara, they made me work leader in the city.
DC: And by that time Zen Center in the city was at the City Center on Page Street. I was bad so I got to be at Tassajara a lot. You don't have any ADD like me. You concentrate on your jobs very well. You were a very responsible person so they made you stay in the city. Sorry.
SW: Yes. And then on December 4th, 1971, Reb, who'd been the director of the building officially became Baker Roshi's jisha and I became the director of 300 Page Street. [That's the day that Suzuki Roshi died] Then after a year I went to Green Gulch and became director there. Bill Lane had been managing it up to that point. I was there when Alan Chadwick came. [Alan Chadwick was a charismatic gardener who used the Rudolf Steiner method of gardening. He was brilliant, inspiring and so eccentric and on his own trip that he could only last so long at Zen Center. He ended up going there to die.]
DC: And then this Chadwick came. I was work leader under you in the city and then at Green Gulch. I followed you there after a few weeks I think it was. It was like torturing you but Baker Roshi knew you could handle me. I remember one day your looking at me with exasperation and saying that the trouble with us was that I wanted everything to be an exception and that you didn't want anything to be an exception.
SW: And then I finally got to a practice period at Tassajara in the fall of '72.
DC: What's your first memory of Suzuki Roshi?
DC: Some people related to Zen Center in terms of Suzuki and some in terms of the community. Were you more the later?
SW: Yes. I have such a poor memory - for some things - but I think I thought of it more as Zen Center. I don't think I came out here to study with Suzuki or anything like that. I'd just heard about this Zen place. As for a first memory of him, I remember vaguely sitting in the pews, I guess you'd call them, when he gave dharma talks down in the auditorium on Bush Street. I remember how he used to have that slab of wood in the dokusan room - at least when I had dokusan with him - he sat on the other side of that slab of wood. It sounds weird now that I think about it, but that's how I remember it. Do you remember it?
DC: I don't know. It sort of rings a bell. Nobody else has mentioned it. I guess I do. You know who'd remember that is Bob Halpern. He has a great memory for detail. [Now I remember it while going over this interview. - DC]
SW: I remember when I was work leader, my first big project was painting the back staircase at Page Street. It was a very sort of Zen thing to do. Nobody thinks about painting the back staircase or cared but it was a major project - especially the upper floor. We had to get a ladder and planks to get high enough. We finally got done and he wandered back there to look at what we'd done, but he didn't say very much.
Either my memory or something that I've heard - Ananda, Bob Halpern, and I moved into the Page Street building before everyone else - a couple of weeks or months - I don't know. I think it was in the halls there back then that he asked me - I think it was me - he asked, "When you walk in the hallway, do you walk to the right of people or to the left of people?" Like we had established whether to walk to left or right. Do you see what I mean?"
DC: I know exactly what you mean.
SW: I had never thought about which side of the person coming you walk to or anything about it. I don't remember what I said, but I probably said I didn't know.
DC: I've thought about that because of living in Japan. In Japan they drive on the left and they tend to do a lot of things opposite from the way we do. In America, of course, we drive on the right, and I think we tend to walk on the right in hallways and on sidewalks. And when I was in Japan, I wondered the same thing he did - should we walk on the left side? But I didn't notice people being totally consistent so I'd ask Japanese whether they walked on the left, but like you, they'd never thought of it and would say they didn't know. He'd been in America a long time, but maybe because we then had the building and we were developing new forms for living there, maybe he was wondering what form we used in situations like that. The thing to me that's interesting about that is that he was asking what our way was. Most Japanese teachers, or Asian teachers for that matter, never stop to ask what our way of doing something is. They tell us how they do it and tell us to do it their way. I bet at Eiheiji that they have a rule or form to walk on the left side.
SW: That was the way I saw it - that there would be a rule, that we'd already established a rule, but of course we hadn't established any rule.
DC: Well, generally we walk on the right. Like yesterday I passed a woman on the path to the Narrows and she walked by me on my right, her left, and we said hello and she had a British accent - and I thought, oh, she walked on the left because that's what they do in England. But who knows.
