Living a Life that Matters #1: Sharing the Mountain Top
By Roshis Bernie Glassman and Eve Myonen Marko
Given on March 5th, 2015 at Sivananda Yoga Retreat at Nassau, Bahamas
Transcribed by Scott Harris, photos by David Hobbs and Rami Efal
Introduction: We would like to welcome all the new guests that arrived at the Ashram today. And we would like to welcome that came for the program on “Living a Life That Matters,” that will start tonight. And to those that are here to participate in the annual gathering of the Zen Peacemakers Order. So it’s a great honor to have our distinguished presenters. And we’ll introduce them shortly, and their group—like we mentioned last night.
So tonight we’ll begin a four-day program called, “Living a Life That Matters.” And it will be presented by Roshi Bernie Glassman, and Roshi Eve Myonen Marko. And we’ve been holding this program for several years—in fact we just had it in December. And it’s always a great pleasure to welcome Roshi Bernie and Roshi Eve. They’re great masters in the Zen movement in the United States, and in fact all over the world. And they do wonderful things, very good things, for the world—great believers in social action, and turning social action into spiritual practice.
But this time we have a special occasion, because we started talking about it two years ago—to actually hold the annual gathering of their organization, which is called the Zen Peacemakers, and to have it here at the Yoga retreat. So it’s really wonderful to hold this event here. And tonight we’ll have the opening lecture in this program.
So I’d like to introduce the presenters. Roshi Bernie Glassman is a world-renowned pioneer in the Zen movement, and founder of Zen Peacemakers. He’s a spiritual leader, author, and businessman, and teaches at the Maezumi Institute and the Harvard Divinity School. A socially responsible entrepreneur for over thirty years, Bernie developed the Greyston Mandala to provide permanent housing, jobs, job-training, child-care, afterschool programs, and other support services to a large community of formerly homeless families in Yonkers, NY. Bernie is the coauthor with Jeff Bridges of The Dude and the Zen Master, and with Rick Fields of Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Masters Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, and the author with Eve Marko of Bearing Witness: A Zen Masters Lessons in Making Peace, and Infinite Circle: Studies in Zen. Bernie is also the coauthor with Hakuyu Maezumi of Enlightenment: On Zen Practice, and On Zen Practice: Zen Writing Series.
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, and a resident teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts. She serves as a Spirit Holder at various Bearing Witness Retreats of the Order, and is also a writer and editor.
And so tonight we’ll have the first talk on “Living a Life That Matters.” We would like to welcome Roshi Bernie, and Roshi Eve. Let’s welcome them.
Bernie: Thank you. This feels like home to us. I’m not sure how many years, I can’t remember years anymore. We’ve been coming a long time. But I first met Swami-ji actually in Canada, and then later here. We’ve been coming here a long time. But for many reason for us it’s a very—you may not know the word hamishu, homey.
Eve: So, good evening everyone. Actually I think our first time here was 1999.
Bernie: She knows dates!
And what’s been very important in our life was we met Krishna Das (the Kirtan singer, not the accountant) here that year. And we’ve been since then very friendly and involved in many things together.
Eve: And we also enjoyed meeting the other Krishna Das.
So Rukmini mentioned that we were here just three months ago. And all that has to do with the vagaries of weather, because we live in New England. And New England has gone through some rough winters, which effects how often we get here.
Now three months ago this conversation started. And it’s been in my mind, and I think in Bernie’s mind these three months. I can’t even remember who it was that first put out the question—this metaphor for enlightenment. Someone said—and it was someone here, I don’t remember who, we had a number of teachers—and said that “enlightenment is like going up a mountain.”
Bernie: It was Swami-ji.
Eve: So it was—and if I get it wrong, you’ll correct me. It’s like going up this mountain. And depending on your tradition, and who you are, and your practice, you have your path. And you’re going up the path. And you have your opinion about your path, and how it’s important, and how it’s maybe the only real path there is. And you have your things you do, and your rituals, and the chants, and all those things. And then right next to you there’s another path. And there’s somebody else going up their path. And they have their stories, and their opinions, and their practices, and all the things they do. And as long as we’re on the path, and we’re working very hard to get there, all we can see is our path. You know, we’re just sort of climbing up, and falling down, and having our obstructions, hurdles, whatever. And what we see is our path. The few who get to the top, look down, and they realize that all these things that they thought was the mountain—they were all just paths, and they were leading up to the same place—the height of the mountain. So if you were a Christian and you were working very hard all those years, and you thought that was it, when you finally got up—or same if you’re a Buddhist, or you’re a Hindu—you get up there and you realize that they were all different paths coming up to the top of the same mountain.
