This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” –
reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.
How to Distinguish Day from Night
By Roshi Małgorzata Braunek (1947 – 2014)
Photos courtesy of Roshi Andrzej Krajewski. Pictured above: Bernie, Jakusho Kwong Roshi, Małgorzata Roshi, Peter Matthiessen Roshi, Junyu Kuroda Roshi at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Bernie says that the places of pain and suffering are our greatest teachers. Therefore we went to Auschwitz – a symbol of the greatest evil that man has done to his like. Usually noticing the ubiquitous suffering around us does not mean that we are immersed in it. Rather, we train not to recognize it, because we are afraid that we can’t stand it.
The first time I traveled to Auschwitz I just asked myself if I can face the fear, apart from that I did not know what would happen here.
The most important was to understand that every thought to eliminate anything and anyone is the voice of the torturers slumbering in me. It turned out that I had such thinking as ‘eksterminujących’ (exterminate) in myself, and that there’s no end to it. For example, sweeping a container of liquid on ants, killing a mosquito or a fly. I think that is accompanied by: “Ugh, that’s awful! This must be eliminated! Dispose! Let them disappear!”; After all, this is the same way of thinking that was applied to the Jews, Gypsies, beggars, gay, to all those who were and are “different”; We see them as foreign, other, dirty (inside or outside), barbarians, worse than us – in a word, vermin disrupting our lives. They are useless, so they must be eliminated! The world would be better without them. The world knows this lesson very well … When I saw the executioner in myself for the first time, I kept crying a long while and could hardly stop again. The whole camp melted in my tears.
When I sit on the ramp or in the barracks for hours, I touch suffering directly. Sure, we are sitting there in warm jackets, we know we’ll soon have something to eat… Sure I do not know about the cold back then, I don’t wear those thin striped uniforms. But this is not about historical reconstruction. It is important to listen to what this place has to tell us. You encounter yourself and your own fear. The suffering of the people there was and is unimaginable and incomparable. They were in hell here on earth, but you have to realize that this is not a closed chapter. There’s hell within us, we go on creating it continuously …
Roshi Małgorzata Braunek (1947 – 2014) was an accomplished Polish artist and actresses and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe. She was the wife of Roshi Andrzej Krajewski with whom she co-led the Kanzeon Zen Center and sangha in Warsaw, Poland. (fot. Piotr Kowalski)
This is an excerpt and appears in full in the book “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015) Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski, in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en
By Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller, Spiegel, Switzerland
Tala is three years old. A year ago she arrived out of the war in Syria to Switzerland. Her mother brought her to our women circle. The first time some weeks ago, Tala sat for two hours in the circle, holding the talking piece when it was her turn, looking in our faces, smiling. Tala loves it, as we all do, our sitting in the meditation room around the candle in deep listening of what our one heart wants to share and to the sharing of all the hearts in our circle of women.
Yesterday evening she laid down on the black zabuton and slept during all the rounds of our sharing, but at the end she woke up to blow off the candle. It is a good way – to share in council – about the pain and the joy we hold in our hearts. We invoked the presence of family members who are gone in the war, we called their names and accepted the deep pain of the loss. I often hear in Switzerland people hope not to meet their parents too often because their relationships are not always easy. In the circle, we listen to the pain of loosing everything, home, work, culture, friends, brothers and sisters — and out of this, came to me the idea to write poems in Arabic and work together on translation, to share it in a book. Later when I expressed this idea, I saw light in the sad eyes of the woman sitting next to me.
After the council we had tea and sweets together. Every time the Swiss women come to the circle, or to the meditation, they bring bags full of beautiful outfits and shawls for the others or for their friends or families. The field is filled with love and respect for our different lives as women, all with the wish to be happy and live a precious life.
Later, I wrote to Jared Seide a dear peacemaker friend and director of the Center of Council, asking if he knew anyone who would have Council guidelines in Arabic language. The same day, I got it, with warm wishes from Jack Zimmerman, Leon Berg and Itaf Awad, founder and head teachers and editors of the book “The Way of Council.” I am deeply moved of their generosity and kind support.
They generously shared — this is the essence of council, a wonderful practice to make peace in bringing all the pieces together. I feel deep gratitude to all who invited me in all the years, again and again, to be part in the circle, to practice it in letting my heart learning how to listen and to share.
Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller is a grandmother, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman and a founding member of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe and the development of the Zen Peacemaker Circles. She and her husband Roland are Zen teachers offering weekly Zazen practice in Spiegel, Switzerland. They are involved in various socially engaged activities around the world and are actively supporting Syrian refugees in their area. (Read more about Barbara)
This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” –
reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.
By Roshi Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Photos by Peter Cunningham
The suffering that we touched during our retreat at times led us into darkness and sometimes transformed into joy and healing as we sat and practiced together and heard one another. I remember Bernie’s old buddy Peter Matthiessen asking: How could one feel joy in such a place? Bearing witness is not only about bearing witness to one's own life but also to all of life. And it was here at Auschwitz that we bore witness to the suffering of others, to the suffering of ancestors, to our own suffering, and to the possibility of the transformation of suffering. Peter was astounded by the release he experienced at Auschwitz, and so were all of us.
One of the ways that I have practiced bearing witness has been in the experience of Council, a practice where people sit in circle with each other and speak clearly and listen deeply. Council at Auschwitz was a way for us to communicate about the deepest issues of our lives, including suffering, death, and grief as well as meaning, healing and joy. Council was indeed one of the deepest ways that we taught each other during the retreat.
Council is found in many cultures and traditions over the world. There is reference to it in Homer’s Iliad. One finds it in the tribal world of earth cherishing peoples. And, of course, it is a key strategy of communion and communication in the tradition of the Quakers, who so influenced the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, I and others brought what we had learned in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement to our lives as teachers and people who were involved with social action and spiritual practice. Council, or the Circle of Truth, or whatever we called it then became a way for us to incorporate democratic and spiritual values into our collective and individual lives. In the mid-90’s, I introduced the Council process to Bernie and Jishu Holmes. It fit so well with their work as peacemakers, and they brought it to many places, including Poland. For Bernie and Jishu, Council seemed to be a practice that was naturally based in the Three Tenets of Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Healing. And it was to contribute to a more profound relationship with our time at Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz, the practice of Council did not necessarily lead us into seeing things the same way. It was not a consensus process at all. Rather, it was a way for people to recognize that each individual in the circle had his or her own experience, take on things, his or her own wisdom. When differing views and experiences were expressed in Council, the depth of field seemed to be much greater. Here we began to discover the importance and richness of differences. The practice of Council allowed people to develop appreciation for differences and to respect the differences of perspective that were held by Germans and Jews, by men and women, by old and young, by rich and poor, by the joyful and the terrified among us. We saw clearly that it was the intolerance of differences that made an Auschwitz possible.
This is an excerpt and appears in full in the book “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015) Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski, in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en
By Eve Marko
Photo by Jadina Lilien
Bernie’s going up the stairs, I pass him walking downstairs, and suddenly hear Phump!Instantly I turn around. “What happened?” “Nothing, I saw this gorgeous woman and I almost fell over.”
My brother gave me a book in Hebrew, teachings by and anecdotes about Rabbi Menachem Fruman, who passed away a few years ago. There is much to relate about Rabbi Fruman, whom we met on a few occasions: a settler rabbi, a lover of the Holy Land who insisted it belonged to God rather than to Jews or Muslims, who cultivated friendships with Muslim religious and political leaders, including the heads of the PLO and Hamas. He also believed deeply in the importance of couples, of intimate relationships. For this reason, whenever he was interviewed by a newspaper photographers liked to photograph him together with his wife, Hadassa. Once he said to the photographer: “Here’s a major scoop for you. You can take a picture of God and bring it back to the paper! Just point the camera here,” and he pointed to the space between him and his wife.
The Zohar, the basic text of Jewish Kabbalah, states that God isn’t to be found in the one person, but rather between two people. There’s myself, there’s my husband, and God is in the middle, in the emptiness between us, never in the one. No, not even in the Great Man. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve meditated, how many kenshos (enlightenment experiences) and dai-kenshos (great enlightenment experiences) you’ve had, or even what you’ve done for the world. That’s not where God resides.
Often people ask me how my practice has helped me over these past six months since Bernie’s stroke. I think they’re asking the wrong question. The practice isn’t what I do early mornings when I go to my office, light a candle and sit. That’s the easiest, most comfy part of the day. The practice is when I then get up and return to the bedroom to ask Bernie how he’s doing, how he slept. To look again at what happened, his loss of weight, his unsteady but determined walk with cane, the splint on his right hand, the question in his eyes, the question in my eyes: What is this? What is this today?
A verse describes the absolute and the relative as two arrows that meet high in mid-air. Both the GM and I shoot arrows up in the air all the time, only these rarely meet. Sometimes they come close, sometimes one grazes the other sufficiently to cause a slight change in direction, and sometimes they’re ghosts in the night, and as I look at all that space in between I think of what the Zohar says: that’s not just any gap between two people who at times feel like strangers, that’s the abode of God. That empty space you’ve gnashed your teeth over, the one you’ve contemplated with frustration and wished to bridge more than anything in the world—that’s where God resides. So what’s there to cry about? The unknown abides in the very misunderstandings, confusion, and clash of wills and personalities that are part of our life. It’s as cozy as could be in the gap between need and fulfillment, desire and satisfaction. It’s right there in the gap between This is it and I don’t want this, I never wanted this, I wish this didn’t happen.
The one is easy. Sit long enough, hard enough, fast a little, give up the world, and you may get somewhere. Live closely with one human being—just one human being—and there, in the small scowl, the itch of discomfort and anxiety, or looking across a deep, unbridgeable gulf, right there is the true treasure.Learn More
By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
Photo of Grandmother Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance (left) by Peter Cunningham
Originally appeared on Eve’s blog on 7/6/2016
The Facebook page for the Bearing Witness visit to Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota during the last week of this month has been closed, made accessible only to those people who have confirmed they’re participating. I’m not one of them, but I am very happy that a substantial group is going, and I just put a Comment on that page asking them to build a foundation for future visits and work so that I, too, can come next time.
It’s our second time returning to South Dakota. These plunges, projects, visits, pilgrimages, however we refer to them—all call me. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Srebrenica in Bosnia, refugee camps in Piraeus, these places summon me. It is no accident that in Judaism, one of the names of God is Place. And She, He, the unknown, is most palpably present for me in these Places, maybe because we walk around there and shake our heads, muttering Inconceivable, inconceivable, all the time.
Right now I feel most called to go to South Dakota. Why? Because I’m an American, and all my doubts (What is this? How could this happen? What’s still going on?) surface there. Where there’s doubt, there’s the unknown.
In early May Mariola Wereszka and Godfried De Waele, who have so kindly and generously helped Bernie and me these past months, went back to Europe. Mariola joined a group of German women at the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women in Germany, while Godfried went to Greece to visit with refugees landing there day after day. When they returned they talked about how the two visits are connected, how to this very day Europeans make pilgrimages to places associated with World War II because they remind them of what people can do to each other out of fear and rage, which come up now, too, in connection with the refugees from Africa and Asia.
We need to do that here in the US, go to our own places of trauma and reconnect with the things we as a nation have done. What eats at our foundation? What is the rotten piece that won’t go away? What have we not borne witness to that continues to echo again and again—another video of white policemen shooting African American men, another Muslim American thrown off a plane or told not to buy a house next door, another snarky innuendo by a political leader reminding us of white superiority?
The past is never past. Resonance is everywhere.
The Bearing Witness in Cheyenne River Event is led by Tiokasin Ghosthorse and Grover Genro Gauntt, two of the leaders of the 2015 Zen Peacemakers Native American Bearing Witness retreat. It is conducted in the spirit of the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action Rising from Not Knowing and Bearing Witness, and is another step in the ongoing effort of Zen Peacemakers in South Dakota USA. Zen Peacemakers, Inc. supports but does not administer the event.
To follow the conversation and events about the Zen Peacemakers engagement in the Black Hill, join our Black Hills Facebook group.Learn More
Bernie Glassman and Eve Marko Talk About the First Days After His Stroke
Conversation recorded in May 2016, Transcribed by Scott Harris
Bernie: So, you remember four months ago [January 12th 2016], we were having an international conference call on the Internet . . . from Germany, from Israel, California, Colorado, all around. And all of a sudden, I was in my office with Rami—our office downstairs—and you were in your office, and all of the sudden, you came down to give me a note. Do you remember what that said?
Eve: Yeah. I wrote you a note on the yellow pad of paper, and it said, “Bernie, don’t take over the meeting. Just listen.”
Bernie: So, I got that note, I started to listen, and all of a sudden, I blacked out! And I have no memory—I don’t even know how many days I have no memory for. So maybe you can tell us a little about that initial period.