DC: Did you consider yourself Suzuki Roshi's student?
SW: Of course. There wasn't anything else if you were practicing in Zen Center.
DC: And of course I know you were. It's just that the teaching relationship in some people is more on the surface and with some it's more internalized - not something they talk about. Actually I think that was more his way too. I don't think he wanted us to talk a lot about our practice and practice relationships - just wanted us to do it. I think you, for instance, if he'd have lived, he would have ordained you.
SW: It's hard to know, but I've developed the impression that I would have been in the next group of people that he ordained as priests. The last group was Ed Brown and you and Lew Richmond and Angie Runyon.
DC: And Craig Boyan who dropped out at the last minute. He was always torn between Zen and Sufism Reoriented, Meyer Baba's group. And I think he decided not to get ordained the night before the ceremony - or a day or two before. I remember him crying in the entryway. I remember that little card that was passed around the Haight back then with a picture of Meyer Baba on it looking wise and compassionate and below it read, "Don't worry, be happy, love life." Anyway, I think he would have ordained you and Yvonne and Bill Lane - a group similar to the ones that Dick ordained."
SW: I remember Angie saying to me, or somebody, "He's got his eye on that ponytail." [meaning to cut it off in the ordination ceremony.]
DC: You were obvious priest material. He was always looking for people who were responsible and mature and who'd do what they said they were going to do. And you gave that impression. He'd had enough experience with people who'd get all excited and want to get ordained and who said they'd devote their lives to the dharma and he'd believe them and they later they'd come back to him and say, "I quit," or return their rakusu. In Japan he was used to people who would do what they said they were going to do.
SW: My parents came to visit me and I have a very clear picture of the four of us standing in the lobby at the foot of the stairs by the door to the courtyard. And I had bought my parents zoris - the type that have tatami surfaces on them. I remember Suzuki Roshi commenting how thoughtful that was of me to have bought them so that my parents could walk around the building in them. And later I remember my mother telling me how wonderful it was for her to talk to Suzuki Roshi. And my father - for years my father had been in the luncheonette business in New York city. Do you know what a luncheonette is? There's no exact equivalent of it out here. It's a place where you can get cigarettes, newspapers, magazines, comic books, and in back there's a soda fountain counter where they sell soda and milk shakes and stuff like that but they also had short order cooking - like people would come in and have a roast beef sandwich. And they'd also have booths. And besides that they'd have board games and school supplies.
And I remember my mother saying, "He talked to your father like he was in the luncheonette business!" It impressed them a lot. And I think after that visit they felt much less anxious about their son being involved in Zen in California. Because he was very - in Yiddish you'd call him haimisha - down to earth, a good guy, somebody you could talk to about being in the luncheonette business. He wasn't levitating or doing anything unusual. He just made them feel comfortable. "He talked to your father like he was in the luncheonette business."
When I read a dharma talk like in "Not Always So," I remember sometimes hearing the talk. I remember being there. I think I remember, but if I look at the date he gave that talk I may find out that I was somewhere else then.
Do you know the talk he gave when Neil Armstrong got on the moon?
DC: He did that over at Sokoji.
SW: I imagine myself remembering that talk.
DC: Is that the one where he said that he wasn't interested in anyone who's interested in going to the moon?
SW: Yes. He said to him it wasn't such a big deal. And it's in Not Always So. But I don't remember that particular sentence.
