Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats

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Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats

By Bernie Glassman

I wish to talk about going on the streets during Holy Week, the week of Easter, the week of Passover, one of the saddest and most joyous times of the year. I go on the streets at other times of the year, too, and each occasion is special in its own way, but the streets feel different during Holy Week. The remembrance and caring that spring to life during that time are unmistakable and unforgettable To give you a feel for what I mean, let me describe the 1996 Holy Week street retreat.

We spent our first night sleeping–or trying to sleep–in Central Park. It was so cold that at about 4 a.m. we gave up and began to walk downtown, stopping for breakfast at the Franciscan Mission on West 31st Street en route to our hangout at Tompkins Square Park. We were tired and it didn’t help when we heard that it was going to rain that night, the first night of Passover. Walking past St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, I ran into its rector, Lloyd Casson. Notwithstanding the smell of my clothes after a night in the park, Lloyd gave me a hug. I knew Lloyd from the time he’d served as rector of Trinity Church, and before that, as assistant dean at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. When he heard that we would be in the area, Lloyd suggested we come to the Tenebrae service at St. Mark’s after our Passover seder and then spend the night in the church.

Rabbi Don [Singer] had flown in from California to join us for Passover on the streets, but he’d disappeared in the middle of our night in Central Park. For purposes of the seder, we begged for food in the Jewish restaurants on Second Avenue and in Spanish bodegas by Tompkins Square. One retreat participant, a Swiss woman, was given twenty dollars by the Franciscans when she attended their mass that morning before breakfast. Suddenly, as we began to give up hope, Don appeared. He explained that he’d been so cold during the night that he’d gone into the subway to keep warm. After riding the trains all night he’d visited a few Jewish temples, asking them for food for our seder. He arrived with bottles of kosher grape juice and gefilte fish. Using the money the Franciscans had given us we bought more food and then, at nightfall, held a seder at Tompkins Park.

We sat around two picnic tables in an enclosure behind the Park’s restrooms. This was usually locked by the guard during the evening, but this time he unlocked it specially for our use. We invited the park regulars to join us, including the King and Queen of Punk accompanied by their dog. Don passed around matzos, bitter herbs, and grape juice and we talked about leaving Egypt, the land of bondage, addictions, and delusions, and arriving in the Promised Land. We told the story of slavery and the story of freedom, we sang and danced, Don leading us around the tables. Finally we shared the food we’d gathered, and when the seder was over we left the tables, the guard locked the enclosure, and we walked over to St. Mark’s Church.



We arrived at St. Mark’s in the middle of the Tenebrae service. The church was designed for performances, so there are no pews, only an altar in front and risers on the sides. Chairs had been brought out, candles dimmed, and the church was completely dark at the end of this sad service about the Passion of Christ.

That’s when Lloyd Casson told his president that the strange-looking group sitting in the back, with musty smells and grizzled faces, would be spending the night at the church. I could see some frenzied whispering going on. I walked over to Lloyd and said that we would be happy to camp outside, on the grounds of the church. But Lloyd was adamant. He asked us to sit together with the president of the church and explain who we were and what we were doing. So we sat in the back along with a few of St. Mark’s parishioners and introduced ourselves. We told them about spending last night in Central Park and now coming from a seder in Tompkins Park. I talked a little about our annual street retreats. It didn’t take long for the president of St. Mark’s to change his mind and give us permission to stay. So that night we slept on the risers. The church was warm and dry, and the candles still burned from the Tenebrae service as we fell asleep. When we awoke we were told to go into the vestry. There we found the president of the church, who had spent the night in the church along with us, busy making us a pot of coffee.

It was now Maundy Thursday, a day of divine mysteries. In the middle of the day a man came to invite the regulars at Tompkins Square to lunch at St. Brigitte’s Church, on the east side of the park. Off we went to the church basement where a huge meal had been prepared by the parishioners, who also showed us to our table and waited on us. For dessert they ushered us to a long table in the corner where families had baked cakes, pies, and cookies, and children had prepared cards wishing us a Happy Easter.

At the end of the meal they asked us if we would like to have our feet washed. They took us behind a partition to a row of chairs and sat us down among other street people. I hesitated. My feet had painful, ugly blisters from our 17-mile walk from Yonkers to Tompkins Square just two days before. But one woman crouched before me and helped me take my shoes and socks off. She examined the blisters. They had punctured and were very red. Gently she dipped my feet into a basin of hot water. Then she massaged my feet.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked her.

“I am doing this because Jesus Christ did,” the woman said, her manicured fingers running very gently over my sore feet. “He washed the feet of his disciples even though he was the Son of God, and that is why I do it, too.”

She put special salve on my blisters. She also gave me a new pair of white socks.

The sun shone that afternoon, beautiful and warm as we sat undisturbed on the benches of Tompkins Park. We did our own Buddhist service, inviting all the hungry ghosts to partake with us in the Supreme Meal. And when that was over we began to make our way even further downtown, towards the Masjid el-Farah Mosque. Its former sheik, my student and Zen teacher, Lex Nur Hixon, had died of cancer six months earlier. His successor, Sheik Fariha, had invited us to come and participate in their weekly zikr.

It was twilight and we were making our way down one of the narrow streets of the financial district when we passed a synagogue I’d never seen before. It was brand new with a modern design. As we paused to admire it a man wearing a yarmulke came out. He looked at our showerless, unshaven group without the slightest curiosity and asked: “Are any of you Jews?”

As a matter of fact, we told him, about four of us were Jews. We even had a rabbi with us.

“Good,” he announced. “We need your help to make a minyan.”

A minyan is a quorum of ten men needed for orthodox Jewish services. We went inside. The men were separated from the women, each sitting in a separate section. It was the second evening of Passover and the Hebrew service went quickly. The rabbi spoke about the Passover temple sacrifices more than 2,000 years ago, then led another short service. At the end he came over to us, shook our hands and thanked us, and out we went. Three blocks down, around the corner, was the Masjid el-Farrah.

Here we were greeted warmly by Sheik Fariha, an old friend, along with her husband, Sheik Hydar, and a large group of Sufis. They welcomed us to the second floor of the mosque, where we sat together around long, low tables carrying large plates of oriental spiced chicken and rice, cheese and salads, and fresh fruit. We described the evenings spent in Central Park and in St. Mark’s Church. Don Singer spoke about the meaning of Passover. The poet, Robert Bly, joined the gathering and offered a poem. We sang, “La-illaha-il-allah.” There is no God but Allah.

Finally we went down to the mosque. Again, men and women were separated, with the women covering their hair. In a place of no images a service was held and we made many bows. And then the zikr began. Zikr means remembrance. Forming a circle within a circle, we whirled around, turning our faces from side to side, saying the name of Allah again and again, losing ourselves in His praise. Hour after hour we did this, calling on the divine names, forming circle after circle of ecstasy. The Sufis sang, the instruments played, we turned and whirled and danced. Rumi, the great Sufi poet and mystic, had written:

 “In love with him, my soul

Lives the subtlest of passions,

Lives like a gypsy.

