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Richard Sasoon


Here's pictures of Richard Sassoon and Sylvia Plath. They met at Yale and had a hot romance. - Ken Spiker


DCL I got an email from Joel Evans, Capital Campaign Manager at the SFZC asking if I know of a Richard Sasoon who left the SFZC a legacy gift. Joel wrote:


We have this snip of a bio: Richard Sassoon lived in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s and was involved in various theatrical productions—writing, directing, and managing several companies. He moved to Boulder in 1975, where he counseled students and taught meditation at Naropa Institute (now University) and Karma Dzong (now the Shambhala Center). Richard was a practiced mediator, painter, writer, and a quintessential philosopher.
I see this link to the SF Mime Troupe, where someone by his name adapted Tartuffe for a 1964 production. Mime Troupe
Trying to get closer in, there's this interesting citation The Cuke, which indicates a friendship with Ken Spiker (with references to Suzuki Roshi and Daniel Moore).

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DC: So here's what I found:

Brit Pyland wrote: Richard Sassoon was a good friend in Berkeley, and we shared many good experiences . I had been in occasional contact until his passing .He continued to write and was a fine poet and a discerning commentator on Dharma matters. I took Richard to SFZC to a two-day sitting with Katagiri Roshi on December 5&6, 1970. We sat next to each other, and I think that he had a deep experience (whatever that might be--I won't say)


Ken Spiker wrote: Yes, I knew Richard Sassoon. He did attend Zen Center when we were going late 60's. I may have met him first there. We also both took Tai Chi lessons from a Chinese follow who had a studio on University Ave. in Berkeley named Chung. Later he and I were involved in artistic activities in Berkeley at the infamous Woolsey Street house. All kinds of artists, freaks and misfits lived there including me. Richard was very interested in the arts, especially drama. (He was sort of a drama queen!)

He came from a rich family of Iraqi Jews, and when I say rich I mean Rothschild league rich. He was educated in France and spoke fluent French. He was well read and very philosophical. He attended Yale and there met Sylvia Plath. They has an intense affair and she wrote some interesting things about him in her diaries. I think Richard always felt displaced, he described his parents as cold and he was raised by nannies. I think he felt a profound sense of alienation which he went to a lot of trouble to try to cure.
Richard was inspired by the Zen Center and idolized Rev. Suzuki. Later he became a follower of Chogyam Trumpa and was in fact at the infamous drunken party at Snowmass where there was that bloody brawl instigated by Trungpa himself in a drunken rage. He thought Trungpa was the real thing and defended him. In later years we parted ways as he became more influenced by the liberal community of Boulder and became too politically correct for my taste. He supported the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement. I have many letters and emails from Richard. He was always warm and generous, but he cut me off when he noticed I didn't go along with his postmodernist leftism. Still I liked Richard. I'm glad he was my friend.

He told me a story once: In the sixties he found himself in the middle of a large demonstration about something or other in the middle of San Francisco. There was a group or sign carriers, perhaps Socialist Workers Party, off to a side evidently waiting for their leader to show up. Richard decided to take charge and asked them to follow him; they marched around the downtown and wound up at the Bank of America or someplace like that. Finally some other member of the group came up to him and said, "You're not one of us!" and asked him to go away. I suppose to Richard it was a sort of lark, at that time he was apolitical, primarily concerned with his own narcissism. But I think the incident is telling. He had many stories like that.

I think Richard was profoundly influenced by the Zen Center and Suzuki Roshi. He retained his meditation practice all through his life. He was quite intelligent and had a forceful personality. His relations with women, however, were rocky and usually deeply disappointing. I remember he had a girlfriend in Berkeley, a lady with ample proportions and a rather sweet, vulnerable personality and how they'd be at the coffee house and he would be drinking his espresso and she'd have some sweet foamy drink and he'd be telling her how weak, dependent people liked sweets and that realistic, independent people liked bitter coffee. Every once in a while he'd get into a dramatic rage over something and he certainly had a powerful stage presence, but it's was obvious he was playacting. When we lived at the Woolsey Street house there was a constant foment of creative activity which Richard loved. But he got irritated at the constant pile of dirty dishes in the sink. So he decided to do all the dishes himself for a week and see what happened. Nobody noticed. They didn't just notice that he was doing them, they didn't notice that they'd been done. They just accepted that somehow other people would always clean up for them. A constant problem with creative people. His web page is still maintained by some people:


Here is a poem of Richard's. I have scores of them:


I remember Orosco’s chapel
in that orphanage, five hundred orphans,
in Guadalajara, where on the streets
men were shooting guns and
drinking and blaring mariachi;
but the chapel was quiet and there were broad benches
you could lie on to look up at the cupola,
the man on fire…


I can still see vividly the arches,
those horses looming
about to pounce on the New Land,
the conquistadores coming for gold
bringing the word of Power as the one god
to the animal people, the hardly human ones
still emerging from the land, barely past sacrificing
themselves bodily to the spirits they knew…


All the walls are painted with the stories
of a tragedy. One friar, a true brother, trying to bring help
to the natives. The rest is slaughter, the horsemen, the
metal-armored foot soldiers and the robed priests, all who
already had lost their hearts, roots in their own land, now
come to pillage this earth and the people who were still nearly one
body, one organism, with the animals and the plants and the
rhythms of their land and sky…


Decades later I am still speaking of it, what now is so
obvious: us who have become near bodiless, rootless, landless,
having only a stale history, empty images, ideas and dates, and no
shared sense or feel even for each other in the flesh,
nor ancestral or spirit origins, no shared belonging to any land-
or seascape that is not a vacation resort, any animal not
a pet, what Hope is there but we see how this has come about…


Seeing without blame or guilt, suffering our understanding
of nothing else than misunderstanding, mistake, not even trying
to see the mark…then letting consciousness go down deeper than
thought, than emotion, into the underbelly of existence, the underworld
of worlds, that realm, yes, where the known and “me” are not,
where Life spontaneously originated itself and may perhaps, if we,
some at least, are willing to cease willing any thing, any me or us at all…
re-originate itself…


Not magic, white or black, but pure miracle… Mira, mira! shout the little
children in my memory. So…in my dreams there are children too, often lost,
and infants, needy or abandoned. Once even a dead baby. And the animals who
come are allies, as are waters, lakes and huge rivers and the ocean. And once
flowers blossomed as I and a woman walked together. And there are dreams where
I see the face of evil, and a deep stillness of terror, betimes opening to the primal
rage of a wounded lion or the universe, wakes me more awake than ever. Just so, in moments of danger, when my last thought was of not knowing and not hoping to, Life’s own miracle, not “me” who was gone, gone, has saved my life…


These are gifts, but the conscious effort is a burning in sheer nothingness… Possible when
one sees one’s life and love are at stake. Orosco saw. Saw his country founded and
foundering on the split in its psyche between heaven and earth…between child and
man…between man and woman…between mammal and human…between the land and
power… Between Power and Love. No one chose that, but it happened, and there is no
refuge left on this planet or in our known selves. Only the unknown, no, the Unknowable
remains always as our pure, empty awareness…


In an orphanage—where else?—is a chapel depicting the history of not only Mexico…
The tragic history of most of humanity. Painted on the cupola is the man on fire…"


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