|About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
Reuven Benyuhmin, aka
Robert Front, Roovane - DC
Interviewed by DC 12\3\95 in San Rafael
7-08-07 - Reuven Benyuhmin sent some interesting emails yesterday - about his name, the word "bupkis," misrepresentations of his past, the meaningless trivia of a great deal (maybe 100%) of what we're involved in, and the emptiness of everything - in response to the Early Tassajara, Zen Mt. Center, Practice Period Alumni List (1967- 1989). This, as everything on cuke, is printed with his permission, and, as with everything herein, can be modified as he wishes. We are not journalists but... but... what are we? Reuven sort of answers that. - in Reader's Comments
12-20-05 - Reuven Ben Yuhmin sends Holliday greetings and links to his new pod casts. - links to Grace Notes from above.
10-22-05 - Official Zen madman Reuven Ben Yuhmin expatrioting in Taiwan sends a cryptic calligraphy and explanitory note.
9/05/04 - 9/05/04 - Go to Shutterfly to see Reuven Ben Yuhmin's 32 fine photos of us old geezers at the Shunryu Suzuki 100th birthday bash at the SF Zen Center's City Center and Green Gulch Farm and at Greens Restaurant last May.
Reuvene's GRACE NOTES - Wise ones hear through illuminated ear the humming of spheres songs sung through quivering tender lips of the children
I came to Zen Center on January 1 of 69 I think. I was living in Daniel Eggink’s commune in Montana and we took some acid on New Year’s Eve and we started to rap about religion and spirituality and he started to tell me about Zen. He said he had a Zen teacher and told me about Alan Watts. He said he stole SR’s stick when he was living near the Zen Center at Bush Street. He returned it. He told me about Suzuki and I said I want to meet this guy. I met Loring through Daniel. They were friends from Minnesota.
DC -That was the commune that Daniel started in Montana I'd hear rumors of - like they had guns and everyone went naked?
Yes. So he gave me $300. He was loaded because his wife died and left him money and he had this house which was a TV studio. He had a television licensee and we were going to have a concert and we’d invite the Beetles and the Grateful Dead and were going to invite a 1000 people to build their house on his property in our community. The international advertising had started.
So I was supposed to go study with Suzuki for three months and come back. So I left the next day and went to Page Street and went to the office on Bush Street. I met someone, maybe Yvonne, and told her I’m going to Tassajara and she said you can’t - you have to sit for a year or something and I said no I’m going and she said you can’t and I said I’m going anyway. I think they let me go for a week or two - there was no training period. I was there about two weeks and came back and started to practice at Zen Center and Roshi was sick with a very serious flue and almost died. It was a bad year for flue that year.
DC: I got more flues during those years than the rest of my life added up.
I stayed in the apartment with Beverly Horowitz. There was a garage behind one of the houses and I got some boards from a lot and made a zendo - it was beautiful and decorated with wood and I made pants and I hadn’t talked to Roshi yet - we were all waiting for him to get better. One day I was sitting on the steps across the street from Sokoji and all of a sudden Roshi came out and people said that’s Roshi and he went to the store to buy some stuff and he came back and he was trying to open the door - but he couldn’t open the door. We could see him struggling so I knew this was my chance so I ran across the street and I looked at him and he looked at me and I bowed to him and I put my hands on the handle and just opened the door. And he smiled - he was so happy. He’d been struggling for a few minutes with the door. I knew I could do it. I felt right away a real strong connection.
After that I went in and talked to him. I’d been sitting regularly and saw his lectures. I didn’t like it because I felt there was some separation between teacher and student so I went to him and talked to him and said, I’d like to be closer to you - I’d like to live with you, I don’t just want to live in these houses across the street. He said, it’ll be no good if you do that because then all of the students would be jealous. What you should do is get up very early in the morning and come to the meditation hall and work together with me - we’ll set it up together. So I started getting up about an hour early and I set up the zendo with him. We didn’t talk, we just worked together. He’d show me stuff, like how to water the plants. He always told me under the rug is where the dirt is. So we’d dust stuff and water the plants and he’d put his eggshells in with the plants - he’d just leave them on top and water them and the calcium would come off onto the dirt. Smart. We had to make sure the zafus were in the right place and positioned right on the mat and had to make sure the zabutons were in place. We’d vacuum sometimes too.
