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A Tassajara Story
Fil Lewitt / 12-2007
I spent January through August 1972 as a student at Tassajara with Katagiri-roshi. I was living at the SF Zen Center for a month in December 1971, and was at sesshin there when Suzuki-roshi died.
Here's a personal story from Tassajara 1972: I was already 31 years old, no little kid, when I went off to Tassajara after studying intellectual Zen Buddhism for many years, and practicing zazen for two years at Big River Farm Sangha in Mendocino, California, and at SFZC.
I was put on the carpentry crew. One day I was working on a project alone (rebuilding an arbor by the creek), and as I'm a concentrated and fast worker, I finished about an hour before lunch, so I lay down under the arbor in dappled sunlight and went to sleep. At some point I felt a shadow over me, and woke up fully. An American Zen priest, later to become a bigwig at SFZC, was looking down at me, robed, bald.
"What are you doing?" the priest said.
"What does it look like?" I said.
"You're supposed to be working. It's still Work Period."
"That's not the point," he said. "The point is to work."
"That's your point, priest," I said. "Not mine. It's very sweet to watch those kids pull one weed at a time between the rocks in the path, in slow motion, but that's not the way I work."
"You're not here to do your Zen," said the priest, clearly irritated, pleasing me. "You're here to do Zen."
"Well," I said, "maybe you think you're the arbiter of that, but I don't. Now will you please step out of my sunlight and go away."
The priest turned and walked off.
This kind of stuff went on all the time, at least back in 1972. Whenever he heard about any of it, Katagiri-roshi, who was my teacher, would just laugh and say, "Don't worry about it." That's what I trusted.
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