Jerry Halpern

A Reading of Jerry Halpern’s About Gassho and Bowing 🔊

Jerry in 1970 at Tassajara from the outtakes of Zen in America segment of the film, Sunseed

About Gassho and Bowing - referring to Shunryu Suzuki's Beginner's Mind lecture.

A couple of brief memories of Shunryu Suzuki

Jerry in Haiku Zendo Chronicles remembering Suzuki, Kobun, Yoshimura

Jerry remembers Sotan Tatsugami and the Fukanzazengi.

Jerry remembers The Lost Bowl (below)

Los Altos Hills Haiku Zendo Ho To newsletters scanned by Jerry

In addition to stories, poems, and events which give a feeling of the Haiku Zendo Sangha when Kobun was there, these issues of HoTo include a record of Haiku Zendo's and Kobun's effort to acquire the Pentler Estate.  When Charles and Fumiko Pentler died their property and beautiful Japanese style home in the Cupertino foothills was inherited by the Palo Alto Quaker meeting which intended to sell it.  This came to the attention of Haiku_Zendo and an attempt to acquire the property was made by the Haiku Zendo Sangha. The Pentler home and property was ideal for Kobun and for the Haiku Zendo Sangha to develop a temple/practice_place. The eventual failure to acquire the Pentler property was a bitter disappointment to Kobun and was, in my opinion, a turning point in his life.

In 1979, some time after the failure to acquire the Pentler estate, both Kannon_Do (where Les Kaye has been chief_priest/abbot since 1982) and Jikoji were bought at the same time with the money raised for Kobun and Haiku_Zendo to buy the Pentler estate.”

A 1999 email from Jerry commenting on Crooked Cucumber, Suzuki, Tatsugami, and the Haiku Zendo Chronicles.

 Thanks to Jerry for helping to indentify photos of Marian Derby, her home, and the Haiku Zendo in the photo archive at

Here's a photo of Marian he identified that I hadn't recognized. - dc

Haiku Zendo page

Jerry Halpern on Steve Jobs

My  recollection of an encounter with Tatsugami Roshi at shosan. I am mentioning it to you in praise  of Tatsugami.  I do not think he was given proper appreciation at the January, 2008 reunion at Page Street of Tassajara practitioners from 1967-1992. - Jerry


Jerry:  When speaking is only noise, and not speaking is only silence,

           When acting is only confusion, and not acting misses the opportunity,

           What then?


Tatsugami Roshi:

           You have strong attachments.  Do not be so attached and you will see what it is.


His response (slowed slightly by the need for interpretation) was immediate.

“Seeing the rabbit, he looses the falcon”

The Lost Bowl


I think this incident occurred during the guest season in the summer of 1970, not during a practice period. At that time I headed a “crew” of mostly temporary “student” summer visitors that washed, cleaned up  and put away guest dishes and miscellaneous  dishes/pots/kitchen things after the evening (and other?) meal.  One day I learned (I think it was you and Mel who told me) that Suzuki Roshi was missing one of his bowls and had asked that we be on the lookout for it.  I set out to find Roshi’s bowl.  My usual way to find something like this is to assume Nothing and to methodically “look under every stone”. I think that I started this effort to find Roshi’s bowl in the middle afternoon (or maybe I began during or after the evening clean up. I believe that I was at it for 1 to 2 hours. Since the interval from dinner until evening zazen was not so long, it’s probable that I did my search earlier in the day). I looked in detail in every place that I could think of, first the public places where all of the oryoki type bowls (including loose bowls of this sort---odds and ends for utility) were kept or used.  And I checked “special” places like those where the utensils used for preparing the mealtime Buddha offering were kept.  But No Luck; I found nothing.

For a while I think I was at a loss; defeated and not knowing what further I could do. It then occurred to me that there were many bowls wrapped up in oryokis in the zendo.  I thought it unlikely that Roshi’s bowl would be there, but in a spirit of impartial thoroughness, I decided to unwrap and rewrap each of these oryokis (60+?) and check each of them for Roshi’s bowl. About the time, or soon afterwards, that I began to do this in the zendo, I think Mel and you came by.  I retain the very strong memory that before you came, I had, in accordance with my basic plan of operation, decided to check each of the oryokis in the zendo. After I had explained to you what I was doing, you and Mel may have joined me in checking the zendo oryokis (I am not sure of this, but it is my best memory).  Before we had checked many of the oryokis, I found Roshi’s bowl in Lynele Jones’s oryoki set.  Roshi’s bowl had a brownish hue, was a bit oblong, and I think of a different material than that of the black (lacquered?) bowls which were in general use at Tassajara.

