ZC Stories

A Story from Loring Palmer - posted 3-30-12 (the first in this new section)

Cannabis Cookie Freak-out at Tassajara

Summer Guest Season at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a contrast to the tight and vigorous schedule during the rest of the year. In 1971(?), Roshi had returned to San Francisco. And I think that Kobun Chino Sensei was the priest-in residence. For those of us not directly subject to working with the guests' wants and needs, like working in the guest dining room, making up the guest cabins, or checking them in or out, it was simply maintaining the status quo: doing various work projects, working in the vegetable garden, and keeping up a more relaxed zazen practice schedule. The days were hot and sunny, Tassajara Creek gurgled delightfully, having subsided from the roaring torrent that we'd seen in the Winter. It was pleasant and boring, if I may say so. This was soon to change.

Alan Marlowe (Buddha bless his soul) was one of the great tricksters that I've ever had the pleasure to know. He was beautiful, compelling, and always cast a spell of unchallenged confidence. Everyone loved and trusted him---for no good reason other than he was beautiful, compelling and confident. So when he and his two friends arrived in that big, fancy and expensive car to check in to the Stone Room at Tassajara that summer, I and others were impressed and intrigued. The creds that his friends presented were that they were from "the Brotherhood of Light," or something like this, ie, they could be trusted because they were "spiritual" and thus okay.

Alan, being a close friend, confided to me that his friends had succeeded in liberating the oil from marijuana that produced a concentrated essence that had the advantage of a food additive so one could get stoned, as the good Hindus do with bhang, (Shiva's drug of choice), without smoking and making a big stink: very sophisticated. And to prove the point, they'd whipped up a large batch of irresistibly delicious chocolate chip cookies that had been laced with this, what they referred to, as "hash oil." They held court in the large Stone Room where they offered these cookies and chatted with those who came by. Alan was ecstatic with all the attention and how his intrigue was received. I had two cookies, and being no stranger to the effects, had no more. I was sailing.

The next morning after breakfast, (I was a staff member of the rokochiji), we were having our chosan meeting to discuss the plan-of-the-day for ZMC in our meeting cabin. I'd been alerted to the fact that there was concern regarding Alan's friends and their activity. The subject came up, first thing, regarding the illicit substance that had been brought into our midst and evidence of some of the community were involved by accepting the offering of those karma-laced cookies, I attempted to mitigate the situation. Some, particularly Ed B (as I remember) were irate and insisted that Alan and friends be expelled immediately and those involved be cited. I disagree claiming that hash is a lot less bad than other substances available in our culture. And the fact that some people ate a cookie or two and experienced temporary euphoria was no big deal. I'm launching a defense of the indefensible.

A howl shrieks out---a load moaning from the student cabins across the way---someone's in pain! A fellow student runs up to our meeting cabin, knocks loudly, and shouts that Ken Strauss is freaking out, then passed out, and appears to have OD'd. Yikes! What to do? It's decided that he needs care, that someone needs to "babysit" him for however long it takes and determine if he needs to be taken into town and the hospital. I volunteer, partly out of concern for my friend and brother, but mostly out of shame for trying to trivialize the situation with Alan and friends with their cookies.

Ken regained his consciousness after a couple of hours. He said that he remembered missing breakfast and found a bag of chocolate chip cookies sitting on the dresser in the nest room. He'd considered this an auspicious gift because he was famished. He ate them all, at least six, he told me. His stomach was empty, having missed breakfast. In 20 minutes he was blasting off to the moon.

So our rascal brother, Alan M and his friends came down to Tassajara to stir up some excitement for the "monks," and they hit a home run.

It was quite a kerfuffle, but not a scandal, as it could have been.

I miss Alan. And send my warmest regards to Ken, wherever he may be.

DC Note: I was at Tassajara at the time and remember this event though I was not directly involved. I think the group mentioned that Ed May and Karl (who came with Alan) were involved with was called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love which I thought of as a network of psychedelic substance spreaders with Timothy Leary at the helm, at least in terms of inspiration. It was unusual for any students to get high on anything at Tassajara. Some of us would do so regularly when we went out. It did happen at Tassajara too, but not that often and not with many people and almost no one would be aware of it. I always worked with guests and used to occasionally smoke pot or, more often, drink wine or other alcohol with guests and I did that I think more than anyone else but even then it was not that often. Every now and then a student would reveal that they had some booze or a joint and we may go down creek on a day off and partake. Mainly we sat, chanted, ate, worked, bathed, hiked, and rested. All three SFZC centers are about as drug and alcohol free as a place can be - though many other spiritual centers I've been to seem to be the same. I make a special point of this because of the tendency I've noted for people to take one story like this and to then start saying that everyone was always stoned and so forth. Not so. Mainly we were just deluded.