Plunging on the Streets of Helsinki: Civil War, Child Slavery and The Ease of Generosity

HELSINKI, FINLAND. This September, Zen Peacemakers will be holding a street retreat in Helsinki, Finland. In this article, Mikko Ijäs describes the historical context of what these streets have born witness to in the past hundred years: Civil War, Child Slavery and Generosity.

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Knowing When to Quit: Roshi Genro Reflects on a Photo from a 1999 New York City Street Retreat

“…Once you’ve experienced a certain amount of difficulty as a group, and the group’s gone through a lot, sometimes you don’t need four days on the street to get it.” Roshi Grover Genro Gaunt reflects on his experience during a street retreat in 1999.

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Cardboard Boxes, Begging and Birdsong – Reflection from Street Retreat in Chicago

“We ended up sleeping in cardboard boxes on the banks of the Chicago River…I didn’t sleep much, but I felt the cold to be a deep cleansing, the rocks breaking through my cardboard box to be incentives to stay aware, and the birds on the river were surprising rushes of interconnected joy. As the sun rose and the sky lightened, I came out the other side of my fears.” Skye Levin shares about her first experience on Street Retreat this past month in Chicago.

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This Food of Seventy Two Labors, an Invitation to a Bearing Witness Retreat to Food, Land and Racism in the USA

PETERSBURG, NEW YORK STATE, USA. Rev. Ariel Pliskin​, ZPO Minister and founder of Unity Tables​ and community-based Stone Soup Café Greenfield MA​ has participated in several Bearing Witness Retreats on the streets, at Auschwitz, and the Black Hills. He now brings this rich experience to examine the interplay of food, land and race in the USA, in a new retreat he is organizing together with Sensei Francisco Lugovina​ from Hudson River Peacemaker Center-House of One People​, and Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm​. Read what led Ariel to co-develop this retreat, and join him in September 2017 on Soul Fire Farm.

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In Search of Dignity And Care: A ZPO Member’s Reflection On A Year of Street Retreats

“…The tech firms have headquarters literally right across the streetcar tracks from the Tenderloin, the city’s most impoverished neighborhood…my mind and my body can be and has been complicit in setting up boundaries and breaking down neighborhoods… if I allow all experience – the whole plaza – to penetrate me, then I will be transformed…” – ZPO Member Kosho Brian Durel of Upaya Zen Center.

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Sharing a Meal with Hungry Hearts

by Cassie Moore, Upaya Resident “Calling all you hungry hearts All the lost and left behind Gather ’round and share this meal Your joy and sorrow I make it mine.” —from The Gate of Sweet Nectar liturgy Most nights, people line up outside of the Santa Fe homeless shelter, Pete’s Place, well before the glass doors stretch open for dinner at 6 p.m. For dozens of people, “Pete’s” (formerly the Pete’s Pets building on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe, now the Interfaith Community Shelter) is a winter emergency shelter that offers nourishment and beds, as well as community and safety. To serve meals, the shelter relies on legions of volunteers, like us. A Upaya team of eight, we’ve come dressed not in our usual Zenblack, but in “normal” clothes. We unpack a Subaru full of prepped veggies, spices, oils, and kitchenware and lug it all into Pete’s kitchen. Debbie who works at the shelter greets us with boundless energy, and orients us on how to prepare dinner, how to serve, and when to sit to join the shelter guests for dinner. Over several days, we have been preparing for this dinner with the help of local sangha members. Our menu feels like a pre-Thanksgiving feast for the 105 people who will fill Pete’s dining hall tonight. As we unload the car in trips, walking back and forth through the parking lot, we pass a dozen people looking in through the still-locked glass doors, pacing outside, resting on the sidewalk, catching up, smoking. A sangha volunteer whispers to me, “This is where I get shy.” Internally, I feel an old shyness fog me, too. I feel intense waves of differentiation coming up, noticing the clients who appear to be on drugs, seeing a group of women yelling in the parking lot corner. A man in the lot catcalls me. I notice this feeling arise that says, These people are different than me. I feel self-doubt. I’m afraid I don’t know how to show up with these people, that our differences are too big for us to connect, that I won’t know the right thing to say or do. As we settle in, the kitchen begins smelling like holidays: it’s snowing out and our chicken soup and...

