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Follow the actions and reflections of Zen Peacemakers around the world.

From War in Syria to Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

Posted by on Sep 28, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness, Blog, News, Refugee, Zen Peacemakers | 0 comments

From War in Syria to Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

Story by Roshi Barbara Wegmüller, Switzerland, September 2016 My friend Rabia is an extremely courageous woman and I am happy to share my story of how we met. It was in 2006, only days before Beirut was bombed, and our friend Sami Awad from Bethlehem, Palestine, who is a Peacemaker, gave a talk against the planned war in Lebanon. He was invited to speak at a big peace demonstration in Bern the capital of Switzerland. The square was packed with people and I waited for him at the edge of the crowd. Small children with dark curly hair were playing right next to me, their mothers urging them to keep quiet. I was playing with the children and tried to have a conversation with the women. One of them spoke a little French and was desperately fumbling for words. She told me she had arrived in Berne the day before and I spontaneously handed her my business card saying that if she learnt to speak German we could communicate. Ten months later my phone rang and a female voice said, “this is Rabia speaking, I have learnt German and would like to speak with you.“ I immediately knew who it was and we arranged to meet for coffee and that’s how our friendship began. Rabia is from Palestine and her parents fled from there with small children. They travelled a long way through distant countries, from Yemen to Syria. The war in Syria made life for the extended family unbearable and with the help of Peacemaker Switzerland we could arrange to evacuate many members of the family and get them out of the war zone. We had the entire family stay with us for one week in our home. On the last evening Yazer told us his story. He had not eaten for 3 months, just some leaves to have something in his stomach. He had given his last ration of food to some hungry children. Yazer, the brother of Rabia, a young dentist arrived in Switzerland after a long ordeal and totally famished. What helped him to survive and safe his life was a film he had seen several years earlier by Steven Spielberg — “Schindler’s List“. In the film a few people had survived despite of incredible pain and hunger and this memory helped Yazer to hang on one day at a time. My husband Roland and I were very touched and near to tears listening to the story of this young muslim who had gained strength from this unexpected film about suffering and which helped him survive. Now Yazer and Rabia are joining us to bear witness at the next Auschwitz retreat. To bear witness for their own family history. We are grateful for your contributions in making this possible.   Celebration of diversity has been a hallmark of the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats and in particular in Auschwitz-Birkenau, once a symbol of extreme intolerance towards others. Through the years the Zen Peacemakers hosted there countless nationalities, faiths and ethnicities. In 2015, our community collected donations to bring Lakota Native Americans, Croats, Bosniaks & Serbs, Palestinians and the indigenous of Australia. Rabia And Yazer’s presence will connect the retreat and all its participants with the horrors of the present-day war in Syria and the excruciating difficulties encountered by those fleeing...

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Bernie Glassman to Join 2016 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

Posted by on Sep 22, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bernie Glassman, Bernie's Health, Blog, Reflections, Zen Peacemakers | 9 comments

Bernie Glassman to Join 2016 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

