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The Zen Peacemakers Blog is dedicated and committed to providing news, reflections, essays and interviews to support, inspire and inform spiritual practitioners and social activists, off high-quality content by our global network of Zen Peacemaker Order members and allies to the Zen Peacemakers.

Bernie Off to Poland

Posted by on Oct 28, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness, Bernie Glassman, Bernie's Health, Blog, Three Tenets of ZP, Zen Peacemaker Order | 3 comments

Bernie Off to Poland

(in photo, Bernie exercising with Ari Setsudo Pliskin)   By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko, ZPO   Bernie goes off to Poland on Friday. Back in June, when he barely walked and had only just mastered the stairs, he began to say how much he wanted to join the November retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Zen Peacemakers’ 21st annual retreat at the concentration camps. To be honest, I thought it was pretty crazy. When we filled out questionnaires for the Taub Clinic in Alabama, one of the questions asked what specific and practical outcomes Bernie hoped for from their intensive therapy, and he asked me to write that he wished to go to the retreat in Poland. Again I thought it was pretty crazy. On Friday he’s going. Without me. There will be people accompanying him on the planes between Boston and Krakow, and someone with him the entire time he’s in Poland, not to mention some 80 other folks who’ll be happy to see him and do everything they can for him. He’s been practicing his walking outside on uneven terrain, as he’s doing with Ari in the photo. At the camps themselves he’ll need to use his wheelchair, and momentarily I think of one of the exhibits at the Auschwitz Museum showing the various canes and prosthetics the people arriving on the trains used. They were the very ones who were quickly ushered to extinction while the mechanical aids, seen as more valuable than the humans, were given a longer life. I wonder what he’ll think when he sees that exhibit. If he sees it. The Museum is not wheelchair accessible and it’s a lot of walking. Bernie will have to pace himself, see what he can do, how far he can go, how far he can let himself be from a bathroom. The camps are meant to be arduous. No drinking or eating is allowed inside those fences, and Birkenau itself is huge. But over the 21 years quite a number of people with some disability have joined this retreat. Since I’ve heard of his wish to go back there I’ve thought of the old scenario of human approaching the officer in elegant uniform and told whether to go right or left. I think I know where Bernie at 77, after a stroke, using a cane or wheelchair, would have been told to go. And me? At 66? Hair half-gray half-brown, energetic but with a middle turned flabby and perpetual blue circles under her eyes? Where would I be sent now?   Originally published on Eve’s blog. Read more of her writings...

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ZPO Members Complete NYC Street Retreat, Sep 15-18

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Blog, Homelessness, Street Retreats, Uncategorized, Zen Peacemaker Order | 0 comments

ZPO Members Complete NYC Street Retreat, Sep 15-18

In photo: Jiryu, Mukei, Kim, Rudie, and Bogai By A. Jesse Jiryu Davis, ZPO New York City, NY USA For four days and three nights, I led a small group who chose to be homeless. In preparation, we raised a few thousand dollars to donate to homeless services, then we left behind our wallets and phones and all possessions, and joined to live on the streets together. We slept in parks, ate at soup kitchens, and begged for change. We meditated and chanted twice a day. Street retreat is a practice of the Zen Peacemaker Order. It’s a way to raise some money for charity, to bear witness to the lives of homeless people, and to taste the renunciation of the first Buddhist monks. I’ve been on retreats before, but this is my first time leading one. As you might predict, I lived in the grip of anxiety for the weeks before the retreat, but once the retreat actually began it didn’t take long for me to relax into its flow. We had favorable weather, we had enough to eat, and we found safe places to sleep each night. Here’s a recap we wrote together. Thursday We met in Washington Square park, on a mild day. There were five of us: Mukei, Bogai, Rudie, Kim, and Jiryu. We introduced ourselves, meditated, and began a Day of Reflection. We walked to the Bowery Mission for an evangelical service and meal. In the chapel, a Baptist preacher shouted and growled a sermon about his salvation from crack addiction. The pews were filled with street people. Most slept or played with their cell phones. A few shouted “amen!” The preacher called for the congregation to come forward and be blessed. A handful of men walked to the front and the preacher commanded Satan to release them in the name of Jesus. Everyone in the room should’ve come to the front, according to the preacher, because all were sinners who needed the salvation of Jesus. Dinner was above-par: roast chicken, rice, a salad with sliced turkey, apple juice and styrofoam bowls of cheese and caramel popcorn. I’d noticed a truck unloading boxes of Whole Foods leftovers earlier, perhaps the chicken was from there. We walked in the twilight through Chinatown’s neon commotion, to arrive at a Sufi mosque, Dergah Al-Farah, on West Broadway. We met their leader Sheikha Fariha and an assistant Abdul Rahim. They offered a place to sleep that night, which we accepted gratefully. They also offered a breakfast that morning but I had to decline—their generosity was so abundant it was interfering with our retreat. In typical Muslim fashion they offered three times and we declined thrice, before it was settled. We stayed for the Zikr that night: for hours the Sufis praised God in English and Arabic, with chants, singing, and dancing. We slept on their balcony, on piles of sheepskins. Friday We woke around 7am, made coffee from the mosque’s kitchen, and took some of the food the Sufis had left for us: whole wheat bagels and a block of cheddar. We wouldn’t have breakfast until 10:30, so we went back to Washington Square Park and sat zazen. We dedicated the merit of the previous Day of Reflection and began a new one. We hiked up to 31st St...

