Roshi Eve Marko reflects on Bernie’s Sixty Year Journey during a dharma talk given in Felsentor, Switzerland in July 2014.
Eve: So what we plan to do this afternoon is that I took some notes on Bernie’s talk, and I will try to kind of uncover from my experience some of the issues that he related to, and what you also brought up. OK? And you can also ask questions as you did for him. And then after the break, I’m going to ask Barbara Roland, and also Cornelius who’s here to do his retreat, but since he’s a teacher, maybe he also has questions that he wants to relate to from his years of practice. And again, you can always come in with your questions and clarifications. And what I’d like to do is then sit again at 5:30, because this is a lot of talk. And I also want to really take the opportunity to thank our translators, who really are working hard, and great, great appreciation to you for doing this.
So, Tootsie asked Rocky this morning, “What about love Rocky?” And for those of you who don’t know, we sometimes get bored with each other, you know. Like, oh we’re not married so long, but we know each other—teacher/student for almost thirty years. So we created these two characters, because we both like Italians. We love New York Italians. So Bernie created this character. He used to be a fighter when he was growing up, and he was called Rocky. Did you know that? So he created this Italian fighter/gangster called Rocky. And I loved my Italian friends when I was growing up. We used to wear these fishnet stockings, and long sweaters. Of course we always wanted to catch a man right away. And that’s how Rocky and Tootsie happened. And it’s nice because Rocky and Tootsie are not Buddhists. So when they explore things, they have to find a different language—not to use Buddhist terms, but to find different words to ask the same questions everybody else asks, but to ask it in different ways. And sometimes they get along better than Bernie and Eve. And sometimes they don’t, you know. OK.
Some of you know I just came back from Israel—actually Tuesday afternoon came out of Israel. When I was there—I have family, I have a brother, and he’s a grandfather. So he was looking at the television set, which showed all these horrible things. Because he has two sons that are down there, in Gaza. And he has two sons-in-law, who are down there in Gaza. And his grandchild, who’s a little boy about three years old, kept on talking to him. And my brother didn’t pay much attention, because he’s staring at the television set. And finally the little boy said (in Hebrew, but I’ll translate for you), he said, “Pick up your eyes, and look at me. Grandpa, pick up your eyes and look at me.” That’s what he actually said. And I think those words were great for many different reasons, including what happens to us when we watch television, what happens to us when we read newspapers, when we do Facebook. We don’t have our eyes—we’re not experiencing life. We’re not listening. You know, we’re in our heads, like he was. And a little boy says to us, “Pick up your eyes and look at me.”
So Bernie, earlier this morning, spoke about Zazen and koans as a way of experiencing life. So those of you who have done meditation, you know that the instruction is that your mind goes off on different thoughts, different thoughts, different ideas, thoughts, feelings, right? And you’re always supposed to bring it back to now. Right, that sounds familiar, right? You go off—come back. Why? Because you want to come back to the experience of this moment. That’s what it is. When you and I go into our minds and thoughts, it’s usually about the past, it may be fear about the future, some abstract thought about what’s happening in Ukraine, but you’re not here, now. So the idea of always coming back is to come back to the experience. Come back to the experience of this moment now. That’s what Zazen is. It’s experience. Really, that’s what meditation is. It’s experience, right now, this moment.
And for those of you who do koan study, you know that you’re asked not to give intellectual answers, but to give an expression of now. Express the answer now, without going into your head. So show me your experience of this koan. And if you’re not experiencing the koan, you’re not really doing . . . Well; you’re doing koan study, but a different kind of koan study. So let me tell you, in my experience, what was missing for me in those early years. And what was missing for me was experience of relationship. That’s what was missing for me. So, the idea was that you sat on the cushion, and yeah, you experience now. You did meditation, and if you did it well, you experienced this moment. And if you did koan study, you were able to experience the koan. But the question is, what happened relating to other people? So when you got up, the bell rang, you got up, and you went home. You came in to sit. You did your experience of your own meditation. The bell rang; you get up and go home.
Well what about relationship? What about the people who sit with you? What about the people who are your friends, the people in your house, your children? What do you say to them? And this was a difficult thing, because one of the first major things you learn in Zen is about emptiness. This term of emptiness I think is very confusing. But if you know what it is, it’s that you, as an I, or you as a separate independent entity, separate from the rest of life, doesn’t exist. That’s in some way what emptiness is. But if you think about what that means is that at every moment—like right now, you know if I look at Roland, and he’s speaking to Rachel, he is talking to her, but who is Roland? And Roland is a separate entity, but Roland is a combination of all, billions, and billions of elements from the past, and everything coming together in Roland. So he is relationship. You see, he is relationship. And Rachel is relationship. She’s not just a separate person. She is all the things that came together to create something called Rachel. And so that relationship called Roland is speaking, and relating to a relationship called Rachel.
In the early years, and even now, there was a sense in many sanghas that there’s Three Treasures. We say there’s the Buddha, and the teacher represents the Buddha. And there’s the Dharma, which is the teachings. And there’s the Sangha, which is the people. And the Sangha was the least important treasure.
And Bernie has often repeated to me what his teacher told him—that if you’re gonna work with Sangha, that’s the most difficult of the Three Treasures. And he told me that. He said, “Eve, after a while, you’ll find that giving talks is easy. Really, it’s not a problem. But how to get along, that’s a problem.” How to help other people in the Zendo to get along with each other. So those of you that are in sanghas, and communities, you know what happens. There is resentments. There is competitiveness. And we don’t know how to resolve them.
The old Zen Community of New York, which was the first incarnation of the Zen Peacemakers, we worked very hard in Greyston, and in social service that Bernie will talk about tomorrow. And there was tension because, you know, “You didn’t do this.” And if we worked in a bakery, “You gave me the wrong bills,” and “You sent me to the wrong address,” and “How come you’re giving me an order for twenty cakes? How am I gonna finish that? It’s already five o’clock, what are you doing?” And we had no tools. We had no tools. So some of you said earlier today that you love council. We didn’t know council. We didn’t do council in those years. We didn’t even sit in a circle. There was no such thing as people sitting in a circle. And although we did face each other—that was something that Bernie created—I know back in Zen Center of L.A., and many places, people faced the wall. They don’t face each other. And they certainly don’t sit like this. OK?
We had no tools for how to relate to each other. And what that meant also was we didn’t know how to relate to people at home. So imagine your child wants to relate to you. You know, what’s the child saying? He’s saying what my brothers’ grandson said to him. “Lift up your eyes, and look at me.” What are you going to say? What did the early Zen teaching teach you to say? What are you going to say? Are you going to say, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t exist really. You’re empty. You don’t know that, but you’ll find out. You don’t exist as a separate entity.” Is this any kind of help for relationships?
Yeah, we didn’t have Nonviolent Communication like Ruth. He’s a trainer in Nonviolent Communication. And now we have that a lot in our sanghas. We didn’t have any of that. So we had lots of violent communication—lots of violent communication.
So I think this whole issue of relationship was not honored in those days. Now it’s funny because Zen has teachings about relationship, in a particular way. So one of the most basic teachings in Zen is the differences in the oneness. And the idea is that we are all different, and we’re all one. And we’re both, all at the same time. So as Bernie explained this morning, the biggest work of a Zen teacher is to help people experience the oneness of life. But sometimes the differences, and that experience of differences, and what to do with those differences, which is the work of relationship, I think was deeply neglected. So, as I said Tuesday night—and I apologize if I repeat it, but I think it was very important—when I was in Israel (and I write, so it’s very often that I write about what I go through), I couldn’t write about what was going on there. It was so crazy. Instead what I did was I made a list of all these opposites. And it was all going on at the same time. “They’re bombing us.” “No, they’re bombing us.” “You know, our fighters have to go out through tunnels to get to them.” “No, we’re sending fighters through them to get to them.” “Our survival is at stake.” “No, our survival is at stake.” “Our sons are doing this.” And my brother’s saying, “My sons are doing this. Do you know how it feels like to me?” Or one of his sons-in laws is part of an elite unit. And he would say to me, “I was one of those who goes to the West Bank, and puts a mask on his head, and has to go into the family, and find the Hamas operative, and get him. And I go in, and kids are screaming from fright. And the mothers are screaming. They’re crying. And they say ‘there’s nobody here.’” And then he says, “And I hate to do that, because I have sons that age, and I can’t imagine what trauma I’m creating when I go into the house like that. But I have to do it. I have to do it. I hate to do this, but I have to do it.”
“I hate to do this, but I have to do that.” “I hate to bomb hospitals, but at the same time, they have weapons in the basement of the hospital, so I have to do that.”
And there were all these opposites—all these differences, huge differences. And the whole time I was there, I had this whole list. And it was like this. But what I was experiencing was how do you experience the differences? Not just sit on the cushion, and say, “Well, there’s differences, and there’s one. And that’s the practice.” But how do you practice differences? How do you practice differences in one? For me, through the practice of relationship. So I also mentioned Tuesday night, I was so moved by a YouTube of an Orthodox Rabbi, who after these three young boys were killed, or they disappeared, before the whole everything else started happening, somebody asked him, “How do we deal in this situation?” And he said, “I will tell you.” He said, “The two men who killed those three teenagers—Jewish teenagers in the West Bank—they are asking for peace.” And then he says, “You must think I’m crazy. You say, ‘Two people killed, in cold blood, these three teenagers, and you think they’re asking for peace?’” And he said, “Yes, but I’m telling you they’re asking for peace.” It could be that outside, because of karma, history, conditioning, circumstances, anger, all the things they are manifesting, and they are reacting in a very aggressive, murderous, terrible way. But deep inside, they are (in our language), they are A, and something else is B. And the A and the B have to come together. In our words, they have to form a relationship.
If you don’t believe that all these differences need to come together in peace, then what you’re saying, he said, “Is that God made a mistake. God was confused when he created these two Palestinians who killed those three guys. Do you think God was confused? Do you think that God is perfect, except for those two, and those two were the only mistake that God made? No. They too are part of that perfection. And they need to come together with the others. And they need to come together to make peace.” And yes, outwardly we manifest in all kinds of crazy ways. But deep inside, we have to come together. And that for me is what relationship is about. And yet, I knew all this. I knew the study of differences. I got that. But I didn’t get to the practice of relationship till this term Bearing Witness came, and the practice of Bearing Witness. That is what really pointed to this thing of relationship.
