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.
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 were done. And all those multiple universes are of equal value. That is, each of the things we did turns out to have been of equal value. And as we stand in one of those universes, we may, reflecting back, say, “Oh, I should have been this, I should have been that.” But in my opinion, we always did the best thing possible we could do.
Again, in my opinion, all of those multiple universes—and as you can see from how I described it, in my opinion there are infinity of those universes—they are all contained in Indra’s net. Therefore, as we grok Indra’s net, as we become more and more in bearing witness to the whole of the net, more and more of those multiple universes become recognizable by us.
That’s my opinion, man. That’s mind-blowing, huh?Learn More
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 there were some interventions. Without interventions, maybe the whole thing would have gone total chaos in let’s say a billion years—I don’t know, a hundred million years. With some interventions, he felt he could lengthen the time by which after the galaxies went chaotic— that they could regain stability. And to do that, Hari creates two different Foundations—a Foundation and a Second Foundation. And the Second Foundation, nobody knows where it is. Nobody knows anything about it. He keeps that secret.
The First Foundation grows. And it’s very scientific, and it’s based on knowledge. And it goes the way that we’ve seen our planet go. A merchant class arises and takes over. And an information class arises and takes over. And the scientists arise and take over. That sort of repeats the cycle that we understand. And it’s based on knowledge. And it has a limited lifetime, because it has an inherent flaw. And the inherent flaw is that it is based on knowledge.
The Second Foundation are folks that can grok Indra’s net. They can grok the interconnectedness of life. They can grok the whole thing in a way where they’re not observing the whole thing, but they are part of it. And they can feel and understand the wholeness of the universe—of the world. And as the First Foundation gets into troubles, the Second Foundation groks the situation. And by bearing witness to that situation, comes up with loving actions, which are permutations to move the First Foundation back into some stability.
Sounds familiar for those that know about the Zen Peacemakers, and the three tenets of not knowing, bearing witness, and loving actions.
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”?
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,” what is it that can be practiced across these faith traditions?
Bernie: Well, Zen means meditation.
Bernie: So a basic practice of Zen is meditation. But it’s meditation directed—a particular kind of meditation, there are many kinds of meditations—Zen is a mediation that’s directed at experiencing the non-dual state—the state in which there’s no subject and object relationship. That’s a state that’s coming not from the brain, but from the heart. And in that state you are experiencing the oneness of life. The word Buddha means awakened one.
Host: Mmmm hmmm.
Bernie: And then the question becomes “awakened to what?” And it’s an awakening to the oneness of life. Within Buddhism there are many many different schools using different techniques to help you experience that interconnectedness of life, or that oneness of life. Zen focuses on meditation as it’s main method. But there are many other methods. As you mentioned in the introduction, I use social engagement as a major method of experiencing that interconnectedness of life.
Host: What would it actually look like to live as if you knew that we were all connected? How would that person live his or her life?
Bernie: Well let me give you an example—a metaphor. One of the major figures in Buddhism in Japan, who lived around 500 a.d., said that “the way that you can tell the depth of a persons enlightenment is how they serve others.” So let’s start with the simplest type of awakening experience. You function as if you’re all one. That is, your head, your arms, your legs—you don’t even say to people “Well, that’s all me. That’s Maureen.” You take that for granted. But your functioning is such, that for example, let’s say that your left arm and your right arm felt they were separate entities. And they called themselves, maybe Mary is the left arm, John is the right arm. If Mary gets cut and blood is gushing out, John might say “I haven’t studied medicine. I’m not a doctor. I don’t have the tools,” and might contemplate “Should I help Mary or not?” And maybe John walks away. And Mary bleeds to death. And John dies. And Maureen dies. Once that experience has happened, there’s no way that the right arm can ignore the left arm bleeding, and does the best it can do to take care of it. It doesn’t say, “Do I have the right tools? Do I have the right knowledge?” It just does the best it can. So now if we go a little further, and say a woman gives birth. At the time of birth the child might be colic and the mother reacts immediately, because there’s no separation. It’s one being. But as time goes on, they become separate entities. And now, I might walk down the street, see the child on the street that may have fallen, and I may say, “Well, I’m too busy. I’ll cross the street and get away from that.” If I realize that that child is me—I’m that child, that we are one body—I can’t walk away. I take care. So the functioning of life becomes one of service to all that you have connected with.
Host: And so, helping that child, or the baby, or whomever, this is what it means to be engaged with the world in your vision of Zen?
Bernie: I believe so.
