Bernie’s Photo Album: Japan, 1969
Bernie’s Photo AlbumÂ shares the stories behind old photos in the Zen Peacemaker collection.Â Here, ZPI staff member Anthony Saracino interviews Bernie on a picture of Bernie’s first sesshin in Japan at age 30.Â
Bernie: This was in 1969, I went for a month with my wife in Japan. This was taken at the end of a Sesshin run by Koryu Roshi. And thatâ€™s me [second row back, third from left]. Â
Anthony: Is your wife in the picture?
B: She is not in this picture. Cause she was not yet involvedâ€“ she got involved in zen during this month, and actuallyâ€“ this is her [fifth back on far right]! Yeah, she attended the sesshin, and that was her first taste of zen.
A: How old are you both?
B:Â 1969…So I was, 30.Â Â She was younger, 25.
A: When were you married?
B: Five years earlier.
A: Married at 25… So this is your first wife then. What’s her name?
B: Helen. Sheâ€™s the mother of my kids. And as you can see I was ordainedâ€“ a couple months before this picture. The rest of the people are laypeople. Koryu Roshi was a layman.
A: And who’s this guy with the robe [short older gentleman in center]?
B: I’m not sureâ€¦ Could be he was ordained after all. But Koryu Roshiâ€™s in charge of something called Shakyamunikai, they didnâ€™t accept ordained people. But it does look like heâ€™s wearingâ€¦Probably he was the abbot of the temple where we had the sesshin. Not a student of Koryu but a friend, and we used his temple.
A: So you were ordained by Maezumi? Whatâ€™s the difference between ordination and dharma transmission? I see you’re wearing a rakusu.
B: Completely different! I was ordained as a novice priest here. To train to be a priestâ€“ not all priests receive dharma transmission. Dharma transmission means, in the eyes of the ones whoâ€™s giving it, that youâ€™ve received the training and can teach. Â So you can be a layman with dharma transmission or a priest [with dharma transmission].Â Two different things.
A: And is this your first time to Japan?
B: Yes, it was.Â I went back many times. This is 1969…Until 1980 Iâ€™d say I went every year for a month, and after 1980 tillâ€“ I don’t know, not every month but quite often. The year Maezumi Roshi died I went to Japan maybe six times, taking care of things. Â
A: Is it different to do a sesshin in Japan compared to doing one in the US with Maezumi?
B: My first sesshinâ€“ I passed the koan “Mu” with Koryu Roshi in May of 1959. Before that I had many sesshins. I started Mu with Yasutani Roshi, but at this time Maezumi hadnâ€™t finished koan study, so I wasnâ€™t doing koan work with him, only with Koryu Roshi. Â It was just a month before this [picture] that I passed Mu and started koan study with Koryu Roshi. When I came to Japan I did a number of sesshins with Koryu Roshi and continued.Â I passed about 100 koans with him that month at different sesshins. Â
A: How many sesshins in that month?
B: They werenâ€™t all during sesshin. He had a dojo and I did it at his dojo. Maybe two or three sesshins with him that month.
A: Holy smokes. I thought it was a lot to do one a month!
B: When I got back, there was a time I was doing sesshin quite a bit. I was helping Maezumi to lead them.
A: And where in Japan is this anyway?
B: Iâ€™m forgetting. It’s a hot spring areaâ€¦ In the country somewhere. It was a long time ago!
A: Mm. Anything else you want to share about it?
B: Nah, nothing.
June 19, 2019