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...

Learn More

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...

Learn More

Returning to the Three Tenets

  FROM BERNIE: As I look at what’s happening everywhere, the violence in the United States, in Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Europe, I remember that the Three Tenets are not a theoretical thing. I enter a deep state of not-knowing, bearing witness to what’s going on with no judgments or biases, just bearing witness, and then take the action that arises. I invite you, everyone, and especially our members of the Zen Peacemaker Order, to do the same. Then please write comments on this post replying to this question: What actions came up for you going into that space of not knowing and bearing witness? Thank you – Bernie Glassman...

Learn More

“Now what?” Bernie Talks About the First Days After His Stroke

  “NOW WHAT?” Bernie Glassman and Eve Marko Talk About the First Days After His Stroke Conversation recorded in May 2016, Transcribed by Scott Harris Bernie: So, you remember four months ago [January 12th 2016], we were having an international conference call on the Internet . . . from Germany, from Israel, California, Colorado, all around. And all of a sudden, I was in my office with Rami—our office downstairs—and you were in your office, and all of the sudden, you came down to give me a note. Do you remember what that said? Eve: Yeah. I wrote you a note on the yellow pad of paper, and it said, “Bernie, don’t take over the meeting. Just listen.” Bernie: So, I got that note, I started to listen, and all of a sudden, I blacked out! And I have no memory—I don’t even know how many days I have no memory for. So maybe you can tell us a little about that initial period.   Eve: Yeah, you sure took that seriously, “Don’t take over the meeting,” because at that point you started sliding down your chair. And Rami called me again, and I came down. And he had caught you, and put you on the floor. So you were lying on the floor, on your back. I looked at your face. And you were talking at that point. I asked you to raise your leg, and you couldn’t raise your leg. And I asked you to raise your arm, and you couldn’t do that. And then I could tell that your speech was beginning to slur. And then it just stopped. And I asked you, and you just, like did this [shaking head left and right], or something like that—that you couldn’t speak anymore. Oh, and I said I wanted to call 911, and you said, “No.” And I must have asked you another one or two questions, and then I called 911. And they came, and they were great. They were ready, and they hooked you onto certain medication, put you in an ambulance, took you to a hospital in Greenfield [MA]. They turned right around then, and took you down to Springfield, also in the ambulance. And you went straight into...

Learn More

Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats

Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats By Bernie Glassman I wish to talk about going on the streets during Holy Week, the week of Easter, the week of Passover, one of the saddest and most joyous times of the year. I go on the streets at other times of the year, too, and each occasion is special in its own way, but the streets feel different during Holy Week. The remembrance and caring that spring to life during that time are unmistakable and unforgettable To give you a feel for what I mean, let me describe the 1996 Holy Week street retreat. We spent our first night sleeping–or trying to sleep–in Central Park. It was so cold that at about 4 a.m. we gave up and began to walk downtown, stopping for breakfast at the Franciscan Mission on West 31st Street en route to our hangout at Tompkins Square Park. We were tired and it didn’t help when we heard that it was going to rain that night, the first night of Passover. Walking past St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, I ran into its rector, Lloyd Casson. Notwithstanding the smell of my clothes after a night in the park, Lloyd gave me a hug. I knew Lloyd from the time he’d served as rector of Trinity Church, and before that, as assistant dean at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. When he heard that we would be in the area, Lloyd suggested we come to the Tenebrae service at St. Mark’s after our Passover seder and then spend the night in the church. Rabbi Don [Singer] had flown in from California to join us for Passover on the streets, but he’d disappeared in the middle of our night in Central Park. For purposes of the seder, we begged for food in the Jewish restaurants on Second Avenue and in Spanish bodegas by Tompkins Square. One retreat participant, a Swiss woman, was given twenty dollars by the Franciscans when she attended their mass that morning before breakfast. Suddenly, as we began to give up hope, Don appeared. He explained that he’d been so cold during the night that he’d gone into the subway to keep warm. After riding the trains all night he’d visited...

Learn More

“What Should I Sing To You?”

“What Should I Sing To You?”   Conversation with Krishna Das and Bernie Glassman Transcribed from a recording at Bernie’s house in Montague, MA USA, 9/21/2015     BERNIE: So we all talk about the interconnectedness of life, the oneness of life, but if we look carefully at ourselves and see how many aspects of life we shy away from or won’t come in contact, and then try to figure why. I think the biggest reason is fear. So that’s how these Bearing Witness retreats… Well, I don’t know if they started because of that, but that’s where the large numbers started. KD: I had a lot of fear before my first retreat, “How am I going to deal with this?” Just the fear of going, being in that place where so much suffering happened and so much torture and so much inhumanity was manifest. So I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me, you know. So just to go and go through the process and the practice of being in the camp at that time was] very freeing from that fear that I had. Just not that simple. And then to be talking about fear, how much fear there must have been in the camp at the time of the war. The atmosphere was extraordinary. BERNIE: We were just together in South Dakota, in the Black Hills and we met with the Lakota folks. And the fear, the elders went to boarding schools ran by Church, Catholic Church, and the fear that must have existed there, because if they spoke any Lakota they were beaten up, if they wore any traditional clothes they were beaten up. In that school there is a track where people run around and underneath that there’s graves of children that died there. So they had a reason to be afraid, but that fear permeates everywhere. The other reason for these Bearing Witness retreats is our ignorance, which I think that is with most of the non-Native Indians that came, they] had no idea of what went on in their own country, of what we did. KD: And are still doing.     BERNIE: And are still doing. And why we have these ignorant things? Again,...

