Tassajara Stories


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last edit 9-20


There were always some young, handsome, clean shaved-headed guys who liked to work shirtless and sweating in the hot summer sun. There were those who thought it inappropriate attire for samu, the Zen monastic word for work. Samu was another form of zazen. There was already an obvious shirt requirement for the zendo (No Shirt, No Service) which included not to enter with shoes, shorts or jewelry. The issue was discussed here and there and brought up in one of our occasional open meetings in the dining room. It was another collision of subcultures as when student mixed bathing had been abruptly though gently put to rest by Suzuki early on. Japanese monks wore samue, special work outfits. American hippies were free to wear or not wear whatever they wanted in any situation. Mainstream American males didn't tend to be shirtless in public except when swimming or slumming.

The group meetings gave students the impression their opinions mattered though decisions were made entirely by the officers, board and Richard Baker, and abbot in ascending order - notice I put the board and Richard on the same level. On whether there should be a shirt rule, people spoke. We're not Japanese, we're Americans. Yes, but we are not a commune but a monastery, have rules and form and guests - a certain level of decorum is called for. Do we want to continue the uptight American puritanical shaming of the body? It's not a matter of shame but of modesty, form, and thoughtfulness.

A young woman named Dianne expressed an opinion that surely did more than anything to expedite the decision. "If men can go shirtless then why not women?"

The next day Dianne went to work meeting in denim overalls with no shirt underneath so that her ample breasts were visible from the sides. She was asked by the director to please wear something under the overalls. She said no, that next she'd go shirtless like some of the men. The rule came down right away.


Director Peter had told me there was someone who might be arriving anytime and asked if I could see she got lunch and settled in. I was there when she stepped out of the car that had brought her, short, long hair, backpack, curious but tired. I like everyone but right away I had a special liking for her. Gave her a choice of food or hot bath first. She said she'd just hitchhiked from LA and was famished but would love a bath first. She was surprised there was a women's side and asked why. Soon it was Tassajara bread, rich vegetable soup, and salad from our garden. She'd already fallen in love with the place.

She wasn't talking much then. But I gathered a little from her that day and through the years. Dianne Goldschlag had demonstrated and been arrested at the Pentagon and was one of the hold-out fasters who'd been force fed. She'd lived and worked at the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack NY and was a friend of Catholic peace activist Jim Forest who ran it. She had spent time with Vietnamese monk Thich Nat Hahn who was staying in Forest's apartment in Manhattan. She said he was hiding out. She'd been in Los Angeles working at a college in the art department and was having a very difficult time emotionally, was extremely confused about how to interact with society and how to communicate, having a mental breakdown as she called it. She phoned Forest who told her to go where Thich Nat Hahn and he had visited, to call his friend Peter and tell him that you're a friend of ours and that you need a place to stay for a while and that you'll work and that you have a sleeping bag. I'd had the honor of meeting and serving Forest and Nat Hahn the previous summer.  Tassajara's most generous doctor Bill Wenner in Monterey had a row of copies to give away of Nat Hahn's Lotus in a Sea of Fire about the seemingly endless and brutal war in Vietnam.

Dianne had slept by a fruit stand the night before in Carmel Valley, been awakened by police with flashlights, hitched to Jamesburg, walked a good deal of the road before getting a ride. On the phone Peter had asked her if she'd ever sat zazen. She said she didn't know what that was, was having trouble talking and answering questions, just wanted a quiet place where she could work. That wouldn't have succeeded with most people but I guess the Forest connection, Peter's soft heart, and Dianne's sweet voice did it. Said she got her first inkling of Zen on her way west when she heard a talk by the humorous and lighthearted Paul Reps of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones fame in Colorado. After lunch she and I went on a walk downstream past the narrows where few venture. Took very nice nap together on a large flat rock.

The schedule of early and late zazen, services, and hours of work was too much for some people, but she slid right into it. It was agreed she'd stay a week. Then to Berkeley to get settled. Got a letter from her with fanciful creatures drawn in the margins. She said the silence at Tassajara where she didn't have to use many words had healed her greatly. I had a few days off from the guest dining room coming so I went to see her. Took her to the Berkeley Zen Center for early morning zazen. We stayed for breakfast. Introduced her to Mel Weitsman who was in charge. She met Richard and Cam Burack. After that they gave her rides to zazen and with Mel to San Francisco for Suzuki's lectures. She loved the feeling she got watching and listening to Suzuki and after a few lectures got to where she could understand what he was saying and liked that too. Nine months later - May,1969, I was most pleased she was back at Tassajara as a student and part time trouble-maker.


Dianne was one of the people who worked quite a bit with Suzuki on his garden. All the others I can think of who did that or wall work with him were males. The stones in the garden fit together differently from those in the walls. Dianne said he'd talk to the stones. She couldn't believe some that little man moved by himself, stones she was sure he wouldn't be able to.

One day while on break after guest lunch, I walked by Suzuki and Dianne working in his garden. He called me over and asked if I could bring a few wheelbarrow loads of dirt. Fine with me. I didn't have a knack with stones or plants but loved shoveling and pushing the wheelbarrow. And I could distribute the dirt skillfully. Dianne had a rhythm and feeling thing with him in work that I admired. I'd seen that with others - among them Phillip Wilson, Ed Brown, Mel, Niels, Alan Marlowe, and Paul Discoe who was usually too busy building. Dianne followed Suzuki's lead, saw it was clear to him where the stones should face and how they and the surrounding plants should be in his garden. They were all together there having a good wordless time.


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