Suzuki Stories Tony's pre-Zen memories Burn Out Stories Interview with Darlene Cohen (with links to their zendo etc.)
1/27/03 - Tony Patchell sends the following note on Zen dreams.
But now on 9-22-06, I'm updating the stuff on him and his wife of many
years Darlene Cohen herein and he sent me a new editing of this piece.
This is his same old note though.
'Twas poking around my stuff, found this which I wrote some years ago for the hell of it. Changed names & appearances to protect the guilty. Used Ashey for myself because the name came in a dream. Ashey as in burnt-out, up from the ashes, etc. Darcy for Darlene [Cohen] because she was so aware of being a mid-western Jew in a class rigid east coast milieu. These weren't really dreams; I was awake but somewhere else.
Ashey Has Two Zen Dreams That Were Not Dreams in 1971
Ashey decided, finally, to become a Zen man in 1969 after yet another melodramatic fight with his girlfriend, Darcy D’Agincourt, a tall rich blond from New England. She was good looking, very smart, & deeply intuitive. The shadow side of her abundant gifts was an intractable, extraordinarily dense obtuseness that had finally found a match with Ashey’s rigid, hide-bound fear of almost everything. They were a folie å deux if there ever was one. All their friends in Cambridge thought they were a poor match, especially the Harvard Square hippie men who lusted after Darcy’s body & strongly disapproved of Ashey’s West Coast ways. Ashey felt it was his duty, his mission, his affliction, to drag, push, pull Darcy into zen practice. Recently, she had attempted suicide by sticking her head in an oven, but she had been stoned on acid & had forgotten to turn on the gas. Ashey felt the pressure was on to make a move, get out of town. Darcy was not supportive of his ideas though she was amused. “He’s the only person I know who actually uses the word ‘cosmic’ in a sentence,” she would tell everyone over & over. Even so, Darcy finally went to California with Ashey. She screamed & moaned all the long way that she was the only woman in Cambridge who definitely did not want to go to the West Coast. Ashey & Darcy sat a sesshin in San Francisco in December, 1970. They slept in a VW bus alongside Zen Center & on the third night they were mugged by two young black men with guns. Darcy had already entered the bus & they didn’t see her.They took Ashey’s money, turned & walked away. Ashey stood there with his hands in his pockets. He felt his single remaining quarter. He said to their backs, hey, you forgot something. They turned around & Ashey flipped the quarter into their faces. The older boy caught it with a flick of his wrist & stared hard at Ashey. The two men & Ashey stood still waiting to see what would happed next. Ashey could see the lines of feeling, cables of intensity, connecting them through the foggy sulfur yellow street light. Ashey didn’t care. Fuck ‘em if they couldn’t take a joke. He was, at that moment, free from pain. It was not a matter of control, & he could have danced with a bullet, dissolved before its spinning path.
The first Zen dream, Ashey had no other words for it, was in June of the next year, 1971. High on Mount Tamalpais overlooking the city & the ocean, a group of Zen men & women were sitting zazen. Each had found a spot on the golden grass, random unknowing buddhas on the living breast of the mountain. Suzuki Roshi was there too. He turned his head & looked at Ashey. There was some doubt or concern in his face, as if he were thinking, “Is this OK? Are you sure you want this?” He then raised his right arm & pointed to the sky, the bright blue dome above him, & lightning hissed, the dome cracked open in a dozen places & pieces fell. Behind the sky was another sky, darker, deeper, multidimensional, & powdered with all the stars of all the ages with all their power gracing the mountain with a terrifying, inconceivable love.
The second dream, or experience, occurred on the night of the day Suzuki Roshi died. Suzuki Roshi had been dying for a long time. He rarely left his rooms. His skin was a uniform yellow, as if he had been dipped in curry powder or saffron. Ashey considered himself to be a student of this man; he had never had dokusan with him, and, in fact, he had never spoken with him. One day over a year before as Darcy & Ashey entered the Zen Center front door, Suzuki Roshi was going into the Buddha hall to perform evening service. As he stopped & turned & slid his slippers from his feet he looked up at them & smiled as if he had just discovered long lost friends. Here, Ashey thought is truly a fisher of men, but one who cast no net & threw no line. Then all language dropped & in that incremental vacuum between segments of time Ashey found oh so briefly his true home. The air was golden, the meeting a glittering flower that grew, shone, & faded unencumbered by a sense of consequence. Suzuki Roshi turned & entered the Buddha hall. Ashey saw that this man left no trace whatsoever, that he was totally, absolutely, unafflicted with a sense of self.
