Bernie’s Training: Social Engagement

Bernie’s Training: Social Engagement

By Roshi Bernie Glassman

Photo by Peter Cunningham of Bernie, Sandra Jishu Holmes and the Greyston Builders, local Yonkers construction crew  started by Bernie, at the first rehab project (2.8 million dollars) for homeless families (19 units of housing) and a child care center in Yonkers, NY USA. Greyston has built over 300 units of housing by 2015. 

(Continued from Bernie’s Training: In The Beginning )

This is my second twenty years in Zen—sort of the second twenty. I will start around 1976. That’s about forty years ago. I had just received dharma transmission from my teacher.

But more important in ’76, I had an experience which was very important in my life. It was an experience of feeling all of the hungry spirits, or ghosts in the universe—all suffering, as we all do.

And they were suffering for different things. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough enlightenment. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough food. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough love. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough fame. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough housing. Some were suffering because they had bad teeth—like me, all kinds of sufferings.

Out of that, in a car ride to work, a vision of all of these hungry spirits popped up. And immediately it also popped up, that these are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. All of these hungry aspects of myself popped up. And an action came out of that, which was a vow to serve, to feed—it was really more to feed all of these hungry spirits.

So until then, I had decided that my work was going to be in the meditation hall, and in a temple. I had quit for the fourth and last time my job at McDonnell Douglas. And I was now a full time Zen teacher. And I was going to work only in the meditation hall, and work only with people who came to our Zendo, and wanted to be trained.

But now I made this vow to work with all these hungry spirits. So that meant I had to change the venue, change the place I worked. And now it was still to work in the meditation hall, but also to work in all of life, all of society.

And then the big question arose to me; what would be useful to help people in these different spheres of life—like business people, and entertainment people, and social action people, and all these people? What would be good, what we call upayas, expedient means, or ways of helping people to experience the oneness of life in those spheres? All of my training had been in the meditation hall. I was trained in how to run Sesshins, how to use the kyosaku properly, how to wear my robes properly. I had been trained in koan systems. I had done two different koan systems. So that was a lot of koans—around six/seven hundred koans. I was trained in how to teach people to do meditation, in different ways—with breathing, with Shikantaza, different styles. And I also had been interested in interfaith work, so I had been trained in Christian meditation, in Jewish meditation. Those are my trainings. But I didn’t think that would work in the business world.

So this was my new kind of study—what would be the method? Also, I have to say that this may have been influenced by the fact that for a number of years before ’76—well, for a long time—in our Zen Center of Los Angeles, we had morning liturgy, afternoon liturgy, and evening liturgy. And it’s sort of prescribed what that liturgy is in the Soto sect. There’s some choices, some variety, but the evening service that we did was called Kan Ro Mon. And we did it all in Japanese (it’s really Chinese—but Japanese pronunciations). And somehow, that service really affected me. And I knew nothing about what it was about, because I was just chanting these Japanese words. It turns out that that service—and I sort of start finding this out after the experience of the hungry spirits—that service is about feeding the hungry spirits, in the five Buddha fields.

OK, so I had that experience in ’76, and by ’79 I was planning to leave the Zen Center of Los Angeles and move back to my original home, which was New York. And I started to meet with people in the New York area to create a board, and to plan where we would start, and how it would be. And I talked to them about the fact—when I came back to New York—I wanted to build a society, an actual society in the city. A little bit like the old cathedrals were, where they were a whole city. And the community we built, I wanted to build it via the five Buddha families. And that meant that we were going to be involved in social action, and business, and all these different things.

And most of the people just laughed at me, and said, “You’re crazy, Bernie. What we want is for you to come here, and set up a Zendo. And that’s why you’re coming here. We want to sit with you, and study koans, and do that.” I said, “Well, that may be what you want, but I’m coming here to do that.” And they said, “Aaach, you’re not. We still want you to come, and we don’t believe you.” You know, “this won’t happen.” That’s what they said to me, these people before I came. I have the minutes of those meetings.

So anyway, we moved to New York, and I started to build this mandala. First I built a spiritual base, and then the study base, and then the business base to give us resources, and then the social action base. And all along, I was looking how does this work in terms of relationship? How do we keep it so it stays a full mandala? At that time, I think I was the only one involved in that thinking. Everybody else was pretty much it was a regular Zendo, but just for a while. And then, they start shifting, and many people left. People would leave because I wasn’t doing what they wanted. It was a little bit crazy. But we were doing a real life plan.

So, for me what was happening while we were doing our meditations, and koan study, and different Zen studies, and teaching people that, at the same time we were trying to develop a work practice. What do you do, in terms of work, that would help the people who are working experience the unity of life? That was my question. So my question, as we started to work in these different fields was not just how do we do a good job? Or in social action, how do we help? My question was how do we do it in a way that helps the people that are doing the work, and the people that are being served—how do we do it in a way that helps both of them experience the oneness of life? That was always my question. And that question has never stopped. And it’s at the forefront of what I do.

