Tassajara Stories


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last edit 9-25


Inviting someone else to speak at his centers was unusual for Suzuki. Once Herman Aihara, a leading spokesman for the Macrobiotic diet and philosophy, came to Tassajara. Loring and I wanted him to speak in the dining room to students. I went to Suzuki's cabin and asked. He shook his head and said, "In Japan we'd never do anything like that." He said that Zen priests jealously guard their students and temples and don't let other teachers speak there, especially someone from outside their sect. He paused and sighed. "But this is America and you all are very open and so maybe here this time it's okay." So Aihara spoke.

Macrobiotics was controversial. Tassajara's diet wasn't that far off Macrobiotics, a diet based on whole grains with brown rice king, cooked vegetables, miso, tofu. Very Japanese. Sugar was anathema. Eggplant and tomatoes were out. Too yin. The yin-yang balance was key and we tended to be too yin. When people got too yin the founder Ohsawa said they'd get sanpaku (three whites) which meant you could see the whites of their eyes below and above the iris. That also was a word Japanese used for all Westerners. Some people couldn't stand the pickiness and thought it was all Japanese ethnocentric nonsense. A reporter from the Berkeley Barb was such a detractor. He said Macrobiotics made people gaunt, picky, and rigid. He came to Tassajara, interviewed Suzuki, and told me he loved meeting him but that it was so frustrating to him that he couldn't get Suzuki to disavow Macrobiotics. He said he tried as hard as he could with leading questions and Suzuki would give vague answers such as there was some overlap. When the Barb's article on Tassajara came out, we were surprised to see a two page spread of the Heart Sutra chant card superimposed over a reclining nude.

Suzuki attended Aihara's talk and afterwards went up to him in the courtyard outside the dining room and greeted him warmly. Brit Pyland, who was standing nearby said that in parting, Suzuki patted Aihara on the back and said, "Don't worry so much." Brit added, "And the night air of Tassajara absorbed everything."


Suzuki asked another Tassajara visitor from outside our Soto Zen sect to speak in the zendo right after he'd met him. A Tibetan Buddhist teacher, a rimpoche named Chogyam Trungpa, came to Tassajara accompanied by his young English wife, Diana, Sam and Hazel Bercholz, and John Baker. They arrived late and were put up in our best stone rooms. I'd met Sam before several times at his little Buddhist bookstore in Berkeley, Shambhala.

Dianne and I served them a special late dinner in the dining room that the kitchen whipped up from leftovers. At the end of the meal Suzuki and Mel, his jisha, joined them. I was busy going back and forth with trays of dishes and beverages. Dianne did the actual serving. That night she told me what she'd seen - and felt.

At the beginning, she said, Suzuki and Trungpa smiled and introduced each other and they each said a little bit and slowly more words came and they seemed to be getting along. She said the room was pretty dark and I remember that. Normally if the room was used for a meal or meeting with lots of people, we'd have the generator on up at the shop and the room would be lit. No need that night. The kerosene lamps don't illuminate that much, but she experienced that light began to fill the room. She saw Suzuki and Trungpa looking at each other with sparkles in their eyes. I didn't notice any of this but I did pick up that they and everyone were having a most comfortable time. And Dianne was smiling broadly.

Trungpa was lame from an auto accident, walked with a cane and had corrective shoes that he wore into the zendo for his talk which was clear and well received. Alan, who was more eclectic in his spiritual experience and interests than anyone else, went to Stone One to see if he could ask Trungpa some questions about the dharma and Tibetan Buddhism. Alan had a bad hangover the next morning from that visit and told me that Trungpa would alternate between pouring him another drink and poking and hitting him with his cane in response to his questions.

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