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About Suzuki Roshi
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Interview with Mike Gilmore by DC 4/14/2003
2-16-11 - Lani just called to tell me Michael Gilmore passed Jan.30th at 10:30 PM. By all accounts a very good passing. Svaha! - an email from Jack Elias.
Michael has been having serious liver trouble for years. Clay and I visited him and Lani in March, staying in their Palm Desert condo, and we talked till late. I'd received word he was dying and had a phone conversation with him before leaving for India in which he said he was fine, maybe a week before he died. I should have known because it was hard to get through to him. Farewell Michael - I'll miss our long conversations and your Tarot readings. Must get some of his art up on cuke. - dc
DC: Hello Michael R. Gilmore, and today is April 14, 2003. You’ve been living near Palm Springs for twenty-two years and you paint and do this astrological card reading that we’ll get to later. When were you born?
MG: 1943. I’m sixty this month.
DC: In case you forget it, tell me what you just told me about when you were there when "Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind" came out.
MG: Well, "Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind" just came out and they had copies in the office at the Zen Center, and I just happened to be standing there, when Roshi’s wife was standing there. I didn’t know her, you know. She’s got the book, and the front of the book is his calligraphy that he did with a banana leaf, right?
DC: Well actually no. I think it was a local yucca leaf. Stan White gave it to him at Tassajara I think. There’s yucca all around there. But go on.
MG: On the back is one of his pictures, like this. She looked at me and kinda to anybody she said, "this very good, talking about the calligraphy. And then she turned to his picture, she said, "this very no good." So you could tell they were at each other.
DC: Well, you know what she didn’t like about it was he wasn’t shaven. She said if this was in Japan, he would have been dressed in formal robes, clean-shaven, in a formal picture. It was a picture that was taken of him after a seven-day sesshin when he hadn’t shaved. And I was standing there too with her that day at one point and he was there too.
MG: I just thought they were just like arguing. But I admired that. . . . to go right with her, right down to the wire. In those days I thought he was kind of god, cause I was so awed by Zen. But on the other hand I loved the guy.
I just thought of a story. I had been at Zen Center about a couple months. I got out of ‘Nam in ’69 and I came right to the Zen Center. Actually, no I didn’t. I got out of ‘Nam, got out in Seattle, hitchhiked down to San Francisco intending to go to Japan to study Zen. Because every Army library has that big book by D.T. Suzuki, "Zen Buddhism and Japanese Culture." For some reason every army library has that. So all through my army time I’d be reading that.
Anyhow, I thought of a story while you were getting’ the tape together. It’s the first time I met you, actually. I had been at the Zen Center for about three months, four months. And for some reason Bob Halpern said we’ve gotta go see "2001." And he wanted Roshi to go. Roshi said, "I’ll go."
DC: You know why? Okusan wasn’t there. She was in Japan, or whatever. And yeah, I was there and I went on this trip too. So that’s just after we’d met?
MG: Yeah. Anyhow, you know how Halpern is, he’s relentless. So he ran around and he got Roshi. Now he’s . . . doesn’t have a car or anything. He had just come down from Tassajara. There was a bunch of you had just come down from a training session. You were like wild men. You had all that incredible energy. So anyhow, some guy with a van we got. Bob put it together. We all get in this huge van. It was like an International, you know those big long old things. And we all got in there. And at that time there was this schizophrenic young girl, that every time the Roshi’d leave where he lived, she’d attach herself to him. Remember her?
MG: Well after awhile he so accepted her he would notice . . . she was with him, everywhere he went. She had an attachment. As soon as he’d come out --- she won’t go inside where he was living, his apartment, but as soon as he got out she was on him. Like that close to him.
DC: What year was this?
MG: ’69, still. I got out ‘Nam in September ’69, and this is like. No maybe it’s early ’70. So she’s with him, everywhere. And he told me, after a while he didn’t even know she was there. So we all get in this van, and we go, like to find this movie theater, it’s way across town.
DC: It was in South San Francisco. It was down near the airport, over there, Burlingame, or maybe before then.
MG: Is the story in your book?
MG: So we get to the movie, and it’s a huge movie thing, like ten theaters. And you guys had a ton of money on you, and you start buying candy. Do you remember that? You were so far away from sweets, you had been in Tassajara, and you start buying candy, big boxes, huge boxes of candy. And Roshi was there with the crazy broad, and we’re all sitting there, and the candy starts coming ---
DC: Was anybody else? Bob, you, me, Roshi,
MG: I think Reb, maybe.
MG: Yeah. He was relaxed that day. He had no authority then, there was no priest there. He wasn’t a priest or anything, just a Zen student. There was about six, seven of us. Roshi sat . . . with the crazy broad. She was with him everywhere he moved.
DC: Yeah. I was sitting next to him, cause I remember I tried to explain to him something that was happening in the movie, and he told me to shut up.
MG: You were great. You were just incredibly full with energy. All of you guys were. But we had been in the city. Me and Bob were kind of more jaded. Anyhow, every candy would come along, Roshi --- I was watching, you know how we watched Zen masters – he’d take a little bit, pass it around. Boxes and boxes of candy. And we saw "2002"
MG: 1. And I remember thinking to myself, cause we’re leaving the movie, and it’s jammed. This other movie’s getting’ out, right. Roshi wants to go to the bathroom. And he’s walking around with his beautiful robes on. And this crazy broad next to him. And nobody notices him. I do, because I’m tripped on Zen, right. But the regular people, they’re not paying attention to him, which I thought was amazing. Because he was just so much part of his environment, I guess, huh? What do you think? . . . . making a big deal out of him anyhow. She actually did wait, though, when he went to the bathroom. As soon as he come out she attached herself to him again.
I remember Roshi’s lecture about seeing "2001." He said he went to see the movie. The next day – I used to love those lectures he gave in the beautiful room that was in front. The Buddha hall. I loved that room. He did explain to me one day that painting, behind it, that’s ink, dried ink, that’s more expensive than gold. He said, that’s actually more expensive than gold. They keep dryin’ it, dryin’ it till it gets thick like that. There was some calligraphy behind the altar in that Buddha room. It was made of ink. Me and Bob were waitin’ to go to the movie . . . He said that this process takes years, or a long time, where the ink dries like a layer at a time. Till it’s about that thick.