Eve: Yeah, you sure took that seriously, “Don’t take over the meeting,” because at that point you started sliding down your chair. And Rami called me again, and I came down. And he had caught you, and put you on the floor. So you were lying on the floor, on your back. I looked at your face. And you were talking at that point. I asked you to raise your leg, and you couldn’t raise your leg. And I asked you to raise your arm, and you couldn’t do that. And then I could tell that your speech was beginning to slur. And then it just stopped. And I asked you, and you just, like did this [shaking head left and right], or something like that—that you couldn’t speak anymore. Oh, and I said I wanted to call 911, and you said, “No.” And I must have asked you another one or two questions, and then I called 911.
And they came, and they were great. They were ready, and they hooked you onto certain medication, put you in an ambulance, took you to a hospital in Greenfield [MA]. They turned right around then, and took you down to Springfield, also in the ambulance. And you went straight into the Emergency Room. And from there you went to Critical Care. And then you went down to Neurological Critical Care. And then you went down to a regular bed.
So at each of these stages they were trying to stabilize you. They knew right away that you had suffered a stroke. And you were at Bay State Springfield Hospital for five full days. They did scans, MRIs, and it was a big stroke. And it had hit your left side they told me, affecting the right side of your body. And also that’s where the speech center is in the brain. So it also affected the speech center. So for five days they were trying to make you stabile. And it was really not clear you were going to make it.
So that was your five days in Bay State. And your daughter Alisa came, and Rami was there. And after five days they thought you were stabile enough to release you to the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital. And that’s what we did.
And you spent five weeks at the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital. The first couple of days after your stroke, you didn’t talk. And it wasn’t at all clear that you could even speak. And only after a couple of days, I think one morning Rami and I were there, and you said something. And I realized that you could, that you had some speech—little bits, some words. But you were able to make yourself heard. And I remember just squeezing Rami’s arm, because I was so moved. He was standing right next to me. And you were even able to — one or two people from the family called on the phone, and if I put it to your ear, you were able to say, “Yeah,” or “OK,” very muffled. You were able to do that.
So in Bay State you would just lay in bed, and you didn’t move. And we were just hoping you would stay alive, and that you would stabilize. Once they brought you to Weldon—for me at least—the full extent of the loss of abilities became clear. Because it was only then that they really started looking at your legs, your arms, your whole side, noticing how you couldn’t feel here [right side of the head], the whole shape of your mouth that came down on the right. Your eyes, you couldn’t see, your vision was impaired on the right. And you couldn’t move on the right side at all. You couldn’t move.
They pretty much were able to ascertain that you were not paralyzed. I guess they have a way of seeing that. So they could determine you were not paralyzed, but the extent of the recovery, and what you would eventually be able to do was anybodies guess at that time.
People were optimistic. And according to various tests, they said you would have a good recovery. And if you remember, a Tibetan doctor came to visit you, and he looked you over and said you would have a very good recovery. And the prognosis was guarded, but very positive. And the rest depended on you, and the work you would be ready to do to regain your abilities.
Bernie: So, how long a period are you describing?
Eve: So, I know you have practically no memory of those first weeks. You were five days in the hospital. After that, at the rehab hospital you spent five weeks. And I’m aware that the first two, three weeks, you have almost no memory. A few people came to visit you, and I’m aware from when we talked that you barely remember faces, but you remember no conversations.
They started trying to get you to move, and walk. Well, not walking. That took much longer, but just to get you to move, get you to move your arms. And just everything— toileting—on me it was very hard because I could actually see it. I’m not sure, you know later on when we’ve talked, like we’ve talked now, it doesn’t sound like you were quite aware of what was happening. I think for people around you like me—who were there, and I could see—it was a shock. It was a big, big, shock to look at the abilities that you lost. A huge shock for me. I realized that you weren’t aware—or you were aware then, but you’ve forgotten now.
Bernie: Now I do have some memories in that period. I’ll repeat it, because it seems powerful. I thought I had the memory—I thought it was three days in which I was dying. And my whole energy was based on how to die. I thought, the fourth day, that all of a sudden I had the sense that I could improve. That’s all I knew. I didn’t have a sense of anything else. All I had a sense of was that I could improve. And that to do that I had to exercise.
So again, I don’t know when that came. But that was all I had in mind—that I have to exercise. Most of the time—I think, I don’t know yet, later on it’s more clear—that most of the time I was in what I call a state of non-thinking. I just was laying there. And so I don’t remember that.
Eve: But were you alert, or were you just kind of out of it, in a daze?
Bernie: That’s interesting, see. I think—now I’m thinking, this is not experiencing—I’m thinking that in that state I was aware that I was in the state of no-thinking. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I don’t remember being in pain, or anything like that. I just remember where I wasn’t doing anything. And it seemed to me I was resting so I could exercise. Everything was so focused about exercising. And then I do remember certain people coming to visit. And I may have even said it’s OK that they come to visit. And I remember thinking when they came, “They’re taking all my energy. I can’t do this. In between my exercising, I need to rest—or be in the state of not-knowing.”
Eve: How did you feel when you exercised, and you say that you couldn’t do? Like when they first tried to get you to walk, it took three people to get you walking. And I wonder, did you feel discouraged? Did you feel bad?
Bernie: Yeah. During this time, which was later—four or five weeks, I remember five week, or I remember the last few—during all that time I didn’t feel depression. I didn’t feel negative. I didn’t feel like I can’t do these things. All my attention was, “How do I get what I’m doing to be done with more energy? And then we’ll go to the next thing.” Somehow—I don’t remember at least—having any sense of, “Oh this part’s not working, that part’s not . . .” I just was, “Here’s what I’ve got to do now. Oh, I need three people to help me walk. OK, let’s do it. And you know, what? Hopefully it will be two people next week, or one.”
And a good example of this—it was late in the game, I think it was the fourth week, or fifth week, I don’t know—they brought me over to four steps. And they said, “Here, we’re gonna have you walk . . . We’re gonna have you take your good leg (My left side was in good shape. The right side had a lot of problems.) . . .” So they said, “We want you to move your left leg, and move it up to the first step. Today that’s all we’re gonna do.” I couldn’t do it!
That’s the first sense that I had that my brain and my body were not so together. Because I know my body. I could lift my leg. My brain would say, “You can’t get up that first step. You’re fooling yourself.” So that first day, I couldn’t get up the first step.
The second day I came, I moved my foot up, and I moved the next one. I could walk up four steps! And then I said, “Now what?” On the top of four steps they said, “OK turn around, and come back.” My brain said, “No way! You can’t turn around here! And you ain’t walking down.” That very day, I walked down.
So obviously, what I was learning was that my brain was saying one thing, and my body another. That first day my body knew I couldn’t lift up that leg. My brain was saying, “You can’t.” And so I couldn’t. The brain took over. It had more control over what I did than my body had.
Eve: So what happened on day two? You think your brain was suddenly persuaded that you could take those steps up?
Bernie: Well there was no difference between that first step, and the second step. And all of a sudden, I said oh, I did the first step. My body could do a step! Man, I could have done ten steps, or a hundred steps. Maybe not—I might have gotten too tired. But I got past an impasse. So obviously on that first day, my brain was telling me, “No. Your leg can’t get up. Your right leg can’t get up.” But second day, it just went right up. So what the hell? That means I could have done it the day before too—I think. I mean I couldn’t have just in one day done it all. But it may be . . .
Eve: So you’re saying that even though the brain was saying, “No, you can’t do it,” on the first day, you might have just been able to raise your feet and do it anyway.
Bernie: On the second day?
Eve: No, even on the first day. That’s what I’m trying to get at.
Bernie: Yeah. There probably would have been a way—I don’t know if there would be a way—of overriding. The brain has a lot of control, it seemed to me. That control is not allowing me to do something, not allowing me to feel something, not allowing me to hear something. I know there were many times I’d say, “What was that?” And you’d think I don’t have my hearing aid. My hearing, my brain for some reason doesn’t want, so things would be repeated two or three times.
And Godfried and Mariola, they just came from Europe. They came to visit me. And Godfried said something about—because he’s going to write a book with me on Zen—and he said something to me about Zen, and the essence of Zen. And then he had to go the bathroom. And Mariola turned to me and said, “What is the essence of Zen?” And I looked at her. And I realized at that moment that I had no idea what the essence of Zen meant. Now people have been asking me that question for years. And I didn’t have trouble answering them in one way or another. I may have changed the way I did it. But this time I had no idea.
Now what I also recognize is that I felt I knew what that state was—the state of Zen. But I had no way to describe it. The words that I used before to describe it weren’t available to me. And I had no words that were available to me. What that did to me was huge. A huge sense of joy. Or a sense of holy cow! I don’t know what this is, and now I can find out.
Now I’ve been sixty years in the world of Zen. And I don’t know what it is, maybe since the beginning, and feeling so much joy that I can now express it. But that’s what I remember, this state where I was just, “Wow. I have a new chance to clarify what does that mean.”
And then I got home, and I started to work with Godfried, and Rami, and Mariola on my book. I was doing a book. And the book was going to be the sixty years of Zen, talking about those things, which in a sense didn’t interest me anymore. But working on the book, one of the first things that happened was Godfried said, “I heard you say over and over that you stayed to study with Maezumi Roshi because he was the clearest man that you knew of.” And Godfried said, “What do you mean by ‘clearest man’?”
And I looked at him, and I said, “Huh? I have no idea what that means.” But now I have a chance to try to find out. What does that mean? Not only don’t I have an idea what it means, but I don’t think it could mean anything.
So anyway I was in a whole new study phase for me. And that was true for many Zen words that I had been using. I thought maybe we used them without really knowing what they mean. And I thought I probably thought I knew what they mean. But I didn’t really know what they mean.
And this is a new phase in my life where I could go a little deeper into what these states are. And then, what became strong also is that in between the times that I did at the hospital, I did a lot of exercise—for my feet; it was three main things, my legs, my hands, my arms, and my speech. All three were exhausting. I would put maybe two hours into each. I was exhausted by the time it was over. I needed to rest. I rested before and after. I had to rest before and after.
And when I was resting, there was nothing. I was staying in a state of non-thinking. It was very restful. I would get ready for the next things, but I didn’t remember thinking anything.
Eve: Now Bernie, for many years you’ve talked actually about that state. And you’ve said that the purpose of Zen isn’t to get you to not thinking—because if you don’t want to think, you can have a lobotomy. So that’s not the point. The point is to live, and be actively engaged, and to live like everybody else. So now you’re saying, in the face of all that, after your stroke, you still found yourself in these states—prolonged states of non-thinking. So what is your comment about it now, given how many years, my impression was that you thought that there were teachers who said, “I could be in a state of non-thinking for two hours,” and you actually pooh-poohed that. I remember, “That’s not the objective,” you said. “That’s not the point.”
So what is your impression now of this?
Bernie: Well, I don’t know. Again, these are areas that I want to explore. What I do know is that I could sit there . . . It was not a lobotomy state. I was aware. I was aware, and I was resting. And I wasn’t thinking. Now that period went on for a long time. And I think—but I have no way of knowing—that that’s probably true during the phases when I don’t remember what was going on. But I don’t know. And I have no way of going there.
So I would like to explore with somebody who has some thoughts on this—what was going on there. Also, it’s also gone. It used to be when I’m in that state; I would get there and rest up, now my mind is doing all kinds of things. So it feels like my brain has redone some wiring. And part of that wiring has given me more memory— because I didn’t have that much memory.
Eve: And do you have to have a stroke to experience that?
Bernie: Perhaps. I just don’t know.Learn More
(photo by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao)
On April 30th, 2016, after a ZPO International Governance Circle meeting, Bernie Glassman, who has been recovering from a stroke since January, performed a short ceremony to mark the recognition of Grant Couch as a dharma successor in his lineage.
Grant Couch, sensei, worked for over 40 years in the financial services industry, with a focus on commercial and investment banking. Following his retirement as President and COO of Countrywide Capital Markets in 2008, Grant’s desire to contribute to other’s personal growth led him to take the position of CEO of Sounds True, a publisher of spiritual teachings where he served for two years. He was Chairman of Manhattan Bancorp and its subsidiary Bank of Manhattan from 2010 – 2015. His current focus is as the Co-Founder of the Conservative Caucus of Citizens Climate Lobby.
In 1990 Grant began to explore various spiritual paths. After 4 years of religious and philosophical self-study he found a deep personal resonance in the Buddha’s teachings. Since then he has studied with many Tibetan, Zen and Vipassana teachers. And after attending a 2010 bearing witness retreat in Auschwitz he began working closely with Bernie Glassman and Zen Peacemakers’ three tenets.
Grant graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from Lehigh University. In addition to serving as the Chairman of Zen Peacemakers; he is on the investment committee of Aravaipa Ventures, a Colorado-based, impact technology VC fund; and is a financial advisor to The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.
Now retired, Grant is focused full time on finding a conservative solution to the challenging nexus of energy and the environment – aka climate change. Grant is the Chairman and Secretary of Zen Peacemakers, Inc.non-profit 501(c)3 .Learn More
By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
posted originally on her blog on May 21st 2016
Today is Vesak, a Buddhist holiday commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. In his honor, people all over the world meditate, chant, walk, make prostrations and offerings, give charity, and vow to awaken.
