Interview with  Mark Lewis and his mother Yvonne Lewis


Cuke Podcast with Mark 🔊


Each person's face has two different sides and if you transpose one side to the other it won't look like you but Suzuki Roshi had a face that each half was so totally different from the other half that I was fascinated by it. It was so benign and he really was funny and it's hard to be funny not in your own language. What a delicious sense of humor. - Yvonne Lewis


Mark Lewis is a very funny guy. He was a teenager from Carmel when he started studying with Shunryu Suzuki's student, Jean Ross, and then with Suzuki. The story in Psychoactivism about the teenager coming into Tassajara at night on his first acid trip is about Mark. He's been in NYC for years. I've seen him there. He was with his sons and took me to dinner and had me rolling on the floor - actually. He did standup in NYC for years. He's been a legal aide or something like that and teaches kids I think. I'll tell him to add to this anything he wants but I don't want to call him for details cause he'll add stuff that would take time and I want to get it up on the site now because what his mother says about Suzuki's face is the seventh hint in Contest 3. Yvonne is funny too. And she's a babe. She used to be a model and some sort of player in San Francisco, her escapades making it into Herb Caen's column as I recall (from hearing about it - that was before my SF time). - DC

DC: Greetings to Mark Lewis and to Yvonne who’ve come all the way to San Rafael to talk with me. So Mark, what do you have to say about the old days my good man? Got any memories of Suzuki Roshi for us?

ML: I was working on a stone wall with Suzuki and Alan Marlowe and Alan and I were talking about changes in women's fashions or men's hairstyles or something. And Suzuki Roshi said if you're going to talk, you should only really talk about what you're doing.

He hopped around a lot when he worked on rocks and when I massaged him he moved around too - he kept hopping up to see if he could help me and I was supposed to be helping him.

I used to keep a look out with Alan while Suzuki Roshi was working on the rocks, one of us on each side of the bridge so we could tell Suzuki Roshi when Okusan was coming.

DC: I’ve heard that from other people too – Niels, Maggie, someone else who I can’t remember.

ML: When Rory first came to my apartment in Carmel in the summer of ‘68, she saw all the books on Buddhism and said there's a woman you can sit zazen with in Carmel and so we went to meet Jean Ross the next week. Jean listened so intently and valued what you said that I felt I wanted to be around her. It's the same quality that Suzuki had. It's interesting. When you told them why you were studying Zen, it was always a viable reason. I had a graduate teacher who was like that too.

Suzuki said that your problems, what you drag around, is what you have to work with. Your life itself is its own koan - we don't need an external or presented koan. You are your own manure pile.

I spent the spring of ‘69 studying with Jean and she got me to Tassajara for the summer and Jean got me into Tassajara for the spring of ‘70 practice period with Tatsugami. But she hadn't mentioned that there's this thing called tangaryo [the initiatory sitting all day to be a student - probably five days for Mark, maybe three back then].

YL: Mark and I were in a two day seminar with Suzuki in Carmel and Mark said he had the most interesting garments on under his robes which he described to me and then I took a peek - you could see them when he got up or down and they were long johns.

DC: Yeah, someone gave him some when he went to Tassajara I think, and after that he always wore them under his robes when it was cold.

YL: I went to hear Suzuki on Bush Street and I'd never seen such an interesting face. I was going out with David Stone Martin then and I wanted him to do one of his great line drawings of Suzuki Roshi cause he had such an interesting face. The side with the eyebrow up on the Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind photo is the mischievous side and the other is his contemplative side. He had some very witty things to say. His face was so kind. The mischievous side was also the inquiring side.

ML: Baker Roshi also propped up one eyebrow a lot - maybe he was emulating Suzuki Roshi. Silas did that too.

ML: Suzuki Roshi had written on a chalkboard - the first two noble truths or the four so he could lecture us on Buddhism. He said the first noble truth is life is suffering and he talked about that and the second noble truth is um is um um and he had to turn back to the board and he started laughing.

DC: That’s great. Classic Suzuki.

YL: Mark met Suzuki Roshi that day in Carmel for the first time at the two day seminar in ‘69 in the summer and Jean introduced Suzuki Roshi to Mark and Suzuki looked at him and said, "A giant!" Mark is 6'5".

ML: Following Jean's rule of stay close to the teacher and learn from them and Katagiri was in Monterey and once a month someone would make a vegetarian feast and there were all these terrible things like soy burgers and so he'd sometimes take seconds and I usually have fourths but I wouldn't take seconds if Katagiri didn't and I decided that it was a Zen rule not to have more than seconds. My grandmother came and made a big meal with lamb and Katagiri had his firsts and then he had seconds so I did too and then he got thirds and I hadn't eaten thirds for two years. I said to him I thought you weren't supposed to eat thirds and he said yes but not if the food's really good.

But of course we were just eating and we could eat whatever we wanted, especially at a special feast like that. I thought I was supposed to be doing something serious. So I asked him

Tatsugami introduced the idea of fun to Tassajara. He said we should have fun on the day off and it means out of the zendo and that at parties we should play hard just like in the zendo we practiced hard.

DC: He said that Zen should include the element of sport. He once started an end of practice period party off (which he had alcohol bought for – a rarity there) by offering the toast, "I hate zazen, I hate practice, I hate Zen. I love drinking - let's party. He always said that he liked zazen, sex and alcohol in that order.

ML: He locked the kitchen.

