This is the first part of a three question interview with Natalie Goldberg. I wanted to ask her some questions that were outside of the type of thing she usually gets asked.
1. Miriam Sagan: One of my favorite of your books is THE GREAT FAILURE which is about
that unAmerican word “failure” as well as your father and the less than
perfect side of zen teacher Katagiri-roshi.
I think some of the reception of the book took you by surprise, and
perhaps in its own way was an experience of disillusionment not unlike
those which fueled the book. Do you feel ok talking about this? What
Natalie Goldberg: sure i can talk about it. it was a very painful experience to publish that book. i was naive. i didn’t realize how institutional zen had become and that the sangha in mpls didn’t want it out that roshi had committed some sexual indiscretions. many of the zen teachers up there acquired their authority from being his dharma heir. but really no one can give you your authority. also the rationalization was , yes , he did these things but he also gave us such great teachings. that is so true but one doesn’t negate the other. i wanted to embrace the whole story. who was this great man that i loved so much? i was willing to go to the mat, to spend two years writing a book to find out. i never heard from anyone from that sangha again except two or three people who were friends before and remained friends afterward. i don’t think anyone read the book because if they did they’d see how full of love it was. i loved katagiri roshi. i was willing to take him off the pedestal and make him human. having gone through the hard reception of the book i gained my own authority. but it wasn’t easy. also when i named it the great failure i meant it as a buddhist term, like the great spring which means enlightenment. what i meant by the great failure was that it was beyond success and failure, or when you completly come to the bottom then failure and success disappear and you are on the ground seeing things as they are. how wonderful! what i didn’t realize is that america too is terrified by failure and the word immediately upset people. on book tour i had to defend using the word. we are always rushing after success and running from failure. we are afraid if we mention it it will contaminate us. finally, i think it was in boston i said to a hundred people in the audience, ok, who of you hasn’t failed. no one raised their hands. see, i said. it’s part of human life