And then somebody asked the question, “So what happens to the group that gets to the top of the mountain?” You see, “what happens to them?” And you know, we all have different opinions about that. So somebody might think, “Oh it’s all very nice on top of the mountain. It always shines like it does when we’re here. There’s a golden glow. It’s all pink. Everybody loves one another. There’s no more problems.” That’s the top of the mountain. And I know that there was somebody here, and there are different teachers—and again, different paths—who said, “Well, you know, once we get up there, there’s no more opinions, or stories about ourselves or others. All of that disappears.” And that day, three months ago when we were here, Bernie said, “No. In my opinion [because that’s his opinion] all there are on top of the mountain is our opinions and stories. There’s nothing else.” Now what did he mean by that? So he’ll talk more, but I’m gonna sort of take it up to a certain point.
What he said is, “You know I’m a Zen Buddhist. If I have my opinion about Zen and how important it is, and it’s this, and it’s all that, and I have my story about it; I know that it’s just my story and my opinion.” You know, it’s not anything else. It’s not the truth. It’s not the only way to be. It’s just my story. And I’m enjoying my story. I’m enjoying wearing this. This is a Rakusu, it’s like a lay robe worn by Buddhists. I enjoy my sitting practice. I enjoy all those things, and I no longer think that it’s the only way.
So that conversation’s been in my mind all these months. And we were in Israel just two weeks ago, talking with different activists and groups. So I’ll get to that. But you see, the thing that remained in my mind about this conversation is how difficult it is to just let each person have their opinion, and their story, and be who they are, without some notion that “Yes, but one day you’ll change.” You see?
I mean, here we are. This is a beautiful place. We’re probably pretty like-minded. You know, we probably like Yoga. We like the Bahamas. Maybe we like the ocean. You can imagine some common factors we have. But I’ll bet you anything that this day you talked to someone, and in this very loving supportive environment, you said to yourself something like, “Eh, you know, he’s really wonderful, but he really has to watch what he eats because look at the belly. You know, he has too much of a belly.” Or you talked to someone, and you said, “You know, she’s a wonderful woman, but I wish she wouldn’t talk so much.” Or you know, maybe it’s somebody you live with, and you’re saying, “You know, he’s a wonderful guy, but I know when he reaches the top of that mountain, he’s gonna stop smoking cigars, because he will know that this is not good for his health.” You know?
So there’s something. And a long time ago I first heard the term triumphalism. And it was first expressed by the Rebbe Zalman Schachter, who was the founder of a big Jewish Renewal movement. He said, “Interfaith gatherings are very nice, except that many people who do them, deep inside feel, ‘We love you. We’re ready to go to church with you, to synagogue with you. Were ready to do meals with you. We’re ready to do a lot of things. But one day, one day, you’re gonna see that our way was right. When Jesus comes, and whoever isn’t saved goes straight to Hell, you’ll know.’” But, you see, that’s the obvious one. It’s the subtle ones that are much harder to detect. That deep inside, if I see someone, I live with someone, I love the person, all that—but somehow, one day, he’s gonna change. When he becomes enlightened, everything is gonna straighten out, and he’s going to be more like what I want him to be—really. You see, there’s going to be this kind of equality. We’re all gonna kind of come in together, and be more alike—usually more like me. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s quite insidious.
And I remembered that when I was in Israel, and it was Saturday night, and we had a meeting, and this wonderful woman came—an Orthodox Jewish woman. It was a meeting of activists, and she was a widow of a man called Rabbi Menachem Froman, who we had met, and who was an extraordinary Rabbi who lived in the West Bank, and forged tremendous connections with Palestinians, and especially Palestinians with Islamic leaders. There’s many stories about him. And he felt that all these different negotiations being done were not that important, because the Earth doesn’t belong to anyone, but to God. And there’s a lot that we could say about him. He died just a year or two ago, a fairly young man in his sixties. So his wife continues his work, and she came. And at some point, you know, we asked her how she felt about this. And she said, “I feel really good about it.” And she said, “I’ll tell you why. It’s all about peace.”