(to be continued soon)

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Mike Brady Named President & CEO of Greyston

Greyston’s Board of Directors Announced that Mike Brady, President of Greyston Bakery, has been named President and CEO of Greyston, expanding his leadership role to the entirety of Greyston. “We are pleased to have found a leader within our existing team who possesses both the passion for our mission, as well as a vision for what a successful organization should be in the 21st Century,” said Deborah Stewart, Chair of the Greyston Foundation Board of Directors.

Mike was a Board Member of Greyston Foundation before being named President and CEO of Greyston Bakery in 2012, the for-profit arm of Greyston Foundation. Through his leadership, Mike developed the Bakery into a pre-eminent social enterprise, demonstrating that Greyston’s unique model of Open Hiring and PathMaking-Greyston’s mission in serving the people of Southwest Yonkers-is compatible with a profitable business model. Passionate about social entrepreneurship,Mike is a well-known thought leader on social enterprise management, mindfulness in business, and the development and success of Benefit Corporations. He is a regularly featured speaker on these and related topics, having presented at TED@Unilever, CGI America, the Ashoka Future Forum, as well as at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Brown.

Mike remarked, “Greyston celebrated its 32nd Anniversary this year and I am honored to have the opportunity to build on our heritage as a pioneering social enterprise. The momentum behind socially-minded and sustainable business practices has never been stronger and this could not be happening at a more critical time as we search for answers to the challenges of joblessness and poverty, which are preventing good people from leading lives of self-sufficiency. I look forward to working with the outstanding team at Greyston to address these problems and to set an example for other like-minded organizations to follow.”

“We congratulate Mike Brady as Greyston’s newest leader and visionary, who has the experience and passion to continue Greyston’s business model of expert community outreach and growth,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Greyston to assist those in need throughout Yonkers and beyond.”

Under Mike’s leadership, Greyston Bakery has been marked by solid financial and mission-based achievements. During his tenure, the Bakery increased revenues by more than 50% and was recognized as New York State’s first Benefit Corporation. Brady’s strategic initiatives have also resulted in national distribution of Greyston Bakery brownies and cookies through Whole Foods Market, a high quality contract baking capability, and a strengthened 25-year relationship with Ben & Jerry’s and its parent Unilever. “Mike has been a remarkable leader of Greyston Bakery. We look forward to him bringing that same passion to the entirety of Greyston, raising the bar for all of our programs to maximize our positive impact on the people who need it most,” said Deborah Stewart, Chair of the Greyston Foundation Board of Directors.

 Mike has more than 20 years of experience in strategy and management positions identifying and exploring new business opportunities in high-growth and transitional industries. Prior to joining Greyston Bakery, Brady was a partner with BAO Food and Drink, where he oversaw the development of the country’s first incubator dedicated to organic food production and distribution. He is also a business advisor to the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) helping to promote policies for a more sustainable economy. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Mike lives in Westchester, N.Y. with his wife and two sons.

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Greyston’s Mission and History

Greyston’s Mission

Greyston is a force for personal transformation and community economic renewal. We operate a profitable business, baking high quality products with a commitment to customer satisfaction. Grounded in a philosophy that we call PathMaking, we create jobs and provide integrated programs for individuals and their families to move forward on their path to self-sufficiency.

Our History

Greyston has a successful 30 year history that’s grounded in a philosophy to better our community and the lives within it. This philosophy permeates everything that we do and has helped to make Greyston the force of socially conscious purpose that it is today.

In the 1980s, our founder, Roshi Bernie Glassman recognized that employment is the gateway out of poverty and towards self-sufficiency. In 1982, he opened Greyston Bakery, giving the hard-to-employ a new chance at life. His open-door policy offered employment opportunities regardless of education, work history or past social barriers, such as incarceration, homelessness or drug use.

Out of this hiring policy a new and larger mission grew. Low-income apartments were built for the formerly homeless, providing housing for Bakery workers and their peers. Soon after, Greyston Child Care Center was founded to ensure that a lack of high-quality, low cost child care wouldn’t be a barrier to work. As the AIDS epidemic spread, Greyston responded by opening Issan House and the Maitri Center, providing housing and adult day health services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Growing awareness of health disparities for communities of color and growing concerns about the environment prompted the creation of the Community Gardens and Environmental Education program. Most recently, in response to the recession, which disproportionately impacted poor Yonkers residents, Greyston launched WD 2.0, a comprehensive workforce development program.

What originally began as a modest bakery has grown into a broad array of results-oriented, evidence-based programs and services designed to respond to the changing needs of Yonkers residents. We are proud to say that today, Greyston serves over 2,200 community members annually.

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One Baker’s Mission to Embrace Change

Our journey sharing Full Circle stories continues. Today, we reveal Raymond’s story: a true testimony to our community of dreamers and achievers. Through him, we hope you will see the inspirational strength and love that defines Greyston Bakery.

