Interview with Craig Boyan
He was very understanding. His sense was that you have to follow your heart. I don't think he wanted me to leave and there was a part of me that didn't want to but he was very fair about it. He never said, now look, you've come here to do this and you should do it. That wasn't his way.
Craig Boyan (the beloved) interviewed October 24, 1995 by DC
At the time of this interview Craig was the principal of an elementary school in Richmond, CA. I haven't seen him since the Early Tassajara student reunion in 2008. Craig was one of the sweetest people around back then and was well-loved by all. - dc, 3-12-11
CB: You were the person who drove me into Tassajara in the fall of 68. I got to Carmel Valley Village and you picked me up. I was a neophyte and I was amazed at your energy. You talked about the life of a Zen student. You said you'd feel ashamed of having done something then proud that you were able to feel ashamed and then ashamed that you felt proud and on and on. Tassajara was a wonderful adventure - it was the fulfillment of a dream that I had had for a long time.
I met Suzuki Roshi on Easter break of 67. I'd seen a flier about Tassajara on a bulletin board on the Stanford campus - it was probably about the purchase of Tassajara and had the address of Zen Center on it - 1881 Bush Street. So I thought I was looking for a Zen master and I'll go check that out. Looks like Suzuki Roshi will fit the bill. It was my second year of college - I was going on the East Coast. My folks were living in Palo Alto. I was interested in all kinds of spiritual things and mysticism and Eastern thought and things having to do with esoteric stuff and on the same day I visited a Sufi center, a Meher Baba center on 1290 Sutter Street on the corner of Van Ness which was the old Scottish Rite Temple. I met Suzuki Roshi first at the Bush Street temple and the Dick Baker drove me to the Sufi center where I met Mershida Ivy O. Duce. He was a disciple of Meher Baba who worked with a group called Sufism Reoriented. At Sokoji I had lunch with Suzuki Roshi and Dick and some other people. I think it was Saturday after the lecture maybe and people were just kind of hanging around. There was a kitchen off the zendo where we ate. There weren't so many people. Suzuki Roshi didn't talk much and everybody was real friendly. I was just a hippie looking guy off the street with long hair and beads and leather jacket. Suzuki Roshi seemed like a very nice man.
I'd gone to Berkeley in the summer of ‘67 to study Indian music at the Ali Akbar Khan school. I must have sat at the Berkeley Zen Center that summer. Then I went back to college and finished it and I was confused and had a lot of unfinished threads in my life: the Zen thread, the Meher Baba thread, the rock 'n' roll drummer thread, the Indian musician thread cause I'd studied tabla.
Then I came back in the spring of ‘68 after school and lived in San Francisco and was sitting at Zen Center and decided to go to Tassajara and was accepted for the fall training period. I was doing a sesshin and I went to sleep across the street at eight thirty at some apartment where I was staying for the sesshin and I woke up what I thought was the next morning and it was only nine at night and I was told to go back. I must have been wired.
I was at Tassajara for the next two years - fall of 68 to the fall of 70, and practiced at Page Street for the next year and left at the time that Suzuki Roshi died.
Suzuki Roshi was my main focus for the entire three years that I was there. Him and zazen and fallowing my breathing and my posture and all that jazz. He was the main feature of my life. One of my strongest memories is during a shosan at the end of sesshin that closed the fall training period of that first year. It was December. I remember bursting into tears and asking him why there was so much suffering. It seemed that all the suffering of the world was focused on that moment. He said, No reason, in a totally dispassionate way and I said, “Hai” (yes).
Dokusan with him was very important for me. The ones that come most to mind - during this whole three years I was also following the thread of Meher Baba - I thought I'd made up my mind to become a serious full time Zen student but those two threads stayed with me for the whole time I was there with differing degrees of strength. So from time to time I talked to Suzuki Roshi about that issue - is Zen really my path or is something else my path? That wasn't the focus of all the dokusans but it got more and more to be so. It was very difficult for me to leave him when he was dying but ultimately I didn't feel Zen was my path. It wasn't my heart or center. He was very understanding. His sense was that you have to follow your heart. I don't think he wanted me to leave and there was a part of me that didn't want to but he was very fair about it. He never said, now look, you've come here to do this and you should do it. That wasn't his way. Dokusan was a place where I could go and be totally understood. He was wonderful in that way. He could be tough but I always thought he was understanding and gentle. I never felt misunderstood or put down. He was a kind guy who helped me enormously in taking the next step I had to take. He helped by being there and who he was.
DC: In Japan the teachers I know would never put up with that. Even teachers of calligraphy or flower arrangement don't want to hear about anything else. And Zen teachers are really strong on doing just one thing. I knew a fellow who was at Bukokuji and he'd been at Sogenji and he was soon to go back to Germany and had arranged to sit a sesshin at Ryutakuji as Soen's old temple is called and the master there called up Bukokuji and Harada Tangen Roshi answered the phone and the other teacher, another Suzuki, said that you have a student there named so and so and he's coming to sesshin here on such and such a date and I want to know when he's going to arrive and Tangen-roshi said, oh he can leave right now and kicked the guy out. He doesn't want his students to talk or read while they're there. Just sit and have dokusan with him and have nothing else in their minds.
