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Saturday, November 24, 1979

            We had asked Meg to wake us up and accompany us to zazen and service, and so just before 5:00 am we were following her silently into the gloomy street.  She wore a robe and sandals and, after zazen, the rakusu.  We had cumbersome street shoes and struggled to get them off inside the zendo door. 

            In the dim zendo full of silent robed figures, Meg indicated two cushions for us on the floor facing the wall, then went off to sit somewhere else.  The room and exotic Japanese bells seemed formidable.  Everyone’s presence was muted, the walls and floors were dull browns and blacks.   I felt conspicuous in our street clothes and manners, and somehow not especially wanted.  During kinhin, the walking meditation between two 40-minute sitting periods, my peripheral vision picked out Reb, Ed, and John Bailes standing far away.  No sign of Murayama.  Or Baker.  There was no daylight in the zendo, just the dimmest of lamps.  During zazen it started to rain.  I could hear it out on Laguna Street.

            Afterward there was service and Meg led us up into the Buddha hall upstairs, a brighter room with windows dominated by a Buddha statue.  Once again she drifted away.  There were about 50 people attending.  The service was in Japanese, and we fumbled around with printed cards trying to pick out each sutra to chant.  The passage number for that service was posted on the way into the Buddha hall; you were supposed to remember the number.  Someone next to me helped me, pointing to the correct chant on my card.

            Throughout both zazen and service I was conscious of the Saturday one-week anniversary of Chris’s death, and of how recently this had been his zendo, his Buddha hall.  Just a week ago he was practicing here too; maybe a thought had drifted to us in England, and it was an ordinary day.

            After the service Meg invited us to breakfast in City Center, and I was surprised when Bob said no.  I’d been looking forward to finally meeting people.  I also expected people to come forward to us after the service, but once again nobody did.  At 7:30 Bob and I headed across town in the rain, heading north.  No umbrellas.  Bob wore his navy cloth trench coat; I only had a bright yellow plastic sailing jacket.  I also wore sandals with one-inch heels, and my feet and shins already hurt from the day before.

            We crossed to Lombard and passed some eucalyptus trees and Bob picked up one of the hard, waxy, acorn-like nuts, green but covered with light blue powder.  They smelled heavenly, and Bob said they made him think of California. We were looking for something on Lombard, a motel where Bob and Chris had stayed in ‘68, the night after the last day recorded in his book.  There had been a bay window and a flashing light outside. We found a place Bob was sure was that motel, on the northeast corner of Lombard and Webster.  It no longer was a motel and now had a deli on the first floor.

            At a crowded Sambo’s franchise we ate a delicious breakfast, then started toward the Presidio in a drizzle.  We passed a cemetery; rows and rows of white tombstones rose endlessly out of the green.

            “We think we’ve got problems,” Bob said.

            In the Presidio Bob remembered years ago getting lost there with Nancy and driving around the park trying to get onto the Golden Gate Bridge, which you can see but no roads directly reach.  We gazed at the big red bridge stretching into the gray mist; its top disappeared in clouds. 

            We walked around to Geary Street and my feet began to throb.  Blisters on my toes were the size of marbles.  I was feeling depressed, but there was something else Bob wanted to find. He began to feel his way by memory to a place on the cliffs he had gone to with Nancy in the old days, the spectacular old Sutro Palace with indoor swimming and strange exhibits. 

            Bob knew the palace was now gone. Next to it was the Cliff House restaurant, another Victorian landmark that had collapsed, but was rebuilt, and Bob and Chris had wound up there on Bob’s visit two years ago, so we did too.  Chris had liked to walk on the wide beach south of the cliff, where breakers rolled in. The Cliff House was an ersatz earthquake-era-decorated place overlooking the Pacific. It was busy and we barely got a table.  Bob and Chris had had a table at the westernmost end of the room and Bob had told Chris he was probably as far west in the lower 48 states as you could get.  They had seen a nude sunbather. 

            We had two coffees, sat awhile, nursed sore feet and watched people walking by in the drizzle and wind.  They could walk right under the restaurant, it seemed, and I kept imagining Chris was about to emerge, sauntering out with his hands in his pockets, Nikkormat over his shoulder, slowly and thoughtfully and alone, wearing his green winter jacket like he had in Maine. 

            As we left I took ahold of Bob’s arm and we headed down Geary.  I began wishing we could live in San Francisco, that Zen Center would respond to his willing mood to let them fill the void Chris had left.  I fantasized taking Reb aside and asking him to notice an invitation poster that would read, “Wanted: Father Figure.  Sangha looking for gray-haired, bearded, lonely man.”

            We walked for blocks and contemplated supper in Japantown before returning to Page Street, but now it was getting dark. Yet the thought of going straight home with no supper didn’t sound appealing with a big night ahead: arrival of Nancy, Ted, Katagiri and maybe Baker.  We were approaching a scary neighborhood.  Things began feeling tense, although traffic on Geary was fast and heavy.  Bob said he wished we had his revolver.  I began to plead that we hail a taxi.  We walked (and I limped) faster and faster.  Apparently we were in what is called the Fillmore. 

            We wound up at a Chinese restaurant, where the food was good, then called a taxi for the jump across the ghetto.  Then things moved fast.  A phone was ringing as we arrived at the Guest House. I searched and wound up in a small dark room upstairs monopolized by a vacuum cleaner.  The room turned out to belong to Meg and Marc Alexander; Marc was a high-ranking priest in the Zen Center organization. He was not a high ranking priest. He was a priest who elsewhere would be a novice monk. He was director of the City Center, which meant he had to deal with things there. – DC Meg’s and Marc’s shoes and sandals sat outside the room in a line along the hall, Japanese style. This practice was followed everywhere around Zen Center except public rooms and our guest rooms. 

