|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
On Shoes Outside the Door: Desire,
Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center
Some comments on Shoes by DC written after transcribing the interview with Mark Gripman.
The interview ended with me saying to Mark: Richard got hit on that pretty
hard in this new "Shoes Outside the Door" book.
Mark: Oh, I didn't know about that. Who wrote that?
DC: A novelist named Michael Downing.
[I had said a few things to Mark at that point but I turned the tape recorder off. When I was transcribing the interview and got to that point, I got to thinking and went on writing as if I were talking to Mark and here's what I wrote]:
DC: Oh God, horrors. What do I say. He went to Green Gulch once for a conference with Wendell Berry and found it interesting and he'd written a book about the Shakers and he decided he'd look into writing a book about the Zen Center. He got hold of me early on because I had just come out with Crooked Cucumber - actually, he'd already done a lot of work at that point - and he sort of asked me if I planned to write about ZC history after Suzuki Roshi died and I said absolutely not, that I'd ended the book with Suzuki's dying on purpose - that that was what I wanted to take on, not what happened after that. I mean there's stuff in the web site here about what happened after that but I don't get into it as a study. There are just people's comments like yours which reflect on it. I actually take stuff out of people's interviews which I think might embarrass living people. I have a feeling, a policy, an idea that if I just concentrate on the time when Suzuki was alive that that's enough for me. What happened later is too near me and complicated and difficult. Well, that's true for the oral history work anyway. I am writing about post Suzuki experiences of mine now - like I did in Thank You and OK!.
Anyway, Downing wrote the book and he interviewed me and I told him whatever came to mind - I told him whatever I thought without any reservations (which is what he said a lot of people did) and when I got the galley from him, the first draft or the next to last draft, I went over it very carefully for a couple of days and called him and spent four hours on the phone with him going over it. I didn't challenge his approach, just corrected lots of little errors. Like he called Anna Dick's girlfriend. She wasn't that. They only had that one weekend together as I understand it. They fell in love and went crazy like people do.
I talked to other people, especially Bill Redican, the archivist at ZC, who took Downing to task for a lot of his assumptions on Zen and all which I think gave Downing much better feedback on the sort of tabloid approach to it all and all his new student type silly assumptions about Zen and transmission and enlightenment. Lots of people gave him feedback and, I haven't read the final book because I'd had enough of it, but I gather that he listened to them and made a lot of changes. I had very mixed feelings about the book but I think he did the best he could do considering he had no prior knowledge of the subject.
I introduced him when he came to Sebastopol to read. Grahame Petchey joined me in that. And Lew Richmond joined us - that's three Suzuki disciples there at his reading here. We were pretty supportive for that event and we had dinner with him afterwards. We all like him. He's a good guy. But I still had mixed feelings about it. I mean - I think this all has to come out which it actually has in the past - even in the newspapers and in magazines - but again in this book - and it's the results of our karma and all and we shouldn't hide it, but the book doesn't really to me realize or acknowledge the enormous contribution that Dick made - more than that. I mean there would be no Zen Center today without him as far as I'm concerned. There's not near enough about all the good in Dick and all the good he's done. I felt it was a little bit like writing about Thomas Jefferson and mainly emphasizing his relationship with Sally Hemmings and the slaves. I mean we are in the realm of imperfection and nothing comes about here but by the efforts of imperfect people. Suzuki was very imperfect. Read the interviews with people in Japan. Some of them can't believe he did in America what he did or they can't get beyond the Suzuki they remember.
I told Downing that every time he mentioned us Zennies as being poor and slaving away and getting little money for it and being exhausted and like exploited workers, that he should hear me saying that that's not how I experienced it. It was great. It was a great opportunity and lots of fun and I learned a lot and can do what I do now somewhat because of what I learned while being part of that great experiment of creating the first really functioning Buddhist community in the West. We learned a lot and Dick learned a lot and he's going strong now and making more Buddhist community and practice and there's a sort of lack of appreciation in his book I think for all the good there was. But not in Downing. He knows that. But in his writing he had a lot of cheap shots, a lot of dismissive statements - at least in the galley. Anyway, I see Dick as family and I guess I've been influenced by being around Japanese teachers and culture in that I don't try to praise what is near me. I am critical of myself and my teachers in a way and invite this criticism because I think in the long run that this makes us strong. Frankly, I don't think that the great teachers of the past were as perfect as it seems in the stories that have been handed down. Those writings were handed down by the in group and by monks interested only in the dharma and understanding reality. We're a lot more muckrakey here. So the people that establish Buddhism here are going to be torn apart for their foibles. That's America and I think that it is both shallow and in the long run not bad. Maybe in some way it'll help us get over our Puritanism. There's a lot of Puritanism in the book. And a lot of sour grapes.
Like, some of the people who are criticizing Baker in it are really doing what they're accusing him of and if we told all we know about them they wouldn't look so good either. It's our seamy underside but it doesn't negate the good that we do just because it casts a light on the bad. Bad is more interesting than good in the reading but the good is more powerful in the long run. This is the way that Buddhism is passed on - that anything good is passed on - by flawed people doing their best.
Michael Katz, my agent and good friend, said it best when he told me that anyone who sees the history of Zen Center as anything other than a group of imperfect people doing their best, is just exposing their own mind - they're talking about themselves (or something to that effect). Yvonne Rand used to have a saying called the 99 percent rule which is that "Ninety-nine percent of what you say about others is about yourself." I think that that pretty well summarizes the negative things said about Dick and about Reb. They'll both be remembered in the long run for their undying energy and passion in creating a great Buddhist sangha - but they're going to take a lot of hits for their shortcomings along the way. And this is not really bad - it's also good. This is how we climb on their shoulders as is said in the old texts. This is the feedback that they get while they're devoting their lives to carrying this ball onward. I don't know. It's an endless subject. I'm happy to be involved in it. I love it. I love the mud as much as the water.
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