Learn More

The Zen Peacemaker Order Vision, Part 1 : Bernie’s Vision

This is the first of three parts of a conversation between Roshis Bernie Glassman, Wendy Egyoku Nakao and members of the Zen Center of Los Angeles that took place there on April 23rd 2015. This first part includes Bernie’s vision of the Zen Peacemaker Order. The second part will feature Roshi Egyoku’s vision for the ZPO and ZCLA, and the third part will include the Q&A they performed with the sangha. Transcription by Scott Harris. Bernie: I’d like to talk about my vision of the Zen Peacemaker Order. I’ll start off at the beginning. And the beginning took place about twenty-one years ago. Twenty-one years ago (1994) I had finished different phases of my Zen training. My first twenty years of Zen training was here (Zen Center of Los Angeles) in  a Japanese-style Zen center with a Japanese teacher (Maezumi Roshi.) But after about twenty years, I had an experience that made me want to work in a bigger venue than just in a Zen center. And the venue had something to do with Indra’s net. Most of you are familiar with that. It’s a metaphor used in Buddhism for all of life. And it closely relates to the modern physics idea of starting with the Big Bang, and energy flowing through the universe. So Indra’s net is this net that extends throughout all space and time, and has at each node a pearl. Constantly there are new pearls being generated. Every instant there’s a new pearl. So as I’m talking, I’m generating a new pearl. And each pearl contains every other pearl. And every pearl contains this pearl that I’m generating. So it’s all of life. And my feeling was that I had been practicing . . . For me, enlightenment means to experience the oneness of life. And that keeps getting deeper, that experience. And for me, what it means is at any moment I could look at what portion of the net am I connected with? I’m connected to a fairly large portion. And what portions aren’t I connected to, and why? And I came to think that one of the big reasons we’re not connected with certain portions of the net is we’re afraid. We’re afraid to get connected, to enter...

Learn More

Facing the Ultimate Challenge by Bernie Glassman

“We all form our own clubs,” says Roshi Bernie Glassman. If we’re black, we may exclude whites. If we’re white, we may exclude blacks. “If we’re liberal,” Glassman continues, “we never listen to conservatives or read books by them or invite them to tea, and if we’re conservative, vice versa. “The most common thing we do to people that don’t fit our club is we avoid them. We also imprison them. Sometimes we beat them up. In the South, we used to lynch them. Gays? We bash them.” Glassman was at one time an engineer and mathematician working in the aerospace industry. After receiving traditional Zen training from Maezumi Roshi, he realized that his calling was to take his practice out into the world. His first step was to establish Greyston Mandala, a collection of companies that both generated profits and benefited the homeless. Next, Glassman began holding his groundbreaking “bearing witness” retreats, in which participants enter an environment that’s so overwhelming that they drop their habitual thought patterns. For twenty years, Glassman has been leading bearing witness retreats at a place that represents the most terrible case of what we do to those outside our club: Auschwitz. Survivors, children of survivors, people from all over the world, of different religions, even children and grandchildren of SS members—they’ve all sat with Glassman on the camp’s infamous train tracks, alternating silence with chanting the names of Holocaust victims. Generally, the retreatants believe they’d always deal with others humanely. On retreat, however, they’re thrust into close contact with those outside their club, and “being as we’re human,” says  Glassman, “pretty soon what pops up is people get angry at how others are acting. Then we deal with that. “The theme of an Auschwitz retreat is not the Holocaust,” Glassman asserts. “It’s ‘How do we deal with each other?’” In 2014, Glassman spearheaded a retreat marking the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The retreatants were half international and half African. It included a Tutsi woman whose arm had been chopped off, and the Hutu man who did it. Like the Auschwitz retreats, it had a universal theme: forgiveness. For years, Rwandans had been working on reconciliation, but, according to Glassman, “what you see when you look...

Learn More

A Story of Karma

An Interview of  Bernie Glassman   By Batya Swift Yasgur  Every year, I do something strange. Some people might even consider it bizarre. I bring a group of people to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where we sit at the selection site to meditate, pray, recite the names of the dead, and hold counsel. We all come from vastly different backgrounds, walks of life, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and countries. We gather to bear witness to the enormity of suffering that took place there. We gather to confront our judgments and labels about what happened, about each other, and about life itself. We gather to bow to the unknown. We gather with trust that loving action will flow from our explorations. We gather to celebrate our oneness and our differences. We gather to honor the Interconnectedness of Life. This experience of Interconnectedness of Life is key to my understanding of Karma. Karma Is a Story But then, so is everything else. From my perspective as a Buddhist, I regard everything as Emptiness. A physicist might use different terminology and say that everything is Energy. Energy permeates everything that exists, energy is everything that exists, energy is the fabric from which everything is woven. This includes the things we think are “solid” and permanent. You and I are constructed from particles of the same Energy. Within that Emptiness, events come and go. Experiences arise and recede. They seem real, but they are nothing more than transient configurations of energy, with no substance. They may seem like facts, but they are stories. The Energy never changes. It doesn’t have a narrative. It doesn’t move forward or backward, it doesn’t grow or shrink. It has no birth, no conditioning, and no death. It has no beginning, end, or middle. It is outside time, inside time, and unaffected by time. Linear time is a perception, not a reality. So how do we translate those energetic waves into the experiences that form the building blocks of our stories? The brain has instrumentation, circuitry that takes the energy and makes something out of it, like a radio has an antenna that converts radio waves into sound. The television converts waves into a visual picture. Our brains convert energy into perception that we think is “real.”...