I’m just remembering somebody showed me an ad when I was in Israel, like a commercial, and it goes like this. So an Arab woman, covered, says in Arabic (and there’s subtitles), “You don’t belong here.” And then the next picture is of a Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke. “You don’t belong here.” Next picture is of a young Palestinian, and he says in Arabic, “You don’t belong here.” And the next picture is of an older European Jewish woman, “You don’t belong here.” And this goes on, and on. And at the very end, the message says, “This was presented to you by the Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Parents Group,” the group of parents who lost children—both Palestinian and Israeli. So what they’re saying is, “We don’t want you to belong with us. We don’t want you to be parents that are also losing your children.” But the way they did it is, “You don’t belong here.” “No, you don’t belong here.” “No, YOU don’t belong here.” “No, YOU don’t belong here.” You see? And there are all these opposites. And how to really hold these differences? That for me is the practice of Bearing Witness, and the practice of working with relationship. And all the tools—we had to develop tools—and learn tools from other people. We didn’t invent council. Council was created by other people. And to this very day, there are many sanghas that have no interest in council. They don’t want to. They think, “Ah, it’s too much talk, and it’s too . . . You know, it’s not Zen. N.V.C, what’s that got to do with anything? It’s not Zen. Zen is sitting on your cushion in silence. That’s Zen.” Anyway, questions?
Audience member 1: One thing that came up for me is when you say that for example, the Palestinians and Israelis have to come together in a relationship, and I wonder whether they are already in a relationship, but they’re not bearing witness to those relationships? Eve: Yeah. I mean, I know the Jewish liturgy very well, because I was raised in that kind of family. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. So the word peace, “And God will make peace. God who makes peace in the heavens will make peace on earth for all Israel and all people. Amen.” That verse ends every single prayer three times a day. It ends the grace at the end of a meal. You know, it’s like a mantra. “God makes peace.” You know, so everybody knows that. Everybody recites that. But what’s the experience of it? What’s the experience of it? If this is the way you’re behaving, and “it’s always them,” and “they don’t belong here, they’re the killers, they’re this”? How do you work with each other? What is the practice of that? What is the Zen practice of relationship? What happens when you go home? What is the Zen practice of raising children; of getting along with your partner? What is that Zen practice? I mean certainly when I studied with Bernie, I did talk with him about situations in my life with other people. But he’s told me that he never had one interview—or dokusan—with his teacher in which he ever talked about his life. Not once. Bernie: It was either koans, or “how do we build the center bigger?”
Audience member 2: May I ask a question? If you say, “God makes peace,” this is God on the object level, it’s the outside. Somebody will do it. So my question is where is God? Eve: Yeah, but the idea is that if you are a godly person, you are fulfilling the work here on Earth. I mean that’s what is understood by that. It’s not somebody else is gonna do it. Maybe some people think that, but I think many understand that it’s our work to do that. And what is that work?
So I think this was a big area that was neglected in those years. Bernie: I just want to throw in one message, that in terms of Zen, the image of God, or that concept (in my opinion everything is a concept), that concept is our first Tenet—that which can’t be known. That’s all. So when we talk about the first Tenet of not knowing, that is the Buddhist concept of God in the Christian, or the Jewish, or the Muslim traditions. And within each of those traditions, there are schools of thought that say that God is that which can’t be known. So they’re using their language of God to relate it to our language of the first Tenet—in my opinion.
Audience member 3: I hear you saying that there’s opposites. There’s nothing but opposites. But, I’m seeing it as the same. I’m seeing the dilemmas. Bernie: You’re seeing what?
Audience member 3: The same. I’m seeing everything as the same. You know, and they are in relationship. They’ve been in this kind of relationship for a long time. And to me, the only thing that will change that adversarial relationship is for them to see that they are in the same boat. They’re both losing their children. They’re both suffering. They’re all . . . It’s the same. So it’s interesting.
Eve: Yeah, so that’s why this group, this bereaved parents group was started by parents who lost their children. We met the founder, Yiyzhak Frankental, who’s son was kidnapped by Hamas and killed. And when we met him, I remember he said, “I felt that I was a failure as a father, because my job as a father was to protect my son. And the way I raised him, with the idealness of Zionism, you know, ‘they are out to kill us, you go into the army’ and so I didn’t protect my son. I did the opposite. I actually encouraged him in the wrong way.” And then he met a Palestinian who also saw, and that was the beginning. And that group, they act as mirrors of each other. And they see that.
And I’m glad you raised that, because one of the things about relationships is that . . . This is my opinion. It’s not Rocky’s opinion, you know. It’s Tootsie’s opinion. And Tootsie’s opinion is that “Boy I can sit on that cushion a long time [in Tootsie voice], but there’s a lot of things I’m not gonna see.” You know, there’s a lot of angers, and there’s a lot of . . . or just a denial of areas where I don’t want to engage even. Places where I’m blind, where I’m deaf. And I don’t think I want to see them on the cushion. Or I might see them after many years. Where I’ll see them a lot faster is in relationship—a lot faster. You know, when I talk with my husband, and he says this, and I say that, I can see what comes up. And everybody here has that experience. Am I gonna be able to see those things just sitting on a cushion and meditating? That has not been my experience.
So what is wonderful is to see those things in relationship. And some of the way that I will work with it is on the cushion. Is being on the cushion the only way? No. Over these last years I have done therapy. We have done couples therapy. I have done different things. You know, wherever I can get different kinds of help, to help me work. And I also sit on the cushion. But what I learned from relationship, what I see in that mirror when I’m in that relationship, what I learned from my own students about myself—oh, it will take me many years to learn if I just sit on the cushion.
Audience member 4: So that could be, really another understanding of sangha. Because my feeling it was a kind of a failure that in our sangha we began to fight because of competition. And my idea was when I had this practice for a long time, and all the others too, so we should really relate in a good, peaceful, etc. way. And when one of the big fights last year started, I thought oh, something must have been wrong. But when I understand what you said now, I can understand sangha as a place where I really can see here. Like in a relationship or a sangha, here I have this, and here’s this problem, and I can deal with it. And I have a space where I can find ways how to be with all these differences—perhaps with fighting, but without destroying each other.
Eve: Yeah. So what we’re discovering is that even though we practice many years, you know, we’re not so different from other people. Really. You know, we still fight with our husbands or wives. We still fight with our parents. You know, we’re not some all-wonderful peaceful people. We really aren’t. For me, that’s not what Zen practice means. But what Zen practice means, and what sangha means, is that I’m going to engage with it. I’m going to look at that differences—the oneness and the differences in the oneness. And when I’m with sangha, I’m with other people who are committed to looking at it the same way, and working with it also. That’s what that means for me. It doesn’t mean that oh we’re wonderful, perfect people that have no trouble. Audience member 4: But it’s really different from my beginning. My beginning was practice, and then . . . Eve: Never fight again. Audience member 4: Yeah, something like that. Bernie: That was your concept? Audience member 4: Yes. Bernie: Yeah, all concepts are concepts.
There’s a koan that relates to this. The koan is What is sameness? And the intellectual answer to the koan is that sameness is differences. Sameness is the fact that everything, everything is different. Now how do you experience that?
So when I started the Auschwitz Retreat, as an example, every year I would talk about why I started it. And I kept hearing people over the eighteen years talking about the Auschwitz Retreat having to do with all about the Holocaust, and it was all about the Jews and Germans—it was about the Holocaust. And every year, at Auschwitz, I would talk about that that retreat was about the differences, and how we deal with differences. I would make that a huge point. And every year that would be forgotten, because it’s very difficult to deal with the differences. We want it all to be the same. Or we want it all to be no suffering. Or we want, you know, we want everything to go away. And life, to me, aint that way.
It’s like my own body, if I look inside my body, and I say oh yeah, I always like inside my body no germs come up, no diabetes systems to come up, no cancer cells to come up. What kind of game am I playing with myself? I’m denying that my body is all differences, and that my ears fall apart—now I need hearing aids. My teeth fall out, and I need a partial . . . Eve: [in Tootsie voice] Rocky, you’re all fukakt.
Bernie: I’m all fukakt!
[In Rocky voice] I think the practice is learning that I am fukakt, and not trying to be not fukakt. I mean if I’m gonna sit around worrying about how am I gonna be un-fukakt?
Eve: [as Tootsie] Forget about it.
Bernie: Forget about it.
But I could learn. I could learn, I think, how to deal with it, you know. What does that mean? It means try not to forget your teeth when you leave. [Audience laughs] I now have left my teeth in different places, but usually in Christian places. [Audience laughs] I’ve left my ears, my hearing aids, usually in Christian places. So I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving my body parts at different Christian retreats I attend. So I’ve got to live with that now. But bearing witness to it . . . Tootsie every time I’m ready to leave somewhere says, “Did you remember your teeth and ears?” So the solution came out of her bearing witness to the fact that I keep forgetting things all over the place. Anyway, the point I want to make is that the word sameness is very tricky. It’s very tricky. I’m gonna make it easy for you. Forget the word sameness. The only thing you can say is the same is that everything is different.
You know, I want to add because it’s such an interesting thought; Eve just wrote an article that went out on our e-mail about the trauma that’s in Israel. That her mother, when something happens like what’s happening now (and it doesn’t even have to be this big), her mother goes into shock. Because her mother’s out of the Holocaust, and the shock that she has is that it’s happening again. That’s got nothing to do with anybody saying, “Well, you know, you’re not realistic,” or whatever. My Rabbi, who just passed away—a beautiful man, Zalman Schachter, he says that all of Israel is in post-traumatic stress. That’s their condition. And everybody looks at them, and says, “Why did they do such-and-such?” It’s like looking at somebody in post-traumatic stress, and saying, “Why don’t you behave differently?” That’s not so simple. And most of the Palestinians are in trauma. So you’re dealing with two groups of people in trauma—and very deep trauma. And you say, “Why don’t they all stop fighting?” “Don’t they know that they should be at peace?” “Haven’t they read any good books about . . .” whatever. Because many of you work with people in stress, I mean, in the U.S. we have so many soldiers coming back in really bad post-traumatic stress, it is not so easy to tell those folks, “Hey, don’t worry. Do a little meditation—no problem.” Yeah, thank you. What’s much more important to me is (but it’s not the first twenty years, so we can’t talk about it), you brought up Bearing Witness . . .