            The phone call was from Reb wanting Meg, but he recognized my voice.  We had a humorous, laughing conversation, with him very much in charge.  He told us he would come by in the morning to explain our roles in the funeral. No mention of Baker.

            Next, back in our room, Meg knocked and said Katagiri had arrived.  He’d been given the smallest of the three rooms in the Guest House.  We went to his door and knocked. We all gasshoed deeply.  He had a radiant, intense smile, his lips pressed together with the corners down as he just looked at Bob for a second while none of us said anything.  Then Katagiri said, “I received your letter this morning.”  Bob smiled and said, “Good.”  Bob had written him a letter of condolence from England.  There was another pause and then Bob said, “Well, we’ll see you later,” and we gasshoed and went back to our room. 

            That encounter with Katagiri seemed to be a Zen Center phenomenon, the quick meeting in which everything is exchanged in a glance.   It was as though thoughts were read rather than spoken.

            Next came a phone call from Maynard, Bob’s father.  He had decided to fly from Minneapolis to attend the funeral and had checked into a hotel in San Francisco.  He told me he decided to come “because it sounded like Bob needed me.”  Bob was indeed glad his father was there and suggested he come right over.  Maynard said he would hop on a bus but I told him to take a cab, and I went downstairs to the front door to watch for him. Soon he arrived and I hugged him.  He seemed depressed and said, “I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances.”  Up in our room Bob told him about the witnesses and that pleased him.  Zen Center’s street-savviness is first rate, Bob said.  He suggested Maynard talk with Ed Sattizahn and, as Maynard is a law professor, give him legal advice for pursuing the case.  Maynard told us about reactions to Chris’s death he had received around Minneapolis. 

            Meanwhile I tried to get a fire started and tea prepared.  Meg had gone to the airport, and I tuned my ears to the door downstairs.  When we heard voices, Maynard and I sat in the room while Bob went out and met Nancy and Ted and Meg in the upstairs hall.  A desolate flow of sobs came from Nancy when Bob embraced her.

            Nancy and Ted then went to their room, a middle-sized one between ours and Katagiri’s, and Bob returned with Meg.  There was a cheerful introduction with Maynard, and then Ted came in and we greeted each other. He had more “gravitas” than before, more balance.  I left him with Bob and Maynard while I went down to the kitchen to make herbal tea.

            Meg was there and helped me arrange a tray.  She also showed me a stash of booze, a weird collection left by guests, “in case the evening goes that way,” and invited me to raid the refrigerator.  She also chopped a small box of kindling, but I never did get the fire going that night.

            Finally I crept softly upstairs and carried the tray to a spot by the low coffee table where no one was, knelt on the floor and began pouring tea.  A quiet, intimate conversation was going on among the three of them, but Nancy looked over to me and said “Hi.” Though my hands shook I poured some tea, first for her and then for everyone else.  She looked utterly exhausted.  Her tears were gone but she seemed limp and pale and listless, and she spoke slowly and quietly.  She seemed skinnier and frailer than I remembered.  Yet she still sat straight, the way Chris had, and she followed everything with a steady, piercing attention.  Her voice, though fainter now, hadn’t lost its ring.  She seemed down, not out, though it was still a toss-up.

            Ted was somber and long jawed but seemed centered too.  He sat near Bob and didn’t talk much.  He didn’t look crushed like Nancy did, and seemed rather more steady than when I’d last seen him almost a year before.  It felt like he had been taking care of her.  Bob meanwhile looked radiant and excited.  He gave her lots of attention. I felt none of the jealousy I’d felt in the past, partly thanks to the talk with Chris’s ghost.  Also because she just looked so awful.  She really needed a zap from somebody, and Bob was giving it to her.

            The family were looking at things and passing them around. Nancy passed me a postcard.  It was from Chris to Ted, and it must have just arrived.  Chris had written of a plan for them to get together, and Nancy explained that the brothers, who often fought in their teens, had recently been reconciled.  Ted added that he was planning to be a guest student here at Zen Center this winter. 

            Ted then briefly described the mortuary experience.  His tone was, “This strange thing happened...” 

            Nancy said when she had been here a few days earlier she had packed up Chris’s things and sorted out clothes that could be sold at a rummage sale benefiting Zen Center.  Ted would take his books.

            In his room she had found a slip from a Chinese fortune cookie that made her cry.  It said, “You will never have to worry about a steady income.”  When Bob heard that he laughed and teased her again.  “He didn’t foresee his death, Nancy!  He was planning to become a priest.  Priests have it so easy!”  He laughed and she smiled.

            There was a general discussion of plans.  Nancy would be leaving on Monday. Ted was too, because of work in Seattle.  Bob agreed to take care of loose ends of Chris’s business, close his checking account, empty out his room, etc.  His motorcycle was being sold by the friend he had bought it from, and the proceeds would be given to Zen Center.  We might have also discussed setting up a memorial fund with half the funds going to Minnesota Zen Center and half to San Francisco Zen Center.

            Then Katagiri joined us, with a chorus of welcome from everyone.  He sat in a straight chair, smiling as earlier and nodding, paying close attention.  He was in robes as usual.  I poured him tea. 

            Ted told Katagiri—and all of us, but it seemed directed at Katagiri—that they had found Chris’s room neatly arranged.  He mixed everything up, spark plugs next to pencils for instance, but very neatly.  Katagiri gave his full, breathless, open-mouthed, squint-eyed laugh. Bob told about Chris and Ted’s reconciliation, and that Ted had sat the vigil.  Katagiri looked very solemn and attentive.  At one point I quietly passed Katagiri the postcard that Nancy had passed to me.