The first Saturday of December, 4:50 A.M. Ashey went to the zendo to begin the rohatsu sesshin. He sat on his cushion, turned & faced the wall. He put his legs into a half lotus position. His hands assumed their oval mudra & he straightened his spine. The air was thick & cold & it enclosed small, layered pockets of incense. Ashey felt as if he were breathing syrup. Suzuki Roshi was dying, breathing his last breaths this very moment & everyone in the room knew it. Angels & bodhisattvas were floating in the zendo, filling the air with soft brushes of movement as they gathered & slid around molecules of incense smoke & oxygen. Ashey could not center his breath; his bones itched & he felt his sitting posture as fragmented. He was a cubist sculpture draped in black displaying multiple aspects of his form, a flickering, angular shadow solidly rooted to the world only by his cross legged, triangular sitting posture. He wanted to turn & look at the air behind him but he did not. Out of the corners of his eyes he heard rather than saw soft & gentle colors, reds & blues, small bending clouds that stayed just out of visual reach. The bell rang, the sound turning immediately back into itself as it announced the end of the forty minute sitting period. Ashey, along with the other students, turned from the wall, stood in front of his cushion, & then began the slow ten minute walk which took place between each sitting. The students circumambulated the zendo. It was quiet except for a muffled cough & the silky hush of bare feet on the cold lineoleum . The bell rang again, the students returned to their cushions & settled into their sitting postures & silence dropped upon the zendo, a hazy pall pressing on their shoulders. Ten minutes into the period a number of older priests & senior students entered the room, their black robe sleeves & skirts rustling like the wings of slowly moving birds, & the announcement was made that Suzuki Roshi was dead. The students formed into a line & wound up to the second floor where his body lay on the straw matted floor of his room. He looked to be sleeping. His eyes were closed & a thick quilt was pulled up to his chin. Each student walked by, stopped, & bowed farewell. The students returned to their seats & one of the priests gave a short talk in which he urged them all to renew their efforts toward concentration & sitting still. Ashey barely heard this & was not inspired. The morning dragged on. Hour after hour Ashey sat still. His thoughts were dull & humid. His knees & spine became stiff, unyielding in their lack of movement, & he could feel the pain, liquid fire, collect in small pockets along the curvatures in his body where bone & flesh meet, stretch, & retract. He felt his heart beat, each pulse an intense, heavy, little globule coursing its way to his extremities through primary arteries, medians of pain, before returning sucked up & dark blue through his veins & into his chest.
Early that afternoon, Ashey slipped out of the zendo & went up to the Buddha hall. He stood near one of the large front windows & watched a blue & white ambulance pull up & double park in front of the entrance to Zen Center. Two white coated attendants slid a gurney with adjustable legs from the rear of the vehicle & took it inside. A few moments later he heard motion & whispering voices in the lobby outside the Buddha hall. Thin winter sunlight sliced through the windows & onto the tatami mat floor. The yellow straw looked warm & dust particles floated, almost stationary, in the light. Ashey felt drowsy & could feel air pressure on his eardrums. He heard the front doors open & he watched through the window as the two men carried the gurney down the steps, its tubular steel legs rigid, the wheels making a clinking sound as they reached the sidewalk. Suzuki Roshi’s body, wrapped in a white sheet, was as small as a child’s. They opened the rear doors of the ambulance, slid the body in, closed the doors, got into the front, & drove away. Ashey did not want to go back to the zendo. He felt embarrassed with himself; he did not want any special feelings or experiences. This, he thought, was the antithesis of his intention, a small return of the devil, a cloud across the cold, barely formed moon of his practice.
That night, Ashey along with twenty or so other male students, slept in the Buddha hall, which functioned as a makeshift dormitory during sesshins. The last sitting ended around 10 PM. Students unrolled their sleeping bags & dropped, their bodies aching & buzzing with pain, into sleep. Ashey’s spot was near the door. He lie on his back with his hands folded underneath his head & his eyes open. He thought of Suzuki Roshi’s ashes soon to be in a box firmly wrapped in a white cloth with a knot on top, Japanese style, the size of a gift. Then he saw Suzuki Roshi enter the Buddha hall. He walked in the space between the tatami mats & the wall until he was directly in front of the altar, a large wooden box-like affair covered by brocade, incense bowls, statues, & unlit candles. Behind the box was a large, closed, gray fireplace trimmed in marble with a narrow mantle. Ashey looked around the room. Everyone was asleep. He raised his head & shifted onto his left side in order to watch Suzuki Roshi approach the altar. Ashey checked himself out; his body was loose, his vision clear, his mind as still as a lake. A car went by outside, its lights slipping like a moonbeam across the walls, its brakes & suspension system groaning softly as it stopped & turned at the corner. He could hear the men in the room breathing. Suzuki Roshi walked up to the altar, turned his head & looked at Ashey. He put his hand upon the right corner of the mantle piece & pulled it & the altar from the wall & pushed them aside. There they stood, now insubstantial & transparent, & where they had been before was an identical altar except this one was all one piece standing clear & by itself, made of gold, solid, three dimensional, pale & shining in the dark. Suzuki Roshi continued to look at Ashey. He was clearly interested in Ashey’s response. The distance between them, the breathing air, was at peace. Ashey’s body remained still & unmoving as he collected himself into his chest & curled, fetus-like around his softly rising & falling blood-rich heart. Ashey, a child forever, closed his eyes & went to sleep.
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