My husband, Bernie, has shared that during the first months after his stroke, while resting in bed, he has gone into a state of deep meditation that’s effortless, restful, and at the same time fully alert. He said that it has taken him into the most profound space of not-knowing that he has experienced so far, and that it felt so natural and organic that he thought nothing of it—didn’t think to himself Wow, this is something! or label it as special in any way—until someone asked him if he was bored lying in bed and staring out into space. It was only then, as he began to explain what was happening, that it occurred to him that perhaps something unusual was taking place.
I was glad to hear this on his account, and also because it’s nice to know that when our body isn’t responding as it always has or when our energy level isn’t what it once was, this makes space for new things to happen. For myself, I’d always hoped that if and when I get older and weaker, I would have the alertness of mind to do prolonged meditation.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of all the things that enable Bernie to experience the state he described. People prepare and serve him food, people have helped him walk wherever he needed to go (now he can walk mostly on his own with a cane), someone makes the bed, someone sets up the table adjoining his bed with the things he needs to have on hand, someone makes sure to adjust the blanket and pillows when he can’t do this. Generous friends all over the world have given us money towards his recovery and have prayed and meditated on his behalf. All these things enable him to not just recover, but also explore a deep meditative state. Hunger and thirst would be distractions. Discomfort and pain, with no one on hand to help out, would hinder and obstruct. If we didn’t have the money for the things he needs for his wellbeing, if the therapists and caretakers didn’t do their job, if the food we get from friends and sangha wasn’t nourishing, if the messages we get from all over the world weren’t loving and supportive, I’m not sure he would have that experience.
That is one reason why the Buddha is reputed to have said, upon his awakening, I and the entire earth have simultaneously achieved the Way. It wasn’t just he alone, as a separate being, who had that awakening, it was all beings. It had to include the parents who gave him birth and the aunt who raised him, the wife who nurtured him, the girl who brought him milk and honey when he was too weak to go on, the tree which provided him shelter as he sat, the earth that held him and the morning star that came up that auspicious day. Even Mara, known for sending delusions and temptations his way, played a role. Just like our own dog Stanley, the Great Obstructer, who tries to obstruct Bernie in his walking, forcing him to take detours and fortify his focus, Mara provided the Buddha with just enough challenges to his focus and determination, pushing the ascetic monk into deeper and deeper realms of concentration. Where would we be without those thorns in our discipline? The entire earth awakened that day, not just the person named Gotama.
But we prefer our “great man” approach to history and religion. We put someone on a pedestal for having achieved this and that and we ignore the system, the infinite encounters and events, the many small gifts and kindnesses that must take place so that that person can achieve what he does. Instead of bearing witness to the many, we attach to the one person (usually a man), build statues in his image, and lay down garlands in his memory.
Individual achievement matters. We each have our work, we have our separate roles to play. Bernie likes to say that if he could move things just the tiniest of hairbreadths, he would be satisfied. On this Vesak day, I light incense and acknowledge with deep respect and appreciation the Indian man who awakened two and a half millennia ago, forever changing my life. And I write this in deepest thanks to the many many beings that have supported my life and practice, beginning with my orthodox Jewish parents and continuing with my teachers, husbands (yes, the first, too), family, friends, fellow meditators, fellow activists, fellow lovers, the dogs that sat at my side and the coffee that kept me awake those early mornings, the light green leaves that flutter outside as I sit, reminding me of the visible and invisible energies that have been there from the very beginning of my life.
THE SOUND OF ONE HAND
By Roshi EVE MYONEN MARKO
There’s a Zen koan made famous by the 18th century Japanese Zen master, Hakuin: What is the sound of one hand? Koans are questions or stories that sound quirky, but actually point to life as both clear and inexplicable. So we think we know the sound that two hands make when they come together, but what is the sound of one hand?
Bernie’s right hand, part of the right side of his body that was affected by his stroke, is always in a splint so that his fingers remain open rather than clenched. His hand must also be elevated wherever he is, placed usually on a cushion.
Bernie has not had an easy time with his right hand. It usually bends in the elbow and the fingers curve as the day progresses. At this point he is able to touch his second and third fingers with his thumb but no further, and lacks the strength to grab onto things and hold them. This is changing and improving all the time, but for now it means that he can only do things with his left hand (he has been right-handed all his life), unable to cut the food on his plate, remove his watch before a shower, or insert a charger into the phone.
Since he invariably prefers to lie on the left side of the bed, his right hand is always between us. If I’m not careful I’ll bump into it. On occasion he’s forgotten all about his right hand, not even feeling it when he rammed it into a wall, or had no idea where it is (Where did I put my right hand? I can’t find it). It lies between us like some strange, floppy object, an incomprehensible barrier, which in some way is exactly what a Zen koan is.
What is the sound of one hand? I’ve had a lot of meshugas (famous Japanese word) in connection with Bernie’s hand, at times making it a symbol of the stroke itself. What is the sound of my husband’s right hand? What is the feel, color, smell, even the taste of this one hand? It has attained vast proportions in my mind at times, especially in the middle of certain nights when I can’t sleep. I remember the therapists’ somber invocation (Usually the hand is the last to come back!) and see its ghostly outlines in the darkest corners of my agitated imagination.
But then there’s morning, when sunbeams alight on Bernie’s shoulder and there’s this one moment shared by two people in a fresh new day, the dog at our feet, infinity all around us. That’s my chance to let go of what the doctor said, the diagnosis and prognosis, and my feelings yesterday, last night and a few months ago. The right hand looks like I’ve never seen it before because at that moment my mind sees it freely rather than through my (or others’) opinions and fears. And when my mind is free, Bernie’s hand is free. It could be a barrier or a road into the hills, a magician’s hand shuffling a pack of cards, a teenage friend gleefully giving me the finger 50 years ago, the gauzy streak of an airplane plane or an arrow pointing nowhere.
What is the sound of Bernie’s one hand? What is the sound of mine?
Read more of Roshi Eve Myonen Marko’s writing on her blog at http://www.evemarko.com/Learn More
WHAT’S IN A PHOTO?
By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
Photo by Peter Cunningham
Monkfish Publications, which is publishing a book on Lex Hixon and the radio interviews he did in New York City’s WBAI in the 1970s and 1980s, recently asked us for a photo of Bernie from years ago. I SOS’d Peter Cunningham, photographer extraordinaire, and we went back and forth with various old photos (“Wow, look at that one!” ”Who’s that guy?” “Remember her!” “When was this?”, and on and on), and somewhere in that process, it hit both Peter and me how historic some of photos are, and the broad, multi-weave tapestry we’ve not only witnessed over these decades but have been raveled into ourselves.
One photo showed Bernie, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex at a table in the Greyston mansion in Riverdale. Bernie, bald and in his tattered brown samue jacket, is the essence of animation as he lays out one vision after another, Peter looks pensively (painfully?) down, probably wishing he was back home writing a book, and Lex shines like the sun, face radiant. I’m not there, it’s before my days, but I’ll bet a million dollars that this was a board meeting to discuss Bernie’s thoughts and plans for opening up businesses and not for profits as vehicles for Zen practice. Any old member of the Zen Community of New York will remember those endless meetings, the excitement, exhilaration, and the trepidation (How are we ever going to get the money!).
It caused me to recall my own first experience, coming up with a friend to the Greyston mansion in 1985 for the evening sitting, only to bumble into the middle of a residents’ gathering in an immense dining room. Generously, we were invited to sit in the corner of the long table as they talked about plans to serve monthly meals at the Yonkers Sharing Community to homeless people, hiring those same folks at the Greyston Bakery (which was already in existence), following that up by building permanent apartments for homeless families (in a county that for years built no apartments of any kind, just private homes and Mcmansions), child care centers, and programs to help folks get off the welfare system. I sat there, novice that I was, and thought to myself that I was witnessing something historic, a vision for Zen practice that I hadn’t seen in other American communities.
Photos bring back people, some of who represented new answers to the question of what Zen practice will look like in America. Can a Jesuit priest like Fr. Bob Kennedy get dharma transmission? How about Nancy Mujo Baker, who has never ordained? Or transmission to a Sufi sheik (Lex Hixon), a Jewish rabbi (Don Singer)? Can a teacher be a writer or social activist rather than one who only teaches in a zendo (Peter Matthiessen often apologized for being a very poor student and teacher because he wrote fiction and nonfiction on behalf of the environment and Native American leaders like the imprisoned Leonard Peltier)? By now there’s a sense that a lot of Bernie’s responses have met wide acceptance (it’s hard to find a Zen center now that has no social action involvement of any kind), but years ago his open approach, and his desire to work with a great variety of people, generated controversy and criticism.
He likes to quote his own teacher, Maezumi Roshi, who said that Zen was life, all of it, nothing excluded. Zen was construction of 68 Warburton, the first housing project (We have to replace the roof! How many windows in each apartment? Square footage? Public spaces?), Zen was after-school programs for kids, tenant organizations, AA meetings and Christmas parties, AIDS centers and businesses.
Most people like the exciting photos: lying on a bench at the first street retreat in 1991, or standing by the tracks at Birkenau working out retreats at Auschwitz. But I prefer the more boring photos of people at meetings, contemplating a whiteboard on an easel, a human at the side holding a magic marker, working out new structures, new earth forms and movements to support practice-based activists, laying the seeds for events that no one could yet see for they were far in the future, such as pilgrimages to the beautiful, ravaged Black Hills, working with refugees arriving in leaky boats on the Greek coast, bearing witness in favelas in Rio, Brazil. And then there are scenes not caught by any photo, moments that reflect the full totality of life, such as Joan Halifax sewing a kesa, or priest’s robe, out of multi-colored fabrics from people whose death she’d accompanied, or sitting on a terrace outside a gracious Zurich home as Bernie, in a curious, thoughtful voice, first articulates his Three Tenets: Not-knowing, bearing witness, loving action.
You don’t need much faith when you’re trying for short-term results. But working towards an unfathomable, unforetold future—that’s a different thing entirely. You have nothing to go on, just the daily thread, the daily practice, the daily work, the one time in the day when you open your eyes and smile even as inside your heart clenches in loss or defeat. Dropping your cynicism but not your doubt, letting yourself be used in acts of creation.
Originally published on Eve’s blog. Read more of her writings on www.evemarko.comLearn More
Update on Bernie’s Recovery by Eve Marko, 2/25/2016
We made it home.
Two inches of snow and a tenth of an inch of ice spreading over New England were nothing in the face of all the good wishes and resolve that took us up from the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital in Springfield up to Montague, where a small Disorderly crowd gave us a loving and colorful welcome.
Bernie’s Strong Women of Weldon—Tara, Janet, and Kelly—all came by not just to say goodbye, but to congratulate him on all that he has accomplished in the 5+ weeks that he was there. To say that Bernie talks is an understatement. He spiels, orates, schmoozes, and basically can’t shut up. He came home in a wheelchair, but is able to rise up to most occasions and his right leg is getting stronger every day. Walking without human assistance and stairs are next on the list.
I can’t say enough about the staff of the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital, comprising the Strong Women (and Men), therapists,nurses, aides, and doctors. They have been responsive, skillful, and unbelievably caring. A minute before Bernie arrived at the front door to get into the car, an ambulance stopped and two men took a man inside on a stretcher who seemed to have no awareness of where he was and what had happened. I pointed him out to Bernie and said, “This is how you came into Weldon.” I hope and pray that the man I saw will leave Weldon at least in the state that Bernie is leaving; certainly if the staff has any say about it, he will.
The work doesn’t stop. In addition to home therapy and care that Bernie will get, he has his own Strong Men and Woman here in the form of Rami Efal, Godfried de Waele and Mariola Wereszka. The last two especially are here from Europe to support his rehabilitation, while Rami continues to connect us to the world, not to mention coordinating retreats and other events.
While there were only five of us at the Welcome Home dinner this evening (along with Stanley the dog), I felt the presence of multitudes—all of you—who have sent us countless communications, words of encouragement, love and support that have made all the difference in the world. Among all those words, it’s hard for me now to find the words that capture how much we needed and appreciated the tsunami of positive energy and wishes you released on all our behalf. May it rebound back to you, and may it also ricochet everywhere to all the beings in need of succor, sustenance, and love.
By Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt
A talk given at Upaya Zen Center on September 28, 2015
Transcribed by Scott Harris, Photo above by Peter Cunningham
GENRO: […] So we don’t have much more time. It’s like a few minutes before the dinner bell rings. So I want to be open to questions. Please say your name before your questions.
Audience member: Nancy.
Genro: Hi Nancy.
Audience member: What was it like in the Black Hills? What were the interactions with . . .?
Genro: That’s a big one. That’s a big question. It was really wonderful. We camped for five days. There were some people that stayed in lodges. So if you want to come do that with us, you don’t have to camp. But I highly recommend it, because the Lakota name for the Black Hills is Cante Wamakhognake. And the translation for that is “The heart of everything that is.” So I would not want to go to my lodge room, and take a shower. I want to be on the land. Because it’s holy land for sure.