DC: That’s about two inches thick.
MG: Yeah, of ink. He said this is more expensive than gold. That process. So it’s just ink that actually becomes paper after it dries. But you have to do it a little layer at a time. He was explaining that. I remember that.
DC: But what about his lecture on "2001".
MG: After we went to see "2001" which was a masterpiece. He said, that’s how we are. We’re like the monkeys in the beginning of the picture. And the monolith. He said – I’ve had arguments with people about that – he said that’s the symbol of reality. That’s what Roshi said.
DC: Well that’s what it was to him. Doesn’t have to be what Kubrick had in mind, or Clark.
MG: Well, o.k. He said, that’s reality. He says we’re like the monkeys. We touch reality and then we’re strong. We touch reality. It’s true. We get some insight. We go have a whisky. We get some feeling about what truth is, and then we ---
DC: That’s very good. Very interesting. That’s unique, I never heard that thought.
MG: That’s how we do it. We don’t stay with it. We won’t stay with it. Cause we want to go celebrate. That’s what he said after that movie. I heard it. Trungpa gave a whole lecture on that. He said that that’s the life, that’s the spiritual life. Did you ever read the book – Arthur C. Clark wrote a book after the success of the movie – and of course he explains more cause they only say a few words at the beginning, they don’t talk the whole movie. Well, the way he explained it, there were four astronauts. Two were in suspended animation. And the other two were walkin’ around. It was a suicide mission. They had enough technology. They were goin’ to Venus or someplace, something like that. And it was all color. But they didn’t have enough to get back. But Hal, the computer, this monkey mind we have, that’s Hal, the computer. He thought he could get back. That there was a mathematical possibility, he could get back, but not with the human help. Too risky. So he killed the two guys.
DC: I never realized that.
MG: Yeah. That’s how Arthur Clarke explained it, after the movie. He wrote the book after the movie. Cause he originally just wrote the screenplay. And then with all the success of the movie, I guess he wrote the book. So anyhow he says, the two guys sleepin’, they know it’s a suicide mission. The two guys in suspended animation. But they don’t tell the other two guys, because they’re all on international TV for the first month of the flight. They don’t want to see any long faces. We ain’t comin’ back. They don’t tell them. But Hal knows it. So it’s easy for him to kill the two guys - he just cuts off their life support. The computer does the whole thing. Then he kills the other guy.
DC: Shoots him in outer space or something.
MG: Then the fourth guy, he’s onto him. He’s onto his head. He’s onto little mind.
DC: The astronaut is onto the computer?
MG: Right. That’s what I’m saying’. Psychologically, like the lama’s explainin’ it, this is the spiritual spirit. When we get onto this little mind. That’s part of the process, right. So he’s really onto him and Hal’s tellin’ him don’t do that, don’t do this, but don’t touch there. And he tries to hide from him . . . and then finally he gets in the memory bank, and he starts takin’ out. We all go through that. That would be psychoanalysis kind of, in a way. He’s takin’ out his memory. And Hal’s tellin’ him, don’t touch that one.
DC: It’s like he’s killin’ the ego.
MG: He’s killin’ the ego by self-examination. Cause he’s lookin’ at his past, like one thing at a time. Then finally he’s got the ego down to singin’ little songs that he learned as a baby computer. Then he’s gone into Venus. The next time you see him his eyes are like that. He’s goin’ into Venus and the rainbow colors, and now Arthur C. Clarke’s explainin’ it. Up is not up any more. Cause he shut off his computer mind. So this mind that’s always tellin’ us, gotta go, gotta get up. Go, get lunch, go to dinner, go over here, do this work, you know. He don’t have that mind any more. He don’t know what to do. He’s sittin’ there and up is not up, down is not down, he’s comin’ into Venus and he’s sayin’ to himself, I don’t know what’s happenin’, but don’t stop. It’s like bliss. And then he gets in there and there’s no partner ready for him. The way he explains it, these star farmers go around the universe and they plant enlightenment, and they keep goin’, cause they got incentive to go . . . They just set it up and they go. And they set this up for him. And remember he’s sittin’ in his apartment. Now he’s like a old man, sittin’ in there. Kubrick’s got a great set director, whoever he is, all his interiors are always beautiful. Beautiful green furniture . . . And he’s like an old man, he’s layin’ in bed, cause he don’t have the computer mind tellin’ him what to do any more. He’s just like a old man. And he’s --- the way he brushes his teeth, it’s the same thing he eats, and if he wants it to be chicken, if he wants it it’s steak. It’s the same material, right. It’s all set up.
DC: It’s all mind created.
MG: The star farmers created this station for bliss. Take it that way. And then the next thing you see him he’s a baby, about two, that’s him. He’s born again, sorta speak. And he’s goin’ back to earth. And he’s goin’ back to earth, and all of a sudden he panics. Well what do I do when I get there. And then he ends the book, he says, I’ll think of something. He comes back into earth.
DC: Yeah. I did read that the way it was originally written he decided to destroy it with nuclear bombs. And that Kubrick didn’t do that, cause he just made Dr. Strangelove which ended with ---
MG: Who was gonna destroy what?
DC: The story ended that the baby destroys the world with nuclear bombs.
MG: Oh really? I thought the baby’s comin’ in like Jesus or Buddha or something --
DC: I know, it’s really weird. I swear I remember reading that somewhere that --- Kubrick had just made "Dr. Strangelove" which ended with the world ending in nuclear war so he didn’t want to do that again. That’s neat.
MG: I remember sitting on Haight Street one time. One Zen student had an apartment there. And I’m sitting there thinkin’ ---
DC: Haight and what?
MG: Haight and Laguna. One of Bob’s girlfriends had an apartment there. And I’m sittin’ there lookin’ out the window, thinkin’, tryin’ to figure out, decide whether I’m gonna sit or not. Cause it was getting’ close. And I’m sittin’ there, and then Roshi gets off a bus. Right there. Totally by himself. He escaped, I guess.
