Sunday, December 26, 2010


In 2008 I did the 3-week Summer Intensive program at San Francisco Zen Center. Zen Center is a mysterious place: started by Shunryu Suzuki more or less in 1962--nearly 50 years ago--it has a deep and dramatic history, as one of the epicenters of the transmission of Buddhist teaching to the West, and the setting for a spectacular organizational meltdown in 1984. There's a lot of history and old wounds there; as if it's grown old and wise, but there's a heartache that hasn't quite been let go.

There was a guy there who was usually hanging out in the tiny lounge kitchen, dressed in blue-jean overalls. Normally he'd be reading a newspaper, or if he was about to go out, he'd have a thermos and a big straw hat. He had a huge frame, and in aspect, sort reminded me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men.

Curious, I introduced myself, and the guy's name was Jerome. He didn't seem really keen on interacting, and the last guy I knew who looked like that had a diagnosis of major depression with psychosis, and it was just better all around to leave him alone.

Not getting much from Jerome himself, I asked around, and I still didn't get much information, except that he was a priest, now obviously retired, who had been there essentially forever.

Sometime after my time there, I stopped in at Forest Books, an excellent San Francisco bookstore whose selection I don't like very much. The owner turned out to be a student of ex-abbott Richard Baker Roshi (see link above--he was the meltdown), and we had an awkward conversation about Jerome.
"Did you ask him a question?"
"Nah, I just said hello. He didn't seem like he wanted to talk."
"Oh, you should ask him a really good question."
"Oh. I, erm, try to avoid asking people Zen questions."
"Well, if you ask him a good question, and really bring your whole self to it, you'll get a good answer."
And that's all I know about Jerome, except that he died a couple weeks ago. Maybe someday I'll find out more about his long history.

Maybe someday someone will be interested in finding out about mine.

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