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Phillip Wilson
DC notes from 1996 talk with him

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Phillip Wilson

Notes taken, no recording – no date but he says Jiyu Kennett just died and that was Nov. 6, 1996. I read these notes and recorded it in 2011 and transcribed that audio 7-2016. I'd like to look at the notes again. Anyway, should have gotten it down right away because a lot of it didn't make enough sense to keep and I can't tell for sure what is Phillip saying something weird and what is my not understanding what he said, what I wrote, or what I recorded. Anyway, whatever's lost isn't important, a lot of what he says here is already in my earlier interview with him, and there's tons on Phillip so no big deal. My comments in brackets. - dc

I remember Rev. Suzuki at the hot springs said about you, “He’s a very hard nut, don’t worry about him.” [PW usually called Suzuki Rev. Suzuki because that's what people called him early on, that and Suzuki Sensei.]

[Commenting on the altercation with the tough guys hanging out in front of his apartment house in Compton which I describe in DC on Phillip.] -- I said, I’m going to mirror your action. Dragged one out to street.  Said, Don’t come back you cockroach. Was hit on the back of the head. Guy with a pipe. Energy came out like sunshine. Hit me again, I love it. It just makes me stronger. Saw my conscious mind disappearing but I thought I’d better not go too far in search and destroy so I told self, Why not come out in daily life and I apologized.

At Eiheiji I was in charge of the tosu (toilet) [I wrote down "tofu" at first]. Had to prostrate to the guardian of the tosu. Two Japanese monks came in and just did quick standing bows. I was the guard and said, No all the way down. Quick gassho! I put my hands on their shoulders and drove them to the ground. Gassho! They got up and beamed. Laughed. So happy. In America we say Please obey the law but they thought I didn’t mean it cause I’ve got no gut vibe so when we don’t have gut vibe they don’t see it, it’s all gone. Same with Mexico. They want to see the gut. Like my tenants, all Mexicans. They test me.

My grandma was sick. When I got a divorce I came to LA. I was interested in Kennett Roshi and joined Shasta Abby. Kennett Roshi just died. Kennett Roshi in private interview could untie all my knots and get me lined up. Few words. She was a chiropractor of the spirit. Everything got very smooth and easy. Her other side was very sick. Her perfume, a lot of sick energy. I think those monks up there helped to keep her clean spiritually, that’s why she lived so long. My grandmother died while I was on a retreat up there. I told Kennett Roshi and she asked me how old my grandmother was. I said 95, “Well, that’s fine,” she said. 

I must have cried for a year. A Japanese priest told me to go to the tanden (hara) and you won’t cry so I did that and it worked. [This could be for his grandmother or something else decades before when he was at Eiheiji.]

Moriyama used to give massages on Bush Street. I drove him up to Sonoma to meet JJ (his wife). Took him to wife’s room. He tried it.

[Maybe that means  Moriyama gave her a massage which would have been a treatment for a problem she was having. Daigyo Moriyama who was the priest who took over Sokoji when Suzuki and Katagiri left, once gave me a state of the art hand massage and I’ve used that method since then. He interlocked the fingers of one hand facing me with both his hands then pulled them down some stretching the palm and pressed his thumbs into the palm. Excellent.]

First met Suzuki Roshi when I was taking art classes at the SF Art Institute. I was always going to North Beach poetry readings. Heard Ginsberg read Howl. Someone asked me, Want to meet Ginsberg? Sure. Went to a rinky-dink place. Everyone had to sit on a bed [mattress I bet].  Ten of us sat on a bed. Talked and laughed.

Met a guy at a coffee house going to a Buddhist lecture. He said he was alcoholic. Maybe it would help him. I’d heard of Watts, met Kerouac, Paul CZ [?] Knew some of those people so I let him rent my place at Interval? Club. I wouldn’t join a fraternity [at Stanford] because they don’t take Jews or Mexicans and that’s who I knew in LA. So Suzuki was in the main auditorium and he looked magnificent. I couldn’t understand a thing, but as soon as I saw him, I loved him.

I was talking to Jeanie (Sterns) at a group meeting in Los Altos. Her father was a professor at Stanford. Jean Sterns  at ashes site for ceremony.

