Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Frank M. Tedesco writes

I was precocious teenager. I had been sick in bed most of my early years, with asthma, measles and more. I also was with my maternal grandparents when they died at home. Sometime before age 6, I lost hearing and balance in my right ear. Then, at 12 I was in a solitary bicycle accident where I fractured my T5 vertebrae and was in a body brace nearly a year. My parents could not explain anything to me, Catholicism was empty, memorized nonsense. I discovered philosophy in the summer of my 10th hs year (1961) when I was a cancer research assistant at Waldemar Cancer Research Foundation on Long Island. I met brilliant kids from Ivy League schools there who introduced me to existentialism and critical thinking. Lots of reading led to Zen writers like Hubert Benoit, Alan Watts, etc. “Reading Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” by Paul Reps, I realized I had always been a Buddhist. I began going to the First Zen Institute in Manhattan, by myself, 1961-1963.

I have met with Gary Snyder on many occasions in NY, Philadelphia, SF, Berkeley and Seoul. I can't say his dharma had much influence on me. He scrambled Indian tantra with native American shamanism - lots of outward gazing romantic stuff but not true dharma confronting death and impermanence. My dharma has gotten more subtle and deeper over the years - much simpler and less tolerant of cultural accretions, hierarchy, and Hindu-Christian interfaith foggy thinking about gods and God-BS. I have become more of a scientist, and more sensitive to near death and afterlife communications. BS=BS

Steve Justice Studio Title: Yosemite Yin Yang: portrait of Gary Snyder Material: Oil on canvas Size: 36 diameter Year: 2016Yosemite Yin Yang: Portrait of Gary Snyder -- Steve Justice


  1. While Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel “The Dharma Bums”) was a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, he did folklore research on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon before graduating with a dual degree in anthropology and literature in 1951. His senior thesis, ‘The Dimensions of a Myth,” examined a Haida account from various perspectives. He also began exploring Buddhism and taught himself a form of Zen meditation and in 1953 enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study Asian culture and languages. He was one of the poetry readers at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955, where Allen Ginsberg introduced “Howl” and attracted widespread attention on the Beat movement. He lived for a while in a cabin near Mill Valley, California with Kerouac and occasionally attended the American Academy of Asian Studies, where Alan Watts and Hasegawa Saburō were teaching. Hasegawa introduced him to landscape painting as a meditative practice and inspired him to attempt something similar in poetry. In 1956 he received a grant from the First Zen Institute of America but the US government refused to issue him a passport, informing him that "it has been alleged you are a Communist." (His attempts to get another stint as a fire lookout in 1954 had been rejected due to his association with the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards, one of 11 unions that had been expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations for being “communist-dominated” in 1949-50; however, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the State Department ruling. His expenses were actually paid by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, for whom he was supposed to work but initially he served as personal attendant and English tutor to Isshu Miura, the abbot at Rinko-in in Kyoto. In 1955 he formally became a Buddhist; he adopted a dharma name (Chofu, "Listen to the Wind") and lived sometimes as a de facto monk but never registered to become a priest. He was also initiated into Shugendo, a form of ancient Japanese animism. His 1st book “Riprap” was published in 1959. In 1969 he published a chapbook, “Riprap & Cold Mountain Poem,” which contained his own work as well as translations of the 8th-century Chinese poet Han Shan. His 1974 book “Turtle Island” (a Native American name for North American) won a Pulitzer Prize, and his 1983 book “Axe Handle” garnered an American Book Award. “How Poetry Comes To Me” (It comes blundering over the / Boulders at night, it stays / Frightened outside the / Range of my campfire / I go to meet it at the / Edge of the light) appeared in “No Nature” in 1992.

  2. The First Zen Institute of America was founded in New York in 1930 by Sokei-an Shigetsu Sasaki as the Buddhist Society of America. A few months before he died in 1945 he married Ruth Fuller Everett, who had studied Buddhism in Japan in 1930 under Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro, who played the leading role in introducing Zen Buddhism to the anglophone world from the late 1920s. After Sokei-an’s death she returned to Japan to recruit a new roshi and returned with Isshu in 1955. (Uncomfortable working with female leadership, he resigned in 1963 though he remained in New York until his death in 1976.) She founded Nichibei Daiichi Zen Kyokai (the First Zen Institute of America in Japan) in 1957 in Kyoto, where she assembled a team of translators that included Snyder. In 1958 she became the 1st foreign priest of a Rinzai Zen temple (and the only Westerner, and the only woman, ever to be a priest at a Daitoku-ji temple. Daitoku-ji is one of the 14 autonomous branches of the Rinzai school of Zen).

    In 1936, at 21, Alan Watts heard Suzuki read a paper at the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London. Two years later he and his wife Eleanor, Ruth Fuller Everett’s daughter, moved to the US in, and he studied Zen for 2 weeks under Sokei-an, who continued to serve as an informal mentor. studied under him for 2 weeks in 1938. He entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1945, but he resigned the ministry by 1950, partly as a result of an extramarital affair which resulted in his wife having their marriage annulled in 1948 and partly because he could not reconcile his Buddhist beliefs with the formal doctrine of the church. He then moved to California and joined the faculty of the new American Academy of Asian Studies. Though never a Zen monk, he became a prominent popularizer of the religion through more than 25 books, especially “The Way of Zen” (1957) and “Psychotherapy East and West” (1961).

  3. Hubert Benoit published “La Doctrine Suprême” in 2 volumes in 1951 and 1952 (translated into English in 1955 with an introduction by Aldous Huxley, who had also helped advance Watts’ career) before he began his work in Paris as a psychotherapist. In 1952 he also published “Le Non-Mental Selon La Pensée Zen,” his translation of Suzuki’s “The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind” (1949). He wrote ”'Dr Suzuki has said that Zen ‘detests any form of intellectualism’... But my impression is that enlightenment for the Westerner does require some intellectual input, though kept within strict limits. The ultimate viewpoint, that of reality, is clearly inexpressible; and the teacher would harm the pupil if he let him forget that the whole problem is precisely one of leaping the gap which separates verbal truth from real knowledge. But rational explanation is needed to coax Westerners to the edge of this gap. Zen says, for example,: ‘There is nothing complicated to do: seeing directly into one's nature is enough.’”
    Paul Reps published “Zen Flesh Zen Bones,” a collection of Zen stories, in 1952. But (in 1939) his book “More Power To You – Poems Everyone Can Make” was the 1st American book of haiku in English. His next collection of haiku, “Zen Telegrams, published in 1959, was the second one). In these works he radicalized the haiku tradition by not adhering to traditional notions of syllable count or line arrangement and by expanding the genre beyond nature to include human nature as well as social and political themes. For instance,

    elegantly crane lifts
    spindling, shimmering, breathtaking


    Kite on a string
    Evening star

    He also developed “picture poems,” which he gave to his friends as "weightless gifts" before he began marketing them. One of his presentational methods was to tie long bamboo poles together to form a "child's space house" to which he scotch-taped the poems drawn and written on rice paper; people who attended his shows were charged $3 per poem if they owned a car, 50 cents if they were students, 25 cents if they were poor, and only 2 cents if they were lovers of Buddha. A few of his poems combined a simple drawing with a single word containing one word:


    Here's another:



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