            There was some ruminating on the subject of “where Chris went.”  Bob spoke of having had some sensations but didn’t elaborate.  He mentioned the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  The general sense was that we had all been thinking about ghosts.  Katagiri didn’t comment.

            At one point Bob said, “I think Chris’s death has hit Roshi here harder than anyone.”  Katagiri looked down and no one disagreed.

After a while Maynard and Katagiri left.  I called a taxi for Maynard and Ted saw him out. 

With just Ted and Nancy remaining, Bob suggested his idea that the four of us rent a car and take a trip around California.  Nancy just nodded non-commitally.  “I’m just kind of numb,” she said sadly. 

            Before Ted went to bed we went down to the kitchen to make him a screwdriver.  When Nancy went to bed he stuck around, drinking his drink and eating fruit from the basket.  After he left Bob and I talked for a while. He was excited, and talked about the belongings in Chris’s room at City Center. He wanted to give them away selectively instead of selling them in a rummage sale.

            “They have powers.  They are relics.  Somebody donates to the Chris Memorial Fund, send them a pen he used or a stick of incense.  These are treasures!”

Sunday, November 25, 1979

            At about 7:30 I went down to the kitchen to make toast and coffee, starting a lasting ritual of taking all our meals upstairs on a tray.  Nancy knocked on our door a few minutes later and joined us for coffee.  Bob did most of the talking, and elaborated on his new idea for Chris’s “relics.” Nancy was passive but very attentive, nodding quietly and sometimes saying things in a soft voice.  The two of them began exchanging news.

            Taking the tray downstairs, I found Meg making breakfast for Ted and Katagiri, and we had a cheerful exchange.  Also during the morning we were introduced to her husband, Marc Alexander, who was director of City Center, and Zen Center treasurer Steve Weintraub.  Meg told us Katagiri would be lecturing at Green Gulch that morning and offered a ride.  We phoned Maynard at his hotel so he’d know.

            Before we left, Reb came to our room for a family meeting with the four of us about the afternoon funeral.  As he described each person’s role he looked at each of us steadily.  There would be a family procession, he explained.  It had been decided to ask Nancy to carry Chris’s ashes, was that all right?  She nodded and did not look alarmed.  Next, Bob would walk with a photograph of Chris’s face.  Ted would follow with a vertical stick bearing Chris’s Buddhist name in Japanese.  Then I would carry a calligraphy that Chris had treasured (Bob and Nancy nodded; they knew what it was).  There was some discussion about Maynard, and a decision that he would follow and sit with us.  Bob thought therefore we would all sit in chairs, not on cushions, out of respect for Maynard.  But Nancy said she wanted a cushion and Ted said he did too. As always, Reb ended the conversation with a gassho, the Japanese Zen bow. Palms together explains it. It’s used all over Asia. Japanese Zen bow yes, but also Japanese Buddhist bow. All Buddhist sects and Hindus bow, and in some countries it’s used by everyone – but in Japan it’s more limited to formal Buddhist temple use.

            Soon we were off to Green Gulch, Zen Center’s working farm on the coast in Marin County. Our driver was a thin, congenial woman in her 30s, Zen Center librarian Jill Coughlan.  I sat next to her in front, and Bob and Ted flanked Nancy in the back; Bob had directed this arrangement after a bit of uncertainty from us on the sidewalk getting in.  Ted and Nancy were passive. 

            At first we were pretty quiet in the car. I had heard that Katagiri had once given Chris a calligraphy.  I asked Nancy if this was going to be what I would carry at the funeral, and she said yes.  Katagiri had painted it, and it meant, “Within nothingness there is an inexhaustible working.”  She recalled the words without hesitation.

            We crossed some neighborhoods with deteriorating Victorian houses, and then came to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The sun was brilliant, and some chubby fog patches lay below on the bay.  Ahead the gray-green hills of Marin County looked clean and barren and spectacular, and we all began talking.  Jill asked about our boat.  She had been out sailing with a friend in the bay a few weeks before, and Chris had gone too.  During the trip a halyard had gotten jammed and it looked like the day was spoiled, but Chris had shinnied up the mast and re-threaded it. 

            Our six-lane superhighway rolled north and disappeared briefly into a double tunnel painted with a rainbow over each opening in the crazy green hill.  Bob asked Ted if he had been to Green Gulch before and he said no.

            Not far from Sausalito we passed a motel where Bob and Nancy had stayed in the Reno days.  He exclaimed excitedly, and she acknowledged it sadly.  Glimpses of marinas and sailboat masts flashed by, and Bob recalled that Chris urged us to bring our boat here someday.  Maybe we still could.  He tapped my shoulder enthusiastically.

            Jill turned off the highway and onto a two-laner that twisted tightly among the hills.  In most places there was no shoulder; the hill rose steeply from the pavement on one side and fell sharply on the other.  Taking us through some hairpin turns, surrounded by eucalyptus, Jill told how California’s eucalyptus had come during the railroad days, when they were planted in great numbers in the erroneous belief that the fast-growing trees would be a quick, plentiful source of railroad ties.  It turned out the grain of the wood twined in such a way as to make the ties too springy.  The railroads stopped cutting them, so they stand by the millions today.