DC: Ed might have edited it out - or it may just be a distorted memory - or something he said at another time. But I remember it pretty strongly. "I'm not interested in anyone who's interested in going to the moon." It made an impression on me. I was studying Japanese then in Monterrey - in '69 - and I came to the city sometimes for his lectures and I heard that lecture. And I came back up the next week and asked if I could see him after his lecture. A neighbor of mine in Pacific Groove where I was living was a scientist and was so into the moon landing that he'd bought a kit and put together a scale model of the whole rocket and the moon landing vehicle. All the stages came off so you could see how it worked. So I brought it into Suzuki's office and showed it to him and he was fascinated and spent the longest time with it. I did it for fun - and to show him I knew there was another side and he totally went with me on it. Sometimes he wasn't interested in the side I was on. Once he came back from his first trip to NYC and he said, I'm sure he said, "I could not accept it as part of my mind." A year or two later I quoted that back to him and he refused to accept that he'd ever said that. He was adamant. But that just meant that that wasn't where he was coming from at that later time. It's traditional for Zen teachers to swing back and forth between relative and absolute and to see if their students can do it with them.
SW: Maybe it's pretentious of me to say, but I'm reminded of something Ed Brown wrote - I think it was in the introduction to Not Always So. He talks about how he'd reread the Tassajara Bread Book and realized that he was leaving out all the articles, which is the way Suzuki Roshi talked. And there's something about the feeling of Suzuki Roshi's teaching, something familiar that resonates - the feeling level of not using the articles.
DC: What was that Yiddish word again?
SW: Haimisha. A haimisha is a person who's a mensch, a really good person - this guy is a mensch. For instance, some people in Zen Center are very down to earth ordinary people, very good ordinary people, and other people have more elevated distant way.
DC: As a result of coming to Zen Center, did your world view change or your way of seeing reality? Did you have an idea of what self was that changed? Did anything like that happen suddenly or was anything like that more like osmosis?
SW: Definitely the latter. I don't remember any great revolutions.
SW: Revolutions or revelations. I don't remember any big change in my thought. Oh gee, I used to think that way and now I think this way.
DC: Like I used to meditate on marijuana and look for my self. And after I came to Zen Center I dropped any idea of doing that.
SW: I don't feel like I had a world view before coming to Zen Center. I feel like my world view was really shaped by Zen and before that I was an English literature major is that I wasn't focused. I wasn't supposed to. This friend of mine was becoming a doctor. Being a doctor - you know "my son the doctor?" It's really true. At the time it seemed completely foreign to me. I didn't care anything about that. I didn't care about the things my parents wanted for me. I cared about "important things," whatever they were. Whether reading poetry by John Donne, or smoking marijuana and listening to Bob Dylan - these were truths, these were important to me, these were real to me. New things were coming at me all the time.
DC: So did it seem to you more like a continuity? You didn't have to reject anything?
SW: No, I didn't have to reject anything - though I did reject the direction that was indicated.
DC: Was your family religious?
SW: No. They were like many New York and Eastern European Jews - they were very very Jewish - as a tribe, as a nation. They weren't Jewish as a religion. They were Conservative. Not Reform and not Orthodox. At that time those were the three choices. Now there are all kinds of other choices and Hassidic communities and all.
DC: And there are contemplative Jewish communities in America all tied in with Vipassana groups and Zen and Tibetan - but especially Vipassana. And there's some movement of the teachers from one group to another. There's a lot of Jewish Buddhism and Buddhist Judaism.
SW: Anyway, my parents were Jewish and would go to the synagogue two or three times a year. And I was Bar Mitzva'd though it was totally meaningless to me as a spiritual activity. So I pretty much rejected it - all of it - for the last twenty or twenty-five years and then in the last ten years, as my parents get older, I have a very warm feeling in my heart for being a Jew - whatever that means. But I know hardly anything about the Jewish religion. I know nothing about it the way I know about Zen.
DC: There are some Jewish Buddhist American priests, like I was mentioning before, who are really into Judaism - like Norman Fischer. Right?
DC: And then there are some you don't hear anything about it, like Blanche. So, do you fall more on the Blanche side?
DC: One other thing I could think to ask you is, actually two things, would go like this: What things that Suzuki Roshi did do you think were good and important and what mistakes do you think he made, if any?
