Zen Master Bernie Glassman

Short Bio

Zen Master Bernie Glassman is a world-renowned pioneer in the American Zen Movement. He is a spiritual leader, published author, accomplished academic and successful businessman with a PhD in Applied Mathematics. He is the founder of the Zen Peacemakers.

Having entered his 70’s, he is focusing on the promotion of Socially Engaged Buddhism, the development of Dharma Centers (Zen Houses) in impoverished areas to serve the local population and in nurturing communication and interaction between affiliates of the Zen Peacemakers Sangha.

He has an intensive inter-national schedule of workshops, lectures and tours which can be viewed here. He also has initiated a series of “Journeys to the Field” to serve in hot spots around the world. This work is supported by Friends of Bernie.

Personal and Education

Bernie Glassman was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe and he grew up in a Jewish family with a strong socialist orientation. After graduating from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, he went to work for McDonnell-Douglas in California in 1960 as an aeronautical engineer, concentrating on interplanetary flights. He also obtained a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from UCLA in 1970. He is married to Roshi Eve Myonen Marko and has two children, Alisa and Marc Glassman and three grandchildren.

Zen Training and Teaching

In 1967, Bernie began his Zen studies with Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He became a Zen teacher–Sensei Glassman–in 1976. In 1980 he founded his own Zen Community of New York in the Bronx, New York. He started the Greyston Bakery, at first staffed by Zen students, as a livelihood for the Community, and then made it a vehicle for social enterprise in Yonkers, 3 miles north (see below). In 1995 Bernie Glassman received inka, or the final seal of approval, from his teacher and became known as Roshi Bernie. During that year and in 1996 he served as Spiritual Head of the White Plum Lineage, comprising hundreds of Zen groups and centers in the US, Latin America and Europe, as well as the first President of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of America. His Dharma Family includes dharma teachers, zen priests, zen preceptors, zen entrepreneurs, Christian clergy, Rabbis, Sufi Sheiks and multi-faith peacemakers.

Social Enterprise

Bernie became a social entrepreneur in 1982, articulating a vision that socially responsible businesses can have a double bottom line: generating profits and serving the community. The Greyston Bakery was the first such venture, but it was merely one piece of a larger socially responsible business model which he developed, known as the Greyston Mandala (the Sanskrit mandala can be loosely translated as circle of life), a network of for-profits and not-for-profits working together to improve the lives of individuals and the larger inner city community of southwest Yonkers. Greyston, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012, provides permanent housing, jobs, job training, child care, after-school programs and a host of other supportive services to a large community of formerly homeless families, advancing the principles of empowerment, empathy, and responsible action. Its main components are:

  • Greyston Bakery. Founded in 1982 in the southwest corner of Yonkers, a poor neighborhood beset by high unemployment, violence and drugs, the bakery began to hire people that conventional businesses had deemed unemployable It trained its employees in bakery crafts and soon they were producing some of New York’s most expensive, high-end cakes and tarts sold in the city’s fanciest eateries. In 1990 it began to produce brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and its revenues shot up dramatically. Since its humble founding, the bakery grew into a successful $6 million business with more than 75 employees. Its hiring remains to this very day “First come, first served,” and much of its profits are recycled into seed money for its sister not-for-profits, thus making the entire network more sustainable and financially independent.
  • Greyston Family Inn. This is Greyston’s housing and support services arm. Since 1986 it has developed hundreds of low-cost permanent apartments for homeless families, a large child care center, and tenant support services as well as after-school programs, providing wraparound support to families trying to come out of the cycle of unemployment, homelessness, and public assistance.
  • Maitri Center and Issan House. Opened in 1997, Maitri is a medical center serving 150 people with AIDS-related illnesses. It was among the first facilities in the country to provide alternative care therapies to people with HIV/AIDS. Issan House provides housing for many of Maitri’s patients.

The entire Greyston Mandala (as of 2011) hires 175 people and its programs reach 2,200 community members annually in southwest Yonkers. Its model of integrating for-profits, not-for-profits, and spirituality has been studied by many other nonprofits and cities across the country as well as in universities. Bernie Glassman served as Founder and President/CEO of Greyston from 1982 till he left it in 1996. He is returning to serve Greyston and Yonkers one day per month in 2012.

Spiritually-Based Social Action and Peacemaking

1994 Washington D.C. Street Retreat

In January of 1994, while leading a bearing witness retreat in Washington, DC, on the occasion of his 55th birthday, Bernie decided to create the Zen Peacemaker Order, for Zen practitioners dedicated to the cause of peace and social justice. Subsequently, the concept was broadened to become an international, interfaith network called the Peacemaker Community, stressing the integration of spiritual practice and social action through Three Tenets:

  • Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe;
  • Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and
  • Loving action for ourselves and the world.

Together with his wife and co-founder, Sandra Jishu Holmes, Bernie left Greyston in the end of 1996 and became President of this large community of spiritually-based activists. He took a leave when his wife died in 1998, but from 2000 till 2004 he continued serving as President, devoting his energy to developing the Peacemaker Community and supporting various social action and peacemaking projects in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States. This organization is now known as Zen Peacemakers.

In 2004 Bernie Glassman began to develop a training campus to teach people the skills of spiritually-based social enterprise and peacemaking called the Maezumi Institute, in Western Massachusetts.


Bernie was awarded the Ethics in Action Award by the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester and the E-chievement Award by Toms of Maine. He was named Man of the Year by the Westchester Coalition of Food Pantries and Social Entrepreneur of the Year by Business Week in 1993. He is a founding board member of the Social Ventures Network, a network of businesses committed to social change, and continues to serve as one of its spiritual leaders. In 2007, he was honored as a Purpose Prize Fellow given to those over 60 with the passion and experience to discover new opportunities, come up with new solutions, and make lasting changes


Bernie is the co-author, with Rick Fields, of Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Masters Lessons in Living a Life that Matters (Bell Tower, April 1996), and the author, with Eve Marko, of Bearing Witness: A Zen Masters Lessons in Making Peace (Bell Tower, May 1997) and Infinite Circle: Studies in Zen (Shambhala Publication, 2002).