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Ananda Claude Dalenberg was a dear friend, teacher, and sincere student of the way without labels who didn't suffer foolishness lightly. He cared deeply about social justice but was not real fond of society or institutions including the SF Zen Center which he felt Suzuki had let get too big and too impersonal. He was devoted to his family and they to him.
Today, February 18, 2012, is the fourth anniversary of the death of Ananda Claude Dalenberg and that was a paragraph submitted to Sweeping Zen dot com for a memorial to Ananda. I met him in 1966 at Sokoji on Bush Street where the SF Zen Center got its start when he returned in the fall from Japan where he'd been ordained as a priest by Shunryu Suzuki. I didn’t know that though because he didn't make anything out of it. I think he wore robes some back then but what I remember best is later at the City Center him wearing the okesa wrapped over his suit jacket and maybe a tie. He was always lay oriented and somewhat hostel to convention. Claude was older than most of us at the Zen Center, was serious and undramatic. He did not always hide his irritation with all the scruffy, naive youth who came to zazen, but if someone approached him with sincerity, without being on some trip, he’d respond in kind. Sometimes we called him our Dutch Burgher. Suzuki frequently sought Claude out for advice. I did too because he was well and widely educated in sutras and spiritual literature and had a grounded personal practice and philosophy. His best friend at the ZC was another key Suzuki disciple, congenial Silas Hoadley, who was a little older than most of us and who had an import business. Silas and Claude were soft-spoken, seemed wiser and more even-tempered than most of us.
Claude originally come to San Francisco from Chicago following Alan Watts who came to teach at, to have some position at the American Academy of Asian Studies. Claude became a janitor there. He had investments, maybe some inheritance. Never knew him to have a regular job. He was close with Gary Snyder and folks in the Beat crowd. He was a character in the Dharma Bums. He studied with Hodo Tobase at Sokoji years before Suzuki arrived there. I remember him saying that back then, sitting zazen for ten minutes was like climbing a great mountain, whereas in time new people would come and sit sesshins without having much trouble.
Having been instrumental in the late fifties in the formation of the East-West House near Sokoji where resided fellow seekers interested in pursuing the best of Asian and Western thought, Claude also organized and managed communal living for Zen students in some apartments across from Sokoji. He and Silas found the building on Page Street that is now the City Center.
Claude also attended other Buddhist Centers and as he got older preferred Jodo Shinshu to Zen and attended services at the Buddhist Churches of America headquarters around the corner from Sokoji.
Claude spent some time at Tassajara and was the fourth head monk. I remember him complaining about all the obsessive cleaning of places that had been cleaned not that long ago. He said the Chinese had a better alternative. I asked what that was. “Dirt,” he answered. He also was not a fan of what he called “zazen only” Zen and specifically told me he did not care for the practice of Kodo Sawaki and Uchiyama at Antaiji in Kyoto. As Zen Center got bigger Claude got more distant. He was present when Suzuki announced he had cancer and at that time the only request Suzuki made was that Claude stay with Zen Center after he was gone.
Claude married Vera Haile, a social worker involved in working with the elderly in Chinatown in San Francisco, and they lived in the Avenues. He took the name Ananda, as I remember it, soon after Suzuki's death. He'd come to the City Center on Page Street for zazen sometimes and give occasional lectures. He's the one who got us into chanting the refuges in Pali. He got along with the new abbot Richard Baker, but the place had gotten too big and bureaucratic for him and I think Baker’s dynamic style was not compatible with Ananda’s. He also felt that Suzuki had betrayed a commitment to keep ZC small and intimate. He did relate well with Reb Anderson and received transmission from him. Ananda was eager to do an interview with me when I was working on Crooked Cucumber and came to my home with prepared notes.
Ananda continued to attend the BCA regularly and was also involved with the Quakers and was on some committee devoted to reforming and somewhat eliminating prisons. He had an interesting combination of being conservative and radical. He created a newsletter named Cloud Hidden Friends which published letters – you had to submit something to get a free subscription. Ananda had what has been called a spiritual emergency and spent a brief time away from his family at some facility. I remember him telling me that in all these years he’d never had any spiritual experience and then it happened in an avalanche. He said it started with his dog talking to him and then he went into visions from Christ on the cross to Kanzeon to an ocean of light. He said for a while he lost the ability to relate normally.