One day I was there and I heard this pounding from downstairs in the basement. I was setting things up but he was brushing his gums - he had false teeth so I went down to the basement to see what the pounding was and there was Okusan who’d been locked in the basement all night. He didn’t even know that she’d been locked in the basement all night. She was furious, she was really angry. He’d heard the commotion downstairs. She was at him in Japanese and he came to the top of the stairs and he was still brushing his teeth and he saw her all furious and he started to laugh and the tooth paste started to roll down his body. He laughed and laughed and laughed. Didn’t get upset at all. He was drooling toothpaste and his wife was yelling. Incredible. I went back across the street and left them alone.
I stayed at Zen Center for some more weeks. I was still with that girl Sidra. There was a guy, a guitar player, who’d been around for a while. I knew that he and my girlfriend were having something happen - I could just tell - so I went to her apartment and knocked on the door and he finally answered the door and I went wild - I lost the balance of my mind - here my girlfriend had obviously slept with this guy. I went to Roshi and told him and he was angry too and he wanted the name of the student. He thought it was really wrong. He asked if he was a member of our community and I said yes - I was in tears. So I said I want to go to Tassajara and he said, go.
So I just left. I totally broke up - I asked her to go with me to Tassajara but she didn’t want to go so I went. So I went there in a car with some people who I told that Roshi had said it was okay for me to go and at Tassajara. At Tassajara Peter discovered I hadn’t gotten permission to go and he said you have to go and come back and I said no I’m not leaving. There was this big thing and they had meetings about it and I said if they made me leave I’d sit outside the gate and freeze to death. So they asked Roshi and he said he’d said I could go but they were in a quandary cause they hadn't said yes. He was very flexible you know. Then they made a compromise with me and they took me back to Bush Street and then let me come right back to Tassajara because they were afraid that if I could say that others would try to do that without going through the city. So I did that and I stayed at Tassajara for three years.
When Suzuki-roshi died I went through some heavy changes - I remember going to the steam room and thinking about what I should do and what would happen. Most of the time I was there Roshi was at Bush Street. He was there in the summers and he came sometime. And when he did come we’d have these encounters.
Paul and Ruthie were there and they were very good friends of mine and they were trying to help me out and Paul was always giving me suggestions and I was always trying to carry them out and he said you know what we need, we always buy our candles and it’s a waste of money. He said, you should make some candles. He told me what to buy - wax and wicks and molds. So I started to make candles and there was this big scandal and people said, we shouldn’t make our own candles because we can’t make good candles - we should buy our candles. So it caused a commotion. And then one day Roshi came over - it had gotten to him - and he told me, remember the important thing - the wick must be in the center. I said, of course, and he smiled.
And I was on all these weird food trips - I’d be on these weird fasts and people would imitate me and then people like Dan would get uptight because I was doing this [palm up in the zendo which was the signal to indicate no thanks when being served] instead of this [hands in gasho and holding the bowl out]. For about two years I only ate from the third bowl because I was meditating on food and learning about food. Maybe all I could get was half an apple. It started to cause a problem and they had just started to have the rokuchiji [six officers] and they had all these meetings and it got to Roshi and they had a lot of leftover food. And they had this big meeting and they asked me why do you always not eat what everyone else is eating and I said you know everyone’s practice is different. I’m taking what I need. I’m not asking anyone to eat like me. Let me do what I have to do. It was very disturbing to me - I worked on it like a koan. It was a very serious koan and I worked on it for a long time and I went to Roshi and we talked several times. I told him that sometimes I feel guilty, I feel it’s wrong. I want to take what other people take - it doesn’t make me feel good to take different food. I feel my meditation is better if I’m doing what I’m doing in my practice.