            In a few minutes we rounded the last climbing curve and began snaking downhill following the south face of a ridge that formed the north border of a valley that ran several miles toward the west, opening wider toward the sea as it went.  Green Gulch had a western feel, few trees and no underbrush.  The steep slopes and hillsides had a gray-green hue, and at the end lay a pale, quiet Pacific Ocean.  We all oohed and aahed as it  became visible.  Small flat fields appeared on the floor of the gulch, and they proved to hold the organic crops being raised by Green Gulch Farm.  Here Chris had spent his first months in California.  Bob had come out to see him in ‘77.  Nancy and Bob had visited him before that.  And years before, in the 50s, the two of them had explored this valley by car.

            My first impression of Green Gulch Farm was that it was a mess, not a bad mess, but just sprawling and sloppy in the western way and muddy in the California winter way and unmechanized in the organic hippie way.  The disorder was heightened by the fact that a site had just been cleared for a new tea house about to be built by Japanese carpenters and craftsmen who specialized in that type of building. The tea house would be in the middle of the valley, and so its site, an expanse of mud, dominated everything.

            Clustered in the mid-valley, all the buildings at Green Gulch were made of dark, rough, unpainted wood and sat in the shade of eucalyptus, which fed their odor into the air.  The fields lay down toward the ocean, and above on the hillsides a few horses munched.

            We went inside The Barn, where most residential students slept and where the zendo was.  I instantly liked it.  It felt American, with high-ceilings, bare wood floors, dark bare wood walls.  That Sunday morning it echoed with feet.  The entrance hall’s second story was ringed with students’ doorways along a balcony.  Below, we took off our shoes and quietly stepped into the combination zendo/Buddha hall. There was a large, colorful Buddhist statue but it did not dominate as did the one at City Center; in fact it was nearly lost among the students as they filed in. 

            The Sunday lecture was normally given by Baker-roshi and members of the public were welcomed as well as actual Zen students.  That day the speaker would be Katagiri-roshi.  Half the room was set with chairs and half with zafu cushions, and people could take their choice.  It might have held as many as 200 people, and that day the place was full.  Jill said this was a normal Sunday attendance.  Unlike City Center, few people at Green Gulch had shaved heads or wore robes.  People were of all ages and face types, and clothes were very California casual, flavored with hippie.  Everyone sat quietly.

            As in the City Center, a platform had been built along the wall to allow an extra row of cushions during zazen. I don’t recall an extra row during zazen at Green Gulch. Only during lectures when so many people were in the room. The tan (platform) were long at GG (not in the city where there wasn’t room) because that’s traditional for Japanese zendos which they call sodo, monks’ hall. They’re long for sleeping and have cabinets at the end. We sat along this area, Ted, Bob, me, Nancy.  She helped us find the right size cushions.

            Katagiri introduced himself, “to those who don’t know me,” and explained that the name Katagiri involved the meaning “branch of a tree.” Dainin means great patience and Katagiri is a family name with the kanji standing for sound more than meaning, but the kanji in his name do mean piece + Paulownia, an Asian hardwood tree. – DC He said that California had been his home, and though he headed Minnesota Zen Center, he was here because of Chris, who was “a very good friend.”  The previous year, when Katagiri visited for a week to give lectures about an hour from San Francisco, Chris drove there every night to hear him.  He said Chris’s death “has made me very confused.  My head spins round and round.”  Chris’s years at Zen Center, he said, were “the happiest of his whole life.”  This reflected Bob’s letter and, recognizing it, he nodded vigorously. 

            Katagiri then drew Zen themes from his statements about Chris’s death.  An awareness of death, he said, should make us take especially good care of ourselves.  He explicitly warned against putting too much belief in ghosts, and I thought of the family discussion in the room the night before.

            It was a poignant talk, with sniffles from Bob and elsewhere, possibly Nancy.  On Katagiri’s face the whole time was radiant light and a smile, and I wondered if there wasn’t also pain, even when he joked.  But we were sitting far away and it was hard to tell. 

            It was a long lecture.  We were silent as we walked out.  We met Ed Sattizahn briefly.  Then Bob wanted to walk around Green Gulch and show Ted and me, but Nancy said she wanted to go back.   She lagged behind on the way to the car. She looked the worst ever.

            After we arrived back at Page Street, Ted went to the City Center building to get the calligraphy from Chris’s room.  In the Guest House, at the bottom of the stairs, Bob and Nancy and I discussed lunch.  I was hungry and Nancy looked really famished so I proposed doing something about it, but of course there were no restaurants and the thought of wandering the city looking for one wasn’t right.  Bob said he didn’t care about eating, and proposed that Nancy and I just trot over and eat at the City Center dining room together.  Nancy looked at me as the thought of the two of us walking into City Center flashed through our minds. Then she burst into tears.

            “I just can’t make decisions,” she said.  Finally Bob realized what bad shape she was in and instructed me to have food delivered somehow.  That turned out to be easy; Meg as usual had the situation under control.  Cheese, bread, soup and salad appeared from “the building,” as she always called City Center, and I began helping her assemble lunch. 

            Over the next four hours before the funeral, Bob, Nancy and Ted received an array of relatives, while I helped serve soup, sandwiches, salad and tea. Nearly all the relatives and friends were Nancy’s.  Maynard arrived and bravely plunged into the family gloom.  Fortunately Nancy was cheering up a little.  Then Ed Sattizahn came, and Bob, Maynard and Ed went into Nancy and Ted’s room to talk about the criminal investigation.  Meg asked me to prepare an updated family guest list to send to “the building,” where funeral preparations were going on all day.

            As we sat on the couch, Katagiri and Steve Weintraub quietly came into the far end of the living room, out of sight behind some furniture.  They laid down long rolls of white paper, and then Katagiri painted some calligraphy for the funeral, working in silence. 

