Skip to content

April 29, 2015


Green Gulch Dharma Teacher Daigan Lueck Passes Away

Daigan Tatsudo David William Lueck (Great Vow, Accomplished the Way)
January 27, 1931 – April 26, 2015

Daigan Lueck was born in Minneapolis in 1931. He served as a medic in the US Army during the Korean Conflict and remained in Asia for some years, living in Japan.

Daigan Lueck in the Green Gulch zendo (Photo: Alison Bank)

Daigan Lueck in the Green Gulch zendo (Photo: Alison Bank)

After returning from Japan, Daigan joined the Firehouse Theater Company in Minneapolis, an innovative group of performers with whom he remained close his whole life. His acting ability was quite evident in his dharma talks and other public—and sometimes private—occasions.

Driven to become a Zen priest by his restless questioning and desperate need for meaning, Daigan had the heart of an artist. He painted and wrote poetry prodigiously and variously, with success in both. His poems were published, and his paintings collected by many in the Buddhist world (you can find them hanging in Zen Centers around the country), although he resisted all efforts to mount shows or otherwise bring his various works into the public sphere. His was a cantankerous, independent spirit, equally suspicious of praise and blame, and never satisfied, insisting always on going further, elsewise.

Daigan began Zen practice in the late 1960s in San Francisco, where he sat occasionally with Suzuki Roshi. Eventually he became a resident of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, where he was ordained a priest in 1990 by Sojun Weitsman. He received Shiho (dharma transmission) from Zoketsu Norman Fischer in 1999 at Tassajara Monastery, where he also trained for a number of years.

In 1996 he was married to Arlene Lueck, also a Zen priest with long training at the San Francisco Zen Center temples, who took care of him during his last years, when he was mostly confined to their rooms at Green Gulch. He continued to paint and write and visit with students, almost till the end. He died at Green Gulch April 26, 2015, age 84. Daigan has a son, Chris, and a granddaughter, Anna, who is a freshman at Middlebury College.

Among many colorful Zen stories involving Daigan, this is one of the best:
Obsessed and ravaged by a love affair gone bad, Daigan was in a fit of despair. It was as if his whole mixed up life had come crashing down on his head. He was living in the temple, sitting every day, but nothing seemed to touch his inner turmoil. Seeing this, his teacher, told him to set up a small altar in his room and wake up early every morning before zazen to do 108 prostrations, saying with each one, “Please forgive.” “But who am I asking and who needs forgiveness?” “Just do it,” his teacher said. After about a month of this practice Daigan had a profound opening and soon after was ordained as a priest.

This is what Daigan wrote for the San Francisco Zen Center website in 2011:

Everyone has a story, a million of them. Odd lots and short pieces sewn together, a tapestry narrative that testifies to a mytho-poetic version of the past. I was this and did that. Or else as statistics, places & dates. I began as a resident work student at Green Gulch Farm in the late summer of 1984, having before that time sat at different times at both Green Gulch and City Center as a guest student, and after a few years took priest ordination and some years later Dharma Transmission from former abbot Norman Fischer. Spent eight years at Tassajara, married Arlene, maybe the smartest thing I ever did. Am in general tolerated if not outright loved for my grouchy side by many. Will turn 81 next month, January 2012. Thus it can be said with some truth that I bide my time or much of it being witness and observer in exquisite detail of the condition known as being old seen in the light of that everlasting question, namely, what does it mean, if meaning there be, to be a human being?

Finally, one of Daigan’s poems:

Daigan and Arlene at Tassajara, 1995

Daigan and Arlene at Tassajara, 1995

Ready at last to stop
shaking a fist at the sky
and the passing traffic
drop your heavy bag
empty your laden pockets
stop, breathe, sit
and let yourself cook
until you’ve smoked out
all the bitter taste
and are ready to
be chewed on by
the ten thousand
laughing mouths
of this present moment.


Article (adapted) courtesy of Zoketsu Norman Fischer; poem courtesy of Arlene Lueck.

A funeral will take place at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center on June 7, 2015, at 4 pm, officiated by Senior Dharma Teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer. (The Obonsho, or bell, begins at 3:45 pm.) A reception will follow the ceremony. Please carpool, as parking is limited. Since Sunday, all three SFZC centers have held memorial/transition ceremonies for him, and the body will be cremated at Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley on Thursday, April 30, at noon..

The family suggests that donations may be made toward the creation of the Green Gulch Bell Tower. Please see Raising a Bell Tower: A Message from Arlene Lueck.


10 Comments Post a comment
  1. David Komito
    Apr 29 2015

    Kayla and I remember with true fondness the deep sweetness and warmth of the times we four had at GGF. Daigan David will remain in my heart as long as I have one.