Bernie: And so as a practice, I take people to live in the streets to realize what it is to be a street person. And in fact, I then out of that experience have worked with the homeless in Yonkers, New York, building housing, childcare, creating jobs, taking care of people with AIDS, because it’s all me. So I take care of that which is me—which is the world. And so it looks like I’m serving the world, but in reality I’m serving myself. I’m taking care of who I am.
Host: Because it’s all of a piece. It’s all really one, in your conception of Zen. And if you were going to communicate one big idea that you would want our listeners to understand about Zen Buddhism, what would that idea be?
Bernie: Yeah somebody asked me “what would be my dying words?” If I were dying and saying to people what do I think is important to say, I would say, “It’s just your opinion, man.” That is, we have our concepts which we hang on to, and fight in fact. Many times we go to war and we kill people because they don’t hear our opinions. Because we think our opinions are the truth—that that’s the reality. But in my opinion, those are just opinions. And if we can take that fact, then we can share opinions. We can disagree about our opinions. And we can dialog about our opinions. And then it becomes fun, man. But once we grab onto it as the truth, as the way. That leads to fighting, to separation, to isolation, and killing.
Host: And thus, when you let go of that, you have Zen Peacemakers?
Bernie: Yep. That’s my opinion, man.
Host: Bernie Glassman is the founder of Zen Peacemakers, and his latest book is called The Dude and the Zen Master. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Bernie: Thank you.
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 terms of black holes, this information paradox (they call it an information paradox) has puzzled researchers for decades. Recently, some scientists (and now I have shifted to their opinion) have attempted to answer this question by exploring the idea that the universe—which is assumed in their opinions and my opinion, to have started with the Big Bang—that it actually emerged from a big bounce, following an earlier contracting phase. Quantum gravitational effects produce an effective repulsive force. So that matter wouldn’t have collapsed into a singularity, but it would have just reached a maximum compact state.
So this aint no singularity, man. That is, remember that singularity is what I call not knowing. So this thing—things compress and compress until it’s in a maximum compact state. Very, very small. Infinitesimal—can’t see it.
This way, the universe would bounce when the energy density matter reaches the smallest possible size in physics, causing the universe to expand again. And then possibly collapse again, and so on—back and forth. That is, the expansion spreads out through all space and time. Then it contracts at some point, gets back to this minimal point, bounces back, and so we have an infinite cycle of universes.
A similar idea has been proposed for the fate of the collapsing matter of a dying star. Researchers say that quantum effects would stop the collapse of a star before it could shrink to a singularity. The star would then become a super compact object, bounce back during the evaporation process of a black hole, and finally explode. Everything eventually would have fallen into the black hole, would be released.
Researchers say that as a black hole evaporates and shrinks, it’s boundary will at some point meet maximum compact state. When that happens, there is no black hole arising any more. And all information trapped inside the black hole can escape. In this case, the information would simply be reemitted into the universe.
So in our case, in my opinion, if the metaphor for the universe is Indra’s Net that contains all (everything, past, present, and future, all thoughts, all actions, all feelings, throughout all space and time, past, present, and future)—that as it gets small enough, to where we can’t see it anymore—that is, as we get to that place that is not knowing—we’re experiencing not knowing—still all of the information is still there. Get it? So therefore, anything and everything can be created.
That’s just my opinion, man.Learn More
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 space and all time—past, present, and future. So everything that I do, or anybody does, any motion, thought, feeling is affecting everything.
Now, our brain—our particular body—has a set of apparatus. Our brain, eyes, ears nose. Some of it works. Some doesn’t work. For some the eyes don’t work. For some the ears don’t work. For some the mouth—the voice can’t happen. But we do have various kinds of instrumentation. Just like a radio has instrumentation. Or a TV has instrumentation. And as you know, a TV can access the field that is being sent around and manifest it as pictures and sound. We watch movies, and TV shows, and things of that nature. Same with the radio—the radio is accessing the field and it’s manifesting it as music that we hear.
And so, in my opinion, our brain is accessing this huge energy field, which extends throughout all space and time. And it manifests as thoughts, and sights, and sounds. It manifests in different ways. And as it manifests, we label it, and say, “Oh that’s the past, that happened already,” or “that’s going to happen, that’s the future,” or “that’s right now.”
We’re only manifesting that section of the energy field that our system can access. Now what prevents us from accessing the whole thing? Our conditioning. Our attachments to our ideas and concepts block us from accessing the whole thing. As we let go of those attachments, we could access more and more. And that continuously happens. And I call that reincarnation.
So right now, whatever accesses, that’s what I call me. As that ability to access more and more, that is, as we are able to let go of the attachments that block us from accessing more and more, all of a sudden, there’s a new me. There’s a new you. Reincarnation has occurred.
Now all of this is just my opinion.
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