Bernie Glassman, after eight months of post-stroke recovery, is determined to attend the upcoming retreat in Poland in October 2016. In two conversations, one at the video above and another at the written interview below, he explains his motivation.  Bernie: Since the stroke, I have been mainly focusing on getting my mind and body back in shape. Not too long ago, it struck me that as I am right now—in terms I can walk, I’m still with a cane—I’m ready not just focusing on getting myself better, I’m ready to look out. And of course during this whole time I’ve had a lot of meditation, and a lot of space in which I could peer at things. But somehow the idea of Auschwitz came up, and I want to be there. I want to be there for the next retreat. And what also came up is Marian. Everybody who goes to Auschwitz goes one night to see Marian’s work, and hear his story. And that’s been happening since pretty much the beginning. He died a few years ago. But people still get to see his work, and hear his story. But for me the importance of his story—and it is amazing, I loved the man, amazing person . . . But what struck me, I think from the first time I met him—which I believe was the second retreat that we met him—was that I noticed that he wasn’t showing anger, or hatred. And he said, “How can you hate anybody? I have not hatred for any of the Capos, or Nazis. I don’t have hate for anybody.” Now for most people—and you have to remember that that’s why I started the Auschwitz Retreat, to learn how we can live with others without hate, without anger. Here was a man living that way. I hadn’t met people doing that. Everybody has somebody that they hate, they dislike. And in my relationship with him, he never showed me that side. So it was very important for me. And then he died. And a couple of years have passed. And I went through my stroke to remember this path that he had started in Auschwitz started fifty years after he was released from Auschwitz. And it was started because of a stroke that he had. And a stroke brought him back to Auschwitz where he, in using his words, “drew his bearing witness to those years.” And out of that bearing witness we see the horror that we see. He did not have any hate out of it. OK, so many years, twenty-five years have passed since I wanted to do this retreat. And what’s so important for me again, is the idea of how do we treat others. And I feel that my going back—and I want to go back to Auschwitz—one of the important things that I want to do is continue the work of Marian. The idea of having a retreat to help us realize how hard it is to honor everyone, how we have so many hatreds that linger. But after the first retreat I met a man who was living that. So my going back now is to continue his legacy. Maybe we could say it’s to continue the legacy of Marian and of Bernie, the both of us....

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When An Elder Speaks : Impressions from Standing Rock

Posted by on Sep 20, 2016 in Blog, Native American, News, Reflections, Zen Peacemaker Order | 7 comments

When An Elder Speaks : Impressions from Standing Rock

  This September 2016, Roshi Anne Seisen Saunders, abbott of  Sweetwater Zen Center, San Diego USA and member of the Zen Peacemaker Order, visited Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Turtle Island (USA), the location of the ongoing historic stand taken by many nations of Native Americans in response to construction of pipeline on reservation land. This is her report.   “When An Elder Speaks: Impressions from Standing Rock” By Roshi Anne Seisen Saunders My friend and dharma sister Debra Shiin Coffey dropped everything to join me. Her husband is native (of the three affiliated tribes) and they live close to Standing Rock. We ended up talking past midnight. She shared about the suffering of her husband’s ancestors and about her own spiritual growth through native tradition. Her Mother-in-law and family were flooded out of their ancestral home because of a dam in 1951. To this day they are treated with racism and cruelty by the non-native people in North Dakota. On the other hand her life is so rich due to the deep spiritual tradition of her husband’s people. When we first arrived at the camp we were interviewed by a young non-native who had brought her camera equipment from Arizona to ask people why they were there. She was taken with Deb’s laugh and just had to interview us as elders. I said “I am here because I think this is the most important thing happening on the planet right now”. Deb talked about the beauty of the native way. “When a child is sick, Mom stays home from work to take care of the child. Mom is willing to put her job in jeopardy to care for her child because, for the natives, family is the first priority” After Debra left I was sitting with folks around the kitchen area. There were a group of young non-native activists sitting around the fire laughing etc and a native elder who was also sitting there started to talk. The others kept talking. From across the area comes a loud voice “when an elder speaks you listen. You will learn something.” The youngsters listened and afterwards were deeply grateful for the teaching. We had a beautiful and long prayer before the meal that was completely from the heart and so inspiring. Then someone said “now first the elders eat. Let the elders go first from respect” An elder woman came up to me and said “You go eat now” I said (not being hungry, being vegan and feeling more like watching than participating) “no thank you” she said a little louder “you come eat now” so I followed her to the head of the line (a couple non-natives said “o do you want to eat first?” and she said “yes”) Afterwards I talked to her and she said, ”you have to eat with everyone to be part of the community—to fit in.” I thanked her so much for her teaching. Then I found out that she and her son had taken the bus from Denver to protect the water. She is hoping to live in one of the places there are for old people since she is originally from North Dakota. When she said that she smiled for the first time. Then she asked me to take her to Bismarck the next day....