Eve: I want to go. I want to make one other point, because it came up so much this morning. What about taking care of yourself? So for me, that still relates to relationship, which is what is my relationship to myself? And a few of you know this, that we’re trying to put together a collection of household koans, or personal koans.
Bernie: I just read it. It’s great. Eve: Thank you. I . . . Now I lost my thought. [Audience laughs]
It’s work that I like to do with people, personal koans, or the householder koans—not the monastic koans that we usually get. And a few people made contributions. There was one woman who sent me this koan. It was very interesting. She said the koan was Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about! That was the name of the koan. And the situation she described is that she came back (She lives in New Zealand) after being away for many years. And she brought her baby with her. And she was nursing the child. She was talking to her older sister, and talking about how wonderful it is to nurse. And her older sister said, “Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” So she said, “Of course, when that happened, I got very angry. I said, ‘You always talk like that to me. You always made fun of me. You always belittle me. Ever since we were children, this continues. And I hate you.’” Something like that. Now she has sat for many years. So after many years of sitting, she said, “I now know that that was wrong. I know the practice should have been, I should have let go of the self, and said to her, ‘Tell me, you’re my older sister, what do you think?” That’s what she said. “That is the practice that I should do.”
So I looked at this, and I thought well, that’s your opinion. That’s not my opinion. And I really wanted to be sure, so guess who I live with? I live with my own teacher. So I asked him, “This is what I think, Bernie [I said to him], I don’t think that’s the right thing.” Because I think that letting go of the self, in Zen, doesn’t mean that you neglect the self, that you don’t pay attention to yourself, that you eliminate yourself, and you’re just with the other person. The situation includes me. I can’t take my self out of it. And in her way, when she says, “Oh, OK sister, tell me what you think.” She has completely denied her own self. She has denied her feelings, her emotions. She has denied her upset. She has denied what is coming up for her.
But I realize many people think of that as Zen practice. Letting go of the self—that’s what it means. It’s not taking care of your self. And that was not my understanding. My understanding—and so I wrote her this, and actually it’s in my commentary on her koan in this publication that we hope will come out—that no, you enter into relationship, and what that means. That means that you may sit down and say to her not, “Oh you’re all crazy, and I hate you.” No, that isn’t going to do. But relationship, it’s not knowing, and now bear witness. “Well, I’m bearing witness to how I feel, and I’m upset, and I’m sad. I haven’t seen you in fifteen years, and this is how you talk to me? This is how I feel. Can you please tell me why you said this? Or how do you feel? What is this?” And come into a relationship. You know, but don’t leave your self out.
So you know, Bernie said, “Well, I think you can take care of others. You don’t have to necessarily take care of your self.” I feel, I think you have to do both at the same time. In fact, I don’t know how to do one without the other. So he has his opinion. I have my opinion, although Tootsie thinks, “You’re crazy. I’m right.” [Audience laughs]
[In Tootsie voice] What do you, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Rocky. Bernie: [In Rocky voice] That’s true. [Audience laughs]
I always say that this is my opinion, and that’s right now. So I have a different opinion now than when we talked. I don’t know when we talked, but I wouldn’t say that I had that opinion anymore. My opinions are always changing. If opinions don’t change, that means you think they’re right. And that’s, for me, a problem. If you think anything you say, or anything you hear, you think it’s right—including, for me things like The Bible, or the sutras. So in Buddhism, somebody has written, and said that the Buddha had four noble truths. I call it four noble opinions. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a truth. Somebody that calls something else as the truth, and justifies what they’re doing, that’s not a way of bearing witness. It’s just quoting somebody else.
And I don’t know of any emotions that could come up that I would call bad. So for example, I’m looking at this Gatha of Atonement—which of course I can’t read, because I don’t read German, but maybe somebody could read it. We’ve changed it. If you look on the Zen Peacemaker Order website, if you look at the Gatha of Atonement that we put up. We changed it to “Not holding on to my anger.” There’s nothing wrong with anger. It’s just another emotion, as far as I’m concerned. Every emotion is an emotion. It’s hanging on, getting stuck there, that’s another issue. And in terms of practice, bearing witness to those things is a good thing, to me. So, we do a lot of things at Auschwitz which promote a lot of anger, which then allows work to happen in council. For me the retreat would be wasteful if everybody just came and got blissed out, or talked about how wonderful . . . I don’t personally like for people to talk about how wonderful it is, because that’s not the point. The point is what are the issues that occur. And that’s my . . .
Eve: But again, to go back to this thing of taking care of your self. Like I say, when I was in Israel, and there was all these sirens, and missiles, and all this coming, and all this upset, and depression, and anxiety coming. It is clear to me, so I do what I can. And at the same time, if I don’t take care of my self, it’s trouble. So I have to do both. It was clear for me coming back on Tuesday, coming to Switzerland, and arriving, and someone talking about the weather. And I looked at them like, “Where are you coming from? I mean, who cares about the weather?” You know, it was like I was on a different planet. But there’s so much to work out, so much to process in whatever ways you find. Maybe it’s just by sitting for a long time, and really taking it in. Maybe it’s to go talk with someone. Maybe it’s to have a cup of coffee with someone. But I think both have to happen. In order to be able to go on, you have to take care of your self. You know, you have to know your self. And it’s good over years, what traps you fall into about this, “Oh I want to serve. I want to serve.” I mean that was really good, Bernie said this morning, “Serving is too dualistic.” Once you use “I have to take care,” it’s obvious that I’m included. I have to be included. So that’s a much better term. Once you see that, then you also, “Well how do I take care?” You know, and I learned some ways of taking care this time, because I learned from making a mistake when I didn’t take care, and what happened. So my opinion is that the two, you know, they’re so intertwined I can’t differentiate them. I think the problem is the differentiation from the beginning. “Oh first you’ve got to get enlightened, and then this, and then you can go enlighten the world.” Eh, that’s just too separate for me.
You know, do meditation, and get busy, and work, and watch what comes up. It’ll come up for you. It’ll come up in the world. There’s no inside, no outside. We know that. Those voices in Palestine, Israel, believe me there were echoes of that in me. In different ways, I could see it. I could hear it. For me there was no difference. So that didn’t mean that I just took care of others, and hoped that I would be taken care of by that. I had to do both. I don’t know any other way to go on and do this kind of work. So, we had different opinions about that. Anyway, we have maybe a few minutes. Any questions? And if not, we’ll have a break.
Audience member 5: One thing that came up, when you talk about using this word sameness. I think often in our language, almost every word can trigger a different kind of problem. One word for me that came up was when talking about Palestine; you talk about the word peace, because there’s so many different meanings. I see in relationships, and social work so many people needing harmony. So it’s an important need, but often there are other needs that can be satisfied that are much more important. Maybe there will never be harmony with Israel. There are other things between them. So the question for me, is what do you mean by this word peace? Eve: I’ll tell you my sense of it. So harmony is a funny word. It’s not a word that I like, because it evokes a picture of everybody smiling, and everybody loving each other. And I don’t think that’s what it is. It’s much more. You know, I told my sister, who lives in Jerusalem, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. It’s just totally crazy. I don’t know what to do.” And I said to her, “OK, I’ll give you an idea what to do. In the next year, go and meet one Palestinian, and form a relationship. You know, you talk about your daughter. They talk about their children. You talk about your work. They’ll talk about their work. You talk about your family. They’ll talk about their family. Just one—forget 1.8 million Palestinians on the West Bank—just one.” Because for me, it’s forming that relationship that even if tomorrow they signed a peace agreement—that’s a political document. It means very little. They already did that once. But they didn’t do this work—the work of the relationship. If each person met one person on what’s called “the other side,” and they’ll form a relationship. Bernie mentioned this morning that the Buddha talked about suffering. You know, we all suffer. And somebody who sits with me said, “Would I really, really bear witness to that? Would I really see the suffering that somebody else goes through?” It actually humbles me. Because I realize that that’s what we all do. It’s common to all of us. Whoever it is, we all want something else. We struggle, we’re disappointed, we feel bad. There’s a real brotherhood and sisterhood in that world. And so there’s something about bearing witness to that that just makes me feel like “Oh I’m just like Carl. I’m just like you. I’m really in my own way, I’m just like them.” You know, those are the small things we can do. I don’t know would you call it peace? Would you call it harmony? Those are big words. But just that thing, that kind of relationship, one to one, I think is a very big deal.
I feel like there’s a lot here. And what do you do when there’s a lot? You add more. There’s a koan about that. So we have other teachers here, and so I thought I would ask Roland, and Barbara, and Cornelius also to give their reflections on what they saw in early years of practice, and if they saw, you know what worked well, what didn’t work so well—just their opinions. Bernie gave his opinion about those years, and I gave mine, and perhaps you’d like to say something also.
Roland: So when we came in contact with Bernie, and Eve, and with the Peacemakers, I was in Sufi training. And Barbara, we did it together. . . .
The practice we did was really yogic practice. And this practice was to figure out, to imagine love; to picture love is like the sea, and to plunge into this love. That was this yogic practice. Then we did a second practice that was a mantra—day and night, day and night, all the time. And when you practice this like two months, three months, or half a year, it just goes on, and on. It’s easy, but in the beginning it’s very difficult.
So we came from a quite different perspective to what Bernie and the Peacemakers did in the first twenty years. We were sure that we have to find love, and we have to become love. But what is love? And after ten years—maybe earlier, or later—I realized that love is empty. And that was the moment when I met the Peacemakers, and I met Bernie.
So first when I began to imagine love—it started maybe with Barbara or my children—but the longer you practice this, the more you see. So I got very close to the same idea, but from another way. Not by sitting, or by attending Sesshins, but by sitting two, three quarters of an hour a day, and sharing, eating biscuits together, drinking tea, and sharing dreams.
