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Interview with Daigan David Lueck

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Daigan David Lueck

Interviewed by DC in about 2006 at Tassajara
Marc Alexander present

DC: David, you remember Jano Watts telling you at GG what about Alan’s death?

DL: I remember one Sunday, before I came to live here, we had a conversation. She said that the night he died, right after he died, she said this terrific storm came up. There was lots of wind, lightning, thunder, a real tempest, which then subsided quickly. As I remember it, that’s how she told it.

DC: You also said that he had just come back.

DL:  He had just come back, I think, that day before, that afternoon before. They played with balloons or something, and he was very tired. They went to bed, and she woke up and he was dead.

DC: Played with balloons, there were other people there playing with balloons; I’ve heard that.

DL: Yeah. Then they went to bed. Now this may just be how I envisioned it. She woke up and he was gone. And then the storm blew up, very quickly after that. And then was almost immediately over. But it was such a tempest. She remarked that that was Alan, something like that! That would be kind of characteristic of him. I never knew the gentleman; I used to talk to him causally and I used to go to the Society for Comparative Philosophy seminars on the Vallejo, weekends when they had then, 70, 71, sometime in there. I’d get his newsletter; I enjoyed that a lot. Then he died. I came to Green Gulch for the first time for his funeral, in fact.

DC:  I was Jisha for Baker roshi for that. I think that was more like in November, of 73.

DL: Reason I know it’s 73 for sure is because I had moved to Marin County from the City that summer.

DC: That’s the year I was MJ, main Jisha.

DL: So that’s the memory I have from a long time ago. I was guess it was 83 that I had that conversation with her, about a year before I actually came to live at Green Gulch as a resident.

DC: You ran into her?

DL: Seems to me it was a Sunday afternoon, on the deck where we used to have the tea. Not the pool area, but between the Wheelwright Center and the library.

DC: That’s true. She was at Green Gulch living in that room next to the library before I came to live there. She felt they sort of failed with—well, she failed, with Zen Center. Then she went to Synanon and shaved her head and got sober there for a while.

DL: That’s the story, as I recall. Other than, as I told you, I was on the Vallejo the day Suzuki Roshi died. He was having a workshop that day, and he came in with tears in his eyes and said, “Suzuki Roshi just passed away.” I remember that very well. That was the 3rd of December, is that right? no, 4th, 1971. Jayno was there then, during those workshops. I didn’t know them personally, but I did have the guts to go up to her during one of those teas and said I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated Alan and that he had been such an influence in my life, way back before I even thought about Zen or even lived in California. That I had read Marriage, Men and Women, and the other books—Nature, Man and Woman, I had read way before that. And The Wisdom of Insecurity. I was just, you know—it was like a breath of fresh air. I also read In My Own Way just before he died. So I was a real aficionado of Alan Watts, like so many people were. Then they started The Society for Comparative Philosophy and I wanted to belong to that. I had a little money in those days and could afford to move out of San Francisco.

DC: A lot of people mention Alan Watts when I interview them as the most important reason why they came to Zen Center, or a significant factor in why they came to Zen Center. But they almost always say it was because of his radio program or him being on TV. Yours is a little more personal.

DL: I loved his stuff, but I also liked him in person because I thought he was – I just thought he had terrific taste and humor. That English dry humor. It just made good sense to me. I liked his presence. It felt good to be in the presence of somebody like that. Lama Govinda came, I remember, and Ram Dass one time, several. There were maybe 30, 40  people would be in that space.

DC: Who was that guy, Bob—Shapiro.

DL: I remember the name.

DC: When Alan Watts died, at some point the Alan Watts Society gave the houseboat to Green Gulch.

DL: Is that so? I didn’t know that.

DC: And it was like giving us an albatross. We gave it back to them after a while.

DL: By that time they had already moved to Druid Heights. He just used it for his [office] - Varga died in 69 or something; he had moved out after that.

DC: You remember Roger Summers? As a little aside, Faye called me up when Roger died, about 10 years ago, and asked if I would do his funeral. I said that I don’t do ceremonies, and got him in touch with Norman. Then I missed the funeral; I didn’t know when it was. It is one of a couple of things like that I feel bad about. But anyway, Roger was sort of Alan’s landlord there at Druid Heights. Roger bought that land with Elsa Gidlow in 1955 for $10,000 or something.

So didn’t you tell me you brought Roger Summers to Zen Center once or was that somebody else?

DL: Must be somebody else.

DC: But you came to Zen Center when Suzuki Roshi was still there?

DL: I came to Zen Center in the City in 1970. My first sitting was in 1970; I’d go over there in those days, acid tripping and so on. I decided I needed some kind of focus. He was still alive, though he was sick. I remember hearing him give a lecture.

DC: He was sick in 70. He was sick a lot.

DL: He was not around a lot.

