Grahame Petchey page

Grahame Petchey's Way-seeking Mind Story

by DC - read by Richard Baker at Grahame's memorial at Green Gulch Farm April 21, 2018

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Most who remember Grahame Petchey, knew him in his life with his second wife Hideko Oga and their son Mark. They came from Japan in 1982 and lived in a Zen Center home at Muir Beach. Mark was born in '83. A lot happened from that point on. Many moves, Grahame wearing different hats, enjoying his life and loved ones, and bearing heavy burdens. But the story now is that of his way-seeking mind in the earlier years.


Grahame was born in the East Midlands of England in the town of Lincoln on August 25, 1938.  His first seven years under storm clouds of war with a father in the prestigious Coldstream Guard. To London in his teens. Studied Chemistry. Wondering about the meaning of life.


Leaving his protestant past behind, he spent time in a Catholic Carmelite monastery when he was 19. He liked it there, respected the monks. Taught high school. At the age of 21 made a pilgrimage to the Vatican but was not pleased by what he saw. In Rome met Pauline Laurin and her mother Julia, a Theosophist with Buddhist leanings. Grahame delved into Buddhism in her library. Eureka.


Grahame and Pauline soon married. Got an apartment in Paris. But still his nagging questions. Christmas Humphreys at the Buddhist Society in London said more than fifteen minutes of meditation was dangerous for Westerners without a master. They took a boat to San Francisco where there was more interest in Buddhism, Grahame sitting in a chair meditating the two week voyage.


Arrived May, 1961. Got a job as a chemist with Cal Ink in Berkeley. At the Buddhist Churches of America heard Iru Price lecture. Price told them of Sokoji and Reverend Shunryu Suzuki.


June - Grahame went to Sokoji, talked with Suzuki for half an hour. Then they sat for half an hour. Suzuki said, "you take the sitting position very well. You have no problems."


Grahame says: "What attracted me in the first half hour of zazen that I did with Suzuki Roshi was that I didn�t need to have faith anymore - just the blank wall. All I had to do was sit. Suzuki demanded no more than that - and he was humble. It was overwhelming joy when I first met him. I had been looking for the genuine product, and there it was. I just dedicated my whole life."


Grahame sat every period after that first day, not missing one till his son David was born.

Bob Hense, the first president, left unexpectedly. Grahame was soon elected president only months after he'd arrived. Early 1962, he filed papers for the incorporation of Zen Center, was there when Suzuki was installed as the abbot of Sokoji, and received lay ordination along with fourteen others.


In 1963 Suzuki ordained Grahame as a priest in a private, highly abbreviated ceremony and he was off to Eiheiji monastery in Japan. Had a rough time with the all the ceremony, the behavior of some monks, the diet and malnutrition. He was disillusioned just as he had been at the Vatican five years earlier. But during the Rohatsu sesshin of constant sitting, he was finally in his element, settled into the only comfortable time he had. The Ino, Sotan Tatsugami, was impressed.


Back in San Francisco after some months he told Suzuki he still didn't understand what it's all about. Suzuki said there are others whose understanding is greater than mine. Grahame returned to Japan in 1964 with Pauline, her mother and their three little kids, David, Julie, and Suzie. Six more months at Eiheiji with kind support from sincere fellow monks Kobun Chino and Hoitsu Suzuki. Living next in Kyoto he started checking out a list of the names of six teachers Suzuki had given him. It was almost too late. Some no longer alive. He met two who inspired him though they wouldn't live much longer - Rindo Fujimoto who'd taught Elsie Mitchell and Jean Ross and later homeless Kodo Sawaki a few months before the great old master died.


Grahame was having intense back pain from a slipped disk but he joined in on the commemorative 49 day sesshin in honor of Kodo Sawaki at Antaiji. His back troubles miraculously faded away. Finally in the seemingly interminable rounds of sitting his questions were answered or rather disolved. All was clear. He could hear the sound of insects walking on the floor.


Suzuki had tried twice to get Grahame back to be at Tassajara but both times he waited too long and Grahame, who needed a nudge, was already committed by then. First in London in '67 where he took a position with a company, started a sitting group, and frequently visited with Suzuki's old English teacher, Nona Ransom. And then to Japan in '69 to head a large language school. On his way Grahame visited Tassajara and gave a talk. He was most impressed but not sorry he hadn't gone back. Zen Center had gotten too complicated for him and he was on a different path.


Kosho Uchiyama, Kodo Sawaki's dharma heir, became Grahame's next teacher. Grahame liked the simplicity, the zazen only approach. He took Suzuki to Antaiji to meet Uchiyama in 1970. The two got along well. Grahame saw each as true teachers with different approaches - Uchiyama like Kodo rejecting the trappings and Soto establishment, Suzuki in Grahame's words, "accommodating and accepting it as inevitable." A year later Suzuki died. Grahame continued his relationship with Uchiyama until Uchiyama died in 1998.


Grahame said: "Suzuki Roshi liked to leave things up to us - liked to leave us with messes to deal with."


Eight years ago Grahame shared the following from an email sent to a friend in England:


"Five years of arduous life in Zen Temples facing the wall hour after hour. It wasn't so bad when it was painful cross-legged sitting, but when the pain ceased I had to face the real problem. I think most people are like this. They marry, have children, struggle with their jobs, and are endlessly occupied. The real problem is only faced when the noise stops and it becomes an issue between oneself and God. Only then can one perceive and begin to understand the sound of the great void."




DC to Grahame - read by daughter Julia at Grahame's memorial


Farewell dear Grahame, Zen pioneer, inspiration to your fellow students. I'm most happy to have spent so much time with you over the years. Thank you dear friend for your stream of memories, acute observations, indefatigable spirit in the midst of so much difficulty and suffering. Good student. Good teacher. Good father. Good man. We have not lost our timeless union but I'll still miss you.