Tassajara Stories


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last edit 9-26


Suzuki hardly drank alcohol, would fall asleep if he did. Didn't like smoking at all but tolerated it. Most people around the ZC didn't drink much even if they went out. In the city that would tend to be a Saturday night and at Tassajara it had to be a town trip and then my observation was that everyone wanted ice cream. I can remember people going to an ice cream shop and me to a bar across the street to get a double shot of Irish whiskey. Some people at Tassajara would at first crave soft drinks which we didn't keep on hand. People would come in saying they didn't know how they'd do without that or meat, but I never saw either matter for long. Ice cream was what would still be on their minds after all else was forgotten.

We had no freezer. Silas had gotten rid of a bulky rectangular one right off when we got the place. Used too much electricity and frozen stuff wasn't on the monastic or guest menu.

There was another freezer that was stored in the lower barn, a square one. A few of us were cleaning that building out of stuff to go to Goodwill or the dump in town. We'd load the pickup there and drive it up to in front of the zendo to unload in the larger six ton Dodge and then go back. The last item was that freezer. There were four of us and it was heavy. We figured five hundred pounds. We got it to as far as behind the pickup and were taking a break to catch our breath when the bell to end work and go to noon service rang.

I said, "OK, let's get this up there so I can get going over the mountain. No one would do it. They said we could finish this at the beginning of afternoon work and we need two more guys. I said no we can do it but they said no, and anyway, I could leave then with enough time to do what I needed to. So they all walked off and left me standing there alone. The bottom of the pickup bed was about three feet up. I scratched my head. And then Niels walked up.

"David Chadowick! what are you doing?"

"I wanted to get this freezer up there on the truck but everyone stopped when the bell rang."

"Well why the fuck don't you load it?"

"Gee Niels sure. And then I'll move the mountain."

"You could do it by yourself. You don't need anybody. You just need leverage. I'd do it for you and let you watch but I'd rather follow the schedule." And he walked off.

I found I could fairly easily tilt the freezer. Did so and pushed a brick under the raised side. Rocked it another direction and slipped a board under it. Just kept doing that sort of thing - got a heavy cabinet under it then another - and it got higher and higher till it was even with the bed and pushed it in right side left side right side left side. Took time. Drove it up to the Dodge which had a flat bed about a foot higher and applied the same technique. Parked the pickup by the shop. Was standing on the bed of the truck next to the freezer when everyone walked out of lunch. Waved to my fellow students who said we needed more people. They just nodded and walked on showing no interest. Niels walked up and I proudly told him what had happened. He asked me how long it took and then berated me for being so slow. Another moment of glory fizzled.


"You're drunk!" Suzuki had scolded Bob drinking beer at the Hagiwara home where Suzuki went to do a family service. He didn't scold me at their home when I'd driven him. I think it was because I just had one (on tap in a mug) and Bob probably overdid it with more of a flare for drama.

As I'd learned in my experience with Japanese priests, alcohol is part of the Buddhist scene in Japan. There are priests who don't drink and austere lineages, but mainly Japanese priests are known for their drinking. Most people in the Zen Center didn't know about that and only on a rare occasion would see Suzuki or Katagiri drink. Suzuki was used to even revered Zen teachers drinking and at times to excess. He didn't like it but he didn't judge either. And he pretty much disregarded Chogyam Trungpa's seemingly constant alcohol consumption.

Trungpa had given a talk at the City Center that we'd heard reports of at Tassajara. He'd arrived early and when Suzuki greeted him in the hall he'd said, "Hi Roshi, I'm drunk" and then "You can go now." And he'd smoked and drunk while he gave his talk. Due to the quality of what he had to say, those who'd heard him couldn't easily dismiss him because of his habits.

At that talk, an old Zen student named Henry Schaeffer escorted Trungpa who was not only tipsy but somewhat crippled from smashing a car into a tree in Scotland where his first Western center was. The dining room was packed for his talk in which he continued to drink a clear liquid from a clear glass. Suzuki sat up front with the students.

After the talk there were questions. Leland Smithson asked if you put a mirror in a box will it reflect darkness. Trungpa said, "You put the mirror in the box. You figure it out."

Someone asked why he drank and smoked and Trungpa tossed it aside. David Schneider was a guest student and asked shouldn't he protect himself by not having bad habits like we protect our eyes with sunglasses. Trungpa said, "There's nothing to protect."