And he said, first of all, Dogen always says, watch your own bowls. So he said, for Dogen, what you’re doing would not be a problem. Don’t worry about it. You have to become yourself at some point so what you’re doing is not wrong according to Zen practice. It’s maybe different and no one should be disturbed by it. Everyone can eat what they need - but don’t get sick. I told him I feel fine, I feel really good. Bill Shurtleff always put me on these different food trips. He’d say try this, try macrobiotics, eat grapes. I’d say I don’t eat any grapes and he’d say, you’re attached so I’d try it and I’d say this is good. Then Roshi encouraged me and said if I felt okay about what I was doing and other people were uptight about it, it was their problem. You’ve got to be yourself and not worried about what other people are thinking and worry about your own practice. He let everyone do what they had to do and learn from themselves - you only manifest yourself, you can’t manifest him. You can’t manifest someone else.
It appeared that Roshi was not psychic. I remember when we came out of lectures, we wouldn’t know anything that he’d said. I couldn’t remember a word he said but I always felt good. We’d remember a few phrases and everyone had different ideas about what he was saying but everyone felt good. Not only for the lecture but for a few days. People would ask him questions like, when is the next earthquake coming? We’d sit in the velvet seats in the pews downstairs and people would come in from the outside and they weren’t interested in the Zen but in other stuff and at the end they’d ask questions like when is the next earthquake coming and he’d say "I don’t know."
There were some weird people who came and asked weird questions and freaked out people. He would say he never knew but actually Roshi had some incredible powers - I don’t think he demonstrated them. One time - you know I was always eating wild stuff and someone had made a concoction of mushrooms and herbs and stuff and I drank it and I passed out. They thought I was going to die. I was real sick and in my room and then zazen bell started and Roshi came out and I wanted to go ahead of him and we sort of merged - he was coming out of his cabin and I was in Ed’s cabin, the first one and we merged and he looked at me and he said never do that - never eat anything that will make you sick. Just out of the blue.
DC: Someone told him.
No one told him - there was no time. It just happened. I hadn’t told anybody. It was like taking drugs. He had power he demonstrated because it was dangerous to my physical being. So he said something. He was that kind of teacher. If you asked him a question like a fortune teller he wouldn’t know anything but he was aware of a lot of things that were going on.
I remember I was head gardener in 71 and I was sitting a sesshin at the end of summer. It was dry and hadn’t rained and I got this notion in my head it’d be nice if it rained. So I started playing with the idea and I set up a time and I said two days from now at three o'clock in the afternoon it’s going to rain. I started working on it. I did it for two days. I meditated on it and meditated on it and meditated on it. Then at about one thirty or two o'clock in the afternoon a roll of thunder - and I thought, this is impossible - it never rains in the summertime. And there was a thunderstorm in the afternoon. And I just went wow! I went wild! And I went right away for dokusan. I was so excited, I thought, this is it, I’m enlightened. And I told Roshi what had happened, the whole story of what I’d done, that I’d meditated on rain and created a rainstorm to water the vegetables. And he started to hit me and yell at me and he was real angry. He hit me many times and he said that that what I did was absolutely wrong. He said if it rains here, it doesn’t rain somewhere else and how do you know where the rain should be? He said it was very selfish practice. I knew I had powers before that - everyone has powers, different powers, and I was tempted to do things after that but I never have.
I had a very close relationship with Roshi in a strange way, because those three years he wasn’t at Tassajara much but when he came I made an effort to see him or be with him if I could. I remember him hitting me a lot. There was some practice for a ceremony - we all had to go up to him
I’d gone up and he was hitting me and hitting me with his stick - he was really hurting me. I think I smiled or did something wise ass and he started hitting me and said I had to get rid of the black snake, the ego I’m sure. I didn’t understand that for about twenty-five years - I always thought it was an embarrassment - I felt like a child getting hit by his father but to think about it now - he must have really loved me to have done that in public in front of other students - you have to really like someone to do that. That’s a form of compassion, compassion anger.