    — David Komito and Kayla Komito

  2. Lee Lipp
    Apr 29 2015

    Daigan was so helpful to me when I lived at Green Gulch Farm…I loved his wisdom, and deep company in the dharma. May Arlene and the family and all their friends be surrounded with as much love as Daigan shared in his lifetime.

  3. Helen Chaloner
    Apr 29 2015

    I arrived at Green Gulch in 1984, in the same week as David (and Lee de Barros and Terry, can’t remember his surname). One day David and I were scraping out a ditch in the pouring rain and he said to me ‘one day we’ll look back on this as the time of our lives’. We both dissolved into hysterical laughter, and that’s mainly what I will remember of David – struggling along with practice and finding humour in amongst all the difficulty. I think of him often and with great affection, and had always hoped to meet up again. I am sorry to hear of his passing.

  4. Apr 29 2015

    Daigan taught a poetry class when I was head student at GGF in 2002. He drew our attention to the sign “To green to burn,” posted over the not-dried-yet firewood and suggested we use that line in a poem we would write. This was what I came up with and put on invitation to the Shuso ceremony:
    Twenty-four years since arriving at these gates
    Too green to burn
    I am not yet ready to be Head Student
    But find I am ready for joy, for meeting,
    for knowing you.
    Ready or not, here I am.

    Daigan gave me encouragement to continue in spite of not feeling ready or worthy. I’m ever grateful for his kind support. I will certainly miss him.

  5. Roberta Werdinger
    Apr 29 2015

    Daigan was a huge inspiration to me when I arrived at Tassajara in 1995–quiet, unassuming, artistic, independent. He embodied the spirit of dharma and of simple kindness at a time when I was questioning whether I could fit into the forms and tradition at all. I am glad that, with the help of Arlene, the sangha, and recent medical advances, he was able to live a long and full life.

  6. robbin s frey
    Apr 29 2015

    Ah, Daigan…old friend, I remember him well. He read poetry, talked of life’s troubles and let me hang underwear in his cabin, one rainy practice period at Tassajara. All love to you, Daigan, wherever you be.

  7. Breck
    May 2 2015

    Daigan was to me a teacher, a friend, an artist, and a grumpy, loving bodhisattva.

    The moment came in a Sunday morning class at Green Gulch, in the library, many years ago. It was an introduction to buddhism class, but somehow Daigan wove in a few lines from (I think) The Tempest. Wove in? No, roared!

    I don’t remember the words, but I remember the teaching. It left me agape, open, awoken. And ready for Shakespeare and the dharma.

    Many thanks to you, young man. I miss you.

  8. Qayyum Johnson
    May 4 2015

    Daigan was. He totally lived out his life in Zen fashion–being wholly himself & relentlessly inquiring of his surroundings to find out more about who he was. His paintings & poems manifesting this curious hunger are all over Green Gulch, reminding us of his prodigious creative output. And he was an impeccable friend to so many, myself included; always ready to spin a mind-world around. “Immeasurably great are turned about in the stream of words–is there anyone who can escape?” I will never forget his expressive face & the kindness of his death. I feel so blessed to know him during the last period of the great project of his life. I’m forever grateful to Arlene for sharing him so generously with me. Nine bows to a humble friend & teacher whose example encourages me to keep practicing with my whole life.

  9. Mahin Mahdavi
    May 6 2015

    March 31-2006


    There is no teacher
    There is no poetry teaching
    Writing comes from heart
    I can’t be your poetry teacher
    But I can be your poetry friend

    Here is the first lesson
    Gustavo some…dots says ”Get black on white”
    It means get black ink on white paper
    Just write, no spelling check, no correction, no thinking –just write

    Here we are a poet, an artist
    75 years old Zen master with brown robe on,
    And a 5 years old kindergarten girl with
    Black on white uniform
    Wearing a navy blue bibs
    Who doesn’t know how to pronounce
    or spell Gustavo’s last name

    Actually it might be very interesting friendship
    May be it is Zen, may be not
    Who knows?

    Now I have a friend! Now I have homework
    I mean practice. It is gone be fun!

    Who could be such a humble person
    Such a friend who playfully teaches you
    such as Daigan.

  10. Setsurin Melissa McCarthy
    May 7 2015

    Many bows and thanks to you, Daigan-daiosho!
    For your love, encouragement and friendship
    (as well as some good cat videos!)
    I can hear your infectious laugh now and then,
    As I am walking and chanting,
    Walking and chanting,
    And being blown sideways by the desert wind…

    May 7, 2015


Leave a comment

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published. Comments are held for moderation.

Subscribe to comments