The natives that were there, they were really surprised. The question that I heard most often was, “How do you know so many nice people?” They can’t imagine two hundred people that are not bigoted—seriously—or don’t have awful opinions of them, and how they should be living their lives, and not being at the tit of the state. That’s what they run into all the time.
So the normal way of native people around Wasichu, and that’s what they call the non-Indians — Wasichu’s an interesting word. It means “the one who takes the fat.” That’s what they call the non-Indians, who were the explorers and the colonizers. The fat eaters, Wasichu.
But their normal attitude around white people mostly is distance and fear. You know, “What are they gonna ask me? What are they gonna call me? What kind of judgment are they gonna make of me?” But in the Black Hills [retreat], in this container that arose, the native people were saying, “I’m just so happy. I’m just so full of joy to be here, and to be with the people.”
And what they were doing was they were telling us their stories about what it’s like to be a Native American now. Some were historians. Some were talking about deep, deep spiritual connections, and things. But many were talking about what it’s like to be living on the poorest place on Earth. The Pine Ridge Reservation is the poorest county in the United States. The average income is less than $6,000 a year. Eighty-five percent or more of the people are unemployed. Since November to now there have been more than thirty teen suicides on the reservation.
It’s desolate. It’s awful. It’s bad. Because the trauma that began 500 years ago is still reverberating really strongly. If anybody studied trauma, and historical trauma, you don’t have to experience trauma yourself—it’s carried in your genes after a while. It’s in your body. So many suffer from diabetes. That’s not from eating bad—which they do, because they’re still eating commodities—it’s from trauma. Heart disease—trauma. Same thing, so many things like that. Not to mention alcoholism, and drug abuse, and all that.
But it was a really healing, beautiful time. People learned so much. I’ve never seen so many people so ecstatic. A lot of celebration, a lot of prayer, a lot of deep connections.
Yeah, there’s not enough time to talk about it. But, please come. Please come. We’ll do it again next year.
Any other questions?
Audience member: My name is Rose. I see so many people losing everything—tornados, floods, fires, refugees—and I just wonder . . . I don’t know if you can address this, I just wonder what that does to people. And sometimes I hear people say, “Well I lost everything, but I’m alive.”
Genro: Yeah, that’s what you hear on the TV, right?
Audience member: Yeah. But I wonder how it transforms people if there’s like . . .
Genro: So what you need to do, is when something like that happens, go there. Go there, and offer to help as much as you can. Meet the people. Ask them what’s happened, how they feel about it. Everybody’s different.
People ask me, “How was that Black Hills Retreat?” I told Joshin today, I said well, asking me is the wrong person, because I wasn’t there. I was putting out fires all the time. I was just backstage kind of. But I don’t know how it was. There were two hundred plus people there. There were two hundred different experiences. There are eighty people in this room. There are eighty different experiences of tonight. Everybody’s got a completely different experience.
Are they feeling the divine presence here and now? I don’t know. Some likely, because it’s so overwhelming. There lives obviously transform forever. What happens in disasters, as we all know, is that people come together in community. That’s rather unique, right?
Bad stuff happens. People talk to each other on the street. “Did you hear about such and such?” You can make a connection like that [snaps fingers], because everybody shares a common experience. That’s really beautiful in my estimation.
But I like to make those connections every day anyway. You know, I’ll find something and go “Hey!” And the person next to me will go, “Yeah!” Because everybody wants to talk. We’re all beings who are wired for deep communication, and love, and compassion. And all you have to do to somebody you’ve never seen in your whole life is go, “Hi.” And they might go, “Hi.” And then, you know, anything can happen.
And they’re gonna be there. Even the worst actors . . . “Hi.” What are they gonna say? “Ehhhh.” No. They’re gonna say, “Hi.”
I always tell people—this is a teaching around Street Retreats—because security is a big issue. You know, if you’re worried about something, you’re not being wholly present in your life, you’re not having no expectations, you might be worried about security. So we spend time on that. In fact today I had a conversation with a Sheriff’s deputy from Albuquerque police department, who’s the godson of one of my best friends.
So he said, “Hey, I heard you’re doing a Street Retreat.” I said yeah. He goes, “OK, we’ll be watching out for you.” So, we got that covered. He said, “If anything blows up, just call me.” I said OK. We’re not supposed to have cell phones, but . . . How far away is a cell phone? Right? And we’ll have one with us. Joshin’s gonna bring his cell phone. And you can give his number to your families and friends. You can’t call them, but if they have an emergency, they can call. And we’ll check messages a couple times a day.
So what do you do? We’re never alone on the streets. We always at least have a buddy. And 99 percent of the time, we’re all together. But what do you do if you’re in a neighborhood somewhere . . . I almost said a bad neighborhood. What does that mean? Is this a bad neighborhood? Is the Bronx a bad neighborhood? I don’t know. I work in the South Bronx. I’m the only white person for miles, and I feel completely secure.
Anyway, what if you’re in a neighborhood, and you’re walking to a big street where you might find a cab, or a bus, or a subway, or . . . What do you have here? Horses? I don’t know. And suddenly you hear these footsteps behind you. Men or women, I don’t care, what comes up? Holy shit! Right? They’re gonna get me.
And you keep walking, a little faster probably. They keep getting closer. So here’s what you do. When those footsteps get pretty close, you just turn, and go, “Hey, I am lost. Can you help me? I’m trying to get to wherever, and I really don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m scared.” And you’ve got these homies behind you, and what do they do? They go, “Yeah, you can like walk down to Main Street over there. We’ll walk you down.”
When you ask people for help like that, when you encounter them as human beings, their angel shows up. That’s what happens. So you don’t need to be afraid of bad neighborhoods. Everybody’s an angel. Right? You just have to call them out.
I don’t think anybody asked that question. [Audience laughs]
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Joshin: I think Genro, the first time I did Street Retreat with you, my first hours, days, on the retreat were not about not knowing. The first experience for me was about noticing how much I wanted there to be an enemy out there. You know, like OK we’re out with all these homeless people, we’re down in the bowery, we’re doing all this stuff, and there are these damn rich people that have caused this whole problem, and their selfishness, and their greed. And so it wasn’t like this magical not knowing experience. Actually I felt pretty certain that there was a lot if injustice, and bad people out there, and they’re doing all this. And that was a very interesting thing for me to work with. Like suddenly, now who’s the bad guy? And now who’s the good guy? And how habitually I want there to be some bad guy out there that we can blame this all on.
And I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about that as the process of kind of bearing witness?
Genro: Yeah. Who said thoughts were real? Did anybody ever say that, that your thoughts were real? But what do we do? We go around all day, going, “Man, my thoughts are telling me the right stuff all the time.” That’s our mantra to ourselves, that’s what we’re thinking is real. It’s not. It’s not reality. Our thinking is just thoughts. It’s dreaming. It’s dreaming there’s an enemy. It’s dreaming there’s somebody that’s going to hurt us. It’s dreaming that we’re not going to get what we need. Who’s missed a meal in the last twenty years, in this room? You did? What happened?
Audience member: I was just only eating one meal a day.
Genro: On purpose? Did you beg?
Audience member: No.
Genro: So, you can always beg. Begging—people are terrified of begging. Right? Begging is so much fun. [Audience laughs] It really is. I tell people, if you’re gonna beg, really what you’re doing, you’ve got to see it as a service. It’s a service. It’s a bodhisattva service. And we’re all bodhisattvas. And we’re all the Buddha, by the way.
But when you beg, you’re giving whoever you’re begging from, the opportunity to give, the opportunity for them to break the bonds of holding on. So, I’m almost scared to beg now, because I don’t know what it is, people can’t say “no,” and they just give me stuff. And I just have to go . . . Jeez, that’s hard. Because if I’m on the streets begging like that—I know I don’t need it, absolutely—I see the whole emotional transaction going on while this is all happening. I just see them go grrrrrrrrrrr. It’s painful to me, because I watch them go through this whole drama of “How much am I gonna give him? Oh my God. Are they gonna hurt me?” You can just see it all go through their face.
Yeah. Why did I say that? Oh, begging. Everything is available. Everything. So we tell people they can’t bring toothbrushes on the street. Why? All you have to do is walk into a dental office, and go, “Can I have a toothbrush?” They go, “Sure. Here’s a toothbrush.”
We were on the streets in Zurich, and somebody said, “I need a toothbrush.” I said, “Well, get one for everybody.” So they went to the nearest hotel, and they got twelve from the concierge. I mean, you can get anything you want.
And because the divine presence is with us here and now, you can get anything you want. Miracles are real. Let’s get into the good spiritual stuff. Right? Miracles happen all the time. Every moment of our life is absolutely a miracle. None of us know how to beat our heart, or make one leg really go in front of the other to walk. It’s a miracle. Right?
How do we avoid all those cars on the highway? It’s a miracle. [Audience laughs] Our whole life, moment to moment, is a miracle. And if we could just be in awe of our lives, we wouldn’t be mad at anybody. And we wouldn’t be thinking is there somebody our enemy or not, because we know it’s just awesome.
Awesome is really overused, you know. “How’s that?” “Awesome.” Do they really mean that? No. If you say, “Awesome!” you’re coming from an enlightened place, because you’re in awe. Right? It’s so great to be in awe, because you’re like a child. You turn into a child-like consciousness where whatever you see is like “Ah!” Everything. Right?
Moment after moment—“Ah!” “Ah!” Everything is beautiful. Everything is entertaining. Everything’s new. And it is brand new.
Dogen Zenji said—he was talking about reincarnation [Whispers] Don’t tell Joan I talked about this . . . Zen Buddhists aren’t supposed to talk about reincarnation. But I don’t label myself that, so I’m OK. Dogen said, “We are reborn 642,000 times per second.” Get that one. That’s a good one.
Yeah, a total miracle. So everything that we bring on from one life to the next, it’s just like old history. Let’s be here. Let’s enjoy this life. Miracles.
Ask and it shall be given. That’s not an empty promise.
We walked out of the New York Rescue Mission in the Bowery in February, six or eight years ago, because I wanted to do a retreat in the cold. I wanted to see what it’s like to be homeless when it was really cold. And I had on a down parka, you know, all kinds of layers, and long underwear, and two pair of socks, gloves, and hat, and scarf. And I walked out, and I was chilled. I said, “Oh my God. I really need a coat.” And just went on. So now we’re gonna head for the PATH—subway trains that go underneath the Hudson River to New Jersey. We’re gonna sleep there. We’re gonna be on the trains. We’re gonna do whatever it takes just to stay out of the cold.
And two blocks from the Bowery Mission where I had that thought—actually a prayer—I see a body on the ground. I go Oh my god; somebody’s lying dead on the ground—because it was like this form, like this.
It was a down parka, just lying on the sidewalk.
That’s not extraordinary. You know, they also say Buddhists aren’t prayers. Not me. I pray all the time. I’m serious. I start the morning with prayers that last almost an hour outside. I do it in a Native American tradition, and I pray throughout the day. Everybody I see, everybody I run into—May God bless you all. It’s true.
And our prayers are answered. If we were all just doing that—praying, thinking positive thoughts, wishing good for everybody—that’s all there would be. That’s all there would be. Let’s change our minds like that.
I would love to take questions for another hour, play with you, but I think we better close because the cook’s going to be mad.
Thank you everybody. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
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by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
February 2nd, 2016
I continue to watch closely as my husband, Bernie, does physical therapy to strengthen the right side of his body, afflicted by the stroke that sent blood coursing through the left side of his brain. He stands with some difficulty while holding on to a bar with his left hand, and begins to walk slowly while the therapist on the other side helps him step forward with his right leg. Like almost all of us, Bernie assumes that once he walks the legs will go by themselves, so he moves his chest forward thinking the legs are there, only the right one isn’t. He can’t assume that what worked before is working now. And without much feeling in the right leg, he has little awareness of where it actually is.
I stand behind the two men, feeling how each small scene paints such broad strokes. I myself, who haven’t suffered a stroke, also tend to move forward with my upper body ahead of the legs that carry me, ahead of myself, mind working out some future plan or scenario while the body lags behind. I remember Bernie often telling me that Maezumi Roshi, his teacher, used to caution him: “Tetsugen, when you move fast, people stumble.” I’ve stumbled. And now Tetsugen, or Bernie as he’s presently known, moves very, very slowly.
The therapist is also concerned that Bernie will favor the left leg, which he’s aware of, over the right: “Don’t stand on the leg you know can hold you,” he tells him. “Stand on the leg you don’t know can hold you.” Let go of what you know, the working limb that gives you confidence, and lean on the other side of the body, the side you don’t trust, that you can barely make out is there or not.
“Don’t wait for the brain to figure it out, you do it first.” And I remember 1986 when I participated in my first public interview. In that highly ritualized, public ceremony, one student after another approaches the teacher and asks a question. I approached and quoted a verse from the “Gate of Sweet Nectar” liturgy: “I am the Buddhas and they are me,” meaning that I am everyone and everything, and they are me as well.
“I don’t believe it,” I told Tetsugen Sensei, as he was known then, “so why should I chant the words?”
“You don’t have to believe it,” he said. “Just keep on chanting.”