DC: He wasn’t having cancer and dying in 70.

DL: I remember he would always stand by the back door there in the morning and say good-bye to everybody, like pastors do, gassho bow.

DC: He was doing that in 1970?

DL: Yes, at the side door there, at City Center.

DC: Which door?

DL: Downstairs, right off the zendo, there, the street door.

DC: He would stand at the street door and bow good-bye to people in 1970?

DL: That’s what I remember. And I remember being at a lecture, and I think you were there, I think you sat right in front of me. Do you remember this story? I told you before. Something about—“you are not materialists. You are not interested in—hippies are not interested in money. If I offered you a thousand dollars you would say no thank you.” Remember that? “But how about enlightenment?”  He went –aaah!

DC: Yeah, we would grab for it.

DL: He said, “Same thing.”  I remember that so well.

DC: I was living here at Tassajara that year but I would come to the City now and then, so possibly.  Anyway, tell me more. Anything you can scrape out.

DL: I remember my first sit. Walters, who is now a transmitted roshi in Santa Fe—

DC: Yeah, I know Sid.

DL: Sid, yeah. Back in the ______ theater days.

DC: Yeah, I knew him back then and I saw him in Santa Fe.

DL: We were in the theater. He is now running his own show there. He is a family therapist, too. Anyway, he went to have dokusan with Suzuki Roshi. But he remembers that Suzuki Roshi got up and bowed to him before he could bow to Suzuki Roshi. That was typical of Suzuki Roshi.

DC: Suzuki Roshi would do that to people. And a lot of people thought it was just for them. It was, but he did it quite a bit.

DL: The other thing is, Suzuki Roshi said to him, “A day without zazen is like a clock that you forgot to set the time. It works OK but you don’t know what time of day it is.” Something like that.

DC: Is that in Shine One Corner of the World? Did I include that?

DL: I think you did. Sid probably told you that story. He came down when Tatsugami Roshi was here.

DC: Yeah, I think Sid did give me that story. You’re right. [discussion about getting DL and Arlene guest food] I work on the dining room crew. I do the dishes. So just go in and eat there.

There is somebody else I associate you with. Maybe it was just Sid. Did Sid take you to Zen Center?

DL: Yes. He and I came there – he said to me – you know, I had been in Japan, so he said to me—you know – we were trying all this stuff in 70 – we’d go out to the park, these different groups, the Hare Krishnas and all – Sid said, There’s a Zen Center over there. Let’s go to that. I said OK. The one who was doing zazen instruction that day—I don’t remember his name. He spoke pretty good English, and he went back to Japan later and died of cancer, a young guy.

DC: Yoshimura. I just got an e-mail from his daughter in Tokyo.

DL: I started getting up every morning and driving over to City Center. One morning, it seems to me I remember this. Right in the middle of zazen he said, “I told the old students, sit up front.” Did he ever say that to people? Sit up in the front. He was kind of stern about it; kind of surprised me.

DC: What was his point?

DL: Well I guess he told people to sit closer to the doshi, to where he was sitting. It seems to me it was downstairs. It wasn’t during a talk.

DC: The talks were almost always upstairs in the buddha hall. So where did you come from?

DL: I was living out in the avenues, right out by the Russian church there.

DC: When did you come to San Francisco? Where did you come from to San Francisco?

DL: From Minneapolis.

DC: You’re from Minneapolis. That’s a key location for Zen students to come from! Reb, Bob Halpern. He came through briefly while you were at Green Gulch. Loring Palmer.

DL: Isn’t Jerome from Minnesota?

DC: Jerome, and Linda Ruth. There’s a Eric Storlie. He’s back there now. A professor, retired.

DL: I came out in 69. I’d been with the Firehouse Theater.

DC: In what capacity?

DL: I was an actor. For four years, and travelled with them. When I came out here
, my wife and I came first—she was Japanese. I was working at _____ [Berlitz?] or something just to have a job; she was working at Gump’s. Then Marlowe Hotchkiss, who was the head of the theater, came out with his girlfriend. They liked it out here, so they moved out here. That’s the place they had up on Gough Street. So I was instrumental in having them come out here.

DC: Did you and I meet back then?

DL:  We did, we did. I was introduced to you, but I couldn’t remember later.

DC: I’d just go over there and get stoned. Didn’t he have a pet – monkey! Didn’t they have a cheetah?

DL:  An ocelot!

DC: The place sort of oozed a little of Marlowe’s wealth. I went out and visited them when they had the place in Forest Knoles that became Forest .something, the rehab center.

DL:  Then he lost it all. All of it. He is living in Santa Barbara. He did that council thing at Ojai. He started this council. American Indian thing—passing the talking stick. Now he is going to Germany, teaching.

DC: He was with the Tides Foundation or something like that.