SW: So you were saying, things that he did that were good and things that he did that were not so good. Well, I’m kind of non-plussed by the first part of the question. It’s so enormous what he did that was good. I can’t even begin to talk about it. It would be like saying, well, what did Martin Luther do for Protestantism? He’s a founder of Zen in America. It’s enormous what he’s done and of course his teaching is so deep - maybe I can say that. His teaching is, I find, profound and inspiring and in retrospect, taking into account the Richard Baker years, and other things, I could say more about that. [?]
What he did that was not so good – or it’s not that he did something that was not so good, it’s that naturally enough, he didn’t have a deep understanding of the particularities of western peoples’ psyches. And insofar as Buddhism addresses the human psyche, well, great. But then there are particularities of culture and locale that need to be taken into account. And quite understandably he didn’t know much about that. Just as we don’t know much about the intricacies of Japanese psychology, which you can really appreciate, David, because of course you know a great deal more now than thirty years ago, cause you’ve learned a lot about Japanese peoples’ psychology.
DC: Well, not really.
SW: But there are ways that are similar to Americans’ because we’re all humans. And there are ways that are very different, because they’re Japanese. I just know a little bit – I’ve heard the whole thing about guilt, shame, there’s all kinds of stuff that is just very important in understanding how Japanese peoples’ psyches work. Of course he didn’t get that. Not that he didn’t get it at all, it’s just that he didn’t get that with Americans, cause he’s not a westerner. He’d have to spend thirty years studying it to get a good idea. There are particular karmic events that led to my becoming a psychotherapist, but in some way, when people say to me, well, why did you decide to do psychotherapy? The reason I tell them usually is that I felt it was necessary to deeply understand the western psyche in the way that psychotherapy tries to understand it. In order for that to work with a Buddhist understanding. In order for Buddhist understanding to be translated appropriately.
For example, do you remember Betsy Magowan? She was just somebody who – one of these people, one of hundreds maybe thousands of people who came through Zen Center. Was probably at Zen Center for a few years, but was in the mid ‘70s, we had opened the bakery sometime previously. There were certain people who had to work the shift that was like the graveyard shift. Start at one a.m. or something and go till seven, or something like that. She was a rather short, small person, and she was working the graveyard shift. Why was she working the graveyard shift? Well because Suzuki Roshi said always say yes to whatever you’re asked. Will you work the graveyard shift? Yes. So she worked the graveyard shift, she ruined her back, she never went to zazen, and she left Zen Center, like hundreds of people, I think, a year or two later, hating Zen Center, hating Zen. Because all it had done was take from her, and here she was trying to be a sincere student. Always say yes. It’s very easy to understand because, again, you have a much more detailed understanding, but my understanding of Japanese people, I’ve been told, when they say yes, it sometimes means yes, it sometimes means no, it sometimes means maybe. Whereas when we say yes, our western idea is when we say yes well that means yes. That means we’re going to do it. That means we’re committed.
DC: Yeah, maybe we are less vague about yes and no, but they're more dependable to do what they say they'll do. I think Japanese might tend to hurt their backs and never complain and just think that’s their duty. And we don’t believe in that.
SW: Right. Those kinds of things, though, make a big difference. So when people ask me to go back to that, when people ask me why I’m doing psychotherapy, it’s because I feel like it’s really important. The Richard Baker event, I feel that one way of understanding it, one way of understanding something very important about it is, that it took into account the Zen stuff, but it didn’t take into account the western psychological stuff.
DC: What took into account?
SW: The way things developed. That is that he became the leader of Zen Center. You know it was all very Zen, at least it seemed very Zen. The teaching was certainly very brilliant, and so on, but there was this stuff happening in the shadows that western psychology speaks to eloquently while Zen doesn’t. That’s why in the spring of 1983 one of the books that was going around was a book by a Swiss Jungian called "Power in the Helping Professions," which was about the power shadow that develops when there’s an unequal teacher/student, doctor/patient, psychotherapist/client – there’s a shadow that develops, and this guy G? Craig[?] said hey you gotta look at the shadow if you’re going to be involved in anything where there’s this power differential. You’ve got to look at the shadow. Well from the Zen point of view there’s no place for that – let’s put it this way, from the way that we thought about Zen practice at that time, there was no place for such an idea to exist. There was just the teacher, and the teacher knows the truth. That’s it. Or at least that was the way I understood it. That was my understanding, and I think a lot of peoples’. And of course Richard Baker abused that. He wasn’t saying, oh no, I’m really a very inexperienced teacher with a great many problems. And let me tell you about the deep problems. He wasn’t saying that.