Learn More

My 60 Years Jouney in Zen – First 20 Years

Today I’m going to talk about my first twenty years in Zen. How many in the room have been involved in Zen more than twenty years? One . . . in Zen? More than twenty years? Oh no, you were a Sufi. [Audience laughs] One, two, OK, three, four . . . wow! So I’ll ask the same question tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the second twenty years—the last day, the third twenty years. At any rate, my first twenty years—and what’s interesting—to me, at least—is each twenty years, the main activities which dictated my experiences that I had during those years. And when I look at it in terms of my terminology of the last twenty years, it came essentially out of the Three Tenets. So these are actions that arose out of bearing witness. And you’ll see, I mean the not knowing was obvious. And in each case they were bearing witness, and things arose, which then affected my life quite a bit. And by the way, we’ve been working—a small group has been working on updating the Zen Peacemaker Order, and revitalizing it. And the Abbot of Zen Center Los Angeles, where I initially trained, she and I spent a week—all day long, each day—and came up with things to put on the web, and also we’ll be setting up regional circles to discuss these things. And one of the things we all looked at, that initial group, and Egyoku and I, was the wording of the Three Tenets, and of the Precepts. All together, the Three Tenets, and the Precepts, and we have Four Commitments. But the change we made in the Three Tenets is—the first two stay the same, Not Knowing, and Bearing Witness—the third we change to “Actions That Arise from Not Knowing and Bearing Witness.” The problem with Loving Actions is that’s already a judgment. And it made people feel good to think that they were going to be doing loving actions, but what we are talking about is actions that arise out of not knowing and bearing witness. And then somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s good.” Somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s bad.” But that’s after the fact, and that’s...

Learn More

See the ocean? And that’s only the top of it.

So, a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, “Where’s the water?” And the fish says, “What water?” You say, “You are water.” You know, the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to the notion that he or she is some kind of thing, and doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask, “What is the ocean?” Do we say, “It’s water”? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath—they became Hawaii. They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea—all kinds of stuff! But we just call it an ocean. Some Jewish comedian is in a boat, looking down, and says, “See the ocean? And that’s only the top of it.” I mean there’s a lot to this thing, but somehow that evades us. So enlightenment is like that. Enlightenment is the realization and actualization that it’s all just one thing—that I’m not this little thing. I’m air. I’m you. I’m rocks. It’s all one thing. But that relationship is so intimate, that we don’t see it. So somehow we have to awaken to that intimacy. So intimacy is like fish and water....

Learn More

Bernie Schmoozes on Mr. Nobody, String Theory, Multi-Universes and Indra’s Net

Recently I watched the movie, Mr. Nobody, which is a science fiction film made in 2009. The film tells the life story of Nemo Nobody, a 118-year-old man, who is the last mortal on earth after the human race has achieved quasi-immortality. Nemo, his memory fading, refers to his three main loves, and to his parents divorce and subsequent hardships endured at three main moments in his life—at age nine, fifteen, and thirty-four. He reflects on himself as a young boy standing on a station platform. The train is about to leave. And he has to decide whether to go with his mother or stay with his father. They were splitting up. An infinity of possibilities would arise from this decision. And as long as he doesn’t choose, anything and everything is possible. Every day, every life deserves to be lived and is of equal value. The movie reminded me of a student of mine, Joel Scherk, who was one of the founders of String Theory. That’s a mathematical theory which predicts multiple lives. Joel studied with me in the late ’70s, and actually died very young—just thirty-four. He had diabetes, and after a conference he somehow was in his room, and he didn’t have insulin, and his landlord found him after three or four days, and he had died. But String Theory predicts—among other things—multiple universes. And from that time—from my time studying together with Joel—it has been my opinion that there are multiple universes. And that actually, at every moment of our life, as we bear witness to what’s happening, and our actions occur, those actions are the best actions that we could make at that time. They’re the actions based on our ingredients that we recognize and those that we do not recognize. And immediately after the actions, we tend to say, “Oh, I should have done different than that, I should have done this,” or “I should have done that,” or “That wasn’t the best thing to do,” or “That was a great thing to do.” So at each of those instances, there were other alternatives of what we might have done. And in my opinion, all of those create multiple universes in which those things were the ones that...

