My Three Weeks in Europe

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Zen in Europe, Saturday Lecture

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Good morning. Alexandra was scheduled to give the talk this morning, but she wasn't feeling so well, so at the last minute she asked me to give the talk. Well, I just got back from three weeks in Europe. I visited five countries. asking me, oh, are you going to talk about it? So this gives me an opportunity to do what people ask and talk about it. Many, probably most of you have been, can you hear me? Up, up, [...] up. How's that? So probably most of you have had the experience of being in Europe at one time or another, or more than that. You know, it's just my experience. So, nothing unique about it.


But, I'll tell you some of the things that I experienced that may be significant. So, the great question is, what was your favorite thing about Europe? When I went, I didn't have any idea about what I was going to experience. I purposely didn't think that I was going to go some certain place and experience some certain thing. So everything was my favorite experience. And I totally enjoyed it, you know, everything. Every day was great. There were some difficult things and some easy things, but that's what our life's about. So, my friend and student, Max, and his wife, Kana, and their baby, invited Liz and I to come to Europe with them for three weeks.


So that was nice, and that's how we got there. And so we stayed in some nice places, and everything was taken care of. We didn't have to worry about much. So just kind of free fun, right? So, but one of the things that we did want to do, Max said he wanted me to see Paris. And the other thing was we wanted to visit my old friend and colleague, Vanya Palmers. Vanya, well, I wouldn't say what was my favorite experience, but what was most significant for me was visiting Vanya. Vanya, I'm going to talk about you, so behind your back. without your permission. So, Gwania lives in Austria and Switzerland, on both sides of the border.


And he comes from a very wealthy family. and I keep finding out various places that he has in that territory. Anyway, we went to Munich, and to Switzerland, and to Paris, Austria, Switzerland, Paris and London. And all those places were fun. But the most significant, I think, was visiting Vanya, who I hadn't seen for a long time. Vanya came to Zen Center in the early 70s. I don't know if you've ever been to Green Gulch for any length of time.


You probably know who was his companion at that time and they came from Switzerland or Austria and they were a couple and they had been doing yoga. They were yogis and they landed in Zen Center and stayed, Vanya stayed for 10 years. Eventually he was the director of Tassajara and Amala is still here at Green Gulch. So they're long-time practitioners. And Vanya, after 10 years, went back to Switzerland, to Austria actually, and built this wonderful zendo on a mountaintop. with Brother David. I don't know if you've ever heard of Brother David.


Brother David Stendhal Rast who is present here for many years. He's a Jesuit priest, very popular actually in Europe now. So together they built this Poryg, a place called Poryg. It's like it was an old farmhouse or something, an old barn and they like from medieval times. And it's just this beautiful, it just did this beautiful job. And Paul Disko helped. Paul Disko, as some of you may know, part of that old Zen center constituency, he was sent to by Suzuki Roshi to Japan to become a Japanese carpenter. And so he came back and he built many wonderful places here, including Larry Ellison's estate.


And so he and Vanya had this wonderful relationship where whenever Vanya wants to build something in Austria or Switzerland, he invites Paul to come and do the work. So, Paul helped build Porig, and it's just this wonderful, you know, mountainside retreat. And they do zazen and retreats there. And he also built this retreat center on the top of a mountain in Switzerland near Lake Lucerne. He crossed the lake. And then there's a tram that goes up the mountain. And the people living on the mountain, they use the tram for transportation. But Felsentor is at the top of the mountain, sort of. Not the top, but on a cliff.


There was an old hotel there. And so Vanya purchased the property. Paul Disko designed this Japanese monastery. They used helicopters to bring in the stone. I mean, it's an amazing place. It's like an old hotel. It's probably 120 years old. And then right next to it is this brand new Japanese-style monastery. But it's difficult, you know, because you have to really want to go there. It's not the kind of place where you just kind of casually drop in. But it's used mostly by groups who come and do something, do various seminars and stuff like that.


Well, we stayed in a lot of wonderful places in both Austria and in Switzerland. And Vanya, every once in a while, he'd take us to one of his little mountain retreats that he built. Vanya is like a, I think, a peer gint. Like a sprite. He's like a mountain sprite. He's a farmer. And there's this valley where we stayed, that's a resort in Austria, surrounded by the ragged mountains of the Alps and Hintertal. And when his family first came there, There were seven farms, and they had one of the farms.


And this farm has these beautiful old Renaissance buildings on it, which are their housing. Great place for hiking and motorcycling. And my wife and I, my wife loves hiking in the mountains. That's her passion. And so she drags me along. And it's a really tough mountain climbing, not mountain climbing, but mountain hiking. And that was wonderful, really great to hike in those mountains. And she doesn't stop. And I say, well, let's sit down here. You know, she really pushes me.


