Bernie’s Photo Album shares the stories behind old photos in the Zen Peacemaker collection. Here, ZPI staff member Anthony Saracino interviews Bernie on a picture of Bernie’s first sesshin in Japan at age 30.
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 that’s me [second row back, third from left].
Anthony: Is your wife in the picture?
B: She is not in this picture. Cause she was not yet involved– she got involved in zen during this month, and actually– 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: 1969…So I was, 30. 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. She’s the mother of my kids. And as you can see I was ordained– 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 sure… Could be he was ordained after all. But Koryu Roshi’s in charge of something called Shakyamunikai, they didn’t accept ordained people. But it does look like he’s wearing…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? What’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 priest– not all priests receive dharma transmission. Dharma transmission means, in the eyes of the ones who’s giving it, that you’ve received the training and can teach. So you can be a layman with dharma transmission or a priest [with dharma transmission]. Two different things.
A: And is this your first time to Japan?
B: Yes, it was. I went back many times. This is 1969…Until 1980 I’d say I went every year for a month, and after 1980 till– 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.
A: Is it different to do a sesshin in Japan compared to doing one in the US with Maezumi?
B: My first sesshin– 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 hadn’t finished koan study, so I wasn’t doing koan work with him, only with Koryu Roshi. 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. I passed about 100 koans with him that month at different sesshins.
A: How many sesshins in that month?
B: They weren’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: I’m forgetting. It’s a hot spring area… In the country somewhere. It was a long time ago!
A: Mm. Anything else you want to share about it?
B: Nah, nothing.