And that was for me, ten years. And then I had to do a new step. And the new step for me was I had the idea to do koans. And then I met Bernie. And then I went to Auschwitz. And in Auschwitz, I worked the Three Tenets. And I thought that’s the way I want to go. I didn’t understand any word about the Three Tenets when I practiced there, but I had the feeling I know what it is. I only have to find out what it is. And that has something to do with this ten-year practice of love, and insights into what it could be.
So I came from far away, but I saw that Bernie’s heart is like the Sufi heart. I felt his heart. He tells now, “I was a strong teacher, and I was hard and tough,” but what I felt myself was this open heart, that is the goal of a Sufi.
So I don’t know if it’s really important where we start, where we begin. But we have to go, and where we go, we never know. But then for me, it was always important to have a teacher. And I knew to have a teacher, that’s something that’s crucial. I need that. And then Bernie refused to be a teacher, because he was at this moment in the phase he said, “I don’t teach anymore. I am a peer.” And we sat in a circle. And then the circle training started. And this is one of the qualities that Bernie, for me, represented. That he was all the time changing. Eve said he has every day new ideas. And you are never sure that today what he says is really true tomorrow too. And I think that’s great. And I could swallow that. You have to swallow that, if you don’t, then you get into trouble.
And the time that I started with Barbara meditation is when we had little children. We married. She had already two children. And within three years, I found myself with five children. And still there was a goal to do practice, to maybe train together. And we did. We did these all our life together. We went a so-called spiritual way. But we meditated beside our children. And we tried to integrate our spiritual life in our normal life, because we had no choice. And we had a beautiful grandmother who gave us the opportunity to go away for night meeting, or even Sesshins, or even go together with the whole family to Sesshins.
So for me, my idea is to now find a monastic way, because it wouldn’t have been possible for us to do this way together by this monastic structure. And I was very happy then, after the Sufi way that Bernie, and Eve, and all these people, a lot of teachers we met. I had several teachers, and I loved them all. There was a lot of love. But we trained in Sufism. I found in this heart, Zen. I don’t know why, but it was there.
And so I would say that the Three Tenets for me still are the basic . . . The more I understand what it is, the more I see how precious it is. And how useable, how possible it is to use it as a tool in the daily life.
So when I hear that the Zen that Bernie did, and all these people it was so tough, I know I wouldn’t have joined there. I was in another way, and I preferred other things. But I see still the beauty what it is—what this strictness, and this discipline has. And I still feel this in Bernie and Eve, and I still feel it in the sangha. The energy, in a way, I wouldn’t say everything has gone. I would say there’s still a beauty. I can’t describe it, but it’s o flower of different tools, and energies who are here. And for me, it gives me some good feeling to know that they did this path. And in a way, they did it for me. And they were always open, and they shared, and they were committed. I would say the commitment was there, and of course a bodhisattva only has ten, or let’s say a thousand arms. So there are limits. But there are a lot of arms. And still, I feel these arms. I feel this open heart, this open mind. That’s for me the most important is that, yeah I would say open mind.
This open mindedness is for me, I feel that I can through this open mindedness, I can be myself. And I can find myself. And Eve, during her talk, she mentioned “no fear.” And that has a lot to do for me, is no fear—open mind, and finding new solutions. When it doesn’t work, OK, change. Change the way, and go with the flow.
So, still I say Sesshins are good. Bernie has done hundreds. I did maybe ten, maybe a little bit more—OK, let’s say twenty. Twenty is good, maybe thirty. I only say everything that is here that they talk about had, and has its beauty. But if you relate to change, and if you really use it when the time is right, then everything is OK. And then we have to bear witness. We have to out of not knowing, to bear witness to let come up what is the right solution. And for me that’s so precious that I can say that discussions—let’s say a retreat, or a plunge—for me has a lot of flesh on the bone.
And more flesh on the bones—that is Sesshin, still sitting every day is crucial. I find it’s important. And sitting every day—enjoy as a tool with good energy, I think. It’s so nice. Why should we thing that sitting meditation is hard, or has to be hard? It’s just like when I don’t clean my teeth before going to bed, I can’t sleep very well. That’s it. So it’s something that I have found that is very helpful—I count on. And I also think, I have the idea that all this process has helped me to be happier. I’m sorry I have to say.
Barbara: For me, my experience of oneness were my pregnancies—for sure, a deep connection, a deep intimacy. And that did not end after giving birth. It was like pieces of me started to move around. Pieces of me got teeth. Pieces of me lost these teeth. They had belly pain, and I was with them. And they didn’t communicate. They could not speak. So I had to be very aware to watch them, to see what they needed. And there were quite a bunch of them. So I didn’t have time to think on myself, because all of them. I had two teenagers, and three little children, twins at the end. And everybody needed something, and everybody needed something different. And everybody got not enough, in a way. So there were a lot of hungry ghosts around me.
And at one point, one of my friends said, “You really look not so well anymore.” And she said, “You don’t have to pack anything, just make sure that Roland will take care for the children for the weekend. They will survive, and you will come two days with me.” And this weekend I went on it, and we did some sitting, and we did some Tai Chi. And I really felt that this was like a golden thread that saved my life in a way.
And immediately I started to do meditation. And for me, in the moments when I sat in the beginning, I often just cried because I felt myself so tired. It was not that I was sad, but I was so exhausted. So I think to take care of our selves is maybe different for women as for men. So for me, it was extremely important to have these moments where I could really feel my self, how I really was. Because I could relate better then with the family. When I was too tired, I was like shutting down my self, and I was really not so much in connection. So I really felt that it is so important to be alive, and to give answers to the life, and to all these needs. And that I also had to feel my self, and my needs—even when I didn’t have the time for very long meditation. So we sat with the children.
But I also had in this time, like the longing to real practice. And nobody told me that having family, and having children, that this was practice. I had the longing to really practice, because even as a child I always enjoyed like masses, and prayers. So I had this strong longing. And I had the feeling that I missed something on a certain part, because I could not really do that—what I heard was practice.
So there was also something in my Sufi school—I loved the Sufi school, because we did studies about mystics, which I really loved. We did family retreats where we could take the children with us, and the children had little groups where they had a lot of fun. And we could listen to the teaching. And we could sit. We could sit longer in this. So this I really enjoyed.
What I wanted to say, I lost my point.
Ah, yeah. I often heard, in this time, a sentence that my Sufi grandfather said, “At one point on your way to enlightenment in a way, you have to pass a hungry child. You have food, but you will not give. You’ll just pass.” And all the time when I heard that, it was like, “What? I’m at the wrong place.” It was always like I was so shocked. And then, when I met Bernie in 1990 in Auschwitz, and when I listened to his teachings, I felt that maybe I should immediately change the way, and follow this teacher, because he spoke of it’s OK to feel it—the hungry children. And it’s maybe not so OK to pass this child. Because my whole body said no to this step. So Auschwitz changed my life completely.
This was nine years after I met my Sufi teacher. Because there I sat in the circles and listened to all these different voices. It was very, very challenging very often, because they were really sometimes difficult statements that I had to listen to. But the good thing is I had to sit there, and to listen several days. And always, even when a person said something very difficult, on one point this person said also something that I could relate.
So it never ended without relationship, even when we had hard times, and real hard challenges. I remember once a very orthodox woman in my group, who said things that I was so shocked. But at one I had also a Palestinian in my group. And at one point she just spoke about her children, and about her fear that she could lose her children. And it changed everything for me, because I could immediately relate where her pain came from.
It’s so beautiful, this practice, really—to listen to each other, and to listen to our self also. So this was my beginning.
Cornelius: When I started sitting, I was working in a bank. I was working in an IT group, so computers. The beginning was nice, but every time it was more difficult for me to work there. And then I used Zen to be myself in another world. So telling me that’s not reality what I’m living here, the reality is different. So I had context about what I’m doing, so I thought. So I’m sitting for a better reality, something like that.
But now when I think about it, I think it’s normal. I think you always start having ideals. You always start having concepts. And I think it’s The Way that makes you understand that it’s not about concepts, but it’s about now, reality, radical acceptance of seeing what is happening at this moment.
And later on I was doing psychotherapy, to be a psychotherapist myself. I had to fulfill 120 hours myself, doing psychotherapy. And there I learned that it’s a very important thing as well, to do sitting and psychotherapy. But I came in trouble, because the psychotherapist told me it’s not very serious, what I’m doing on the cushion. And then people told me that it’s not very serious making psychotherapy—that it can all be done by sitting, just sitting. And I was in trouble. I liked doing the two things. And I noticed it was good for me. And I would still say it’s a good way to do those things.
At one point I noticed that it’s about the same—listening to people when I’m psychotherapist, and sitting there and listening to myself. It’s about the same attitude I found out. And so there was somehow a peace between those two parts of me, which I found out was important.
If you’re sitting in shikantaza, and just sitting—it’s still for me a little bit like the same attitude when I’m listening to somebody in psychotherapy, or in the dokusan room. And I found out that it’s a great challenge, and it’s a wonderful exercise to be in the position, and to listen in this way. And it was much more hard to do that with personal relationships, than in the dokusan, or in therapy, because I’ve got the robe, which helps me.
And so I thought about really what can help you, what can contain you, to help you to not only blame others, but to have this free contact to myself, to others, to the world. What can help you to have a peaceful place, a container to look at the truth, without pointing at somebody else with this finger.
And I found the third thing I’m doing, which is mindfulness training. And I think everything is like a pot of something very good to eat. And we don’t need to make one meal out of it. I think everything is very useful, and for something else. But in total, it’s helpful.
I remember, it was in mindfulness training, when somebody told me, “What about your hatred, and your anger when you’re seeing what is happening in Palestine? When you see what is happening in wars,” and so on. And I remembered when I was in hospital with a child which was very ill. And there was a moment when there was no anger anymore. So no bothering with the world, why this child, and not somebody else? All those things you have in your mind, and it was just stillness, and it was just being there. It was just very sad, and it was laughing as well, and it was just what it was. So it came to a point of essential. It became essential.
So I’m telling this, my answer, when they ask me, “What about hatred”, and so on, was I see it like shelves around a center. And when you’re coming to the center, it comes to the essence. It becomes essential. And why I’m telling this is because that’s what I realized in Auschwitz.