We’d opened a gambling casino in the mountains in times of Alpert Leary. Alec Gallup, son of Gallup, was with me on that. Graduated majoring in art.

A Dominican nun friend turned me on to religion in terms of monks and nuns. I didn’t like Catholicism and she didn’t like Buddhism cause she couldn’t swallow it. She’d only had Buddhist toilet water. She was turned on by Russian icons. He [Suzuki] was like icons changing changing changing not coherent not following a logical order. That’s what I saw. He was at the back saying goodbye. He talked to us, to the guy for five minutes, then turned to me and said, “And what do you want?” No word came out. Ga ga ga ga…” He said, “Meditation?” My head went up and down like a dumb animal. He said, “Come in the morning.” I appreciated the initial contact. I was so still. My body was so tight from football. He never corrected me.  After six weeks he came and put his hand between the shoulder blades on my spine so my upper back straightened.

I’d tried meditating at home but nothing could last till at Zen Center. JJ popping around I didn’t care. [I think he means here that till he started sitting at ZC it didn’t work for him to sit at home and then it worked and his wife, JJ, doing things while he meditated didn’t bother him.] My artist friends tried couldn’t do it. Mike said, How long will it take me to do this, Rev. Suzuki? Two years was the answer. Mike never came back. Some guys are faster. Maybe Dick Baker is fast.

I was at Shasta two weeks. They asked me to help. I said okay and they give me a schedule two feet long. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t part of the family. I said, I can’t do this. You’ll all be mad at me.

At Eiheiji they did the same thing. I had to go apologize at Eiheiji month after month. I had no enlightenment for Zen but had something.

[I noted that Phil’s voice at times reminds me of Bill Kwong. It comes from unconsciously imitating Suzuki and both of them never lost that distinctive inflexion and choice of words and not using some words too - like dropping articles. But since this piece is based on my notes we don't know what's my shorthand and Phillip was surely speaking in more complete sentences that what is on this transcript. ]

After Suzuki died I tried with Dick Baker but sat down in front and there was no  communication. That guy didn’t like me. I’d go to the shrine and thought I was communication with Suzuki Roshi there. Dick would back up, step on my feet, say “Excuse me,” and go on talking - between rude and not rude.

[Somebody took one of Suzuki's nioi, short teacher's stick, from the founder's hall not long after he'd died. Phil was suspected but we never knew who did it as far as I know - and returned it. Two weeks or so later it was there again.]

I had a problem with Tatsugami at Eiheiji. I made the mistake of befriending Grahame Petchey. I went into tangaryo [intensive initiatory all day sitting with only bathroom breaks] and enjoyed no responsibility. One advantage of being an American, I was always alone. Grahame came in there really suffering like Japanese - some of them stay two days in tangaryo and out the window they go. I’d been there two weeks. They’d say, You’re a gaijin, can’t take it. I said I can take it better than you. Grahame was having a hard time. Tourists give monks candy filled with energy. No I don’t want. I gave Grahame candy and part of my hara disappeared after that. I had a hard time. Grahame had a good time from then on. Wasn’t hard-headed. Really a tough healthy nut. He just smiled. Was always nice to me. We weren’t on the same wavelength. Cheerful. A kind of consideration. That just makes me cry. [I think what he was saying is lost there at the end. He might not even have been talking about Grahame in that last part.]

I’m used to being first but with Rev. Suzuki I’ll be other – second, third

One time Rev. Suzuki got me in the cabin with the little stove and said, I heard you and Dick were arguing. No, I’m behind you a hundred percent. But you were fighting. But I wasn' trying to. I’ll be second, third, or fourth shuso behind Bill Kwong Ahhhh! [Suzuki hitting him] The staff transformed my whole being ninety percent lucid energy of staff energy of Suzuki Zen. [The I'll be 2nd, 3rd behind Dick seems to refer to the fact that Phillip was senior to Baker but Baker was not only the president of ZC but the first head monk, shusho, at Tassajara. Jean Ross and Ananda were ordained before him as well, as was Grahame Petchey who wasn't around though - living in Japan and England.]

I didn’t feel very good in body mind at Tassajara. Eiheiji didn’t help much. The night before Rev. Suzuki’s shosan in Dick’s shuso ceremony he answered every question so well I thought I can’t do that. Dick was clear.