DC: People wouldn’t let him go anywhere by himself but he liked to be by himself so sometimes he’d get away.
MG: So he gets off the bus, all these people around, then again with those beautiful robes, nobody’s payin’ attention to him. I mean, the regular people, they’re just not payin’ attention to him. They’re not lookin’ at him, or --- and he stands there. I know he’s lost. He don’t know where he is because he can’t see the Zen Center from where he’s standin’ when he got off the bus. So he’s tryin’ to do things logically, he tried to do things logically, right. And after awhile he looked like he gave up trying to figure out where he was by reading the signs and he just planted his feet and put his hands at his side for a second and then he knew just where to go. He’d been looking at street signs and said to heck with that and just centered himself and knew. And then he turned and went the right direction and I got out of there too and got off my ass and went to zazen.
MG: When was his birthday?
DC: His birthday is --- I’m not going to tell you yet. Let’s do that reading later. Because I want to get more out of you, your old memories. I remember one thing you said to me, which was nice, and very innocent. You said, he liked you.
MG: Yeah, he did like me. And he showed he liked me. He smiled at me, he liked me. He made it clear that he liked me. Which kind of saved my life. You know, I’ve met other wise men, and they’ve done that too, in my life. And they made it clear that they liked me, and so did he. Cause I remember one day, sittin’ there in sesshin, and he walked in – it was in the little garden, the little courtyard – and me and him watered the plants. He was laughin’ with me. And then one time he called me up. I had just gotten – see I had malaria all the first year I was there. I didn’t know I had malaria. I had malaria, yeah. I just thought I was lazy and crazy. And I’d get the chills, and I’d have a few beers ---
DC: I know if you travel in Asia, man, you know now if you’re in a malaria place or not. Like in Japan there’s no malaria. In Bali there’s no malaria. But some places there is.
MG: . . . I don’t have it any more. I had the curable kind. There’s two kinds in ‘Nam, one was curable, and one wasn’t. But I didn’t know. I’d get these chills, and I was workin’ up the street on an old Victorian. I went and looked at that house one day, this wealthy woman, she had nothing to do with the Zen Center. I just walked by one day, and she hired me. To be like the clean-up man and to live there. And then I got Tim Astin a job as a carpenter, and both of us lived there.
DC: He’s up in Orcas Island, or up there somewhere near Seattle, Puget Sound, near where Niels is.
MG: Like being a carpenter?
DC: Yeah. I believe he’s been working in Japan, even, doing western type building. Larry Hanson is up there too.
MG: He was quite a womanizer, Tim. Had a lot of girlfriends. That wealthy woman chased him around the house all the time, and I kept telling him, do her, do her, but he wouldn’t. She was a very wealthy woman. I knocked on the house when I came back.
DC: What address did she live at?
MG: You go up one block up from the Zen Center -
DC: You mean somebody wealthy lived there back then?
MG: She had security put in, it was dangerous.
DC: A block up, you mean the next block where the projects were?
MG: To the left --- and there’s a Victorian on the right. Across the street from a yard, some kind of a city yard. You go one block up --- what’s the street that’s one block up from the Zen Center. Webster. You take a left, go half a block, it’s on the right.
DC: Oh, Webster. That’s two blocks up to me.
MG: There’s a big Victorian there. It’s still there. Yeah, I went and knocked on the door. If you go straight up Page Street, going north. Anyhow, you’re right, it’s a dangerous neighborhood, but she wanted to live there. She just got divorced from a rich psychiatrist. And she wanted to paint, and she was paintin’. And she hired me to kind of live there, do the clean-up, while she was remodeling. She was nice to me. And she needed a carpenter, I got Tim, and we both lived there. She paid him good.
So anyhow, two black guys used to pick up the trash, I was shakin’ so bad she said take him to the hospital. And they drove me to Fort Miley, the VA hospital, and I passed out. When I come to, the doctor said, well you know what you got. I said, no, I didn’t know what I had. He said, you got malaria. But all I needed was quinine, and in a week I was fine. I was cured. So I just got back from that week, a couple days in the hospital, and sesshin was startin’ and I was sittin’. And maybe cause I was so relaxed and happy to be alive kinda, Roshi told Loring’ --- remember him?
DC: Loring. Loring Palmer.
MG: Where is he at?
DC: He’s in Boston. He’s with Andrew, who teaches enlightenment.
MG: Loring was real up tight in those days. Macrobiotics, cookin’.
DC: Yeah, he was a little rigid, but he was always very good to other people. He wasn’t judgmental or anything, he was just ---
MG: Very private. So anyhow, he called --- he said, Roshi wants to see you. . . . . One of those young Zen priests, the real handsome guy that came, I had gone to talk to him during the sesshin, and he put in the bummer, and he told me something, I forget what he told me, but I was real depressed from what he said to me. This guy was like a brilliant, young, handsome. Japanese.
DC: Oh, from Japan, Yoshimura. He was the handsome one.
MG: Yoshimura, right. Brilliant kind of guy. So he had said something, put me on the bummer, and I told Roshi. And I remember Roshi tellin’ me. He had all these pictures of Kwan Yin on his wall. I guess he got them from artists in Japan. There was like seven of them. And he described them – he said, she looks sad, but she’s really joyous sad in pain, it’s really the same thing. Cause when you look at her she looks sad, but actually she’s filled with joy.
And I was just thinkin’ of things to tell you when I was ridin’ up here, I’ve been tryin’ to paint joy since then. That’s what I’m tryin’ to paint – joy. It’s really difficult to paint. Because joy is not like ha ha happiness. By lookin’ at someone, you can’t tell if they’re sad or joyful. You know what I mean? So that’s been my project since I’ve been a painter. Tryin’ to paint joy. Now they kind of smile a little more. In the beginning they were the suffering kind of . . . joy. My figures. Cause I’m a figurative artist. My figures were expressing the suffering kind of part of joy. Now they’re the joyful kind. So, I mean he got me through that moment is all I’m sayin’.
DC: You mean, all he did was point to the pictures and say, they looked sad, but they’re really joyful.
MG: Right. They’re really the same thing. That’s what he told me. And at that moment, it was all I needed. You know, it worked for me. So I always really kind of loved the guy.