So you know, earlier we chanted, you know, “peace, peace, peace.” She said, “There’s human peace. And that’s the peace that human beings make.” And who do we make peace with? Mostly we make peace with people we like. We make peace with people we approve of—people who are like us, share our values. Those are the people . . . and that’s “human peace,” she said. And then she said, “But my husband used to say, that ‘peace for the sake of God—l’shem shamayim—for the, in the name of heaven—peace in the name of heaven is made with all of the people who we don’t like, and we don’t agree with, and we can’t even stand, and sometimes we can’t bear to talk to them. We can’t have them in the same room. All those people—when we can be with them in peace, that’s peace in the name of heaven.’” And she said “this group [and there were many different people there] that reminds me of peace in heaven.”
So that’s how this conversation continues, you see. What happens on the top of the hill? Who are we at peace with at that point? And do they change? Or are they the exact same people that we’d see day by day? What happens on top of that hill?
So Bernie, I thought this was a good way to start.
Eve: So there’s different questions that come to mind that maybe could kind of . . . like, what does it mean to make peace on this basis? Does it mean that you just accept everybody as they are? And then, why do anything? You know, and what that has to do with the work? And also we really invite you to ask questions. So maybe at some point, I think what we did last time that we were here is we had people come forward . . . Oh, there is a mic out here? And so if you have questions that you’d like to ask, at some point come forward. There’s a couple of seats there. And at some point just talk into the mic, so that we can all hear your question, and all have the benefit of it.
Bernie: Yeah, I really encourage that, because we love dialogue. So please come up and ask anything. But as Eve was talking, and to say a little bit more about what Eve just said, there’s a new initiative that may be happening in Israel. And I want to speak with Swami-ji about it. It goes back to old days, a gathering, a group of people that are leaders in their own right, but very different leaders, and people who would never normally talk to each other or meet each other (except maybe to beat each other up). So I’m talking about . . . this is particularly the Middle East. And I’m talking about settlers, people from Hamas, people from Gaza, people from refugee camps, people from the army, business people. There was a young woman in Tel Aviv who said—an Israeli woman who said, “I can talk with Palestinians, I can not talk with settlers, other Israelis.” So this is a group of people that normally would not talk to each other. And now, we’re gathering. And the first thing is—what is there? Is there something that we share as a common vision? In a way it’s a question—Is there something on top of the mountain for all of us? Is there a common vision?
I threw out one possibility, which is sort of I think obvious—we would like our children to be able to play what they want to play. I think that would be common to everybody. Is that something on top of this mountain that we can talk about? We can share our opinions. Is there some other things? What is the discourse on the top of the mountain? Can we come to some vision that in a way brings peace? And as Hadassah said, “it has to involve the differences.” You can’t have a lasting peace if you leave out the people that you don’t want to deal with, even though it may be very complicated.
The man who is starting this initiative—he’s a Palestinian, and he trains people in nonviolent work, so he’s sort of a Gandhi Palestinian, lives in Bethlehem. He’s been doing it for many, many, many years. And we’ve been involved with him for many, many, many years. And he’s come to Auschwitz a number of times. And he sends all his staff to Auschwitz—our Auschwitz retreats. Some of you may not know, we lead an annual retreat at Auschwitz. This will be the twentieth year. And a methodology of those retreats—which we’re now doing several more in different places—we call them Bearing Witness Retreats. And one of the factors is to try to bring as many voices as possible, as much differences as possible, as many factors as possible. And then we work with the stuff that comes up. We work with the differences. And if we can bring ourselves to a common vision—that is, if we can get to the top of that mountain, or some mountain—there’s mountains, and mountains, and you keep going up—but if we can get to the top of some mountain where we can have a common vision, that can be a beginning of something.
In our own life, if you’re a family person, do you have a common vision with your spouse, with your kids, with your grandchildren, with your siblings? Is there something—can you find a common vision out of the differences? That means you gotta, whatever are our differences.