When Rev. Suzuki died we put his bones under the stone I wasn’t invited to wait in line to put the bones in.

[I don’t know when he thought he wasn’t invited – maybe at first. He was there in line. They wouldn’t have done it without him up front. But it bothered me when Jerome who didn’t realize he was in the disciple’s line and who’d been around since early sixties was asked to wait till the disciples had finished. But it was not a big deal.]

Suddenly at the ashes site I felt energy come into me a hundred million times stronger than the shuso ceremony. That moment I could have been a physicist, Zen master, could have comprehended anything - energy going through my body impeccable, immense, clear, never felt energy like that - could have extended to anyone either unusual demon or god himself.

Someone came over and asked me to get in line. I’d been wearing dark sunglasses not supposed to do that I got in line behind Bill Kwong who told me to take off your sunglasses don’t you know that’s rude? [I thought it was a hat he was asked to take off, maybe not or maybe both.] They gave me a piece of bone – no I’m not going to do that – had an argument. [Nothing I remember, probably nothing too noticeable.] That high energy was lost in the argument. I put the bone in hole energy vanished like down the drain. [There are little pieces of bone in the ashes and one uses chopsticks to pick a piece out and place in an opening between rocks at the base of the large memorial stone for Suzuki.]

At bathhouse I cleaned holes in the trees [tiles? This might be something else but Phillip did say a lot of weird things] Suzuki told me don’t do that - work with me in the garden by the dining room and asked me to put one or two rocks in place. I saw energy and I saw two energy fields move between them - positive and negative shared one completeness in self. I thought both are good but I don’t know. I sensed both were good so I think we put one rock in place. Kobun did rocks going up to steps where dorm was, a pointed rock in center. I looked at that and saw rock expressions and energy. Kobun was like a baby with rocks.

I had some stones in a little box I arranged in a garden. Rev. Suzuki played with them one here one there - he got them aligned and locked into each other. It was magical energy and awareness.

With Jeanie I thought Rev. Suzuki had visited me or maybe Dick sent his transmission screw over to me or it got away from him. If you’ve got that you’re just playing with humans just existing out of compassion.

Had a dog who was old and sick. I found him and I told him I’d take him if he crawled to me. He died two years later. I gave him a two weeks Buddhist funeral meditating three or four hours a day. At one point a big ball of energy charged out of my body – going toward a two inch drain leaving me. I looked at it. We don’t let you get away that easy I said – you’re supposed to stay till I die.

At Sokoji, sometimes alley cats would get in underneath the stage. The Japanese would open windows. The cats would have kittens, they’d close the windows and the cats would starve to death. The back stage was dirty. The front was the only clean part – only the part that you could see [just like Japan] I cleaned the part under the stage. It was full of cat shit.

I’d ask Rev. Suzuki can I clean all of it down in the basement?

When I went to Japan I had A mokugyo I’d bought in Berkeley. I asked Bill if he’d keep it for me. When I came back he wouldn’t give it back - but I’d given it an a loan. He said you have to ask Rev. Suzuki so I did and he said yes.

When Rev Suzuki was talking to me about not getting along with Dick, Rev. Suzuki took the staff and hit me saying, “Do you understand?” Every time he hit me my body filled with energy. “No I don’t,” so he broke the stick and got another stick. I said, “No, please Rev. Suzuki, I don’t understand but I don’t want you to break another stick.”

Rev. Suzuki asked me to go to Massachusetts. Peter [Someone at Tassajara] took things out of my room and put them in the barn. When I came back all my things were rotting and soaking wet .

[I think what happened is he went away and just left things in his room which would no longer be his room if he weren’t there. Clearly a poor choice of how to store his stuff though.]

My ass was sore from sitting two sesshin at Eiheiji. But when I saw the silk robes from Rev. Suzuki got rot. Kechimyaku rotting - screw it. Rev.

Suzuki had forbidden me to do any office or kitchen work at Tassajara. So I cleaned like crazy and when I did it made that area dangerous I don’t know why – my practice was different.

[Some of this probably out of order.

Jeanie Sterns is whom I think Joan in original notes may be so maybe there was a Joan who now reads Jeannie.]