Learn More

Groking, Second Foundation, and Bearing Witness

I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger. I haven’t read that much recently, but there’s a few thoughts that have stuck with me all these years. One was “groking.” Grok was a word that was coined by Robert Heinlein, in a book he wrote in 1961—a science fiction novel called Stranger in a Strange Land. And in the book it’s defined as “grok,” meaning to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes part of the observed—to merge, blend, lose identity in group experience. It’s hard to really grasp it. It’s sort of like a blind man grasping color. But, it can be experienced. So I use “grok” a lot to explain what I mean by bearing witness. Of course then you’ve got to explain grok. So, in bearing witness I say that that’s a state in which the observer and the observed disappear, and it’s just the experience itself. That is, there’s no subject/object relationship. So bearing witness is to grok—to really become one with the situation. Koan study in Zen was developed to help us experience this bearing witness. That is, there are many koans that the only way to answer them is to become all of the entities in the koan, and show the teacher—or the one you are meeting in the koan study—that you have become that. If you give commentary on that, that doesn’t work. That’s a subject/object relationship. Even if the commentary sounds right, it doesn’t matter. The koan study is aiming for you to experience that situation when the observer and the observed are gone, and it’s just the thing itself. So that’s “grok.” Another book—actually a series of books—that I loved was Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation. That’s a series I think of five or six books. But in it, there’s a man, Hari Seldon, who comes to the conclusion that the universe—which was large, and many planets, different galaxies, and there was somebody overseeing the whole thing—but anyway, he came to the conclusion that it was going to end in chaos. And he worked out a way to predict—at least statistically—how things would flow. And he came up with a way to improve the probability that a stabile universe could occur sooner, if...

Learn More

NPR Interview of Bernie Glassman

Host: And now for a fuller picture of Zen Buddhism, we turn to the man known as the grandfather of socially engaged Buddhism, Bernie Glassman. He says Zen Buddhism is indeed focused on looking inward, but it’s also about helping the world around you. He’s been a practicing Zen Buddhist for nearly sixty years. And he’s the founder of a Buddhist peace activist group called Zen Peacemakers. His latest book is called The Dude and the Zen Master. Welcome back to the show Bernie. Bernie: Thank you. Host: Now as we just heard from our interview with Mark Oppenheimer, Zen became extremely popular in America in the 1960s, which is right around the time that you became interested in it. So, what appeal did Zen have for you, as someone raised in a Jewish home? Bernie: I read a book in 1958 called The Religions of Man by Huston Smith. And there was one page about Zen, and it struck home to me. And what it was talking about was realizing the interconnectedness of life and living in the moment. As Ram Dass has said, “be here, now.” Host: And that’s what grabbed you, “be here, now”? Bernie: Yep. Host: And what about other Americans? Why does Zen continue to be so appealing? Bernie: Well, Zen is an experiential religion. That is, it’s not a dogma. It’s not based on any scriptures or sutras. But it’s based on a direct experience of the interconnectedness of life. Its mode is very simple. So it’s appealing to those that are not drawn to iconography or beautiful figures, but are drawn to personal experiences of the oneness of life. Host: Would you call Zen Buddhism a religion? Or is it something else? Bernie: Well, if you say “Zen Buddhism,” sure, it’s a religion. But, Zen can be practiced by people in many religions. So, I’ve empowered forty different folks as teachers of Zen. And some of them are Rabbis, some are Sheikhs—Sufi Sheikhs, and some are Catholic Priests and Sisters in the Catholic Church. So Zen by itself can be practiced by anyone in any religion, or by secular folks. Host: And so when you say, “Zen can be practiced by people of these other faith traditions,”...

Learn More

Black Holes, The Big Bang and Not-Knowing

You can also listen to this by linking here. There is a new theory that’s floating around concerning black holes, the Big Bang, and how it relates to the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers, not knowing. I’ve talked before about the Big Bang and not knowing, and there are write-ups on our blog and the website page, Just My Opinion, Man. But here’s the new stuff that’s just come out, in which in my opinion, I have now adopted as my opinion—that is I agree with this new opinion—with this new theory. So, what are black holes? Black holes are regions of space; so incredibly dense that nothing—not even light—can escape from them. Most of these black holes are thought to form at the end of a big star’s life, when it’s internal pressure is insufficient to resist it’s own gravity, and the star collapses under it’s own weight. Most scientists believe (and it was also my opinion) that since there is nothing to stop this collapse, eventually a singularity will form. And if you have listened to my other Podcasts, you might know that in my opinion, that singularity corresponds to the state of not knowing. That is, that singularity is a region where infinite densities are reached, and general relativity ceases to be predictive—general relativity that Einstein came up with. But the singularity theory has flaws. Since the laws of physics no longer apply in a region of infinite density, no one knows what could possibly happen inside a black hole. That is, it’s a singularity. And you can’t know what the deal is there, man. And that’s the same in the state of not knowing. You can’t know, otherwise it wouldn’t be a state of not knowing. Stephen Hawking suggested in the early 1970s, that black holes can slowly evaporate and disappear. But in this case, what happens to the information that describes an object that falls into a black hole? So in our not knowing tenet, that question is, “What happened to all of the information?” Indra’s Net—this net that extends throughout all space and time—contains everything, all information. So at the singularity, there’s a total state of not knowing, where’s the information, man? What happened to it? In...