So in a way, that’s sort of a practice that’s aiming at just getting up a little hill. And what is it coming up? “Oh, I have common vision with my sister that we both want to breath.” But, how? How to breathe? It’s in the Hasidic tradition . . . well you guys work on breathing as a practice. In Zen it’s extremely important, working on breathing as a practice. In the Hasidic tradition there are different words for breathing. Breathing can be “the wind of God.” That’s a breath. “The soul,” that’s a breath—the continual breath. There are different kinds of breathing. What kind of vision do we have of breathing? And can we share these opinions?
If we’re at the top of the mountain, the key thing to me as a way of recognizing that you’re at such a place is that you can share opinions with somebody without saying, “No, no, you’re wrong!” Opinions can’t be wrong, see? Opinions—in my opinion—opinions is the language of non-duality. And that’s an opinion that I just formed about three years ago. So for sixty years I’ve been practicing, and for me non-duality was something you couldn’t express. But finally, I said, “Wow!” Realizing that whatever I say, and whatever I hear are opinions, brings me into the state of non-duality. And in our practice in Zen Peacemakers, that’s an extremely important place of having people experience that state. And we’ve created all kinds of techniques and whatever.
But it’s fascinating that one can think of having a language in non-duality. It’s simple. It’s an opinion. You can’t have right or wrong. Opinions don’t have rights or wrongs. They’re opinions, they don’t fall into duality.
So now we’re looking at this initiative of this group of people from many walks of that . . . It’s hard to imagine. When we were just there, we heard that this couple that’s part of the Zen Peacemaker Order—they’re big peace activists in Israel. If I go back enough years, the husband, he was a Colonel in the I.D.F.—the right wing. He formed a very important school for the I.D.F. in creativity. And then he had some kind of epiphany, and shifted from very right wing to very left wing, and became an activist. He’s still creating organizational things.
Why’d I bring him up? I lost my track.
Eve: Opinions and non-duality.
Bernie: Yeah. It’ll come up later.
This group in the Middle East, for me was very important. Not just for the Middle East—I could see groups like that, with leaders of very different opinions, very different styles forming around different issues. The environment—we have so many catastrophic issues. Forming groups, and then forming groups that support those groups. I know a lot of wonderful, wonderful people. And there was a time that I was trying to collect us, so that we could be voices at times of these catastrophes—or at times of catastrophes-in-waiting. And you can think of so many catastrophes-in-waiting. Can we leverage our different voices, our different opinions in something that could make changes, that could create a life that matters? I think we can.
What do say about that, Tootsie?
Eve: Oh, Tootsie—I have to explain what that is. You see, that’s more differences. When we get bored with being Bernie and Eve, we call each other Rocky and Tootsie. Because Bernie was a fighter when he was a kid, and he was known as Rocky, believe it or not. And I had my history, and was called Tootsie. So we sometimes, you know, just get bored and you know, “let’s do this,” so we become different people, and have fun with it.
Eve in Tootsie voice: So you know what my question is Rocky?
Bernie in Rocky voice: What, Tootsie?
Tootsie: So, if everybody’s just different, you know, so what happens? Somebody says, “I’m different, and you know what? I’m gonna kill you.” So what, that’s OK? What do you say about that, Rocky?
Rocky: I’ll punch ’em.
Bernie: Yeah, so this becomes all of our practices, huh? What we didn’t mention—and this came up too—in our meeting in Jerusalem, there was a man, what does he do?
Eve: He’s an organizational consultant.
Bernie: So he threw out this question to us. He said, “What do you mean by peace?” And so I gave him . . . because we call ourselves Zen Peacemakers. I gave the history of how we came to the word, which is a little . . . if you know Hebrew, it’s easier. But I’m gonna explain it anyway. Because when we use the word “peace,” we have a certain connotation—right—there everything’s OK, or something like that. And in fact, in Israel, people say “hello,” to each other, they say “Shalom.” Shalom means peace. “shalom, shalom.” Palestinians say “Salam, salam,” Peace, peace. We were doing work in Israel, and eventually we became sort of unwanted people, because in our name was “Peace.” And many organizations in Israel that have the word Peace are looked down at now. It’s peace, except for saying “hello” to each other, has become a dirty word.