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ZPO Members Complete NYC Street Retreat, Sep 15-18

In photo: Jiryu, Mukei, Kim, Rudie, and Bogai By A. Jesse Jiryu Davis, ZPO New York City, NY USA For four days and three nights, I led a small group who chose to be homeless. In preparation, we raised a few thousand dollars to donate to homeless services, then we left behind our wallets and phones and all possessions, and joined to live on the streets together. We slept in parks, ate at soup kitchens, and begged for change. We meditated and chanted twice a day. Street retreat is a practice of the Zen Peacemaker Order. It’s a way to raise some money for charity, to bear witness to the lives of homeless people, and to taste the renunciation of the first Buddhist monks. I’ve been on retreats before, but this is my first time leading one. As you might predict, I lived in the grip of anxiety for the weeks before the retreat, but once the retreat actually began it didn’t take long for me to relax into its flow. We had favorable weather, we had enough to eat, and we found safe places to sleep each night. Here’s a recap we wrote together. Thursday We met in Washington Square park, on a mild day. There were five of us: Mukei, Bogai, Rudie, Kim, and Jiryu. We introduced ourselves, meditated, and began a Day of Reflection. We walked to the Bowery Mission for an evangelical service and meal. In the chapel, a Baptist preacher shouted and growled a sermon about his salvation from crack addiction. The pews were filled with street people. Most slept or played with their cell phones. A few shouted “amen!” The preacher called for the congregation to come forward and be blessed. A handful of men walked to the front and the preacher commanded Satan to release them in the name of Jesus. Everyone in the room should’ve come to the front, according to the preacher, because all were sinners who needed the salvation of Jesus. Dinner was above-par: roast chicken, rice, a salad with sliced turkey, apple juice and styrofoam bowls of cheese and caramel popcorn. I’d noticed a truck unloading boxes of Whole Foods leftovers earlier, perhaps the chicken was from there. We walked in the twilight through...

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

During September 22-25 2016, six individuals have partaken in a Street Retreat in New York City, a homelessness plunge based on Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action. Below is their email exchange in its aftermath concerning one individual they met on the streets. (September 28 2016) A vignette on our street retreat, As some of you know I went on a street retreat in NYC from Thursday to Sunday last week. In the course of being homeless we befriended a 47 year old woman who had been living on the street for 25 years now and is still alive. Fatima acted as our street coordinator; making sure we got our food at the Bowery Mission before others so we could get to the park for our closing ceremony on Sunday, got us coffee in the morning, showed us where to sleep in a big park in the village. She had amazing energy; you could see how alive she was from the way she laughed and cried to the way she offered herself to us; wanting to be seen and heard. She didn’t have teeth and admitted to taking crack and alcohol every day because she didn’t know how to cope with her life. We were sitting in our circle meditating and speaking from the heart and with a tear streaked face she looked into our eyes and said, “don’t forget me don’t forget Fatima”;. It reminded me of these parts of me that cry, are confused, feel messy and all our parts that cry “don’t forget me”. Marushka   (September 28 2016) Dear Friends, As you know we had a quick discussion & agreed we’d like to do something for Fatima for her upcoming birthday. I told her I would meet her for lunch again this Saturday at 12:30 at the meatloaf place; no guarantee she’ll be there but she did say she’s there every Saturday. I am going to bring a $100 Kmart gift card for her & say it’s from all of us; if however she doesn’t show I will just keep it for myself. Either way I will report what happens, & if she does show up I’ll give you all my address for any contribution you’d like to make. Gassho, Scott B.   (September 30 2016) Dear Street Sangha, Good day! Hard to believe that 7 days ago we...

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Belonging to the Forest, Belonging to the Slum – A Zen Peacemaker’s visit to Brazil

Belonging to the Forest, Belonging to the Slum – A Zen Peacemaker’s visit to Brazil By Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller, Peacemakergemeinschaft Schweiz (Switzerland), Brazil February 2016 Our connections with Brazil started at the Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz. In this place where millions of people where killed and tortured, a lot of friendships and heart connections have started in this retreat that Zen Peacemakers have been doing every year in November for over twenty years. Roland and I met Ovidio in Krakau in 2005, before the retreat. We had dinner together and he shared about his work in Porto Alegre as a psychiatrist, a family therapist and a mindfulness teacher, a field where Roland and I share a lot of common interest. Since then Ovidio has come to visit us in our home in Switzerland every year. He has brought us together with a Brazilian-Swiss couple living in Zürich, both Zen priests and senior students of Roshi Coen. Jorge Koho Mello and his wife Marge Oppliger Pinto have become precious friends in the Dharma. For many years these four friends have invited us to come to Brazil, and finally this year was the right moment to accept their invitation. We were invited to speak about the ZPO in various Zen sanghas as well as in a Tibetan monastery. We would meet these sanghas and learn about their practice and their social projects. And in the meantime, Roland and I would have the chance to spend some days together in the nature of the country. Green, green, vast green on both sides of the road as far as we could see; for two hours we were driving on this road which draws a thin line through the Atlantic rainforest. My breath got deep and it felt as if all the cells in my body smiled. The wild powerful rainforest is still there, it is still exists, grand, untouched, full of life! The Atlantic rainforest in the region of Santa Catharina is part of the cultural heritage of the UNESCO. It is the homeland for 20,000 different sorts of plants and 1,361 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and snakes. The hills and mountains on the horizon have a haze of dust. This gives it the name cloud forest. Now...

