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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Junpo Dennis Kelly and a Heart Blown Open

Posted 9-18-13 - SFZC, Shunryu Suzuki, and Tassajara mentions from A Heart Blown Open, a book about Junpo Dennis Kelly. - dc comments later.

More links and comments after Read more

A Heart Blown Open: The Life and Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi - The SFZC and Suzuki and Alan Marlow excerpts from that book

So now it's later. David Silva wrote, said he was reading the book, and asked if I remembered Dennis. I wrote back yes I do.

[Having trouble getting images up with URLs - this off Amazon]

Loring Palmer had sent me the book. It brought back some memories.

Dennis was a friend of Alan Marlow's. There's a chapter about his trip to India with Alan. His last meal before going to prison was at Greens in 79 or 80 when I was Maitre de. I spent some time with him and his mate that late afternoon by the window.

I vaguely recall when Dennis came to Tassajara to visit Alan. He joined in on the work and sitting. It's in the book - says it was 69.

Later in the summer of 1972 Alan's friends Ed and Karl came in and brought the hash brownies that got some people who just thought they were brownies way high. They were Brotherhood of Light LSD dealers on a big scale. Dennis Kelly knew them for sure.

Alan introduced or probably reintroduced me to Dennis earlier in 1972 when I was work leader at the City Center. He came over to help with some serious copper pipe work at Page St.. He bought the pipe and tools and sent his brother Patrick to finish the job when he had to run off the next day. He said that Patrick was better than him at work like that - though Dennis sure seemed to know what he was doing. Later I thanked Alan - that was a major gift of both materials and labor. Alan said he was the guy who'd come in and drop big bucks in a bag at the office and walk off.

I ran into him in the early eighties after he got out of prison. He had a shaved head. He'd gotten tight with Eido Shimano and received transmission. Taught in Corte Madera - not far from Green Gulch. I remember him driving into GG in his BMW with suits hanging on a rod in back - to visit our abbot Richard Baker who had his own BMW and suits.

Dennis has been teaching Zen in New York. I read he got a big Lenz grant. I want a Lenz grant. The Fredrick Lenz Foundation has been a major supporter of Naropa Inst.

I wrote to Dennis and reminded him that we'd met a few times through Alan and said that I'd enjoyed the book on him and asked him for his memories of Suzuki Roshi. He wrote back

Post chemo and radiation, this old memory is mostly dead. You are a shadow now..............perhaps when we meet, a story or two will rekindle the ancient times. Be well and stay awake.  JP

Brit Pyland wrote: "I remember Denis Junpo when we were at ZMC [Tassajara] one summer, and I enjoyed talking to him. His beautiful girlfriend dropped a $500 bill in the donation box on the sly." [69 was the year the US 500 dollar bill was discontinued]

Loring was in ZC since 64. He loved the book and stuff about and with Dennis on the web. And I remember Dennis well as a very sharp and likable and generous person.

Some comments on the book.

The book has Dennis in 62 living on Pine and Bush a block from the old Sokoji where the ZC used to be and going with a friend and listening to a two hour lecture by Suzuki in Japanese to a Japanese congregation and returning "again and again" to hear more for the feeling though they were still all in Japanese. The book says Suzuki "switched to English some years later later and the new San Francisco Zen Center opened.

Suzuki did give talks (not two hours) in Japanese to the Japanese congregation but he started giving talks in English in 1959. By 62 he was giving a regular weekly talk on a weekday evening and Saturday mornings to his zazen students in their zendo upstairs.

There's confusion in the story about  helping some people who wanted to go to the hot spring baths for free. They obviously wanted to go to the Narrows, the popular swimming spot in the creek. There was and is no charge for hikers going through - it's open trail. But there was a charge for coming in to go to the hot springs baths or to get to the Narrows - about twenty minutes downstream. The hot springs are close to the central area. It's possible to go around on the Horse Pasture Trail to the Narrows but that is a serious hike that takes over an hour. In the book it's said the people wanted to go to the baths which were free but the SFZC charged to get to them or else people had to go way around.  It was the Narrows that were free - unless you went through Tassajara (only by foot on the trail). It rings a bell that Dennis paid for those hippies to come in and go downstream and that pissed some off, like the student at the gate. I can't recall any details but I'm sure plenty of us were glad he did that. It made some of us uncomfortable that people would be turned away. I can remember being pissed off at the way some from the outside were treated by staff there and I can remember people being pissed off at me for the way I treated some when I was in charge - it comes with the positions, the administration. Eventually there was an overpopulation problem with day guests and we put a limit at twenty-five on the number of people who could come in for the day. We put up a prominent sign at the beginning of the fourteen mile road at our Jamesburg house which asked visitors to Tassajara to stop and make a reservation there. Don't know what the policy is now. Those things are always changing.

There were no sesshin or retreats during the summer guest season back then. There was a relaxed schedule because so much energy went into dealing with guests. If it wasn't guest season no one could enter except for hikers.

There were no senior Zen priests at Tassajara then, no American priests at all. A few priests had been ordained but they weren't there. Students wore lay robes to the zendo so they looked like monks or priests to some.

There was no zazen at six pm or small shrine room. Zazen was early - like 5am and at 8pm or so. Bath time followed afternoon work for those not still working.

- DC