Learn More

Big Bang, Karma, and Reincarnation

I want to give you my opinions on the Big Bang, karma, and reincarnation. I was trained as an engineer, and also as a mathematician. And so, in my opinion, I agree with those that feel that the universe was created by—or at least started with—the Big Bang many many many years ago. And in mathematical terms, Big Bang—the time of the Big Bang—is a singularity. That is, you can go back and back, and you get as close to when the Big Bang happened as you want, but you can’t get to it. It’s a singularity. For example, if you try to divide 1 by zero, that’s called a singularity. In the world of Zen, and the world of Zen Peacemakers, a singularity is that which cannot be known. It’s the first tenet—the state of the unknown—out of which everything can be created. So, at the time of the Big Bang—this singularity—the whole universe is created, and starts spreading out—expanding. And what is it that is making up the universe? It’s energy. So energy is expanding out. And out, and out, and out. And then eventually starts coalescing. And we start having things we call “stars” and “planets” and “galaxies” etc. And the energy is what interests me. This field of energy in Buddhist terms, we call Indra’s Net. This energy extends throughout all space and time. And it’s all interconnected. That is, if you perturb the energy anywhere, it affects the whole system of energy. So as these manifestations happen—planets, galaxies—everything, all of the energy’s effected. Nothing is by itself. It’s all interconnected. And nowadays, we have a modern day Indra’s Net. We call it the Internet. And again, it’s all interconnected. So to me, karma can be explained as if I perturb the energy anywhere—by anything, whether it be an actual movement by my body, or a thought, or a feeling—any kind of movement affects the whole energy field—the whole, not just universes, multi-universes, the whole energy field. So obviously, karma is for me (I shouldn’t say “obviously”), in my opinion, karma is the fact that anything we do, or think, or feel affects everything. And not just now (of course everything is just now), but right now is containing all...

Learn More

Podcasts by Bernie Now Working

I sent an announcement a few weeks ago that there are Podcasts by Bernie on the Zen Peacemakers Website but unfortunately it was premature. Due to the efforts of our IT Maven, Timothy O’Connor Fraser, the podcasts are now working on our website. I will be adding podcasts almost daily. Hope you enjoy. ……link here to hear...

Learn More

Just Another Opinion on The Oneness of Life, Man

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until (s)he had freed all sentient beings from samsara. Despite strenuous effort, (s)he realizes that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his/her head splits into pieces. Buddha, seeing her/his plight, gives him/her eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara attempts to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that her/his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Buddha comes to his/her aid and invests her/him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes. In each arm is that which is needed at the moment, a hammer, a bible, a condum, a handkerchief, etc. etc. When we experience the oneness of life we manifest not only as many heads and arms but as all the phenomena of the universe and we contain all the phenomena of the universe. I’m Buddhist, but as you know, I’m also Jewish. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Many people know that word, but what they may not know is that the root of shalom is shalem, which means whole. To make something shalem, to make peace, is to make whole. In the Jewish mystical tradition it is said that at the time of the Creation, God’s light filled a cup, but that the light was so strong that it shattered the cup into fragments scattered throughout the universe. (sounds like Avalokiteśvara, eh?) And the role of the righteous person, the mensch, is to bring the fragments back and connect them together to restore the cup. That’s what I mean by peace. For me, peace means whole. The Hebrew Oseh Shalom is peacemaker, as in the verse “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Earth.” They shall work to restore the fragments into a whole. And in Zen, as you know, our practice is to experience that wholeness, the oneness and interconnectedness of life and, in my opinion, to serve all of our aspects. ……Read More...

Learn More

Bernie’s Opinion on The Dude Abides

Hui-Neng, upon hearing a monk quoting from the Diamond Sutra, is said to have been enlightened. The quote he heard was: “Abiding nowhere, raise the Bodhi Mind.” In the end of the movie by the Coen brothers, the Big Lebowski, the Dude says: “The Dude Abides.” In my opinion, there is a wonderful similarity between these two statements. Abiding nowhere is another way of stating the first Tenet of the Zen Peacemakers, Not-Knowing. Abiding nowhere means not being attached to any of my concepts or opinions, being totally open to What is. Therefore, abiding nowhere also means abiding everywhere, not excluding anything by holding on to something. If we can do that, right there the Bodhi Mind is raised. When I say the Dude abides, I mean that he is open to everything. He abides everywhere without attachments. Things happen and he is affected. New things happen and he is affected. He’s not clinging to the old or to concepts formed by the...

Learn More

Mandala Energies

The following is excerpted from Instructions to the Cook by Bernie Glassman and Rick Fields, Bell Tower, 1996. This book is a primer on how to work with the mandala energies. A Mandala consists of five main “courses” or aspects of life. The first course involves spirituality or vision; the second course is composed of training; the third course deals with our resources; the fourth course is made out of action, and the last course consists of integration. All of these main courses are an essential part of our life. Just as we all need certain kinds of food to make a complete meal that will sustain and nourish us, we need all five of these courses to live a full life. It’s not enough to simply include all these courses in our meal. We have to prepare the five courses at the right time and in the right order. The first course, the course of spirituality/vision, helps us to realize the oneness of life, and provides a still point at the center of all our activities. This course consists of spiritual practices. This practice could be prayer or listening to music or dance or taking walks or spending time alone—anything that helps us realize or reminds us of the oneness of life. The second course is training. Study provides sharpness and intelligence. People usually study before they begin something, but I like to do it the other way around. I like to study my life or social action along with the other things I’m doing and not in the abstract. For this reason, the course of study always goes with the courses of spirituality, resources, integration and action. Once we have established the clarity that comes from stillness and study, we can begin to see how to prepare the third course which is resources. This is the course which sustains us in the physical world. It is the course of work and business—the meat and potatoes. Taking care of ourselves and making a living in the world is necessary and important for all of us, not matter how “spiritual” we may think we are. At this point we also become aware of all the resources we have, e.g., money, elders, facilities, people. The...