We, you, Mel, and I, then proceeded to Suzuki Roshi’s cabin. He was there and we restored his bowl to him.

February 2022

About Gassho and Bowing

It is well known that in “Beginner’s Mind” Suzuki Roshi is quoted as saying, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” (His unedited statement is: “In beginner’s mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibilities.”)

It is not so well known (it was edited out of the version printed in Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind) that in the same teisho, Suzuki Roshi also said: “If you can say, ‘Thank you very much’ from the bottom of your heart, that’s all right. … Just you can say ‘Thank you very much.’ That’s enough. But this is very difficult.”


When I was 10 I realized that I would die and I could see no way to avoid death. In my life, in my studies at MIT and in other contexts I worked very hard. In retrospect I believe that I was driven by an existential anxiety. I wanted certainty. I wanted to “beat death".

A view of Bridalveil Falls in the spring of 1964 when I was 23:

With this the existential anxiety unexpectedly and abruptly stopped (for a while). I knew the “truth” and I was free. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty---that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Cf. John Keats; Ode on a Grecian Urn. In the Bible, the name of God is written as the tetragrammaton, yud-hei-vav-hei, יהוה ( Genesis II 4 and Exodus III 15). The Hebrew root of this word means “to be”/“existence”. Also, the tetragrammaton is unusual in that it combines the past, present and future conjugations of its root into one word. The 13th century Buddhist monk, Dogen, wrote that “To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.” Cf. Dogen. Genjo Koan, Section II.

Over the next three years I began to sit by myself and then, on February 14, 1967 I met Suzuki Roshi when he spoke in Tresidder Union at Stanford. In the next year or so I began going to Roshi’s weekly teishos at Sokoji and sitting monthly one day (and multiday) sesshins at Sokoji. Occasionally I stayed a day or two at Tassajara. I was still a graduate student living close to Stanford and began to sit daily with Marion Derby at Haiku Zendo. Roshi, or Dainin Katagiri came to Haiku Zendo once a week. In late 1969 or early 1970 Kobun Chino (Otogawa) returned from Japan and began living (first at Marion’s old home, which at the time had become Les Kaye’s home) in Los Altos. Kobun had come to the US in 1967, had lived principally at Tassajara and returned to Japan for some time before coming again to the US.

My focus and concern at this time was zazen, not Buddhism. It was zazen that I recognized as the essential aspect of what was experienced when I saw Bridalveil Falls. But I made a common serious mistake: I maintained a “gaining idea”. I continuously judged my zazen as to how near it was to reestablishing what I had experienced. I did not realize that, as Dogen says in Zazenshin, “The essential point that marks this [investigation] is the understanding that there is a practice of a Buddha that does not seek to make a Buddha.” So, without taking “the backward stop”, I continued unconsciously in a judgmental, rigid, and coolly impartial/inhuman way, emphasizing “just function”.

I moved to Tassajara in June, 1970 (and was there until about Jan 1973). A year or so later Kobun visited. During a conversation with him (he tended to have informal dokusans), he told me that I should bow more. Why, I do not recall, but I was ready to accept that advice and I began to practice it.

The form this took, was that I gassho’d to each person I met whenever I met or passed someone (and very often gassho’d to objects --- the temple bell, the han, ritual instruments, but also, e.g, a broom before (and after) I swept with it.

When I gassho’d to a person I did it with full true respect beyond any everyday relations we may have had. Of course there were those at Tassajara with whom I shared negative relations, and there were others with whom I was friendly; that didn’t matter---with complete respect and impartial good will, I gassho’d. A gassho, like any other gesture, can be manipulative and perhaps some may have thought that I was gassho’ing with some such intention. But, in fact, I was not: With full respect to each person and thing I gassho’d. When I began taking Kobun’s advice to bow, there was inescapably some affect in my gasshos. But, as my bowing practice continued, a quality of warmth began and any personal affect became less and less. Years later, I read in the Lotus Sutra of the Bodhisattva “Never Disparaging”.

A year or so after I began this bowing practice, I felt changes that I associate with it. There was a sensation of warmth near my heart. Others seemed to have a much easier time speaking with me and I with them. There was a feeling of satisfaction and beauty in, e.g., sweeping the already well swept paths the evening before the day off. I could feel confession, repentance, and gratitude, and the connections among them.

“Bowing is a very serious practice”

 “Just you can say ‘Thank you very much.’ That’s enough. But this is very difficult.”