DC: - Well, the officers came to him and said, students are stealing from the kitchen, what should we do and he said, put locks on the doors and that blew their minds - some hated that - like Ed Brown. Tatsugami said put the locks on the doors instead of on your mind.

ML: At a Jean Ross party both Katagiri and Tatsugami were there and we were drinking sake and Katagiri said in Japan you can give sake to your students and it will give you a chance to see them in a different light.

DC: Then why not see what they're like on grass?

ML: Or give them a line of coke.

YL: I went to hear Krishna Murti speak not too long before he died - he was about ‘92 or ‘93. He had the same combination of humanity and soul that Suzuki Roshi had. Teaching and delving.

ML: In dokusan I was telling Suzuki Roshi how I got into practice and what I thought practice was and he said, you know these aren't ideas that you should discuss with anyone. It's better to keep these sort of feelings to ourselves. And that made me feel even more so that what I was discussing with him was important.

DC: He wanted our development to happen naturally within our lives and didn't want us to have the idea that talking about them was the real work.

ML: I liked the way he gave each of us a little personal goodbye at Sokoji. He seemed to emphasize the importance of contact with him - but maybe not too much - just bowing.

DC: That was great. After every zazen, actually, after the service, he’d stand there at the door and bow individually to each one of us as we walked out. It was quite a touch. [That’s one of the strongest memories people from those days have of him.]

ML: I remember that when we'd just been reminded by Tim Buckley that the correct way to address Suzuki was as Suzuki Roshi or Roshi, Phillip Wilson still used Sensei a number of times that night - like he was saying, no one's gonna tell me how to address Sensei. And Phillip had that child-like way of talking - like Bob Halpern.

DC: And some people never stopped calling him Reverend Suzuki. I hate that but some people like it so it’s up to them.

ML: We had a lot of mosquitoes at Tassajara and a student asked Suzuki Roshi at tea is it alright to kill mosquitoes. And Suzuki Roshi said, "Well, you know, I can't really (whack! getting a mosquito) answer that. I don't know (whack!) what's right or wrong."

Stan White was out in front of the office sleeping in his robes and looking like an old Chinese monk in a chair and some tourists came by and he opened an eye and one of them said, "What are you doing?" and he said, "Absolutely nothing."

ML: [on the phone - fall of ‘93]

I massaged him once. Somebody told him I was good at massage, I was only twenty, he'd already been ill. This was in early ‘71 in San Francisco. What I remember about the massage is that he was so concerned about my comfort that he kept leaping up and I said that you're the one who has to lie down. But I got him to lie down. He had a number of scars, burns, from moxibustion on his back or maybe they were just unusual brown spots. But he seemed in good health and his skin tone was fine but he said he hadn't been feeling well.

I sat a sesshin in San Francisco when he was yelling and whacking people and saying what do you know about this and coughing all the time. It seemed like it was his last opportunity to hit his oldest students. I remember him hitting Silas a lot. Several times he'd whack people and then start coughing and have to leave the room. It was a spring sesshin in the city and I was at SF State. He'd say you must practice harder then hit them.

He was so tiny and I'm six five and I remember how fit he was how he'd leap up and down and he was so uninhibited with his body like in the baths in ‘68 when naked women were walking around. He'd hold a washcloth in front of his genitals.

DC: We weren't bathing together then. We only had mixed bathing for a little bit after we bought Tassajara and he ended it in the spring of ’67. But he pretty much always held a washcloth like that. That’s the Japanese tradition.

ML: He'd asked Peter Schneider about people bathing together and Peter said that was the custom (of our subculture?) and so Suzuki Roshi thought that it was something that we did and should be tried out to see how it went.

DC: Well, yeah, maybe at the narrows down creek, but not at Tassajara when you were there.

ML: He was surprised to learn that it wasn't an American custom but was mainly for hippies who'd been doing it for two years and for the other 400 years not.

DC: He said that the baths were one of the three most important places of practice, second only to the zendo, and not a place of socializing. He said he was glad everyone's so free but that's not the purpose of being there so from now on we'll have a men's and women's side and some of the people who had been there under the Becks when we came left because of that. But they were people who'd happened to be there and who hadn't come to study with Suzuki Roshi.

ML: Oh I just had a weird memory. Bob Halpern once tapped me on the shoulder in Zazen and said, "You're not thinking about me." And then he right back to sitting zazen.

I remember Halpern was smoking when Suzuki Roshi came up and he held the cigarette behind his back.

YL: [on the phone - fall of 93]

DC: Tell me more about Suzuki’s face.

YL: David Stone Martin was one of the great graphic artists. He died about six months ago. I wanted him to bring his sketchbook over and hear one of Suzuki Roshi's lectures but it never worked out. I wished I'd been a photographer. Each person's face has two different sides and if you transpose one side to the other it won't look like you but Suzuki Roshi had a face that each half was so totally different from the other half that I was fascinated by it. It was so benign and he really was funny and it's hard to be funny not in your own language. What a delicious sense of humor. The first time he met Mark at a church probably with Jean Ross in Carmel. Mark was absolutely enthralled, it was like meeting God and he stood up to meet him and Suzuki Roshi looked up at him and said, "Oh! A giant." And Mark had that total rapture that you have when you meet somebody you really admire. He was in awe and how many people do feel that with if you really think about it. I only saw him three or four times but that time in Carmel we sat for three hours. He looked to be in his seventies to me. He was sitting there and when he got up he just stood up like strings were pulling him up. It was very cold and he had on long johns.