She's a little younger than me. But I like the challenge. And she also does power walking through the city. And then, you know, like I'm trying to dodge all these people, and she's just barreling through. Anyway, so back to Vanya. So when Vanya was the director of Tassahara, Kobin Shino, those of you who know our history know Kobin Shino, who was one of our Japanese priests, who came in 1968, I think, 67, 1967 to help Suzuki Roshi. Actually, he came to at the invitation of the Los Altos Sendoh. And Suzuki Roshi hijacked him to stay at Zen Center for a while before going to Los Altos.


And he was a wonderful priest. So Vanya became his student. And he gave Vanya Dharma Transmission. And he spent a lot of time with Vanya in Austria and Switzerland. And Vanya has this place in Switzerland, a wonderful house with a big pond. And China Sensei, China Roshi, had a German wife and three children. I married them here, actually, many years ago. And so they were staying there at Vanya's place.


And Vanya and Chinna Roshi's daughter, one of his daughters, was in the pond, and somehow she started drowning. And to make a long story short, Colvin went into the pond and they both drowned. That was about 12 years ago. It's a very tragic story. So that had a lot of effect on Vanya and his, you know, I think it kind of took the wind out of his sails in some way. But I'm very concerned about Vanya and I want to talk to him more. But Vanya, actually, when we were starting this place, when we moved here, he was one of our big donors.


He contributed a lot to get us started here. That was a very tragic story about Koban. Just before I left, there was a memorial for Koban at Jikoji, down on the peninsula. And I went to that. There was people telling stories about Koban. There's a book of stories that people contributed, which I wanted to get a hold of. Reading the book, It was a very emotional experience. Everyone has their own experience. Koba, he was kind of like a magical person.


Very inconsistent. Nobody could quite get a hold of him. Everyone was affected by him. He was very elusive and these stories are just amazing, everybody's experience of him. I do have a book that I got, but I want to have some more books here for people because it's wonderful to read about everyone's experience of him. So then we went from Switzerland to Paris.


And Paris is a wonderful city. They made it into a kind of uniform city, a planned city where all the buildings have round roofs and beautiful facades. And we rented a house, put the houses inside of a patio. I love these French doors. big French door and then you open the doors and then you go in and there's a patio and then the house, it's like Mexico in a way. And there are these apartments. So we rented this house and the people who were, the husband was an art critic, not a critic, an art historian. And the house was just full of art books. So that was kind of nice. And Paris is just wonderful to walk in.


You just start out walking and you bump into all kinds of things. So just exploring neighborhoods and, you know, sitting down having coffee and the neighborhoods are great. So then we went to pack to London through the tube, through the tunnel. And London is great too. which used to be kind of slum, and now it's kind of like a high class slum. That was great too. And then you visit the museums and so forth. And visiting museums was quite wonderful. The Louvre in Paris, and the British Museum, the art museum. I like the British Art Museum better than the Louvre.


The Louvre, you know, when you have a painting, they usually put a description on the side of it, who did it and what it's about. And the Louvre, it's weighed down to about six inches off the floor. And so you're always looking down here. I actually got on my hands and knees. And then it wasn't worth reading. But in the British Museum, it's right up there. If you're five feet seven, it's right in front of your eyes. And it's a real description, something about the painting. So I really enjoyed that a lot. And then I realized, why do we visit these museums? Why do we visit art museums? And what came to me was that you absorb the painting. the painting on the street.


In other words, everybody you meet, everybody you see, you see them as a painting, for me. Yesterday I was sitting on my couch in my house, and I took a little nap. And when I woke up, I opened my eyes, and the whole vision I had in my room was of a Flemish painting. There was no doubt about it. The furniture, the rugs, it was like a wonderful Flemish painting, because the house is kind of like it's a, you know, a lot of wood and that kind of style. So you actually see through the painter's eyes somehow, either You see things as a picture which has a certain kind of value.


And then I started thinking about modern art and old ancient art. Ancient art was always about the person. It was about something very deep. The ancient art was mostly about soul searching. All of the art before the 20th century was about religion and something really significant and deep. Whereas modern art is all about surface, mostly. It's all about surface. It's either decoration or something on the surface. There's nothing behind it, because it's not so much emotional, but it's cerebral.


a modern artist. I was on the cutting edge of art when I was painting. But my art was not surface painting. It was what they called abstract expressionism. We called it non-objective painting. And so much of it also was surface painting without really soul-searching or depth. And also, when I see a lot of the modern museums, the museum is the main focus, and the paintings are decorations of the building. That's kind of sad. I mean, they're wonderful structures, you know, but the paintings, There's too much idea and not enough for me.