Each day a different house,

Each night under the stars.”

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During those five days we were abiding nowhere yet we were everywhere, drunk on the passion of Buddha, God, Christ, Yahweh, and Allah. Wherever we went we were given food, shelter, friendship, and love. At every place we were greeted like long-lost children.

The following day, cold and rainy, was Good Friday. After a breakfast of green pea soup and bread at the Catholic Worker food pantry, we went back to St. Brigitte’s to follow their annual Passion play. It began inside the church. A young Hispanic with long black hair, dressed in a simple white robe and sandals, was Christ. Roman soldiers mocked and whipped him, and finally hoisted a big cross on his back. With Christ and the priest leading the way, a procession left the church, going around the Bowery to stop at the Stations of the Cross. It began to snow and soon I could see Christ’s sandals slipping on the wet, white pavement, his legs and feet red from the cold. But he carried the cross north on Avenue B, followed by the church parishioners and us.

The sleet came down hard. We stopped at each Station of the Cross: a house which was a known hangout for drug dealers, a building where a shoot-out had taken place with the police, a house of prostitution, an abandoned tenement. We mingled with the people in the procession who struggled every day to build a life in that neighborhood for their families. We stopped at places of drugs, murder, squatting, homelessness, abuse, violence, and squalor, singing devoutly in English and Spanish, asking for forgiveness. Christ’s mother approached him, wishing to cradle him in her arms. He spoke with the women of Jerusalem, who were none other than the women of Ave. B. He was stripped, whipped, scourged, frozen, humiliated, friendless. And when we returned to the church he was crucified. One of the retreat participants had left the street retreat the night before, then rejoined us at Tompkins Park after a change of heart. Now he wept and wept.

We finished our street retreat at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with a candlelight mass on the eve of Easter. Jim Morton knew we were coming and had saved us special seats, but that didn’t prevent many of us from dozing off during the dark, somber service. We all awoke when suddenly the lights of the cathedral blazed on and the organ and choir began to sing loudly and joyfully that Christ, once again, had risen.

These were some of the events of our street retreat in Holy Week, 1996. Other things happened that week, too: a sleepless night at Penn Station, two people with such badly blistered feet that they had to leave us. One of the participants who’d served as my personal assistant, a talented musician with a history of drug use, went back to using that week. He’d fallen back on old habits several times in the past and it wasn’t even clear that he would participate in the retreat. In the end he pleaded with me to let him come. I did. On the eve of Maundy Thursday, as we lay on the risers of St. Mark’s Church, he played melody after melody on their organ, lullabying us all to sleep. But the following day he disappeared. Someone else told me he’d gone to see a dealer. I didn’t see him for a long, long time after that.

His story, too, is part of our Holy Week Street Retreat. The retreat was a banquet that lasted for five days and we savored many wonderful dishes. But my assistant was not with us when we returned to our homes in the early hours of Easter Day.



Photos by Peter Cunningham

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Bernie’s Training: In the Beginning

Essay By Bernie Glassman Picture by Peter Cunningham

I was just doing zen meditation and one day I had an experience in which I felt I lost my mind—and it terrified me. And out of that experience, what came up was I quit Zazen. I quit for a year. I was so terrified by what had happened. That night I had to keep the lights on in the house. I had no idea what was going on. And so I stayed away, and it could have been forever. That experience could have led me to stop doing Zazen forever.

But, I had read a book called Three Pillars of Zen, which many of you might know. And a man, Yasutani Roshi, who appears in that book, and some of you are from the Sanbo Kyodan club, and that, was started by Yasutani Roshi. He’s my grandfather in the Dharma. My teacher studied under Yasutani. My teacher studied under three teachers, one of whom was Yasutani. So, Yasutani is one of my grandfathers. And I also studied under Yasutani, but that was later.

What happened is I had been terrified. I had read many things about Zen. And then I saw, and I read the book Three Pillars of Zen. And then I saw an advertisement saying Yasutani Roshi was going to give a talk in Los Angeles. That’s where I was living. And so I went to the talk. And at that talk I met the translator—Yasutani Roshi did not speak English. His translator was a man name Maezumi, who then becomes my teacher.

I went up to the translator, and I said, “Do you have [It turns out I had met the translator about four years before] a group?” And he says, “I just opened up a place.” And I started to study with him—every day.

If that hadn’t happened, I probably would have never gone back to Zen, because of that experience. I had nobody to talk to about it. So, the result of that experience for me was the importance of having a teacher, which then got reinforced when I became my teacher’s right hand person in our Zen Center in Los Angeles. And many students would come who had no teacher, and had been doing meditation for long periods. By then many people knew about meditation, and they would do it on their own. And in many cases, perfectly OK, but many cases the people that were on their own had damaged themselves. Some in a physical way—their eye sight had gotten worse, some their breathing had gotten worse, many had so conditioned themselves to working on things like Mu, or different things that they had read about that it was hard to get them to work correctly—correctly in the way that we wanted to teach.

So that just reinforced for me—if anybody in those days would say, “Can I study without a teacher?” I would say, “No. You’re opening yourself for problems.” All kinds of things can happen. There are many experiences that can arise out of meditation that can be traps. It’s like taking drugs and having an experience—it could be a problem. It may feel great. Wow! But it may cause problems. The main problem when it feels great is that you want to recreate it. “I want to do that again!” You know? And if you try to do it through meditation, you try to get your meditation to do that—to recreate the experience that you had. And that’s bad news, man. It’s bad news.

At any rate, that was the first experience that came out of bearing witness, out of sitting, and the fear that I had lost my mind. And so the action that had come out of that, which was dropping Zen, you could label it however you wanted to. But at that point in my life, that was the action that came out of not knowing and bearing witness. And most people will say, “Well, who wants that kind of action?” Well, I mean, who are you to choose? And you would say, “That’s bad.” So then we can have as our third Tenet bad actions, you know. At any rate, it was an action that happened.

So I was practicing with my teacher. At that time, my teacher, he was in the Japanese Soto club. And when he went to Buddhist University, he lived at a dojo at a training place of a wonderful man named Koryu Roshi, a lay Rinzai teacher. He lived there, and that’s where he started his koan study. And because of that, when he came to the States, he continued. He came as a young man to help in a Japanese temple. Maezumi Roshi was also studying koan study with Yasutani Roshi—there are two different systems of koans.

In 1969 Yasutani Roshi decided—he had been coming to the United States every year, helping a friend of his, I don’t want to give you all these names, but the friend was Soen Nakagawa Roshi, it gets confusing. But he was helping a friend, so he came every year to run sesshins. And Maezumi wound up being a translator on the west coast for Yasutani, and decided to start studying with him—although he had been studying with this other man, Koryu Roshi. And he also was part of this Soto tradition.