Remember that batch of hash cookies that Loring cooked up for Christmas eve, a powerful batch of cookies. Almost everyone was gone. There were only a few of us there but we had a service to end all services. We chanted the heart sutra like it had never been chanted before. Bob Halpern and Barbara were there. Anna was there. The little thin girl who used to be with the birds, the bird woman. She was there for about a year or so, a girlfriend of mine. We’d all been there for a year and I think we deserved to have those cookies. The chanting was like Tibetan chanting. I think that service more than anything at Tassajara changed my consciousness. We were just there and giving it our best energy.
Anna had gotten me into watching birds and she said, if you sit very quietly the birds will come and be your friend so everyday after lunch I’d go out near the compost pile and sit on a big rock and wait for the birds to sit on me. I did it for a few months. The birds got close but I never made it. But to see how still I could become to become a rock - to go that far, just to sit.
I think what was special about Tassajara during those days is that everyone was a little crazy and trying to manifest as best they could their Buddha nature. It wasn’t like we had to go through some hierarchy or some organization, everyone there was everyone already. There was nothing - it was just us - and a teacher who was always with us, working with us all the time. He was always there everyday moving his rocks.
Rocks - Roshi and I were close for a number of reasons - first of all, I was a gardener and I was a rock person. I used to rake around my house. Whenever he came to Tassajara he would work in his garden. I would go to Roshi’s garden and talk to him about it. I was working with him to the end there. When he died I went into his garden and started to putter around and people said, don’t touch, and I said what and they said don’t touch, that’s Roshi’s garden and he’s gone now and that’s the way it is - don’t touch it. I said, if Roshi were here he’d continue working in his garden - you can’t just leave a garden - you have to continue working, continue the practice - you can’t make it into a museum. They wouldn’t let anyone take care of it. People were afraid to touch anything because you had to understand his garden practice.
DC: There were some other people who knew his garden well, who'd worked on it with him, who had this experience of being told not to mess with it after he'd died. There was the idea that only Baker Roshi could do that and that wasn't his schtick.
Suzuki Roshi was into stones. He’d go down to the stream and meditate on those stones for a while. He was greedy for stones, he even told me. He said one of his greeds was stones. He wants more. He loved stones. He’d look at the stones and think about them before we moved them. We invented those sleds for those stones to pull them back to the garden - it was hard work. He would think of the stone he wanted before we’d get them and bring them back. So it would take a while. Then he would plant the stone - plant it deep in the ground. This huge stone - only a little tiny bit would be above the ground - but he would know what was underneath. It’s sort of like our Zen practice. Most of it you can’t even see. I feel there is some teaching in his garden practice that you could apply to our Zen practice. Most of it you can’t even see.
And we only saw a little bit of Suzuki-roshi’s practice but enough that we knew there was something special there. We could feel it - we were doing the same thing eating but a little big different - we had a garden but a little bit different. The difference we couldn’t tell. It wasn’t because he was a huge ego, he was invisible. I remember there was a time when he was in our room and we didn’t know he was in the room. He had that kind of presence, invisible in the sense that he could be silent and we could be in the room noisy and talking and he could very quietly be there and we wouldn’t even notice him. He was like camouflaged, like part of the room. It was maybe a day off and there were a few students in there and Roshi was in the corner sitting or standing and no one noticed him and then we noticed him and it was like nothing was said, he was just hanging out with us in a sense but the feeling I got was a very special feeling that here was someone who is a great Zen master in our room, enough for two tatamis and a walkway in between - about eight feet wide and twelve feet long. Roshi had something special that we very rarely find in other human beings. I haven’t had that relationship with anyone else for sure.
He had certain qualities. First, the exposition of the dharma whatever the dharma is - very simple, always simple, never philosophical, never mystic, always so down to earth and so simple that it’s so obvious. It’s not anything you have to think about. That’s a quality he had that was always direct. Also, always very warm, compassion, great compassion - for everything, whether it’s for a stone or a student or a flower or anything. There was always that great compassion. You could always feel that - you could call it love, for everything. And always an ability to be interested in everything around him. There was nothing too inconsequential to not be interested in.
I remember Anna was sitting in the garden once, meditating on a sunflower - it rotates with the sun - and Roshi walked by and asked her what she’s doing and she said she’s meditating on the sunflower and he sat down and started to do the same thing. That kind of personality, just learning all the time, beginner’s mind. He really had the beginner’s mind. He always had it.
[There's a lecture where Suzuki mentions this. It's mentioned in Crooked Cucumber - DC]
It’s like when you come to Zen Center you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what Buddhism is. I never heard of Buddhism before or zazen. I just went there and all of a sudden I’m sitting tangaryo [one or more days of sitting all day with only few breaks - an initiation - DC]. I sat tangaryo when I’d only been sitting for a few days. Meg sat next to me. She sat real good. It was so cold and there was no heater. It was three days. I was so frozen and she didn’t get up so I didn’t either and we were just sitting and sitting. I remember we were chanting during service and I bowed and couldn’t get up cause I was frozen.
I remember in the summer sesshin I came out of the zendo and someone said that people had walked on the moon.
So what are the qualities of this kind of person. I think it’s important to recognize because there are so many gurus in the states. Being around Roshi taught me something. So did being around Tatsugami Roshi. Suzuki Roshi was very clear. You can say something to a student and they’ll say, that’s right and then you say something else and they’ll say, that’s also right and things can get into a muddle. But Roshi was very clear. He was not muddled at all. And he was able to put all the students whether they were rich or poor, white or black, men or women, intellectuals or whatever, he was able to hold them all in his mudra. He was able to manifest a big mind where everything could fit.
He came back from New York where he’d gone to raise money and he told us that he had a problem putting all those big buildings into his zazen.
DC: I remember him saying I couldn’t accept New York as part of my mind - it was in 69 about the time of the moonwalk - I pointed it out to him later (oh, maybe that was near the time of the moonwalk - it may have been in 67 he said that) that he’d said that. He was telling me you must accept everything and I reminded him what he’d said about New York - I told him he said he couldn't accept it and he said, "I didn’t say that."
He was so childlike. He’d play with a student or find an interesting rock and get all excited. He had that kind of excitement that a child has. When we first start meditation we don’t know what’s happening and that’s when we’re learning the most. That’s what he was like. And it’s a lifetime of learning.
When I first went to Taiwan I looked for teachers because Roshi had died. I didn’t want to go to Naropa. Trungpa had invited me to Naropa.[Not to Naropa I bet, that's their school - their group was called Dharmadhatu and was in Boulder - DC]
I remember the day that Trungpa came to Tassajara and the first time he sat I was carrying the stick. There was an extended area in the back part of the zendo and Trungpa was sitting there
DC: in a chair?
Yes and he was facing out - I didn’t know who he was and I walked over to him and said, please face in and so he turned around and faced the wall. He came with his wife. He stayed for a few days. But no one wanted to cook for him because he ate meat. I did the cooking.
DC: It wasn’t guest season yet - in 69 - that was the last summer we cooked meat for the guests - Tatsugami ended that.
We cooked up stuff and had to bring it to Trungpa at twelve at night. And he gave us interviews. I had a couple. I liked him a lot. He told me he was going to start a center in Colorado and told me to come.
DC: Dick later called him a dharma snatcher
He was. He took a lot of students. But we needed it. It was good.
DC: I think Suzuki liked to see some students going to Boulder, felt that Trungpa could handle some of them better.
But I felt I liked Roshi’s way and I felt more comfortable with him. Trungpa and I were talking about desire and he said a good thing. He said you got to burn it out, you can’t suppress it. It’s like a shoe. You walk and you wear it out. The sole gets thinner and thinner till it’s worn out. There’s no way to get rid of it till you burn it out.
DC: You’re talking about a guy who continued drinking till he killed himself. He was delirious and people would still bring him alcohol. Some people said that in Tibet they wouldn’t have let that happen.
When he came to Tassajara he was very lucid.
DC: Trungpa got drunk and was pounding on Alan Marlowe with his cane.
Roshi really loved Japanese eggplant. I planted the regular and the Japanese eggplant and he’d go through the garden and he’d inspect them and he was so excited about them. He’d look at them and talk about the shape - they’re beautiful. He had a very high aesthetic. He had a love of nature and plants. He spent most of his time outside at Tassajara. He liked to work outside and he liked to work. He said he’d look in the mirror and realize that he’d forgotten he wasn’t twenty years old. I think real Zen is into nature. He was always outside working with rocks and his garden. I planted stones with him in the garden. The kind of care and slowness with which he worked - he didn’t want to create some big Zen garden - he was just moving rocks - no thought in mind - just like he started Zen Center - just start sitting, no big plan. Any big plan came from the students - not from him. He would have been content sitting at Bush Street all his life also but it overflowed so he got a larger place.
DC: He wouldn’t have been content unless he’d had a certain amount of success.
Yea but he never bulldozed ahead to do something. The way he planted trees and built his garden, he was always very patient, watching carefully, just doing his practice. Gardening was one of his practices.
I had a lot of silent dokusans with Suzuki-roshi - we’d just sit together. He might ask how I was doing and then just sitting.
At the high seat ceremony I asked an embarrassing question. [Mountain Seat Ceremony, Shinsanshiki, in which Richard Baker was passed the mantle of abbot before Suzuki died - DC] They allowed three students to ask questions and I asked one of them. I said, what should we do with our nail clippings?" I was very upset. Roshi was green or yellow. He was dying - he was dead but he was still there though. He had to lean on people to make it through the ceremony. We came up from Tassajara and there were all these other people - Katagiri was there. I was told there would be dharma combat. I didn’t have any real question and I was sitting in the bathroom and I was paring my nails and I was trying to figure out what to do with them and I thought you don’t just throw them in the toilet bowl and not the garbage can - I felt there was something lacking in our practice. The meaning of my question was how do we find our practice? Richard didn’t even answer it - he just went on to the next question - I said I’m serious, what do we do with our nail parings and he didn’t answer, he just sloughed it off. That’s why I felt how can I relate to this? Whether it’s dharma combat or just he’s going to be my teacher - he has to be willing to answer my question and it came from a sincere place in my heart and was not only for me but for all sentient beings - if you come with that motivation, whether it’s wrong or right doesn’t matter - the motivation is the key and people told me to be quiet. It was the best I could do at that point. It was very difficult. Right after that ceremony there was a scene in that room - Angie was there and Katagiri cried.
DC: Oh, that was where Suzuki thanked Katagiri and Katagiri got up on his knees and crossed the tatami saying, don’t die, don’t die.
Something like that. Everyone was crying. I wasn’t crying. I was just watching what was going on. Katagiri recovered very quickly. There were about fifteen or twenty people. That was for me one of the most powerful experiences at Zen Center. Actually, I’d taken a tab of pure Leary acid for that ceremony because I felt that for such an event you want it to make a lasting impression for the rest of your life so I make sure I’m on top of it. I hadn’t taken acid for four years
After that whole scene in the room there. I was following my breath and was equanimous and everyone was into their emotions. We went back to Tassajara and everybody went out of Zen into some kind of old emotional thing - everyone went into a different mode. Katagiri broke down, Angie broke down. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t happy - it was being in the movies - being there, watching, taking in other people’s sadness but not getting caught in it. It was a sad time but I didn’t see any reason to cry. Suzuki wasn’t really sad. He was just being there. He was transmitting stuff and doing what he had to do saying everything is okay. That’s it. He knew he was going. He was hanging on so he could do this ceremony and so things could continue for us and he was taking care of us. He was our father taking care of us. I didn’t feel any sadness from him. Oh I’m losing my children. That is a great mind because at the point of death is when you can tell where a person’s at in their practice. It’s all a living practice but it’s for the actual moment when you’re dying. That state of mind there gets transmitted so you want to work toward a good one - a promotion, not a demotion.
That was the last time I saw him. Katagiri and I were very close. He married my wife and me. He gave us what his father had given him to put the Buddha in, that little case - we had an unusual relationship, maybe stronger than with Suzuki Roshi because we had more time. Later I would sit with him in Pacific Groove and was thinking of going to Minneapolis with him. After that ceremony I went up to Katagiri’s room and said I want to become your disciple. He had no disciples at that time. And we had this intense thing and he snapped his fingers back and forth and he said, go to the ticket master’s window and watch him selling the tickets but don’t wear the ticket master’s uniform. Observe all he does but you don’t have to sell the tickets. You don’t have to wear robes to practice. I’m a monk and have been one all my life but I don’t wear robes. Some people are not - some people are lay people.
Goenka [a famous Burmese Vipassana teacher] says I’ve done this practice before - I’ve done Vipassana - I’ve been a monk. He can see me - he can see I’ve done this before so I’m an older student right away even though there are people who’ve been practicing with him for twenty-five years he accepts me as an older student which is nice. It’s a different tradition but it’s the same. Teachers are very clear people who give you certain information you need as you’re traveling along the path. Anyway, Katagiri didn’t want me as his student, he saw me as Suzuki-roshi’s student - he was always sending me things and giving me presents but he didn’t want me as a student. I’ll always be Suzuki-roshi’s student - he was my spiritual father. And then you have other teachers along the way. Tatsugami taught me a lot. And Katagiri and Goenka. It’s all Buddhist practice - just different ways but it’s the same - not right and wrong. You’re in a room and you’re sitting there and concentrating on your breathing and getting into your body and then it’s whatever you can do. That’s it - there’s nothing much more than that.
Suzuki-roshi, even though he performed the rituals and everything, he was not someone to be a perfectionist for all the rules and regulations. He was told at the first of Tassajara that men and women bathed together here and so we did so but then we separated into men and women. We told him we eat Cheerios for breakfast so we’d eat Cheerios then we told him we eat brown rice so we did that. No trips. He had no trips. Whatever his students wanted to do, whatever they felt was best was Buddhist practice - do whatever is wholesome, don’t do whatever is not wholesome. He practiced the Buddhist way even when he left his tradition. He wasn’t tradition bound. When I go to Zen Center now I feel more trapped in a sort of Japanese overlay than I did with Roshi who was very Japanese.
My parents came to Tassajara and spent a week there and my father even sat in the zendo and then Roshi invited them to breakfast one morning. What an opportunity - I never had breakfast with him alone. My parents were freaked out about their good Jewish boy now in this monastery and now he’ll never get married right. And then they came out and they agreed with me. I never met anyone who met Roshi or who was with him who didn’t feel like that.
DC: Harriet Chino - and there are a few others.
That must have been jealousy or something.
DC: It was because he wouldn’t marry her and Kobun when they wanted and I used to visit him and listen to her and her mother put down that horrible man Suzuki. I sort of enjoyed it. It was, in a way, refreshing, to hear them put him down with such venom. I'd never heard anyone do that before - or since. And there are a few stories of parents who met Suzuki who he didn't charm.
He had a love and compassion and everyone who was around him could feel him. It flowed out of his pores. You could feel it as he was passing by or when he was with you. When he bowed with you there was no judgement, just love, just trying to help all sentient beings, that’s you - no ego. Even Tatsugami had ego.
DC: He was a company man.
They have all those chants now - I didn’t know any of then. But Tatsugami taught us a lot. He taught us how to chant. I was with the first group he taught how to chant.
DC: So was I.
He told us to go down to the stream and chant against the creek and up on the hillside and throw your voice across. I did all that. I was an intense Zen student.
DC: Reb modeled himself after Tatsugami to some extent.
Yeah, he was Tatsugami style and Tatsugami liked him.
I think if Roshi had lived longer there would have been a whole other practice because he only gave us a little bit - he was feeding us little by little, step by step. And he only gave us the first few baby steps and he would have given us much more so that the practice now still remains at that place. I had the anapama breathing experience but it was very unclear what I was doing in meditation to me. I remember Ed was shaking and people were doing different things and everyone would say just follow your breathing. It was unclear what we were doing and I think Roshi didn’t want to give us too much information. First of all he wasn’t trained in this kinds of stuff himself
He was a saintly person, good parmese.
DC: Like parmesan cheese? [I wonder what word he said.]
Good factors that he’d developed over many lifetimes and in this lifetime he didn’t have to make so much effort. The kind of effort we’d have to make to be like him would be too much to do.
DC: His life in Japan was filled with effort. Power struggles too.
The Buddha didn’t do it in one lifetime. Look what’s happened for twenty-five hundred years. Suzuki gave us only a little bit of a taste. It’s like a garden. After he’s gone here’s this garden and then, don’t touch it. But to be alive and be a living thing it has to grow, has to develop, has to deepen, has to age, get weathered, all these things have to happen to it in order for it to be real. It can’t stay the same and it has grown.
I talked to him about my meditation in dokusan. It was always changing. I meditated on my thumb for a year - just on the space between my thumbs for a year - just to get sensitive to that space because a lot of energy passes there. And then I meditated on my backbone for a year. He liked what I was doing. He said it was good. I wasn’t doing what all the students were doing because to me, after you do the breathing, then what do you do? I found that breathing rather than counting breathing was better, and then I found working on my body was starting to get me into other things and then I started to feel things in my body and all the time I was at Zen Center I never read anything about Buddhism, just some Zen stuff. And only recently have I started reading Sutras. And then to study the Vipassana which is pristine Buddhism without any kind of overlay, no Indian or Chinese or Japanese religion - just the meditation practice that Buddha taught.
Buddha only taught three things. He taught precepts - people had to take five precepts [Really? Only five?-DC]. The Vinaya. Then he taught them how to meditate and then he added what makes him a special person in history is he added, Pannya, the wisdom part. They already had the morality things, they already knew about the five sense doors and skandas - this was all part of Indian philosophy at the time - but what he added what something that had been lost - the actual practice of the meditation - how to get into the body sensation itself and from that work our past karma. And you can’t just do that by following your breathing. It’s in all the sutras that the Theravada tradition follows. Following your breath just builds concentration but that’s not enlightenment. A trapeze artist has better concentration than I do, but she’s not enlightenment. A pickpocket has tremendous concentration but he’s not enlightened. When I first got involved with this stuff I felt like I’d wasted twenty-five years but then I realized that if I hadn’t had that early training in sitting and discipline, being around an enlightened teacher, if I hadn’t had that I wouldn’t have been able to get into this other tradition.
I went to Burma in July - it was 105 degrees. I made a big mistake by not bringing my zafu. They sit ten days, ten hours a day. The first four days they sit anapana, work on breathing, complete silence, no eye contact, two meals a day - lunch is the last meal - no meal till the next morning at six thirty, a small breakfast and then a lunch at 11:30. You get into deep concentration to where you can feel the breath moving in and out very clearly. I couldn’t get past two tens in counting.
DC: I couldn’t get past two.
I can go six hours without losing my concentration.
Buddha taught impermanence, suffering, and no ego. Anicha, impermanence, is the basic one - and that’s what Roshi taught - everything changes.
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