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Exploring the Bodhisattva Way, Free Adventures Every Day, Part 2

EXPLORING THE BODHISATTVA WAY, FREE ADVENTURES EVERY DAY, Part 2 By Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt A talk given at Upaya Zen Center on September 28, 2015 Download audio recording, Continued from Part 1 Transcribed by Scott Harris, Photo above by Peter Cunningham GENRO: […] So we don’t have much more time. It’s like a few minutes before the dinner bell rings. So I want to be open to questions. Please say your name before your questions. Audience member: Nancy. Genro: Hi Nancy. Audience member: What was it like in the Black Hills? What were the interactions with . . .? Genro: That’s a big one. That’s a big question. It was really wonderful. We camped for five days. There were some people that stayed in lodges. So if you want to come do that with us, you don’t have to camp. But I highly recommend it, because the Lakota name for the Black Hills is Cante Wamakhognake. And the translation for that is “The heart of everything that is.” So I would not want to go to my lodge room, and take a shower. I want to be on the land. Because it’s holy land for sure. The natives that were there, they were really surprised. The question that I heard most often was, “How do you know so many nice people?” They can’t imagine two hundred people that are not bigoted—seriously—or don’t have awful opinions of them, and how they should be living their lives, and not being at the tit of the state. That’s what they run into all the time. So the normal way of native people around Wasichu, and that’s what they call the non-Indians — Wasichu’s an interesting word. It means “the one who takes the fat.” That’s what they call the non-Indians, who were the explorers and the colonizers. The fat eaters, Wasichu. But their normal attitude around white people mostly is distance and fear. You know, “What are they gonna ask me? What are they gonna call me? What kind of judgment are they gonna make of me?” But in the Black Hills [retreat], in this container that arose, the native people were saying, “I’m just so happy. I’m just so full of joy to be here, and to be...

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Exploring the Bodhisattva Way, Free Adventures Every Day

  EXPLORING THE BODHISATTVA WAY, FREE ADVENTURES EVERY DAY By Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt A talk given at Upaya Zen Center on September 28, 2015 (downloadaudio recording) Transcribed by Scott Harris, Photos by Jesse Jiryu Davis   Genro: Good evening everybody. It’s lovely to be here, lovely to be here with you. And this room, the energy during zazen—good work. It feels great. Joshin mentioned that I’m here because we’re doing a Bearing Witness retreat tomorrow in Albuquerque. And the whole idea of bearing witness came out of Bernie Tetsugen Glassman Roshi’s practice. Back when he was in college—he did his graduate work at UCLA, in Los Angeles, got a doctorate in mathematics. And when he was there, before he dreamed of Zen practice, he realized that he wanted to do three things. He wanted to start a monastery, somewhere. I’m not sure he knew what tradition he wanted to be in, but he wanted to start a monastery. And he wanted to be a clown. And he wanted to live on the streets as a homeless person. And he’s managed to do all of them. His early practice at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which started in about 1967 with Maezumi Roshi . . . His doctorate at UCLA was in mathematics. And the Zen Center wasn’t up to full speed yet. It was still growing. And so he would work during the day. And during the day he was in charge of the manned mission to Mars project at McDonnell-Douglas. So they say you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a Zen person, but he was. When he left the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1980 or so, he came to New York, started a Zen community, and quickly sort of revolutionized Zen practice. Because it became clear to him rather quickly that Zen shouldn’t be practiced only in a meditation hall, only in the temple—that in order to really manifest it, we need to really manifest it in our daily lives, in service to all beings. If our practice is to realize the oneness and the wholeness of life, and that we’re really one with all beings, then we have to take care of them. We have to...

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Richard Gere Talks About Wandering New York Streets as a Homeless Man

