Interview with Loring Palmer
Loring Palmer's link page - for more from Loring
LORING PALMER interviewed at my house in San Rafael – October 25, 1994
DC note 2011: Finally getting this interview fixed up and on cuke.com on Feb. 20, 2011 from Thiruvannamalai. It’s weird – I’ve been in touch with Loring quite steadily through the years, almost entirely through email, but just never got to this interview. One thing about the interviews is that many of them go over subjects that later I came to see in a new light or had more info on so in those cases I might put in a note or a link.]
DC note: Loring came over and we talked for an hour and a half. I add a few notes herein from things he said when the tape wasn't on. He's been working nearby at the Marriott Hotel at Larkspur Landing
D: Where should we begin? What do you remember?
L: It’s all a blur right now. There were a lot of specific situations that I recall, but nothing profound. There were certain things that stick vividly in my mind. Like my first dokusan with Suzuki Roshi. The first sesshin I went to. That must have been December sixty‑four or spring of sixty‑five. I even stayed overnight a couple of nights, sleeping in that big auditorium. They had a few tatamis set up at the very end, where the entrance was. That's where Suzuki Roshi gave dokusan and also where we could bed down if we wanted to stay over. [only for sesshin]
D: I remember having dokusan in the office.
L: I had dokusan with Suzuki Roshi and I had taken LSD that day. It was at the end of the day so my mind was more calm. He kept changing shapes as I was watching him, especially his eyes seemed to sparkle more than ever. He said, "What do you want to do in your life?" I said I wanted to go to Eiheiji. I was obsessed with Eiheiji at that time. Mainly because of the Zen Sounds record [The Way of Eiheiji]. My idea of enlightenment at that time was the big high. You simply went to the monastery to get the big high and then you'd remain on some kind of a drug state for the rest of your life. And rather than being a state where you're acutely aware of life, and that kindles your consciousness, it would be some kind of state that would transform you away from your troubles. That's why they chanted and did these neat things all day. They remained in some sort of bliss state.
Anyway ‑‑ he asked me what I wanted to do and I said Eiheiji. He kept saying, "Asia, you want to go to Asia. What do you want to go to Asia for?" And I said, "No, Eiheiji." He finally got it. He said, "Oh, you want to be a monk?" And I said, "Yes. I want to be a monk." That's about all I remember about that dokusan. But I do remember his disbelief that this long‑haired hippie could ever have such an aspiration.
I remember him at various sesshins being right there for us. There was some situation where somebody had spilled something in the zendo during a work period. Suzuki Roshi would say, "I'm coming, I'm coming." He was as much part of the work periods as he was of every other part of the sesshin.
D: How did you come to Zen Center?
L: I knew there must be something happening in San Francisco, so I looked it up under Zen in the phone book. Okusan answered the phone. She said, "Oh, my husband's in L.A. now, but you come. He will be back in two weeks."
D: He was in L.A. for two weeks?
L: A week or two ‑‑ or something ‑‑ that was my impression, that he was down visiting ‑‑ he was helping out with some ceremony that Bishop Yamada was having. I think also that he was meeting Katagiri at that time. I had the impression that when he came back he introduced Katagiri as his new assistant. I met him first in October of '64. I knew what the schedule was, I knew about when he was going to be back ‑‑ I went in to one of his Sunday lectures after an acid trip.
D: I didn't know he gave Sunday lectures.
L: Yeah. It was ‑‑ could have been Saturday.
D: He gave Sunday lectures to the Japanese congregation when I came.
L: I'll bet it was Saturday. It was a quiet morning. We were over at the Berkeley pier, it was like sunrise, and all of a sudden I realized that he would be back in San Francisco. I stomped into the zendo with my boots on. He was very kind. He saw us come in late. We sat on the tan in the back. Not with our boots on the tan, but just sitting, like on a bench. That was my introduction to Suzuki Roshi. He had a terrible time with English and I had a worse time listening to him. But there was some spark that happened. When I first saw him I said, Wow. This guy is a wise man. And there aren't many wise men around. And this is what a Zen master is about?
D: His English must have improved a lot from October '64 to October '66 when I came. It was pretty good then.
L: It did. He was reading from the Blue Cliff Records when I first saw him. I was living in Berkeley at the time, so it was always a trip, but we'd get a group of us and we'd come over from Berkeley either to the Wednesday night lectures, and finally connecting with the Saturday work periods ‑‑ lecture, breakfast - which was the revelation. Rice, miso soup and pickled vegetable. Turned out to be one of my favorites. I started a whole trend of getting into Japanese cooking. Especially when I found out brown rice. And you would have a very healthy, nutritious meal.
I think my regrets about the whole thing was that I had such ambivalence all the time I was at Zen Center. About him and about my connection with the spiritual life. I never got as close to Suzuki Roshi as I would have liked to get. I never had to get as close to Suzuki as I was afraid that I might get. There was always a feeling that he would ask me to renounce something that I wasn't ready to renounce. I think it was basically my fear of intimacy at the time.
D: What sort of doubts did you have about him?
L: I didn't have any doubts about him. But I had a lot of ‑‑ I didn't trust myself or him completely in that I was ready to give my life to him. I still had an idea of a separate personality lurking somewhere. Even though I had come to Zen Center to throw myself into the fire. Still when push came to shove I was never able to do it. I remember when it was leaked to me, through Ed Brown, that I was going to become a monk. That Suzuki Roshi had talked to Ed about becoming a monk and it was also presented that I could be considered ‑‑ if I wanted to step forward about it.
D: Why didn't he mention it to you?
L: I don't know why Ed conveyed it to me. It might have been to just check me out, see where I was at. I was one of the people who early on shaved their heads. Mainly through the inspiration of Dan Eggink. Crazy guy. I figured it was a natural progression, that I would become a Zen monk. But when I had to take that seriously, I panicked.
I remember being in the kitchen at the time. Rather than going to talk to Roshi about it, I just panicked, stayed very distant. That was my reason for leaving Zen Center ‑‑ one of mistrust and distance. Hiding out, maintaining my own separate identity.