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Diversity Fundraiser, Auschwitz 2016

Posted by on Sep 14, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness, Bearing Witness Ministry, Blog, News, Zen Peacemaker Family, Zen Peacemakers | 1 comment

Diversity Fundraiser, Auschwitz 2016

  Celebration of diversity has been a hallmark of the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats and in particular in Auschwitz-Birkenau, once a symbol of extreme intolerance towards others. Through the years the Zen Peacemakers hosted there countless nationalities, faith and ethnicities. In 2015, our large community collected donations to bring Lakota Native Americans, Croats, Bosniaks & Serbs, the indigenous of Australia and Palestine. Barbara and Roland Wegmueller of the Zen Peacemaker Order have been working with Syrian refugees for several years. Two of their friends, a brother and sister who had to flee Syria and are currently in asylum in Switzerland, would like to join the retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau this year. Their presence will connect the retreat and all its participants with the horrors of the present-day war in Syria and the excruciating difficulties encountered by those fleeing its shores. We are raising $5000 towards their retreat tuition, travel and lodging. Contribution in any amount will help us bring them there. Donation can be done online with Paypal or credit card at the link below, US checks can be sent to: Zen Peacemakers ATTN: Auschwitz Diversity Fundraiser 2016 POBOX 294 Montague MA. Zen Peacemakers, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization for your tax...

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Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Greg

Posted by on Aug 30, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness, Blog, Reflections, Zen Peacemaker Order | 0 comments

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Greg

 This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.   By Greg Rice, USA   This last November I quit fishing early to attend the annual Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz, Poland. After an all-day flight, I arrived at the hotel in Kraków after dark, tired and unsure of what I was doing there. Within minutes I was invited to dinner with a group of other participants. I felt welcomed in as part of this retreat immediately, and my doubts vanished… In the big changing room of the “sauna” was a display of thousands of photos collected by the guards as they stripped the prisoners of their lives. Sitting in that room, we sang a simple song, the first line of which was “how could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful”. We all sang, in this dreadful room, first looking each other in the eyes, then at the beautiful pictures of happy children, of lovers, of grandmothers. Pictures taken in a time in their lives when they were happy, a time in their lives like this time in ours. And then they experienced what no living being should ever experience. It broke my heart, walking slowly through these walls of photos, singing “how could anyone see you as anything less than beautiful.” How could they? One day, as we stood in a circle around the blown-up remains of Crematorium chamber IV, we all read the Kaddish in our native tongue. It was read in at least eight different languages. At the end, Reb Shir blew on the Shofar – the ram’s horn. It was the first time I had ever heard it. The sound brought tears to my eyes. It seemed a strong and ancient call to the world, to the ashes, to all that keeps us separate. It was a voice saying we are still here, we will always be here, all of us. It was the sound of perseverance and inclusiveness. To me, a secular guy, the sound of that Shofar was Holy. There is a teaching that says, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha. What needs to be killed is the sense of truth, of knowing, the root of this separateness that keeps us apart. It seems almost impossible to consider the Nazis who committed these crimes as just like us, as of our tribe. Yet if we can’t, we are living the same exclusionary view (…) This is an excerpt and appears in full in the book “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015) Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski, in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en       JOIN THE ZEN PEACEMAKERS IN 2016 – Register or Learn more about the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat in...

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ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 2: DIG INTO COMPLEXITY

Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 in Bearing Witness, Bearing Witness Ministry, Bernie Glassman, Bernie's Opinions, Blog, Inter-Faith, Reflections, Three Tenets of ZP, Zen Peacemaker Order, Zen Peacemakers | 5 comments

ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 2: DIG INTO COMPLEXITY

  Preface: As we are gearing towards the 21st Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat, Bernie requested to bring to view his questions, intentions and themes that were shaped by twenty years of co-leading these retreats in Poland, Rwanda and the Black Hills. The narrative of events that led to the first retreat is described in the article “Bernie’s Training: Bearing Witness”. Part 1 of this interview is available here. Below is part 2 of this interview.   Rami: I heard you say once that you have a vision of what Bearing Witness retreats are and that while both the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness retreats in Rwanda  2014 and in the Black Hills 2015 were successful in their own way, they both differed from that vision. Can you say more about that? Bernie: In Rwanda, we had mostly two sides, the Hutu and the Tutsis. We had some Europeans of course, but it was all about Rwanda. No Congo, no others… We did have this guy—you heard about the guy that was a paramilitary guy that came to a retreat. Twenty years before, when the genocide in Rwanda was happening, he was sent with a battalion (I think it was 600 Belgian) to rescue the local Rwandans that were surrounded in a coliseum by militia. He was sent with orders to stop what was going on. He commanded armed soldiers, they could have stopped what was happening. When their planes landed, he got a message from Belgium headquarters saying, “Forget it. Rescue whatever Europeans you can. Go there, get them out, and leave.” And that’s what he did. For the twenty years he hadn’t told that story to anyone. Not to his wife—his marriage was on the verge of breaking up. It was killing him. At our retreat, 20 year later, he broke that story. Now that’s a bearing witness kind of thing. I tried to get more people like that. We couldn’t. So if I had any remorse, it was that I wasn’t able to get enough different kinds. It was just a few people. We had a woman who’s arm was chopped off, and we had the guy who cut her arm off there. But it wasn’t broad enough for me. I wanted—because I know the Europeans have a heavy burden in what happened there, and we did not have enough Europeans to spell that out. You could focus on what the Hutu  did to the Tutsis or vice-versa, but there’s that whole history of how this goes on. That’s what I was trying to bring out. Well it’s not so simple, you know. You start looking at who you’re blaming. It’s like in Israel, you dig down and say oh, this is what it looked like in there. And these people were in charge, and these people were killed in their villages. And you dig a little deeper, and you know. Part of my thing is wanting to show that things are not so simple as you think. And then the Jews wind up talking about how bad ‘these people’ are. Come on man, go back a little. Why did that happen? What went on? They were all caught up in what the thing is, which was enough for them. For me, it was never enough—just to see the one-sided view, or the two-sided view . . . Rami: And...

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ZPO Member Initiates a Self-led MN Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in Bearing Witness, Blog, Native American, Zen Peacemaker Order | 0 comments

ZPO Member Initiates a Self-led MN Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

PREFACE:The following invitation is to a ZPO members-led retreat organized in the spirit of the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action. Zen Peacemakers, Inc. supports but does not administer the retreat. Please follow the instructions below to contact the organizers. This event is another expression of the building momentum between the Native American of Turtle Island and the Zen Peacemakers, following the 2015 Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness retreat in the Black Hills and 2016 ZPO Members-led plunge in Cheyenne River reservation this past July. The retreat’s page on Facebook  Clouds in Water Zen Center Registration page  Article by ZPO Member Laura Gentle Dragon Kennedy, Clouds in Water Zen Center, Minnesota This Bearing Witness retreat began over 15 years ago. As many processes in life what I thought would take place and what is actually unfolding are different. About 15 years ago I read Bernie Glassman Roshi’s book “Bearing Witness.” There was an immediate resonance with Roshi’s teachings. Practicing meditation for years and working with people who appeared on the edges of life, Bernie Roshi expressed engaged Buddhism for me. I have always felt a deep connection to Beings who intersect with suffering and resilience. Direct experience combined with training in spiritual practices and formal education supports having a chance to help. I understood genocide and resilience was everywhere. After reading, “Bearing Witness”, I decided to meet Fleet Maull, Bernie Roshi and coordinate a Bearing Witness retreat at Wounded Knee. This was not to happen until many years later. In 2012, I participated in a workshop with Fleet Maull at Upaya and asked him if he would come to Clouds in Water Zen Center and share his teachings with us. This was a direct bloom of my bodhisattva vow. In 2014, I went to Upaya again, this time to see Bernie Roshi. I explained my dream of a Bearing Witness retreat at Wounded Knee. Bernie Roshi said, Zen Peacemakers Inc. was already coordinating this retreat in August of 2015 and I could come at that time. I went to the Black Hills and it was clear — the retreat was to be where I lived. In Minnesota there was was a concentration camp for 1700 Grandmothers, mothers, children and elders in the winter of 1862 and 1863 at Fort Snelling. Minnesota’s legacy of genocide is embodied at Fort Snelling. As a non-native person, I am a guest on the Land of the Dakota. As a guest, I have a responsibility to this host, to honor and remember those who died at that concentration camp with dignity. The process of visioning a Bearing Witness retreat, that began 15 years ago has come to fruition. The spirits of Wounded Knee, Auschwitz/Birkenau and the streets live within me. I have directly experienced the expression of love and compassion from Zen Peacemakers participants and these places. I was sustained by the sacred fire and beings in the Black Hills while listening to stories of genocide and resilience. At Auschwitz/Birkenau, which I attend with the Zen Peacemakers in 2015, I was sobbing with agony, overwhelmed with grief in the children’s barrack at Birkenau, and an angel held me in the form of a human. On the street retreat in SF, a noble one would stand guard, so I could take care of my bio needs at 5 am. My heart has been blown wide open for all beings through these loving actions arising from the boundless ocean of compassion. How could...

