Correspondence between Jeanie Stearns and DC mainly concerning Phillip Wilson
Jeanie's Memories of Early Zen Center Phillip Wilson Main Page Interview with JJ Wilson
Recently Richard Borevitz spoke with a friend we have in common, mentioned you and some kind of Tassajara early days list/reunion/commemoration and gave her this e-mail address of yours so I could get in touch with you about it. Just before sending this I googled Tassajara Reunion in case there was info there on a few people I'd like to see again and found a list of people involved with it from 1967 on for the next few years.
First sad news (at least for those who knew how to deal with him -- not always easy) about one member on the list: Phil Wilson. Phil died this July of a heart attack here in Los Angeles. His ex-wife Janice (JJ) Wilson has retired from CSU Sonoma and splits her time between Cotati and Florida. I don't think J ever did an actual Tassajara training, but she spent a lot of time there, summers especially, supported Phil during all the rock moving around etc. he did while at Tassajara, and was a member of the Zen Center from earliest Bush Street days, before the mid-sixties Zen Center population explosion, acquisition of Tassajara, etc.
If you're interested in people like that for the list, I can give you an address/ e-mail whatever for her if you don't have one. I noticed she was one of quite a few early members not on the list. Nor am I (involved with Bush Street 62-64, in Japan, including Eiheiji, 64-67 and back in San Francisco till 70 during which time I spent quite a few summer weeks, New Year's sittings, etc. at Tassajara, lived in some of the Bush Street housing and stayed a contributing member through the early 70's, though the last time I went to a ZCSF function was for Dick Baker's ordination).
Another name I don't see is Dennis Carlsson's. Don't know his whereabouts, but he lived in the Bush Street communal housing for a while, I think was at Tassajara for at least one practice period and was a fine Zen Center presence, a friend of Trudy's husband (forget her name now, the Trudy who transcribed Suzuki's talks for Beginner's Mind). I could probably think of few more names, but they might be pre-Tassajara or other people who didn't actually do a training period despite being quite involved at the time.
I very much enjoyed your book on Suzuki. For one thing, it explained to me the very guarded (even for Japan) and melancholy ambience at his family temple near that out of the way little town in Japan (first wife's kids and his mother still living there) when I was there for about a week in 1965 or 66, and his own extra recessiveness with me when I returned from Japan. Should have occurred to me there was Something Not Supposed To Be Talked About, but it never did. A nice a, so desu ka? moment when I read that part of your book [about the murder of his wife] and of course much else of happier interest as well. Congrats for writing it and for avoiding the twin whirlpools of adulation and devaluation as you did.
Richard says you don't remember me. Hmmm, now why is that not a surprise? Though I thought it so beyond the rest of our culture then, socially that place then reminds me now of high school culture, as time went on quite hierarchical, though not so out front about the hierarchy as it formed. Probably true of many religious organizations, come to think of it. And we were all not that far from high school, nor as far from American culture, nor as knowledgeable about Japanese culture then as we thought! Jeanie Stearns
Very good to hear from you and I do remember you. I think you misunderstood Richard - I couldn't have said I don't remember you because he didn't use a name, just said that someone he knew who'd been to the Suzuki's temple in Japan had told him about Crooked Cucumber and so forth. You and I had some brief contact a decade or so ago. J.J. gave me your phone number or something. You sent some photos. [Hmm - where are they? Did I use them?] I am not at home now. I'm in Scotland. Will be back in the Bay Area in November.
Thank you so much for sending word about Phillip. I'm surprised I'd didn't know. I posted it immediately on cuke.com and will be going over a long interview I have with him and another with J.J. to get on the site. I have over 100 interviews on cuke but have many to go and many I'd like to do. J.J. Wilson, incidentally, IS on the early Tassajara alumni list - just before Phillip. ... It's basically for people who did practice periods but you're an important old-timer who was there a lot and who helped prepare the ground. J.J. was there in some of 67 and 68 working on her PhD. Anyone else who you think of let me know.
I am very interested in people who were around in the Suzuki days but who may not have been at Tassajara. I still collect the oral and written history of the Suzuki days and would like to gather as many memories as I can before we're all gone.
Trudy Dixon's husband is Mike. He's in San Rafael.
I'll ask around about Dennis Carlsson - sure you don't mean Carlson? Maybe Mike Dixon will remember.
I think you'd find the Suzuki family more upbeat these days. All the history stuff is out in the open and long ago and his son Hoitsu has the head training position of tanto at Eiheiji.
I was so surprised to hear from Richard Borevitz and saddened to learn that his cousin and my dear friend from Buenos Aires and later the SFZC Diana Berys had died [suicide]. But it was good to know and hear from him and now because of that I hear from you.
Do you think you could drum up a few more memories for me? To start off with, could you tell me when you came to Sokoji, how you got there, what was it like, what were your first impressions of Suzuki and anything else you want to relate like more on Japan and Rinsoin and anything. I'd appreciate anything you'll share. And don't hold anything back. I want an honest archive.