What Suzuki Roshi did for me, what I learned from him, was that he presented me with a much bigger picture, and was able to get me out of my morbid self‑preoccupation. Being able to see a much bigger picture. Not just this poor being. I was going through a lot of crap at the time. A lot of sad experiences.
D: Yeah, like what?
L: One of the reasons I came to the west coast was that my girlfriend was pregnant. She had decided to go to live with her friend at the University of California in Berkeley. So I had gone to Berkeley via the mountains, via Mexico, via Maria Sabina mushrooms, the Jimenez. So I had gotten full speed on the drug track. Psychedelics. I had come here and my girlfriend ‑‑ it was a very difficult time with her ‑‑ we had never really lived together. The two of us were living with a graduate student. I kind of lived on top of their life. It was a great time in Berkeley ‑‑ Mario Savio ‑‑ etc.. When I met Suzuki Roshi there was like some kind of focus in my life. Something bigger than this kind of random confusion. I was still shopping around. I didn't stop at Zen Center, there were some other things I was checking out ‑‑ Swamis and various other masters. It was like I was growing up. Suzuki Roshi and Okusan provided me, on one level, a placebo father and mother, who were actually knowledgeable and seemed to be happy in their relationship.
D: In what relationship?
L: As man and wife. I felt as close to Okusan as I did to Suzuki Roshi. She was an important factor at Zen Center. The people that were drawn to Suzuki Roshi were exceptional people. Especially the people that stayed on. There were a lot of nutty people also.
D: Who do you remember?
L: Originally there was Silas, Bill Kwong, and Richard Baker. I remember the first day you arrived. I remember going out on a work detail with you. I remember you and I were carrying a ladder around. Wondering who this scruffy hippie was who was complaining about the work. It was a Saturday morning. I think you were hung over or something. You were dragging your tail around. I felt things could go a little faster and more easily than they did, but it was cool.
I think one of the deciding points ‑‑ I was going again to the mountains for the summer, leaving San Francisco. I was stuffing a zafu. Richard Baker came down and stuffed the zafu with me and my future brother‑in‑law, Fred Hoffman, who had come out and visited us in Berkeley. He was working in construction but he was also interested in Zen. We were stuffing a zafu downstairs in the basement and Dick Baker showed up and started stuffing zafus too. He was very friendly. He said, "After the summer, come on back. It was great meeting you and look forward to seeing you again." He seemed friendly and genuine.
Stan White was a person I remember from the early days. I had met him in Mexico that summer. We had hung out together. I couldn't believe it. It used to be at Zen Center you'd go and sit and then you'd run out soon afterwards. You'd make your bow to Suzuki Roshi, but you wouldn't really talk to people. At least I didn't. Finally I asked Stan if he was the guy named Sebastian I had met in Mexico City. He said, "Oh yeah. I remember you."
And Steve Worley [sp?]. Steve was kind of a tall guy who did a lot of yoga. He had a bad knee that he got monthly checks from the Navy for. He lived across the street and up the block on Bush Street in the top part of an old carriage house. He had a groovy pad. He was the first person who really befriended me from Zen Center. He came over one night. My brother and Cindy and myself were sitting around the table and he brought over a joint.. That was a big breakthrough. It was not my first joint, but it was the first extension of friendship from anybody from Zen Center. I didn't know they were into such things. So Worley and I became friends. When he got pulled out of his place he stayed with me at my place on Buchanan Street above the restaurants.
D: What did he do?
L: He was getting a stipend from the government. He had a medical discharge for being crazy or something. From the Navy. He had traveled into India, so he was kind of a knowledgeable guy. When Zen Center asked that people get serious about this thing, he was one of the fatalities. He dropped out.
D: What do you mean when Zen Center asked people to get serious? About the time I came? October, '66. I came right at the time that Tassajara was first being talked about. Ed Brown had been there the summer before.
I don’t think anyone had to get serious but rather that at the time of getting Tassajara there was a shift in attitude and a lot of people got more serious. But still one could come sit, do service, go to lecture when one wanted and leave without saying anything or taking on any particular attitude.
L: Ed had been cooking there. There was a feeling of seriousness. It was no longer just a group of artists and poets who were hanging out. But people who were sincerely interested in taking themselves on in a serious way. Who really intended to do what it takes ‑‑ which included Tassajara and maybe some more discipline in their lives.
D: OK. Was this something that was coming from Suzuki?
L: I think it was coming from Dick Baker. I don't know. I remember there was talk about it, and I remember Worley complaining about ‑‑ maybe people had said something to him or something. I don't know.
D: So this was a big dividing point in Zen Center history. Did you see any others before that point or was it all pretty steady state up to then? Like turning points in Zen Center history and Suzuki history. It was right there when the fund raising started, we started going for Tassajara, even before we got people pulled together there was a lot of collective activity, hierarchy began to be developed, Dick's supremacy was being established. Some of us were down at Tassajara earlier. But then once people started coming for the first practice period things really started being ‑‑ you do this, you do that ‑‑ these people were in charge. Dick was ordained. That really was a big turning point in Suzuki's personal history and Zen Center's history. Did you see anything prior to that comparable to that?
L: No, I think that was it. Before that there was a feeling that it was a social club.
D: But you said people didn't talk to each other.
L: Worley had, like, his group of people. There was Dan who was a poet ‑‑ Dan Moore. [See Daniel Moore cuke interview] His ex-wife, Gail was a good friend of mine. People who had known each other at the Art Institute. I was not part of that group. I was always in some other realm. But there were people who had lived in San Francisco and gone to art school together.
D: The Art Institute was definitely an important nexus.
L: I remember the enthusiasm and excitement. I remember going over to your place. You had either made bread or you were into brown rice or something ‑‑ I went over to your place when you were living up the hill in this kind of cellar apartment or something. It was very dark in there. You had prepared something or other. We were all very excited at David's attempts at something. It was good. I think you prepared a brown rice meal or something.