DC: Yeah. I was talking to some people about that today. About how – I was talking about Zen Center today, I was talking to John about how it’s more decentralized, there’s no one person controlling it, how under Dick it was more imperial. Suzuki Roshi though was one person. He was like completely in charge in a way. I mean, he gave power away a lot in many ways, and he was very humble, and he knew how to lead and he was mature and all that, but he set up a model for there to be someone with a lot of power on top. And so Dick moved into that, and Dick just had a more imperial way, so various problems developed because of that. And now we have a more decentralized thing. And Reb tried to continue that one person at the top structure. And the community had developed the strength to deal with him on that and he went with it. It was equal to and greater strength than the Abbot and then we got multiple abbots, and the abbot's position’s like a training position now. I feel much more comfortable with it. But I sort of wonder. Sometimes you might have a really exceptional person come along, but they don’t need to have administrative power. I think it’s always a problem. If you set up too perfect a system of control then it’s like not allowing the teacher to have the circumstances they want to have. So like every system is flawed – I don’t know, you just have to be working with it all the time. You’re not going to set up a structure that’s gonna work all the time. I think about that a lot.
SW: I think if you have a notion that you’re working on all the time then it's inevitable you're going to get stuck.
DC: Mel feels Suzuki Roshi made a mistake with making Dick the abbot and sole successor.
SW: I don’t necessarily – it’s not like I think, oh gee Suzuki Roshi made a mistake making Dick Baker the abbot. I don’t think that.
DC: The way I look at it is sort of like, oh, this is the best I can do. This is the way I know. And when the community decided that it couldn't continue like it was going, it really didn’t take very long.
SW: I think that another way of thinking about it is that – actually this drawing in of western ways, of being more decentralized, more democratic, more psychological, it was going to happen. This was a vehicle for that happening. I don’t think of it as like, oh, this was – gee, Suzuki Roshi did many things right, but this was something he did wrong. I don’t really have an opinion about it. I don’t know what it would have been had it been, I don’t know, Silas, or Silas and Ananda, and other people getting transmission and being teachers as well.
DC: It always would have been a problem, no matter what he did. If he had ordained all these people he wanted to ordain, you’d give all these people transmission, there would have been problems with that. Whatever scenario we can think of there would have been problems. I tended to be pretty supportive of Dick. But my feeling was that the community had Dick’s number, and he couldn’t have continued the way he was and would have changed. Anyway, maybe I was wrong and he wouldn’t have accepted anything but total power anyway, so if that's the way it was, I guess it all came down the way it had to.
SW: I have one further thing to say. I don’t know if you want to talk more about Roshi Baker and all that kind of stuff, but one more note about that which I did say in the meeting at the Shadows retreat.
DC: I remember it very well.
SW: One of the points that I made to Richard at one of those meetings early on. As I said it I was discovering, and I hadn’t realized it before, was that what happened was that he told me the "truth." And if we understood something differently, the only explanation I had of the gap between those two things, was that my practice wasn’t good. That was the only way I could explain how it was that he did things like spend $60,000 for the ceiling of 308-310 Page Street. And I said, no, we can’t do that, or whatever I said and the only way I could understood how that was, was that my practice was bad. And during the years when I was Shuso, in the fall of 1975, and I became treasurer in January of 1976, and I was treasurer for five years, and I was president for two years. During that time I would say, when I was Shuso, my enthusiasm, my sense of myself as a practicer, was, say, deeply deeply discouraged about my own practice, and my own self. Part of that was due to my psychology, but in some sense my relationship with Richard triggered things that were latent in me that were ready to erupt in me. But they might not have erupted had it been somebody else. But anyway in some sense it was very fortunate. Unfortunately he hit all the right buttons to make me feel like a piece of shit. Now that’s not his fault, exactly, and it’s not my fault exactly.
