Frank Tettsu Woods

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Some emails received from Frank


I can't recall very much about Shunryu Suzuki roshi while at Tassajara. I only had one dokusan interview with him while I was there. He did give me a hard time at the end of the Fall 1969 sesshin and I had to go and see him afterwards in the City to persuade him that I was serious about the practice and wanted to continue and attend the Winter Training period at Tassajara, 1970. This was led by Tatsugami roshi from Eiheiji, as Suzuki roshi was already not strong enough to take on the training periods. I found Suzuki roshi's lectures at Tassajara, I think the Sandokai ones, perplexing and very subtle, but that was my problem reflecting my immature understanding and insight.

However, I do have two photos of Suzuki roshi taken straight after the sesshin in 1969. And several of the practitioners there in 1969-1970, including Lou Musto and Alan Marlowe who was work leader at that time. I also have a few photos from Green Gulch 1974, including Dan Welch, Baker roshi and Silas Hoadley - whose lectures I found very inspiring.

DC note: Just wrote Frank asking if he'd sent those saying if so they're likely on cuke or but I can't recall. If not then please do!

Special place, special energy, Tassajara. I may have mentioned already.

I have been practising since 1991 with the White Wind Zen Community, the main monastery is Dainen-ji based in Ottawa. I take care of a branch temple here in Harrow near London, England. And it is through several retreats at Dainen-ji that I eventually received from Anzan Hoshin roshi, the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and the dharma name, Tettsu. The practice just continues. There is less struggle with the sitting practice, with the moment to moment practice these days. Stupid, but less sense of difficulty, having reached the terrible age of 70 this year.

Going back to the beginning. I sat for ten minutes at The Buddhist Society in London, fifty years ago and knew that I had found what I had been looking for. The rest is just details and practice and washing, washing. From sitting with my first true dharma teacher Sochu Suzuki roshi from Ryutaku-ji, I realised that I had to take this matter deeper. And as a result I made contact with SFZC and in time attended two training periods at Tassajara, 1969 – 1970, under Shunryu Suzuki roshi and Tatsugami roshi from Eihei-ji. It was there that I first met Dan Welch. There was an immediate connection with him because of his inspirational kindness and because he had trained for eighteen months at Ryutaku-ji under Soen roshi. And there he had met and practised with Sochu roshi, as he became later on, and his dharma teacher Gempo roshi.

While at Tassajara, while on a chicken shit run near Jamesburg, I probably owe Dan my life. He was driving a big truck and one of the sons of the wild boar farmer and hunter – whose name I forget, who lived at Jamesburg, suddenly shot round a bend at speed on a motor bike. Dan swerved taking the right hand side of the truck off the road where I was sitting looking down at a 500 foot drop. If it hadn’t been for his coolness, speed of reaction and excellent judgement, I might be playing harps by now!

I also practised with SFZC, mostly at Green Gulch for six months in 1974. This included a few weeks stay at Tassajara, always a very, very special place for me. And again for a few weeks during the post summer season in 1988.

And while at Tassajara in 1969/70, I remember you sometimes coming to meet my roommate Bob Halpern I think, or it could have been Nils Holm (RIP) in 1970, late in the evening, having driven from Jamesburg and beyond in the darkness. You were quite wild then but obviously had a lot of potential that Shunryu Suzuki roshi and others must have recognised.

As well as Crooked Cucumber and Zen Is Right Here, books I still find very helpful as well as interesting, thank you so much for all the stories and observations. Some amazing people have passed through this way. And hearing their stories has been as valuable as Wind Bell and more recently the online SFZC Newsletters.