One thing he did reprimand me one time. We were all sittin’ in the coffee klatch thing, you know where all the carpets were – the flop room. And there was a lull in the conversation.
DC: And he was there?
MG: He was sittin’ there with us drinking coffee. There was like ten people around him. And there was a lull in the conversation, and I made a joke. And he turned to me and says, "You don’t like it when it’s quiet, huh?"
DC: Well that’s a compliment. You see, that, because he wouldn’t have said that to you if he thought you couldn’t take it. You know, it’s such a heavy thing to have any criticism come from him. He tended not to do that. He said, like, he wouldn’t hit anybody with his stick, unless he thought they were a pretty good student and could take it.
MG: Well, I had had a spiritual experience at Tassajara during sesshin, but with Katagiri - Kundalini experience. So that’s why I thought he was talking . . . but I don’t know if that was the reason. Cause I had like a, what do they call that, right on top of my backbone. Like a tug on my backbone like something, some power, grabbing it and then the bell rang and I walked for ten minutes and sat down and it happened again – like something grabbed me and through me on top of my backbone and I was in bliss for a few seconds and could see through my small mind but then my little mind said look at Tatsugami, he’s looking at me, and stuff like that. There were rainbow colors – I Think that’s where I got my painting colors from.
My only practice was to straighten my back. That’s as far as I got. I never followed breathing. I just straightened my back. It was the third day of sesshin, and straighten back, straighten back, and finally --- the day before my legs had caught on fire cause I’m sittin’ full lotus. I remember goin’ through that, and on this day, I’m sittin’ there sittin’ and I’m sayin’ this is the last fuckin’ time I’m straightenin’ my back. This is it. And when I said that, I felt something in my lower back and all my struggling and problems just fell away. Then the bell rang, boom, and we did that walking meditation for ten minutes. And I came back and I said this is it. And when I did that, something kind of threw me on top of my backbone. And I sat there and the whole universe went through me, like rainbow colors.
DC: Yeah. And you were there at a practice period with Tatsugami? Oh, I’d forgotten that.
MG: Yeah. I never was there with Suzuki Roshi at Tassajara. I only saw him in the city. So the whole universe was goin’ through me for those seconds and Katagiri and Tatsugami were seein' me. They were right there. I was right near the altar. And my little mind kept callin' --- better look at him, he’s lookin’ at you, you know - but I was onto it. I was onto the little mind. And then Tatsugami called me in later. Cause you gotta keep goin’ back to him. And he said, "was there a moment where there was no effort?" That’s what he asked me.
Then he told me, now you’re a Zen student. Whatever you do, good luck, something like that. But the next fuckin’ day, as soon as I got out of that zendo that night. I took credit for the whole day. I forgot that the only reason that it happened to me was cause I gave up. It wasn’t anything I achieved. It wasn’t cause of my character. If it was anything it was like I gave up, I surrender. That’s probably the key to all spiritual experience. Like Jesus surrendered in the garden and Buddha surrendered under the tree. Surrender. Givin’ up. So anyhow, before I got out of that zendo I took credit for the whole thing. I was unbearable. I was walkin’ around full of myself and then I’d be sittin’ in the zendo trying to get it back. I wanted that spirit stuff. And I almost killed myself for years trying to get it back. I was so full of myself – had nothing to brag about but when I walked out I took credit for the whole thing,.
That’s how I got sober too – giving up.
The next time I went to Tassajara was summertime. I worked as a dishwasher. And then I seen what’s his name – Karmapa and his crew. The Tibetan.
MG: He came up with . . . . that was great. They all came up. They seemed wild to me. Cause we’re all so formal out there. He come in there with like his groupies, like fifteen of them. Then I said, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna go drink with a bunch of butchers ---- that’s when I started drinkin’ again. You know that expression in Zen, drink with the butchers. That’s the last stage of Zen, go drink with the butchers.
DC: Oh really?
MG: Well, you know, one of the bull herding pictures --- ox herding pictures.
DC: You don’t really have to go drink with the butchers, it’s just return to the marketplace. But there are many versions of the oxhearding pictures so maybe that’s one of them.
MG: The one I read said drink with the butchers. Well naturally I would read that because I’m an alcoholic. So I interpreted it that --- go drink with the butchers. That’s why I started drinkin’ heavy.
DC: Oh that’s great. What else do you remember about Trungpa’s visit? Anything?
MG: . . . no, I can’t remember what he said that night. I remember he was – I thought he was really cool. Naturally I think he’s cool. I want to drink.
DC: Then you remembered he drank.
MG: Sure. Oh, yeah, well I know that. I used to watch him drink all the time. I didn’t see him drink that night, but the next time he came to town was --- I’m livin’ with the Japanese right?
DC: Yeah, with Sakurai, the Avant Garde Japanese artist who was head of that community on Pine Street called Konyaku.
So Sakurai for some reason wants to go see Trungpa talk. I was livin’ with a Japanese. I had been livin’ with this American painter who we had stayed drunk together for about a year who was a friend of Sakurai’s. He's a big buy and a sucessful painter now. But he’s impossible to deal with. He came to a party at Konyaku was drunk and was coming on to my girlfriend and calling the Japanese gooks and I broke his nose we were all drunk so he won’t see me now. So me and him were getting’ too crazy. So I asked Sakurai does he have a room at his commune. And they built me a room. They saved me, those guys. They protected me, they loved me. They built me a room for myself there in the basement.
DC: I used to go visit you there and play guitar for them and I wrote a song called Konyaku for them.
MG: So one night, I don’t have any money --- later on I worked, but in the beginning I was just getting’ welfare. Course it would cost almost nothing to live there. We were with part of the Food Conspiracy. We paid sixty dollars a month to eat, all you could eat. So anyhow, we lived in the commune, we paid sixty dollars a month to eat. And the rent was like practically nothing.
DC: What was the food conspiracy?
MG: It was the forerunner of the Greengrocers. Well, the food conspiracy was – there was four or five of them in San Francisco. What they do was they – we were a member of a food conspiracy. They had about twenty communes. They were mostly gay guys. They bought the food for twenty communes. They go to the farmer’s market and buy for twenty communes. They later turned into greengrocers, I think. No.