So I was practicing with my teacher Maezumi Roshi, and it was a time that he was not doing koan study. So in ’69, when Yasutani Roshi told him that “I’m not going back anymore to America—the United States—come with me to Japan, and finish your training with me.” And Maezumi said, “OK.” And then he said, “Bernie [he called me Tetsugen in those days] Tetsugen, you run the Zen Center here in Los Angeles.” So, I was just thirty years old, right, and I was put in charge of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which meant giving talks and interviews, conducting the Zazen.

And also that year, Koryu Roshi—the man that Maezumi Roshi started to do his work with when he was in University—decided to come to the United States, to Los Angeles, so that Maezumi could finish the koan study with him. So he came. And  Maezumi Roshi had been gone for a year, and then he came back for a month, then he went back to Japan. But when he came back for the month, Koryu came. And I decided Maezumi Roshi was my teacher—my root teacher—but I decided to do sesshin with Koryu Roshi (and Maezumi Roshi was translating).

And I joined that sesshin. I passed the koan Mu, in a way that Koryu Roshi and Maezumi Roshi thought was very unusual. So Mu is a koan, usually the first koan in koan systems. A koan is something you contemplate on until you can present the meaning—but not intellectual meaning—you can present it via expression, that you’ve experienced what it is. And working on a koan Mu, is exactly like working on what is not knowing? —The first tenet of our Three Tenets.So to pass the koan Mu, you are supposed to experience the state of not knowing. OK. So the Three Tenets actually come out of my Zen training. And they come out of—as you’ll see—a lot from the koan study.

But at any rate, so I was—in the terminology we use now—I was bearing witness to not knowing. Didn’t know it was not knowing, so it was in the form of this word Muuuuu! I was bearing witness to that. And an experience came out in which I felt the unity of life. And they said—I mean they do testing and whatever—but they thought it was very, very deep. In fact Koryu Roshi went back to Japan, and told everybody about what had happened with this guy, this American. So I actually went to Japan shortly after and did more study with him. And everybody that saw me said, “Wow, you’re Tetsugen, huh?” They all had known about it. That experience dictated my next almost twenty years—no, ten years. Ten years had passed, fifteen—but at any rate, it was a major thing during those first twenty years.

So the two big experiences during those first twenty years was 1) feeling I had gone crazy, and out of which came the feeling I have to have a teacher; and 2) the experience of the unity of life in such a way that I felt that I could help people have that experience, and that it was extremely important. It was the most important thing in my life.

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

This is the first of three parts of a conversation between Roshis Bernie Glassman, Wendy Egyoku Nakao and members of the Zen Center of Los Angeles that took place there on April 23rd 2015. This first part includes Bernie’s vision of the Zen Peacemaker Order. The second part will feature Roshi Egyoku’s vision for the ZPO and ZCLA, and the third part will include the Q&A they performed with the sangha.

Transcription by Scott Harris.

Bernie: I’d like to talk about my vision of the Zen Peacemaker Order. I’ll start off at the beginning. And the beginning took place about twenty-one years ago. Twenty-one years ago (1994) I had finished different phases of my Zen training.

My first twenty years of Zen training was here (Zen Center of Los Angeles) in  a Japanese-style Zen center with a Japanese teacher (Maezumi Roshi.) But after about twenty years, I had an experience that made me want to work in a bigger venue than just in a Zen center. And the venue had something to do with Indra’s net. Most of you are familiar with that. It’s a metaphor used in Buddhism for all of life. And it closely relates to the modern physics idea of starting with the Big Bang, and energy flowing through the universe. So Indra’s net is this net that extends throughout all space and time, and has at each node a pearl. Constantly there are new pearls being generated. Every instant there’s a new pearl. So as I’m talking, I’m generating a new pearl. And each pearl contains every other pearl. And every pearl contains this pearl that I’m generating. So it’s all of life.

And my feeling was that I had been practicing . . . For me, enlightenment means to experience the oneness of life. And that keeps getting deeper, that experience. And for me, what it means is at any moment I could look at what portion of the net am I connected with? I’m connected to a fairly large portion. And what portions aren’t I connected to, and why?

And I came to think that one of the big reasons we’re not connected with certain portions of the net is we’re afraid. We’re afraid to get connected, to enter those fears. And there are other reasons that may relate to DNA, or all kinds of things.

So I wanted to extend. My feeling was in those first twenty years, I was connecting only to people who came to our Zendo. So it was a portion of the net. There was much more out there. And the experience I had led me to say I want to connect to all of those spheres. And for the next twenty years I worked at trying to do that. To more spheres in the world of business, and social action, their worlds. And then into worlds that I was afraid of—going to live in the streets, doing these Bearing Witness retreats in places that had a façade, a very negative power. But still they’re part of the net, so I went there.

And then on my fifty-fifth birthday, which was twenty-one years ago, I wanted to figure out what am I gonna do next? And already by then, I was trying to live my life according to three tenets—not knowing (not having any plans what I’m gonna do), bearing witness (spending time trying to grok into the situation), and then seeing what actions would come out of that. So I decided to do a retreat, which I did. I decided to do it on the steps of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., and I invited people. There were about twenty of us. And I gave as a theme for that retreat, what actions are we gonna take in our lives that will help the aspects of society that we’re not dealing with, and society’s not dealing with? That was the question I put out.

And again the instructions for how to work with that, you could look at as a koan, but the instructions how to work it—start off not knowing. Don’t come up with any ideas at the beginning of what that’s going to mean. And then bear witness to that question, which is what we do in koan study. We’re given a koan—we’re supposed to come to it without any ideas first, and bear witness to that koan. And see what comes up.

washington-dc-94What came up for me, after that week . . . My birthday is in January, and I love to say that that particular January, twenty-one years ago, was the coldest January in the history of Washington, DC. So we were sitting in snow. We were all covered in snow. And what came up for me after that week was the idea of a container for people who are interested in meditation, and social action. And an international container, where people could relate to each other, share with each other. And that’s what I started to work on.

And I went home, and I shared that with my wife, Jishu. And she said, “Let’s start an Order.” So we started the Zen Peacemaker Order at that point. And at that point, the Zen Peacemaker Order was for people who were interested in mediation and social action. And we asked everybody who joined as staff, and some who were joining as members to create a mala system to support themselves. What we did is we said find somebody who will help support you in this practice. And that’s one of the beads on your mala. Go out, and reach enough people to get to where you can support yourself. We even hired an executive director—his whole salary was supported that way. So we were basically begging, which is another practice I feel very strongly about. And that eliminated financial difficulties, because we didn’t have to pay. And if we couldn’t raise the money to do what we wanted to do, we did with what we raised.

So that was the beginning. It went on for a while. I don’t remember exactly the history, but certainly when Jishu died I dropped out of the scene for about a year or so. So I dropped the ball in terms of the Zen Peacemaker Order at that time. And Eve Marko, who I’m now married to, sort of convinced me to come back in, after about a year. And I did. But I had dropped the whole working on building up the Zen Peacemaker Order.

