1995 Interview with Jim Morton
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Jim Morton has been living in Japan since 1973. He still has more stories to tell that he said in 95 he'd send. I've decided to remind him. Rick Morton is his brother. - dc
I came to Zen Center in 66 and went to Japan in the beginning of 73.
I had been to Zen Center to sit a number of times and I remember the first time I talked to Suzuki Roshi I was very nervous and I couldn't quite understand what he was saying. It was before I went back to Vermont. There was this woman from Hollyhock or somewhere in Massachusetts and she'd taken him to her cabin near Arlington in Vermont. He mentioned certain mountains that he'd seen. I remember feeling very nervous but he didn't have much to say - he never did. If you said something he didn't really carry the ball in the conversation very well. So I felt nervous talking to him. But I remember being very impressed at his lack of eagerness to convert me like you get from other religionists. A total lack of trying to sell something to you.
When I graduated from school at the end of the next June, I came back and the first training period was going on and I started going down to Tassajara for these work weekends they were having then. It was the beginning of September. I went to say maybe in October. I went to Rohatsu sesshin where I had a big experience that changed my life.
During my first sesshin in the city at the end of August I was like bathed in flames of pain - like Fudomyo. I was sitting there trying to cope and then this idea, no more like an inspiration - a kind of string, appeared. You know there's a story that Kannon maybe dropped this string down into hell. There was this terrible robber but he did one good deed in his life so Kannon dropped this one string down into hell for him so he could pull himself back up and he started pulling himself up and a lot of other people started following up after him and he was afraid this little tiny string was going to break so he started kicking at people and then he fell. He was so anxious to save himself and not others that he lost it. So I was there like this guy in hell and a sort of string appeared like if I followed it it would lead somewhere - this is metaphorical but I did think it was like a string or thread - this is long before I read that story. Actually I never thought to make the comparison till this very minute. I didn't talk to Suzuki about it because he was in Tassajara. Period after period I kept concentrating on it and then something happened that made me feel I had attained some kind of balance that made the pain secondary.
At the end of that day I left to go to my apartment and I had this instinct that I wasn't going back and sure enough it turned out I got hired by a furniture maker that day - he had a shop in the Marina. I worked for him for a few months and then I just had to go to Tassajara and in Rohatsu sesshin the same thing happened. But this time I didn't have any interruption and it went all the way through and it became this huge experience that I could hold onto real tight and at that time I thought I could understand why people suffer.
And I talked about that to Suzuki Roshi and he never had any expression on his face - he just nodded. And at one point I told him that zazen was like standing on your head - that it was very easy to do but hard to keep doing. Standing on your head has no point or goal. I told that to Suzuki Roshi and he didn't say anything, he just nodded a little bit. He didn't say anything one way or another and I didn't know what he thought. But that evening in teisho he talked about what I said. He said, "You know somebody told me that zazen is like standing on your head and this is very true." And that of course impressed me. I thought that this was a permanent experience and it slipped away and that caused me a great deal of anxiety. He did say, "Now you know where to put your energy."
That winter was really cold. It snowed quite heavily. We, you and I, drove out in the Land Rover through the snow and we picked up a couple of hunters who were stranded and they were freaked out sitting in the back seat thinking we were going to go off the road - you were driving.
About six months later the same sort of experience happened to me again and that marked a permanent change in my zazen and everything. After that I really knew what I was doing. I talked to Chino about it. I'd been sitting in my room in the dorm waiting for Rob Gove [later interview says not Gove but Tim Buckley] and Peter Schneider to go on a hike. At that time I used to sit every chance I got cause I felt like something was happening in my zazen. I had the vision of a bubble rising looking at the crumbling stucco room. I understood that it was my discursive mind rising and when it rose above eye level I felt like my mind split in half and I could see an aspect of reality that I'd never dreamed of before that was completely immeasurable and impossible to talk about and didn't smack of mind in any way.
I told Chino about it but I'd never heard of anything like that and had never read about it in any books so I didn't know how to talk about it but I couldn't get it across and he said that lots of strange things happen to you in zazen but you shouldn't pay any attention to them and then he would go on and say what zazen should be like and the way he put it was just right and I tried again and didn't succeed and he told it the way I experienced it again and I told him that he was just saying exactly what I experienced and he said, "In that case you won't have to worry about anything anymore." I found out over the years that he didn't mean you wouldn't have to worry about anything at all. I've done plenty of worrying over the years.
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