Afterwards, walking to his room, Suzuki, shaking his head, said to Bob Halpern, "He's such a good teacher. If only people could see how he's teaching them."


Bob asked me to come with him to a warehouse where he said Rimpoche was giving a talk. That's the respectful title people called Trungpa as our teacher was called Roshi. Over fifty people sat and waited, mainly young, lot of long hairs. Trungpa was quite late which I would learn was the norm for him except at the Zen Center where that wouldn't have worked well. He spent a long while just looking around and smiling, occasionally taking a sip from a glass. He spoke with a soft yet penetrating voice. He talked about how the practice was to be awake, to be fully with the moment, not to take any trip away from simply being present. "Please don't go on any trips," he said and then repeated, "Please don't go on any trips." There was an imploring quality to his voice. He repeated that many times with such earnestness it seemed he was about to cry.

Suzuki had used the word trip in the same way and Bob and I noted that nodding as if it had great import. Trungpa had also said, "Just do it" and "First thought best thought"

Allen Ginsberg came in. Trungpa commented on how we could see him now that he was clean shaven. Turned out Trungpa had been with Ginsberg before the talk and had chided him about his beard so Ginsberg got rid of it. He carried a harmonium. Trungpa bid him to play us something. Accompanying himself, he sang a poem with a tag line about the hills, the hills. When he was through, the room was silent. Everyone was looking at Trungpa. He gave Allen the finger, and said, "Fuck you." Ginsberg continued to be a student of Trungpa.

Bob soon became close to Trungpa whom he stuck to as he had Suzuki. Went with Bob to another Trungpa talk. Afterwards we gathered at an apartment where he was staying and sat up with him drinking and smoking and talking.

I told Trungpa I'd loved his book, Born in Tibet. Bob said he'd read it in '66 when it came out and carried it in his Satori Shop. Bob said that Frank with the big Adam's apple from Scottland, who'd studied with Trungpa there, had given the book to Suzuki the year before he and Trungpa met and that he, Bob, had payed one of his uninvited visits to Suzuki one day and that Suzuki had the book in his hand.

Trungpa said that after he left Tibet he never heard of his teacher again and he felt so sad and alone and then when he met Roshi he felt that he had a friendTrungpa said he liked being around us because we reminded him of Suzuki. I'm sure he didn't mean the vibes. He also said that our problem was we were too serious.

I went to pee and Trungpa joined me. We peed together into the same toilet. Not many men in my culture would feel comfortable doing that and I hadn't done that since when I was a little kid with my father. I can even remember I'd look at the mole on my father's penis as we peed. I don't recall anything about Trungpa's penis but I do recall going on about how lucky we were to meet great dharma teachers and that where I'd come from memorizing the capitols of the states was what we were taught. He said, "Memorizing the capitols of the states is the dharma."

And his grasp of English. This man born and raised in Tibet and only in America for a few years, imitated my Texas accent and it wasn't strong at all.

Trungpa had said in his talk, "There's no hope you know." I brought that up and said that Bob and I had a comment on that and Bob immediately joined me in singing "There's No Hope for Us All." I'd say it was well received in that Trungpa did not shoot us the bird or say fuck you.

Trungpa was with others and Bob excused himself, saying he had to find someone to retire to Rimpoche's room with him for the night. I knew he'd slept with one woman who was there and asked what about her. Bob said, "Well, you know it's hard to beat a new one." I agreed. There is always a bit of a thrill getting intimate with someone for the first time. And have I mentioned that those were rather promiscuous times.

Before long a woman I knew from the ZC, Candice, came up to me and asked if I could tell Sid she was spending the night with Rimpoche.

I said gulp sure. Sid was her husband. They lived at the City Center where I was headed off to. I got back pretty late and taped on his door. He opened it bleary-eyed and I told him that Candice wasn't feeling well and would be staying at the apartment where Trungpa was staying. The next day Candice came up to me and was angry asking why I'd lied to Sid. "I told you to tell him I was staying with Rimpoche and you told him I was sick and he was really worried about me."

I told her I was sorry but that I just couldn't bring myself to tell him she was going to sleep with another man.

"He's not just any other man," she said. "He's our teacher."


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