But, not everybody had dropped it. There were people being ordained as Zen Peacemaker Priests around the world. But there was no connections. I didn’t know about this. And they didn’t know. Joan Halifax probably inducted around 500 people into the ZPO. I doubt if they knew each other. I certainly didn’t know who they were. And in Europe this was happening. We had founding teachers for ZPO in the States and also in Europe.

And about three years ago Roshi Egyoku asked me, “What’s happening with ZPO?” I said, “Well, nothing that I know of. I mean there’s a lot happening, but I don’t know.” And she said that she feels that what she’s been developing here, the principles within the Zen Peacemakers Order fit much more than the Japanese principles that we had both studied. And she was interested in reviving, putting energy into it. I said, “Great, so let’s do that.”

So around three years ago, two years ago, (I can’t remember exactly when.) we started to do that. We put out an initial document. And one of the things we said in that initial document is that we were organizing according to a method of circles, and peer relationships. And that I would be in the International Circle serving as a steward of the vision of ZPO.

And it was just a few weeks ago that I realized that this vision of ZPO is not stated anywhere. Or at least my vision of it. We have a small vision statement. But my vision of ZPO is not stated anywhere. And it felt very important that I put out what I think, or what my vision is. And I also invite some of the major players, like Roshi Egyoku to share her vision. And then we’ll put this up on the web, and the circles can discuss Bernie’s Vision, and Wendy Blue’s Vision, and Joan Hallifax’s Vision—the vision of the different people. And then we can discuss it further.


But I would still at this point be the steward of that vision. My personal feeling—I haven’t mentioned this, and what I haven’t shared yet is that in about a year I would like to replace myself as the steward of the vision of ZPO with a group of three Spirit Holders. Because part of the vision, part of my vision of ZPO is that it not be a hierarchical organization.

And I’ve heard some people say that they want to join ZPO because they want to support Bernie, or be part of what Bernie’s doing. And I don’t want that to be a reason to join ZPO. That’s the old hierarchical sense, and I’d rather move us out of that before I die. Obviously after I die that can’t be a reason for joining. So I want to move us out of any one person making any or all of these decisions. But for the first year I will hold that position of Steward of the vision.

So let me share what my vision is.

My vision is that the Zen Peacemaker Order would be a collection of folks who are meditators—that’s one. And in each of the things that I mention, I would also say what happens if you eliminate that as a core of Zen Peacemaker Order? Could you still call it a Zen Peacemaker Order? And for me if somebody wants to be a member, but doesn’t want to be involved in meditation, I would say, “This is the wrong group for you.” We are all meditation students. And we share that, and that’s something we can discuss.

My vision includes the Zen Peacemaker Order functioning with the principles of the Three Tenets of not knowing; bearing witness, and taking actions that arise out of that. And these Three Tenets, for me, I live my life that way. I don’t do anything with a pre-set plan. I approach everything I do, including this talk, or including making love to my wife without coming to it with expectation, or a plan, or this is what’s gonna happen. I bear witness to the situation, and I see what arises. I don’t say, or I don’t feel that what arises out of that practice is good or bad, or right or wrong, or any of that. It’s just what arose.

So the next time I do something, again I approach it with not knowing. I bear witness, and then the actions. So if we took the Three Tenets out of the Zen Peacemaker Order, again I feel we don’t have a Zen Peacemaker Order, we have something else.

One of the principles of the Zen Peacemaker Order is doing social action, being socially engaged on a volunteer basis. There are many people that have jobs where they are social workers, or whatever. I am looking at everybody within the Zen Peacemaker Order doing some volunteer work somewhere. And furthermore, doing that social action based on the Three Tenets. So everything that I’m going to talk about as something to be done within the Zen Peacemaker Order has to be done according to the Three Tenets.

And my own opinion is that if you do social action based on the Three Tenets, that is a practice towards enlightenment, or towards connecting with more of Indra’s net. So the experience of enlightenment becomes deeper and deeper, as you connect with more and more of the net.

And again, if you took out social action, somebody say, “I want to be part of ZPO, but I don’t want to do any of that social action,” or, “I’m already a social worker. I don’t need to do any volunteer work.” Again, they’re not fitting my sense of what it means to be part of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

Another element that we list as a core practice of the Zen Peacemaker Order, but for me it’s part of the vision are what we call Bearing Witness Retreats. So these are generally retreats involving aspects of the net that we’re not normally connecting with. And they’re retreats that are structured according to the Three Tenets. All of the retreats that you’ve heard of us having have been structured according to the Three Tenets. Now we try to figure out what does that mean, and how do we structure a retreat that way?

What is a Bearing Witness Retreat will keep evolving. That is, in my opinion if you are working in hospice, say, and you are approaching people from the standpoint of not-knowing, you’re not coming there with a plan of what you should do, or what should happen to the person that’s dying, but you’re not knowing, and you’re bearing witness to the person, and then the actions arise. That’s a Bearing Witness Retreat.

So Bearing Witness Retreats contain different flavors, but there’s a similarity. They’re structured according to the Three Tenets. And you’re entering a realm that you’re not fully connected in. And you’re spending time bearing witness to that world.

So that’s an important part. And we’ve already had meetings. Different meeting, and some people suggesting whether we should have Bearing Witness Retreats as a prerequisite. Again, for me, if you took Bearing Witness Retreats out of it, you don’t have the Zen Peacemaker Order. And many people, including Rami, his first introduction to our world was he attended an Auschwitz Retreat. And many people that have attended these different retreats have become very active around the world. There’s a whole core of people that are friends. They are in different sanghas, but they’ve become friends because they’ve gone through this deep experience of not knowing, and bearing witness in an environment where it really helps you to do that.

Also my vision is that it not be hierarchical. And I mentioned that before. So we’ve set up a governance system. And you can read about this, it’s based on something called sociocratic, or sociocracy that was developed in Holland. And we’ve used it before. But we’re using that as our governance system. And that consists of local circles, regional circles that invites people up to a national, continental circle, with representatives that bring information back and forth. And those continental circles flow their people into an international circle, with information flowing back. So there’s information flowing backwards and forwards from all of these circles, and no one person in charge.

So at this point, to me, if you took out the peer style of governance, and replaced it with a common hierarchical style of governance, for me that’s not the Zen Peacemaker Order. Another hierarchical thing is not what I had in mind.

So those are sort of the pieces of this vision, but an overall is an international sangha of people doing all these things, belonging to sanghas all around the world, or not belonging, individuals. Wanting friends to share their work, and what they’re doing, and to talk, and to do trainings. So we have people, like this group, in a training on the Zen Peacemaker Order that’s happening this weekend. And you’ve got people from around the United States coming to train here. That’s not always that common, but within our family it’s becoming more, and more common. And with the development of Zen Peacemaker Order, I think it will be even more common.

There will be people wanting to train in some of these things that maybe their sangha doesn’t train in or maybe they don’t have a sangha. Or even if they do, you’ll see crossings. I would hope that somebody that’s a member of ZPO here, and is deciding to take a trip to Europe (maybe going to Belgium, or to wherever you’re going), you could look up and see what ZPO friends there are in Belgium, tell them you’re coming for a trip, and that they would offer you a place to stay, or help you in your trip. That’s real international sangha that we would be developing.