            At last upstairs we got ready for the funeral.  A phone call came from Reb in which he asked Bob if he wanted to say anything during the service, and he declined.  Reb also asked if Bob would agree to photographs taken during the funeral.  Bob assented, as long as Zen Center and not the media would have control of their use.  Somebody sent over Reb’s blue and white spotted necktie.  Someone else, possibly Ted, retrieved from Chris’s room the beads carved into heads that Bob wanted to give Reb.

            Then it was time for the funeral but, we learned, all big Zen Center events started late.  Finally, at 5:00 instead of 4:00, word came and we filed out into the gray and drizzly afternoon.  We were conducted into Zen Center, where people had overflowed the Buddha hall and were seated in the entrance hall and all the way back toward the dining room. The family followed an aisle left between them, and rather than the coldness I had felt at zazen, this time I was conscious of a great connection to everyone.  The densho bell was being struck, I’m no longer sure at what points, at slow intervals as a prelude to the service.  The program said, “18 hits.”

            All of us in the family were led up to the second floor and down a dark, echoing, uncarpeted hallway where the only light seemed to come from a gray window at the far end.  When we got there, everyone was asked to turn around and go down again except those to be in the procession:  Bob, Nancy, Ted, Maynard and me.  Nancy’s mother, Violet James, protested; she was panting from the climb and angry that it had been for nothing.  But she left with the rest of them, to be seated for the service.  The fact that she was excluded from the procession while Maynard, Bob’s father, was included probably occurred simply because no one, even Nancy, knew Violet was coming until a few hours before the service, and no one thought to tell Reb.

            Meanwhile the five of us were asked to sit in the dark hall, and we learned that the room we sat outside of was Baker-roshi’s.  It would be the first time we saw him. Maynard, who was next to me, asked innocently, “Whose room is this?”

            “This is the Zen Center’s equivalent of the Pope,” Bob told him.  “Nothing happens without his say-so.” He launched into complaints he had often voiced about excessive authoritarianism and ritual in Zen. 

            At last there were steps down the hall, and toward us came an entourage of priests, with Baker in their midst wearing extraordinary clothes.  He was a tall, thin man who walked with a buzzard-like stature, leading with his face. A robe of spectacular brocade, embroidered gold and white, reached below his knees.  A large hood of the same brocaded material formed a peak high above his head.  As he stopped briefly to say hello, dark eyebrows, a small chin and a long, straight, sharp nose peered out at our seated family.  The trail of priests then disappeared into his room, and as the door closed I glimpsed on a wall a painted portrait of Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Center’s founder. 

            After we’d sat quite a while longer, Reb emerged and in a beautiful, unearthly manner repeated his instructions for the funeral procession, turning to each of us as he described what we would carry.  As he addressed Nancy, saying “And you will carry the ashes,” he very softly touched his chest, illustrating the sling that would wrap the container and ride against the upper part of her body, and seemed for an instant to make a connection between his own body and the cremated remains of his “younger brother” and disciple.

            During these instructions to each of us, Bob reached into his pocket and said to Reb, “Here are the beads I wanted to give you.”  Reb took them with a smile and slipped them rapidly on his left wrist.  As they disappeared under the sleeves of his robe he gave Bob a deep gassho and Bob responded in kind.

            At the last minute we discussed whether to wear shoes at the service.  Of course nobody does in the Buddha hall.  I think we were told we “could” leave them upstairs if we wanted.  Maynard, not catching the suggestion, kept his on, and as Bob and I had spoken of sticking with Maynard on the chair issue, out of respect for him, I kept my shoes on too for this day.

            The things we were to carry were brought to us.  Chris’s ashes were a small bundle tied in a large white cloth napkin.  I didn’t dare look at Nancy’s face while she had it, but later Bob said she had turned to him at that moment and whispered, with a look of anguish “They’re so light!” and Bob replied, “Nancy, they’re just ashes.”

            I studied the framed calligraphy, trying to make sure I wouldn’t accidentally hold it upside down.  Maynard helped deduce the correct orientation by the hanging wire on the back.  Then Katagiri went by, and he didn’t frown so I figured I had it right.  At last we formed a line and started downstairs.  “Within nothingness there is an inexhaustible working.”

Buddha Hall
Mokugyo, lower right, is struck as people arrive in the Buddha Hall. Peter Coyote and Marilyn McCann are seated at center.

            The funeral was spectacular and nearly impossible to describe.  As we filed down among the couple of hundred people, there was no sound except for a two-tone bell, one tone struck after the other.  Held in one hand by the priest leading the procession, the bells sounded like two metal plates somehow structured one above the other and struck with a mallet.  Several seconds elapsed between each strike, first the high tone, then the lower tone.  Both notes were quite high and silver-clear and seemed sad.  We were told later that this was used for many special occasions, but we had never heard it before, and the sound will forever have a haunting association with Chris.

            I think Nancy and then we followed Baker. Also in the procession were Katagiri-roshi and Murayama-sensei in blazing red and white robes.  Just as we turned to enter the Buddha hall a flash bulb popped.  The photographer got Bob, Ted and me but Nancy was not in the photo.

Procession into the Buddha Hall. Left to right: Wendy Pirsig, Ted Pirsig and Robert Pirsig.

            The Buddha hall was specially arranged with an altar at the east wall instead of the north.  We were coming in after everyone had been chanting a sutra.  Reb led us to our places in front, took the things we carried, gasshoed, and motioned for us to sit down.  From the altar, we sat in this order: Nancy and Ted on zafus, and on chairs, Bob, Maynard, me, and two of Nancy’s relatives. 

