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Ananda Claude Dalenberg Hub Page


12-17-08 -

Ananda Claude Dalenberg – Remembering My Friend

Ken O’Neill, Kyoshi

It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Ananda Claude Dalenberg just this Saturday, December 6, 2008. After leaving the San Francisco Bay Area in 1992, I’d remained in contact with him for some years until there came a point of regrouping, one in which I’d lost my contacts book and could not otherwise locate him.

We first met at a summer session of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, in the summer of 1971. As Ananda recounted in explaining the friendship of Trungpa and Suzuki roshi, ours’, too, was one of those meetings of immediate friends. As the years grew on, our friendship deepened — growing more intense in the 80s and early 90s. Perhaps it was our shared outlook as independent mavericks regarding our particular schools of Buddhism as base camps for further explorations instead of full, final, perfectly formed statements of all you need to know. We both regarded Jodo Shin Shu and Zen Shu as complimentary sides of the same coin, along with having plenty of room to incorporate learnings and insights of all the other movements. And we both got in trouble and subjected to criticism by sectarian adherents of our respective primary base camp movements!

Perhaps the most illuminating discussion we shared was by telephone somewhere in 1995. I’d asked Ananda earlier about his Zen transmission with no real answers; this time he proposed we go at the topic differently. While he was sworn not to hold forth on the topic, he proposed that I ask specific questions. The more we dug in, the more we found even greater common ground between traditions. It was only later that I’d learn, perhaps reading Bernard Faure, that up to Meiji, all the ‘new Buddhisms’ of the Kamakura period — Rinzai, Soto, Shin, Jodo, and Nichiren — were traditionally understood by Japanese as “movements within mikkyo (or vajrayana),” hence the differences were trivial in comparison to common ground. Hence, the Western obsession with sectarianism, fueled no doubt by the false sense of Zen exclusiveness in both DT Suzuki and Alan Watts, was after all a fiction imposed on Japanese Buddhism by interpretators.

His Cloud Hidden Friends newsletter was certainly a breath of fresh air: at last a discussion between people without an axe to grind, without an ideology to shove down one’s throat, a group of free thinking practitioners more concerned about the bigger truths than pettiness.

Our last face to face visit occurred in the Spring of 1992, a time when we were preparing to leave San Jose for the illusionary greener pastures of Tucson, Arizona. Claude had learned of a Korean woman in the Milpitas area who held sessions that were part shamanic, part motivational, with spiritual under currents, and very powerful. So off we went, two aging Dharma Bums to try out a new one. That was the night all hell broke loose in Los Angeles due to the Rodney King verdict.

Our early days were during my period as a graduate student at the IBS and punctuated with the IBS and University of California cosponsoring Edward Conze being at UC for two quarters. Along with UC students, contingents from SF Zen Center, Tarthang Tulku’s Nyingma Center, Ewam Choden in Kensington, and all other centers but one (Kennett roshi forbid participation by her students), daily pilgrimages to Conze’s classes occurred. Those programs included graduate seminars in Prajnaparamita and Lotus Sutra, and classes on Buddhism as Philosophy and Pyschology and a general introduction. I cannot begin to summon the energy and spirit of those events, the verve amongst us all, the new wonderful friendships.

One incident stands out to this day. For reasons I could not fathom then, Dick Baker took it upon himself to become my “shinshu mentor.” I couldn’t shake the guy. My mentor was Philippkarl Eidmann, the first non-Japanese to become a Hokkyo of the Shinshu Gakkai – akin to some levels above a roshi in Zen by comparison, albeit in the Shin system of Nishi Honganji – based on the Anjin Rondai, a set of topics for discussion and probing of understanding akin to koans. Eidmann had mentored mythologist Joseph Campbell in Kyoto long before me. The contrast between Eidmann and Baker was astonishing, Eidmann being in-depth and Baker out of his league. Eidmann’s sense of Buddhism came from 13 intense years in Japan, fluency in Japanese, classical Chinese, Sanskrit and Tibetan, and close to a dozen modern languages — a guy Neville Warwick had attempted to con but to no avail. I finally had to level with Baker because he’d become such a nuisance, letting him know that dropping names of Shin persons he’d known in Japan did not by any measure validate his incredible misunderstandings of shin — and that I was not interested in mentoring him! I’ve met few people of such outrageous arrogance matched by deep seated ignorance yet with a need to dominate.

Of course when Baker’s tenure at SFZC blew up due to misconduct, Conze’s assessment of Baker’s natal horoscope, published in his Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic, were validated. When Suzuki roshi had politely asked Conze about installing Baker as his successor, Conze did not have a good feeling about it so cast that natal chart then progressed it — his advise to Suzuki was apparently ignored! Conze recounts the whole matter, horoscope included, in one of the first 2 volumes of his memoirs. Many of us outside parochial Zen knew of this, as well as knew of Baker’s conduct, leading us to wonder if Suzuki’s choice of Baker said more about the illness consuming his life than the lucidity he once evidenced. Some even suggested opiates for the cancer’s pain clouded judgement. Yet we paid honor to Baker as honor to Suzuki roshi.

