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ZC Stories

Alan Marlowe's great moment
Alan Marlowe cuke page

Sotan Tatsugami Roshi came to Tassajara in the winter of 1970 to lead the ninety day practice period as guest teacher. Tats, as we called him, not to his face, was strong and fit, in his seventies, firm in his command, but fair, patient, and pretty good natured. He was tough but not gruff. We heard he'd been the sumo champ of Eiheiji monastery. He created a number of new positions with traditional Soto Zen names - about half of them just for zendo activity. He introduced more form, rules, and ceremony. He'd been in charge of that sort of stuff as ino of Eiheiji for thirteen years. One of the new positions, a rotating one, was tenken. The tenken was to check on attendance and keep a record. Tatsugami gave a lot of long talks in Japanese with translations that took much less time, surely somewhat because he'd go on for ten minutes or so before pausing. He had us chanting the Fukanzazengi in the original during most of the second period of evening zazen when he wasn't giving a talk. I thought that was a drag. But I enjoyed being there then and appreciated him. Some didn't.

Tall, handsome, dramatic Alan Marlowe missed Suzuki Roshi and resented Tatsugami's screwing up what for him had been an excellent, uncomplicated schedule and practice. Alan stopped coming to Tatsugami's lectures. Instead he sat upright studying in a white tee shirt, window open to the cold, at a desk facing the path in front of the dorm by the bridge. Behind him his massive library of spiritual and occult books. Tatsugami paid no attention to Alan's boycott. Alan also resented the way Tatsugami seemed to be trying to take over. Tatsugami had plaques made for each position that went in front of the person's zafu and sitting place in the zendo. Tatsugami's read Docho and we were to call him Docho Roshi. Katagiri Sensei (later Roshi) said that Suzuki was the Docho, the head abbot, and that Tatsugami's plaque should read Seido, guest teacher. It seemed to me that to him Suzuki had founded this Zen monastery just waiting for someone qualified like Tatsugami to arrive.

Near the end of the practice period we were having a rehearsal for a shosan ceremony wherein each student asks the teacher a question. People were seated in their cushions, Tatsugami on the altar on his, not yet in his ceremonial robes. Those who were next to ask their questions stood in a line in front of Tatsugami. When it was their turn, the student would put hands in gassho, call out "Docho Roshi!," Tatsugami would answer, "Hai!," the student would walk forward hands still in gassho, drop down on their knees, but not speak their question since it was a rehearsal, just say, "Thank you very much," stand, standing bow, and return to their seat.

When it was Alan's turn, he called out "Docho Roshi!" in his best theatrical voice. Tatsugami responded, "Hai!" Alan paused, walked forward, knelt, and then with enormous volume and force, Alan bellowed out, "Pig fuckerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" loud enough to seem to reverberate beyond our valley, almost uprooting trees on the slopes, frightening birds to fly off, rodents to descend into their boroughs.

Tatsugami turned to Katagiri who was sitting next to him and muttered, "Nani?" (What?). Katagiri shook his head as if to say, it's nothing. The ceremony rehearsal continued with all of us much more awake, some perturbed with, some grateful to Alan.

Tatsugami returned to lead the fall 1970 and winter-spring 1971 practice periods.