NYFF Report: Richard Gere Talks About Wandering New York Streets as a Homeless Man for ‘Time Out of Mind’   The next time you pass a panhandler on the street that looks like Richard Gere, pause and take a closer look because it may actuallybe Richard Gere. Earlier this year, the 65-year-old actor spent several weeks on the New York streets shooting Time Out of Mind, in which he plays an elderly alcoholic who becomes part of the city’s homeless population. Wearing a black-knit winter hat and clutching an empty coffee cup, Gere approached actual passers-by and asked for spare change while director Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) filmed the interactions, often from a block away. And, amazingly enough, nobody recognized him. Well…almost nobody. “There were two or three times where someone talked to me on the street,” Gere remarked at a press conference following a New York Film Festival screening of Time Out of Mind on Thursday. “One was a French tourist, a woman, who totally thought I was a homeless guy and gave me some food. The other two times were African-Americans and they just passed me and went, ‘Hey Rich, how you doin’ man?’ No question about what I was doing there or ‘Have you fallen on hard times?’ and ‘What happened to your career?’ Just “Hey Rich, how you doin’ man,” and they just continued on.” For the most part, though, people barely looked at Gere, and that was precisely the non-reaction he needed to get into character. “I think we all have a yearning to be known and be seen,” he explains. “I come here and you want to hear what I want to say. But I’m the same guy that I was on the street and no one wanted to hear his story. I could see how quickly we can all descend into [scary] territory when we’re totally cut loose from all of our connections to people.” Here are five other things we learned about Time Out of Mind — which is currently without a distributor — from Gere and Moverman’s press conference. The movie has been almost 30 years in the making Gere remembers receiving the script for what became Time Out of Mind a decade ago, but it apparently had been kicking around Hollywood a long while...

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Street Retreat in Tel Aviv by Uri Ayalon

Uri Ayalon Reports on Street Retreat in Tel Aviv From the blog of Uri Ayalon translated by Ruth Bar-Eden   My father thinks I’m crazy.  That’s nothing new.  Only a crazy person could claim that capitalism is not a directive from heaven; that giving and sharing are man’s basic instincts; and that a life of self-examination, study, and change are better than a life of habit and comfort. On Yom Kippur I went on a journey in the southern part of Tel-Aviv with no money, no mobile, and no sleeping bag, and with a group of twenty other crazy people (led by Rabbi Ohad Ezrachi and Zen teacher Bernie Glassman, may they each live long years for the magic they bring to this world with courage and humility), who gathered for three days of homelessness–by–choice.  What a strange choice: Those with a home, food and money are playing a game of poverty and begging?   Les miserables de-shmates. Yes, how important it is to let go of privilege once in a while.  How important to let go in general, to reveal the abundance that lies just beyond the mountains of fear.  I already knew that the detritus from our culture of excess feeds different lifestyles, but what I learned about in this journey is the texture of the garbage, walking in it barefoot, being touched by it to the very core.  Smelling it, drinking it, and not running away. On the first evening I went to get French fries in the restaurants of the Central Bus Station.  There I met Sharon: born in Georgia, formerly of the USSR, studied medicine, and found herself on the streets due to a combination of schizophrenia, drug and alcohol addiction, and a love story that turned into a war.  Her daughter was taken from her by child protective services at the age of four.  Now she’s pregnant again, carrying the child of a Sudanese.  She accompanied us throughout the days with captivating humor and intelligence, taught us the location of the fountain with the best water and where we would find cartons to use as mattresses. Yasser from Sudan joined us, completely drunk. Shachar is an Ethiopian who hates all whites and therefore feels at home only in Lewinski...

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Yom Kippur in the Streets of Tel-Aviv 2013 by Lilach Shamir

This Yom Kippur I won’t be in synagogue. The day before the holiday a group of people, invited by Rabbi Ohad Ezrachi, a friend and teacher, and the Zen teacher Roshi Bernie Glassman, gathered in the streets of south Tel-Aviv, in Lewinski Park. We stayed there without phones, money, identification papers or possessions save the clothes we wore. People dear to me asked if I was crazy: What are you doing this for? Be careful not to catch polio. Are you normal? It’s dangerous out there … I asked myself the same questions, and more. It was called a retreat, a time for practice. What do you practice in the streets? Thirty years ago, Bernie Glassman decided that teaching Zen in a monastery was not enough. He went out with several of his students to the streets of New York to meet the homeless and bear witness to their lives. Later they developed a project, including a bakery that employed homeless persons and homes where they could live. The project was a big success. Bernie teaches his students three principles: 1.     Not Knowing: the willingness to leave behind all the ideas you had about a situation and approaching it as an empty vessel. 2.     Bearing Witness: being in the moment, place, or situation as a witness who experiences, feels and absorbs as much as possible on all levels: What is happening in me and around me, what is happening in the interactive space between my surroundings and myself? At some point the question comes up: Is there a difference between me and the other, and who is the other inside me, the parts which I push aside, ignore, refuse to see or relate to, etc. 3.     Loving action, or right action, which arises naturally from bearing witness, from experiencing, feeling and understanding in depth that which is happening. And maybe it does not arise. Ohad timed this retreat for Yom Kippur because the situation in south Tel-Aviv reminds him of the ritual scapegoat used in this holiday. On this day in the distant past, all the sins of the people of Israel were thrust upon a single goat that would then be sent into the desert, where it would die. That is how our...

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