Dalenberg is among my heroes in Western Buddhism. He studied. We practiced. And he understood the bodhisattva’s role — he called them Ho Bo (Ho = Dharma, Bo = bosatsu) — as the maintenance men of the cosmic, the ones who do the clean up. So when Hartford Street needed a new roshi upon the death of Tommy Dorsey, Dalenberg took the job no one else wanted, excelling at it. He was that kind of guy, not too important to roll up his sleaves and do the real work.

It’s tragic that Claude isn’t better known. In my way of thinking, Western Buddhism has succeed at a horrible price. Today’s Dharma students don’t trouble themselves to master canonical languages, relying all too readily on what Faure calls “secondary Orientalism” in his Ch’an Insights, Ch’an Oversights. With that and guru and lineage worship, Dharma has become watered down and dumbed down, too readily becoming the “cult of meditation” which Cleary warned of in the 80s, citing Chinese ch’an literature.

Ananda exemplified what I’ve called bodhisattvas con huevos in some of my Dharma-talks. Not the kind of so-called “crazy wisdom” masking antinomianism, even sociopathic tendencies: instead, that kind of balance of free-spiritedness with strong manifestation of what Maslow called Being-values. In our period of the late 70s through the early 90s, today’s talk of lineage was yet to become the fad for Anglo Buddhists; instead, back then many a center’s chatter was concerned with “doing practice to earn merit.” I’d renamed such self-aggrandizing activities as sucking up to enlightenment. In Claude’s book, one didn’t do anything to earn merit but did do everything in support of the benefit of living beings because they are living beings. Such valuing sure clears issues and equivocation real fast.

In our bosatsugan or bosatsu vows, one line commits us to mastering all Dharmas or principles, regardless of how inexhaustibly fathomless their number be. In practical terms, Ananda was out learning Reiki, out supporting the California Institute of Integral Studies, reverencing and supporting the work of Dr. Chaudri, and many another cause. When Lama Govinda and Li Gotami needed patronage in advanced age, our Cloud Hidden  friend worked in the background, attracting no attention to himself, ensuring their care and well being. He later secured the Govinda and Alan Watts libraries at Zen Center, in time moving them to the more appropriate CIIS campus. Claude’s vision held to the big picture rather than getting lost in petty details of sectarian affiliations.

I wish Claude had lived to  know of Alan Cole’s forthcoming book. I believe there's another curve ball coming that might be a boon to Zen free thinkers as distinct from  those trapped in lineage gossips - Alan Cole's new book is due out next year. I've read the mss. He deals with the invention of ch'an as a literary genre aimed at wrestling authority from Indian teachers, a whole polemic aimed at establishing a singular 'living buddha' in China to receive patronage, Imperial recognition, and be sole authority. Took three centuries to work it all out and name it ch'an. He's working with books part of the collection of 65,000 discovered at Dunhuang by Sir Arial Stein, his discovery a viritual time capsule of otherwise lost materials fleshing out the first three centuries. Lineage is part of that invention. Since Dunhuang Tibetan mss predate the official (read: revisionist) tales of Tibetan origins by a good four centuries, I feel the tulku tradition builds on the ch'an lineage of that time - the connections are there, especially given that bodhidharma was the first patriarch of dzog-chen in pre-revisionist accounts. Claude would have loved this book and all the stirring up of confusion and rethinking it will catalyze.

Since learning of Claude’s passing my thoughts have been filled with warm memories of one of the genuinely special people in my life, particularly in the Buddhist segment of my life. In particular, I’m inclined to remember the journey of the bosatsu in the Gandhavyuha Sutra, that key document of Hwa-Yen (Kegon)  Buddhism – translated by Cleary in his The Flower Adornment Sutra. In that text, only five of the first seven bodhisattvas are monks — no doubt signifying the transitional role of monasticism on the way to the higher attainments of socially integrated bodhisattvas. None can offer a practice and all can offer their vision to the seeker. And all are seemingly just ordinary people living ordinary lives until you comprehend their bosatsugyo is contributing to enhancement of the commonweal, improvement of the conditions of society in terms of health, fitness, peace, beauty and humane values. That’s the real key, in my opinion, to understanding the legacy left to us as the life story of Ananda Dalenberg. At one and the same time  his story is that of an American seeker, an American Buddhist, while in the more traditional Asian understanding he came as a great bodhisattva bringing authentic Dharma to us all — and most significantly in the life he led, in his daily versions of the Flower Scripture, teaching with a Lion’s Roar both vocal and silent.

I bow to you, dear friend, Ananda Claude Dalenberg,
I bow to you in gratitude and thanksgiving
For having brought the Dharma to my life
As the life you led



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