Whereas with Suzuki Roshi I tended to feel encouraged. Let me just go ahead a little bit here. So then I became more and more discouraged. And part of that phenomena was that the way that we had to explain things in Zen at that time, and our understanding of our practice was what the teacher says, so that’s the truth. Therefore it was either Zen or it was Richard’s explanation of Zen, and there was something wrong if you didn’t like that, or if you had a problem with that, that was a problem in your practice. There was no understanding other than that. So I felt worse and worse and worse. And I remember this awful sesshin at Green Gulch, I don’t know when it was – before everything exploded, before the spring of ’83, but it was close. And I was just so miserable. I can’t tell you how miserable I was. So then everything blew up while I was still president. That was the spring of ’83. By the summer, Reb and Lou asked me if I would come down to Tassajara and lead the practice at Tassajara. That was like an incredible gift. I came down to Tassajara I remember walking through the dry leaves. I remembered what practice was about, and why I was doing what I was doing. And it didn’t have to do with god damned ceilings costing $60,000. It really saved my practice. My coming to Tassajara. I lived there for a year and gave talks. I was the tanto.
DC: It seems to me that one thing that you have to offer people is to tell them how not to get in a situation like you were in. Not to allow that to happen. I was telling Laura, a student here, she asked me about sanghas in Sonoma County. I told her about taking a woman from Sonoma County to visit Peter and Wendy and she asked them, "Do you have any advice for me about studying Zen?" And Peter said, "Beware of teachers."
SW: Well we’re finding our way. Just today, Cass who I was working with cleaning cabins, asked me, well, if you have a teacher, what if the teacher says something that you think is really not a good idea? It was kind of a question. It was such a wonderful question, because in the old days, the days with Richard Baker anyway, I remember, maybe I remember feeling that way. Because I wasn’t at Tassajara, and I wasn’t close to Suzuki Roshi, I didn’t have an active sense as I do with Richard Baker of what it was like to work with him. But anyway her question was beautiful, because she could imagine saying, "no, I don’t think that’s right," in a way that I – I was going to say we, but I don’t know if it was we, but I couldn’t imagine in the same way that she imagined it now. And she can imagine it now because of the trauma and healing that Zen Center has gone through.
DC: It’s just sort of in the air. People don’t come to Zen Center and get the idea now that you have to say yes to everything. But Suzuki Roshi people tended to have that idea too, that idea of don't say no. Although sometimes he'd be on the other side of that. In Not Always So, one of his talks in there, he says, sometimes a teacher has to say, oh, I’m sorry I was wrong. A student should be able to say that too. So there he’s giving both sides. There’s a give and take. And if you talk to like Andy Ferguson about the history of Zen there’s this give and take of learning to play with form and emptiness in talking to each other, and I think there has to be some give and take or – if a person is asked to do something they don’t think they should, they should listen to their inner voice.
SW: Right. That was what she was asking. Do you listen to yourself, or do you listen to the teacher? But she was asking in a way that clearly had a lot more room for listening to herself. To me it seems like that wouldn’t even have been a question that arose for a lot of people, and it didn’t arise for me with Richard Baker in some way. And yet, it was very conflictual for me because in some way I did have my sense of what was good and not good. I remember when I was treasurer, Ed Sattizahn was president. And he talked about things getting out of balance and here the students, most of us were getting a hundred dollars a month. We were poor. Richard Baker was spending $60,000 to repaint the ceiling. It just was like very hard to get.
DC: What kind of psychotherapy are you into? Like trans-personal, which is real big, and the trans-personal people tend to be Buddhists.