That’s my start. Most of what I have discussed—maybe all—is in place. It’s happening. And it will evolve through these peer groups. Right now we have peer groups, regional groups in southern Europe. And the southern Europe group represents Switzerland, Italy, Spain. And because we don’t have enough groups, some other continents, we also have representation from Israel and Brazil. The northern group, circle, has representation from Belgium, Holland, France, Paris, Germany, I think Poland. And in the United States we have an East Coast, Eastern Region, Central, and a Western. And Roshi Egyoku is a steward of the Western Regional Circle.

[continued in part two, posted soon]

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Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati

My wife, Roshi Eve Marko and I just returned from our annual teaching at the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island where, on the last day, we discussed Swami Vishnudevananda with Swami Swaroopananda. Below is a brief history of the wonderful Yoga Teacher and Peace Activist Swami Vishnudevananda. Swami Vishnudevananda A number of Zen Peacemakers will be gathering there in March. Also, Sivananda Peace Ambassadors will be joining all our Bearing Witness Retreats

Vishnudevananda Saraswati (December 31, 1927 – November 9, 1993) was a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati, and founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams. He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, one of the first yoga teacher training programs in the West. His books The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (1959) and Meditation and Mantras (1978) established him as an authority onHatha and Raja yoga. Vishnudevananda was a tireless peace activist who rode in several “peace flights” over places of conflict, including the Berlin Wall prior to German reunification.

In reaction to a vision of a world engulfed by flames and people running hither and thither, oblivious of borders, Vishnudevananda began his peace mission, calling it the True World Order, aimed at promoting world peace and understanding. The first act was to create the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1969, as he felt the need to train future leaders and responsible citizens of the world in the yogic disciplines. Later he conducted peace flights over the world’s trouble spots, earning himself the name “The Flying Swami”.

On August 30, 1971, Vishnudevananda flew from Boston to Northern Ireland in his Peace Plane, a twin-engine Piper Apache plane painted by artist Peter Max. His Vedantic message, “Man is free as a bird”, challenged all man-made borders and mentally constructed boundaries. Upon landing, he was joined by actorPeter Sellers and they walked through the streets of Belfast chanting a song called “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Later that same year, on October 6, he took off with his co-pilot over the war-ridden Suez Canal and was buzzed by Israeli jets. The same thing happened with the Egyptian Air Force on the other side of the Canal. He continued eastward, “bombing” Pakistan and India with flowers and peace leaflets.

On September 15, 1983 Vishnudevananda flew over the Berlin Wall, from West to East Berlin, in a highly publicized and particularly dangerous mission to promote peace. In a press interview given several weeks beforehand, he said, “Symbolically we want to show we cannot cross borders with guns, only with flowers. If they shoot me over the Berlin Wall what difference is it? Many people have died for war; I shall die for peace.” He safely landed his ultralight glider in an East Berlin field and, after several hours of questioning by East German authorities, was released to West Berlin, where he immediately held the Global Village Peace Festival alongside the Wall. The festival featured a walk across hot coals to demonstrate that the mind is stronger than matter, and figuratively that the human spirit can overcome “fire” of all kinds. Vishnudevananda returned to Berlin when the Wall fell in 1989, staging a peace festival and a brief meeting with then-East German leader Egon Krenz to thank him for allowing the events to unfold peacefully.

In 1984, Vishnudevananda and his students toured India in a double-decker bus, conducting programs aimed at awakening the Indian people to their ancient tradition of yoga. In February he tried to mediate between the Hindu and Sikh factions in Amritsar, entering the Golden Temple to speak to the Sikh leaders who had sought refuge there.

Over the years, Vishnudevananda met regularly with other spiritual and religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. He organized yearly symposia on such topics as yoga and science, the possibilities of the mind, sustainable living and nuclear disarmament.

Vishnudevananda died on November 9, 1993. His body was then placed into the Ganges at the Sivananda Kutir, and the rite named jalasamadhi was performed, merging the abandoned body with the water.

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Radical Descent: The Cultivation of an American Revolutionary by Linda Coleman

“A rare first-hand account by an active participant in the radical underground movements … distinguished by the courage and painful honesty so critical in a memoir of this kind.” – Peter Matthiessen

In her debut memoir, Coleman reveals an intimate account of her choice to join a revolutionary underground guerrilla cell in the 1970’s. This turbulent time in America has lessons for all of us in an age of domestic terrorism headlining the news today.

What begins with her youthful idealism and intent to amend the “sins” of her blueblood ancestors soon becomes a firestorm of events that includes the activities of a local police “death squad”, the vicious rape of a co-worker, an attack on a radical bookstore, Ku Klux Klan threats, friends found to be on the 10 MOST WANTED list, her choice to bear arms, donate large sums of money, and transport explosives for a cadre with increasingly questionable motives. The unrelenting series of events that unfold inextricably land her many years later as a witness in one of the longest sedition trials in US history.

Terrorist or freedom fighter? That becomes the readers question to answer just as it becomes Coleman’s question as well.

Review by Eve Myonen Marko

Linda Coleman just published a terrific memoir about her time as a young woman taking part in armed insurrection against this government. It’s called Radical Descent. Coming from a white and privileged background, she decided to join an underground cell of American revolutionaries fighting against our own military-corporate-government established which they accused of perpetrating wars around the world, purveying arms, persecuting minorities, and actively promoting inequality through a corrupt capitalist system. She describes what led her to join this struggle, and what finally led her out.

What I really appreciate is her sharing the emotional turmoil she experienced, and especially the burden of guilt she carried over coming from a white and wealthy background. Day by day I hear everywhere around me the same questions: What do I do to change this world? Does anyone pay attention to nonviolent resistance? Is being an armchair middle-class liberal enough? Is meditation enough? Is anything enough?

Linda and her friend felt the urgency of this American reality and what it was fostering, and they weren’t ready to be numbed by entertainment or reassurances that it’ll all turn out okay in the end, or that we’ll be dead well before the end so what does it matter. She describes being on that edge again and again, seeing an abyss on either side of her, and wondering what’s the next step and how to take it. She’s a long-term Zen practitioner and was ordained by Peter Matthiessen years ago, but I love it that her fierceness and fighting spirit (shared by Peter, in my experience), go on and on.

Read that book!

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Bernie’s 60 Years Jouney in Zen – The 2nd 20 Years: Social Action

So, 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. I’m not sure exactly when that was—I should know, it might have been ‘75; it might have been ’76. Sometimes I waste a little time trying to figure out years. But 1976 was the opening of a monastery in New York, Dai Bosatsu Monastery that Eido Shimano Roshi was in charge of. And he started in—that celebration started with a one week Sesshin, which he invited people from different Zen centers across the country. And I was invited to represent our Zen Center of Los Angeles. And I already had had dharma transmission. So that was July ’76—that Sesshin—so somewhere before that.

