Les Kaye (and Mary too)
Kannondo - the Los Altos, CA, Zen group Les where Les is
Interviews with Les Kaye
Les Kaye's Zen life - submitted to DC to read for
his podcast 🔊 - 2020
Tenfold Prohibitory Precepts - by
Kobun Chino and
Interview with Les Kaye on Zen in
Business dot com
Brief interview with Les by DC plus
comments in Interviews from
which a Brief Memory
of Shunryu Suzuki is taken
Zen interview with Les - Whole thing also below
Dharma Web interview with Les.
asks a question - in Comments
Brief interview with Les by DC from
which a Brief Memory
and from which a
Brief Memory of Mary Kaye's
on Suzuki the thief
Les and Mary Kaye are mentioned 17 times in the
Haiku Chronicles Part I
Remembering Suzuki Roshi - A talk given by Rev.
Edward Brown, Rev.
Peter Schneider, and Rev. Les Kaye
in honor of the 50th anniversary of Suzuki Roshi's arrival in America, on
Saturday, May 23, 2009, at City Center. (from the SFZC site) - NOT
Spiritual Vision of Steve Jobs - by Les Kaye
Books by Les Kaye
NEW 2018: A Sense of Something Greater: Zen and the Search for Balance in Silicon
Valley (see below)
Through the Days: Living the Journey of Spiritual Practice
with a forward by Huston Smith -
Wisdom Publications link [Amazon Link]
Kaye, Les, Zen at Work: a Zen
Teacher's 30-Year Journey in Corporate America. Crown, 1996.
[Les has been a priest at the Los Altos Zendo since Suzuki
ordained him in 1971 and for many years he combined his priest practice
there with his job at IBM.]
Search for "Les Kaye" on cuke.com and find much more.
There are mp3s and videos and more of Les on the Internet.
DC talks to LES KAY - talked on
phone in 93 and saw on 10\13\94 and talked to him there in his office and
to his wife, Mary, as well with him in their kitchen. - dc
DC: Les was at Tassajara for a week with his wife and
children. He was asked if his car could be used to go pick up some
Japanese priests because there were more people coming in than their best
vehicle could carry. He recalls:
LK: I remember when all those great Zen teachers were
at Tassajara, Dick Baker saying now's a great opportunity to ask some of
these great teachers a question and I asked:
"What's the best way to establish Buddhism in
America?" So they spoke amongst themselves and agreed that each one wanted
to answer it and I remember Yasutani speaking in Japanese and being
translated and I remember Edo getting up and being very dramatic and Soen
too and Maezumi. I remember Suzuki Roshi getting up and saying, "I have
nothing to say," and we all roared and it was over. He went out the side
DC note: What I had written in my notes was "and then you asked"
rather than "and then I asked" which I interpreted while working on
Crooked Cucumber as me David but which now it's clear meant him Les and I
wrote "you" for him - I don't remember asking it or saying the above and he remembers asking
it so obviously he said all of the above. As a result of this confusion I
incorrectly attributed to myself
story in Crooked Cucumber. Sorry. It's corrected in the version of
Crooked Cucumber on cuke and in the Errata section.
LK: When Suzuki Roshi came here [to Los Altos] to
give his talks, after zazen and his talk and he'd always want to talk to
my wife in the kitchen and she said oh he'd just ask how I was doing and
we'd say hello and we were both into bonsai. Once, she said, we were at
Tassajara and I told him I had found a new seedling to make a bonsai with
and it was planted in a small dish and we went outside and I showed it to
him and he said, "Thank you," and took it off to his cabin. And she said I
do remember that once when we were at Tassajara he was sitting next to me
at a meal in the dinning room and I was drinking a coca-cola and he just
leaned over and took a big sip out of it.
DC note: All of us who came to ZC were different in
one way or another - so many of us had come through LSD and being hippies
or beatniks or artists - but Les came
from a unique sociological niche - working for IBM. I saw him as more
dependable like Japanese. He knew what he wanted and decided to do it and
did it. I think Suzuki recognized this in Les and ordained him to be a
priest at the Los Altos Zen Center. Suzuki had learned you can't always
depend on Americans but I think he saw in Les someone who was committed
and would follow through. Les has always also been pretty separate from the
SFZC and the rest of the sangha as is the case with some other Suzuki disciples and which is natural.
Again, he sticks to home and doing his duty.
Les told about how he developed a relationship with
Yamamoto [?] at Shumucho [Soto Zen headquarters in Japan] and gave him a
book on Oryoki [ceremonial zendo eating method with nested, wrapped bowls]
he'd written and a year or so latter says he received in the mail a
copy of it with the sketches replaced with photographs but it was word for
word his book with no credit given.
