Bernie Interview Q2: What is Zen?

Questions by Christa Spannbaur
Recorded at Rowe Conference Center by Ari Pliskin

2) When people in the West think of Zen, they tend to think of people wearing black robes sitting in meditation-halls for many hours, in strict silence, without moving. Your practice of Zen seems to be very different from that. What is Zen for you?

Bernie Glassman: My teacher, Maezumi Roshi stressed that Zen is a synonym for life.  The practice of realizing the oneness of life means that it has to be for all of life.  It can’t be just what you do on the cushion.  A metaphor that illustrates this is the metaphor of One Body.  Imagine that I identify with this bag of bones.  I get thirsty, I ask for coffee.  I take a sip.  Imagine that I have a disease-it is associated with not experiencing the oneness of life.  Let’s imagine my right arm is called Bubela and the left one is Sally.  My head is Bernie.  Sally and Bubela have meditated and they study, but they don’t experience it the oneness of life.  They only talk about it.  Sally sees that Bubale is bleeding, but Sally says: I don’t want to get my dress dirty, or she says, I don’t have the training or my spiritual training tells me not to get involved.  Bubale dies.  Bernie dies.  Sally dies.  Or they are activists and Bernie is hungry, but they fight over feeding him.  Bernie dies.  They both die.  But if they truly experience the Oneness of the Body, of course they feed Bernie.

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