But more important in ’76, was this experience I had in which . . . So until all of that, I was in the mode of, you know, your samurai Zen teacher. And then in 1976 on my way to work, I was in a car with four people, driving to work. I had about an hour trip to go to work. And I had an experience, which I’ve talked a lot about, because it was so 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, not just the Palestinians, everyone is suffering.

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.

And what came up immediately was a vow. So it’s another case of these Three Tenets, you know. I had been for a few weeks—a little context; a few weeks before, I had had this question about reincarnation, which I might talk about in my third phase. But I had this question about reincarnation. And I went to Maezumi Roshi, and I said, “Can you talk with me about reincarnation?” And he said, “Go read the letters of . . .” I can’t remember her name. In The Three Pillars of Zen, the young woman who was dying. And Harada Roshi visited her, and there were letters back and forth between them. She had an experience, an enlightenment experience. He thought it was very deep. They had letters going back . . .

Eve: Is that Ken Wilbur’s wife?

Bernie: No. Three Pillars of Zen, it was edited by Phillip Kapleau. It’s a Zen book. I can’t remember her name exactly, but it’s something like Iayda. So anyway, I had read them. They’re not very long. And I was sort of bearing witness to those letters, because somewhere, somehow they had something to do with reincarnation, because that’s what my teacher said I should read.

But at any rate, so out of that, in this car ride to work, pops up this vision of all of these hungry spirits. And immediately it also popped up, those are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. So whatever pops up, that’s me. And 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.

So, I then worked with my teacher to translate that into English. And it’s all about the mandala, and the different entities that live in the mandala. The mandala is divided into five Buddha fields, five types of energies. And those energies . . . That’s a model—I’m a mathematician, so we work with models, so that’s one model. But that model is a way of dividing life. The mandala is a circle, so that’s a whole life. And then it’s dividing it into five kinds of energies—a spiritual energy, a social action energy, a business energy, a study energy, and a relationship energy. We’ve talked a lot about relationship energy, so that’s one whole—there’s a Sanskrit term, padma is relationship energy.

And my book, Instructions to the Cook describes the Buddhist principles I used to develop this project called Greyston, in terms of these five Buddha fields.  And in the book, it calls it five different types of foods. You know, but it’s the five energies.

Anyway, so that was quite surprising to me, that here’s a service—we had many different liturgies that we chanted—but here’s one that somehow really attracted me, without my knowing any of the words. And then I had this experience, and it turns out that it’s dealing with the same thing, in a sense—well, in a big sense. In a big sense.

Now, in Japan that service was used particularly for all of the spirits in those five Buddha families that were being neglected, for various reasons. So it could be that somebody died in a war. And in those days, a long time ago, it might take thirty years before news came back that somebody had died. So that service was for all of those that had died and nobody knew about it—that they had died. It was for, like in our case in New York, for the homeless that nobody’s taking care of. It’s for all of those that are not being taken care of. And in a sense, for all of the parts of our selves that aren’t being taken care of, which leads to all of these hungry spirits. You know, I need more fame. Who’s going to take care of that? Who’s going to give me more fame? Or I need more money, or I need more love. So that particular service is about that.

Now we made—because it’s such an important service for me—that has become, for a long time now, the main service of the Zen Peacemaker Order. And there are many places, many centers that will chant that, and recite that on somewhat of a regular basis. And I also—because it was so important to me—I divided it, line by line, into koans. I created a new koan system based on that. And only a few people really—a number of people studied those koans with me, but only a few finished. Eve is one of those. So she wound up doing workshops on how to perform the liturgy, in terms of the gongs, and the booms, and there’s a lot of—there’s horns blowing [makes a horn noise], there’s all kinds of stuff there. And of course there’s the meaning. And she’s done that workshop in Europe a few times.

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.

So I’m not doing things just because—I mean there’s so much that needs to be done. And the world’s full of a lot of people. My particular study and practice was how do you do that in a way that helps the people that are doing it, and the people that are being served experience the oneness of life?

What’s interesting to me—one of the things that’s interesting to me—is that in my early years (in the first twenty years), whenever I gave a talk (I was always giving talks. I’m a terrible writer. I can’t write, but I can talk. And many times people have to figure out how to shut me up. Once I start talking . . . ), so in those first twenty years, whenever I gave a talk, always there would be some people that would say, “How do we bring this into our life? I understand about how you sit now, but how do I bring it into my life?” Always I had that question. And you probably heard that question yourself once or twice—but, always.

In the second twenty years, never, never heard that question. Because when people saw me talking, what they saw was somebody who was bringing it into his life. That’s my feeling—why that question never arose again, after the first twenty years. So that’s an important little piece of information, because in those first twenty years, always we said that the practice has to be in your life. I mean that’s what my teacher said, and my teacher’s teacher. You know, I studied with Yasutani Roshi, with Koryu Roshi, Maezumi Roshi. They always said that, and people like weren’t seeing it. Because if they saw it, they wouldn’t have asked the question. But they kept asking the question, “How do we bring it into our life?” So that’s important to look at, I think.

So, we got into business. We built a bakery. But it was all in a plan. My plan, as I said, was first to build the spiritual base. We had a very good sitting schedule, and Sesshin every month, a lot of Sesshins. We had liturgy, and people learning. Eve is fantastic at liturgy—she’s not a priest, but she knows all of the liturgy, how to hit the bells, and all of that kind of stuff. So she can teach people that. But we did liturgy, we did all of that. And we had a lot of study. And of course we studied the five Buddha families. And we did studies of all of the various texts, and all that kind of stuff.

And we had some small business, but I wanted to create a big business. And we started something. We spent about six months to figure out what we would do, because I wanted something that could be used as a work practice. Now most of you probably know, if you go back into China, and even Japan, a lot of the monks in temples, they were supported by the monks working. They were farmers. They had rice crops, different things. And in fact, the man (he was Chinese), the man who wrote the first rule—in Zen Peacemakers Order we have a rule, that’s what makes it an order. There was a rule; the first rule for Zen made Zen an order. The first rule was written by a guy who’s—the Japanese pronunciation is  Hyakujo, everybody knows Hyakujo, who studied Zen. And he’s the guy who said “A day of no work is a day of no food.” And when he got older—now I think he got really old, he got to maybe seventy-five [audience laughs]—and they took away his tools (the gardening tools, and whatever), because he was too old. He was getting dizzy, or fainting, or whatever. They said, “No more work for you, man.” And so he said, “OK. No more work, no more food.” And he stopped eating. Now eventually they tried to convince him, “You gotta eat.” “No. If I’m not working, I’m not gonna eat.” So they had to give him back his tools.

Audience member: Meshugenah.

Bernie: Who?

Audience member: Him.

Bernie: “He was a meshugenah,” she says. [Audience laughs]

He wrote the first rule, which is a very interesting rule, if you read it. Because he said that you can’t have any images in a Zendo, or in a Zen Center. Because, he said, if you put images in, then before you know it people are going to start asking you to make prayers for the Lords to win their battles, and for rain to come, and they take you away from the practice—which for him was the sitting.