DC: Zen Center had the Green Grocery, I ran that for a while. And Joe Carcione had the greengrocer on the radio. But that was the only greengrocer. You’re talkin about Rainbow, or one of the communal food groups.
MG: Yeah, they had a communal food thing, food conspiracy. They were macrobiotic too. So they gave us --- I mean we threw away vegetables at the end of the month. We had so much food for sixty dollars a month. It was astounding. So I could live there easily on welfare. Then later I got a job with Coppola. That’s how I got the money to go to Japan. Francis Coppola.
DC: I remember going over and visiting you there at his house when it was being remodeled. Everything was being done in the most exacting way. The openings that the drawers went into were finished nicely and the plastering all around was perfect.
MG: Well, what’s his name got me the job. Not Tim Astin. A friend of Bob’s. He was an incredible womanizer too. He got me the job. And he left.
DC: He was a carpenter there?
MG: I forget if he was a carpenter.
DC: I remember goin’ over there and lookin’ at it and seein’ Coppola’s Patton Oscar lying in the corner of one of the bedrooms with a bunch of junk, pushed up against the corner so people could get their work done.
MG: I was the clean-up man for that job. That’s where I saved the money to go to Japan. My job was to clean up and make the beer run. We didn’t have any coffee breaks, only beer breaks and smoke breaks. It was all hippies from Marin County. We put a movie theater in his basement. They gave me a goin’ away party at Minnie’s Can-Do. Remember Minnie’s Can Do?
DC: Yes, it was a real multi-ethnic rhythm and blues bar on Fillmore Street.
MG: They rented the bar for three hours. We just drank. Those guys really drink. Cause on Friday, that was pay day, we’d been waitin’ to get paid, he paid us cash. All our checks had Projection Room Clean-up written on them. He had to do it that way cause he made so much money with Godfather, the IRS was on him. So on Friday I go waitin’ to get paid, I go around and make the beer run, and I go around askin’ anybody for money, I was lucky if I got eighty cents or a dollar for the beer. And they’re all makin’ six- seven hundred a week. Eight hundred a week. In the ‘sixties, the ‘seventies. I was makin’ almost five. And I was the laborer.
DC: Alright. Now, do you have any other memories.
MG: No I don’t think.
DC: Well, of the Zen --- I mean how did you feel about Zen Center, Suzuki Roshi, anything else to say, before we go to the birthday.
MG: No. There was so few --- I didn’t talk to Roshi that much. I wasn’t there that long. He was sick, too.
DC: Yeah, he was sick a lot. Well he didn’t have cancer in ’69. In ’71 he died.
MG: ’71 he died. He had cancer. He was sick a lot. I remember him walking in to the coffee room and he said, I feel so good I can’t stand it. Something like that. I feel so good . . . Like if he was Americana he’d say I feel so fuckin’ good, you know like that. Because I guess cancer comes and goes.
DC: You know, once he knew he had cancer, he never --- I mean he hardly ever came out of his room. They didn’t know he had --- see he was sick with other things. That might be what you’re thinking of. Because, he didn’t know, we didn’t know he had cancer until like September, and he died in December. And he pretty much, he would only, and he was very sick then. I think you might be thinking of the spring before when he had the gall bladder operation, which actually was cancerous, but people didn’t know it then.
MG: He felt so good, felt really incredible, like joy. That’s the last time I remember talkin’ to him. Then I met what’s his name, cause he come to see Sakurai, that Zen priest we talked about, that used to give him Shiatsu . . . So that’s right, that’s when he started getting sick, when I left.
DC: Yeah. Ryuho. He came in the fall before Roshi knew he had cancer and he worked on him, did shiatsu till close to his death I think.
MG: I remember Bob sayin’ to him – you know how Bob is – "where’s your girlfriend." And Ryuho said, back in Japan. Cause he wasn’t a hippie then. So Bob said, well she’s probably fuckin’ somebody else. These girls’ll like you you know. You’re a Zen priest You gonna fool around. Yeah, Bob --- he’d make you confront --- he confronts everyone. But Ryuho says, "but I’m not gonna do anything. I’m not gonna do it." And Bob says, "how about your girlfriend, I’ll bet she’s fuckin’ somebody right now." And Ryuho says, "well, given her character, I bet she is."
DC: Ryuho said that?
MG: Yeah, about his girlfriend. He says, given what I know about her character, she probably is. And Bob says, well how about you. And he says, but I’m not going to. It showed some principle.
DC: Yeah. But not long after, a few years anyway, he was running a free love LSD Nichiren-Zen commune on Broadway or Columbus.
MG: And after I went around the world I went back to that same commune on Pine Street about a block from Fillmore.
DC: It was called Konyaku. Konyaku is from the ocean.
MG: No, no. It’s a vegetable. It’s totally meaningless. It has no protein. It has no . . . . it has no food value whatsoever. That’s why he called it that. It’s totally worthless. Like Sakurai used to say, I’m a garbage can painter. He referred to himself as a garbage can painter. Meaning no big deal, whatever that means, no pretensions.
DC: Oh that’s cool. I didn’t know that.
MG: Konyaku is a worthless, totally worthless Japanese vegetable, that has no redeeming value whatsoever.
DC: Ah, here on the Internet: Konyaku’s is traditional Japanese jelly-like health food made from a kind of potato called Konyaku potato.
MG: You know, Sakurai called the art, Ocean Art. And then later on he had a group in Paris. He called his thing in Paris Tickle Art. Because you can’t do it by yourself. You can’t tickle yourself. No you can’t. Think about it. You can’t tickle yourself. It’s other people that make you ticklish. That’s why he called it --- he was an incredible guy, too. He was really good to me.
DC: So Suzuki Roshi’s birthday is May 18, 1904. Explain what you’re doing.
