Tassajara Stories


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Bob's shoes were too small for me. He insisted I couldn't go in sandals. He got on the phone. Jack Elias was coming by to bring me size ten and a half street shoes and give Bob's new young wife Abby and me a lift. Bob's socks would do. His jacket and tie were okay too. He was all flustered and busy preparing for the event, was off before us. Had to locate a prestigious car for Rimpoche to ride in.

Jack was another import from the ZC. He and I had been close, especially during the year of six months not speaking. It was uncanny how quickly he'd know what I wanted to convey. We'd have long conversations with him saying both parts. I hardly had to write anything. It was like he was reading my mind. He'd gone a little crazy earlier. Had been in a hundred day sesshin with Bob Walter and Alan Rabold at Fil Lewitt's Big River Farm which he wandered out of midway. He'd come out of that period of difficulty stronger and more intuitive.


There was a talk that Trungpa gave. Hippie fashions and hair were out. Lot of well-dressed people. Stylish dresses. Coats and ties. Trungpa arrived two hours late hand in hand with Allen Ginsberg and started off by announcing that he'd just had his first homosexual experience with Allen. His dharma heir, Osel Tendzin, wife, Lady Diana, and her mother, called the Queen Mother, were on a dais with him after the talk. Champaign was served and we toasted with "Hear hear! Hear hear!"

It seemed that Trungpa thought Americans were full of promise as students of tantra but didn't see much to admire in American culture. Thus I observed he tended to rely on elements from high English and Tibetan cultures to create a classy, comfortable environment for his community.

Bob came up to me and said he'd be busy with Trungpa afterwards. There'd be a dinner party and it would go on past midnight. "As usual," he added.


First time I went there, dropped by to say hello to Alan Marlowe. He hadn't left Zen Center on the best of terms. Admitted he'd stolen somewhere around seventeen grand from the Tassajara Bakery as cashier. Was unrepentant. Said he'd brought in a lot more than that in donations from acid and grass dealers. Jay the bakery manager had suspected Alan and tried to get him off the cash register, but Alan appealed to Baker who blocked that. It was pretty obvious something was up. He was driving a long white Cadillac convertible and had an expensive stereo system with twenty speakers in his apartment. I was so mad at him. Dan Welch and I talked about breaking in and destroying it all but left it at talk.

"We must throw a party for you," Alan said and started making calls. I retired to his john room.

There was a book on the back of the ceramic toilet tank. Just the word Fist on the cover. This book introduced me to something I did not know existed. There were two naked men, one on fours and the other behind him. It was a step by step photographic essay of what became known as fist fucking. By the end of the book, one man had his arm way into the other man's rear end. Shocking. Curious. I asked Alan what is that about? He went on and on with intimate descriptions, how it's the rage in the gay community. He went to fist fucking parties. I knew Alan had been involved in the bacchanalian gay bathhouse scene in San Francisco because he loved to talk about it. But this was new. Said he'd traveled around the country in his convertible with his boyfriend visiting gay bars selling MDMA. He liked women too and had been married several times. He said he liked to live with women but preferred sex with men because they weren't as inhibited. He talked about having sex with Trungpa's dharma heir. "Trungpa gets the women and he gets the men. I get both.

He threw the greatest party the next night. There were something like twenty people whom I'd known from the Zen Center. Everyone looked so much more conventional and confident than when I'd last seen them. They had good jobs - selling real estate, insurance, investing, teaching. Alan prepared an Everclear punch. An excellent, thoughtful host. And he danced with a woman he married not long after that.