Maybe that's one reason why Les refused to be
interviewed further. He said if he told me something then he couldn't use
it in his book. I said I didn't think that was so, but I respected his
When I was working on digitalizing the Suzuki lecture
and archive and making it more available through hard drives, CDs, and the
Internet, I talked to Les about his group making a contribution to
the SFZC fund for this and he and his board expressed suspicion of the
usefulness of such a project and whether they'd really get anything for
their contribution. So they declined. I said okay, that it would be shared with them anyway.
When I gave a digital copy of the archive to Les, he thanked me and was
friendly, but said he wasn't so sure this should be done, that we already
have Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and why do we need more than that and do we really
want people putting CDs of Suzuki's lectures in the CD players of their
cars and listening to it on the way to work? I said it's not a CD to play,
it's a data disc with all of Suzuki's lecture transcripts, audio, and
video and I didn't think about
what other people were doing and that all I thought about was preserving
it and making it available for free and he was free to do or not do anything he
wanted with his copy and could have more copies anytime.
Les is one of three disciples of Suzuki whom Suzuki's
son, Hoitsu, gave transmission to in order to complete, he felt, the work
of his father who died before he could do so - and because they didn't
have en or compatibility with Richard Baker. The other two are
Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley ZC and
Bill Kwong of Sonoma Mt. Zen Center. Les said he
did the three tokubetsu sesshin in Japan (and maybe in the US) to get
Sweeping Zen Interview
Completed on October 29, 2010
Revised on April 14, 2011
Les Kaye started work in 1958 for IBM in San Jose, California,
and over thirty years held positions in engineering, sales, management, and
software development. He interested in Zen Buddhism in the mid 1960s and started
Zen practice in 1966 with a small group in the garage of a private home. In
1970, he took a leave of absence to attend a three-month practice period at Tassajara Zen
monastery in California and the following year was ordained as a Soto
Zen monk by Zen
Master Shunryu Suzuki. In 1973, he took an additional leave of absence to
attend a second practice period, this time as head monk, and in 1984, Les
received Dharma Transmission, authority to teach, from Hoitsu
Suzuki, son and successor to Shunryu Suzuki. He was appointed teacher at
Kannon Do Zen Center in Mountain View, California. He and his wife Mary have two
adult children and a grandson and live in Los Altos, California.
His first book was Zen
at Work. His
next book was Joyously
Through the Days: Living the Journey of Spiritual Practice(Wisdom
Publications, 2011) is his latest.
SZ: How did you find your way to Zen practice?
LK: Sometime around 1960, I listened to a talk about Zen & Buddhism by Alan
Watts on the local PBS radio station. He spoke of seeing
life with a totally different world view than what I was used to, but that
seemed somehow familiar. It was an exciting and strange feeling – I felt
inspired to follow up. I made it a point to listen to Alan Watts on his
weekly Sunday night program and read a few of his books, becoming more and more
interested. I believed that to really study and practice Zen, one had to
go to Japan, not an option for me.
In 1966, while reading the San Francisco Chronicle, I accidently came across an
article about the San
Francisco Zen Center. I had no idea such a thing existed so close to
home. Some weeks later, I skipped out early from a business seminar
in the city and went to SFZC. I found an old, creaky building on
Bush Street, formerly a synagogue built at the turn of the 20th century.
It was dark and quiet in the musty halls, except for sounds coming from an
office. Entering, I saw two tall, bearded young men, operating a
mimeograph machine. There was also a Japanese gentleman, wearing a hat,
sitting in a chair, reading a Japanese newspaper. I wondered, “Is that the
Zen master?” I told the young men that I wanted to know more about Zen but that
I lived fifty miles away in San Jose. They directed me to an affiliated
center in Los Altos – Haiku Zendo – about twenty miles from home. Suzuki-roshi
visited there weekly to lead meditation and give a talk. So my wife and I
started going to Haiku Zendo on Wednesday nights later that year.
SZ: At Haiku Zendo I imagine that you and your wife have the opportunity to
practice with Kobun
Chino roshi. Could you take a moment or two to relate your
memories of him to us?
LK: Everybody was attracted to Kobun because he gave the sense of what it is
like to be a spiritual person. He was warm hearted, gracious, generous, and
playful, with a very wide world-view. At the same time, he was much like a
loveable absent-minded professor, who is not too concerned with managing the
affairs of everyday life but whose entire focus is on expressing his vision of
truth and sharing it with others.