But I didn’t come to the word “peace” in that way. The root of the word Shalom—Shalom is peace. And in Hebrew each word has a three-letter root word. I’ve been told that the three-letter root word of Shalom is Shalem. Shalem means to make whole, to reconnect. And in the Jewish mystical Hasidic tradition there’s a metaphor where the cup that’s holding the light of God—the light of God is so intense that the cup breaks into millions and millions of pieces and fragments. And then the role of the Hasid, of the righteous person is to bring those fragments back together—to reconnect.
In Buddhism it’s all built around trying to help people experience the interconnectedness of life—the oneness of life. So in many mystical traditions it’s about experiencing that oneness of life. That oneness of life is that state of non-duality. And you can’t have oneness of life if you’ve got dual stuff going on there, man. So that is to experience being on top of the mountain.
So I explained that’s how I came to Zen Peacemakers—trying to bring those fragments back together. And then afterwards, he came up to me. He said, “I want to be part of this, because that’s how I see it. I don’t think peace will work. But trying to get all the fragments together, that can work.” And that room was full of so many fragments.
Eve: You know, Bernie, what this reminds me of too, is when we went to Indian country. So, you know, we were in Israel a few weeks ago, but in late January we were in South Dakota planning this big Native American retreat in August. So we met with a few Elders. And that’s not easy, because they’re very distrustful of white people. And actually the Lakota—you know this is the reservation, the big Pine Ridge Reservation, right next to the Black Hills. And they have good reason to have no faith in the white people, given how many times we violated our own promises, our own treaties. And to be on that reservation, and to see the enormous percentage of poverty. . . Till I was there, I didn’t know that in the United States there’s a place where the mortality rate for men is forty-eight. I didn’t know that existed on the Continental United States. I’d never seen a poverty like that. And we’ve lived in urban ghettos, but I’ve never seen anything like that. No hospitals, no doctors, just this empty land, and trailers. So there’s stories, but the thing I connect with what Bernie was just saying is that we met with you know, a few Elders, including the Head Holy Man of the Oglala tribe, which is the tribe of the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. And he was very ornery, and kind of unpleasant, and argumentative. And basically, I don’t know what it was that somebody said. And he just turned on him, and said, “You know, don’t fix us. Don’t fix us.” So, what was implied there was, “Yes, I know we’re dreadfully poor. And yes, alcoholism is rampant. And yes, there’s tremendous drugs, and tremendous suicides—especially by young people. And tremendous incidents of domestic violence. And yes, we lost our sacred grounds, the Black Hills, which are right there, and where once people went to do vision quests, and to get medicines, and to bury the dead. People now go to play in casinos, because that’s what was built up there—casinos, and western-type clothing stores, big motorcycle rallies—yes, that’s what happened in our Black Hills. But don’t fix us. Don’t come to us and say, ‘Oh we’ve gotten something for you to change you.’ We don’t need to be fixed.”
And you know, we had to talk all that out. And at the end he actually invited us that evening to take part in the sweat lodge on his own family property. But none of this would have happened without this wonderful man who is our friend, and part of the Zen Peacemaker Order, Genro Gauntt. And what Genro Gauntt did—he’s this very, very white man, I mean you can’t imagine someone whiter than Grover Cleveland White III . . .
Eve: Really. I mean tall, white, almost pink skin, blue eyes, you know, he used to be blonde before he turned grey. And in 1999, he had the idea that he wanted to bring one of the Lakota people to our Auschwitz retreat. And after talking, they actually sent someone. So then he thought to himself, “You know, they came to us—I’m gonna go over there. I think it’s the polite thing to do.” So he goes over there to Pine Ridge. And he has these wonderful stories of what happened when he went to Pine Ridge. And there’s these Indian cowboys, and they look at him. And they look at this very tall, very white man coming in and sitting down. And they say, “You ride, man?”
And he says, “A little.”
“OK, good. You’re coming riding with us.”
And they had one of their big annual rides, you know. In the dead of Winter they go—I think this is the Crazy Horse Ride—and they go in the dead of Winter for like nine days, tracing this route of what happened when people started, and ending at the site of Wounded Knee—the last big massacre of Indians by our government, by our military. But he started coming there twice a year. Twice a year he came—each time for two weeks to two months. And he did that for sixteen years, he would come to Pine Ridge. And people would say to him, “Well, what do you do there?”
He says, “I don’t do anything.”