So when I started working with Peacemakers, that we are thrown into situations where it’s going to be essential. The same thing when I am visiting somebody who is dying. So there is no tra la la. It’s just coming to the point—well, not always, but in a lot of occasions. And that is what I feel is what we are doing with Peacemakers—that we are just coming to the point.
Eve: We have a few minutes. So, do you have any questions for the three people who spoke, for us?
Audience member 1: I think for most of us who started to practice, when I started I had the feeling that I could escape to a better place—that everything would get easier immediately, in a way. And the truth was it would even become more real, and sometimes even more difficult. So it was not that it was easy. The whole thing became more workable in a way, more real.
Audience member 2: My own experience, in the first ten or fifteen years it created more separateness than unity, because you’re sort of practicing something, but you don’t integrate it into daily life. You go to your meditation class, or you go to your Sesshins, and then you go back . . .
I would like people to be more supported by their Zen teachers from the beginning about the integration process in their daily life. But what comes up for me is an important part of those first years is I would have longed for in hindsight.
Roland: You can think that it takes time. And if you give this burden to the teacher, it’s like you would like to grow the grass quicker than it grows. So we really have to be patient with ourselves, and with the ones we are together in relationships. So, we need a lot of patience, with respect to time. Little steps for us sometimes are not enough. I see this giving more to giving back. But OK, it really takes time.
Cornelius: Yeah, I’m not sure. It’s good to mention that in my time, when we started, we didn’t have Bearing Witness Retreats. No wonder how it is when you start in Zen, and you go to an event like that—or something else, something that plunges you into the depths of the bearing witness process . . . I’m just wondering if there could be other processes that people start with meditation, then Zen or something else could be supportive there.
Eve: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that is an issue. Again, it always comes back to the monastic culture. So the skillful means came out of the monastic culture. So if you know, your child gets sick, you have this problem, that thing with, you know, the house and work, a lot of these new things have to be developed in the West. And I think we are doing that more, as the years pass by. But if you started years ago, as Bernie described, and other people, for sure you didn’t find that. What you found was a more monastic framework that was not ready to deal with the situations you described. That was my experience.
Cornelius: I was in Japan last year, and I spent some time in a small Rinzai Zendo. . .
And one of her jobs was she took priests of the Rinzai temple on tours to the U.S., and to Europe to show them how we are practicing Zen in the West. They knew that the monastic process in Japan was not working anymore. . . .
Audience member 3: I’d like to share my experience with my first teacher. We had a great Sesshin. There were many people, fifty people. The talks were about peace, and taking action, and really not stopping in the dokusan room. And at the end of the Sesshin, I had political things with me. It was an initiative against export of war material from Switzerland. And what I experienced was almost nobody signed. I was like, “Whoa?” For me, it was so obvious. Of course you can sign to the concept of talking about peace and action. But it’s your acknowledgement of Zen. So I talked to people. And I remembered that Pia, she signed right away. And she started to talk with the students—many long-term students.
And what I thought from then on, is like these are like two separate things. We do koan practice. And even teachers who say, “What are you doing with that koan in your daily life?” And if something comes up that is against my political views, or is confronting me, maybe that part is missing—the political part in Zen training. I don’t know. Maybe what we talked before was the psychological part, it was missing—the ethical training. . . . So I just wanted to throw that out.
Audience member 4: It came up for me that I come really from another learning. Years ago I began studying with a teacher. It was a personal crisis for me at that time. And I happened to get to know a teacher that was Japanese. And he was trained in Japan. He was also trained in Zen. When he came to Europe, he was focused on family work. Like family massage, he was a healer. So with meditation, there was also always massage. And his focus was just very simple—just how to massage the children, how to also touch each other. He spoke of relation. And for me this was wonderful in this group, this family group. And I also got interested in Zen, and Japanese Zen. He was very shocked about that. . . .
And I also came to this Zen Peacemakers Circle, because I found this family. I like the Zen training very much, but somehow I missed the power of being in relation with each other. And this family feeling I found in the Zen Peacemakers Circle. And so for me this is just a wonderful gift. And this Zen tradition we have is also this focus on relation.
So today’s point was the middle twenty years, which is taking the practice now outside of the zendo—not leaving the zendo, but in some way taking it out to other spheres of life. So there’s two things that come up for me. And the first is something that I already talked about last year, and we did a retreat about that, which is the householder life.
So, you know there are a lot of great adventures—I think of the whole Greyston time of building businesses, and not-for-profits as practice, and also as an adventure. And then the rest of us think, “Oh, well we have children. We have aging parents. We have jobs.” But actually every single one of those areas is a place for practice. And this I think is the big deal in the West right now—that after two thousand years of monastic practice, I think it’s up to us to develop new means of waking up, and helping others awaken in the life that we ourselves live—not as monks.
So for instance, those of you who know something about koans . . . You know, all those koans. A monk said to Joshu, “Give me a teaching.” And Joshu said, “Have you eaten your breakfast?” And the monk said, “Yes.” And Joshu said, “Wash your bowls.”
You see those things, they’ve come to us as some kind of a . . . You know, it’s like a story, or for me it’s like when I read Shakespeare. You know so much of Shakespeare has become these aphorisms, these sayings that are repeated so many times. If you read Hamlet, it’s like half of it is going to be very familiar to you, because people say those things all the time. So sometimes I catch myself reading Shakespeare, and I say, “Ah, he’s using a cliché.” And then I think to myself, “No, no. He’s the original!” He was the original, afterwards it became a cliché.
So in some ways it happened with those koans. They almost sometimes become clichés. But we forget that when they arose, they arose out of very close circumstances. So there were these monks studying together, and there was a teacher. And the teacher knew the students. He knew them. He saw them. They lived together. They ate together. They sat together. So when a monk said, “Give me a teaching,” the answer was customized to that person in that situation. It wasn’t just a cliché. It wasn’t, “Here I’ll hit you.” Why? You know, where did this hitting come from? Or where did this shouting come from?
And our job, in some way, and we have it, is to look at our own situations and say, “What are our koans?” So when Bernie said that the goal is “How do you help people awaken, everywhere, and in all the areas of life?” You know, if you’re living with someone, and you go home, if you’re a real bodhisattva (and we take those vows at the end that we’re going to help all beings awaken), then it isn’t like you did your job because you went to sit in the zendo. You’re now going home. And when your husband or wife says, “What did you do today?” What are you going to say? And what are you going to say that may help them awaken to the oneness of life?
You see right then, there’s a koan. Right then, if you are ready to plunge into it. See, so those monks were ready to plunge. They had their teachers. They knew that their teacher is going to say something, maybe give a turning word. So they were ready to plunge. You know, what does he mean by that? What is that?
So imagine that we, in our home, you came back from here. You go home, and somebody will ask you at work, at home, your friends, “What did you do at Felsentor?”
“Well, you know, they’re high up. And you know, they have nice rooms, and the food was pretty good. And there were these two weird teachers from the States . . .”
So you could do like that. Or you could say [snaps]. So what answer am I going to give that is going to awaken someone? Or do something? Serve somebody in some way; gonna take care of this whole thing?
So that’s when I started a compilation of our own householder koans. And the idea is your home, and your situation, what comes up for you that is like the old koans? Which means what is other for you? Where is there a situation that you stay away from? What are those things where, you know there’s a call, but you can’t respond. Or you don’t know how to respond? That’s your koan.
And if you’re ready to work with it the way that they worked with it in the old monasteries, I think it’s going to be as effective in helping people awaken as those old koans. And there are some people here who contributed to that collection of householder koans.
But the point is that in every area of your life, there is the opportunity to do the kind of work Bernie talked about this morning—helping everyone awaken. And it’s a brand new field. It’s like a start-up. It’s a start-up, really. It hasn’t been done. What are the new ways of doing this? What do we do with people who don’t meditate? Do we say, “Ah, you’re out of luck. You’re never gonna awaken.”? What do we do?
You know, when he talked about Greyston, none of those people came to the zendo. And the way the zendo was done then, there was no reason for them to come. You know, they were poor. They looked at us, and we were in silence like that. They didn’t understand it. Because what they needed was talking. They needed support. They needed to be there for each other. So they would go to these big churches, and there would be these great choirs. And they would sing songs, and they would help each other. And a preacher would preach, and inspire them. And that really is how they took care of themselves. They liked silence. Some of them really enjoyed five or ten minutes of silence. But did they really want to be in silence for an hour, and go to weekend retreats where it’s all silent? And was that the thing that was going to take care of them? I’m not sure.
So that, you go back to not knowing, you see. I think, “Oh, I know this is for everybody.” But is it? Or is there some other way to show people that they’re all one? And maybe it doesn’t involve meditation. Maybe it involves something else.
So it’s a very new time for us. And I think it’s a very exciting time, especially for what I call laypeople, or householders—people who are not monks.
So that’s one thing.
Bernie: As Eve was talking, I thought of a few things. One is today, as you know, was the funeral for a Pia Gyger. She was a sister, and the mother of her order, St. Katerina Werk for a long time. She changed it. You all know her history. Some may not know, if they’re not from this area. But when she started it was cloistered, and they’re in habit. And she changed everything. And she changed the whole group, St. Katerina Werk, to include first non-Catholics, other Christians, and then to include men. She broadened it quite drastically, and also did a lot of social action work.
And she told us many times that that period in which she was changing everything, she almost died—that literally it almost killed her. The stress of criticism, as you know, that’s radical for the church, what she was doing. And then she falls in love with a priest, a Jesuit. He’s still around. And they’ve been a couple for forty-one years.
And when we first met them (I don’t know how long they continued), they had gone to Paris. In the beginning of their relationship they’d gone to Paris. And they actually discussed leaving—he was a Jesuit, she was St. Katerina. They decided not to leave their orders—and to be a couple. But in their language, not to be a “genital couple.” But they were deeply in love. And when we first met them, they had been going every year back to Paris, where they honeymooned, for their anniversary. And they both finished Zen studies. They both studied in Japan, one finished in Japan, with the same teacher as Cornelius’s teacher. So Nicholas is an uncle in that Sanbo Kyodan, to Cornelius. Pia studied in that, but she finished with Aiken Roshi, who also was part of the Sanbo Kyodan. So I’m also related to all of them.