Learn More

Interconnectedness: The Rug That Ties the Room Together

It is the opinion of many scientists (including me) that about 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion started the expansion of the universe. This explosion is known as the Big Bang. At the point of this event all of the matter and energy of space was contained at one point. What existed prior to this event is completely unknown and is a matter of pure speculation. This occurrence was not a conventional explosion but rather an event filling all of space with all of the particles of the embryonic universe rushing away from each other. The Big Bang actually consisted of an explosion of space within itself unlike an explosion of a bomb were fragments are thrown outward. The galaxies were not all clumped together, but rather the Big Bang laid the foundations for the universe. Where’s the beginning in the big bang? You can’t know what’s there before the big bang, right? You can go down pretty damn close i mean they’re going down in nanoseconds and seeing what happens in there. And they’re going forward and stuff like that. But in the very beginning, that’s what’s called a singularity. You can’t know. Now you may notice that in the Peacemakers, our first tenet is Not Knowing. It’s a state of not knowing, so what we say is if you’re going do something first approach it from that state of not knowing, that is get back to that initial singular point – to that point before the big bang. So if i can get back to that point of Not Knowing right now, and be there, then something happens and that’s the big bang. Now it starts unfolding. And it can unfold in a very creative way because it’s starting from this point of not knowing, this singular point. It’s starting from the beginning. Whatever you believe in it was created out of that big bang. Before that there was nothing. Our job in Zen is to experience that beginning, that place before there’s anything. That’s what’s meant by the koan “what’s the sound of one hand” It’s before any phenomena, what’s that state? It’s not so easy to experience. But it can be done, and it has been done, and it’s...

Learn More

Bernie’s Reflections on Issan Dorsey

In my experience, many people come to Zen practice because they love the stories of Zen masters of long ago. They love reading about outrageous teachers who said strange things and acted in even stranger ways, seeming like children, fools, and even madmen to the rest of society. It has also been my experience that while we love these characters that lived hundreds of years ago, we don’t love them so much while they’re still living. We don’t always love our present day madmen and eccentrics, for these are the people who manifest our shadow. They live in the cracks – nor just of our society but of our psyche. They put in our faces those qualities in ourselves that we’d prefer not to see – a refusal to conform, a refusal to “grow up,” a human being who ignores conventions and acceptable standards of behavior and makes up his life as he goes along. I think of Issan Dorsey as the shadow in many people’s lives. He was a drug addict, he was gay, he appeared in drag, and he died of AIDS. For many years he lived right on the edge, befriending junkies, drag queens and alkies who lived precariously like him, on the fringes of society. When he died, a Zen teacher and priest, he was still befriending and caring for those whom our society rejected then and continues to reject now, people ill with the AIDS virus. Like the old Zen masters of old, Issan Dorsey was outrageous; he manifested the shadow in our lives. And he was loved not just after his death but also during his life. For Issan had exuberance for all of life, and that included death, too. I first met Issan Dorsey in 1980, just after he began the Maitri group on Hartford Street. I happened to be visiting San Francisco Zen Center and was in the zendo when Roshi Richard Baker, Abbot of the Center, announced that a satellite group of gay Zen practitioners was forming in the middle of San Francisco’s Castro District, under the leadership of Issan Dorsey. Baker Roshi strongly supported Issan’s work, as he would continue to do for years to come. That was my first meeting with Issan. By...

Learn More

What are Bearing Witness Retreats? – Bernie Glassman

In the days of Shakyamini Buddha, during the rainy season, Buddha would stop his meandering and spend time with his monks and nuns in one locale. In Japanese this period is called Ango, a period in space and time of peace. In English we use the word retreat to often mean “getting away from the issues of the world.” A Bearing Witness Retreat is becoming one with the “issues of the world.” A Zen Meditation Retreat is to bear witness to the wholeness of life. I use the word “plunge” for my Bearing Witness Retreats. To plunge into the unknown, i.e., to plunge into that which my rational mind can’t fathom. These plunges or Bearing Witness Retreats have helped folks let go of their attachments to their ideas or concepts and experience things as they are. Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat Nov 4-8, 2013 READ MORE/REGISTER  Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers are returning for the 18th year to the old site of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oświęcim, Poland, for a Bearing Witness Retreat in November 2013. Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat April 14-19, 2014 READ MORE/REGISTER In April 2014, Zen Masters Bernie Glassman and Grover Genro Gauntt will go to Rwanda to bear witness to the Rwanda genocide. You are invited to join them for this Bearing Witness Retreat.  Dora Urujeni and Issa Higiro, representing Memos, will be our hosts in Rwanda.The retreat will be multi-faith and multinational in character, based on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving...