SW: No. I’m a [?] psychoanalyst.
DC: I have a lot of friends who are therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, trans-personal – lot of old Zennies doing that.
SW: This stuff is so – when I started to study psychology, actually, I specifically chose a program that was pretty straight-laced. I didn’t go, for example, to CIIS, which might have been a natural. Because in some way, the way I would see it, is well, gee, I don’t think I really need to take a course on Zen meditation cause I already had that under my belt as much as it’s going to be after the last eighteen years, so I’ll just make my own synthesis by studying the more straight-laced clinical psychology. So psychoanalytic means there are – of course there’s Freudian, but almost nobody is a Freudian any more, like a strict Freudian, because his ideas thought extremely seminal, interesting and are really to a significant degree, culturally limited. However, the evolution of thought in the psychoanalytic community has been such that there are now contemporary psychoanalysts who are really quite interesting and innovative, and into insightful kinds of things. I’m talking about – there’s a psychologist no longer alive whose name is Donald Winnicott. He’s really brilliant. He would speak about how therapy is really a whole environment, which is a very fertile idea. It’s an idea very consonant with contemporary ideas of the way things go. People like Winnicott – and there’s a thing now called the [?] subjective school of psychoanalytic psychotherapy which has to do with how it’s not just there in the client material. It’s not just here in the therapist, the style of therapy that I think if you looked at it from outside, people would say it’s eclectic, that is, it’s not some particular thing, but it’s not that much about trans-personal kinds of things. But I think the therapy I do, I would hope, is informed by my practice. But I don’t mean it in any obvious way, like recommending people to go sit zazen
DC: Have you read any Ken Wilbur?
SW: Not recently. I listened to Ken Wilbur maybe ten years ago. His gradations kind of idea, I don’t really like it so much. And I think of that because I’m a sudden kind of guy. I think more of sudden teaching, and his teaching seemed, oh, first you get yourself together in the realm of your ego, and then you relinquish your ego, and then you do the next thing and I don’t think of it that way.
In my psychotherapy I tend – there are certain people like Mark Epstein, he wrote Thoughts Without Thinker and a couple of other books. Those are very interesting. There's a dharma transmitted student of Joko Beck. And he’s a psychologist or psychoanalyst in New York. And he wrote an interesting book called Ordinary Mind which is about psychotherapy. I felt very at home, more at home in that book than I have in a while.
DC: What about Jon Cabot Zinn?
SW: I know the name . . .
DC: He sort of works at hospitals, institutions . . .
SW: I don’t know that much about him . . . . .
DC: How psychologically healthy do you think Zen Center is right now. That’s a hard thing to say, cause it’s not a person. And also you have three centers with a very different feeling, like here or Green Gulch. And do you think Green Gulch is doing okay?
SW: Basically I feel like Zen Center is doing well. That is, in a very imperfect way it is providing people with an opportunity for people to come into contact with Buddhism in general, and Suzuki Roshi’s teaching specifically. That’s wonderful. It’s got enormous problems at all levels.
DC: So does everything else.
SW: So does everything else. All the leaders as well as everyone else have sometimes significant psychological problems. So on a feeling level, that as long as we don’t get the idea that we’ve got the idea, as long as we continue to recognize that there’s endless work to what we’re doing, that we’ll tend to be safer than when we think we know what we’re doing. I think we need to really continue to remember how much we must be doing everything wrong, even if the process is very healthy. If you think everything is sufficient, you’re in big trouble. But if you know that something is missing, then actually that’s good. In other words, if you think things are not going so good, then you better look around and figure out everything that you’re doing wrong.
DC: That’s sort of what dukkha is. Suffering. Something missing, incompleteness. When we came to Zen Center the idea that most of us had was that Buddhism is something that’s being passed on by perfectly enlightened people, and we’re trying to enter into that stream of enlightenment.
SW: So I think it’s very healthy that we have less of that kind of idea. There’s still some of it around.
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