Nicholas first met me on the streets. I was doing a street retreat, and a Jesuit brother of his (American) said, “My teacher’s doing a street retreat.” And Bob said, “I’m gonna go join him.” Nicholas said, “Can I come along?” So that’s when I met Nicholas. He came to join that street retreat—the second, or the first (I don’t remember) that I did. And then he invited me to do the street retreats in Zurich, to be part of a Christian/Buddhist conference. And we did that.
And then the two of them spoke to me, and asked could they also get dharma transmission from me, because they were teachers. They were established. They had groups. But they wanted to be connected to a lineage that was doing social action. And they loved a phrase that I used at that time, and they kept repeating. And Sunday I did a keynote talk for Zen in the West, and I think it was Anna who brought it up again. She said, “Can you explain the new wineskins?”
What I had said—this is maybe twenty-five years ago now—that what’s needed is new wineskins. And they said, “Yes! We need that.” And in the church also, not just in the households, but the church needs new wineskins. And of course they were creating new forms.
That’s what my second twenty years was all about. What are the new containers for the broader spectrum? But when you talked, I just wanted to bring out that it’s not just the householders, it’s the whole monastic forms that need new wineskins.
Eve: But Rocky you know what I want to ask you?
Bernie: Yeah. No, I don’t.
Eve: What’s a genital couple?
Bernie: A genital couple is a couple that fucks around.
And a non-genital couple doesn’t do that. They kiss, and they hug, they cuddle. They just don’t fuck around. And that’s what they decided to do. But still, as far as the church is concerned, that’s not a good thing to do.
Eve: On that note, OK, so, the other thing . . . Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have asked that question.
So the other thing is going back to the story of Greyston—so I have many wonderful memories of Greyston, and how this group of Zen practitioners . . . Oh, I remember how I first came on the Zen Community of New York, which was that a friend wanted to take me there, because there was this teacher there from Brooklyn. And he thought I might like him. So we went, and we thought we were going to do zazen. And it was a big mansion, and a beautiful place. Not like this, but green, and in a very wealthy neighborhood. And to our surprise, there was no zazen that evening. Instead they were having a community meeting in the dining room, to talk about (to my great amazement) social action. This is ’85.
So the bakery had already begun—the business. And they were already serving food in the shelter. But now there was discussion about hiring more people for the bakery from the neighborhood. Originally it was all Zen people. It was members of the community. And then it was, “we’re gonna build apartments for homeless families. And there’s gonna be a childcare center, and there’s gonna be this, and that.”
So here’s this group, like you and me, there are fewer than here. There were fewer people than are in this room. And they weren’t particularly talented, or businessy. They weren’t bakers. I mean they learned it all. They weren’t naturally more talented than anybody else here. And they just said “OK.”
So there was a visionary man, who said, “This is what I want us to do.” Like he said, “We opened this business. We had retreats. Now we’re gonna do social action. We’re gonna develop this sphere, and that sphere, and that sphere. We’re gonna develop new things. We’re gonna do it all.”
And they said, “Oh, OK.” Nobody really believed it. But OK. And they did. So that’s the thing. And not everybody, because as Bernie said, many people, they didn’t want to leave that beautiful place. We left that place to go into a very poor area, full of drugs, and prostitution, violence, and killing, all kinds of things. And so many people didn’t come; because they didn’t feel their cars would be safe there when they parked. We had a zendo on top of the bakery, but it wasn’t like this. There were trucks going up and down.
Bernie: And it wasn’t like what we had, which was a mansion overlooking the Hudson River. Half the membership left, quick. They were afraid to make that move.
Eve: They were afraid.
Bernie: I can’t blame them.
Eve: Right. And there was a paint factory with illegal immigrants across. It was full of smells, very poisonous smells. And a meat factory on one side (could you imagine?) with the carcasses hanging out, and next door was an all-night bar.
Bernie: I loved it.
Eve: Loved it. It was great. You know they went out all . . .
Bernie: Not just a bar, believe me.
Eve: Yeah, so at 4:30 in the morning, you know we did weekend sesshins there. So you could never sleep at night because the music would be blasting through the walls. And at about 4 in the morning, we always kind of met together. Why? Because that’s when we woke up, and that’s when they went to sleep. It was very simple.
And we were really religious. We had our robes on. They must have thought we were crazy. And we thought they were pretty crazy. So there we are in our black robes, drinking coffee before the first thing. And they’re coming out of the bar, happy. And there’s a lot of women there, beautiful clothes hanging on to the “Johns.” And saying, “Come with me, I’ll give you a good time baby.” And all these people are meeting. It’s fantastic. And they’re looking at us in our black. And they don’t think there’s anything weird. And we’d look at them, and they’d say, “Hi, how are you doing?” We said, “We’re fine. How are you doing?” OK.
And that’s fine, you know. So it all came together. So there’s a lot of stories about Greyston. And also a lot of difficulties—everything that people come up with. You know, a lack of energy, a lack of money, things going wrong, things you count on and then it doesn’t happen, and then cancellations, and postponements, and on, and on. And it takes much longer than you think. And you’re tired, and you want to give up. But you don’t want to give up. And Bernie does not give up.
So that’s what it was.
Bernie: I want to mention one thing. What I’d also like to mention, in those days when I was doing that—you know I was in the early days of Zen, So I was friendly with all of the other Zen teachers, and most of the other Buddhist teachers—the Tibetan folks, the Insight Meditation folks. And what they would ask me—they knew about Greyston, we started Greyston—and what they would all ask me is am I teaching them to meditate? So the model that was in their head was the first twenty-year model. Was I bringing that to this inner city? That’s what they all wanted to know. How am I getting them to meditate?
So the wineskins that they had were the wineskins from this first twenty years. And they thought that’s what you’ve got to bring. And what I told my teacher—I remember it was a little shocking to him—I told him that I am gonna let go of everything I know—get into the not knowing—and wait for people from what we call “the hood” (neighborhood, it’s called “the hood”), wait for someone from the hood to arise as a leader. And I will learn from him what new wineskins we can make.
He said, “You can’t do that. I taught you all this stuff. You gotta teach.” I said, “No, I don’t want to do it that way.”
So that whole process started, again, with the Three Tenets. I let go of everything I knew. And waited for some people to pop up. And I watched what they did. And out of that started developing new ways of being. And we have Greyston, that you’ll see is quite unusual. But that was a major, major point, in terms of spirituality—that all of the teachers were expecting me to bring tools, and ways out of that first twenty years into this very poor neighborhood.
So in a sense—I just thought of it now—that’s very common. That’s called missionaries. That’s what the missionaries did. They go into some area, and bring their stuff. They didn’t go into an area and see what’s the deal here, and bear witness to what’s going on, and develop new forms. That’s exactly what it was. And these were all people that didn’t like the idea of missionaries. But they fell into that right away. That’s what you’re supposed to do, man. We spent a lot of years learning our things. Now we gotta teach the poor people and the heathens our ways.
Anyway, that’s the first time I thought of that in this context. So, thank you.
Eve: You know what that reminds me of? I remember going up once with one of the women up front. She was a help with the money, and she worked in the neighborhood. Her name was Hermina. And so we went out drinking one day.
Bernie: She was our treasurer, or our assistant treasurer.
Eve: Right. And she says, “I don’t understand what’s with you Zenies [that’s what they called us]. You know, you all kind of have these weird clothes.” Some of us had the clothes like you’re wearing, only it’s beautiful, it’s clean, it’s ironed. You don’t want to know what ours looked like, especially Bernie’s with that yucky brown, the threads all coming out and everything. “How come you always wear dark clothes? And you wear those dumb jackets, and you’re so serious. You’re so serious, girlfriend. What’s wrong with you, girlfriend?” You know, it was like they were reacting to what is this separation? Even with everything Bernie says, we still cling to the old forms. Why would we wear a Japanese Samurai jacket? Why, in Yonkers, why would we wear that? You know, because that’s what we were used to doing. And everything was so serious, and this is our practice. Oh forget about it! You know what I mean? It’s like she said, “Hey girlfriend, why don’t you just let loose, man?” That’s what she was saying to me, “let loose.”
And the other thing I remember, there was the front part, sales, administration, and in the back people were baking. Now in the back, if you were on the baking floor you had health regulations. So everybody was in whites, and you had to cover your hair completely. If you had a beard or mustache, you had to cover it. So it was so interesting that the minute you walked on the floor, everybody started looking alike, because they were all wearing the same thing, and with the same kind of covering. So you could see who was white, and who was black. You know, you could see that, but very often it wasn’t so simple to see. And they were all listening to the same loud rap music on the intercom. And you know, they were all busy with the machines, and the dishwashers, and the ovens. You know, it was all mixed, and yes, there were some very serious Zen people there. There were PhDs from Harvard there. There were all kinds of people there. And they were all mixed up together, and it was so alive. It was so alive.
Bernie: We all had many different jobs at Greyston. And there was a period where I’d come down at the end of office hours, to help wash the pans. There was a lot of pans to wash. And I remember this guy who was hired to wash these pans. We had a few people like that, but this guy in particular had been a real tough guy. And one day he says to me, “Bernie, I gotta ask you something. I’ve changed a lot coming here.” Because he would never have thought months before he got the job that he would do that kind of work. I mean he would sell drugs for a lot of money.
Eve: Yeah, he was a big dealer.
Bernie: I mean to do washing pans for a relatively small amount of money. He says, “I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve made a lot of changes. But I’ve got to tell you, when somebody says something that angers me, I want to off them.” What that means is I want to kill them. He says, “How do I change that feeling from coming up?” So those were the koans we dealt with. He was talking about different kinds of koans. That’s a koan, that’s very, very direct, and powerful. What do we do when somebody gets us angry? We have very simple things, somebody gets us angry and it’s eh. But it’s not that often that we get angry and what we want to do is kill the person that angered us. But for many people around the world, that’s the normal thing. You anger me, I kill you. That’s what we do.
Eve: But you know, some of us Zen people also wanted to kill each other.
