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My Zen Path Story Part 2: Tassajara

Part 2: Tassajara

The mountain Monastery – spring 1992

About 1992 I left the Dharma Rain Zen Center for Tassajara. I spent a week at the City Center in San Francisco, then took a van ride deep into the Los Padre mountains to Tassajara, a mountain resort during the summertime and monastic training center in the off-season.

That summer I worked as a kitchen backer, food prep, and cleaner. Meditation and services was in the morning and nights, and occasionally one of the teachers would come from the city to give a talk. Overall, I was happy and content, and was looking forward to the Zen training.

Mel Weitsman – everyone’s favorite Jewish grandpa

The monastic training session was broken up into two sessions, Mel Weitsman from the Berkeley Zen Center was the Head teacher for the first session.

Overall, he was very kind and talked a lot about being Jewish, his years of driving a Taxi, and his time with Richard Baker. I only talked to him a few times in Sanzen, a face-to-face meeting, to talk about my meditation.

The schedules is that we get up at 4:30 am, meditate and do moring services till 6:30, eat breakfast in Ōryōki style (Zen meditative eating), break, do chores, mid-day meditation, eat lunch, do more chores, break, Dinner Ōryōki style, then evening ceremony and meditation. Lights out at 10pm. This is on a 10 day schedule then 2 days off.

No training given

As for training goes – none was given to me. I was left to my own devices, and I spent a lot of time in the Tassajara library reading books that were hidden on the top shelves or buried deep in piles of other books because those were the interesting books. 

But nobody else was reading books, or talking Zen, or even talking about what the Buddha taught – NOBODY. If anytime wanted to talk metaphysics, Buddhism or Zen, it was as if taboo, and nobody would talk to me about such subjects. (or were they told to not talk to me) – spoilers

So, I just followed the schedule and read the book I found. Something was going on, I could feel it, but I could not yet phantom out what it was.

Suzuki’s son

A the end of the first session, there is a break for a month then the second session would start up. Reb Anderson showed up, he would lead the second session. He was known to be radical and unorthodox, many of the students there dreaded his arrival.  Who also showed up was Hoitsu, Suzuki’s son from his first marriage. 

Hoitsu had given Mel Weitsman and other San Francisco Zen Center teachers his personal transmission (not official Soto), and he is always a welcomed guest at the centers since he is their Lineage Father.

Reb Anderson, the cutter of delusions

The second monastic session was lead by Reb Anderson. Now he had the actual lineage transmission from Richard Baker who got it from Shunryu Suzuki, but then later revoked that transmission when Richard Baker was impeached by the Zen Center.

As it would be, the Zen Center was at that time impeaching Reb Anderson as Abbot. Apparently, his methods and styles was not Kosher, and I literally mean that, so they wanted him out.

During the break, they did impeach him and he was no longer Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. He would however be the Head teacher for the next training session, and you can only guess how that went….

Freedom and Truth

So, the winter session commences and I only talked to Reb once during the entire time and asked why they hated him so, and he agreed that many did not like him and his time there was at an end.

His zendo lectures was about the notions we held, and the clinging to forms and methods that we are doing is not going to help any of us. Basically, he was criticizing all of the students for what we would call today LARPing, and told us that we can choose to NOT do that anymore and be free. He even said that nobody had to do anything he said or follow the rules anymore.  And, he really did mean that.

So, several of us choose to do our own thing, and that is what happened.

Again, no training. I was left to my own devices and means. However, I was told why…


Before the beginning of the second session, an elderly woman named Carol befriended me. I visited her in the evenings on the porch where she was staying at, during our free time to just talk and visit because I found her quite wise.

So, a week goes by since I started visiting her, when one evening I show up and she tells me that I cannot visit anymore. She was told by the Practice Leader Teah, who was a newly ordained monk, that she was not to talk to me anymore. 

Muga did say that she did butt-heads with a particular person at Tassajara while she was there, and it was the newly ordained Monk who was now the Practice Leader.

Well, that explained a lot to me, none of the other students would talk to me, and why I was not given any training at all.  

So, again I was left to my own studies again.

Leaving Tassajara – spring 1993

So at the end of the second session, there is a break. Everyone was talking about where they wanted to go next – City Center, Green Gulch (the farm Zen center), or stay at Tassajara for the summer resort season.  I was not asked where I wanted to go.

So, I packed my bags and made arrangements to catch a van back to the city center, then back up to Dharma Rain Zen Center.

On my last day, of all people Mel Weitsman sits next to me on the bench I was sitting at while waiting for the van, and says, “Well, I think you learned something”, then he walks off.

I left never to return

Failed Monk

I returned back to Portland Oregon, the Dharma Rain Zen Center. They had no room for me, so I stayed in the Sanzen room. I had to put everything in a small closet that I owned in the morning, and take it out in the evening when slept. 

I told Kyogen what happened at Tassajara, and he did indicate that Muga had issues there too.

I told him despite that failure, I still wanted to be a monk. He said no, that I should get more ‘life experience’ and should visit more Zen teachers and see if there is a training monastery for me. 

Prior to my Zen life, I spent six years in the Navy, got married then divorced, worked many jobs, went to community college, dated girls, and lived what I would consider a typical American life. 

Then he said I should come back another time and ask him again for the third time, and he would say yes.

I never did come back.  Kyogen passed away 2014.

Part 3 – Vajrayana

In Part 3 of My Path of Zen, I go on a Vajrayana, a Tibetan Buddhist journey and meeting some of the most interesting people ever.


Non-aligned Zen Teacher currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada USA Youtube Channel Website