Tassajara Stories


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last edit 9-23


Early summer 1969

"Who's in charge here?"

I was standing at the entrance to the office and a man asked me that question in a dead serious tone.

"I can help you," I said.

"One of your students just raped my girlfriend."

"One second," I said to him, turned around and called out strongly, "Peter!" He had a room down below the office where he was concentrating on the next Wind Bell.

"Don't bother me, David." he called back.

"Peter! Come here right now!"

The next thing I knew Peter and Silas were talking with the man and woman he was with. She was crying. No one else knew what was happening but there was an intense vibe the way Peter and Silas were walking swiftly and talking to each other. I saw them go into the zendo and come out with Barry. Soon cars were driving out.

Not long after that I was in the city, staying at Yvonne's. I told her that it seemed that a guest had been raped by a student. "Was it Barry?" she asked. I thought of her as in on everything. I assumed she knew that something serious had happened with Barry and that he'd had to leave Tassajara. But then she said, "It wasn't the first time."

I heard a little bit later about what had happened. Suzuki had met with the couple. Silas and Peter were there. That's all Peter told me. He didn't say not to tell anyone but I don't remember doing so or it being general knowledge.

There was a group picnic at Horse Pasture and on the way back some of us took the trail to the creek rather than to the road. I was walking with Harriet. She pointed to an out of the way spot where the creek bent away from the trail and said, "That's where it happened."

She told me that she and Barry had gone for a walk down creek. They came back in the creek and she said that over there he'd grabbed and pulled her down and forced himself on her. At the time I was shocked and asked her why I hadn't heard. She said she hadn't resisted or complained about it. But she'd told a few people like Yvonne. I asked what she thought about it. She said, "It was nothing to me, like being bitten by a flea."


Five years later when I was head monk. Richard Baker was abbot. Barry was back as a student. He was the anja, the abbot's second assistant and room cleaner. Suzuki had died in December of 1971.

Dianne and I were married and had a baby boy with us named Kelly. He was three months old when we went there in January. He was subject to heart palpitations, had Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome of Paroxysmal Tachycardia. He wasn't getting tachycardia anymore and the doctors said it's not life threatening now that he's this big, Dianne stopped giving him the medicine that was prevent attacks and he still didn't get them. She didn't want him to have to take it till he's twelve as had been prescribed. In March Dianne had to go to the city to take him to a heart specialist to make sure all was okay.

The day she was to leave, she came to me and said that Barry wanted to go with her. Students were not to leave during the practice period but he had some good reason. She said he gave her the creeps the way he stared at her when she was breast feeding and didn't feel comfortable with the thought of him going with them. I told her about his history and that he definitely would not go with her. Baker asked to see me. He said that he'd heard that I didn't want Barry to go to the city and return with Dianne and Kelly. "That's right," I said. He asked why. I told him. He said he'd heard about that while he was in Japan but that that was years ago and that Barry had had therapy and was okay now. I said no way. He said I was being uncompassionate. I said I didn't care and suggested he get his wife and daughter to come get Barry. He thought that was a low blow but didn't ask me anymore.

I remember how sad Barry was and how at group meetings he would speak up about his desire for us to have more ways to be together in a loving, sharing way, to be able to express ourselves and - I don't know - sort of wanting more touchy feely stuff it seemed to me. We weren't big on that sort of thing back then. He seemed to be asking for help. I assumed he wasn't dangerous anymore but I didn't really know. It's so obvious looking back on this how different the communal and wider social mind sets were. By the mid eighties people's attitudes had changed and no one really realized it. I'd tell people about things that had happened in the sixties and seventies and there would be severe condemnation of our judgment and morality. How could we have let something like that go?


Fall '74 through the summer '75,  I was the director. A lot of construction was going on. There were a half dozen carpenters living in the lower barn, one with his wife. I spent time talking to everyone and I spent time talking to her. One day she revealed to me that she was the woman who'd been raped six years earlier.