[And JJ says that the coroner says that Phillip died of liver cancer, though the way he was missed and found with no one knowing he was ill does seem more like a pattern with heart attacks.]
Thanks for your quick and generous response to my note with news about Phil Wilson's death. Apologies for the edginess elsewhere in the note. I think I felt that way (and missed JJ's name right there on the list) when I saw Phil's name, and his death unknown, because there's a strand of the story I wonder if anyone else notes that I can't help seeing.
Your saying that the Suzuki family is now happy and at peace with the story of the first [second] wife's death being known is what prompts me to tell it, add it to your sea of Zen stories in which you can let it surface, or not, as you think best. I personally think enlightenment doesn't obviate ethics, but that may not be the general Zen Center take on things.
Anyway, here's the story, and then I'll sign off. As you probably know, sometime around 1970 I think it was, Reverend Suzuki regretfully banished Phil from living at the Zen Center. The immediate occasion -- and of course Phil had exhibited previous difficult behaviors, as well as his many, many good ones -- was that he'd gotten physically aggressive, pushed, her quite creditable charge was, a woman who was living on the same floor of the commune building that he and JJ were in at that time. I think we can see now why allowing a man/monk/priest, especially one he was very fond of, who may have been capable of physical violence with women to stay at the Zen Center was something that Suzuki could not personally afford to countenance. Perhaps it doesn't matter that no one knew then, that he didn't say then, and maybe only I would be reminded of Arthur Dimsdale.
Even without his having over- tolerated such a guy in the past at the cost of his wife's life, Reverend Suzuki/Suzuki- sensei/ Suzuki -roshi might well have needed to make the same decision, though not necessarily to have kept its personal resonances secret. It is also the case, though, that Phil deteriorated after the break, so much so that JJ finally, to the relief of all who loved her, divorced him, friends like me didn't fully regret his ceasing to stop by, and a lot of other people must have reacted similarly to him in his times of trouble. (I would imagine that in the past 30+ years Phil had good spells too, when the paranoia or whatever it was, didn't run him, though JJ did have a somewhat menacing visit from him a few years ago.). Poor Phil -- Katsuzen, was that his Buddhist name or am I misremembering? -- did become more and more of a loner, meditating alone in his mother's garage when I last heard.
He died alone, in a rented room, with only a backpack full of possessions and no known family or friends. Very monkish in its way, that death. It took the coroner's office, which always prefers someone to claim a body, some weeks to track down an extant ex-wife, JJ, and notify her. (Recently a daughter from his first marriage, whom JJ had thought was dead, has also been found, so she'll be the one to determine any funeral arrangements, inherit his real estate, etc.).
What does this story as I tell it mean? Even Zen masters aren't perfect? Monastic communities can't always help everyone? Well, I suppose everyone already knows both of things, all too well, by now, so really I won't mind if you forget my version of the tale, though I did want to tell it.
Thanks for this. Yes, Phillip is Katsuzen. I don't know why you think I want things to be this way or that way. I just want to know what happened. I don't have much time right now as I'm leaving for the airport to fly from Scotland to Texas. But I want to get this clear. I can easily believe Phil pushed a woman. He's done worse to me and called me a liar when I reminded him of it and then came back meekly and asked if he really did that. I like your Arthur Dimsdale reference. So please write more - on Phil, on Suzuki, on whatever you want. I'd like to have your memories of Suzuki if you'd be so kind.
Hi David, Thanks again for another quick response and for the reassurance that you want to hear whatever. I'm not sure which place JJ's in at the moment - California or Florida. She turned her house in Penngrove into a place for women students at the university to hang out, read, etc. so you may get someone else answering if she's not there. I think they call it The Reading Room. If you still have trouble getting hold of her -- it sometimes takes a while -- let me know and I can give you phone numbers of a couple of other people who may know her exact whereabouts when not at home.
Oh, one more detail in the Phil being asked to leave Zen Center story that may interest you -- an bless you for knowing what I meant about Dimsdale. What Suzuki said to him, or at least the part Phillip remembered and kept gnawing on as a sort of koan, was "Phillip, you're impossible!" -- not the so Japanese "Phillip it isn't convenient for you to stay here anymore" and not the impossibly American for him "Phillip, I messed up in the past in a way that makes it impossible for me to let you stay , etc." Well, it's true in a way, Phillip was as close to impossible as anyone I've ever known, and JJ and I have certainly laughed wryly over that line, but he was also an oddly naive person and I wonder what it cost him to have the person he most admired and trusted say that to him. Did it lead him to become more impossible?
And if Suzuki had told everyone about the home temple incident, might everyone not have been quicker to see that a Zen master, no matter what his great lineage, could make mistakes and have a better eye for what was going on with Dick before that whole scene got so unsavory?
Hope your whopping long flight -- Scotland to Texas! -- is going as pleasantly as it can.
Still waiting for more on Suzuki and Japan. I've got mail from you from the past. Must get such correspondence archived and on cuke where it's relevant as this is.
Thanks a lot.
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