            We were given programs which began: 

Final Ceremony of Crossing Over For Christopher Pirsig
November 25, 1979
Beginner’s Mind Temple
Opening:  18 Hits of Densho Bell
Reading of the Maha Parinirvana Sutra
Procession to the Altar
with Family members carrying Christopher’s ashes
memorial tablet
photograph for concentration
and a treasured possession
Incense offering by the abbot (doshi)
First statement by the abbot...

            Baker made the statement facing the gathering, with Katagiri and Murayama Shoki facing the altar on tall, oversized chairs that were bright red and ornately painted.  Reb stood behind Katagiri, helping to seat him by lifting his robes as he sat down; he needed to almost climb into the tall chair.  Another priest helped Murayama.  Katagiri was the closer to us, and both he and Murayama wore stony expressions.  They held ceremonial whisks, long sticks with soft flaxen plumes.  The funeral calligraphy Katagiri had painted was above, four sections in Japanese on long vertical white paper:

Everything is impermanent

That is the Dharma of Origination and Destruction.

Origination and Destruction end.

That is nirvana.

Over each of the four lines was a calligraphy representing:





Funeral altar below calligraphy lettered by Katagiri-roshi.

            Baker-roshi possessed much physical agility and moved with grace and fluidity throughout the service.  He said that Chris had “died too young.”  He had expected that rather than performing his funeral ceremony, Chris would perform his.  Then Baker went on to say that as Chris had dedicated himself so intensely to becoming a priest, and had “asked me many times to ordain him,” he would now proceed to ordain Chris as a Zen priest.

            Certain ceremonial words were read by Baker, with the moments Chris would have replied filled by silence.   Some references were made to Chris’s rakusu, “which you have sewn so carefully,” and a rakusu was produced and placed over Chris’s ashes as though the bundle were wearing it. 

            In the ordination Chris was given a Buddhist name in Japanese and English.  The Japanese name was written on the stick Ted had carried to the altar.  I remember that part of it meant mountain.  He joined a lineage tracing back to Shakyamuni Buddha.

            The most dramatic part of the ordination was the symbolic cutting of the last hair of a new priest’s shaven head.  Baker said, “Now I cut his hair,” and passed his hand horizontally through empty space.

            The program continued:

Chanting of the ten names of Buddha by everyone
mindfulness of birth and death
first chanting of daihi shin dharani
dedication (eko) and statements by heads of practice (tantos)
second chanting of daihi shin dharani
meal offering by the ino...

            This portion became completely ritualistic, building up a kind of magic.  The light in the room seemed to take on a sourceless orange glow.  There were bells and chanting and drums and incense and candles and costumes blending into many Japanese and mystical English phrases, and the profiles of the two oriental magicians, Katagiri and Murayama Shoki, and also of Reb. 

Chris Pirsig's funeral in the Buddha Hall. Officiating in seats facing the altar: Richard Baker Roshi, center, in gold; Murayama Shoki to his left, in blue; Dainin Katagiri Roshi to Baker's right, in red. Reb Anderson is standing to Katagiri's right. Pirsig family is seated to right of altar.

            The rest of the ceremony was a celebration of passage.  It was not a sad time.  I had a strong sensation of triumph on behalf of Chris, joy that it all was so BIG, such a BIG noise was being made for him. 

            The program said:

Offering of hot water by Katagiri-Roshi
            Offering of tea by Murayama-Sensei...

            This was the handling of the funeral symbols at the altar, dedicating them to Chris, and it was high magic, completely in Japanese.  Katagiri and Murayama each knew his role by heart.  At the end of each chant, spoken loudly to the altar, each gave an unearthly yell.  The supremely controlled Katagiri raised his voice in a mix of anger and agony, and to hear it was chilling.  Murayama followed, and his cry was unbelievable, beyond human, beyond emotion, horrible and frightening, as though from another world.

            The program continued:

Great Flame Mudra

            My memory of this was that someone, perhaps Baker confirmed by DC, stood before the altar and swung a torch in a wide vertical circle as a drum roared and softened with each rotation.  The torch was artificial, the flames of red paper, but the effect was very strong.

            The program continued:

Dharma words for leading to Nirvana (indo-hogo) by the abbot
The abbot asks for statements from other people...

            Baker’s “dharma words” were spoken to Chris as though he were hearing, though I can’t remember what they were.  Roshi ended by calling upon anyone to make whatever statements they wished.  And then voice after voice began speaking from out of their various places in the room.  What struck me first was that even though sounding from amid the dark wild forces of death and magic, each voice was so young, so American, so close to Chris-the-boy.  They were the other Zen students.  So rhythmically came each unembodied voice from here and there, that at first I thought it had been rehearsed.  Like Baker, each one said Chris’s name.  Many thanked him for various things.  “Chris, thank you for never forgetting to bow in the hallway...”  “Chris, thank you for playing so much rock and roll...”  “Chris, thank you for teaching me how to hit the bell in the morning...”  “Chris, thank you for lending me your hair clippers...”  “Chris, we were friends for three beautiful months...” (That was a young woman.)  “Chris, thank you...”  (A boy, nothing further.)

            All the voices alluded to Chris’s perseverance, his strict ceremonial practice, his love of ceremony, his talent for mechanics and helping people fix their cars, his engaging smile. 

            People not from Zen Center joined in.

            “Chris,” said a male voice, “the only way I knew you was through the book.  I would have liked to have known you more...”

            “Chris,” said a woman’s voice directly behind us.  “Meegan would have liked to have been here today to be with you again.”  I started as I recognized the name of Abigail’s daughter and realized Abigail must have joined us.