More on Bernie’s Recovery on CaringBridge.org
More writings by Eve Marko on Eve’s Blog
Photo by Peter Cunningham: 1980, Bernie Tetsugen Sensei and Taizan Maezumi Roshi, outside of Greyston Mansion in Riverdale, New York.
Dear Family and Friends,
Bernie suffered a stroke on Tuesday 1/12/2016 around 1pm EST. He spent 36 hours in Intensive Care, was “downgraded” to Neurological Intensive, and as of this evening was “downgraded” again to a regular hospital room in Baystate Health Springfield Hospital. His condition is stable and the plan is for him to enter an acute rehab program, probably early next week, for a period of 2-4 weeks. The stroke, due to a hemorrhage, affected the left side of his brain, thus resulting in very little movement in the entire right side of his body and also undermining his speech, which is now so slurred that we can only understand around 20% of it (a substantial improvement over Tuesday). No change to his eyebrows.
We are immensely grateful to Baystate Hospital and all its staff for superb care of Bernie and patient and honest interactions with us. The Montague town police and ambulances came some 10 minutes after we first called, and Bernie got “anti-stroke” medications within 30 minutes of the stroke itself, a great tribute to these first responders. This quality care continued in Franklin Medical, our local adjunct hospital, and then in the far larger Baystate in Springfield.
Bernie has his struggles. His understanding of words, too, is diminished but doctors expect that to be fully remedied. When there are too many doctors around him he mumbles “too many people” and wants them to leave him alone. But nobody’s second-guessing the wonderful and loving care he’s getting here at Baystate. Yesterday, the day after his stroke, our alarm went off for the noon minute of silence for peace. He lay quietly, and then, with difficulty, raised his good hand in half-gassho.
Right now the prognosis for recovery from neurologists and rehabilitation doctors is good to very good; healers and prophets are saying excellent. They expect some permanent deficits in his right arm and hand, a little less in his right leg, and they believe his speech will begin to improve within 2-4 weeks (we don’t know if that’s good or bad). They believe he will become independent and self-sufficient within several months, and cantankerous and bossy in 4 days.
Alisa Glassman, Bernie’s daughter, flew in from Washington, D.C. and she and his wife Eve Marko are by his side. Marc Glassman, Bernie’s son, lives in Jerusalem and was in constant contact. They are supported by local Zen Peacemaker Order members, by the Green River Zen community, by Pioneer Valley friends, and of course by Rami Efal, Bernie’s assistant and spokesman to the world. Grant Couch and Chris Panos, president and chairman of Zen Peacemakers Inc. have a been a tremendous support behind the scenes in keeping the ZP operations flowing.
We are grateful for everyone’s patience through the first 48 hours of the event as we were waiting for Bernie’s condition to stabilize. We are also deeply moved by the outpouring of love and support Bernie has been receiving, on social media, phone calls, dedications and prayer of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, and religious traditions we didn’t even know of, all elements of Bernie world (for example, watch a Jewish Cantor lead a hip-hop reggae chanting of a healing Jewish prayer at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram on behalf of this Zen Buddhist teacher, then followed by their own Hindu prayers on his behalf). And of course, there’s also Krishna Das’s “Bernie’s Chalisa,” theme music for feeding the hungry spirits which many of you know but is great to listen to anyway when it’s KD chanting it..
We have created this Caring-Bridge page where you can leave Bernie a message. We will post updates there and it will also allow Bernie to easily browse and enjoy your words, especially when he begins rehab, which he’ll probably hate every minute of. That’s when your words and blessings–yes, even you Order of Disorder folks–will be a most important incentive.
Bernie’s 77th Birthday will occur this Monday on January 18th, 2016. Let’s celebrate with him! If you wish to send him get well cards / happy birthday cards (okay, OD ones too), please do so to
Zen Peacemakers, ATTN: BERNIE
POBOX 294, Montague MA 01351
With deep gratitude to all of you,
Eve, Alisa, Marc, Rami and the Zen Peacemaker Family
Photo credit: Cira Crowell, at Upaya Zen Center, August 2015, http://www.ciracrowell.com/
Written by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
Bernie and I went to the movies and saw “Spotlight” yesterday. It’s a terrific film about the group of Boston Globe journalists who reported on the extensive abuse of minors by many Catholic priests in Boston. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.
I particularly appreciated that it didn’t portray the journalists as pure, white-horse knights going out to seek the truth and slay deniers and perpetrators. It showed, in fact, that they had received several tips in prior years about what was going on, and they’d shut their eyes to it, like many others, or didn’t bother to put the dots together and present the full story till much later, after many more children had been abused.
I thought of the abuse I’ve seen in dharma centers. It’s easy to say that it was nothing like the horrific scale of what went on in various Catholic dioceses across the world. It’s easy to point out that, at least in the West, children are almost never involved if only because most of our dharma centers don’t have family programs. But we’ve certainly had our share of abuse by teachers of students.
This morning I’m thinking about the silence that supports these things. I’m thinking about the subtle moments that some of us experienced, when there’s a dissonance between what I hear and what I see, and I withdraw and remain silent rather than ask uncomfortable questions. This goes both ways. I’ve watched teachers hide behind authority, and I’ve also seen students let go of responsibility. I’ve watched many practitioners, including me, seek in a like-minded group a refuge from living responsibly in the world, learning how to deal with money and each other, and accepting the consequences of our decisions and our actions. A place where we won’t have to grow up. Who has lived or practiced for years in a dharma center without witnessing some of these patterns?
A new consciousness seeks to change these ways. What has happened in Catholic dioceses is a flashing-red-sign warning to everyone of what can happen when an entire system not only permits abuse, but then protects and sheathes it in a tight cocoon of silence. As one character says in the film, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to destroy the child. It’s never just one person, it’s many.
If mindfulness means something, it should at least be a practice of detecting a lack of comfort in myself, a desire to hide or get away, shut my eyes, or say something completely bland and noncommittal. It should at least reflect back to me my desire to disengage from whatever calls for attention.
Bernie Glassman likes to say that we’re all members of clubs. I think of it more like that we’re all members of systems, and as such we have our roles. In my life, one of those systems for sure has been the dharma center, in which every single person plays a role, even if you only come occasionally to hear a talk. There are teachers, senior students, retreat participants, people who come for classes, people who just come to sit. But are there any bystanders—or bysitters? Can anyone just come to sit and not want to know about anything else? I think one can believe that a million times over, and it won’t change the fact that you are playing a role there, even if a seemingly passive one, and that comes with the responsibility to be faithful to your own experience of things, to the sensations that arise in certain situations, and to the mechanisms we use to block them off.
I am now a Zen teacher myself, viewed as someone high on the authority pole, or at least higher than other folks in our small zendo. As any teacher can attest, teaching is a huge learning about expectations (including my own) and projections (including my own). There are people who have told me that a certain exchange with me in the recent or distant past changed their lives. There are also people who can’t forgive me, they say, for words I’ve uttered.
I listen carefully to both extreme views. Personally, I feel that the vastness of life dwarfs the impact that any one teacher can have. I don’t say this out of humility or as a defense of myself or others, simply that no one person can be singlehandedly responsible for another adult’s basic pattern of relationship or behavior, those things develop over time and as a result of many interactions.
I try to focus on the smaller stuff: the person whose eyes I don’t like to meet, the situation when I can’t summon up the energy to be engaged. The times I say it’s not my business. It’s a small but important first step: When do I feel uncomfortable? What—or whom—don’t I wish to look at? What don’t I wish to express? It’s bearing witness to backing off.
The poet Christian Wiman has written in his great book, “My Bright Abyss”: “For many people, God is simply a gauze applied to the wound of not knowing.” But God is certainly not the only band-aid around.
Read more of Eve’s writings at www.evemarko.com
By Roshi Bernie Glassman
Photo by Peter Cunningham of Bernie, Sandra Jishu Holmes and the Greyston Builders, local Yonkers construction crew started by Bernie, at the first rehab project (2.8 million dollars) for homeless families (19 units of housing) and a child care center in Yonkers, NY USA. Greyston has built over 300 units of housing by 2015.
This is my second twenty years in Zen—sort of the second twenty. I will start around 1976. That’s about forty years ago. I had just received dharma transmission from my teacher.
But more important in ’76, I had an experience which was very important in my life. It was an experience of feeling all of the hungry spirits, or ghosts in the universe—all suffering, as we all do.
And they were suffering for different things. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough enlightenment. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough food. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough love. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough fame. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough housing. Some were suffering because they had bad teeth—like me, all kinds of sufferings.
Out of that, in a car ride to work, a vision of all of these hungry spirits popped up. And immediately it also popped up, that these are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. All of these hungry aspects of myself popped up. And an action came out of that, which was a vow to serve, to feed—it was really more to feed all of these hungry spirits.
So until then, I had decided that my work was going to be in the meditation hall, and in a temple. I had quit for the fourth and last time my job at McDonnell Douglas. And I was now a full time Zen teacher. And I was going to work only in the meditation hall, and work only with people who came to our Zendo, and wanted to be trained.
But now I made this vow to work with all these hungry spirits. So that meant I had to change the venue, change the place I worked. And now it was still to work in the meditation hall, but also to work in all of life, all of society.
And then the big question arose to me; what would be useful to help people in these different spheres of life—like business people, and entertainment people, and social action people, and all these people? What would be good, what we call upayas, expedient means, or ways of helping people to experience the oneness of life in those spheres? All of my training had been in the meditation hall. I was trained in how to run Sesshins, how to use the kyosaku properly, how to wear my robes properly. I had been trained in koan systems. I had done two different koan systems. So that was a lot of koans—around six/seven hundred koans. I was trained in how to teach people to do meditation, in different ways—with breathing, with Shikantaza, different styles. And I also had been interested in interfaith work, so I had been trained in Christian meditation, in Jewish meditation. Those are my trainings. But I didn’t think that would work in the business world.
So this was my new kind of study—what would be the method? Also, I have to say that this may have been influenced by the fact that for a number of years before ’76—well, for a long time—in our Zen Center of Los Angeles, we had morning liturgy, afternoon liturgy, and evening liturgy. And it’s sort of prescribed what that liturgy is in the Soto sect. There’s some choices, some variety, but the evening service that we did was called Kan Ro Mon. And we did it all in Japanese (it’s really Chinese—but Japanese pronunciations). And somehow, that service really affected me. And I knew nothing about what it was about, because I was just chanting these Japanese words. It turns out that that service—and I sort of start finding this out after the experience of the hungry spirits—that service is about feeding the hungry spirits, in the five Buddha fields.
OK, so I had that experience in ’76, and by ’79 I was planning to leave the Zen Center of Los Angeles and move back to my original home, which was New York. And I started to meet with people in the New York area to create a board, and to plan where we would start, and how it would be. And I talked to them about the fact—when I came back to New York—I wanted to build a society, an actual society in the city. A little bit like the old cathedrals were, where they were a whole city. And the community we built, I wanted to build it via the five Buddha families. And that meant that we were going to be involved in social action, and business, and all these different things.
And most of the people just laughed at me, and said, “You’re crazy, Bernie. What we want is for you to come here, and set up a Zendo. And that’s why you’re coming here. We want to sit with you, and study koans, and do that.” I said, “Well, that may be what you want, but I’m coming here to do that.” And they said, “Aaach, you’re not. We still want you to come, and we don’t believe you.” You know, “this won’t happen.” That’s what they said to me, these people before I came. I have the minutes of those meetings.
So anyway, we moved to New York, and I started to build this mandala. First I built a spiritual base, and then the study base, and then the business base to give us resources, and then the social action base. And all along, I was looking how does this work in terms of relationship? How do we keep it so it stays a full mandala? At that time, I think I was the only one involved in that thinking. Everybody else was pretty much it was a regular Zendo, but just for a while. And then, they start shifting, and many people left. People would leave because I wasn’t doing what they wanted. It was a little bit crazy. But we were doing a real life plan.
So, for me what was happening while we were doing our meditations, and koan study, and different Zen studies, and teaching people that, at the same time we were trying to develop a work practice. What do you do, in terms of work, that would help the people who are working experience the unity of life? That was my question. So my question, as we started to work in these different fields was not just how do we do a good job? Or in social action, how do we help? My question was how do we do it in a way that helps the people that are doing the work, and the people that are being served—how do we do it in a way that helps both of them experience the oneness of life? That was always my question. And that question has never stopped. And it’s at the forefront of what I do.
(to be continued soon)
Roshi Egyoku: It’s wonderful that Bernie is putting out his vision. And it has challenged me to think about my vision. Although I’ve been involved with the ZPO practices since the, I don’t know, ’90s. And most of you who practice here know, we’ve been doing these practices, they’re deeply imbedded in ZCLA. So it’s just a natural direction for us to continue to explore. One of the things we’ve done here, which I hear manifesting in the ZPO is peer governance. For us we call it circles. You know, we do a lot of circular practice here.
And coming out of a structure that was not circular, it’s a very radical and transformational kind of effort. And we’ve done it long enough here that I think we have a deep trust in the power of the circle. And the practice of the circle, and transformational depth and breath of the circle.