SZ: Tell us about your teacher, Hoitsu
Suzuki roshi. I hear that his style is very different from that
of his father, the great Shunryu Suzuki roshi.
LK: Hoitsu is very much like his father in many ways. He is dedicated,
observant, generous, approachable, and caring. He is more
outgoing, more demonstrative, than his father, who did things with less flair.
Hoitsu is a fun loving individual, who enjoys socializing. However, when
he puts on his robes, and when he gives a lecture, becomes very serious.
SZ: Tell us about Suzuki roshi also. I never get tired of hearing stories about
the early forbearers of Zen in the United States.
LK:Here is one example of how Suzuki-roshi expressed his wisdom and compassion
in everyday relationships. The event took place during my priest ordination
Almost 50 people crowded into Haiku Zendo that Saturday afternoon in 1971.
My mother, living in San Francisco, arrived fifteen minutes after the
ceremony had begun. She was nervous as she entered the packed room. Her
middle-aged, middle-class son, with a nice family, nice job, nice home, and
promising future, was preparing to become immersed in a mysterious religious
world beyond her comprehension. She was certain that I was throwing away
everything required for the “good life.” She could not hide her anxiety. I
can still see Suzuki-roshi’s eyes glancing at her as she entered and took a
seat someone offered her near the platform. Very gently, he reached over,
put his hand on her shoulder and said, “You have come just at the right
From Zen at Work, p. 88.
SZ: What, to your mind, is a common pitfall one may encounter in their Zen
practice? How can one know that they have encountered it and what can they do
LK: I would not characterize it as a pitfall but rather a difficulty that many
people encounter. The difficulty becomes the opportunity of a lifetime when it
is recognized and not avoided. After starting meditation practice, many
individuals encounter resistance to continue, even when they know – and have
experienced – that practice is one of the best things they can do for their
lives. They are not aware of the reason for the resistance; it
remains unrecognized by consciousness. It has to do with the
perceived “cost” of practice, what individuals feel they have to “give up” to
get what they want. They go through an unconscious “cost versus
value” tradeoff. Fundamentally, people come to Zen practice out of a
feeling to be more in touch with their spiritual nature. But this
intention gets short-circuited by the mind’s craving for comfort, excitement,
entertainment, and fame. Practice does not provide such things.
Instead, what people first experience is boredom, which is not what they
expected. And they do not recognize that their boredom
is not inherently negative – the mind is free of the cravings and so can be
spiritually creative. It is an opportunity for hidden things to appear: our old
habits and reactive tendencies that have been getting in our way, the inherent
beauty of everything, and the wisdom that we never knew we had. So,
many quit out of impatience and disappointment for not getting what they
want.The best way to respond to boredom and disappointment is through
determination to continue despite the feelings and to recall what brought us to
practice in the first place.
SZ: I have a two-part question. First, what are we talking about when we say the
LK: From a practical, everyday standpoint, “emptiness” is an “empty” mind, free
of the cravings as described above, a mind ready to accept anything that
appears, without judgement.
SZ: Also, how is the Heart Sutra factor into this teaching on emptiness? Why is
an essential realization to have on our journey?
LK: The Heart Sutra speaks of “emptiness” as the aspect of our self that is
universal, without limits, that has no unique personality, that cannot be
described in everyday terms, and that is constantly changing. Both views of
emptiness – the practical and the universal – are vital in our lives, the first
so that we can live our active, everyday lives in a selfless way, untroubledway,
the second so that we realize there is something very big taking place in
this world, greater than our own individual life, but that our individual life
expresses. This realization is the basis for the end of suffering.
SZ: Suzuki Roshi said, “When you do something, you should burn yourself
completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” This is from the
Mind, Beginner’s Mind, for our readers. What is your take on what he
means by this?
LK: Express your true self, your Buddha nature, by putting your entire awareness
and energy on what you are doing. Don’t allow the quality and completeness
of your effort to be compromised by distraction and desire. It also
means tidy up after your activity; don’t leave a mess for others. In other
words, be mindful of others.
SZ: What are the markings of a good Zen teacher? What qualities should a student
be looking for?