And they say, “Do you bring stuff? Do you bring money?”
He says, “No.”
“Do you bring any teachings?” Because he’s a Zen practitioner, now a Zen Teacher.
He says, “No.”
“Do you teach them how to meditate?”
“Well, what do you bring?”
He says, “I don’t bring anything.”
“What do you do?”
“I don’t do anything. I just hang out there. And I learn, and I participate in the rituals. You know, and I just stay at this big trailer with my friend Tuffy Sierra. And I help his wife cook dinner. And you know, I help them with their horses, and help them fix the tires on their broken cars. That’s all—and then I go home. And six months later, I just come back. And Tuffy fixed me up, and the car breaks down. And we kind of worry about the car together. And then I go with him, and I hang out with him for two months, and do all this. I don’t do anything.”
And after sixteen years of doing nothing, we are finally able to have this retreat happen in August—because of this guy who did nothing. He didn’t come to fix anybody. He didn’t come to bring things. He just stayed with them. He just bore witness to them. And it is the relationships that he built with them that are really the foundation for this retreat that’s coming up in August.
Bernie: It will be about 300 people, and about 150 Indigenous folks. And it will be a tremendous experiment in not-knowing. We will be on Indian time. We will have certain schedules. You have a fixed schedule here. There, we will have a schedule, but there is no chance that any of that schedule will happen. Things will happen as they happen—that’s the Indian way. If it’s supposed to happen, then it should happen. And if it’s not supposed to happen—even if you schedule it—it won’t happen. So we’ll have multiple things happening at the same time.
One thing for sure—there’ll be so many differences there. I mean there were, like I say 150 Native Americans—not all Lakotas. There will be Indigenous folks coming from Columbia, from a tribe that just emerged. They were completely unknown to civilization, except to themselves—until about ten years ago. So a couple people from there will be coming. A couple of Shivananda Yoga teachers will be coming. I think there will be a couple of Aborigines from Australia coming. Many different kinds of Indigenous, but the majority will be Lakota. Many Elders, and the Elders all fight with each other. They’re so different. And the internationals will be from the States, from Europe, Latin America, from all over.
So it’s gonna be another experiment in how can all these differences share opinions? Can we come up with a common vision? And then can we expand? You know, in all these cases where I’m looking at us—can we come up with common visions?—the next question is always how to expand that common vision? Are there are practices that we can do that will help us expand?
So for example, this group of thirty to fifty leaders in Palestine, Israel area—they’re going to be trying to come up with a common vision. And then they’re going to do Bearing Witness Retreats together. They’ll have to break into pieces, because they’ll be in refugee camps, settlements, in Arab villages, in all kinds of places. And then after those retreats, they’ll come together again, and in fact where they come together’s been decided—Gush Etzion. It’s a settlement where settlers and Palestinians are holding discussions. And they have a place that’s big enough for those thirty to fifty people to meet, and to share out of these Bearing Witness Retreats. Has anything come up that allows us to increase our common vision?
So what we’re talking about is practices, people that are doing different practices. And then also coming together with other people that are doing practices, and seeing if there’s some kind of shared vision.
We should open this to questions. We’re talking too long.
Audience member 1: Thank you for being here, and thank you for inviting us to ask questions. I’m only up here because I was told that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. So, I would like your opinion on my opinion about peace and why there seems to be so little peace in the world right now. I think it’s because of our relationship with our egos. We all, each and every one of us have an ego. And we are meant to have an ego. But I think the problem is that we don’t have a good relationship with our egos. I think, in my opinion, we need to acknowledge our ego, respect it, and give it it’s place. We need to instead of treating it as the enemy, we need to embrace our ego, and say, “OK, I know your place. And I’m aware of you. And I’m not going to let you control me.” Because if somebody is attacking me, or threatening me, I feel like the part of me that wants to fight back is because the ego is taking over. But if I’m able to distance myself, and say, “OK, that’s not me. This is me.” And I can just, I don’t know, let it go. And I would like there to be more education, and more awareness of the ego. And I would like your opinion on whether you think the ego has anything to do with peace. Thank you.