And in discussing with Bernie about how the ZPO forms as we go forward, I realize that it’s a transition that the ZPO also has to make. Because we know it’s one thing to say we’ll be peer and circular, but none of us come out of an environment that’s peer and circular—which is fascinating.
So one of the things that I hold dear, in terms of a vision—I’m realizing more, and more is that the ZPO move forward in a way that does not concern itself with empowerments. For example, in the tradition most of have come out of, you know at some point certain students are empowered to be Zen Teachers, or Preceptors, or Priests, or whatever the empowerment’s occurring, all of the empowerments are.
And our model, as we know, has been historically one of apprenticeship. You know, long years of working with a teacher, and all of that. But as I’ve been studying what we’ve been doing here, and as I look at the Zen Peacemakers . . . You’ll see on our website, Bernie has put out a lot of things. And some of his things were developed some time ago that he’s put out for us to consider. It’s not that they’re actually happening, but they’re considerations. And he and I did a review of the practices a couple of years ago. And so those are out for consideration and development as we practice. You know, the practices will teach us, and lead us. So one of the things that I’ve sort of focused on are these recognitions, or empowerments, or these training paths as we used to call them in the old days. And what has occurred to me is what I would like to see.
A big part of my vision is that the ZPO be a true peer circular practice, where we truly come from the place where we are all—I’ll say Buddhists, since this is Z.P.O—(Some of you at ZC have heard my rap before, but I’m gonna put it out again.) and that what we really enter into is a mentoring relationship with each other. Or as Myoho said last night, “co-witnessing.” Right?
So what the ZPO, in my view, could provide, and what is most needed I feel, today in the world of spiritual practice, is a place, a circle for people to come together, and really share together, and explore together, mentor each other in our practices. You know, that we truly engage. So Bernie spoke about how the Three Tenets have completely transformed his life. And I’ve often said, for my life, for my spiritual life, the Three Tenets have been the most important practice that I’ve taken up.
And I do live that way, to the frustration of maybe some of you who wants to know what’s gonna happen. I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” But we’ll engage the practice. We’ll engage each other, and see what arises. You know, invite the collective wisdom in. Sometimes a collective folly arises, but that’s a great practice too. And we will be with each other, you know, in that way. And I’m realizing more, and more what a radically different way that is.
So for the ZPO I envision really an order where we have shared practices, and that each of us as members really take it on, as you know like serious life practices. And that we are committed to coming together and sharing, and supporting each other in what these practices are. And forget about all of these training paths, and empowerment paths.
That’s what I’m proposing. Because I think those are a distraction, really. Having been at ZPO, so much of my energy has had to go into those paths of practice. And I’m realizing now that I am sort of done with that kind of way of being in my spiritual life, and in being with all of you. I would not want to be part of another organization that is then creating those paths anew quite frankly. Because we have our own paths, and I think many people who are part of Zen centers, or practice centers also have those things available to them, if they wish to go there.
But what I don’t see really in the Buddhist world—maybe it exists in some, I don’t know—is places where we can come together as people who are deeply committed to practice. And just sit in the circle and really share what that is about. And to receive support from each other, to bring our questions to the group.
So a couple of years ago, I started something called a Mitra group. And at that time I didn’t really know what it was. But because I work closely with the priests here, and that’s a very defined circle at ZCLA, I thought well, what about all of the other people who are not taking the priest’s path? What is their practice, and how is that being served?
So I just sort of picked, you know, I don’t know six/seven people, and just invited them to have a conversation. And we sort of struggled along. And at that time, my framework was still this path framework. And then it just sort of collapsed. And then it came back again. And Gesho was part of the whole thing. We’ve been bearing witness. We’ve been not knowing, really not knowing. And then just this year—so last year we started to meet again—and then this year, now after all this time, we sort of fell into, like the circle, in such a powerful way. So there may be ten of us in there, all people very engaged in their work in the world, really deeply engaged, who all have long time practices.
And what the circle became . . . So we moved totally out of a training path. What it became is a group of people very immersed in their work in the world, very deeply connected to practice, who come together and share what their practice really is in the world. And then we look at how that is transforming us, you know, personally. And then sometimes we have questions about how can it really manifest as maybe a concrete project.
So we have people who are in the prisons, somebody with a movie theater, a couple of actors in it, we have an environmentalist. We have council people. We have writers. It’s a really fascinating group. And as I was sitting there, I thought OK Mitra means friend, which we know. It’s from maitri. I always say Friend with a capital F, or a capital M maybe. But in any case, what I’m really seeing with that group, and I’m just bearing witness to the group, I mean I’m holding the space for the group, and I don’t always get to share because there’s you know, limited time, and they have so much to talk about. But what I see is a circle that comes together that has a very deep spiritual center, where people come and truly mentor each other. And we do that by sharing our practice, and how it’s affecting us, and seeking input from each other, and guidance from each other on how we can move certain aspects of our practice to manifesting in the world.
And I’ll tell you that was just a very powerful experience. And then I realized, well everybody in the Zen center is connected to things out in the world, including many of you who have ordained as priests. So I began to recognize the need for this form of practice. And I thought, you know for me, this is where The ZPO could really, really serve.
I feel that even though we’ve been doing circles here at ZCLA for, I don’t know, fifteen years, or so, that we’re just beginning to realize the depth and breadth of it, and the power of that to empower everyone in the circle. That everyone is Buddha, everyone is a teacher and a student in the circle. And we have tried to bring in the skill sets, and the upayas that will help us open to that. Because the conditioning to be teacher/student, and all of the different ways we have been disempowering ourselves for so long really gets challenged, I think, in the circle.
So one of the reasons I love to be in circle is I get to be a student of the circle, a student of all of you. You know? It used to be in the beginning when people talk, they all look at me. Now nobody looks at me. That’s how I know the circle is succeeding. Because it’s like so powerful. And you know, I don’t have to feel like I’m the teacher, and Oh god, I have to do this, and I have to do that. Because that is so disempowering really.
And I don’t want the people that I practice here with to have to go through that, and then have to struggle to free yourselves of that. It makes no sense whatsoever.
So I think we’re just at the beginning of understanding what the circle is. And we’re barely at the beginning of really exploring what it is to truly mentor each other, or co-witness (I love that) co-witness with each other. And personally I feel very strongly this is a really viable paradigm for us to explore. And I know once I step out of the old paradigm, I realize wow, I’ve kind of stepped out of it, but the sky’s the limit now. I hope we can explore, and understand how we can open up our spirituality.
So like our koan class, you know, we don’t have to keep a koan just between you and me. We can still do that, but let’s extend that now, and see how we explore and learn a koan together in full view of each other. And in doing so, I think many of you have experienced a tremendous expansion, and learning, and deepening. And that wisdom doesn’t belong to just one person. You know, we’ve all had strong experiences of that.
And of course we say that. You know, “You’re all Buddhas, blah, blah, blah,” but we don’t act like that. And the structures don’t promote that. So from ’97 when Bernie sent me back here, that’s been like a big koan for me. It’s like because our structure had collapsed here, which I came to realize is a true gift. At first I was like oh my god, what am I doing? And then I’m like, wait a minute now. It’s all gone, let it go. Don’t save anything, and let’s see what arises now that truly serves our needs at this time. And that has been very alive for me, even all these years later. Because obviously as our circle practices have taken root, and we’ve all had to keep expanding, and I’ve had to keep letting go, and having the structures I internalized just sort of fall away because everybody’s expanding. So when you expand, everybody else has to expand. Otherwise we can’t quite include you.
And I’m realizing we’re just sort of at the edge of all of that here. We’ve turned a few corners I think. So we know now we can trust the process. So I would like to see, I think right now my primary vision for the ZPO is this aspect, that we allow time for people to really explore this aspect, and to see what it really has to teach us. And in order to do so, we have to let go of the old paradigms anyway. And I know that’s easier said than done. But from my experience here, it really is doable. We can let ourselves enter into that sphere.
So that’s my vision for the afternoon.
[continued in part three, posted soon]
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.
What 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]
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.
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.Learn More
I am pleased to announce that I gave Dharma transmission to June Ryushin Kaililani Tanoue on October 11, 2014. She received full empowerment as a Zen Priest in a Denkai ceremony and full empowerment as a Zen teacher (Sensei) in Shisho ceremony. These were witnessed by Bernie Glassman Roshi, Eve Marko Roshi, Susan Anderson Roshi, Annie Markovich and Peter Cunningham.
June has been practicing Zen for over 20 years. She is also my wife. In 1992, together, we founded the Zen Center of Hawaii. We eventually ended up in Chicago where, in 2010 we started the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago.
June is also an accomplished teacher of hula, a Kumu Hula, and runs Halau i Ka Pono – The Hula School of Chicago. She has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a BS in Biology from the University of Redlands. For most of her life she has directed and run food banks in Portland, Oregon and on Hawaii Island.
Taizan Maezumi Roshi married us at the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1988.
In early 2001, June and I moved from Hawaii to work for the Zen Peacemakers. Two years later, we moved to Chicago where June took up work with Feeding America, the National Food Bank Network’s headquarters. In 2010 she left Feeding America to work full time helping to run the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago and her hula school, Halau i Ka Pono.
I, Bernie Glassman, recently saw Ton Lathouwers in the Netherlands where he lives and teachers Zen. I previously met him 20 years ago at his home with ZPO Teacher Frank De Waele. He was Frank’s first teacher. What a wonderful man. He is now 81 years old.
He gave me his latest book and I want to share it with you.
Ton is one of the most liberal Zen Teachers in Europe. From 1968 until 1996 he was Professor of Slavic Literature. Shortly after receiving this appointment, he began his Zen way. He visited Japan, Thailand, Burma and Indonesia, among others. In Indonesia he dedicated himself to the study of Chinese Zen and received transmission from the Chan Master, Teh Cheng.
He is the driving force behind Maha Karuna Chan, a lay movement in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.
“Talking doesn’t work, for it immediately creates mental representations that are going to take on a life of their own. Remaining silent doesn’t work either. Sitting zazen doesn’t help. Koan-training doesn’t help. Studying doesn’t help. Nothing works. Maybe you recognize this experience yourself. It is in every respect also my own experience, and the story of my life. And yet at the same time, there is the other side: that there can be unlimited trust, that life itself is limitless faith, boundless openness. The Zen talks of Ton Lathouwers are always personal in tone. They are actually testimonies in which he weaves together his own experiences with references to his voraciously wide reading. He enjoys illustrating his insights with texts drawn from a variety of literary and spiritual traditions, both Eastern and Western — the intercultural dialogue is close to his heart. The Zen talks collected here date from 1999 and have gone through many reprints since their first publication. That is because Lathouwers speaks from heart to heart and truly knows how to convey the faith that everyone — without exception — is capable of finding his or her own personal answer to the great mystery of existence.”
It is a great read and I highly recommend it. In June 2014 he became a member of the Zen Peacemaker Order.
Translated from Polish by Andrzej Krajewski
Master Shizan answered a student, that not-knowing is most intimate.
For over a year this most intimate practice has been with me during every moment. I don’t have to try to remember it, anymore. True, in the beginning there was struggle and sometimes a sincere rebellion when everything has been changing from moment to moment and subsequent plans have been falling through or when thoughts have been arising, that I must know! whatever, at least how and how long this will go on. One cannot live in such a way! But, nevertheless, I am not doing anything else – I continue living now.
The total acceptance of „don’t know“, in spite of many years of practice, turns out not to be such a simple thing…but when it happens that I do accept, that I don’t know, I let go thoughts, images, expectations and so fears and mental frustrations disappear, and silence and peace arise.
It turns out that we have in us this safe space and the key to it, all the time and it only depends on us whether we make use of it.
DON’T KNOW gives us strenght and trust in everything, that appears, and is the true antidote for our expectations that things be different from what they are.
May every day be limitless like today’s sky, which in its blue contains everything, as it knows nothing.
I am with you and I am very grateful to you for everything that you are doing for me. I lack the words to express how much it all moves me.
Hope to see you soon in the zendo!Learn More
As some of you know, 15 years ago, Roshi Bernie Glassman, Zen master, started studying clown with me. Up to that point, all my students were performers. Bernie’s intent was not to become a clown, rather he wished to use “tools of tricksterdom and humor” to address out of balance situations in his Zen world. As a result, my approach to teaching shifted, and has continued to change ever since. The focus shifted from being clown to clowning. Suddenly my teaching perspective expanded from appying humor to performance to applying humor to life in general, to most any given situation. Indeed, what became clear over time, was that most everyone could develop their capacities to offer and share humor.
After a number of years, Bernie and I started teaching “Clowning your Zen” workshops together, with Bernie integrating Zen wisdom with my clowning exercises. Along with many teachers from Bernie’s lineage, people from all walks of life came to participate. The results were dynamic. Several years later, wishing to bring a sitting meditation practice into the mix, I began collaborating with Zen Master Heinz-Jürgen Metzger on a summer workshop at the Nell Breuning Haus in Herzogenrath, with alternating meditation and clowning sessions. We also took people out on the street to experience clowning in action.