D: Really? Before I was living with you?
L: Yup. It was your first attempt.
D: You know, that's right. I always thought that you were the person that turned me on to all that. But you're the person that refined or gave me greater complexity in my understanding of being a vegetarian. But I was trying to do something like that beforehand. You might have also liked the acid I was selling out of there. I remember helping you to sell thirteen kilos of Acapulco Gold, the profits of which were donated to the fund to buy Tassajara. Then Katagiri heard about that and mentioned in a lecture that that was not the right livelihood way of helping Zen Center. I remember you were discreet and had some prestigious customers in the new hippie scene.
DC note: It was great living with Loring in the apartment on Buchanan Street next to astrologer Gavin Arthur and his gang of gay boys. I met many interesting people at Gavin’s parties, Alan Watts there and his wife Jano. Loring’s place was also a godsend. We’d go to zazen together at Sokoji in the morning, return and make breakfast, eat, have a cleaning period, and then have tea at which point we’d start talking. Tim Buckley said moving in with Loring saved his life. I didn’t realize it at the time but it gently introduced more discipline into mine than I was getting by just going to Sokoji, more of a sense of community. I’d had some communal experience before that with SNCC, SDS, and living with fellow pot smoking hippies, and I did learn from those experiences, but going to Sokoji and living with Loring brought it to new and more refined heights and put me on the path. We had a good simple life and like-minded friends, mostly from among the group that sat at Sokoji dropped by to drink genmai cha, smoke dope, and listen to the grateful dead.
L: Daniel Eggink I think was a strong force in those days. Daniel was around all of this time. Daniel was the one who turned me onto brown rice. We'd heard of the macrobiotics, we'd gone to see them [spokespeople for Macrobiotics], etc., but Daniel was the one who came into my apartment with 50 pounds out of a 100‑pound bag of brown rice, dropped it on our kitchen floor and said, "This is for you guys. All you have to do is just eat rice for ten days and you'll be in the program." Cindy and my brother and myself looked at each other. We'd been talking about it beforehand. This was the right thing at the right time. It pushed through our reluctance. So we did. We just ate brown rice. Even though we all snuck out for doughnuts. And my brother drank milk cause he was just beginning to be a mailman at the time. We stuck it out.
D: What does being a mailman have to do with drinking milk?
L: He thought he needed more energy. Walking up those hills, man, and climbing up those stairs just eating brown rice. At first your body's not getting much nutrition. He felt he needed protein and milk.
D: Was Daniel Eggink there when you first came?
L: Daniel Eggink came later. He was in and out. Our friend from Minneapolis, Cynthia ‑‑ she and Daniel had discovered each other. Cynthia was dying of a brain tumor and she was part of a group of us that had been together in Minneapolis who were kind of exploring the psychedelic realm ‑‑ the realm of other possibilities. She came to Zen Center and sat a couple of times. But she was into some other things also. She met Daniel E. when he came to Zen Center. He decided that Suzuki Roshi was his guru. Along with his friend Neil ‑‑ big guy. He was connected with the Oracle people. So it all came together. Daniel E. was not one to do things halfway so he decided he'd shave his head. He convinced me that Suzuki Roshi needed more bald people on the streets.
D: Was it just the two of you?
L: I think ‑‑ Jack Van Allen showed up about this time. Jack also took acid and listened to the Eiheiji album and decided he was going to shave his head. Which he did. The three of us.
D: Daniel was first to shave his head. And he decided to shave his head cause he wanted to copy his teacher. And that was in 1965?
L: Must have been '66.
DC note: Somewhere along the way Loring also decided to give up his libertine sex life and become celibate - maybe about the time he shaved his head.
D: So Daniel showed up in '66. I showed up in October of '66 and he stopped coming about the time I came. He was around, he lived up the street. I heard he had had an accident in Big Sur when he was sleeping in a car that was on the side of the road and somebody had run into him and smashed the shit out of the vehicle he was sleeping in. He suffered brain damage from it, or a concussion. He was in the hospital and barely lived. Do you remember that story?
L: No. I might have told it to you but I don't remember it.
D: I met the Egginks in the late sixties I think it was when Daniel got a strong notion to fly to Monterey and spend the weekend at Bill Lambert's ranch outside of Tassajara. I had hiked over the hill in snowshoes to get the mail and some supplies. Bill had told me that there was some nut coming who wanted to take his baby boar hunting and he was going to oblige him. Bill said he had to get up and function cause some guy was coming and wanted to take us baby boar hunting. So I was there waiting for the guests and Daniel comes in with his wife. He's crazy as shit. He's really funny, I really enjoyed it. He’d knocked the oil pan out of their car driving on the road. Had to take care of that. But also he had this idea that it was important to take his baby boar hunting, a definitely bizarre idea. Bill was on one of his alcoholic binges and Marian was joining him as she would till he stopped. They both just stayed in bed drinking and sleeping. So I had to go shopping for them and get them a lot of gin and wine and the grocer in Carmel Valley said they hadn’t been paying for a while which happened now and then when Bill got on a heavy drinking binge and that they’d catch up at some point like they always did. I had to get the boar stew and carrots and bread ready for dinner. Bill and Marian got out of bed and sobered up enough to spend the evening with tall intense Daniel and his wife and baby. It was a spirited evening with the iron stove blazing and some local characters from the sticks in for the warmth. My favorite part was when Bill and Daniel took off all their clothes to compare scars.
I talked to somebody once who said that they were hitchhiking in Montana somewhere, and went up to a farmhouse. Daniel answered the door naked. He had this commune there, a nudist commune, and they also were into guns. And he’s the one who sent Roovane to study with Suzuki from that commune. It’s in Roovane’s interview.