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ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 1: START WITH THE LIVING

Posted by on Aug 19, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness Ministry, Bernie Glassman, Bernie's Opinions, Blog, News, Three Tenets of ZP | 6 comments

ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 1: START WITH THE LIVING

  ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 1: START WITH THE LIVING Interview with Roshi Bernie Glassman, Conducted in Montague, MA USA in June 2016 Transcribed by Scott Harris Preface: As we are gearing towards the 21st Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat, Bernie requested to bring to view his questions, intentions and themes that were shaped by twenty years of co-leading these retreats in Poland, Rwanda and the Black Hills. The narrative of events that led to the first retreat is described in the article “Bernie’s Training: Bearing Witness”. Below is part 1 of this interview. Part 2 will follow.   BERNIE:  So, I just want to talk and lay out the history of the retreat in Auschwitz. When I entered Birkenau the first time, I was overwhelmed by the sense of souls. And at that time I called it a remembrance of souls. In English it’s an interesting word—remembrance or re-membering, putting together of souls. Now, I did not fix a label on the souls. If you think of it—and I didn’t think of it at the time, at the time I just thought I was remembering souls. But there were so many souls there. Definitely it wasn’t just Jewish souls. There’s Poles, and Gypsies—so many different souls. So at this time, that’s a feeling I had, and I didn’t know what that meant, for remembrance of souls. At that time I didn’t go deeper into “what does this all mean?” I was just overwhelmed by remembrance of souls. And I decided I need to sit here until that becomes clear—perhaps as I’d done before. And I felt I had to do it here. I had to sit until I had that experience that cleared it up for me in some way. I had to go deeper. I don’t know when I decided that I would invite other people to join me in that. It was either then, or on the plane going home with Eve—I don’t remember now, things get a little mixed up. But by the time I got home I decided that I was going to invite people to join me, and that it would not be a Jewish retreat. That it would be a retreat honoring all those souls that had been desecrated. And so therefore I spent a year and a half inviting—before we opened it up to people—I first invited certain people to the retreat. And by inviting, it meant that I was going to pay for them. So there were certain people I invited. And I tried to invite as many leaders of different faiths — The first retreat we probably had about eight, nine different faiths represented — and probably had twenty countries. And because I gave a lot of scholarships (because certain people didn’t have money, but I wanted them there), we raised money for that first retreat. And it was a very important retreat for me. I thought it was going to be one retreat. That’s it. At the retreat we, Eve Marko, Andrzej Krajewski and I, decided that it had to go on. I tried different things to make the theme be how we treat others. And most people who came were fixated on one group who treated another group badly. They couldn’t generalize. Whether it was the Palestinians being treated badly by the Jews, whether...

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