The big event was the weekend celebration of the Vajra Regent's birthday. Osel Tendzin was the Vajra Regent and Trungpa was the Vajracharya. Vajra is diamond or thunderbolt and Vajracharya means holder of the vajra. The first night we went to Denver to a packed concert hall decorated in gold and red which seemed to be the group or the religion's or Tibet's colors. There was classical music, Chinese dancers from New York, and more. All top drawer pricy entertainment. At the end Trungpa and dignitaries of the group stood on the stage and led the audience in singing the Shambhala anthem with hands on their hearts. I was learning about Shambhala, the enlightened society. I noticed that Trungpa and Tendzin had broad purple ribbons running diagonally over their tuxedos. Made them look like European royalty. I leaned over to Jack and said that next I expect to see them in military uniforms with medals.

Bob was too busy with the weekend events to hang out with so I was staying with Jack and his wife Robin at their house. Was up late working on a song, something I did a lot. The next day we drove to Rocky Flats for an all day outdoor Vajra Regent birthday event near the famous nuclear weapons production facility later raided by the FBI and shut down due to heavy radioactive contamination in the area.

It had a feeling like a mini Renaissance Fair. There were large tents, games, free beer. Lots of people I knew. Everyone seemed busy though. Would just say hello and go socialize with others. Alan was preparing for a dramatic production to go on later. But Niels was there so he and Jack and I hung out. Niels entered a Tibetan Go tournament and won it. I asked him when did he learn that game? Said he'd never played it before. Quick mind. There was Tibetan kite fighting with the Overture of 1812 blasting out on giant speakers.

People started gathering on both sides of a dirt road that ran into the back staging area. We could hear drumming coming from the distance. People started clapping politely with hands horizontal and straight. The procession had arrived. Jerry Granelli who used to live across the street from Sokoji was drumming in the lead in dramatic marching band fashion. Behind him were beautiful what I'd call show horses prancing with finely dressed riders with top hats. And behind them was a horse drawn carriage with the Vajracharya and the Vajra Regent and they wore British military type uniforms with medals with ribbons on their chests. Long Tibetan horns blared to welcome them at the dais and they mounted their thrones. Osel's wife and Lady Diana who had followed in another carriage were up there too.

At one point I was standing at a food counter not far from the dais chewing away on a quasi Tibetan pizza when Trungpa stepped down and walked over to me, a cane in hand. That was nice. He said hello and asked how I was. I told him how much I was enjoying the visit and festivities and a talk he gave. He asked me if I'd consider attending the next seminar as staff. He said they need people with meditation experience. That seminar was going to be for three months at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'd been away from Liz for a month already and I didn't know how much of that scene I could take. I told him I didn't think I could make it and said I wasn't committed to anything with the Zen Center at the time but didn't think that Baker would appreciate it. He said, "I have no problem with Baker Roshi." He told me to think about it. I said I would and he returned to his seat.

After that, people were much more friendly with me. Niels joked about it. "Oh David, now you are a very important person. Will you still talk to me?"

I went off and worked on that song. Jack talked to the people putting on the evening show and got me included with a birthday song for the Vajra Regent. I went over and over it because it's long and I didn't want to read it and was afraid of blanking out. I didn't and got the whole audience singing along with the chorus which went,


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you.


I came to these mountains a few days ago

To this land of red and gold

Soon's your birthday I was told

I knew this much but not how old

So lacking in this knowledge yet I drew

A temporal gift, this song for you.


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you.


I come from a city out there by the sea

San Francisco on my knee

Studied with Shunryu Suzuki

A foreign man not quite five feet

You've got his picture on your altar too

That's one thing I know about you


Regent I've seen your official pictures

And I know you've got a fine mustache

Regent I know some about you

From folks talking behind your back

Now they say wonderful things

But that's not why I sing

I sing out of respect

And don't want to neglect

Something outside of sect

And can think of none better to do

Than sing happy birthday to you


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you


Met your father sage about ten years back

Meeting him was like stepping on a tack

Now he's named you the regent

That's a matter of fact

To me you were regent when I heard that

I don't know what regents are or what they do

But that's all I need to know

So it's easy to wish you


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you.