So I’m switching back and bringing new idols into the Zendo. And those idols are serving all the hungry spirits. And I had one member, when I introduced and talked about this service . . . Kan Ro Mon in English translates as The Gate of Sweet Nectar. And it’s not a direct translation, pretty direct, but I included some pieces from some other traditions. So one of my members got really mad. She said she wouldn’t chant it because she had enough troubles of her own, and did not want to bring all of these hungry spirits into the space. And in that chant, we’re inviting all of the hungry spirits to come into our space, so that we could suffer with them, and take care. And she says, “Leave me alone already! I’ve got enough suffering!”

So, we started the business, and we built this Greyston—first a bakery, to make money. And as soon as we were OK financially, we started to expand what we were doing. And what I did is—I didn’t have a plan as to what we would do. I’d listen to what was going on. We built our bakery in a very poor part of town. And I’d listen to what was going on in that poor part of town. And it seemed like the biggest issue was homelessness, and single parent homelessness. There were crack vials everywhere on the streets, so drugs was also big.

So out of bearing witness to what was happening where we were, we started to do things. First, to feed people in the local soup kitchens, but then we started to build housing, permanent housing for people. But you couldn’t give somebody an apartment that didn’t have a job. They would lose the apartment. So at the same time, we were creating jobs. And if you’re a single parent, you can’t work in that area either. You couldn’t get childcare. We didn’t have the social system you have here. So, we had to build childcare. And there were drugs everywhere. So we had to get involved in drugs.

So we looked at the whole picture, essentially again bearing witness to what was going on. And out of that, came this Greyston model. And this Greyston model was built on the Buddhist principles. What we did came out of the Three Tenets. And the structure is intimately involved with these five Buddha families.

And I’m going to present a program on how all that happened, and what those details are in New York. And I found out that Barbara wanted to attend that. And now Cornelius is going to attend that. So we’ll have various folks that have studied that whole way of doing things, and that model. I find it, of course, very interesting, because that’s what I did.

But what comes out of that is it’s not the Zendo anymore. What comes out of that, when you work with all five energies of that mandala—you’re working in all of society. And we don’t have all these techniques developed in those five spheres of how to help folks experience the oneness of life. Remember, that’s what Buddhism means. So it has to be based on that. So it means we still have work. We developed a bunch of upayas. And some very important—that I’m going to talk on the third twenty years. But at this time we were still exploring how do you serve, how do you take care in a Buddhist way?

I did not introduce any Buddhist notions to our staff. Most of the staff are people that either had been homeless, drug addicts, convicts. We hired them right off of the street. We do no checking of their backgrounds. They have to work well. If they don’t, their buddies fire them. We do not preach any Buddhist values. But the whole structure, the whole environment they’re working in was informed, in my opinion, by our Buddhist values.

So, it’s fascinating, this started thirty-two years ago. It’s still growing very nicely. It’s done so many wonderful things. The staff is about 180 people. Most people came off the streets. We have a program, called Pathmaker Program, which works with a person on their life, in terms of the five Buddha energies. What do they want their life to be, in terms of spirituality, in terms of work, in terms of study, in terms of relationship, and in terms of social action?

And about a year ago—we had a person in charge of that program—about a year ago, she worked with the staff on the vision, and mission, things like that that most companies do. And she first asked the people to think about what do they think is the spirituality of Greyston. Now, remember these are folks that never heard of Buddhism. They knew there was this guy Bernie, that was the founder. I came back, about a couple years ago, this work, the mission work was started before I came back. But they knew that this was all started by this Zen monk. So at least that was the myth about me. There was this guy Bernie who started it. But they didn’t know anything about Buddhism. There is a Zendo in that building. And there is a teacher that lives in New York. But none of the staff were going to that. Some other people went to the Zendo. But they knew that there was such a thing as meditation. They saw people going.

At any rate, they worked, and they came up with three principles of spirituality of Greyston. The first principle—this is what they came up with—the first principle was that we should listen to what other people have to say. The second principle that they came up with is that we should get to know what their lives are about. And the third principle they came up with; we should serve the community.

These are folks that when they first came into Greyston, they didn’t care about anybody but themselves—where to get a hit (Is that the language you use? What’s the German word for a hit? To get drugs, how to get some drugs.). They didn’t care about their wives, their families. So after a certain amount of time, one of their principles was how to serve the community.

So, I have an opinion that this was a way of teaching folks about the oneness of life. We had some other little tricks that had to do with the work, and whatever. But people were really getting that. Now they’re asking for meditation. They’re asking for meditation—to come into our meditation. I now come down once a week, but they want to bring mindfulness throughout the whole company. And we’re talking about bringing council throughout the whole company.

But if you come and visit, I’m sure you will feel that there’s something unusual about Greyston. It’s many buildings—many, many, buildings. It’s quite large. You know, it’s not just in one town. It’s a few different towns. It works with seniors, and youths, and with AIDS, and with all kinds of things. But if you come, you’ll feel something different. And because of that, it’s being studied. The model is being studied in many of our colleges. But when they study it in our colleges, they leave out the spiritual component. And I think, therefore they will miss the point. That’s my opinion.

And so we developed a little course too, to show them. So besides Barbara and Cornelius that are going to attend that, there’ll be many different business people that want to bring that model into their companies—both in U.S. and in Europe. That’s gonna happen.

So after a while, we had built this Greyston, it was going along. Eve had a few different jobs at Greyston. She worked in sales, selling cakes and stuff.

Eve: I hated it.

[Audience laughs]

Bernie: I didn’t know that. She worked in fundraising. And she’s a great writer, and she wrote a proposal. We started an AIDS facility for both a health clinic, and housing. And our governor put out a proposal—they were going to give a million/two million, do you remember?

Eve: I think ours was a million and a half.

Bernie: A million and a half dollars for what they thought was the best AIDS program in the country. And she wrote the proposal, and we won that. So we had a lot of little, and big, or different kinds of things that happened. One of the things that I thought is fantastic is—In the United States, New York is considered to make the best cheesecakes in the country. They don’t count Europe. So, in the United States, New York is the best area for cheesecakes. And there was a newspaper (it doesn’t do it any more), it used to do an annual award for the best Cheesecake in New York. And we won that award. And for me, what was so fantastic is that the best cheesecake in New York, which means the best in the country, was made by people that our country considered garbage—that threw away those people, didn’t consider they could do anything. So all of the products that were made at Greyston were superb. And they are all being made by former homeless, former prisoners/convicts, former drug people. I just love that. That was quite wonderful.

So after a number of years, I felt it was time for me to move on. I’m a very unstable person. And when things become . . . well, at any rate, I don’t want to get sidetracked. It became time to move on, for me. And there were people who I felt could do a great job—maybe better. I’m good at the initial vision. I’m not such a great administrator. So when things go into that phase where it has to be more operational, I’m not necessarily the best. I like to keep creating new things.