L: He's now in Sausalito living on his wife's inheritance. He married her knowing that she probably wouldn’t live long. She had a brain tumor. They went up to Montana. They had a communal scene up there. She had money so she could buy what was needed. Then the sheriff came to arrest Daniel for something, might have been gun possession or something. Daniel went to jail. Cynthia tried all sorts of things to get him out. She tried to buy him out. She went in with a gun and held it to the sheriff's head and told him to let her man out of jail. Got him out. I wish I knew more about the story, but I think she had to pay big money to get this taken care of. She sprung Daniel.
D: How on earth did she get away with that?
L: I don't know what ‑‑ I can't remember the end of the story, except that ‑‑
D: She probably got him out because she had a brain tumor.
L: That could have been.
D: That's definitely associated with insanity and all kinds of neurological problems.
DC note: I've been in touch with Daniel Eggink in recent years. He's been involved with a Christian community of some sorts in Woodstock New York. I also heard that he was involved with the homeless in New York City before that, maybe as one of them.
L: One of the funniest things was when he and his buddies robbed Varda's houseboat. Varda was sharing this houseboat with Alan Watts. One morning there was all of this fantastic Chinese art that appears in our apartment. Daniel comes in and he's lugging this stuff, and he says, "Hey, this is for you." Fantastic screens, cloisonné, incredible Buddhas, hands, paraphernalia. Daniel, where did you get all this. "Well, you know, Varda was abandoning his houseboat. And you know when an artist leaves it's just all up for grabs." "Oh," I say, "Who's Varda?" "Well, he's a famous sculptor sharing the houseboat with Alan Watts."
I think what happened was they got stoned and they just went in. You know the houseboat had lax security. Varda and Watts were off the boat. They took all this stuff.
D: So what happened to the art?
L: They had to return it all. I had met Varda's wife who was an incredibly beautiful Spanish woman he had met. She was always complaining that they never got all the stuff back. Some beautiful tankas showed up at the Haight Street office of the Oracle, the psychedelic periodical newspaper. I think they were possibly from Varda's place. DC note: Michael Horowitz, a central figure in psychedelia, was involved there and went on to live with John and Cindy palmer and to father Cindy’s child Winona.
John and Cindy moved away and she had an open affair with Michael Horowitz which produced a daughter, Wynona, born while she and John were still together. Wynona's godfather, Tim Leary, got busted and was in thrall to the Feds and tried to get Michael busted for their Brotherhood of Man international dope dealing scheme but Michael was wise that Tim was wired and kept saying "I don't know what you're talking about Tim!" so the guys in the next room never did get to bust in. They did get John though - two years ago while he was talking to an old girlfriend at the Minneapolis Art Museum. They were both there for their thirtieth high school reunion and it was a convenient time for them to do business. Unfortunately she'd been busted earlier and though John knew better and had talked to wired people before without spilling the beans, he did happen to mention that he'd made a new dose of keen LSD and now he's doing seven. And Michael's selling sixties' memorabilia. Wynona changed her name to Horowitz and keeps up with all of them when she has time between movies.
L: There was Daniel and Cynthia and I think his buddy's name was Neil who was with Honey, a beautiful blonde girl. Daniel just shot through the Zen scene like a meteor. I, being very gullible, went for it. He didn't ask me to do anything. I just did what I felt I wanted to do anyway. I wanted to show some kind of ‑‑ make some statement ‑‑ that I had found my way when I shaved my head. We were all going to do this. And I guess we all did in a sense when we went to Tassajara. But I remained shaven. It became a habit pattern with me. And it felt so good.
D: How long did you keep your head shaved?
L: Until Suzuki Roshi died. When he died, I let it grow out again.
D: That's interesting. Cause your original reason for shaving it was to copy him. That's why Daniel did it.
L: Yeah. To make a statement that I'm in accord with my teacher.
D: Do you remember anything happening with Suzuki in the city or Tassajara? Do you remember anything about him?
L: He was extremely patient. I've always had a problem with cynicism and negativity. The poverty mentality about oneself. Which is just the flip side of pride, that I'm much better than all of this. And I need to remain separate because I am superior in some way or another. Suzuki Roshi ‑‑ he would continually work on getting me to say "hai." Getting me to say yes rather than this spontaneous no. Shirking responsibility, etc.
D: How would he do that?
L: He would tell me in dokusan. When he'd ring the bell you'd have to say, "Hai." before you went in. At least that's what we were doing. He would say, "Very good, Loring, very good 'hai.'" Encouraging that response. I have to think about any anecdotes or important ‑‑
D: Just whatever you remember. Rather than saying he was very patient. If you can tell me how he was patient.
L: We were having this controversy in the kitchen as to whether we should use fish stock in the soup or not. That also included Okusan. Both at Tassajara and at the city. His feeling was that you could eat fish as long as the fish wasn't on the plate with its eye looking up at you. However, there were other people at Zen Center who had taken a very strong position that any animal at all in food was somehow blaasphemous.
D: Bill Kwong was the main one that thought he should have the fish ‑‑ the dashi no moto ‑‑ because that's what he was used to having.
L: That's true, and that's the way Bill made miso soup.
D: And Silas, I remember, was against it at Tassajara. It's funny, cause I never associated Silas with being on any trip about anything.
L: Dennis White and Ken Campbell had come from a group where they were vegans, very strict vegetarians. They had taken it upon themselves to come in and harass the kitchen. To ask them every day if the soup had fish in it. Because obviously it would not be acceptable to both of them. They complained about it to Suzuki Roshi. Okusan said, we could make two soups, with and without. We did actually try that, but it's such a hassle to make.
D: Suzuki didn't like to be served different food.
L: He went along with the no fish, or the fish, whatever we wanted to do. But he wanted some kind of agreement about it. I didn't think it was that big a deal, but at the same time I felt Suzuki Roshi's wishes should be honored. That he was used to having some fish stock in the soup and it was good to balance, give us a little protein. But he was very political about it. He stayed out of it. He didn't agree or disagree with either group. The funniest part was when we were on our wars of the kitchen. There was the dairy group ‑‑ it's got to be rich and taste yummy with lots of cream and cheese.
D: Also the dairy group wanted the protein and calcium.