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Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Malgosia Roshi

Posted by on Oct 12, 2016 in Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats, Bearing Witness, Blog, Reflections, Teachers, Zen Peacemaker Family, Zen Peacemaker Order | 0 comments

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Malgosia Roshi

   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.     How to Distinguish Day from Night By Roshi Małgorzata Braunek (1947 – 2014) Photos courtesy of Roshi Andrzej Krajewski. Pictured above: Bernie, Jakusho Kwong Roshi, Małgorzata Roshi, Peter Matthiessen Roshi, Junyu Kuroda Roshi at Auschwitz-Birkenau   Bernie says that the places of pain and suffering are our greatest teachers. Therefore we went to Auschwitz – a symbol of the greatest evil that man has done to his like. Usually noticing the ubiquitous suffering around us does not mean that we are immersed in it. Rather, we train not to recognize it, because we are afraid that we can’t stand it. The first time I traveled to Auschwitz I just asked myself if I can face the fear, apart from that I did not know what would happen here. The most important was to understand that every thought to eliminate anything and anyone is the voice of the torturers slumbering in me. It turned out that I had such thinking as ‘eksterminujących’ (exterminate) in myself, and that there’s no end to it. For example, sweeping a container of liquid on ants, killing a mosquito or a fly. I think that is accompanied by: “Ugh, that’s awful! This must be eliminated! Dispose! Let them disappear!”; After all, this is the same way of thinking that was applied to the Jews, Gypsies, beggars, gay, to all those who were and are “different”; We see them as foreign, other, dirty (inside or outside), barbarians, worse than us – in a word, vermin disrupting our lives. They are useless, so they must be eliminated! The world would be better without them. The world knows this lesson very well … When I saw the executioner in myself for the first time, I kept crying a long while and could hardly stop again. The whole camp melted in my tears. When I sit on the ramp or in the barracks for hours, I touch suffering directly. Sure, we are sitting there in warm jackets, we know we’ll soon have something to eat… Sure I do not know about the cold back then, I don’t wear those thin striped uniforms. But this is not about historical reconstruction. It is important to listen to what this place has to tell us. You encounter yourself and your own fear. The suffering of the people there was and is unimaginable and incomparable. They were in hell here on earth, but you have to realize that this is not a closed chapter. There’s hell within us, we go on creating it continuously … (…) Roshi Małgorzata Braunek (1947 – 2014) was an accomplished Polish artist and actresses and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe. She was the wife of Roshi Andrzej Krajewski with whom she co-led the Kanzeon Zen Center and sangha in Warsaw, Poland. (fot. Piotr Kowalski)     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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Large Sprite, Large Heart- In the Aftermath of a Street Retreat

Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in Bearing Witness Ministry, Blog, Homelessness, Hunger, Reflections, Street Retreats, Zen Peacemakers | 5 comments

