Wind Bell Interviews and Articles
Zentatsu Baker Roshi link on Dharma Sangha website
Notes on RICHARD BAKER INTERVIEW
from an early WIND BELL - 67? Will get date and issue here later. - dc (9-29-12)
The first in a series of posts from interviews in the early Wind Bell (publication of the SFZC)
(I think these are notes I took years ago. That will become clear as I prepare other posts in this series. - DC)
The loss of history is more important than the history I remember. So when I think about the history of Zen Center I think about the lost history.
I myself came because I went to a Charlotte Selver/Alan Watts seminar. This is my first awareness of the group, so to say, which actually came after the awareness of Roshi. I saw a brochure on Don Allen's desk one day, which said Alan Watts and Charlotte Selver were going to give a seminar and I really liked her rhetoric, the way she stressed her feeling of becoming.
And so I thought I might go. When I was there, people talked about Zen Center. I think I'd been to a lecture a couple of times and I knew about it, but the awareness that I was plugging into a community came then.
People wanted to sit with Roshi. They kept sitting with Roshi. And at some point they realized they needed a nonprofit exemption, and so then they tried to form a corporation. And they needed to be organized a little better to give Roshi some money, and things like that. But that's about as far as it went.
They liked seeing him once a week and they liked him being around. No sense of continuing with him or creating a lifetime situation.
Shortly after the Charlotte Selvers bit, going to zazen one morning, they were going to have a meeting, they had just formed or something. They were going to have a meeting and discuss things, and Paul Alexander was the first treasurer. And there was a businesslike first level, and a clubby-like second level, and third level, love of Roshi, which were the three things that made it all up, which as far as I could tell, very little sense of a community and very very little sense of really practicing Zen. We liked to sit, and we sat. And we even had sesshins. And we tried hard with Roshi.
I remember that first sesshin which I left. I had only been sitting a few weeks and I came and went from it. I spent a few hours and then I had to go to work. I remember a strange feeling of having to go back to that sesshin which I couldn't sit in anyway. And I had to sit with my knees up. And I had a compelling feeling of having to be there, so there must have been some practice because it compelled me to come back there. And I certainly found that sesshin harder than hell.
People seemed to have done it, I guess, twenty maybe. Betty, Della, and those guys were there.
I know the stories about the first beginning. Paul Alexander beating the street until he found a place marked Zen because there was nothing in the phone book. Joanne Kyger bringing roses to Roshi. But there were a number of people showing up at various times and asking Roshi if they could sit with him. He said, "I sit every morning, you can join me if you want."
At that time when I was there Graham introduced the real sense that he was going to be at Buddhism all his life. And he was going to really do it full blast. He said, "I want to be a good priest," or, "I want to be a really good Buddhist." It wasn't that he was better than others he may or may not have been that wasn't the sense. It was the sense that he was able to set high standards for himself that other people didn't even conceive of.
It took a year of meetings once a month and more often to decide on the goddamn stationery. It was infuriating. And finally we picked a letterhead and the whole stuff was held up and wasn't getting through and the organization wasn't right for tax exemption. And when Bob Hense flipped out, a disturbing experience for Zen Center at that time, Graham decided he should be president, sort of. That someone should put things in shape. I saw the logic. Someone had to do it. So Graham put things together, really. He made it a cohesive well, first of all, he believed in making an organization something that worked and lasted. And was protected against falling apart and misuse. And he got the legal work done. And he actually got us a nonprofit exemption, which was important for Betty Warren who was giving $100 a month. Della gave $15 or $20. I think the standard was about $3 to $5 a month. Betty gave more than half each month.
I did the treasurer's job and I got it set up, sort of. Ginny really did all the work. And when we came out at the end of the year, we took a little adding machine and, fantastic, we balanced! To the absolute penny. $3700 was it. So trying to put the money thing in order and having the meetings and being in the meetings with a sense of order. And getting the letterhead, all that struggle, really was meaningful in several ways. It was a struggle about the kind of organization we had, which really represented how we were going to face the world. Whether it was just kid stuff. Whether we looked serious or just looked square or we looked a little zippy. We sort of compromised with the design, sort of zippy/serious. At that time a sense of order came in and the organization began to function.
And also Graham introduced a sense of coherence in the practice, bringing the practice together. He was president and also sort of the best student, I guess. Actually Graham couldn't have done it without me. Not in that I offered talents, but that I offered support. More than just support, of agreeing with him. I also sat seriously, partly because of him. But I was sort of the second person who sat seriously and regularly, even arriving on our wedding day. Coming Christmas Day, I never missed.
Ginny (Virginia Baker): You both kind of confirmed each other's possibility of taking it seriously.
RB: This was more and more in coming to my experience, in the Wind Bell. Someone did a couple of issues and it was just a mimeo sheet. I don't know even when we started saving it. At some point everyone was going to take it, one a month, and take turns. And I did it one month and then no one could do it, so I did it two months, and I still couldn't find anyone to take it. And then Graham said, "Well you did such a good job why don't you continue?" It was kind of a chore. I didn't want to do the chore. And then I started taking interest in it, and then I became attached to it.
Anyway, I think the Wind Bell is its own history, in that it sort of runs parallel to Zen Center as well as being representative of it in that sense that I think you can learn a lot about the history of Zen Center in it. The name of the Wind Bell was thought up by Roshi. And Bill Kwong was involved in the first issue or two. I don't know whose idea the first Wind Bell was.
Looking at this Wind Bell I would say there is a sense in it of Zen Center is a place to come and study Buddhism; Zen Center is a place to come and hear Suzuki Roshi; Zen Center is a place where events happen rather like a movie theater. You can come and see the show or participate in the show. But there isn't a sense that we are Buddhism. Like in the most recent Wind Bell it says, "Zen Center was in a critical stage of its evolution." Zen Center's evolution. A movie theater doesn't have an evolution.
To me, chronicling this change from a movie theater to a sangha was one of the most not most important but that Zen Center wouldn't exist if that change hadn't occurred.
What you're trying to do in this history is not write the history of Roshi, but write a history of Zen Center. And what is the date that Zen Center came into existence? There are several dates. The date the idea was thought of, or there began to be a sense of group around Roshi that had continuity more than just studying with Roshi, but had continuity in itself. And that there were dharma relationships among the members. Then of course there is the technical/legal date when it was incorporated. Then there is the combining of the legal with the dharma relations. Then there is the combining of the legal and the dharma relations with the outside world.
Tassajara, in one sense, represents a culmination of the relationship of the dharma brothers to the outside world, because now the dharma brothers have something to do in the outside world. They have a place to practice at or go to or teach at. Go to Japan and come back to.