Bernie: For sure. So those are gritty koans. You know, they’re not maybe such a nice world, but they’re an important world. Because those in one degree or another are very important koans I think. And it was very important. So I called that work practice, because we worked together, with the Zen students and the people off the street. They all worked together, and had to deal with all the stuff that came up. And a lot of stuff came up. Just like it comes up at Auschwitz. So it came up there—on the floor. And why did it come up there? And why does it come up in Auschwitz? Because they’re different cultures. The cultures are so different. And it’s not easy to deal with different cultures. That was part of the beauty for me of the growth of Greyston. And the other part of course was that we were providing housing, and job-care, and jobs, and people were going off of welfare, and all kinds of things were happening.
Eve: And AIDS-care.
Bernie: And when the AIDS epidemic started, we were right there to build housing for folks with AIDS, a health center.
Eve: You know there’s a lot more to say, but it’s already 8:05, so I think it’s better to get questions.
Audience member 1: I’ve got a question. When you got rid of the old skins, the old wineskins . . .
Bernie: We didn’t get rid of them. That’s important. We created new ones. So the ones I had, I put aside in working there. I still would go home to our Zen community, which happened now to be in that same building. And in our zendo we were using the old skins. But with the people in the neighborhood we weren’t. Just a minor point, we didn’t get rid of them.
Eve: Actually circles are new wineskins in the zendo—in a zendo environment—don’t you think?
Bernie: Oh, definitely. When I was taught—and I’m sure you were too—we weren’t allowed to talk to each other about our practice.
Audience member 1: OK, that was the question, but what did you do instead? Because the wineskins is something you get out of, and the first twenty years I suppose it was important to have forms—to be sure that you are doing right. And you were sure, and were able to let them go, to find new forms. What was the difference between a social worker and what you did?
Bernie: The difference was the Three Tenets. That is the difference between what we were doing and what a bakery would be doing, or a therapist or any social worker would be doing. The work we were doing theoretically was supposed to be based on the Three Tenets. Was everybody accomplished and doing that? No. Because remember, the Three Tenets you’ve first got to put aside all that you know and really totally listen. It’s hard to do. So most people doing that don’t do such a great job. But that was the training. And that’s where I would try to catch people if it looked like they weren’t doing that.
But I don’t know any form that we gave up. You asked the same question. We didn’t give up old forms. We brought in new ones. I gave up—I disrobed. So that might be called giving up an old form. I decided at some point that the robes were not helping me do my work. They were hindering my doing my work, and I disrobed.
But all those initial techniques, many things got modified. So when I was training in Los Angeles, the schedule was such that it destroyed families. I mentioned that. So we start changing the schedules. What time do you sit in the mornings, and evenings? And we start changing things, so that families could still be families. You didn’t have to be a monastic to meet our schedule. So that’s changing the schedule. And bringing the form of counsel into the Zendo was huge when we did it, because the rule when I trained (And I can’t remember if I kept that same rule. I probably did when we started in New York.), but certainly when I came to L.A., when you came to sit, you had dokusan with the teacher (interview with the teacher), but you were not allowed to talk with anybody else about what was going on with you, in terms of the Zendo work, the practice. And the practice was called the sitting. When you said “practice,” you meant sitting.
I shifted the word practice, and I still have to explain that to mean trying to experience the oneness of life, to experience non-duality. So it could be work, it could be anything. So I expanded the word practice. And we brought in counsel, which is a sharing. And for me, counsel, and the Three Tenets are very intertwined. Listening from the heart is our first Tenet—not knowing, deeply listening. Many people when they listen to somebody are judging them right away, and saying, “it’s this, it’s that.” And then speaking from the heart is bearing witness. So what’s happening, and what then comes up—not planning.
And in fact, Joan Halifax is the one who really developed the way of counsel in this country. She brought it from the North American Indians a long time ago, the Lakota tribe. But there are others—the Quakers have a circle; there are many other kinds.
Eve: More questions?
Bernie: Yeah, what was the point I was making with circle?
Eve: They’re new wineskins that you brought in to the thing.
Audience member 2: I have one question of example I know. We are family. How we can practice? How we can take this work, how we can join your work in such a country, in such a situation? We have to deal with our family. And also I would like to offer my personal offering. How can I do that? Is the koan for me to the person I think for me the work will be different. We have to meditate on different point. How in just a short time to practice myself in when I am listening? When I hear your past, how can I connect it with my past with your work? Is any koan for me where in this moment I also can practice it?
Eve: You know, as a couple, I really recommend a lot for couples to do council with each other. It’s a wonderful practice. And when you do it long enough, you really are able to say some very difficult things to each other. So when Bernie and I fight (which never happens) . . .
Bernie: Rocky and Tootsie, they fight all the time.
Eve: Never happens, you know. When we argue, one of us is gonna say to the other, “Well, should we do council?” Exactly what we do here, so you can take that home and do that. And I don’t know how old your child is.
Audience member 2: Six.
Eve: Already at that age people are teaching their children to do council. So that once a week, you know, the whole family gets together and they learn how to do council. And it’s a practice, and children have very short attention span, but they start learning and getting used to it that once a week this is what they do. And they begin to see themselves that, “Oh this is a space where I can maybe say some things that I don’t feel safe saying in other places.” But I think especially for a couple, it’s a fantastic practice.
In terms of how you can connect to our work, so I think Bernie was going to talk about the Zen Peacemaker Order Sunday morning. And there may be some answer to your question then. But I would say more directly, you know, you have to do whatever work you’re gonna do. You’re gonna make your offering. You know, so Bernie makes his offering, I make my offering. It’s very different. We have very different paths, he and I. We aren’t always together or anything. And you’re gonna make your offering, and that’s gonna be your work. Where it may come together is in these big containers—these new wineskins. So something like a Zen Peacemaker Order is a new container—a new wineskin to bring together and support people who want to do this kind of work based on the Three Tenets. And Pia Gyger was absolutely vociferous, meaning very eloquent, and insistent about the need for healthy structures, and good structures that help people do their work. She always talked about it. And the Zen Peacemaker Order I hope is going to be such a structure, that will bring people together who want to do work like that. And they’ll do different work, in different countries, and different continents. But there will be some things that they have in common, and support them.
Audience member 3: . . . your experience, and how it started—the change from the first twenty years to the second. And . . . mentioned that there were difficulties, and my question was what made you not to give up? Was it really only this one experience? I can’t believe that. And the other thing is I love my . . . and I think “Wow, that’s it.” And two days later I have a lot of doubts, and I let . . . and I go the old ways. And for me it’s a question of trust. Can I really trust in what arises? And is it only fear to go in new ways? But one of the things is I think of it’s only feeded by old patterns. It’s not really a new thing. And don’t trust in it to your things that you’ve done for a lifetime.
Bernie: The first one’s easy to answer. The second one was?
Eve: What happens when you have your self-doubt?
Bernie: Yep. So my experience is that always there is self-doubt. But I like to look at it in a positive way—that that’s what drives you to resolve that doubt. Some people say (the first time I read this was Yamamoto Roshi), he defined kensho—a great enlightenment experience—as being “one in which there is no more doubt.” And that is extremely, extremely rare. Until then, no matter what’s happening, whether you have enlightenment experiences or you don’t, you’re gonna have doubt. Now his teacher talked about doubt as one of the three elements that’s needed for practice. Doubt is one, determination is another. I have this doubt, but I’m determined to resolve the doubt. And the third is that you do it. You don’t give up.
And then you ask, “How did you not give up?” That’s easy to answer in a way, because I don’t think you can teach somebody not to give up. Some people don’t give up. Some people give up. Some people give up for one, and start again. I don’t know. In my life, I’ve never found it interesting to give up. I get interested when things aren’t working, and things are falling apart. That’s exciting for me. And I want to see how to make it work. But that’s just a weird characteristic I have. I don’t know, I think I was born with that, you know. I was just this little baby, and I couldn’t reach my mothers breast. And I wouldn’t give up, man. I wanted that breast, so I could get started . . .
And it continues now. Now I don’t know what to do about the Middle East, but I’m not gonna give up. And the bakery, and Greyston almost collapsed a number of times, and I didn’t give up. I just kept going. And I think one of the characteristics of an entrepreneur—they don’t give up. And they don’t look at failure as a problem.
Eve: Can I say something, Bernie? I think that if we’re lucky . . . You said that Bernie had an experience that took him into that. So I didn’t have that experience. But I think what happened to me may be more common to most people than what happened to him. And that is that as time passes, you know, you really get finally that it’s not about you. You know, you just kind of get it. And it’s a slow process, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t take care of yourself.
You know, in the Greyston years one of my big koans that I used to bring was what about me? Yeah we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them—what about me? That was a very important koan. It’s like everyone is being taken care of. You know so then people get into their dramas, “Oh but it’s not good enough—I failed again—I thought I was doing it again, I failed—I knew I shouldn’t do it—catastrophe is around the corner—blah, blah, blah.” And it’s all very entertaining, and upsetting, and all that.
I’m sorry if I told this story, but it’s stayed with me for so many years this story. I always tell Bernie what was the shortest Dharma talk he ever gave? And that was when we first got a building to develop as apartments for homeless families. We had no money. We went into debt. You know, it was just a mess. So we got this old, old building. And the roof was leaking. And it had been abandoned and locked up. And a few people—I wasn’t one of them—but Bernie, they opened it up. We owned it. We were able to open it up.
So that night, he sat down and he gave a dharma talk. And he said, “Look folks, today we went into [the address was 68 Warburton Ave] . . .” And we went into the entrance, because it’s all dark, there’s no electricity. The floor is terra cotta floor, very old, full of water. There’s a staircase going up. And at the bottom of the staircase is a dead dog. I guess somebody locked the dog there, and left it. So there was this carcass, you know, a long time it’s been left like this. So he said, “You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna take out . . .” And people did. They took out the dead dog, and buried it with a Buddhist ceremony. “And we’re gonna clean up the floors. And we’re gonna renovate the whole building. We’re gonna change the roof, so there’s no more holes, and no more rain coming in. Fully renovate the building—there will be eighteen beautiful apartments. There’ll be a big child-care center. It’s gonna be the beginning of everything. Then we’re gonna build more apartments. We’re gonna do more of this, and we’re gonna do more of that.” Now at that moment we were broke. But it didn’t matter. You know, we had no money. “We’re gonna do all this. And then you know what’s gonna happen after years? Some of you are gonna leave. This is gonna happen. You know, there’ll be a big financial recession. So after about fifty or a hundred years, we’ll be dead, and the place will be abandoned, and it will be empty again. And it will fall into disrepair, and there will be leaks coming from the roof. And finally families will just leave the building. And somebody will lock a dog, and abandon a dog inside. And it’s gonna remain like this for another fifty years. And then maybe another person one day is gonna buy the building, open the doors, see the dead dog.” And that was it. And that’s our work.