            By now the room was filled with the sound of sniffles and blowing noses.  A few more students spoke.  Next to me I felt that Maynard was crying.  Katagiri and Murayama still sat in their chairs like ramrods, each with a whisk propped motionless against one arm.  I glanced at the profile of Baker.  His head was bent forward facing the altar, and a large single drop of liquid clung to the tip of his odd long nose. 

            I hadn’t expected the family to speak, especially myself, but suddenly there was Ted’s quavering voice, and it led the following sequence.

            “Good-bye, Chris,” called Ted, his voice breaking.  “I was your brother.”

            “Good-bye, Chris!” Bob called.  No clinging now though, no sadness.  It was as though we were standing around watching Chris climbing onto a pony.

            “Good-bye, Chris!” I called a second later, without thinking.  Chris was on the pony, turning onto the prairie and waving his hat.

            “Good-bye, Chris,” said Maynard, his voice dry and shaky.  “Your grandfather will never forget you.”

            A few other statements followed.  At last, after a few beats of silence, Baker intoned a few other things including: “Chris, you died with such violence it makes me sick!”

            The program continued:

Entering the Path of Nirvana (santo nenju) by Katagiri-Roshi
Chanting of the ten names of Buddha by everyone
Dedication (Eko) by Katagiri-Roshi
Chanting of en mei juku kannon gyo by everyone
During this chanting, members of Family and Some others will offer incense...

            We hadn’t been warned this was coming, but then, as voices of chanting hummed and throbbed all around us, Reb went to the altar, gasshoed, pinched some incense, brought it near his forehead, put it in a little box of burning incense, gasshoed, and then turned toward Nancy, gesturing with raised eyebrows and a hand.  She rose and did what Reb had done, and so in turn did Ted, Bob, Maynard, and I.  The altar was a blaze of warm orange, very powerful with the photo of Chris’s face and the remains of his body and the sign with his Japanese name. 


            Then, after I sat down and the chants still continued, from somewhere behind us came a tiny old Japanese lady in a black kimono, padding softly up to the altar.  Bent at the waist and all hunched over, she seemed no more than four feet tall.  Her black hair was swept back into a bun.  Stopping in front of the altar she gasshoed and then, somehow conveying extraordinary attention to the altar and Chris’s face, she offered incense too.  Then she turned and took two steps till she stood in front of Bob and gasshoed.  Bob did too.  And we knew this was Okusan, Mitsu Suzuki-Sensei—Suzuki-roshi’s widow.

            End of program:

Peaceful abode dedication by the abbot
Procession departs

            I have forgotten most of Baker’s last words except one thing he addressed to Chris that seemed very good.

            “Settle,” he said. “Settle.”

            This was what the funeral had been all about.

incense offerings
Offering incense at close of funeral.

            I think everyone else could file up and offer incense too then, while the five of us, plus the roshis and tantos and Okusan, followed the two-toned bell out and up the stairs again.  Baker-roshi said good-bye to us.  We got warm greetings from Katagiri and Murayama.  Okusan met us for the first time.  In a dry, light voice she spoke with halting and heavily accented English. Her face was round and full, with wrinkles.  She smiled fully, yet her smile was not giggly or even really cheerful.  There was an underlying seriousness or toughness.  The first thing Maynard whispered when at last they all disappeared into their dark doors, leaving us alone in the upstairs hallway again, was, “Who is that older woman?”

            Reb told us we could go to a reception in the dining room, so we did.  It was an ordinary college dorm-type dining room, and teacups and cookies were set out on the long tables where Zen students normally ate.  We family members separated for much of the reception, dissolving into the crowd, sipping and talking.  Sometimes I was asked how long we were staying, and answered with a shrug.

            “Maybe a while,” I’d say.  “Bob wants to do something constructive in connection with Chris.”  I noticed this would usually be met with a nod, a smile, and an air of hesitation.

            It was remarkable to stand in a room of 100 or more and not hear a single harsh voice, or see a single frown or leer or greedy expression, but that was how this was.  In so many eyes there was a sparkle.  Afterward Bob liked to comment how when Zen students get together in San Francisco, the whole room sparkles and twinkles with lights. 

            Watching Bob though, I noticed him after a while talking with one person who did not particularly twinkle, and I knew it had to be Lewis John Carlino, another Hollywood director and screenwriter who wanted to make a film of ZMM.  Earlier in the weekend Meg had given us the strange news that Carlino had met Chris not long before he was killed and decided to find Bob in England.  He reached Falmouth only hours after we left for California, then returned to San Francisco to stay with an old friend who happened to be a Zen student who knew Chris.  Carlino contacted Meg and asked her to tell Bob to get in touch with him any time he felt like it.  And, not wanting to leave to chance the possibility he might not feel like it at Chris’s funeral, here was Carlino now.

            Bob said that for any film he would require the final cut— 100 percent veto power, even to reject a completed movie—Carlino said he would agree.  Carlino introduced this friend of his, the Zen student we’d been hearing about named Peter Coyote. 

             After Carlino left Bob introduced Peter to me as a big find should a movie ever come to pass.  I thought so too; he had everything—handsome, tall, dark, intelligent, a student of Zen and a friend of Chris. Within moments Bob decided that he could play the lead in a film of ZMM. Peter introduced his wife, Marilyn McCann, smiling and freckled with long brown hair.  He put his arm around her and said perhaps we should all get together at their place.  It was the friendliest overture anyone had made to us since we arrived. 