They're not speaking. It's all visual. The visual should be conveying something deeper than just the surface, just the design. I think that's because people have lost their way. It would be interesting. Music is in a very similar position, I think. The old music was spiritual. The new music is just about ideas. There's something lost, I think, in both art and music these days.


And how to not get back to something, but to go forward to producing something that is really significant for people is a big task. So anyway, we went to Cambridge in England. Cambridge is just outside of London. And Cambridge is wonderful, because it's a medieval Renaissance city. And I thought, I could just spend a week or two here just taking photographs of this wonderful place, this ancient I remember in London just taking a walk and seeing this old building made out of stones and we went in through the back way and it was the treasure tower where just a small place, almost insignificant, but it's where the kings


kept their treasures, their jewels and their, you know, all the things that they didn't want people to steal. And you just walk through, you know, this is like a tower, you know, it's a wonderful place. But Cambridge, I think, I thought was a really great place to be for a period of time because and old buildings, you know, there are stones and churches that are real dark. You can just see how people were living in those days and it gives you a kind of connection because everything is so earthy. The earthiness of the old architecture and the old buildings was quite wonderful.


You can see the animals were also living in the same buildings with the people. And you can see how we separate ourselves from the animals. Oh, I want to say something about Guanya and animals. Guanya, when he was here, became interested in animal protection, advocates for animals. And he had been doing that for years. He said that when he was in Europe, in Switzerland and in Austria, he did demonstrations for animals. He loves pigs. And he has a little farm where he has pigs. He took us to this little farm where he had this huge pig.


It was like this long, about this high. And there's a picture of him and the pig kissing. And he said that he put himself up on a pole. I can't remember what city this was. But he put himself up on a pole. And on top of the pole, he put himself cage on top of the, it was a pig cage. And he said, I can't remember what the sign said, but it was like, what's the difference between me and this pig? Me and a pig? What's the difference between you and a pig? He was there for a week. And people would feed him and, you know, take his excrement and so forth. And then when he was in Liechtenstein, Liechtenstein is this little city. It's a little country, actually, between Austria and Switzerland.


And I knew the queen, the princess. The princess of Liechtenstein came to Zen Center many years ago. And she was very kind to me. She actually said, I want to leave you my... She was about 90. She said, I want to leave you my Tibetan Buddha. when I die, my son will send it to you." But he never did, of course. But anyway, Liechtenstein, just this little country, and of course Vanya, you know, is very familiar with all this, and he wanted to shame the prince, because the prince, you know, he was advocating for animal protection in Liechtenstein. And I can't remember the story, you know, but it was something like the bells in the tower, and the clocks on the doors, and he wanted to... I can't tell you the story, but believe me, it was a great story.


Sometime, when he comes here, I'll have him tell you the story. So he's a great animal activist for animals, which doesn't mean that he's entirely a vegetarian. He's not advocating for vegetarianism. He's advocating for how animals are treated. And that's more his story. How people treat animals, how they relate to them, how they, before they, you know, to actually think about the animal, not just as a product, but as a sentient being. So anyway, that's my story. You might have some questions about, you know, if you have any questions.


One is, thank you very much for reminding me of Vanya, how we said Tassajara. And he was great. I just loved Vanya. And the balloons, we made paper balloons and then put them over candles or whatever and launched them into the sky at Tassajara. This is maybe a little advertiser for the upcoming auction. One of the selling auction items is Jake and I taking people on photography tours. And I'm not going to teach so much about photography techniques, but seeing things as photographs or vice versa. Yeah. Right. Yeah. Well, yes. I understand what you're saying. I was touched by your comment at the beginning of your talk about the most significant part of the trip, and I'd just like to keep what I'm thinking, if it coincides with yourself.


It sounds like the world of relationship and the history in a very significant way. And even though there are centuries of art and culture in these countries and all the stuff people know about, it's kind of transitory in a way. And it kind of comes back to that our life is maybe the world of relationship. I was wondering if that's what you were thinking? Yeah, that's because I was thinking about this. You know, we have these ancient cities. old cities, even though they were bombed out, they were rebuilt, but still there was a lot of background. And many people live in these buildings and die, and new people, and then the generations die off and the new generations take over. And I kind of saw this as our modern life


against the background of these ancient cities, which there's some significance there of the ancient background and the modern life. And in America, we do have some old cities and stuff, but it's not the same. and we have a lot of space and so on. In these old cities, there's very little space. The streets are very narrow and the sidewalks are somewhat narrow. And then there's all this activity funneled into these narrow, old-fashioned cities. The dynamics become very charged because you walk down the street and there's so many people coming and going and the traffic, it's all mixed up.