Raymond grew up in Yonkers smelling the delicious chocolate scent which signifies proximity to the bakery producing over 30,000 pounds of brownies daily. Raymond’s father left he and his mother at an early age and his hardworking mother had to work long hours. Raymond began selling drugs with some friends but after spending time in prison far away from his mother and the rest of his family, Raymond resolved to change his life and become a better person.

Raymond faced huge challenges at this time. He wanted to let go of his past, forgive himself and find a meaningful job. However, it quickly became clear that many places of business would not hire him because of the person he used to be. He worked for some time at a hospital and at Snapple before signing his name on the Greyston Bakery hiring list. Raymond was determined to work at the bakery, a place he felt would truly accept him. When he received the call about an open position, he felt overjoyed at the prospect of a new beginning. He describes being “welcomed with open arms” on his first day.

It has been a year since Raymond’s first day and he has grown to love the community. Sunitha, Account Manager for Ben & Jerry’s, inspires Raymond daily. “I get my energy from Suni. She stands out because she comes into work every day with a smile on her face. That is not an easy thing to do and I respect her for that.” Raymond finds that most of the staff know how to leave their troubles outside the door and share happiness and encouragement within the walls of the bakery. He feels he learns something new every day from all of his coworkers and is inspired to be amongst an incredible group of people who have overcome immense challenges. Each day, Raymond strives to make the people around him laugh. “Greyston has truly given me the opportunity to put my past behind me. I am surrounded by people who want to make a change and have earned that change.”

Raymond has four beautiful children: three boys and one girl, all of whom love to visit their father at work and eat freshly baked Cookie Thins. His daughter has even requested her own oven so she can bake like her father!

We are proud to announce that Raymond has interviewed for and accepted a new position with Greyston Foundation. In just a few short days, he will join the Maintenance Team, a new challenge and exciting opportunity to learn additional skills. We will be sad to say good-bye to Raymond at the bakery, but are always happy to see members of the Greyston community continue their journey in bigger and better ways. He is incredibly excited to dedicate his time to gaining more skills. “I will miss everybody at the Bakery. Thank you to the whole team for letting me share my story and for inspiring me to be my best.”

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A trip to the Greyston bakery always ends up delivering a cookie and a smile, but at the bakery run by Mike Brady, the extra icing is its stated goal of also serving up a second chance. The recipe for the success of their enterprise includes a commitment to employing a range of chronically unemployed people, including former convicts and recovering addicts.

Mike, the President and CEO at Greyston Bakery, is building on the Bakery’s thirty year heritage as a model for social enterprise using entrepreneurship to address the issues of generational poverty in low income communities. Their manufacturing facility in Yonkers, NY serves as a force for personal transformation and community economic renewal. Greyston is best known for a 24-year relationship baking the brownies that go into Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. Mike’s passion for social entrepreneurism and the use of business to solve social issues are fundamental to his work at Greyston Bakery. Mike is a business advisor to the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) helping to promote policies for a more sustainable economy.

View the webcast about Greyston and one of it’s workers Dion Drew.

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Panels at Greyston Bakery Created by Greyston Employees


Grounded in a whole-person approach, which we call PathMaking, Greyston Foundation, a pioneer in social enterprise, creates jobs and provides integrated programs for individuals and their families to move forward on their path to self-sufficiency.

Greyston Mandala

All of Greyston’s interconnected programs, services, all of its employees, tenants, and program- clients.


It is both a guiding philosophy and a program at Greyston. The PathMaking philosophy is our belief that individuals can be supported to achieve “wholeness” (self-sufficiency) that comes from having a well-balanced, satisfying and integrated personal, spiritual and professional life. The PathMaking program at Greyston provides direction, support and referrals, to all members of the Greyston Mandala- employees, clients, and the board, in the areas of personal and professional development and organizational success.

Spirituality at Greyston

We understand that we all are connected to one another, have responsibility for each other, and for ourselves; there are ways of being in the world that can help ourselves and others.


We believe that our openness is our authentic willingness to include and accept all others in a non-judgmental way, while holding ourselves and others accountable. We understand that we are all connected and have responsibility for respecting and acknowledging one another. We welcome innovation and accept the existence of endless possibilities.


We believe in loving-action as a practical application, creating the conditions for others to become empowered, approaching all persons with compassion and all situations with integrity and commitment to do the right thing.


We believe that our acceptance of others where they are, followed by right action, will lead to growth and positive change in the evolution of individuals, programs and communities.


Is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation.

Bearing Witness

We bear witness to the joy and suffering that we encounter. Rather than observing the situation, we become the situation. We became intimate with whatever it is – disease, war, poverty, death. When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t run away.

Loving Action

Is an action that arises naturally when one enters a situation in the state of not-knowing and then bears witness to that situation.

It has nothing to do with one’s opinions or another’s opinions as to whether it is loving action or not.

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