MG: I do this system called Science of the Cards – there are a lot of schisms now and this guy calls it the Mystic Quadrate System - based on a deck of cards and astrology. Everybody has two cards. A sun card and a rising sign. Roshi was born on May 18, 1904 --- was ace of diamonds and five of hearts. So it’s interesting cause, looking at my cards, I owed him - we had a past life Venus connection which is the ace of diamonds. He was the father I never had. I lived with an ace of diamond woman. And I owed him karmicly. Owed him --- oh I forget. I owed him a flexible mind. Yeah, I owed him a flexible mind. Ace of diamonds, someone who plans.
DC: He did plan, but his way of planning was sort of not to make a specific plan, but he had a very strong plan all his life to go to the West. But then he didn’t make specific plans within his plans. He believed in letting things unfold, but it’s true, he did, that’s very interesting.
MG: And then make it happen. They’re very good at making it happen. The ace of diamond is someone who makes plans, and makes them happen.
DC: Well look what he did.
MG: They’re kind of self-centered. But he wasn’t. I’m just seeing where he transcended this card. Cause we’re supposed to transcend our cards. So his karma in life was cooperation. No sense of cooperation. That was his challenge in life. They’d rather do it themselves. They’re capable, and they have their own plan, you know. Hitler was ace of diamonds. He had a plan, see.
DC: Suzuki Roshi said that when he was younger in Japan he always used to have fights, over who’d be in charge of the temple, over this or that. And he said he always got his way. He always won. Because he learned how to be patient. And he said when he got older he said he learned it’s better not to fight, it’s better to surrender.
MG: Oh. See, I’m seeing how he transcended that problem. His blessing in life --- he loves being alone. See, he sacrificed that, in a sense. He lived such a public life. Not that he was interested in public fame or anything, but he was surrounded by people, he’d much rather be alone.
DC: Yeah. I think his reason for wanting to be with others was that he felt he had a limited amount of time to teach what he could, to transfer what he could, and that it was going to be up to us, and we weren’t going to be very well prepared. He was just doing his best. He didn’t feel overly qualified to do that. He said it would have been better if we’d had a better teacher, but he was driven from a very young age to take what he had learned from his teachers and from sitting and Eiheiji and Sojiji, and from being in the Japanese system, to another country. He wanted to go to America, but he was willing to go to China, he tried to go to China, but it didn’t work out. He tried to go to America before he went to China. His master wouldn’t let him. And so he was --- when he finally got to America, he was like totally concentrated and dedicated. And he felt like he’d been sort of dissipating. He wasn’t drinking a lot or anything, he really couldn’t drink much. But hanging out with friends too much, and doing things that weren’t really fulfilling his life dream in Japan. He felt frustrated. He finally got to America. He just concentrated on his practice. Taking care of the temple, doing zazen, and he didn’t get a swelled head about it, he just kept doing it, and people just came to him like a magnet.
DC: You said it’s sort of like gypsy astrology.
MG: Yeah. Well, gypsies used the cards. They used a deck of cards. It’s done with the bridge -sized deck. That’s the original proportions that the Magi used in ancient Egypt. Poker fattened it. Every culture uses these cards. That’s how long they’ve been around. Aren’t they wonderful to look at? Everybody likes cards. Just to look at them.
According to the cards he was kind of restless. I owed him karmicly. You know what I owed him? Cause his blessing in life is me. Five of clubs. That means, his blessing is being open to new ideas. So I owed him that. I owed him a new idea, and I don’t think I gave him one. But I did owe him that. Now that I think about it, I owed him as a student, to be open minded. That’s what he had in the blessing. You know, being a five of hearts.
DC: Very open-minded, especially for a Japanese, older Japanese priest. And the restless part makes sense too, especially looking at when he was younger.
MG: His challenge as a five of hearts would be keeping his money straight.
DC: Oh, he was completely worthless about all that. But he was careful not to mix up temple and personal money. Mainly he didn’t use money.
MG: He didn’t answer that challenge. Having his money stable.
DC: Well, I don’t know. Maybe he did. It was no problem after Okusan came and Zen Center got bigger. And he wanted very little for himself. Being a priest he always had somebody else taking care of it for him. But when he was in charge in the few years before Okusan came to America, when she came she found all the checks. The treasurer said he had never cashed any of the checks he’d been given. And she went all through all the books in his library and found all these checks. She wondered, well what had he been living on. He’d do things like he knew people who had stores and he’d just walk in and get a meal or a tea cup for free. He stuck with his friends or students so it wasn’t hard.
MG: He said he used to go begging. Ever hear that story? The way I remember it, he lived in Japan town, which I later lived there. He said part of being a monk is begging, and he used to walk – what he remarked about was, he’d go to the stores and stand there, silent begging, and they all knew – although none of them were from that culture – they knew exactly what he wanted. They all knew. He didn’t explain it to them. He was silent. And they all come and give him food. Or give him money, whatever they gave him.
DC: The people at Zen Center, the Japanese congregation, I think got him to stop. He didn’t do it very often. They did not want him to do that.
MG: But what he remarked about, everybody knew what he wanted when he stood there in front of the restaurant. They immediately grasped it. That’s interesting. Well that’s how extraordinarily ordinary he was. When he walked, he walked to get somewhere. He didn’t walk to vamp. He walked like a little boy walking to the store. Remember the way he walked. See I remember that part, and I remember his elegance, too, cause he dressed beautifully. Some of those canes he had, and those hats. Kind of elegant. Course I realize now Zen Buddhism in Japan is a high-class religion. It’s kind of upper middle class thing. Or rich.
DC: Well, no. Rinzai more so. No, Soto Zen was really poor farmers. But some of the priests who had bigger temples had a lot of money.
MG: Well, priests tend to have nice decent clothes. And . . ., come to think of it.
DC: I don’t know, all sorts of people were in Soto Zen. It’s one of the biggest sects there, maybe the biggest. Or maybe Jodo Shinshu is.
MG: I remember Katagiri saying the reason he became a Zen priest, cause he had a friend when he was a kid, he had a friend whose father was a Zen priest, and he had plenty of food over there.
DC: Right. And Katagiri got into Zen right after the war. And there was no food then. And he also got into Zen because of enormous suffering he’d had. He had abdominal surgery without any anesthetic back then. I don’t remember what it was about.