Large Sprite, Large Heart- In the Aftermath of a Street Retreat

During September 22-25 2016, six individuals have partaken in a Street Retreat in New York City, a homelessness plunge based on Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action. Below is their email exchange in its aftermath concerning one individual they met on the streets. (September 28 2016) A vignette on our street retreat, As some of you know I went on a street retreat in NYC from Thursday to Sunday last week. In the course of being homeless we befriended a 47 year old woman who had been living on the street for 25 years now and is still alive. Fatima acted as our street coordinator; making sure we got our food at the Bowery Mission before others so we could get to the park for our closing ceremony on Sunday, got us coffee in the morning, showed us where to sleep in a big park in the village. She had amazing energy; you could see how alive she was from the way she laughed and cried to the way she offered herself to us; wanting to be seen and heard. She didn’t have teeth and admitted to taking crack and alcohol every day because she didn’t know how to cope with her life. We were sitting in our circle meditating and speaking from the heart and with a tear streaked face she looked into our eyes and said, “don’t forget me don’t forget Fatima”;. It reminded me of these parts of me that cry, are confused, feel messy and all our parts that cry “don’t forget me”. Marushka   (September 28 2016) Dear Friends, As you know we had a quick discussion & agreed we’d like to do something for Fatima for her upcoming birthday. I told her I would meet her for lunch again this Saturday at 12:30 at the meatloaf place; no guarantee she’ll be there but she did say she’s there every Saturday. I am going to bring a $100 Kmart gift card for her & say it’s from all of us; if however she doesn’t show I will just keep it for myself. Either way I will report what happens, & if she does show up I’ll give you all my address for any contribution you’d like to make. Gassho, Scott B.   (September 30 2016) Dear Street Sangha, Good day! Hard to believe that 7 days ago we were on the streets – not knowing what a night we were to experience. The donation to Fatima of $100 will come from the mala donations. So I will reimburse Scott. I don’t recommend any more $ at this time, considering her situation and multiple addictions. Let’s please keep her safe. Wherever you are – be here! And deeply enjoy and appreciate this miraculous life. Love Genro   (October 2 2016) Dear Friends, I connected with Fatima yesterday. When I walked into the soup kitchen, looking & presenting as I usually do, I was struck by the ease in which I could walk right past the line outside to explain to the manager who I was and why I was there. After a short wait among some of the familiar faces I spotted Fatima, but when I called out to her she didn’t recognize me. When I explained I was Scott from the retreat her eyes lit up and she ran up & hugged me, in tears saying “You came!” As we were saying hello...

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Taking Action: Building a Year-Round Greenhouse in South Dakota

Posted by on Sep 30, 2016 in Blog, Native American, Reflections, Zen Peacemaker Order, Zen Peacemakers | 1 comment

Taking Action: Building a Year-Round Greenhouse in South Dakota

Continuing the momentum of work by Zen Peacemakers on Turtle Island (USA), many of our members, past participants of the 2015 Native American Bearing Witness retreat and affiliated others have followed the three-tenets and have given rise to myriad organized actions, contributing to the Native American community and developing relationships across cultures. Below is a report of yet another such action.   By Mujin Sunim   During a Native American retreat with the Lakota in the Black Hills in 2015, we were won over by a very innovative project: to build a self-sufficient, year-round greenhouse. The builders, Kim and Frank, are Native Americans who live on a plot of land in the middle of beautiful rolling hills in Vermont. Kim with Jen Leonard (my hostess, fellow enthusiast and kind friend) and I met last year at the retreat and it was then that Kim told me of their dream to build the green greenhouse. It seemed a great idea to encourage people to grow their own food, even in very harsh conditions. And so we set the ball rolling and the 9.7 by 4.3 meters greenhouse took off. Most greenhouses prolong the growing season but can’t make it through freezing winter conditions and so the various heating systems envisaged by Frank are essential. In addition to wind and solar producing heat and electricity, there are rocket stoves, and in-house fertilization with irrigation from the water of large basins for breeding fish – which can be also eaten. As I realized that the greenhouse was near to Montreal (my birthplace), just a 1½ hour drive, it seemed sensible to go there and then visit Kim and Frank. – along with Jen and her daughters, Kaiya and Aiyana. We all followed the ups and the downs of building (bad cold weather, lack of help, supply of materials, ill health and so on) and worried that maybe it was too much for Kim and Frank: could they manage and would it ever be finished? But we had faith in Frank’s architectural talent. The visit was planned well in advance and so with the trusty help of Jen who drove and cooked and filled the car with efficient and comfortable camping gear (I had my own tent) and Kaiya and Aiyana who were continual supports, we made it. Just before setting out, I rang Kim and she told me that it was nearly finished and that we would be amazed – and we WERE: The greenhouse is truly beautiful. The walls are mostly logs (for insulation and ventilation) set in adobe. There are also wooden walls protected with slates. Windows are on the south side (of course) and the heating pipes from the rocket stoves pass under the growing trays (see Frank’s picture above.) There will be a detailed booklet for any one interested…. Just let me know. We are all waiting to hear about the yield….   About Mujin: After completing studies in psychology and pedagogy, Mujin Sunim was ordained in Sri Lanka under Ven. B. Ananda Maitreya Maha Nayaka Thera in 1976. She took bhikkhuni ordination in 1985 under In-hong Sunim at Soknam-sa. In 1987 she co-founded Lotus Lantern International Buddhist Center and in 2005 she opened Popkye-sa / Dharma Realm in Switzerland. Her main interests are training and living Buddhism in the modern world....

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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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