So at any rate, I decided I wanted to do something else. And because of the work at Greyston, and also my Zen work, I had traveled a lot, and met wonderful groups all around the world doing all kinds of beautiful things. So I decided to do something else, but I didn’t know what. But I had the Three Tenets. So, what did I do? I had no plan of what to do. This was 1994, so it’s still during that second twenty years. And I decided to bear witness to that question of what should I do?

And the way I did it is I chose a place to go sit, and do meditation, and to bear witness on the question. And I raised the question for myself, I said, “What should I do next to work with people that are being rejected by society, in particular AIDS, homeless, poverty? What should I do?” It was my fifty-fifth birthday. And since it was my birthday, I invited people to join me in the sitting, with that theme. To bear witness to that—it’s like a koan. That’s what you do when you do koans. You bear witness to the koan. So here’s a koan, let’s bear witness to it. And about twenty people came—or I don’t remember, something like that.

And I decided I always like to do things on a very special spot. So I chose that we would do this, we would sit on the steps of the Capitol of the United States, in Washington, DC. And we went there. My birthday is January 18th, so it’s very cold there. And it turned out to be the coldest week in fifty years in Washington, DC, so we were covered with snow. And we have pictures of that.

And something arose out of that bearing witness. And what arose was the Zen Peacemaker Order. What arose, to me, was that we should build a container for people who are interested in meditation and social engagement. And I went home, and discussed it with my wife. Her name is Jishu, and she passed away in ’98—March, ’98. So I went home—this was ’94—went home, discussed it with her. And she said it was a great idea. And she said, “Let’s base it on precepts—on a rule, on the Three Tenets, and on precepts.” And we decided to spend a year—I don’t know if we decided to spend a year, but we wound up spending a year—working on that rule with a bunch of wonderful teachers. Eve was one of those. Joan Halifax (some of you know) was one of those. A woman Egyoku, she’s now the Abbot in Los Angeles was one of those. Genro Gaunt, if you’ve been to Auschwitz, you know him—but he comes here to Switzerland a lot—so he was one of those. Pat Enkyo O’Hara was one of those. And we sat, and we talked about precepts for about a year. And those are now called the Zen Peacemaker Order Precepts. And we have a Zen Peacemaker Order Rule, which consists of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the Three Tenets, those Ten Precepts, and Four Commitments, which were proposed and developed during the World Congress of Religions (we adapted). So that was the beginning of Zen Peacemaker Order.

I’m gonna stop there. When did we go to Auschwitz?

Eve: ’96.

Bernie: ’96. So tomorrow, we start in ’96. So that brings us up to ’95, around the same time, maybe a little later than ’95. I forget, but I’m gonna close that middle twenty years that way. And tomorrow we start in the next twenty years. So let’s open it to dialogue. We only have ten minutes, so you gotta ask quick. We got eight minutes, because Eve wants two minutes.


Audience member 1: My question Bernie, yesterday you looked back on the first twenty years in Zen. I wonder what continued from your first twenty years in the second twenty years?

Bernie: It continued all the time—till now. I mean, you’re here. It continues all the time, but it expanded. What I consider Zen training expanded. And I’ll talk about that tomorrow. This is Indra’s net, so we could say that the first twenty years, it was a portion of the net. The net is all of life, and we were working with one portion. And the second twenty, there was a bigger portion, but this is still a part.


Audience member 2: I hear you talking about your path, and I’m wondering is it me just beginning to come over to understand, what is your path. And your path, what you want to bring for us to recognize—or to bring us, to share your path for us, where you want to give a gift to us to continue, or for now where you want to pass on to us to continue on your journey, or one we can put in. So really, really like to ask for Buddha path Master here, now, present also reflection our Master in everyone. So for me, right now, I would like to ask one question. You are talking about your path, what you want to bring for us in the moment, and for us to bring in to the future? Thank you.

Bernie: I think, in my opinion, what you’re saying sounds true to me. It sounds like the reason I’ve been doing workshops, and things of this nature is to offer this path that I’ve done, and for those who like it, to jump into it.

It’s not always been what I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve been very active in building Greyston, and doing these different things that I’ve done. And what happened—I’ll tell you the explicit thing that happened that changed me into doing this, to including this—is I was invited to do a dialogue with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Frankfurt, five years ago. And it was His Holiness, myself, and a Catholic Priest and Abbot (I’m forgetting his name, he has a beard, very involved in social engagement, who, I believe he is in Frankfurt). So he was the third, three of us, and it was in this big soccer stadium, about 15,000 people—the Frankfurt soccer/football stadium. And at the time, I asked him (the man who was organizing, a wonderful newscaster, like a Charlie Rose of Germany, I’m forgetting his name) . . . And he asked if I would come, and I said, “Why me? I’m an American.” And this was in Frankfurt, and it should be a German Buddhist person doing social action. And he said, “We don’t have any.” That was shocking to me. So, I actually Googled German Buddhist social activist, and I came up with Bernie Glassman. [Audience laughs]

So I went. And Willigis Jager was there, with his assistant at the time. And Willigis Jager was Cornelius’ teacher. And he studied with Yamada Roshi in the Sanbo Kyodan. And he has stayed at our place in New York, when he was on his way back from Japan. He did Zen studies in Japan. So we talked then, but I hadn’t seen him since then. That was like ’81. So we spent some time talking. And his assistant said to me, “Could you start giving talks here in Germany, because social action is a very important thing, and nobody’s talking about it? No Buddhists are talking about it.” So I thought about it, and I started to do it. I hadn’t been doing these kind of workshops before that—mostly. It was mostly just in projects. And that’s what started me doing it.

So, yes, the direct answer is that’s why I was doing it. I did it, trying to hook people up to do projects themselves, to get Buddhists to know that it’s not bad (a lot of Buddhists felt it was bad to do—social engaged work).


Eve: We’re running out of time. So, this is not just an answer for you, but for everyone, for the rest of today.

So this today was taking Zen out of the Zendo—not leaving the Zendo, but taking out to the world. And tomorrow it’s taking Zen to the streets. So, I think when you asked, “What is it that we’re getting from the story?” It’s the question for everybody here (including us) continually is how do we take this practice into every area of our life? Every area of your life, and my life.

So Bernie gave his answer. It was social action, it was business, but he also said, “There are many sectors where practices have not been developed yet.” Because Buddhism was monastic, so a huge area where it has not been developed is the home—family, children. It’s one of the biggest concerns people have. What do I do with this practice that was monastic for 2,000 years, and now we’re bringing it to the West, and making it available everywhere? But, what do I do? What do I do with my children? What do I do with the person I live with? What do I do?

And in all these areas, I think everybody has to start—if you’re interested in what he’s presenting, so yes that includes social action, and everything, but includes every area. And I think it would be a really nice thing if for the rest of the day, everybody works on what are the practices that I’m trying to develop in the different areas of my life? That, as he said, will bring people to see and experience the oneness.

Bernie: And don’t answer the question by saying, “meditation.” We know, meditation, we know that’s it. What else?

What else?

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