Regent what they say about us

Is true and then some more

Regent that's tough noogies baby

But my point is not to even the score

So whoever you are

I came her in my car

To wish you games under par

From demons afar

If I wore a hat I'd tip it

If I had a date I'd skip it

To sing happy birthday to you


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you.


Regent now let's liven the tempo

And kick our heels and go whoopty do

Regent now I'll tear off my body

So I can celebrate this day with you

For I cannot express with a no or a yes

Or a birth or a death

On the day of first breath

Without knowledge but passion

Up the kazoo

That sings happy birthday to you


Happy birthday Regent. Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday happy birthday happy birthday happy birthday happy birthday happy birthday happy birthday to you.

Page for Happy Birthday Regent on Defuser Music dot Com

The next day people were coming up to me with various reactions to the song that ranged from, "That was so rude! So offensive!" to "That was just what this place needed. It was great." I heard that kids in their school were singing the chorus. A few years later I met with Tendzin and he sang that chorus line back to me not missing a note.

"It's not like the Zen Center here," Bob said. "There's a sort of decorum and reverence around the teachers people don't deviate from. I mean, we have the true teaching here," he said with a wink. "There's the lowly Hinayana from the original days," he went on as if playing the role of a pompous sectarian, "then the middling Mahayana broadened that, Zen took the Mahayana up a notch, and then," now he assumed an exaggerated smugness. "The Vajrayana included these early stages in its celestial vastness." Then with a lighter touch, "And the Rimp sits on the highest cloud of the Vajrayana dropping cosmic flowers down on us." He smiled. I said he had an interesting mix of satire and messiah complex.


Oh yes - that meeting with Tendzin. It embarrasses me to think about it. That was after Baker had resigned from his abbotship. I got all gushy talking about that and talked to him as if there were something he could do about it. Or even want to. Baker was not highly regarded in Trungpa circles. Early on Trungpa was pissed when he heard that Baker had called him a dharma snatcher. Neither of them seemed to be interested in cooperating with the other in the educational and mental health ventures that Trungpa and Suzuki had discussed. And then I went on and on about how Baker should resume being abbot with David Padwa driving him from Boulder to Gary Snyder's Kitkitdizzi in Nevada City. He has always been a fan and friend of Baker's. He gave me a book published by Da Free John's community's Dawn Horse Press about the sixth Dali Lama who praised the joys of sex with young women as he traveled around doing his Dali Lama thing. Padwa suggested Baker would do well to emulate that master's positive undefensive attitude.

Urged him to be generous with Baker who was interested in Padwa's Santa Fe home. I needn't have worried. Not long after that he gave Baker his home in Santa Fe. I had driven us on back roads across the West for twenty hours straight - through Bryce and Zion national parks - then fallen asleep going ninety in a Nevada Desert. The car smashed into a reflector pole which snapped, woke me up to keep from rolling as it swerved from side to side. Padwa woke up and I suggested he drive for a while. He mentioned what I'd had to say about Baker and ZC to Gary. A week later I was working with Paul Discoe on expanding the entrance off Highway One to Green Gulch Farm. Paul said that Gary had mentioned to Yvonne who mentioned to him that I was going to be leading a movement in Zen Center to get Baker back as abbot. I told Paul I'd already forgotten about that and don't think that's possible in the foreseeable future and we went back to work. I hadn't really forgotten, just didn't want to get pointlessly tripped out on it.

I wasn't heavily involved with the ZC when all that came down. I did visit Baker at Green Gulch and give him sage advice which was to keep his mouth shut, don't defend yourself. I thought it could be a period of adjustment. He asked why I wasn't on the board. I said because I caused too much trouble. I only went to one group meeting - at the City Center. People were talking about what conditions they'd want for him to remain as abbot and what sort of abbot they wanted. I made the observation that we don't have the checks and balances, the culture surrounding such an exalted position, that it brings too much projection and assumptions and responsibility on one person. Anyone that high will most likely have a fall. What would be best, I suggested, is to find someone whose been humbled by already being disgraced. Wait - we have that person right here with Richard Baker.