And it gives it a certain kind of dynamic that brings everybody very close together. And you have to interact with people just walking down the street. You have to interact with people all the time. So there's a kind of dynamic in that that's quite wonderful. And, oh, when we were in London, they had a parade for the athletes at the Olympics. All the English athletes were paraded through Trafalgar Square and all that. And there were a million people, and we kind of got caught in it. We thought, well, we're not going to watch this. Pretty soon, you know, you get caught up in it. And the jostling crowds, you know, were just amazing.


But everybody was really quite nice, you know. A million people, and here there was a little But it was a big deal and you just feel this surge of, I don't like to call it patriotism, but feeling for these, you know, kind of unified feeling for the athletes. Welcome home. And what you said about the art and the music reflecting surface or cerebral, have you been thinking about, I mean, since art and music always reflect the culture of the time, what does that say to you about the times?


What it says to me is that, you know, it's very interesting that we have, like in America, if you take a poll, you find that there's a religious, a huge percentage of Americans claim to be religious, a huge percentage. And yet you don't see it reflected in the art or the music. So I wonder what it is that passes through religion for people. Thoughts will have. Yeah, but it's mostly local-ish. Beethoven, people like that, are universal.


So where's the universality that's really expressed, not just in... I think in music there's a lot of ego, and also in art, a lot of ego. Where is that? letting the truly spiritual come forth, so that it's inspiring people, without being sectarian. Because all these religions, the world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and we're at the melting pot of religion that will actually bring forth something universal. I think that's what's happening. It's like it's a big battle for who's going to win.


Nobody can win. Somebody way in the back had their hand up. It's Catherine. Yeah. Of course. Contrarian. I just have to register for the record that your perceptions about music and art, modern music and art, are not ones that I share. And that my sense of what's happening with modern composers, like John Adams and other people who are writing in the classical tradition, is that music keeps evolving. And then for many people who are steeped in Beethoven and Mozart, as I was, the shift to even to Wagner was already a wrench. And Schoenberg blew me out of the water. And at some point, I opened my mind and my heart and my ear to go with what these people are exploring, because nothing stays the same. Mozart and Beethoven finished doing everything you could do with that idiom. And now we have other idioms. And I feel like it's up to me to embrace them and learn to let them touch me.


And they do. And I find it enormously exciting, and I want to welcome it. And I also find it deep and soul-searching. So I just had to put that on the table. Great. Thank you. That's good. I like that. Well, I agree with Catherine, but I actually had a completely different question I wanted to ask you. I wonder if you have a story about Coban that you would share with us. Well, I have. Yeah. I remember when, back in the 70s, Coban came in 1967, I think it was. And then when we had our first Zendo on Dwight Way, We were still sitting, actually, in the dining room, in the living room, before we built our Zendo in the attic, back in 1967. I can't remember exactly what year it was, but Koven had been married to his first wife, and then they had two children, and he came over, it was the early 70s, he came over,


we invited him over to give a talk. And so we were sitting around in a circle and he brought his two kids. They were about one and three or something, one and a half and three or something like that. And so he was sat down and they were just crawling all over him. He was giving some kind of a talk. And they were crawling under his arm and over his head and his back. And the whole thing was just this wiggle thing. And nobody could remember what he said because he didn't speak very fast anyway. His speech was always very slow. So it was a wonderful event, and we all enjoyed it very much.


He gave me a Roxxoo and left. Besides Vanya and so on, did you have any contacts in Paris or London? The role actually set up an appointment for me to go to the Paris Zendel and to see his teacher and so forth. But none of that worked out. It was too hard to break the rhythm of what we were doing to do something like that. So I didn't. Yeah. Just for the sectarian record, I think Brother David is a Benedictine. Yeah, Benedictine. Yeah. Oh, that's the other thing. You're right. He's a Benedictine, for the record. And the poured egg that they built together is both Christian and Buddhist.


So they do both things there. And that was the plan. Can I say more or should we stop? Go ahead. Oh. Did you want me to say more? No, I wanted to say more. Yeah, go ahead. I want you to say more. Say more. OK. Well, I just, I really appreciated the way you started off your story. You started your account of your trip so simply. I would have thought about it and tried to structure it. And it was so simple. It came out very beautifully. And the feeling, level of feeling that you shared And about art, I was surprised what you said, because when you said that older art was like this, and then you said modern art, I started finishing your sentence, is a study of light, it's a study of color, it's a study of the depth of material nature and structure.


And instead of that, you said it's surface and it's kind of no good. I didn't use the word good. No, you didn't say that. I'm doing a very rhetorical trick by doing that. Anyway, I wanted to add my feeling that art, the way that Catherine said about music, and a lot of modern artists and musicians are really Buddhist-influenced and are doing that in ways that wouldn't be so alien to you. So I'm just recommending an opening on modern art And thank you. That's very encouraging. So I agree with both of you.