My Skype interview with David Weinstein was actually the first I did for this project. It took place ten days before my trip to the west coast. This is an excerpt:
DW: My three years in Hawaii with Aitkin Roshi were very difficult; he and I just did not connect at all, and the koan practice . . . I had just spent four years in Tibetan practice in Nepal and India and koan practice made me upset and that was not what my idea of meditation practice was, and I didn’t want to do that. And I ended up in Japan very resistant to doing koan meditation but I loved seated meditation, so I ended up in Kamakura with Yamada as a graduate student, as an exchange student from the University of Hawaii doing research in Tokyo at Komazawa University, and he listened to me tell him that I did not do koans, that I only did shikan taza. And I was prepared for him to tell me to leave because, I don’t know, what I was basically telling him was I don’t do the practice you do here. And he looked at me and he said, “Shikan taza is a very difficult practice. Not many people attain realization with shikan taza. Maybe the last person to attain realization with shikan taza was . . . mmm . . . Dogen. But, I want you to attain realization with shikan taza. Please practice diligently.” And he could have knocked me over with a feather when he said that. Then he asked me this silly question; he said, “I have this question to ask you. I don’t want you to think about it. You know, just forget it. And he asked me how to stop the sound of the distant temple bell. Which I thought was weird. I didn’t know it was a koan. I never spoke to anybody else about that. And I’m just so grateful for that, because if I’d known it was a koan, it would have just made that much more difficult for me. So I’m grateful for the idea of not talking about it, and yet I have also seen such great value in what happens when people do talk about it. And talk about it the sense of people sharing the feelings of the explorations they’d had into their practice and their relationship with the koan. No . . . uh . . . it’s a practice of discovery for everybody, and a deep sharing without any kind of weird ego stuff going on, nobody’s trying to prove they know something somebody else doesn’t know. We tried to do discussion groups until about ten years ago, and they were fraught with members . . . there was always one or two members in the group that were difficult. We stopped doing it because we thought, you know, maybe this was not a good thing to do. But it kind of came up again a few years ago. And one of our members is a minister, and in his church they have discussion groups, and he thought it was a good way to build community. And it has been, a great community building . . . and more than that, a great richness is added to the practice as everybody appreciates that the wisdom is everywhere. It’s not just concentrated in somebody you call a teacher. It’s always available to us right under our feet if we will just see it.
RBM: How would this differ from the traditional Christian practice of reflecting on scripture passages?
DW: Hopefully it would be more than people having discussion, having conversation. We have gone through a process, initially twenty years ago, twenty-whatever years ago, we were doing dokusan as our teachers had taught us dokusan. And that has evolved from dokusan to “work in the room”—which was a phrase Yamada used in Kamakura for the ceremony when someone had finished the curriculum of koans. He always said, “Having finished the work in the room.” And we thought, “work in the room,” it sounds . . . it’s not Japanese, and why do we have to use Japanese words. It’s not necessary. Let’s call it “work in the room.” And more recently I myself call it conversations because it’s about a conversation which is a two-way process.