Learn More

What is Enlightenment?-Bernie Glassman

The word Buddha means the Awakened One. Awaken to what? My opinion is that we awaken to the Oneness of Life, the One Body. That is my opinion of enlightenment. This awakening keeps deepening and deepening. What do I mean by deepening? Most of us are enlightened to the Oneness of our own body. I think that my arms, my legs, my face, etc. are all part of One Body. In fact I generally act according to that opinion without thinking about it. It is very natural to do so and, in fact, if I didn’t act that way, people might say I am deluded. Kōbō-Daishi (774–835, founder of Shingon Sect) said that we can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others. If they are focused on themselves, they have awakened to the Oneness of themselves. If they are focused on their family, they have awakened to the Oneness of their family. If they are focused on their nation, they have awakened to the Oneness of their nation, etc., etc.  In my opinion, the Dalai Lama has awakened to the Oneness of the Universe. The bottom line for me is that the person has realized and is living the realization of the interconnectedness of life (the oneness of life). For me, that’s the awakening. For me, the enlightenment experience is awakening to the interconnectedness of life, that oneness of life; independent of what institution you belong to you can have that realization and you can function that way, and you could be within the Buddhist institutions and not be functioning that way. So that’s my standard for making somebody a teacher. I don’t even like the word empowering or transmitting. I like the word recognizing. I recognize somebody as a teacher in my family, the Zen Peacemakers, if I feel that they are living a life that shows they are an exemplar of someone who has awakened to the interconnectedness of life. …….Read More of Bernie’s...

Learn More

Just My Opinion on Clubs-Bernie

Based on our experience of the oneness of life, we form clubs. So in politics there is a liberal club, a conservative club, a neoconservative club. There are all kinds of clubs. For our clubs we build fences to protect us. We invite certain people in and we ridicule others. We can look at that liberal group. They know they’ve got the answers. They know who doesn’t have the answers. So they know who to invite, exclude, and to stay away from. And there is the conservative club. They know the answers; they know who to invite to their parties. We all have these clubs in different spheres of life, and there are many, many spheres that we create. These are the clubs in which we want to play, or dance, or we want to practice. And that has been going on for a long, long time. In the world of spirituality or religion we have the Christian club, the Jewish club, Buddhist, Islam and Native American clubs. There are lots of clubs. Even within a particular club like Christianity we have Catholic and Protestant clubs. These clubs can get very violent. Such violence is happening even now in all the religions. All of us create clubs of people we feel comfortable with and we deal in different ways with those we don’t feel comfortable with. The most common way is to deny them. We never invite them to our parties or our house, in fact if we see them on the streets we look or walk away. Another way to deal with people we don’t like is to put them into prisons, or we beat them up or we lynch them as we used to do in America with black people. Hitler came up with the ultimate idea: Kill everybody that you think is different or other. Many Buddhist centers were created as clubs that excluded the poor. How many people can leave their spouse and kids and go to a Zen center to do a retreat? In the early days of Buddhism in the United States, many left their homes and jobs. Many families broke up because of the demands of the monastic model. When my children were young, I was meditating...

Learn More

At Play in the Fields of the Pure Land

If you’re totally Bearing Witness, and also in the state of Not Knowing – that’s this word play. So play is both of those together. Then you’re acting in this free way in which you are totally immersed in the situation. You’re not attached to any kind of conditions. So you’re just playing. Where? In the fields of the pure land, where you are. Playing where you are. That’s sometimes drawn as the tenth oxherding picture that’s got Hotei – the fat guy with a bag of everything. Ryokan is another such character. He was a drunken poet in Japan and a monk, deeply in love with a nun named Teishin. They wrote many love poems to each other. Ryokan loved to play with the kids. There’s a famous story where he was hiding. They were playing hide and go seek and he hid in a barrel and after two days: “Wow they still haven’t found me!” That’s the kind of person he was. The word fields is also very important to me. At play in the fields of the pure land. I have a science background, so although I see everything as one interdependent thing, I look at it as a field. And things don’t coalesce until you have some instrument that perceives it. “The dharma is always encountered but rarely perceived.” And we say “Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.” How do you perceive anything? As a human we use our senses to perceive. We can perceive things via the brain – thinking or via touching or hearing or seeing or smelling or tasting. It’s through these various senses. And it’s generally a combination thereof. Not usually all of them. I don’t know whether you can perceive without the brain getting involved. Take a brain that you’ve totally lobotomized, or somebody’s brain dead. Can you perceive then? We certainly know we can make perceptions without one of the others. You could be blind, you could be deaf. My daughter Alisa studied special education at B.U. and she was specializing in deaf folks, but you know you’ve got to study it all. But she got a job working with kids that were epileptic, they were deaf, they were blind. They were...

Learn More

Transformation in Zen and Hasidism

Torah and Dharma Part II: The Technology of Transformation in Zen and Hasidism Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Roshi Bernie Glassman in Dialogue. Edited by Netanel Miles-Yepez ZALMAN SCHACHTER-SHALOMI, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. His family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941. He was ordained by the Lubavitcher Hasidim in 1947. For fifty years, he has been considered one of the world’s foremost teachers of Hasidism and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), holding posts as professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University, and most recently as the World Wisdom Chair holder at Naropa University. He is the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, the founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute, and an active participant in ecumenical dialogues, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama documented in the book The Jew in the Lotus. He is the author of Paradigm Shift, Spiritual Intimacy, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, and Wrapped in a Holy Flame. Reb Zalman currently lives in Boulder, Colorado. BERNIE GLASSMAN is a Roshi of the Soto Zen Buddhist lineage, a student of Maezumi Roshi, and is widely known for his influential books Bearing Witness and Instructions to the Cook. He is the founder (with Roshi Jishu Holmes) of the Zen Peacemaker Order (1996), which bases itself on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world, and a commitment to heal oneself and the world. He is a close associate of Reb Zalman.               What follows is an edited excerpt from a dialogue that took place at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish renewal retreat center in Accord, New York in the Summer of 1997 called “Torah and Dharma.”             Part one of this dialogue dealt with the ecumenical relationship between Judaism and Buddhism, the modern phenomenon of “hyphenated spirituality” and “Jew-Boos.” Part two looks at Hasidic Jewish and Zen Buddhist tools of transformation. REB ZALMAN  One day, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Habad movement,1 makes his way home from out of town. As his carriage comes in, all the hasidim are standing and waiting to receive the Rebbe and welcome him. But, one hasid, Reb...