Over the years, I have mused on the parallels between Clown and Zen, and written about it in my blog, here.
What struck me this summer, after our 9th summer Herzogenrath workshop, was how the stillness of meditation adds to the vitality of our spontaneity, and opens our capacity to improvise. Although these two qualities may seem like opposites, when one looks through the right lens, it makes total sense:
-Being funny is a state of being guided by our intuitive mind -Intuitive mind is strengthened by meditation practice
-Engaging in meditation practice strengthens our ability to share humor., our capacity for spontaneity….
As you probably know, meditation gets in the way of our thinking…whoops, I meant to say thinking gets in the way of meditation….let me try that one more time: meditation allows us to quiet the mind, to tell the thinking mind to take a holiday. Given enough time, enough practice, as Monsieur et Madame Think take a vacation, a sense of stillness evolves. Evoking this sense of stillness in one’s clown world is actually quite alive, and freeing. When one is a humorous state of being with thoughts at a standstill, spontaneity arises, easily, effortlessly, one is already in the flow…
and if you want to put the theory to the test, come to our workshop in Salzburg next month!
Heinz-Jürgen and I will be teaching Das Lächeln, das aus der Tiefe Kommt at the wonderful St Virgil Bildungshaus in Salzburg October 6-9th. The workshop will be taught in German (and other languages as needed.) This workshop is open to all regardless of experience in clown and/or meditation. It is our first time bringing this workshop to Austria, and we need more participants to make it happen, so please help spread the word. If you are interested, please sign up soon. (by Sept. 13th)
Next spring we will be offering our second year of the Clowns Ohne Nasen training, both in Herzogenrath and St. Virgil. focused specifically on care-givers working with elders. This series of workshops is designed to offer the care givers capacities in humor, meditation and singing. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, this springtime marked our first Clowns Ohne Nasen training and it proved a big success!! The atmosphere was fantastic and the participants considered the training empowering and transformational. I look forward to next year’s workshops and to see how this training evolves:)Learn More
In the years 1976–1999, Pia trained in Zen in Kamakura, Kanagawa/Japan with Hugo Makibi Enomiya-Lassalle and Yamada Kôun Roshi in Hawaii. She received Dharma transmission from Aitken Rōshi and in 1999 she was confirmed as Zen master by Zen Master Bernard Glassman.
In 1969 Pia joined the ecumenical community with inter-religious orientation Saint Katharina-Werk in Basel, Switzerland. On behalf of the Federal Department of Justice and Police she founded. in 1976, a therapy home near Horw for particularly difficult young persons which she led until 1982. Subsequently she was nominated general leader of the Saint Katharina-Werk. In 1986 she founded a project for meetings of the world’s religions and in 1989 she initiated in a slum on the outskirts of Manila a school for the spiritual and political awareness of young people. In 1995, back in Switzerland, she founded together with Niklaus Brantschen, Jesuit Priest and Zen Master, the Lassalle-Institute of Zen – Ethics – Leadership which they led until 2002 and at which she and Brantschen founded in 2003 the Glassman-Lassalle-Zen-line and the school of contemplation “Via Integralis”. After that they developed a peace project in Jerusalem – Open town for learning about peace in the world. This program is accredited at the UN and led them regularly to Jerusalem and to New York.Learn More
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi passed away peacefully on July 3. I’d planned to go to his 90th birthday celebration in Boulder, Colorado, in August, though I heard that he was weakening. And now he’s gone.
Two months after my Zen teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, died in 1995, I drove over to see Zalman at the Jewish retreat center of Eilat Chayim, in Accord, New York, where he was teaching for a week. I told him of my strong feelings that one should always have a teacher, and since Maezumi Roshi had passed I wondered if he would now become my teacher. He agreed, adding the condition that I serve as his Zen teacher.
Indeed, often when I would visit him and his wife, Eve (both our wives’ names are Eve), he would greet me at the door with a grin and an invitation: “Hit me with a koan!” He felt that koans would be an excellent study for rabbis and encouraged me to help develop a Jewish koan curriculum.
On that same visit in 1995 I told him I’d like to do a bearing witness retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau and asked for his advice. He was completely in favor of it, said it was something he’d wished to do himself, especially as his family had come from the town of Oświęcim, where the camps were located. He also added that it was most important to do the retreat for the benefit of the souls that are still there, not at rest, and I evoke those words at the orientation to every retreat that we’ve done there over the years.
Photos of Zalman often show him with different religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama or Ram Dass. Indeed, his wonderful spiritual memoir, My Life in Jewish Renewal, is that rare story of a man who loved meeting his peers and allies from other spiritual traditions, not to convince them of anything or to be superficially amiable, but to learn their practices and study together. One of the most heartwarming chapters there tells of how he got high with Timothy Leary. He was the one, I believe, who first coined the term triumphalism, that covert feeling many people have, even as they cultivate friends from other religions and participate in interfaith events, that while other spiritual traditions are fine in their way, basically theirs is the right one and will ultimately triumph.
I told him more than once that had I met him as a young man, my spiritual path would probably have followed his rather than Zen Buddhism. In this time of fear and fragmentation, when the practice of building bridges is needed more than ever, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was a true vessel for Tikkum Olam, making the world whole, bringing all the pieces back together again.
May his name be blessed.Learn More
Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, and one of the most creative and impactful Jewish theologians of the last forty years, died today (July 3rd). I write with tears in my eyes and love in my heart for this incredible teacher, a source of inspiration for literally hundreds of thousands. I loved this man very very deeply for the past 51 years that I knew him.
Zalman was born in Europe and barely escaped the Nazis when he was able to flee from France to the U.S. He became a Lubavitcher Hasid and Rabbi in Brooklyn, and was chosen by the rebbe along with his friend Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to reach out to the generation of Jews coming of age on college campuses in the 1950 and 1960s. Zalman served as a campus Hillel rabbi, and there tapped into the emerging new consciousness that we subsequently called “the counter-culture.” His experience with LSD and other hallucinogens opened for him a deeper level of experience that fortified rather than undermined the spirituality that had always sung to his heart and which had been the inspiration for much of the Kabbalistic and Hasidic movements. Like his friend Shlomo Carlebach, Zalman’s teachings and his approach to prayer (davvening) excited young Jews whose experience in the established synagogues of mainstream American Judaism was fast alienating a whole generation from the spiritual deadness, materialism, and fearfulness (which often translated into a kind of idolatry of Israel as the only savior assimilated American Jews could believe in) that was at the time parading as “Judaism.”
I was first introduced to Zalman by my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and am forever grateful for the relationship that we developed after that. As a counselor at Camp Ramah, I invited Zalman to teach my campers some of the ways to pray the “Shma” prayer—and these 13 year olds were mesmerized by Zalman’s ability to translate deep spiritual truths into a language they could understand, and then to embody his teachings in the way he actually led the davvening. So it was no surprise to me that after Heschel died, Zalman became the de facto leader (or perhaps co-leader with Shlomo Carelebach) for all those Jews seeking a spiritually alive Judaism.
To develop that approach more fully than he could in academia (he had been teaching at a college in Philadelphia), Zalman helped create the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley, and then in Philadelphia he developed B’ney Or with its attempts to spread the kind of spiritual vision he had developed. Unlike Shlomo Carlebach and many of his colleagues in Chabad, Zalman became a champion of a creative approach to Halakhah, always asking what was the goal of the Halakhic injunctions, and then finding creative ways to make those goals come alive in the experience and imagination of those he was teaching. Yet at the same time, he was strongly attached to the orthodoxy of his mentors in the Chabad movement, and the wisdom of the Tanakh, Talmud, Kabbalah, and Hasidut. When he began ordaining rabbis as part of the new Jewish Renewal movement he was creating, he insisted that we observe the mitzvot, particularly those regarding personal status (birth, marriage, conversion to Judaism, and death). He wanted to be sure that his ordinations were recognized in Israel and in the orthodox communities of the U.S. in order to ensure that he wasn’t participating in further splitting the Jewish people.
Zalman quickly became a champion of women’s voices and the centrality of women’s experience and wisdom in Judaism, and not long later a champion of equality of treatment for homosexuals in Judaism. He was in the vanguard of giving rabbinic ordination to women and gays. Not surprisingly, his experimentation with drugs plus his deep feminism and support for equality of treatment for gays caused Chabad to break from him.
I started studying with Zalman in 1975 as one of his students and then later as an official rabbinic student, and he picked two other orthodox rabbis to be among the five rabbis who would eventually give me smicha (Jewish rabbinic ordination). What was striking to me was how important it was to him that I be able to pass the tests that any orthodox kolel (rabbinic supervision group) would put to their own rabbinic students. By the time he gave me rabbinic ordination in 1995, I had written my book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, which became a national best-seller and brought much of Zalman’s sensibilities to a larger audience than had heard his teachings before or after. Zalman was a founding member of the Editorial Board of Tikkun magazine, which was and is the only national magazine that actively identifies with the Jewish Renewal movement. Tikkun became the one Jewish publication that he could count on to print his prayers, his translation of psalms, his own essays, and to promote many of those to whom he had given smicka (rabbinic ordination). He performed the wedding ceremony for me and the co-founder of Tikkun Nan Fink Gefen in an orthodox shul in Oakland, Ca.
What was most amazing about Zalman was that he continued to grow throughout his life both intellectually and spiritually. I remember countless discussions with him on topics ranging from advice about how to deal with issues in Hallakhah that rose in my congregation Beyt Tikkun to how best to ensure that his legacy would retain the integrity of his message after he died; from current developments in Israel (he shared the pain I felt about the direction of policies that did not respect the Palestinian people, but felt unhappy that we at Tikkun were so “out there” in reporting the details of how oppressive the Occupation had become), to discussions we had about Levinas, Heschel, Buber, and even about Ken Wilber and the limits of his world view that was sweeping some people off their feet in the 1990s. What was always remarkable was how sweet he was, how caring, how he would make himself accessible to so many people, and how sophisticated his psychological insights and spiritual depth remained right till now, just a month before the Jewish Renewal movement was to celebrate with him his 90th birthday (though he told me that he had only reluctantly agreed to this celebration in order to help Aleph, the organization that was now the official voice of Jewish Renewal); and he often shared with me his disappointment that the movement he had founded and led for so long was not giving more attention to tikkun olam and more support for Tikkun magazine, and so he mentioned in his last talk to Jewish Renewal rabbis (at Ohalah January, 2014) that they should give more attention to the ideas that Arthur Waskow and I have been putting out in the past years, and he told me he wanted to convince the rabbinic training program of Aleph to make a ‘tikkun olam’ track along the lines that Waskow and I have helped develop into a mandatory part of rabbinic training the way the davvening track is mandatory. Sad for our Jewish Renewal movement that his sickness interfered with his following through on these directions.
It’s hard to sum up how impactful Zalman Schachter Shalomi’s message has become. The spiritual aliveness and creativity that he pioneered shaped the thinking of Rabbi Marshall Meyer who turned a failing conservative synagogue on the Upper West Side of New York, Bnai Jeshurun, into a cauldron of spiritual energy in the 1980s and 1990s. His teachings and approach to prayer has seeped into the Reconstructionist movement (he sometimes taught at their rabbinic training program in a suburb of Philadelphia) and into the Reform movement and parts of the Conservative movement as well (sadly, many of those who have now adopted some of the approaches to prayer or theology that he pioneered learned it from others and are not even aware of how much they are defacto students of Zalman and perpetuating his legacy; but in any event he was not locked into ego, and it gladdened him when others followed his path without even knowing that that was what they were doing).Learn More
Dear Malgosia, my dearest friend and Teacher.
You are my continuous inspiration . Thank you that you showed me how to combine spiritual practice with being an artist, open to every moment of creation, every person , every being.
I remember our long conversations about life, walking in different corners of the world, my first retreat in Auschwitz in 1999 when I met you for the first time,and our dance during a shabat dinner ,my Jukai in Sosnowka (thank you for the dharma name that you gave me) and our clowning together at the Ameland retreat. I remember the death of Pope John Paul II, together we prayed for him on the street of Warsaw, meeting in Belgium, your presence with Andrzej at my performance was very important for me … Thank you for your love and smile ..
One of my dream was to be with you on the same stage, tonight its possible .. my Benvenuto Cellini performance will be my prayer for you …join me in my dance…
Have a dancy and clowny journey home.
I love You.
With a gratitude and peace.
Your Damian – The jewel of the perfect compassion
Sending my love,
No, my glimpses of Malgosia Braunek are from Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she joined the Zen Peacemakers’ retreats November after November. The first was of Malgosia reading the poems of Wislawa Szymborska in Polish to 150 people on the second evening of the retreat, and while someone else then read the poems in English it wasn’t necessary because Malgosia’s voice, with its pauses and low-pitched intonations, seemed to convey everything.
That voice and face! We co-facilitated a morning council group in one year’s retreat. While I meticulously laid out the guiding rules of our time together, Malgosia seemed to rely on the timbre of her voice and her intuitive awareness to create the space we needed for sharing from the heart. Rules and definitions mattered, but not like the flush that crept over her face, the smile that began hesitantly and then widened to dazzle, and the open, direct gaze of the eyes.
