Ananda Claude Dalenberg

Ananda Claude Dalenberg May 9, 2008

Why don’t we get drunk
sit all night facing the moon
“opening our hearts”

as men did long ago?

last night was full moon, but
too cloudy.

one bottle of sake
soon gone.
at lunchtime today you stopped by
your ship sails from Kobe at six.

eight years: San Francisco, the
beaches, the mountains,

Quiet talk and slow easy pace.
with your rucksack to India,
Europe, return

ease of the world, the light

as though we might
somewhere be
parting again.

“Parting with Claude Dalenberg”
by Gary Snyder

In his autobiography, Alan Watts writes of Claude Dalenberg who “had studied with me at Northwestern – a calm and mighty Swede with a relaxed, amused attitude to the world, who later traveled in Japan, and became a Zen priest working with the roshi Shunryu Suzuki.” Watts went on to describe how, when he was at the American Academy for Asian Studies in San Francisco, “Students at the Academy would sometimes say, “if you want to know what Zen is about, talk to the janitor, Claude.” To which with that dry tone for which Watts was so well known, he added how they’d add, “Don’t bother to see Alan Watts upstairs.”

Ananda Claude Dalenberg was one of twenty-one people (thank you David for correcting the number) Shunryu Suzuki ordained as Zen priests. He remained a senior figure at the San Francisco Zen Center for the whole of his life. He eventually received Dharma transmission from Roshi Reb Anderson. But Claude’s style was too idiosyncratic to fit comfortably into what would arguably become the major Zen institution in North America. A beat when that meant something, his friend Jack Kerouac dropped him into his novel Dharma Bums as “Bud Diefendorf.” He was an admirer of Alan Watts when few in the “established” Zen community were comfortable with Watts’ loose style and broad interpretation of what Zen meant.

Claude seemed endlessly to prefer the outsider role.

And he always loomed large on my path, popping up in the most unexpected places. Back in the late nineteen sixties when I made my way to the SFZC, Claude was the person who gave me my first instruction in the basics of Zen meditation.

Our paths would cross a number of times over the years.

He quietly helped Jiyu Kennett’s fledgling Zen Mission Society acquire the property in far Northern California that would become Shasta Abbey, securing the loan with his personal stock portfolio. In the early days Claude was a regular visitor and as an early inmate of that institution, I always looked forward to his visits. It meant some rule would probably be broken…

I still recall a conversation we had at Issan Dorsey’s Mountain Seat ceremony. He gently poked fun at my robes…

The last time I saw him was when I was studying at the Pacific School of Religion. One of the high points of that experience for me was studying with Masao Abe, the great Zen philosopher, and arguably the last representative of the Kyoto School (I know that’s an exaggeration. Indulge me…) Sensei Abe was a visiting professor there for two of the three years I was studying at the school and I took several classes from the old venerable. During Sensei Abe’s time there, he preferred to live at the San Francisco Zen Center. And Claude drove him back and forth and would stay for the lectures.

During breaks we talked a little about old times. Claude mentioned how he had visited the local Unitarian Universalist church a few times. He had a penchant for dressing in what I assume were thrift store clothes and usually looking rather like an unmade bed. He said he felt there was some discomfort among the congregation’s well-to-do rank and file with his appearance. Might have been true about the church, might not.

But, that was pure Claude.

I just learned Ananda Claude Dalenberg died on the 18th of February, 2008. He was eighty years old.

As long as I live, he’ll be part of who I am…

Endless bows, old teacher.

Thank you…

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