Learn More

Torah hyphen Dharma

Torah and Dharma  Part I: Torah hyphen Dharma Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Roshi Bernie Glassman in Dialogue. Edited by Netanel Miles-Yepez ZALMAN SCHACHTER-SHALOMI, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. His family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941. He was ordained by the Lubavitcher Hasidim in 1947. For fifty years, he has been considered one of the world’s foremost teachers of Hasidism and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), holding posts as professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University, and most recently as the World Wisdom Chair holder at Naropa University. He is the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, the founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute, and an active participant in ecumenical dialogues, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama documented in the book The Jew in the Lotus. He is the author of Paradigm Shift, Spiritual Intimacy, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, and Wrapped in a Holy Flame. Reb Zalman currently lives in Boulder, Colorado. BERNIE GLASSMAN is a Roshi of the Soto Zen Buddhist lineage, a student of Maezumi Roshi, and is widely known for his influential books Bearing Witness and Instructions to the Cook. He is the founder (with Roshi Jishu Holmes) of the Zen Peacemaker Order (1996), which bases itself on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world, and a commitment to heal oneself and the world. He is a close associate of Reb Zalman.               What follows is an edited excerpt from a dialogue that took place at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish renewal retreat center in Accord, New York in the Summer of 1997 called “Torah and Dharma.”             Part one of this dialogue deals with the ecumenical relationship between Judaism and Buddhism, the modern phenomenon of “hyphenated spirituality” and “Jew-Boos.” Part two will look at Hasidic Jewish and Zen Buddhist tools of transformation.    REB ZALMAN  From time to time, people come to me and say, “I would like to have a connection with Judaism,” or “I’d like to convert to Judaism. But, I don’t want to give up ‘citizenship’ in the non-Jewish tradition I belong to now. After all, it was through...

Learn More

Getting to Not-Know You: The Tortoise Drags His Tail

Several years ago, I started to work on a book I tentatively called “The Dharma according to Groucho.” The first section is called Getting to Not-Know You. My opinion of Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any concept. This means total openness to the situation, deep listening to the situation. The tortoise dragging its tail is a famous image in the orient. Once while in northern Costa Rico I went to the beach at night when tortoises had come to lay their eggs. They’re really gigantic. Peter Mathiessen wrote a beautiful  book – Far Tortuga. It’s in the dialect of the people in Tortuga. A little north of Costa Rica. But if you see a tortoise walking on the beach, their tail wipes away the tracks. But of course there are new tracks. The tail itself creates a new track. One of the ways we know ourselves is by all of our criticisms of ourselves. And all of the things that we think we’re doing wrong. And we spend a lot of time trying to apologize or wipe away or being sorry, “I’m sorry I did this, I did that, I’m sorry.” And that’s the tortoise moving the tail and wiping away the tracks. So we do things and then we sort of look back, and “Oh, I did that wrong”. So we’ve left all of these tracks of the things that we didn’t do right in our mind. And now we spend a lot of time trying to get rid of all of those tracks. And that very process of doing that is creating new tracks. Then we look back and say “Oh I didn’t do that right, I didn’t get rid of that right”. When you get to the state of Not Knowing You, you aren’t busy wiping away the tracks  because you don’t have the tracks. At any moment you have the ingredients that are there and you do the best thing you can (make the best meal) with those ingredients, and you offer your creation. And then you look again and see what ingredients you now have and make the best meal you can and offer it again. It’s never about “Oh that meal was too sour”...

Learn More

Getting to Not-Know You: Intimacy is Like Fish and Water

Several years ago, I started to work on a book I tentatively called “The Dharma according to Groucho.” The first section is called Getting to Not-Know You. My opinion of Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any concept. This means total openness to the situation, deep listening to the situation. In zen and in many buddhist groups we relate to a boss whose name was Shakyamuni Buddha. Some groups go back to different buddhas, like Vairocana Buddha, but zen and many groups go back to the founder Shakyamuni Buddha, from about 500 BC. Although he didn’t know that there was a B.C. at the time. And when he had his enlightenment experience, in our tradition at least we say that. he said “How wonderful! How wonderful! Everyone – everything is enlightened!” Except the problem is that most of us are attached to our notions and ideas that we’re not enlightened. Or we’re attached to some kind of notions and ideas. And so we can’t see that state of enlightenment. He said “Everything as it is is enlightened, so what we can’t see or we can’t accept is that everything as it is, is enlightened. So it’s a bit like the fish in the water. So a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, – “Where’s the water?” and the fish says “What water?”.You say: “You are water!” You know the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to this notion that he or she’s some kind of… thing. And doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask –What is the ocean? Do we say it’s water? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath – they became Hawaii! They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea all kinds of stuff. But we just call it an ocean. And some Jewish comedian is in a boat looking down and says “See the ocean? ….and that’s only the top of it” I mean there’s a lot to this thing. But...

Learn More