Interview with Paul Discoe

In a short Zoom chat on August 15, I asked Zengyu Paul Discoe if he had further comments to make after his BZC lecture ten days earlier. During that lecture Paul talked about his work as a temple and gate builder and his work in Japanese carpentry, as well as how he came to BZC and how he is doing in his retirement. His book Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice is available at our book table on Saturdays.
      In our chat Paul reviewed some of his life and work. When BZC started out on Dwight Way, Paul ran the center during Sojun’s time as shuso at Tassajara. His family had three industrial acres in Oakland. Paul housed a sangha of his own on that land, but eventually had to sell the acreage due to lack of money and energy.
      He lives with his wife Brenda in Oakland near Mills College, where they have a large vegetable garden. He also teaches via Zoom at Taigen Leighton’s Ancient Dragon Zen Gate center in Chicago.
      Paul’s teacher is Tenshin Reb Anderson at Green Gulch Farm. He is invigorated by his attendance in an ongoing class on The Flower Ornament Sutra. Paul has fatigue and mobility problems and asked Tenshin what he should do in retirement. Tenshin told him to sit by the road and talk to people. Not so many people

walk by his garden in Oakland, and BZC looks like a good place to sit and practice. We are delighted to have him with us.
      I asked Paul what he thought would be important to carry Buddhism forward. He has studied the precepts most intently the last few years and thinks they are the main thing Buddhism has to contribute to society. Precepts shape society and are an asset to society—the Eightfold Path, including right livelihood, addresses racial discrimination as well as social and economic injustice. He believes that Buddhist precepts offer a new paradigm beyond socialism and capitalism. They allow us to be one with our neighbors, and are more relevant than the focus on being as safe as possible or making the most money. Paul pondered the question of enforcing the precepts in society. If precepts or laws are broken in our society, someone might lose money. In Russia, someone might be shot. What enforces precepts in a Buddha Land?
      Paul mentioned Case 86 in the Blue Cliff Record: “The Temple Gate, the Kitchen, and Light,” which he says is most beautiful to him. The Gate is our entry to practice. The Gate focuses our attention and helps us carry out our vow to practice. If we stay for a while we have to eat as well as breathe. So the Kitchen is the power house. The Tenzo’s role is most basic. To breathe, to sit, to practice, it is necessary to eat.
      And that reminded him that it was time to cook dinner, so we stopped the discussion there.
                                                          —Sue Oehser