L: And then there was the Ed Brown ‑‑ it's gotta taste good, be American, and fit in with what's going on. And then there was the macrobiotic group who obviously had all the weapons at their disposal and the philosophy and the fact that they were from a Japanese background. And Suzuki Roshi eventually just kicked us all out of the kitchen and got people in there who were friendly to each other and could follow a recipe and make decent food. He brought in Angie, Chuck Hoy, and Frances. They could follow a recipe and they had no particular food trip. Ed was retired to writing his book. I was placed in some other position.
D: It took awhile. Ed was in the kitchen at least in summers for several years.
L: He ran the guest program. It was the training periods that would get so crazy. We'd get so crazy anyway during training periods. It would bring so much stuff up for us. We were really getting squeezed, so little things ‑‑
D: Suzuki wouldn't take an anti‑macrobiotic stance.
L: He balanced everything out. He thought everyone was right.
D: I don't know if he thought everyone was right. A "Berkeley Barb" reporter came to interview him who really hated macrobiotics, and he really tried to get an anti‑macrobiotic statement out of Suzuki and he could not do it.
L: I remember arranging a meeting between Michio Kushi and Suzuki.
D: Not Herman Aihara? I remember him coming to Tassajara.
L: Maybe Herman did too, but Michio came to town . . . that was when we first got to Page Street. We went into the sitting room, which became the Buddha room later, and had tea with Michio and Okusan. They had a fine time together, yapping in Japanese. I got Katagiri together with Herman and Cornelia, his wife. It was when Katagiri was sick. I brought him over to their house and they gave him a diagnosis and loaded him up with two grocery bags full of food ‑‑ noodles and stuff.
D: Do you remember anything else about the Michio Kushi meeting?
L: It was very cordial. Michio told me afterwards, he said that Suzuki Roshi said that we can have both white rice and brown rice. And that Suzuki Roshi understood very well the macrobiotic principle of yin and yang, and the sodium/potassium balance in the system. You know how it is when Japanese get together ‑‑ it was total agreement. I thought I was completely vindicated, but then we got back to business as usual. There were no edicts, that I had expected, that I had wanted. I was taking a position, beating my own drum, being very aggressive about the whole macrobiotic thing.
D: Can you describe Suzuki physically?
L: Quite a frail person, actually. I thought he was a little chubby when I first met him in the early days. When Tassajara came along he looked quite scrawny. And Okusan several times confided to me that she was worried about him, that he was working too hard down there, and it was hard to keep weight on him. She felt that we were serving him the brown rice, and he wasn't getting enough nourishment out of it because it had to be chewed and he couldn't chew very well. And that maybe we should consider serving more white rice, especially when Suzuki Roshi was down there.
D: She also made him meat in the city. That caused a minor controversy because she thought meat would help build him up. But people just thought that was their right to do that. It would just cause little whispers now and then. So you say that what you learned from him was to make your world bigger.
L: And at the same time, my son was dying at this time. I was experiencing a lot of fear. I was twenty‑nine or thirty at the time. He was born in '64, so by '67 he was diagnosed as having this disease that was terminal. It was exactly the same as "Lorenzo's Oil." I always blamed myself that he was dying from an attempted abortion ‑‑ the pills and so forth ‑‑ had done him in. But I don't know. Maybe it wasn't. But I felt terribly guilty, blaming myself. Yvonne was so good. She let his mother and him stay at her place while he had these tests at University Hospital. Actually had to shave his head. They had to cut through the skull and do tests on him. He was completely miserable. Painful to him and to us. His mother had another child by her present husband. She was living in Cupertino or someplace down near the airport. He died the year Suzuki Roshi died, in '71. He died in the summer of '71. In his final days he lived in a shelter in Oakland for people who had terminal diseases. I'd go and visit him. At that point he was like a living vegetable. They'd bring him out and sit him on my lap. He was totally no eyes, no ears, no tongue, no body, no mind. Before then he stayed with his mother on Stanyon Street. I'd take him to the park every Sunday. People at the park told me several times I shouldn't bring him to the park. But I was very defiant. I'd put him on a baby buggy. He'd be stretched out, with his helmet on. He wasn't too pleasant to look at.
D: We should have more of that and not less.
L: People don't want to be reminded of their mortality.
L: He looked terrible. (after his death) Okusan just stroked him and said, Oh, so sorry. Her way of doing that was so comforting. It must be a cultural thing. She was the first person that ever did that. Just the way she touched me on the arm‑‑ just some kind of human contact. Then I asked Suzuki Roshi if he'd do the ceremony. I was reluctant to ask him. He just looked at me and said, "Absolutely. I want to do it." He was pretty sick then. Katagiri ended up doing the ceremony. There was no way Suzuki could. Then we heard later, even later that day or the next day, Suzuki Roshi was terminal - cancer
D: That was like October or something.
L: No it was August. My son died August 21.
[Suzuki revealed he had cancer shortly after learning it on October 9th but Loring obviously remembers something, maybe a rumor.-dc]
D: In what way ‑‑ you say what you learned from him is to expand your world ‑‑
L: To see a much bigger picture. It opened up all the Buddha realms. The fact that you see that you're not the only person who is suffering, but that everyone is suffering. The interconnectedness. It's just not me who has problems. Suffering is a noble truths and he went over the noble truths with us so many times. This is just the way of life. There's nothing wrong with you. Everybody suffers. That was a breakthrough for me. I think it was later on, because of my son's situation, which produced a lot of fear in me, and my devotion to Suzuki Roshi, I thought this is going to be it for the rest of my life. I thought I'd found what I was looking for at that time.
DC note: After two more years at Zen Center Loring moved to Colorado to study with Trungpa. Baker Roshi had encouraged him to go on a trip he wanted to take which included a visit to Boulder and a macrobiotic community in Northern California. Loring loved the Buddhist community at the first place and met his wife to be at the second. Baker was surprised to see that Loring brought the seventeen year old spirited Elaine back with him but didn't forbid the relationship. Zen Center was too cold for her though and so she and Loring went East to the Rockies where he cooked for seminars and events and eventually became the perennial guy behind the counter at the Boulderado Hotel and they remained till after Trungpa's death.