DL: For a while. But they finally broke, and then he was with his family, a horse farm that is the property of one of these famous directors of Hollywood. They are running that. Marlowe is going to Europe this summer, I heard, to teach this thing called Council which I don’t know much about.

DC: He is probably in touch with John Steiner. I think he was in the Doughnuts. Dough like in money.

DL: He was a very generous person. He was extremely generous. He made all that stuff happen for everybody for a while there, several years. Whatever difficulties there were, interpersonal difficulties, as happens in every organization, it certainly wasn’t a lack of generosity from Marlowe Hotchkiss. I think my lucky stars I ran into those people. And I still see a lot of them. Sid...all those.

DC: Very quickly. You were in the Korean War. Did you live in Japan? For how long?

DL: Seven years. In total. The first time I lived three years, in the service.

DC: After the Korean war?

DL: During the Korean War. I didn’t want to come back—after I had been in Korea, they were going to send us back home. I was not in the mood to come back after that experience, and go back to the university, and to the girl back home, to the mortgage, to the job—I just didn’t want any part of it. I just wanted to go to Japan and lose myself in Japanese culture or something else. So I asked, is there any way I can get discharged in Japan? They said absolutely not. There is only one way you can go to Japan, and that is if you enlist in the regular army for 3 years and then you can request transfer and you get a transfer to Japan. I did, and that’s how I got to Japan.

DC: How long were you in the army? 
DL: Four years in total.

DC: You were in Korea in 61—

DL: Well I was in the US. I had volunteered for the draft, after my second year at University, just to get the hell out of everything. I wanted some adventure in my life. They used to tease me, this Yankee college boy volunteered for this shit. So I was in Japan then, and I married over there for the first time, to a Japanese woman I met.

DC: Children?

DL: Yes, we came back to the States. I had my son in 1958. He is 50 years old now and lives up on Vashon== Island, right off of Seattle. I went back to Japan in 1962 with my wife at that time. I wanted to be over there but she hated Japan, actually. We broke up, and I was following somebody else, of course. I worked for Japan Airlines.

DC: Suzuki Roshi’s son Otohiro worked for Japan Airlines a long time.

DL: I worked out of  Haneda Airport in those days. Writing booklets and teaching classes, English conversation to pilots, and cabin attendants. There were only about 4 of us in those days doing it. The guy who started it was named Marini. He graduated from language school. He spoke fluent Japanese. Read and wrote it and so on. The rest of us struggled with it. We got these jobs—I got in because I knew somebody there.

DC: Well you don’t need to know Japanese to teach English in situations like that, I don’t think. So you came back to America in what year?

DL: That was 66. I came back and started working for a travel agency in Minneapolis. Hated every bit of it. The downtown world—hated it. Went to this Firehouse theater one night and saw Waiting for Godot. And it changed my life. I loved it so much. I went back and saw it again and again. They started a workshop.

DC: Wait a minute. Is Firehouse from Minneapolis? Was Marlowe from Minneapolis?

DL: Yeah.

DC: Is Sid from Minneapolis?

DL: No, Sid was born in New York, but he came out for the open theater. Marlowe brought him out for the open theater in those days. That was Joe Chenkins, famous theater, and Sid had his masters in drama from I think Carnegie Tech. Was a good director. He brought Paul Boson. They started this theater with Marlowe and got all these folks together. I joined them in 66—joined a workshop, and they put me in one of their first plays. Written by Megan Terry in 66 called V Rock. It opened off off Broadway in New York, and caused such a storm of controversy that we had to put it on. It was great, I loved it. It was a transformation play; we would play all the different parts. It was a great time in my life. I had to still work at other jobs. I was teaching private school. But I loved it. We went to Europe, we went to New York twice, played Cafe La Mama. Finally it began to fall apart about in 69, because, well, people kept getting more and more radical and finally they just wanted to give up. People were breaking off to go other ways. Michiko and I moved out to California. She loved San Francisco and wanted to be closer to her home in Tokyo. So I said, let’s go. We had 2,000 bucks we had saved, and came out here on a shoestring. Those days, could get an apartment on the avenues for 125 bucks. You could live in a shoestring, even then. It was great.

DC: With less money, you could live cheaper than you can now.

DL: You could live on the fringe. I was fringe. I could get jobs when I needed then, then I’d get paid, and I could write, and I could sit, and I could do all these things, and my wife could help support me!

DC: You were around Zen Center in 70. But it didn’t take.

DL: Well I came for a long time and sat and then I started sitting at home. Then I met a guy who was doing the Tibetan stuff over at—Tarthang Tulku's, in Berkeley – named Marcus Allen, became a well-known personage. Not the football player. His real name was Mark _____ [Dolly?] but he changed it to Marcus Allen, before the football player. He was another very influential person. Taught me—heard about Samantabhadra, all these different names, Tibetan Buddhism. He dropped out about the time I started. But I got interested in all the books and so on. I would get really enthusiastic, and then I would lose it. I never lost interest—I was reading everything I could get my hands on. Wouldn’t go to City Center all the time. I did my first one-day sitting after I’d been there maybe 2 months. It was the worst experience I ever had! I didn’t realize that people would sit, and eat and listen to lectures also in zazen like that. I was in misery!