MG: Really. He was an interesting guy. Talkin’ about a straight shooter. He liked me. He was good to me. But he told me, after I had that Kundalini experience, he said, you keep walkin’ around tryin’ to get enlightenment, you’ll go crazy. You’ll go completely crazy. Cause the next day, beautiful morning at Tassajara, deep in the mountains, and I’m sittin’ there ---- . . . . the most gorgeous place in the world and I’m . . . . tryin’ to get that enlightenment. Or what I thought was enlightenment.
DC: Trying to recapture a peak experience is something that Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi would tell people is a hopeless venture. And a very common mistake that people make.
MG: You remember the lecture Suzuki Roshi gave on money?
MG: He said that money was the purest thing in the world. It doesn’t care if you’re tall or short or good or bad or if you earned it or stole it or if you spend it or save it or burn it. It’s just what it is.
MG: When I first got there, I intended to go – like I get to San Francisco intending to go to Japan and study Zen.
DC: The first two guys that came to him like two days after he’d arrived, came there saying they wanted to go to Japan. That happened to him a lot.
MG: So anyhow I got – when I got there you guys were all there. You were in full force. Cause I got there in ’69. How I found it was I was going to a movie, a Japanese movie in Japantown, and I seen this flyer saying Zen Center. Something about a Zen Center. It was a flyer on a bulletin board at the movie theater, the Japanese theater.
DC: I wonder what it was about, cause we didn’t make flyers that I can remember except for fundraisers so that must be it.
MG: It was a flyer saying there was a Zen Center.
DC: Really. That’s very interesting.
MG: So the next day, I had a few bucks left, not too much, and I walked over and I met the Danish guy.
MG: And he said, start sittin’. I was livin’ down in a fleabag hotel, and I started sittin’ and then they got me a job as a laborer in some union, and they got me a room there. So then right there they moved to the other place.
DC: From Sokoji to Page Street. That was November of ’69. Niels was actually living over at Page Street. Niels and Bob and Ananda who was called Claude back then – they were living at Page Street before people moved in.
MG: Right. I kind of remember that. They got me a job as a laborer, they were union carpenters.
DC: Niels was and is a great carpenter – and artist and builder – it’s all art with him.
MG: And so was Tim – a carpenter. That’s how I met Niels and Tim in the beginning. And then Page Street opened and I got a room in there. And then I met Bob. Then Bob just come down from a training center and we hit it off. And we just hung around. He had a lot of money from ---
DC: Doing’ iron work maybe.
MG: Yeah. And we’d just go to movies night and day and drink coffee.
DC: He and I went to thirty movies one month.
MG: I was your replacement. He needed somebody to talk to. Cause people disapproved generally of speaking around there. Most people disapproved of Bob. I mean people within the authority. But I loved Bob. I loved talkin’ to him. So I was your replacement. We went to Foster’s, we went to movies. He’d go into the restaurant, he’d walk into Foster’s and go around to every table and take all the scraps. And he’d come over with a fuckin’ plate that big filled with food. Then we’d go to regular movies, and two for $2.00 movies, night and day, that’s what we did. Then he got the idea to have this school. He bought a little truck. That was summertime. I guess you were up in Tassajara. He bought the little truck and we had this school. We were just babysitters. We had the kids all day.
DC: Suzuki Roshi had told Bob that he should take care of kids. They were always looking for something Bob could do. He never could do anything at Zen Center. He’d just stand around and talk and he’d chase women. So Suzuki Roshi said let’s have him sit at the front at a table and greet people. Nobody had that job, that was a job just made for Bob. But he got this gig taking care of kids. Suzuki Roshi had encouraged him to do that.
MG: He got a truck. He got that partner with that rich broad. She got him the money to buy the little truck. It was a nice little truck. We went to Mexico with it. A little Metropolitan. It looked like a small bread truck. With sliding door on the side, and a nice platform with a carpet on it. We could have ten kids in there easy, sittin’ there. And we get in that truck and we --- if we had no place to go, we’d go to Golden Gate Park and play war. We had the kids play war. The hippie kids to play war. They loved it – I guess to annoy their parents.
DC: Speaking of war. Tell me about your experience.
MG: I still have a Vietnam counselor I go to. We talk about the war, maybe once a month. And I loved Vietnam. It’s the first time and last time in my life anybody’s listen to me. I didn’t have any rank, and we were in a little tank platoon, about seven of those little Pac’s --- armored personnel carriers. Two tanks. Three tanks if they’re all running, but they never were. So that’s where I first got the nickname Buddha Mike. Because all those rogue kids that hang around with GIs --- they were robbing GIs in the process --- those are the only people I hung around with.
I told them I was a Buddhist one day - so they said, come on. They slept at this temple. They didn’t sleep there cause they were religious. They were rogues. They were orphan kids from the war. They slept there cause it was safe. So they brought me over to the temple, made the old monk come out, made the priest come out and do a ceremony. They bowed to the floor there, kind of like the Tibetans. And all the Vietnamese kids they’re all out there laughing. They got a kick out of a GI bowing to the floor. And they started calling me Buddha Mike there. That’s how I got that nickname.
And I was like - back when I was a machine gunner in Nam. My machine gun was perfect which turned out to be very fortunate because none of those guys were like that. They didn’t even clean their weapons. It actually saved my life. Saved lot of people’s lives. Well of course I was older than most of those guys in ‘Nam. Cause I had been to college for four years. I was twenty-four when they drafted me. Most of those kids were eighteen.
And all those guys listened to me. They wouldn’t even get out of bed but would get them out. I’d push them forward in fighting too. I was the one they looked to, to tell them what to do. And they sort of thought of me as someone who protected them. I was samurai mike I’d gone there like a warier and was into it. I took all the rules seriously. I laid out my tooth brush right and cleaned everything and every little detail I did right. It actually bugged the officers at times. But they listened to me. You know the Mai Lai Massacre? It only takes one guy to stop something like that. I stopped stuff like that from happening. It wasn’t the right way to be a soldier.