D: You left Zen Center how long after he died?
L: Two years after he died. There was a series of comic events, you might say. The next summer I went to Boulder. They had asked me if I could get together the cooking trip for the opening of Rocky Mountain Dharma Center. I really wanted to go. There were some rocky things happening at Zen Center at the same time. I was being very reluctant, mistrustful about Dick. Ed Brown and I were at worse odds than ever.
D: And you said your wife wanted to leave Zen Center because there wasn't any warmth there. I've had to listen to people complaining about that sort of thing ever since I came to Zen Center. Guests would come to Tassajara, people come to Zen Center and say how unfriendly everyone was. What do you think about that?
L: I'm not exactly certain what it was and why there was a lack of friendliness. It would have been a lack of friendliness extending from the women to the new women. I remember a meeting of women and myself at Zen Center that included Dan Welch's wife, Cindy, my brother John's wife. They were having a meeting mainly to complain of the lack of response or outreach or warmth ‑‑ I don't know if it was by Zen Center men or women.
D: Louise had her complaints when she was pregnant. Kathy Cook maybe was the first one pregnant and Louise was next. They had a hard time. There were all these narrow understandings of what people ought to do. I don't know what role Suzuki played, but he didn't know that much about it. Pregnant women in monasteries. They got a lot of heat. Get up. Sit every period. Do what everybody else does.
L: I think it also had something to do with the day care. There were some problems. I know that Jeremiah was problematic in the day care center, continually pushing people ‑‑ Lanie's son.
D: Did Suzuki create a community that wasn't warm?
L: This was after Suzuki Roshi died. This was in '72. After Suzuki Roshi died the place seemed more like a morgue. There was that lack of spark and energy that was present when Suzuki Roshi was alive. Now the emphasis had gone from enlightenment through zazen into the idea of practice. Practice meant more of what the hierarchy had to say about practice. Everyone seemed to be rather confused about that. I think that a lot of people were given a lot of responsibility very quickly that they didn't know how to handle. Nobody really trusted each other and there was very little intimacy. To say nothing about the warmth and extending of friendship to new people coming in. I'm sure I was as bad as anyone. I remember hearing this from other people too, that Zen Center was rather a cold place to visit. There was little sense of community. It was like a lot of individuals doing their own thing. I can't say why that was.
D: Like I said, I’d hear this, but I didn’t really experience it myself. And you were always friendly to people, maybe quiet and not outgoing but ready to extend yourself if the need arose.
L: Lanie never told me there was any one incident, but she found she had no real friendships that she made there. Cindy, who wasn’t around the Zen Center, on the other hand became a very good friend. Cindy also complained that the women were very unfriendly at that time.
L: So when Trungpa came we'd go to see him. Lanie liked Trungpa. At that time a lot of people were going out there. Alan Marlowe was getting quite excited by it. The conversation I had with Trungpa Rimpoche early on haunted me.
D: Did you talk to him about Suzuki?
L: He knew that I was a Suzuki Roshi student.
D: In what ways do you feel that Suzuki Roshi was lacking as a teacher? Like when you were with Trungpa or with Andrew, when you could look back on it and put it in a more realistic perspective.
L: I think the trouble I had with the Asian teachers, what were real challenges for them, was to be able to see where we were completely. Really challenge us as to what we really wanted to do. I was confused as to what I wanted to do when I was with Suzuki Roshi. Yet in a sense he just showed me the way through the life that he led. You could become a sane human being by simply leading your life this way. But the monastic thing seemed much too strict for me.
D: Did he say you had to lead a monastic life?
L: No. But it seemed like the way of Zen was that you would become involved with Zen, then you would take lay ordination, then you would become a monk.
D: Do you think that's true now?
L: I don't think so now.
D: I agree that was an idea that might have been around. I think you're right. I think that is an idea we had, that he should have been more clear about what it meant to get a priest ordination. I never thought about what it meant to get a priest ordination. I was just doing something with Suzuki. Some people like Reb and Dick definitely wanted to be priests. Silas, I think, realized he didn't want to be.
L: Because they didn't know the language well enough, they were unable to really get through what emptiness was, what non‑duality is, what renunciation is all about. To get through to us that the whole thing is based on right view and that means that your intention is really focused on freedom, on liberation. There can't be any ambivalence about it. Enlightenment isn't really anything special, but that has to be at the top of your priority list. That's what the Heart Sutra is all about. I don't feel that either Trungpa or Suzuki Roshi were able to convey that well enough to me. It wasn't until I met Andrew that I realized these things. Andrew Cohen has been able to take the American language, and understand the American psyche, the extent that he can really show you what these things are. If you want to go for them it's up to you. He'll allow anybody to find out how serious they are. My idea was that the practice was going to do it for you. I practiced these Tibetan things. Where there were Tibetan monastic practices, thinking that the more I rang the bell and banged the damaru, the closer I was to some kind of enlightenment. Not realizing that unless I was really 100 percent behind this, had come to terms with my own ambivalence about this whole thing, nothing was going to happen.
D: What about in terms of Zen Center? In Boulder you were doing these Tibetan things. At Zen Center ‑‑
L: Zen Center was the same thing, except it was more zazen. Somehow the quantity of zazen would produce a quality in your practice, your life.
D: That's a very strong idea that people still have. The more they sit, the more enlightened they'll be.
L: Same thing in every practice. The idea that somehow the practice is going to do it for you.
D: As if it's something separate from you, something outside of you that's going to do something to you.
L: Fantastic spiritual experiences. Powerful practices. Great intentions like vowing to save all sentient beings. They're just the fingers pointing at the moon. Yet I believed that these were the things that were going to do it. It's like a big bang theory. Also a misconception of what enlightenment is. That once you're enlightened, then you can begin to coast. I don't think Suzuki Roshi or Trungpa Rimpoche explained the fact that enlightenment is just the beginning. Once you begin to understand it, you can get more and more open. Things continue to go on, but you don't stop there. It's in Buddhism completely. It's just that one tends to rationalize ‑‑ you know, it's like the ego. The ego and the heart are saying, well, I heard about enlightenment, sounds like a great idea.