Back to Boulder before all that transpired. I went to the Boulderado Hotel to hang out. Loring was the night manager. A group of Trungpa students sat around a table outside in the summer air drinking, smoking, chatting. Bought me a drink. Irish whiskey. Double. Shop talk about the weekend, the song, about Zen Center and Suzuki and Trungpa, what a great relationship those two enlightened masters had.

A fellow named Justin asked me how I found the scene here in Boulder. I said it was impressive how many of my Zen friends had come and how well they were doing. They seemed empowered in Boulder. Some who'd not been doing so well around Zen Center had come to Boulder and gotten more self esteem, gone from barely employable to buying a home. "We have businesses with subsistence pay and you tell people to go make a bundle. They can donate more this way than they made that way for the ZC and they're not dependent on an institution. You're more upwardly mobile here," I said. "And - more expressive."

I was asked to elaborate on that. I said that people at Zen Center seemed pretty flat in comparison. Some people say they don't like going to the City Center because there's a depressed feeling there. I never noticed it but I'm not sensitive to the feelings of others sometimes. I enjoyed it there. Like a little palace with lots of rooms and places to go and things to do. Zen teachers might get a little forceful when they talked but Trungpa will cry. I've seen him cry several times in talks. Nobody wept at Suzuki's funeral till he did. He gave a talk at Zen Center after Suzuki died where he sobbed for five minutes. A student who's in Alcoholics Anonymous said that's no surprise, that alcohol makes people emotional and reduces inhibitions.

"What else have you noticed?" asked Justin.

"The four marks of status here."

"What are they?"

"Number one is closeness to the top - to Rimpoche or Osel Tendzin. Number two is how much money you make. Number three is how much sex you have and with whom. Number four is how much you drink and how cool you are when you drink."

"And what about enlightenment?" he asked. "There's enlightenment here and there's not enlightenment there. Everyone knows that Suzuki was enlightened and Baker Roshi isn't."

I said there was a time when it looked like both Trungpa and Suzuki would have Bakers as heirs. Sam Bercholz told about being with Trungpa back when John Baker was Trungpa's main disciple and how Trungpa wrote their names next to each other and went "John Baker Dick Baker John Baker Dick Baker" back and forth for a while. Trungpa had said that Baker had what it takes to become a good abbot and that only time would tell.

"So why don't you leave the Zen Center and come here to study with Rimpoche who's a great enlightened teacher instead of waiting for Baker to miraculously ripen? Anyway Rimpoche is Suzuki Roshi's true dharma heir.

I told a story from a Dostoevsky novel. There was a wonderful old monk in a monastery whom all the other monks revered as a true saint. There was a tradition there of not burying a saint right away but keeping their body on display for a long time because the body of a saint does not decay. Yogananda's didn't at Forest Lawn for a month. I've read of saints who were dug up and who were not decomposed, just desiccated. So this great monk died and they put his body in state for monks and lay people to come pay their respects. Problem was a foul odor arose from his body after a few days. The monks were distressed, quickly took his body, buried it, and spoke no more of this great disappointment.

"You see Justin," the problem isn't that Baker Roshi isn't enlightened. The problem is that Suzuki Roshi wasn't enlightened. Baker Roshi is the smell of Suzuki's body rotting.

An exasperated sigh from Justin. "Oh god Chadwick. You sound just like Halpern."


I told Bob and young Abby at dinner one night that it seemed to me that Bob was being a bit overbearing with her. I handed her literature I'd gathered downtown from a group with "Feminist Socialist" in the name. "Seek help with these people I suggest."

"I love Bob the way he is," she said. "He's enlightened."

Bob folded his arms and smiled.

Years later Bob reminded me what I did on their last night in that house. The building was going to be demolished. They'd already moved almost everything out. He said that I insisted we clean the place before it was destroyed and stayed up all night doing so.


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