My weapon was always clean and shiny and always had 1500 rounds – I hooked up two boxes together. We rode on the back of the APC because all the ammo was inside – too dangerous to be inside cause they had armor piercing rocket propelled grenades – well they could go through the track but not the tank. But you were better off outside with them. What we really had to worry about was land mines made from 500 pound bombs that hadn’t gone off. Charlie would fix them so they would go off and I’ve seen vehicles go two stories in the air. We’d have 50 tanks with a lead one that was heavy and could take the mine and the tanks that followed would go in the same tracks. But this one time the 47th tank triggered the mine and went up two stories and the guys were thrown off. Nobody died – a miracle.
DC: Tell about your experience with that hypno-newage-therapist.
MG: Originally it was called Matrix and was created by a Dr. Woolder, a PhD from Cambridge or oxford. He used light, not deep, hypnosis and said we have to suffer if we’re going to learn and you can feel your suffering better in a trance that’s not too deep – deep is too intellectual – key is to keep it light enough so you can feel. It’s body centered. He says we’re carrying around in our bodies traumas from this lifetime and past ones too – from the wars and disasters of the last ten thousand years. They key is the body – to find the pain in the body and to work on it with Zen or yoga or something. The root of the pain is based on this life and past lives – that’s why we’re so emotional – because we’ve been through it before – like claustrophobia might mean you were suffocated in a past life. Like the Dalai Lama says, we’re here to suffer and overcome it. In this therapy it’s important to feel the pain and to overcome it.
In my case it was this life. In Nam I had a friend who was an uneducated young guy from upstate New York. He didn’t even go to high school. A judge gave him a choice of army or jail. I’d read him Chinese poetry and then he’d pick up on it and make some up himself.
Like here’s my favorite one. A banished Chinese poet wrote it.
Here on the frontier there’re are falling leaves
Although my neighbors are all barbarians
And you are a thousand miles away
There are always two cups on my table
It’s about friendship. I’d tell that to Simmons and he’d start riffing that stuff out and I was amazed. Simmons was his last name. Everyone uses last names in the service. It’s written on your jacket.
I’d been in the field with a tank outfit so we got back and had nothing to do for ten days but stay loaded so I had this dentist appointment waiting but I hadn’t acted on it so I had to go to the safe place where all the generals were. So I said I had to go, had to get out o there. Had this feeling had to go so I walked up to where my top sergeant was and told him I wanted to go and he said you missed the convoy but maybe I can get you on a chopper going out tonight but first you have to sign this article 15 – an infraction I’d gotten months before that I’d contested. I’d been told to go into a village and there had been a whole bunch of guys and tanks in there blowing things up and poisoning wells and stuff and they didn’t need us there. Everyone had left. There was nothing really to do but GIs love to fire guns and stuff. I told him I didn’t want to go and he got enraged but I was older and went to college and had read all that samurai stuff and I said no. It’s the lowest form of court marshal - you usually just get a fine and maybe a reduction in rank but I had no rank so no big deal. A lawyer told me to write my reasons for not going on the back and so I did but the one my sergeant wanted me to sign was all typed up and without my stuff on the back. I wanted to get out of there so I signed it. Then I ran into Simmons going to get my stuff and he said he wanted to go too, but I lied to him telling him some excuse why he couldn’t go but he couldn’t have gotten on anyway cause I was the last guy on. But I lied to him. I liked being by myself when I got out. When I was there I’d heard our base had been overrun and I went there and 28 out of 32 had died including Simmons. I felt like I should have been there and that I shouldn’t have lied to him. I felt terrible guilt.
When I went through hypnotherapy I mentioned Simmons. I was the example in the class. Everyone was watching. It was a seminar in Baltimore at the Sisters of Bon Secours which means good health. I was in the light trance aware of everything around me but not embarrassed – the trance helps with that. And he said let’s talk to Simmons and I couldn’t talk so he said now you be Simmons and then I felt that Simmons had been part of me all these years and he was mad at me cause he had a little boy and had just started a family and he was pissed off at me cause he died and I apologized to him and he forgave me and I started crying like a baby and it was cathartic and I watched Simmons with a big smile on his face climbing up Jacobs ladder – it was in my imagination cause years ago Sakurai did a painting of him climbing it and at the same time all these bodies start rising from the battlefield. And there was a woman there who’d been with the San Francisco artist whom I’d lived with. This woman said she’d had a vision of Yogananda coming there and clearing the battlefield there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I think Wolver gets results – he’s brilliant but he’s a drunk too. It takes a psychiatrist 20 years to do what he does in ten minutes.
DC: [I went over this interview with Mike on the phone in late March of 2004 and one thing I thought of was a lecture I heard recently at Green Gulch Farm wherein Daigon talked about an experience he had in Japan after he’d been with the military in Korea. He started off by saying that one problem that a lot of soldiers who live through a war share is guilt that they lived and others died.]
DC: What about AA?
MG: I got that nickname Buddha Mike years later again in AA. Cause when I went into AA I so resented them tellin’ me anything, thinkin’ I was a wise man cause I’d studied Zen, you know. Every AA story they’d tell me, I’d tell them a Buddhist story. But they loved it.
DC: In AA, one of the rules is you don’t comment on what another person says. Or you don’t like put them down or disagree. Usually, right? That’s sort of a 12-step thing is if you let somebody speak without interrupting.
MG: Yeah, but they disagree. They’re just people. But anyhow, they loved the stories. So then I get the nickname again, Buddha Mike. Alcoholics like to nickname anyhow. There was a guy, when I got in recovery, this happened often, they’d be sober about two weeks, and they’d stand up and\ make a public confession about their name is really not Harry, it’s Xavier. Well then one guy he said it like four times. Then the next week he said, no that wasn’t his real name either. So we started calling him AKA.
DC: I remember that you were vomiting blood when you were a lot younger. Then I heard that someone ran into you in Paris and you hit them up for money to buy booze.
MG: And I came back to the US and was a real skid row drunk. And one day I was drinking wine under a bridge in Indio and I was gonna die if I kept on drinkin’ and I ended up in a program there that turned out to have one of the best records in the country. It’s the ABC Club and I went there and stayed for three years. I’ve been sober for twenty-two.
DC: Congratulations and thanks a lot.
MG: My pleasure.
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