D: What does the heart say?
L: Sure. Where are we now? You took a turn there, didn't you? I think we're lost. Hang on, man, I got it under control. Ego does not want any part of enlightenment because it means its own demise. It's finished. The deception is over. Trungpa was teaching, for example, Dzogchen teaching, which is that you are already enlightened. Now that you know that, what are the obstacles? Well your mind automatically will give you a printout of every reason why I can't go for this thing right now. I'm going for it tomorrow. Not right now. Nobody was really meeting him on this level. Then he had a meeting with the Karmapa, and the next thing I knew he was giving the Longrim [?] teaching which is the gradual path to enlightenment. Sitting, then Bodhisattva vow, then you go to seminary and you learn this and you do the practices and little bit, little little bit. Not seeing that what you want to do is go through and see the complete non‑duality . . . realizing the fact that ego doesn't exist, that there is no separation between people. There is complete non‑separation. My life merges completely with other. But that's very threatening to people. You don't want to spring this on your students right away, unless they've got the foundation for it. I think the important thing is, if you don't have right view, how can you have right intentions, right speech, right livelihood, right activity, the whole eight‑fold path. If the view isn't correct then nothing else is going to mesh. The view is based on that foundation of what do you really want to do? What do you really want? That's hard. It means you have to ask if you really want to be free.
D: Do you remember Suzuki saying anything in talks or at any time about his past?
L: I felt the important thing was that he was a pacifist during the war. I remember him talking about that.
That he'd had a lot of trouble with his teacher. I can't remember if he stayed with his teacher or left his teacher.
D: He stayed with him. [Gyokujun So-on, Suzuki’s first teacher]
L: But he gave him a hard time. He felt that discipline was necessary.
D: Staying with your teacher doesn't mean you stay at the same place with your teacher. He had to go to college. He also spent time with his family.
L: But he didn't renounce his teacher.
D: No, but some others did. That is interesting that people did leave. I think of Japanese as being so duty‑bound.
D: Suzuki never mentioned his wife's murder.
L: No. I never heard about that.
D: This is interesting. Also, what do you remember him saying ‑‑ do you remember him saying he was a pacifist? I don't think he ever used that word.
L: I think what often came up was how he learned to speak English. And that it was that he had an English teacher, and that was his first student, and that's how he learned English. And then the question was, what was his stance during the war, how did he maintain himself, why wasn't he somehow singled out like a lot of Japanese priests ‑‑ I can't remember if he told us or Dick told us that actually during the war he had some kind of a pacifist stand, unlike most Zen priests at the time who were 100 percent behind the establishment. That was kind of vague. Certainly he never said anything. I can't remember him saying anything specific about it.
D: I even talked to him about it. I just can't track anything down. And when I mention it in Japan people just look at me like I'm crazy. So I'm not sure what happened.
He couldn't have gotten out of the army because of some opinion that he was against it. You don't get out of anything in Japan because of your opinion or what you want to do. I know that. I've dealt with Japanese enough ‑‑ when I was dealing with a temple if I wanted something I never said, you know, it's important to my wife and me to spend some time together, so we're going to go to Korea for a month. If I wanted something I'd say it's my duty, it's your obligation, something that can't be helped. Better not to tell a Japanese authority or teacher that you want to do something for yourself. There's no place there for that to fit. That's just selfish. I've been trying to get to the bottom of what he did, I can't find it. The openings that Suzuki had to express himself during the war might have been so subtle in terms of the way we express ourselves here in America, especially what was going on during the Vietnam War when he was there with people openly opposing, with loud shrieks, marches and everything. Nothing like that during the war in Japan. He might have had to couch what he said in terms that were more familiar to us. Like he said he handed out leaflets or something written to his temple members or maybe to people who came to meetings there – maybe that was before the war. What he might have done was not supporting it. It might have been negative stuff. It might have been omission. This is what Hoitsu says. They were told you can't make peace with the devils. They're going to rape all your women and kill you and them. It's a struggle for life. The Emperor is god, etc. It's ordained they're going to win the war. There's no opening to speak of peace. But Peter Schneider still believes that he was in a peace march. [later discovered this was an anti-nuclear march in the fifties] I ask people peace march? The people in Japan they laugh at me. They don't know their own history. They're temples aren't into history. They make up their history. I went to the temple where Suzuki Roshi was born ‑‑ I'm the first person who has been there. Suzuki never went back. His children have never been there. Nobody from Zen Center has ever been there. And when I went to that temple, oh ‑‑ there was a guy named Suzuki who was head of this temple. I met his father. They took me back, here's the platform, here's the lineage. We took pictures of that. Do you have any records? No. Do you have anything from that era? The guy goes around and he comes back with a book that Suzuki's father had written that named of all the people in the temple. We took a picture of that. They didn't know anything. There was nothing. Zero. That, to me, is what I keep running into. We have some idea of recording history. They would tend to record what they thought people ought to hear. So there you've got the history of Buddhism right there as far as I'm concerned.
L: Did you go to Daniel's wedding? Eggink. He had a wedding. Suzuki Roshi married him at Zen Center, Bush Street. Then they had a reception over at this warehouse that they had fixed up.
D: Maybe. It might have been before my time but there were some wild events the exact purpose of I don’t recall.
L: Daniel had asked me to make up some of my Alice B. Toklas fudge. He was giving this Alice B. Toklas fudge to Suzuki Roshi. Roshi had a couple of them. I was very concerned. I think I asked how was Suzuki Roshi when he got home. Apparently he was yelling at Okusan, that's all people remember. It had always haunted me, the fact that he had been given Alice B. Toklas fudge unbeknownst to him. I think that was the beginning of his very strong anti‑intoxicant stance.