            Amazingly, we also eventually learned that Peter was one of the two “street Zennies” who it seemed were on the brink of breaking the murder case.  Peter explained he was only loosely affiliated with Zen Center, while Marilyn was a formal Zen student who followed the training regime and work assignments.  They lived in an apartment across the street in a building owned by Zen Center, where they were frequently joined by Peter’s school-aged daughter, Ariel.

            Baker appeared at the reception too, in a pale colored robe. He carried his dark-haired little daughter, Elizabeth, her hand covered with chocolate cookie. He stepped up to me talking with one of the Zen Center members, and we made awkward jokes about her chocolate hand.  The expression on her chubby face was serene, indifferent, almost bored.  Then he introduced his wife, Virginia. They could have been in a detergent commercial for testing diapers as Elizabeth scampered off and she chased her and disappeared, as did Baker. 

            When Bob and I were standing together along came Murayama Shoki, and we all beamed at each other with a special connection because we had participated in a seven-day sesshin in Minneapolis a few months before.  His English was limited, but he managed to explain that at a certain table where we stood, Chris had eaten supper before he died.  Bob became very quiet and solemn and thanked Shoki very much.

            When people had settled out of the reception the family rounded itself up and headed back to the Guest House, where a supper would be served. Maynard and Katagiri discovered they had taken the same flight from Minneapolis the previous night without knowing it, and also were booked on the same return in the morning.  They decided to meet at the airport the next day. 

            Katagiri stayed with us like an old-time parish priest.  He went to sit in a straight-back canvas folding chair by the wall, so I went and sat next to him.  Lots of smiles.  He asked about the boat and I told him a little about our quiet life in England. 

            Meg and a few other students had set up a long wide table for all of us, and pretty soon they served salad and some vegetarian mushroom white-sauce concoction that was good.  It was quite a happy meal, with lots of conversation and friendly feelings.  It was incredible to realize this was a family who had just experienced a divorce, the loss of a grandmother, and the murder of a young son.  Nancy’s mother, Violet, was still sour, but Maynard sat beside her at one end of the table and made wily comments that took her edge off.  Ted and a cousin, the younger generation, sat side by side giggling.  Even Nancy started to look normal. 

            At the other end of the table, opposite the two grandparents, sat Bob and Katagiri.  I sat just to Katagiri’s right.  The three of us were mostly quiet and I was very conscious of Katagiri.  Bob seemed to be too, and when Katagiri quietly observed a few of Zen Center’s special table manners patterned after those we’d learned from the sesshin—the gassho before eating, gassho for the gamazio, etc.—we mimicked him like marionettes, though no one else paid much attention.  I also got a laugh out of noticing Katagiri used lots of black pepper.

            After supper Meg and her crew brought another coffee pot and cups and cookies. By this time Nancy had recovered to the point of pouring coffee and passing it around.  One by one the relatives drifted off.  Maynard had me call him a taxi again and asked us to stop and see him in Minneapolis on the way back to England. 

            When the only ones left were Bob, Nancy, Katagiri and Ted (who drifted in and out), we sat on the sofas drinking coffee.  Bob talked to Katagiri about work on his new book, Lila, and he listened with interest.  Whenever Bob spoke to Katagiri it was slowly and carefully, adding a touch of a Japanese accent.  Katagiri sat beside Bob and turned to face him, listening intently, nodding, eyes smiling.  Bob mentioned that American Indians would be described in his book as being highly advanced in terms of mysticism, and Katagiri nodded emphatically as though he were already acquainted with this fact.

            Then Bob began talking about our half-formulated idea of staying in San Francisco.  Bob liked Zen Center and wanted to do something constructive in response to Chris’s death.  A memorial fund was one idea.  Perhaps Bob could write a brochure using some of the letters students were already sending Nancy. She had mentioned wanting to get letters from those who knew Chris and had put a note on the City Center bulletin board.  Half the money raised from the brochure should go to San Francisco Zen Center, half to Minnesota Zen Center.  Bob seemed to be envisioning thousands of dollars from ZMM fans.

            Bob began telling Katagiri how much he liked the room upstairs here at the Guest House, and that he hoped to stay in it “quite a while.”  He recalled Sri Aurobindo, the maharishi who led thousands of followers in India, mainly without leaving his room, and who had a woman called “the Mother” who just brought food to the door every day and carried instructions back outside.  Nancy showed no reaction.  Katagiri, on the other hand, began to laugh and laugh, delighting Bob.  Whether he understood the plan to mean that Bob would teach students indefinitely from the Guest House front room, I don’t know, but that’s what Bob was thinking.  He later said he remembered asking Katagiri, “Think I can get it?” and Katagiri answering, “I think so.”  The conversation became a green light for the course we pursued over the next two weeks.

            Meg came in briefly with a message, perhaps from Reb or Baker, that we should all decide on an ashes ceremony date for the next month.  Ted and Nancy both indicated an interest in attending.  We were not going to hurry back to England.  So the only practical consideration seemed to be Katagiri’s schedule, and that was going to bring him back to San Francisco in about a month anyway.  We set a date a few days after Zen Center’s annual Suzuki-roshi memorial ceremony.  Meg noted that although Chris’s ashes ceremony would be less “intense” than the funeral, Baker would still be burdened having to gear up for the two December memorials in rapid succession.  But she thought it would work out all right.

            Katagiri said good night, and Bob, Nancy, Ted and I agreed to get together early the next day to unpack Chris’s room and help Ted pack the car so he could leave for Seattle, as he would be due at work in a few days.  Nancy’s plane was the next morning.  The two of them said good night without fanfare, looking exhausted.  I helped Meg clear some dishes into the kitchen.  As I did, she suddenly turned on me with a big hug. 

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