And you know, it’s always stayed with me, because he wasn’t saying, “Please don’t have big expectations like you’re going to solve the problems of the world.” You know, really, let’s get real here. There’s a flow here. It’s not my flow, and I don’t think it’s Bernie’s flow. It life. Life is flowing. You know, it’s juts a big fall, and it’s flowing, and you know, we make such a big deal about ourselves. “Oh my God, can I do this? Can I write this? Can I do this? Am I enlightened enough?” And this, and this, and we cry, and we laugh. And that’s OK. That’s wonderful.
But you know, at some point it’s not about that. And when we start getting it more, and more, it’s not about that. It’s just about the water, just flowing, man. Just go with it. You know, find something where you fit in, and then just go with it. Don’t worry. Just don’t worry. That’s all.
Bernie: That sounds like good advice.
Audience Member 4: I had a question about bearing witness. When you cultivate to continue bearing witness, is it the same as cultivating compassion?
Bernie: OK, so what I mean by bearing witness, it has many words in English, and when you translate it, we all know that the translation in German is not such a good translation. What I meant when I came up with Bearing Witness as the second Tenet, I meant shikantaza. So what is shikantaza? Shikantaza is a Japanese word. Shikan means just. Za means sitting. And Ta is a grammatical term that makes whatever else is in that word emphatic/strong. And to do shikantaza, that’s to be in a state of non-duality. It has nothing to do with compassion, or any other label. Because any label takes you out of non-duality. So it’s just being in that state where there’s no subject, no object—the state of non-duality.
So I was looking for . . . how do you translate shikantaza? You can’t translate it as just sitting. That doesn’t work. You can translate it, but it’s clumsy, as JUST SITTING! That’s what shikantaza is. And in that state, there’s no duality.
So that’s what I was meaning by the word bearing witness. So maybe that gives you a better sense of bearing witness. So when we say shikantaza, to just sit and whatever arises, arises, let it be, become it, let it flow away, you know. So in the practice of bearing witness of the Three Tenets, we become the situation.
Koan study . . . you guys do koans with Frank?
Audience Member 4: Yes.
Bernie: You do koans? So koan study is the study of bearing witness. You have to become the koan. And as long as you’re not the koan itself, and you’ve come to the teacher with a description of what you realized, that’s no good. In the best of all worlds, what koan study is about is you’ve got to present yourself as the koan. And if it’s many people, you’re presenting yourself as many people. You’re presenting yourself as the non-dual situation that’s described in that koan.
So in life, the same thing—to bear witness to life, is to bear witness to all of the elements, without any dualistic thinking. And that’s why it’s not simple, and why we create practices to help you learn how to do that. That’s just the same reason why they created a koan system, to learn to do it through that.
But I want to add one little thing, because the koan system is not so old. It only goes back a certain ways. And before that it was what Eve was describing. You’re in the monastery, and sometimes the monastery was just little individual huts on a mountain. The mountain might have had a hundred monks. They were living there separately, and they would gather to hear the teacher talk. But their practice came out of the stuff that happened in their lives, on that mountain. And as she said, the teacher knew each of them. They were living together. And things would happen. They would stub their toe on a rock. And the teacher would work with what was going on. Then there grew a period where people weren’t living together like that. And somebody whose name happened to be Hakuin developed a system, a koan system. Using a lot of those same incidents as things for the new people that are going to study to train with. So now they’re working on not things that are happening in their lives, but things that came out of the stories of other people’s lives.
And some people got very upset that that was gonna kill the practice of Zen—koans. Because it was working with dead stuff. It wasn’t working with stuff out of life. And in fact, in Japan in the Rinzai tradition, it got mainly very, very, dead. Because in order to be in charge of your temple you had to pass a certain amount of koans. And so the teacher would start selling the koans—the answers. And for the majority of folks that do koan study there, it’s just a matter of how much dollars you’re paying so that you can be in charge of a temple. It’s got nothing to do with the experience of the identity of life. But of course there are wonderful Rinzai teachers. But that’s why Yasutani got upset—one of the reasons he got upset with the standard stuff.
So in a way what we’re doing, and what Eve is doing in her group is not using the koans that developed from old histories (which we said is the old monastic thing, their histories), she’s using koans that developed out of students lives. And that’s what you’re asking. “What do I do?” You work on things that’s in your life.
And anything that’s in your life—same with those guys back in China a thousand years ago, man—they walk out of their hut, and they see this beautiful woman, nude, taking a bath. And they get all excited, and they go to the teacher. “What do I do?” And he’d make them work on it as a koan.
So that’s what you guys gotta do.
Eve: He would make them work on it as a koan?
Bernie: Uh yeah. Oh boy. Imagine if Tootsie was available to all these Zen teachers. They’d go crazy. It’d be good for them.
Eve: And you call that the direct approach?
Bernie: D.T. Suzuki was one of those who thought that the koan system was destroying Zen, because it made it more of a dead practice instead of out of people’s lives. You know, those things got written down. It all got very formal, and away from life. That was at least his feeling. He was very critical of koan study.
I love koan study. And I see those problems. So if you’re gonna use koan study, there’s a way of making it alive—bringing that into the person’s life. If you can make it alive, then I think it’s wonderful. Which means no fixed answer, because it’s got to be a function of the person’s life.
Audience Member 4: Can you please give us an example how we can bring a daily life, this koan, with a daily life practice?
Bernie: Yeah. So there’s a simple koan—How do you stop the fighting across the river? And you can do that in formal koan study. But you could also say—How do I stop the fighting in Gaza? It’s the same koan.
Eve: Or How do I stop the fighting in my own home?
Bernie: And that’s the same koan. How do I stop the fighting with myself? Same koan.
Audience Member 4: I have been in a koan, also a sesshin, for some time. And there was a simple koan, just Who is me? And I would practice face to face, each one five minutes. So for that I find out I face each one person I got different energetics, also different faces. To their face, for me, I have different answer in Zen koan. For me they were so directly straight to ask me What is in me? And also for me to bring it out, to look at it, and to watch it. And for me to look at another person eyes to eyes, I get deeply washed, and refreshing. And I feel the transformations straight away. And that was very simple—just time. Face each other, and this time for others to give to me, and I was giving to them, that was so powerful. Just go to a person, just five minutes, and others five minutes. And in the end, I come out with such grateful.
Bernie: So, why do you ask the question? You have the answer.
Audience Member 4: Yes. But I feel like dojo is the place to bring such different spirits together. And for me right now, I’m also looking for the place. Like how can I bring my richness—how can I bring such things that carry on in me? Where can I go and say I wish to give this as a present?
Bernie: OK, my immediate feeling as you talk, is you need to find a teacher—and you may have a teacher to work with. Because it can’t be all your own thing. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
That’s important. What I said in my early years, and I started to quit Zen or whatever. You’re asking questions that you should be working with—I think—with somebody. If you’re only working with yourself, you’re bound to get yourself into a problem. That’s my opinion. You don’t have to listen to my opinion, but my opinion is that that is critical, and that’s not enough. So hopefully—but again, my opinion—for many people that’s the kind of practice that is only one. And that’s enough to do that. In my opinion there’s more to life than dealing with just your own stuff.
And I would hope that the person you find to work with will also besides work with your own stuff help you to move out of your own stuff. But I would say eighty percent of practitioners work with their own stuff all the time. So it’s OK, but it’s not my way.
So if you were asking me, if I was your teacher, man I would kick you out of yourself and into a bigger sphere. That’s what I would do. And you might not like that kick, but that’s what I would do. But that’s me; so don’t get close to me.
Audience Member 4: I’m looking for a teacher. . . So I think a teacher, and listening, the student and the teacher they are coming to the one point of, in Chinese we say when we are still not awake, we bound for the teacher. When we are awake, we are bound for the student. In the awakening part we say, when I not understood, I’m asking for the answer. When I understood, I asking answer to come to me. So that means I’m learning for the student where this come from. So I feel like this is like meeting. The teacher and the student are meeting each other. Where is the point? It’s you and me, we are same. And I think that feeling, for me right now; I feel like I need somebody just to sit beside me, I just want to talk. But for now, before now I felt like I more listen than talk. But I also need to listen for what I want to say for this person as empty. As unknown, what is inside to say? I would like to understand. I would like to have this chance. And what I really sometimes feel like, I want to stand up and jump. My body also wants to have some place to talk. It’s not only talking. It’s also action, also energetic emotion. And all of these parts, of these thousand hands, where to put? So I feel right now I’m like a cloud full of water. I want to find a place to rain. And where is the place outside me? And hurry on to find a toilet to relieve my stuff. And for now I also have to practice myself where is my patience. How I can relieve just by listening to somebody’s path. I also want to tell my path. I also want to keep my treasure, but where is the empty space? Where is now and here? . . . This is it. I want to meet you. Can I say something to you? I’m afraid to ask.
Bernie: Thank you.
Audience Member 4: And I think this is also a place for me in this such a feeling of myself, I also feel all of our self in one. And I would like to, because I’m sorry I come from East. So all of one who have past, also where I come from. So in the beginning I want to run away from that. So I come to here to learn something. And I would also like to share what I have learned from my West. I would also like to share what I have learned from the East. And important is where is the meeting? Where is now, here? How can I bring me to that? Also of life, what I want to experience before my last breath. Thank you.
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and a principal teacher at Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts, USA. She has co-led bearing witness retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda and the Black Hills. Eve writes regularly in her blog and is the author of the novel The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx.