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Interview with Lucy (Bennett) Calhoun

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Lucy Bennett
Interviewed by DC

This conversation took place at Ashland Farm outside of Atlanta where Lucy and her husband, Clay Calhoun live and work. She was also a nurse for years. It's one of the first interviews I did.

Ashland Farm - Lucy and Clay's home and biz

Lynn Hennelly (Hesselbart) is also with the farm.

I hear Suzuki Roshi all the time: There's no where to go. It's raining everywhere.

DC: I'd pulled most the Suzuki Roshi material from Thank You & OK and (friend and agent) Michael Katz said that the collective memory of Suzuki Roshi will be lost if we don’t act soon and I'm interested in getting that and what people have to say about him and what that will reveal about him and them. I'm interested in those people.

LB: Didn't Suzuki Roshi, when preparing people for his death, he say that he had some confidence in the group understanding of what he had taught? that it would keep Zen Center on track because it wasn't necessarily one person's interpretation but there was such a wide body of people who had practiced with him that there was a collective wisdom.

DC: I hope he did say it.

LB: I can't remember if I heard him say that or I heard Baker Roshi saying that he said that.

DC: Steve Tipton said that Dick promoted the person church and I remember him using a metaphore of the temple being one stalk of wheat. But maybe it's the wisdom of the group that will survive.

LB: I went to Zen Center and then to study with Charlotte Selver and then to New York and then I felt I could go back.

DC note: I think there’s something missing here about her breakup with her husband, Gordon Bennett.

LB: I started coming back in the fall of ‘70 and in ‘71 I was in the city center when Suzuki Roshi was there and that was the time I had the most intense sense of him. He obviously knew in the spring that he wasn't going to be around so long. He gave a lecture in the city that when I heard it I knew he was dying and that he was preparing Zen Center for his death. He talked about what happens when you loose your driver. I talked to people at the time about it and many people didn't want to talk about it and didn't want to think that that's what it was about. But to me he said, This is the last time I have with you - I just have a little while. I went to go with him to the fall of ‘71 practice period and he didn't make it.

I went up to be Baker Roshi's assist in ‘72. I was there a year and a half at Tassajara.

Bill Lane was the first director of Green Gulch and then Steve Weintraub.

I lived in an apartment in the fall of ‘70 and I hadn't been going to Zen Center for six months and I started going back and I sat at least one sesshin. I lived on Oak Street. I used to see scary things there. I was beginning to focus on being a Zen student and I was conscious that this was the front edge of my life - it was me making the decisions - it's like when my time at Zen Center started.

The first time I went to zazen I went into the zendo and it was immediately apparent that I didn't know what to do so I had a zazen instruction - it took about one minute.

DC: Some people Suzuki Roshi would give a thirty second zazen instruction to and they'd never have another one

LB: I don't think I had any evaluation going when I first met him. I had no expectations. I came to find out what he had to teach and I trusted him. But in the early days partly because I had no say so over my life but partly because - I trusted him - but I didn't trust the language communication so well - I didn't know if he answered me the way he did because he misunderstood me or because he did understand me and that's what he wanted to say.

DC: I wondered that sometimes and came to the conclusion that he was answering my deep question - it seemed like it.

LB: For me zazen worked from the word go. He created the zazen environment very very powerfully and I wanted zazen and I didn't really expect more from him than that - I wasn't a whole lot interested in lectures in the beginning.

DC: Not the guru but the group?

LB: More just sitting zazen. I didn't even particularly think of him as a teacher.

DC: That's how I approached it when I was first there and I got more and more involved with him as time went on.

LB: One of the things that I enjoyed about zazen when I first got there is that there was absolutely no point to it. At that time I felt there was nowhere to go. There were Japanese priests and Caucasian students. Later there was a group and a hierarchy and priests and there were places to go and you could be somebody but I didn't feel that at all in the beginning.

When I came back in the spring of ‘71 people were saying if you want to have dokusan with Suzuki Roshi now's the time and he was giving dokusan a lot. That's one of the reasons why it was so intense and the sesshin was strong. I felt like I was a brand new student and I felt like there were a lot of people who had a long developed relationship with him and he didn't have a lot of energy and I thought I should just wait. I thought that my time to have dokusan and to have a relationship with a teacher and the group will come after his death. I felt that very strongly.

I only had one dokusan with him. And it was at that dokusan and during that sesshin that I felt I could give my life to him. This could be what the rest of my life was. He started talking to me about shaving my head, putting robes on and going to Japan and I said, I don't know myself that well. Angie had been talking about doing all that and celibacy and if she was up for it or not and I said I don't know myself that well and he started talking about breathing. It was very confirming. It wouldn't have worked for me to go to Japan. I'd heard a little from Joyce Browning. He wasn't telling me to - he was raising the issue.

DC: But what do you think of that? A lot of people would then make that their life goal - they'd drop everything at anything he said - you must have thought for yourself.

LB: I think he thought I could get my life together in the way I wanted. I don't think he had all the answers and he was looking around to see how do you practice and help people who are interested in practice.

DC: It's shocking to me to think he thought there could be benefit from going to Japan but maybe that's not what he was thinking.

LB: I was feeling fairly strong - my marriage was fairly horrendous for me. Not strong enough to avoid working for Dick but I tried. That was the end of my practice. I knew it but not quite consciously enough. I've written some things about it. Almost like a college and I thought this will work for me. Zazen worked for me just fine but anything beyond that I thought I haven't done the work and it looks like Dick has so I'll wait for him.

I was remarkably oblivious to the group till the fall of ‘72 when I became the treasurer at Tassajara and then I began thinking about it. I felt extremely comfortable like I was the center of the universe and that was because the council discussed everybody and anybody could analyze the person discussed and it gave us a high cause we were talking about other people's faults and I felt like I was being initiated into the select few and it gave me the feeling that I was okay but it wasn't and I forgot to judge not less ye be judged and now I think that was sick. I know that Suzuki Roshi spent a lot of time thinking about whether he should spend his time training one or two people who would then know what to do to train the group or whether he would give his time to creating the ground that would allow Zen to flourish and I think his decision was to give his time to the grounp.

I remember him talking about that. He was not comfortable that he was leaving too soon and he knew there were big dangers and he hoped the group would find its way. He tried to create a situation that would work. I don't think they talk about people like that now. Linda Ruth had the same experience I had and she wrote about the danger of it. I don't know if I'd say that Suzuki Roshi set it up wrong. I don't know about his choice about Dick but I don't know if he could have done anything differently. Maybe he hoped that Dick would do it differently than he did. And maybe he thought we'd keep Dick a little more in line than we were able to.

DC: In Japan they work as a group - in consensus but I'm glad that Dick was autocratic about getting Green Gulch.

LB: Dick created the three places, the businesses

DC: Not Page Street, the City Center.

LB: And he created a lot of room for people in the community and the businesses gave more people more places to go. It lost the place I had in the beginning of no where to go and no point.

I hear Suzuki Roshi all the time: There's no where to go. It's raining everywhere. And one phrase from Baker Roshi: When we go out of this cabin...[?] It's a lot like the feeling that came from Suzuki Roshi.

DC note: Must ask Lucy how that line from Baker Roshi finishes up.

LB: With Dick I tried to work out all my ancient twisted karma by reliving it.

I was asked to be treasurer at Tassajara and I was told it was too soon for me and I could only do it if I would go to Tassajara for one year.

Dick kept asking me to do stuff for him and I said no and I kept saying no. Then one time he watched me sewing my rakusu and I said I guess I have time to do work for you. He put me to transcribing little diddly letters from tapes he'd made. You give him an inch and he takes a mile and I had no idea how to draw the line.

At a board meeting Baker Roshi started talking about all he wanted to do - weaving a web of his life and the future of Zen in America and so he'd decided to ask the council if I could come up to the city to be his assistant. I was proud and blown away but I couldn't say no in front of all those people. I asked Reb to tell him why I didn't want to go. After that everything that happened was my own doing and that each time things got deeper I had no ground to stand on. Even the last sesshin I sat at Tassajara at the Rohatsu sesshin in ‘72 was wonderful but I was always thinking about the city and Baker Roshi would ask me to go to his cabin and it would just be small talk. Zazen can either be a profoundly opening strengthening practice or it can help you to close down. I began dreading going to Zazen. I didn't sit a sesshin after that till I came back from Japan.

All my life I have been able to turn my life over to other people and I did it with Gordon and worse with Baker Roshi. And I learned a lot from that. A lot of people tell me I should be really angry - Peter Ritter - he wrote a book on sexual relationship between priests and students and I was one of five people in the book and he was pushing me to be angry and was upset with me for taking responsibility for my having gotten into it but I feel like if I don't take responsibility for it that I'm a victim again.

I left Tassajara on New Years day ‘73.

It started in the fall of ‘72 ‘till 80. I was living in his house, I was working for him, he was my teacher and then there was the secret that I was having an affair with him and I was cut off from everybody because I couldn't talk to anybody about what was going on. He compartmentalizes. I don't. I went to see Nancy Wilson Ross.

My basic attempt was for everything to be a manifestation of practice. At the city center I slept in their kitchen. AT Green Gulch I had a room in the back of his house. It started to change when I went to work for Nancy Wilson Ross.

From the point that I was with Dick I felt that his understanding of practice was better than mine. I was against our relationship and I was totally uncomfortable with it and he said it was a practice relationship and it was helpful which isn't what he told other people and I acted from his interpretation and not mine. I stopped having a thought of my own. He used to say that the first 99% of practice was easy and the last %1 is hard so I tried to give myself over to him and it didn't work. Little by little I tried to move away from him and it took years.

Were you in that council meeting when he talked about Yvonne? He talked for a long time saying isn't it a pity that Yvonne is the most prominent woman in Buddhism in America and she is crazy.

DC: That's what she says about him. It’s a long-running spat. And when they say something like that to me, I say, "Hey, you’re talking about my friend."

LB: At the end of that meeting - that was the beginning of my finding myself - I told him that was wrong and he had absolutely no right to say those things.

Working for Nancy I found myself being fundraiser going to Rockefellers and others not knowing what I was talking about and saying please give us $10,000. So I came back and said I can't do that so he said let's put you on the board and I did that and then I became director of the City Center. There I was responsible for things and my relationship with him was really messing up the works and I was no longer his assistant but he was the head of Zen Center and he'd send me to the house across the street and I'd think I had permission to work things out with them and I came back and said this is what the idea is and he'd say that was wrong and Yvonne came over and talked to me and then went over there and offered the same thing that I had asked.

I feel he's very mistrustful of woman and that he tries to get them close to him so he can undermine them.

I wanted some job where I'd sit zazen twice a day and sit sesshin. And he said you should be tenzo at Green Gulch. I said that's what I want least. I went to Reb and he never opened his mouth and years later he apologized for not helping me those two times.

DC: I've heard other people say that about him - that he apologized.

LB: So I went to Green Gulch and I finally got over being bulimic - there was so much food there. It was while I was tenzo at Green Gulch I realized there was no hope. I tried one more time and they put me in the fields and I just was [?]

DC: Oh god that's horrible. [wonder what’s missing there?]

LB: And Yvonne suggested I go to Eva [?]. This was probably ‘79. Our sexual relationship petered out and he called me on New Years day when I was tenzo and asked me to come to town and I didn't want to. Sexually it was totally nothing. I was totally frigid. I wasn't a person. I didn't want it. I wasn't there for it. I couldn't say no.

I enjoyed a fair amount of the administrative work I did.

DC: I've felt regret about some of the unwholesome relationships I got into. I can remember feeling stuck and finally getting out of it and feeling regret. Do you think he has?

LB: I always felt upset after we had sex and at Tassajara once he asked me and I poured out crying and he intimated maybe it might have been a mistake. I've read his version of it and he says it wasn't like a teacher student relationship it was more like two graduate students and after graduation one of them becomes president and another becomes a secretary. He says we'd known each other before I came to Zen Center. I met him at Elsie Mitchell's. He came in full robes and gave a lecture and I was there and that's all.

I don't know of any other students he had relations with.

DC: Me either though everyone thinks there were many others they get that impression from what’s been written about him. The others were when he was with them as students.

LB: Eva got me out, got me finally free of him - we weren’t having a sexual relation. I never told Eva about our sexual relations. I talked to her for an hour and a half and the next day I went to see Dick in the city and I went in and said I'm leaving and I moved out to Muir Beach. And then my life started coming back.

I was around for a while then I went to Japan with Gary T. which was a big mistake. At Green Gulch I liked working with Paul Rosenblum.

During the time I was working at Baker Roshi I had rages. I cracked a window...

Zen Center was such a great big magnet that said this is the center of the universe and it was so difficult to walk away from it.

It's a question, did I waste those years or not? But there's no way I'd be here doing what I'm doing with the settled feeling I have if I hadn't done it. If I'd come to this without doing that I might be doing this but I wouldn't be enjoying it.

I don't have much to say about Suzuki Roshi but he was a more pivotal person to me than Dick who I have a lot to say about.


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