I kept up with Ananda through the years and brought a film maker to his home to film him talking about DT Suzuki whom he'd met. Vera told me on the phone something had happened. He couldn’t get out of bed. I said oh we'll not bother you but she needed help so we came. Ananda also wanted to be interviewed for the film. After the interview Vera asked for help convincing Ananda to go to the hospital which he was refusing to do. Knowing how stubborn and contrarian he was, rather than tell him why he should go, I told him why he shouldn't. I said a man in his nineties named Mr. Rose had told me the secret to his old age and health was that he didn't go to doctors. "I've seen my friends go," Mr. Rose told me, "And they don't come back." Then I laughed and immediately, with Vera and Michael Goldberg who was making the film, helped Ananda get up and into the car and Vera drove him to the hospital.
Ananda had a stroke
and was partially paralyzed. After that I visited Ananda in the hospital
now and then, then more and more till I had firm commitment to go read to
him once a week at a convalescent home near Japan town. Before long he
asked for no more Zen to be read. Jodo Shin Shu was good. We went through
a lot of Rajneesh which was fun but one day he said no more of that. We
went through the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying twice. His favorite and
mine came to be Sri Ramana Maharshi which I read to him over and over from
a little paperback I had.
Occasionally he'd get an infection and have to go to a hospital and then one trip there he whispered he wasn't going to return to the convalescent home, that he wanted to discontinue the food and water he'd been receiving through tubes. I think it was about three and a half years that he'd been in this state and he was ready to die. His family tried to dissuade him but he was adamant. On the first day, maybe a Wednesday, the hospital stopped his medicine, on the next food, and on the third day water. Then he was transferred to a hospice in the Haight. Vera and his daughters were there most the time. His brother came from Chicago. Rev. Ogui and some other Jodo Shinshu and Zen priests came. I read to him from Jodo Shu writings and Sri Ramana Maharshi. On Sunday night late, the nurse assured me that I could go home, that Ananda would live through the night. He died early Monday morning.
Dying like that was not easy but Ananda felt that it was better than continuing to live without a quality of life that he found acceptable. I have had a long interest in the death with dignity option that Ananda chose. There's a section on cuke here for it called Santhara and I was involved with creating it while I was visiting Ananda, but I never mentioned it to Ananda because I didn't think that would be appropriate. He came to that decision, as do many people, naturally. What he did took great courage. He could have changed his mind at anytime but he didn't. His resolve was firm. Looking at him toward the end I saw his fists clenched at times before his chest and him shaking as if he were traveling on a bumpy road. I got the impression he was on a difficult ride and determined to hold on, to hold on to letting go.
Ananda had not requested any special attention be given to his body after his death and Vera was not at all into anything like that but she agreed to let his body remain at the hospice for a day. I sat with his body that day and through the night. We had a ceremony a few days later at the Zen Center.
Today we remember you Ananda, American Buddhist pioneer, humanist, dharma brother.
PS - Ananda's filmed interview
(the last time I heard him speak much at all), an
interview with Vera, the Cloud Hidden Friends publication and other
materials are in the cuke archives and will be posted on cuke.com as we
get to them. These memories were written quickly without referring to
prior material and surely contain some errors. - dc
Your remembering has caused me to remember and send you a few comments. I never heard him called the Dutch Burgher, but I wonder if he would have preferred the Dutch Berger, since I always explain it's a mountain (Berg) not a city (Burg). He did choose the name Ananda, but Suzuki had given him the name Kokuzan. When he told Dick Baker he had chosen Ananda, apparently Dick said he was not supposed to choose his own name, but he doubted Claude would change his mind. When Claude decided not to continue life, I said to him,, you have never said you wanted to die and so I agreed to anything that would keep you alive. He was in intensive care at that time, and that is painful and miserable. I asked him what he had enjoyed in these years, and he said music. But he never said to me he wanted to die, just stop the food, water, and medicine. Afterwards when I told a friend of his, Bob Breckenridge about his death, he said that Ananda died as he lived, willfully. I think that was true. After you helped me get him in the car to go to the hospital. When we got there, they accepted him, but put him on a bed in the hallway because they had no other space. In the next two days until they found a room, he got worse. I noticed the arm as getting paralyzed and told the nurse who did nothing. He remembered your interview and that he talked and walked to my car. I don't know if UC could have done more, but may be. I have a friend, my former boss at Self-help for the Elderly, Alan Wong who came in to CPMC while Claude was there with something like a stroke but not, paralyzed from the neck down. I went to see him recently and commented that after a while people stop visiting, and Claude had one friend who continued throughout. That was you, and I was especially grateful for your visits and continuity. Alan, who is now at home but still paralyzed except for a little movement is his right hand, said that he had one friend too who came every Tuesday. He also was grateful. Vera
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