When my wife, Julia, was living with the trials, pains and indignities of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer Blanche Hartman included her in a daily Buddhist chant for well being. Julia and I both took comfort in that, and I thank Blanche for her care. Years before, when I was a college student at UC Davis I visited Blanche Hartman at Zen Center and she took time to talk with me about Buddhist practice. Blanche Hartman has been a Buddhist teacher to any number of people, and she has been a scientist, and she is a feminist, and she is all kinds of things because she has lived a rich life, but I always think of her first as Mitzi’s mother. I met Blanche in 1974 when she and her husband, Lou, were working at Tassajara and lived with Mitzi in the old, white ranch house in Jamesburg in upper Carmel Valley, right where the road turns to dirt. I grew up near Jamesburg too, so it wasn’t long before I met Mitzi on the schoolbus and began making my way over to the Hartman’s house on the weekends to visit their daughter. One winter morning I gathered a big bag of puff ball mushrooms as a gift for Mitzi, and Blanche showed me how to slice them in half and verify that they were, in fact, edible puffballs, and not some toxic doppleganger mushroom. We made an omlette and it was good, or at least we didn’t die. Another day I showed up to discover that Blanche had prepared an approxomation of a classic Japanese Tea ceremony and she presided over it for the two of us. I was touched then by the gesture, and I still am today. Blanche has always been welcoming, smart, and kind. Thank you.
When I was a guest cook at Tassajara in 2007 we would ask for student volunteers at work circle to help us “serve up” the guest dinner. Sometimes it was hard to get help because this would be an extra hour of work at the end of the day, and students were tired. On one occasion I asked for help… and there was no response. “Please…we really need your help,” I pleaded. Blanche, who was there for the week to help students with robe sewing, leaned forward. “I’ll help,” she said, her eyebrows pressed and her voice taking a tone that conveyed, “Hey, don’t worry… of course I’ll help.” When it came time to serve up the guest meal, we had more help than we needed. Blanche’s example had given energy to a handful of student volunteers.
Blanche sent the following note and photo to her friends on her 80th birthday.
“I am deeply touched by the outpouring of affection from my Dharma brothers and sisters. It is certainly reciprocated.”
Zenkei Blanche Hartman
A picture of Blanche from 2012. I asked if I could take a photo of her for Susan (Rice), and took this very sweet shot of her.
Dear Sangha and Friends of Blanche:
Recently a crowdfunding site was set up to raise money for Blanche’s care. Since this site was launched, there have been some posts shared through the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, American Zen Teachers Association and other groups, that are both inaccurate and, in several cases, derogatory of San Francisco Zen Center. In particular, there is a statement on the Lion’s Roar website which seems to indicate that Blanche is $100,000 in debt, which is not true.
When the crowdfunding site was launched, it was done with good intentions—to offer a way for students and friends of Blanche to support her health-care costs. No one anticipated that there would be any controversy.
The Hartman family is very grateful to San Francisco Zen Center. We have been working closely together over the past several years to find the best ways to support our father, Lou Hartman, and now our mother, Blanche.
To clarify the current situation, while there may come a time in the next year when Blanche’s resources will run out, right now there are still resources available. However, Blanche has expressed that she would prefer to not spend this money, so that she can leave it to her children.
The fact that Blanche is residing at Age Song in a shared room is the result of the family’s decision, including Blanche, to not spend more money for a private room, or for the full-time care she would need in order to return to City Center. Zen Center has expressed that she is most welcome to return if she does have care. And we are all quite clear that because Blanche needs a great deal of help to care for basic needs, Zen Center students cannot adequately and safely provide this help.
In effect, the fundraising has two purposes: to relieve Blanche from the feelings that she is taking care of herself instead of her children and grandchildren, and to benefit the family. The intimation that she is in a shared room because she does not have money, or because she has been banished from City Center and that San Francisco Zen Center is somehow neglecting her, is neither true nor helpful.
Thank you for your support.