The story she told me was not like Harriet's where Harriet just went along with it. This woman had gone on a walk with Barry all the way down creek below the Narrows. We urged people not to go on walks alone. There were five serious searches for lost guests just that summer. A student going on a walk with a guest was not unusual. Her boyfriend may have wanted to stay at the baths or read. Barry trapped her down there and she was terrified. She told me he talked crazy and pushed sand and sticks into her vagina. She feared for her life. She started telling him that she liked him and suggested they run off together. He fell for it. Soon they were walking back. When they came upon some other people she ran to them crying. They walked with her back to Tassajara where she found her boyfriend and he found me and I called Peter. Barry went to the zendo to sit zazen.

I told her he'd been there months before and now was back in the city. She was glad to hear he wasn't there anymore. She said that after seeing Suzuki and some others she had gone to the police in Salinas and said that it had been a humiliating experience. They'd taken photos and not treated her well. She let it go but she really wasn't pleased with how it had been dealt with.


In 2001 I received a book in the mail. People send me books now and then so I wasn't surprised - till I opened the package and looked at the title. Deep Fool by Barry Eisenberg. I'm a poor reader and don't get to most books but tend to read those by people I know or who were involved in the Zen Center. Surprise turned to shock when I read the first chapter. It was a description of the rape and one fairly close to what his victim had told me - not as awful and life threatening but close. He mentioned the other rape too in a later chapter. A great deal of the book was about him trying to come to terms with what he'd done, how to make restitution to his victim and society, and how tortured he was.

Then I got a letter from him asking me if I knew whom his victim was and if I could help him ask her for forgiveness. He wanted to give her a copy of the book with a letter from him. I did know how to get hold of her. Her by then ex husband was a friend of mine. I didn't want to be involved between them but I thought I had to pass on the information which I did and then the book and letter. The book didn't get delivered till the next year.

She got hold of me. We communicated by email and by phone. She was much more upset than she'd been in 1975. She was outraged that he'd written about it and said it was much worse than he portrayed it.

She felt like all Suzuki and the Zen Center officers cared about was the Zen Center and were fearful of bad publicity. She said that at Tassajara they convinced her to go to the city to talk to Suzuki and that he had told her he could not understand the concept of rape or assault and asked her to speak with his lawyers. There was only one lawyer back then who helped the Zen Center in the city that I can remember - Dick Wertheimer. So maybe he had someone with him. She said that they told her that it would be hell for her if she prosecuted. Then she went to a hospital for stitches. Due to what she called Suzuki's non response she went to Salinas to report it to the appropriate authorities and felt like she was raped again.

I made no effort to defend Suzuki with her and have no trouble believing her account. He was lost in how to deal with a lot of issues American, especially those involving sex and violence though I can't think of any other case that involved violence to this extent. I'm sure he had no idea what to do or how to deal with it. In Japan, especially the older Japan he came from, I suspect it would just be brushed under the tatami. She didn't see it as a simple case of cultural differences, rather a case of him caring about his institution and not about her.

She said it was extremely painful to be again confronted by an event so imbedded in her life that she cannot even walk down a street, check into a hotel, enter a car garage or even go into her own house that she does not fear for her life She wrote that rape and attempted murder never seem to go away.

She mentioned that she thought at times going to the press. I told her go ahead, that the Zen Center would not want to suppress this and she should feel free to talk to anyone about it and that I'd mentioned it on my Zen website. I told her don't worry about the Zen Center, worry about yourself. Linda Cutts was president of the SFZC then and was ready to meet with her. Arranged for a meeting with a therapist. Barry had donated to the Bay Area Women Against Rape and the head of that organization agreed to help with a restorative justice process in which the emotional health of both parties is considered. Barry was afraid to speak to his victim directly and needed help. The woman from the organization said to tell him to multiply that fear by fifty thousand to get a sense of how his victim felt. None of these attempts worked out.

Barry continued trying to atone for what he'd done. He'd go to rape counseling and prevention groups and get kicked out. Some were horrified at the book he'd written. He was desperate to be useful and for redemption which in his case many were not open to. After some years he made inroads. I'd get emails from him about what he was doing such as participating in a march against violence against women. In 2015 he emailed that he was going to send his victim from forty-one years prior $10,000, a sizeable chunk of what he had, and that he was moving out of state into a spiritual commune.

The last thing that she communicated to me was that she thought that forgiveness was probably her only hope but that she wasn't there yet.


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