Eve: You know, so the ego—it’s a concept. It’s a psychological word. I think the practice itself of non-attachment, letting go of ego, or I would say what is to letting go of all things—my fears, my stories, my anxieties, my wishes, my desires—all those things that I get attached to, and prevent me from living fully the life I’m given, moment-by-moment? That for me is the question. And I think that’s the same question you’re asking. And I think that’s a very, very strong and long practice. Even for people who might have—and certainly Zen has it’s stories of these enlightenment experiences, where suddenly somebody experiences fully the unity of life. What we also no is that even if you’ve had that experience, you’re still gonna have to work out all that stuff. That stuff doesn’t just go away forever because you had an extraordinary experience here in Sivananda. You had this wonderful chance, and wonderful meditation, and BOOM—something happens. And you go out there and see the full moon. And you see something, and experience something wondrous. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow morning you’re not gonna get up and—maybe not right away—but soon the same fears and anxieties, and patterns of behavior will come right back. So I think that’s hard work. And I think it’s very important work. And I think that all of us—here, of course, there are practices to deal with that, and we have our practices to deal with it. I’m not sure it’s just a matter of educating everybody about ego.
Bernie: That’s another concept. Educating about ego becomes another concept. You’ve got to experience this letting go—I think. And we’ve developed, there are many, many practices working on individual ego. And I think we’re talking about practices that are working on not just our individual ego, but on a systematic ego, of society. So it’s going a little beyond. It’s important to work on one’s self, and come up with those methods. And there are lots of different methods, and you can choose the ones you want to do of course. And, we have to also look a little broader—I think. We don’t want to become hedonistic, and only think about ourselves—in my opinion.
Audience Member 1: Thank you. So, what I mean by “education of the ego,” is to become aware of whether the person’s behavior towards me is because they’re not at peace with their ego, and they’re driven by that. The whole peace thing—it’s very upsetting to me why there’s so much war in the world. As it is to everyone, upsetting. So I just thought of this.
Personally, what I know about Zen is the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have very little knowledge about Zen. And I will go, and Google it, and find out what it is. And if I were to think of something that Zen means, having not really studied it, besides that book, I would think of like the horizon—just what the horizon looks like. But I’m very naïve to the whole Zen thing.
Bernie: Well, I want to thank you for the plug, because this is the first year in many years that the Ashram asked me to bring some of the books I wrote. So we’ll have some books, and you can read about Zen. You could read about Bearing Witness. You could read about, as was mentioned before, The Dude and the Zen Master, and their rapping. Then you could read Infinite Circle, which is more technical about Zen. Anyway, there’s a series of books, and they will get to the bookstore by tomorrow morning. So thank you for the plug, Ma’am.
Audience Member 2: Good evening Roshi Eve, Roshi Bernie. I’d first like to say that I think it’s amazing how when Bernie, you don’t remember something, or Eve, you don’t remember something, the other one remembers the date or the name of the place. Your collective consciousness is adorably fantastic.
Bernie: “Collective Consciousness!”
Audience Member 2: So my question—going back to the mountain, we’re all trying to climb this spiritual mountain, to get to the top. And in the Hindu tradition, we talk about Samsara, this endless life cycle, trying to realize the self, and attain this inward epiphany of ultimate reality, and that sort of thing. But we say that even when Samadhi is realized, when we find this state of bliss, this self-realization, eventually that soul needs to go back down to Earth, and attain a human life again. So my question for you is, once you reach the top of the spiritual mountain, does one have to go back down?
Bernie: I’d like to leave that for tomorrow night, because that leads me into my whole opinion about reincarnation, and all that kind of stuff. And it takes me about fifteen minutes. I don’t have that much time left for tonight.
So tune in tomorrow night and I will give you all of the answers about Karma, and reincarnation, and all that stuff.
Eve: And now you see, Krishna Das’s phone rang, just now. And the funny thing is that the ring was the exact same ring as the man who took us in Rwanda to different places. [Eve imitates the ring.] I’ve never heard that, except in Rwanda, and now in the Bahamas. So don’t tell me things aren’t connected. You know, and they all have this resonance. You see? It all resonates very deeply—even with a phone ringing.
Bernie: So come back tomorrow night for Part Two (of three). We’ll give you the penultimate opinion. But please feel free to take us off track by bringing questions, and stuff you’d like to hear about.
Thank you. And see you tomorrow.
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.