D: I don't remember that.
L: When Jack Van Allen got married, for example. He went through all the precepts. He said a disciple of the Buddha will not take any intoxicating ‑‑ I think he specified alcoholic beverage or drugs. Jack said he swallowed hard at that point. He told me what I had to do, he said, but I wouldn't do it.
D: That was very well said.
DC note: It may have been after that Suzuki asked that no one come to the zendo high and threw away the tab of acid he'd been keeping that Bob Anderson had given him. [but might have taken another couple of tabs given by Loring and John Palmer]
L: I think I was afraid that if I got too close to Suzuki Roshi he would say Loring you have to give up marijuana. There's no way you can get enlightened if you keep on smoking that weed.
D: What made you stay with him for eight years.
L: I was checking everyone out at the time ‑‑ various swamis. But Suzuki had a willingness to meet us at our level. It seemed like a mutual fascination between him and the counterculture that we represented. It was his willingness to be fascinated.
D: He was indeed interested in us and understanding.
L: If he had shown even a degree of indifference or arrogance, I'm sure a lot of us would have just left in a minute.
D: He was transformed by America.
L: Tim Buckley and I took him to the first Be‑in at the park.
D: I think I walked along with you on that. Timothy Leary ‑‑
L: I realized when we got there it was the wrong thing to do. But we were there.
D: What do you mean? I disagree.
L: I thought it was great, but it was the wrong thing to do as far as Suzuki Roshi ‑‑ I knew there was this reluctance. His wife had told us several times that he wasn't going to come. We went up to the temple, and he said ‑‑ Okusan had told us several times that he had decided not to come ‑‑ it was her idea I realize now. We went up to get him and I thought, okay., I'll just see if he's going to come or not. He peeked down the stairs. I said we're going to the Be‑in now, it's time to go. He didn't bat an eye. He said, "I'll be right there." When we got there I just saw the contrast between his presence and his complete dignity, and how foolish everybody else was. Leary was like going out of his gourd. Any kind of dignity Tim Leary had was gone right out the window. He was acting like a madman, or like a kid. Smiling and waving and yelling and hooting or whatever. Suzuki was very composed. We finally got him sitting up on the stand there, but he was reluctant to do it. Somebody gave him a God's Eye and he held it and that became like a reference point. Suddenly he became ‑‑ there were pictures taken of him that day and I saw them later at the Fillmore ‑‑ I can't remember who took them. I had the presence of mind to find the photographer and say I wanted a couple of copies of those. Maybe Michael Bowen, the editor of the Oracle would know where to find them. I think it was a turning point in my life to see what Suzuki Roshi represented was this complete human being. A gentleman with dignity and composure who could handle any situation. In contrast with drug guru Tim Leary who was acting a little out of his mind at the time. We didn't stay long ‑‑ about a half hour. Then we took him back. Then we went back to the park and took a couple buttons, chewed them up. We came back to the park in time for the parachute jump.
D: I remember that. That was Owsley parachuting. That was my understanding.
L: Oh my god. It was an interesting event. Same thing with the peace march. He was very reluctant to do it. Baker finally got him to do the peace march. That was very dignified also. In San Francisco ‑‑ we started downtown.
D: That was 69 I think. I was at Tassajara at the time.
DC note: Now Loring is a student of Andrew Cohen in Larkspur and Elaine runs Andrew's student center in Israel. "I was supposed to be the spiritual one," says Loring, "but it turned out to be her." He says that the big advantage with Andrew is that they share the same culture and language and that communication is more precise. He feels that Suzuki had to always be trying to figure us out and that he missed a lot about us and that we didn't catch on to a lot that was him. Loring says that Andrew can demand and verify a commitment to enlightenment and renunciation that Loring never gave with his oriental teachers. He says that he escaped intimacy with them so he could continue on his food and dope and head trips and that they couldn't really see him or get to him. "Suzuki Roshi showed me a new life, a world vastly bigger than I was living in, a world with the four noble truths, interconnection and saving all beings. Trungpa helped me to continue to make it bigger. But in the long run I was just chasing after enlightenment with an idea that I was always getting a little closer to it. At Zen Center the idea was that the more you sat the closer you'd get and with Trungpa Rimpoche I had the same idea as I repeated the esoteric practices of bowing, hitting Tibetan gongs and so forth. I was just fooling myself. Andrew asked me what was I doing? What have I learned? Do I take my life and the possibility of enlightenment seriously?"
It's 2011 and Loring is still with Andrew, now living in Boston.
I kind of meandered and failed to mention close friend, Erik Storlie: eg., when I said that I was going to spend the summer in the mountains, it was to spend the summer with Erik along with Fred Hoffman. In Erik's book [Nothing on My Mind: Berkeley, LSD, Two Zen Masters, and Life on the Dharma Trail], Fred was called "Farmer" and he named me "Lon." A group of us that lived in Berkeley in 1964,'65, made the weekly trip with me to Sokoji, in SF, to hear Suzuki Roshi's talks. This included Erik, Fred, Ken Spiker, Buncie Shaddon, Georgiann Coffey [Annapurna], and Michael "Sinker" Jones. I was sad to see Erik leave to go back to U of Minn., to get the teaching degrees. He returned, often, because of his love affair with Jeannie C., besides, of course, his love for Suzuki Roshi. I'm proud of Erik because he's become a noted teacher of meditation at the U of Minn.
Also, I didn't talk about the deep impression that Suzuki Roshi made on me by his authentic presence: sincerity and integrity. He was a package of beauty, truth, and goodness: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. His speech, movements, and decorum were magnetizing: lightness-of-being. The ordinary as extraordinary. I "turned Japanese" after being around him---from the outside in. Remember the haramaki [waist sweater] and devotion to the zori? We're the luckiest people in the world to have met SR and the wabi/sabi aesthetics of Nippon: enjoyed practicing Cha-no-Yu for 10 years while in Boulder. Life is good!
FYI: I've officially retired from the Concierge Desk at the Copley Marriott.
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