After the tea break, I ignominiously stole away. Without telling anybody. I was in such agony of pain. So that’s one reason I didn’t go back. I said to myself, the next time I sit, I am going to really know how to sit. Before I sat a one day sitting again, it was probably several years.

DC: That was 70.

DL: 70, 71. Maybe it was spring of 71. Suzuki roshi was alive, I remember—that’s when I heard him give the lecture.

DC: And you were with Alan Watts when you heard he died. Probably that day.

DL: Later that day, Yeah it was a December day.

DC: So that’s 71, and then you came back to Zen Center in 83.

DL: I came out here to Green Gulch in the later 70s, after I came out to Alan Watts’ funeral, that is to say, in Marin County, where I was living in Fairfax. So about 77 I started coming as a guest student. Then I started coming more and more as a guest student. Do 3 and 4 days at a time. Then come on Sundays. I was one of the Sunday people. Then little by little I said, I need this in my life. I have to get some discipline. I have to actually take it on. So in 84 I started living here. Exactly 24 years ago this summer.

DC: What did you do for a living all that time?

DL: I taught at a place called Sunny Hills Children’s Services where I was a counsellor. That was really something. That was in San Anselmo. In fact that’s was where Ed Brown was for a while as a kid, at Children’s Services. I was also a teacher, a student of astrology, and I taught astrology classes. Did charts, made money. I painted houses. But I also inherited 100 shares of Minnesota Mining stock from my mother after she died. And that bought a house in Fairfax. I bought a four-bedroom house in Fairfax for $48,000. In 1973. We broke up two years later, I sold it for $60,000. And I just kind of kept body and soul together by doing different jobs. And gave up trying to be something, anything. I was trying to write a novel, and poetry.

DC: So you came back to Zen Center in 84, and were ordained what year? By?

DL: 90. Mel.

DC: When did you get transmission?

DL: 99.

DC: And here we are at Tassajara. Any last words?

DL: I love you, David. You are one of my teachers. This is for the record. David Chadwick was extremely important to me in the winter of 1986-87 when I had left Tassajara, kind of broken down, broken hearted, broken mind, broken spirit, and went to live in a tack house behind Yvonne Rand’s house. David would come out and put chicken feet on the house because it was part of a Baba Yaga hut. David would come out. In the wintertime, evening starts about 5:00. It would be raining, and so on. He was so good for my morale. He kind of took me under his wing. You took me under your wing, and you were so good to me. So kind to me, and kept my spirits up, that I’ve always told people, David Chadwick was very important in my life. And then I came to Green Gulch to live and you were the director at that time. You helped me come back to Green Gulch, in fact. I was working in the kitchen. Maintenance, I guess. You were writing music up in the upstairs there. I used to drive over to the City with you. You kind of took me under your wing. Remember, I would cry a lot, and I was just really having a hard time.

DC: You had that great affair, with ---

DL:  Yeah, yeah. That was one of the things that precipitated my crisis. Well it was good for me. It was very cathartic. It was 9 months, exactly. At the end of 9 months I did the sesshin at Green Gulch. I used to go up and make the bread in the morning. Sunday, I would get up at 4:00 and bake the Sunday bread, come back to Yvonne’s in the afternoon. Then I said to Mel, I gotta come back and do it. And he said, Yes, you do. Then I came back for good. But you were important in my life! You were really important to me. I’ve always wanted you to know that. I have a poem about you and Karen and what was her name?—later became Gil Fronsdal’s wife—Tamara. Tamara and Karen and you and I sat down in that little tack house behind Yvonne’s and we had tea and smoked cigarettes and talked about things. And one of the things you would say is, Corrupt the youth of America before they corrupt you.

We had a good talk. It felt really nice to be together. They had been here, sesshin. You were telling us how you brought some of the wood from Tassajara to actually build the place.

DC: I built that place entirely out of the Green Gulch firewood pile. I didn’t even take good wood.

DL: It was amazing. It was my house for 9 months.

DC: There was a structure there, but I rebuilt every wall. The floor was there, but then I put on top of it—I actually got some sycamore—it came from here, from Tassajara. But all the other stuff, including the decks, I got from the firewood pile. It was going to be cut up into firewood. It would be split wood. All you have to do is push it back together, you know.

DL: It is still there, and people are still using it. OK.

DC: Thanks a lot. Incidentally, there's a lot more to the death of Alan Watts than what Jano told you. [Tape turned off]

Thanks Layla Smith Bochhorst for transcribing this interview from an audio file.