LK: I’ve always felt that the best starting point is found early in the Metta
Sutta, where it describes the wise and peaceful Bodhisattva: Let
one be strenuous, upright, and sincere, without pride, easily contented and
joyous. I think this is the attitude we should be looking for in our
teachers, mentors, and role models, and – as Zen students – the attitude we
should be cultivating in ourselves. To be more specific, there are a number of
personal attributes we should look for and use as a guide for our own practice:
Integrity: does not waver from acting according to vision and
Trustworthy: keeps promises, fulfills commitments, does not make
what he/she says
Morality: maintains highest ethical standards
Work Ethic: undertakes necessary tasks without
Generosity: gives of self and possessions according to
needs of others
Humor: light hearted, helps others feel at ease
Self-awareness: recognizes and accepts own strengths
Confidence: not deterred by ambiguity or uncertainty
Selflessness: sets aside ego, ambition, and desires
for the benefit of others
Wisdom, insight: recognizes the unseen, spiritual
dimension of Reality; understands that the phenomenal world is not all there
is, and acts accordingly.
Courtesy, social skills: expresses appreciation to
others for acts of kindness and generosity, engages easily with others,
comfortable and attentive in relationships.
SZ: You’ve written an important book, Zen
at Work. I think this book is particularly useful for those who think
you need to leave your job (and perhaps wife and kids) to fully engage a Zen
practice. What do you hope readers get out of your book?
LK: I think your question provides its own answer. Plus, not only do
we not need to drop out, we have to learn to practice in the
challenging daily life of work, family, commuting, technology, politics, and
SZ: Your second book was published in April of 2011. Could you tell us a
bit about it?
LK: Its title is: “Joyously
Through the Days: Living the Journey of Spiritual Practice.” It
consists of short essays and stories that reflect my own experience of the
various ways that spirituality and Zen practice can be expressed in ordinary
human affairs, in our relationships and our actions. In a nutshell, this book is
about selflessness. My original title was “From
Suffering to Selflessness,” which indicates what my purpose
was in writing the book. But the publisher thought that this title
would be too dark for the reading public, and wanted something lighter, more
appealing. Another possible title that I considered was “Out
of the Monastery, Down from the Mountain.” I was hoping
to introduce the notion that Zen practice has changed permanently by coming to
America, that it is now practiced primarily by lay people with responsibilities
in the everyday world, rather than by monks in the monastery.
SZ: Rev. Kaye, thank you for participating. In closing, what book(s) would you
recommend to someone interested in Zen practice?
Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu Suzuki
Buddha – Karen Armstrong
What the Buddha Taught – Rahula
Unseen Rain – Rumi
A Primer of Soto Zen– Masunaga
A new book by Les Kaye, one of Suzuki-roshi's early students, and the
current abbot of Kannon Do Zen Center in Mountain View, California. The book is A Sense of Something Greater: Zen and the Search
for Balance in Silicon Valley.
It is about how individuals are
exploring their spirituality and searching for ways to include
Zen practice with their work and family responsibilities in the modern world.
Parallax Press link for this book
. Amazon link
A reader comment about the book on Amazon signed simply, Suhail:
I’ve recently read a fair amount in this area and this book really
stood out to me. The breadth and depth of insight are amazing, it’s
artfully written and easily readable. It’s a wonderful combination of
experience, philosophy, science and anecdotes that provide a truly
holistic understanding. The interviews make topics particularly
relatable to people, like myself, who are not necessarily advanced practitioners. They also help the reader apply, and
sort of rehearse, moments in their mind.
I’ve recommended this book to many colleagues (within and beyond Silicon
Valley) who are all too familiar with some of the situations this book
addresses but can’t seem to get out. Chatting with them after, they've similar
found unlocks through reading
A Sense of Something Greater.
"A truly surprising, brilliant, and wonderful book. Reading it, you suddenly
see that there is something greater that is before us, right here, right
now. Les Kaye and co-author Teresa Bouza reveal a different kind of mind (and
heart) in the midst of Silicon Valley and of our lives. This marvelous book
is not only about the search for balance but for meaning in the midst."—ROSHI JOAN HALIFAX, Upaya Zen Center
“Zen meditation may call forth images of Japanese
rock gardens and old monasteries, but Les Kaye places it naturally in the midst
of twenty-first- century urban American life. Using interviews with individual
practitioners by Teresa Bouza,
A Sense of Something Greater vividly
illustrates how this simple practice
can offer remarkable clarity and ease to those who work
in competitive, high-tech, high-stress settings.”—KAZUAKI
TANAHASHI, Painting Peace at a Time of
“A warm, remarkably intimate introduction to a spiritual community in the heart
of Silicon Valley. Through personal interviews with the community’s members, we
meet the real people of the Valley, as they struggle to find their bearings in
the fast lane of the high tech world; through the wise counsel of the
community’s leader, Les Kaye, we are welcomed into the ancient tradition
of Soto Zen, where meditation is our most natural act and spiritual practice is
its own reward.”
—CARL BIELEFELDT, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University
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