CB: I had trouble with sincere practice. I looked up to Reb Anderson. To me his practice seemed awesome. He could do all the things I couldn't - get up in the cold everyday and all. He seemed to me like a guy who was doing it the way it ought to be done. Reb was strident to do it - you could see the effort. Suzuki had attained a kind of effortless practice. Seeing someone practice like Reb with that level of sincerity and commitment made me examine my own thing. Meher Baba passed away in February of ‘69 and Loring Palmer came in over the snow in snow shoes. Loring brought the news that Meher Baba had dropped his body and at that point I almost left but didn't.
DC: I remember that - I passed him on the top of the mountain. I almost died trying to get out - I was on a shopping trip. The snow was so deep and I didn’t have snowshoes. Of course I should have taken his at that point but we didn’t think of it. I didn’t realize why he was going in.
CB: You can't ride on two horses, is an old saying that comes to mind. I was sewing my robe and preparing to be ordained with you up until the very last minute. I'd seen the benefits and attractions of two different paths and I was torn between them. As I look back on it, Zen Center was the important next step that I had to do to clarify where I had to go with my life. It could have been Zen or it could have been Meher Baba. It was Suzuki's gentleness and understanding that enabled me to get through that alive and although the end of it was a difficult parting and I felt like I was deserting a ship, at the same time I needed to do what I had to do and he helped me do that. He had a lack of rigidity.
I had forced the issue of ordination. I think he thought I wasn't ready but I said I really want to do this. I felt that urge to decide like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind - is it Rhet I love or is it Ashley? That sort of indecision about the deepest feelings of your heart. Less than a week before the ordination I decided on the Meher Baba path.
DC note: There were going to be five of us ordained including you but there were four - Ed, Lew, Angie and me.
CB: Everybody gets something different out of it. If everybody got out of Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi what I did, I think they'd be profoundly grateful and I guess most of them are. Suzuki Roshi was pretty sick when I last talked to him and we didn't say a lot but I think it saddened him.
DC: Do you remember Suzuki Roshi mentioning that maybe you shouldn't be ordained - I think because you’d asked another ambivalent question - at a morning chosan (tea meeting) in the city in the late summer of ‘71 and you breaking out crying?
CB: No but it may very well have happened. I guess I was an emotional guy at the time.
DC: You were. I remember you crying when you decided not to get ordained. It was right when we were starting to do the rehearsal in the Buddha Hall. I remember thinking you were doing the right thing.
CB: There are kitchen stories. I liked food. Once Niels went into the kitchen at night and he says he was eating and all of a sudden he noticed Ed Brown sitting on the grill with a cleaver.
DC: That’s true. I was with Niels and I don't remember a cleaver but maybe so. It freaked Niels out. I remember him yelling, “What the fuck! God damn Ed! What are you doing? You’re crazy.” He was tired of people coming in and stealing food at night so he lay in wait for us sitting in lotus on the griddle top in the corner in the dark. What a shock. I loved it.
CB: Doug Bradle and I felt there should be an opportunity to integrate Saint Patrick's day into the Zen tradition, were making dinner and so we put green food coloring into the evening gruel and served it in the zendo. I have to tell you it looked pretty bad. The zendo was dark and it was pretty dark. I don't know if Suzuki Roshi shared the humor.
One night I went into the kitchen and got some food and ate it in the zendo with oryoki - it might have been cake, an incredibly fabulous cake that Ed had made. Tatsugami had put locks on the kitchen doors and it just shows that good old American know-how to get something done. Someone had to strike a blow for independence.
DC: You were jikido (zendo cleaner) or else you couldn't have eaten in the zendo by yourself and it was probably the night after a day off cause that's when we had cake. Do you remember Dianne (now Daya) and Margaret (now Shakti) coming in with the water and bucket chanting? (completing the oryoki ceremony)
CB: Oh yeah, kinda. She must be right. The old synapses aren't what they used to be.
DC: And you got into the kitchen by bringing a ladder around to the creek side of the old kitchen and getting in through the window. Dianne and Margaret had been sitting up late in Dianne’s room in the door talking and saw the light from your flashlight and you with the ladder and watched you get in and followed what you were doing and then heated some water and came in chanting with it in a teapot followed by the bucket to dump the water in. It’s one of the great Tassajara stories.
I remember not feeling the same resonance with Tatsugami Roshi that I did with Suzuki Roshi. Tats didn't speak much English and seemed like the drill sergeant and I wasn't into that so much. DC: Did you feel Tassajara as a community was being torn asunder by Tatsugami?
CB: No, but I definitely always saw Tassajara as a community - all of Zen Center. The way I rationalized that was Suzuki Roshi knows he's here and brought him over for some good reason so we might as well learn from him.
DC: Do you remember how Alan Marlow would sit in his room at night and not go to Tatsugami lectures?
CB: Alan Marlow was a unique individual. His independent spirit might not have meshed with Tatsugami.
DC: Do you remember at the Shosan ceremony rehearsal how we were all coming up to Tatsugami and saying Docho Roshi! and then moving on - it was where we'd ask the question in the ceremony but we were just going through the motions cause he'd changed it some so we could do it correctly the next day and Alan came up and kneeled and said Docho Roshi! and then screamed at the top of his lungs, "Pig fuckerrrrrrrrrrr!!!!" and Tatsugami grunted and looked for a translation but of course got none.
CB: I would have remembered that. That must have been after I left.
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