She felt bad about her English so often she didn’t say much, occasionally asking her husband Andrzej for translation. It didn’t matter to me, I loved to hear her speak Polish. And I knew that she listened as she talked, with deep, wordless intuition.
And there was Malgosia dancing on the last nights of our retreats. She seemed to love all of it: circle dances, pairing up with Bernie in a Hasidic dance even as they held a white handkerchief between both their hands. I even have memories of her arms billowing and her feet stamping on instruction in Hawaiian Hula from Hula teacher June Tanoue when she and Andrzej visited us in Yonkers. But mostly I remember the frenzied fast dances, as though it was only when she moved every single muscle of her body that she could finally do justice to the fire and passion that lay inside. One year I went to bed early on the last night of the retreat, only to hear from a fellow American participant the next morning: “This gorgeous woman appeared out of nowhere and danced like madwoman!”
And finally, Malgosia walking down those railroad tracks in her light blue jacket. Once she led us in the Gate of Sweet Nectar liturgy at the site of a gas chamber at the very back of Birkenau where they used to burn bodies above-ground. Surrounded by by Poles, Germans, Americans, people from many countries and different traditions, she chanted in English: Being one with all Buddhas, I turn the waterwheel of compassion. We all joined her as she chanted this one line at least 20 times, not looking at the book but rather out at the world she loved with all its suffering, the vast ash pit behind the rectangle in the ground and the one lone tree in the distance.
She began the practice of Korean Zen with Master Dae San Sa Nim in 1979. Since 1983 has practiced with Genpo roshi, who since 1986, has been her main teacher.
Since 1992, she has led the Polish sangha Kanzeon. She was a member of Kanzeon, the White Plum Asanga and the Zen Peacemakers Order.
In 2003, she received Dharma Transmission from Genpo Roshi and the title of Sensei and in 2011 she received the title of Roshi – Zen Master.
She also received authorization to teach methods of Big Mind Big Heart from Genpo Roshi. She also studied with Genno Roshi, Roshi Bernie and with teachers of other, non-Buddhist spiritual traditions .
She was the Polish Co-founder of the Community of Peace in which under the leadership of Roshi Bernie for many years co-organized Bearing Witness Meditations at Auschwitz.
She has also worked as a volunteer in the Warsaw hospice oncology.
On June 23, 2014 Braunek died from cancer at the age of 67.
That ghostly whale fragment can’t help suggest Peter Matthiessen as modern American literature’s Ahab. Not raging across oceans in search of revenge but scouring the far ends of the earth and its seas for something different, but equally hidden from the surface: a mystical oneness with the world. A glimpse not of a White Whale but of something beyond the White Veil of the mystics, the veil Matthiessen believes separates him—all of us—from True Knowledge of infinitude.
Matthiessen has trekked nearly impassable Himalayan passes and hacked his way to dangerous outposts of shaman-haunted Andean tribes, searching the far reaches of the planet for the oceanic peace that lies beneath the choppy surface of the mind. All of which he’s chronicled in stunning works such as The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country, two books that made him the only American writer to win the National Book Award for both nonfiction and fiction, respectively. “A unique body of work,” William Styron called it, “the work of a man in ecstatic contemplation of our beautiful and inexplicable planet.”
And let’s not forget Matthiessen’s other contribution to American literature: He founded (with George Plimpton) the legendary Paris Review, which has nurtured several generations of literary stars. Matthiessen is a sui generis giant whose work has spanned the entire stretch of post-World War II American literature, yet one who’s moved through it with the stealth grace of a snow leopard. No bombastic Maileresque self-promotion or pompous Franzenian polemics. No wild, glitterati-strewn Plimptonian parties.
Now, at 86, after a remarkable career (and enduring chemotherapy for Stage 4 leukemia), Matthiessen has chosen his most daring and controversial subject yet: Auschwitz. Not only that, but a Zen retreat at Auschwitz.
The novel is called In Paradise—a deeply ironic title, based on an apocryphal biblical story about the hell of separation from heaven.
It’s an act of courage because, in striding into the minefield of debate about the appropriate response to the death camps, Matthiessen is taking on a subject that has exposed those who treat it in fiction, nonfiction and film to fearsome critiques for failing to do justice to the dread imponderables of that horror.
Inside his sprawling, shingled retreat, the first thing one comes upon is a wall of Michael Rockefeller photos, stunning images of Stone Age New Guinea tribes at war, which the Rockefeller heir and Matthiessen traveling companion took before he disappeared, rumored to be the victim of cannibals. [For more on this mystery, see “Journey Into the Kingdom of the Spirits” in Smithsonian’s March 2014 issue.]
Matthiessen’s wife of some three decades, Maria Eckhart, a soft-spoken woman, offers me tea and cookies and he and I settle in at a sturdy wooden table next to the kitchen. Outside, a deer pokes its nose into the snow and stares at us through the dining room window. Inside, Matthiessen is a tall blue specter—blue sweater, blue eyes, blue blood. Yale blue.
In fact it is in asking him about his experience in the Yale English Department that I elicit what turns out to be a fascinating tale about the entanglement of postwar American literature and cold war espionage.
It’s mainly espionage historians who know this, but the Yale English Department was a hotbed of spies and future spy masters from the 1930s to the ’50s. Among them William F. Buckley Jr. and the most notorious spy master in American history, James Jesus Angleton.
But perhaps the most effective intelligence operative there was Norman Holmes Pearson, a Le Carré-esque prof who was a founder of the wartime OSS and its successor, the CIA. It was Pearson who recruited Matthiessen into the Company in 1951, after his graduation, when Matthiessen was living the expatriate writer’s life in Paris.
“My cover was writing a novel called Race Rock,” Matthiessen recalls. “It was Paris, the height of the espionage world and everybody’s coming through, stolen passports, etc. But my CIA superior in Paris said my cover as a novelist was ‘feeble,’ and at that time I ran into a man called Doc Humes. He was running something called the Paris News Post and he signed me on as fiction editor. I thought if I could go into an office, that would be a little bit better cover. But Doc was making a mess of it; he had a mutiny on his hands with that magazine. I’d gotten a short story from Terry Southern [the brilliant comic satirist, later author of The Magic Christian and the Dr. Strangelove screenplay] and said ‘Doc, that story is kind of wasted on your magazine, let’s make our own magazine, just fiction for young writers.’ After a while he just couldn’t handle it so that’s when I remembered this guy I’d gone to [prep] school with in New York, at St. Bernard’s, named George Plimpton.”
The rest is literary history. “We had Kerouac,” he recalls. “We had the first English story by Samuel Beckett.” They also had Philip Roth, Adrienne Rich, Norman Mailer—the whole lot of postwar literary eminences. The magazine, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary, has been hailed for decades for its waves of new talent and extraordinary “writers at work” interviews.
“What did you actually do for the CIA?” I ask him.
“You know, if I told you I’d have to be taken out and shot,” he answers, laughing. Mostly, he says, it was just running errands and carrying messages and false passports between agents in Paris.
I wanted to know because I’d read allegations about the Paris Review being founded with CIA money as part of “soft power” cold war cultural outreach.
No, he says, “the Paris Review was not…This is a canard I’ve always been trying to settle.”
He says the CIA involvement in the origins of the Paris Review was more an accident than the result of a deliberate cold war strategy.
In any case, Matthiessen says he soon came under the influence of French leftists and quit the CIA after two years. “I just told them I couldn’t play for the team anymore.”
I ask Matthiessen how much awareness there was then in postwar Paris of the Holocaust.
Not much, before the Eichmann trial, he says. France was still engaged in the mission of denial documented in the Marcel Ophüls’ film The Sorrow and the Pity, evading the country’s complicity in deporting Jews and mythologizing the Resistance to paint a picture of national heroism.
“People couldn’t take it in,” Matthiessen recalls. “In part they couldn’t believe it. It was so horrifying, in fact, that it finally got to the point of actual Holocaust denial,” he says.
One reason he wrote this book, he says, was to play a small part—now that the last Holocaust eyewitnesses are dying—in the Resistance against denial.
“Tell me the story of how this book came to be. When did you start to focus your attention on Auschwitz?”
“I am a Zen teacher,” he says. “And I’ve been a Zen master for nearly 50 years. I had Japanese teachers for a long time and then a terrific teacher named Bernard Glassman, who is probably the most respected Zen teacher in America. And he started working with poor people, people with AIDS, people who were discriminated against, as part of our practice. We started these street retreats. We purposely chose people who were really up against it, most in need of help, so that took us into the shelters, flophouses. And finally it just seemed that the only way to really do this was to live on the street.”
“What city was this in?”
“We started in New York. And we wouldn’t shave, put on old clothes. We didn’t fool anyone for a second, but they appreciated the effort. And what they really appreciated was that we wanted to look ’em in the eye like this and talk to them, as if they were people and not some stuff on the sidewalk. I remember I heard a woman say, ‘You know what we are to you people?’ She said, ‘We are like a piece of Kleenex that somebody’s blown their nose into and thrown on the rainy sidewalk. Who wants to pick that up?’
“So we began with that and now Bernie has this organization called Zen Peacemakers and they go to troubled spots all over the world. We went to South Africa, Rwanda, Palestine, Israel.”
Then he went from people “most in need of help” to a people beyond help. To a remains of a mass murder factory at Auschwitz, Poland. A place where nearly a million Jews (along with Poles, gypsies, gays and other “undesirables”) had been murdered and cremated.
“Somebody, some English group did it first as an experiment, kind of—a retreat to bear witness” at Auschwitz.
“To bear witness?”
“Well, we did it the first time in 1996. And it was extraordinary. We had 140 people. Bernie wanted to use it as a training for Zen masters.”
“Because it’s a Buddhist thing that goes way, way, way back. Poor people, you get next to them. All the churches are supposed to be doing that. We went in the winter—a bad season, bad weather—and we were eating food out of bowls, just soup and gruel. No spoon or fork, just a bowl. And we meditated all day long on the selection platform.”
The selection platform was the first of the horrors those entrained to Auschwitz endured when they arrived. It was where Nazi “doctors” and soldiers selected those they thought too unhealthy to work, those who were therefore destined to be murdered immediately.
I’ve never been to the purpose-built industrialized death factory that was Auschwitz, but I have spent time at the Dachau concentration camp, where tens of thousands were murdered. And realized: Everything the mind seeks out as a response, the heart knows is inadequate. Which is what makes Matthiessen’s attempt—by a Buddhist, Zen master, mystic—such an extraordinary venture.
Matthiessen’s book is in a way about this impossible dilemma of addressing the unaddressable. There is a fierce literature over the question of how to approach the Holocaust, and fault is found with almost any approach. Matthiessen, deeply influenced by Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s searing stories, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, chooses representation over explanation—representation of what it felt like to be in the presence of a horror that defies explanation.
“We had prayer service in the Hebrew and the Christian and the Muslim prayer liturgy,” Matthiessen recalled, “and we chanted and offered hymns and prayer at the crematoriums.” There was much silent communion and—in the novel, at least—noisy debate over why they were there, what purpose they could serve. (One of the virtues of the novel is that it contains its own critique of its impossible mission.)
And then, during one of their sessions, something happened, something that became the fictionalized heart of Matthiessen’s new novel.
He was not the only one who felt it. “Maybe two people out of three said they’d experienced it. I’m not going to go into it because it’s taken me six years to try to find the words for it. And I still haven’t.”
What was it? Here’s how I’d describe it: a kind of frenzied possession—a feverish tarantella, a fever dream dance of death. I won’t spell it out further, not so much because it would be a “spoiler,” but because it can only be understood—to the extent it can be understood at all—embedded in the context of the novel. Matthiessen is the kind of skilled novelist who also offers a spectrum of skeptical viewpoints about the “something” that happened. It’s a challenging work, but one you can’t soon forget.
Matthiessen went on three retreats at Auschwitz. Can you imagine? There are no answers, but you have to give credit to those like him who keep asking. They pay respect to the Big Question, perhaps the biggest question about history and human nature there is: Why? Primo Levi, one of the wisest memoirists of Auschwitz, wrote that within Auschwitz “there is no why” (“Hier ist kein warum,” an SS officer told him). But outside of Auschwitz, we cannot let that SS edict rule our questioning souls.
“What does it say about civilization?” I ask Matthiessen. “Was Auschwitz a quintessence of something intrinsic to civilization in a terrible way?”
“No,” he begins to reply, before momentarily losing his voice entirely, which he attributes to the effect of chemotherapy. This is a man with Stage 4 leukemia, recall, 86, talking about ultimate things, about the embodiment of death—no, the embodiment of mass murder in human nature. Until then the only hint of his personal ordeal has been in the faintness of his voice, which has led me to hold my tape recorder next to his mouth.
“It just takes me a minute to get my breath and then I come back,” he says, and returns to the question of the human capacity for genocide. “I feel and I think most biologists—I have some training, but I’m a very amateur biologist—I feel we’re all capable of this.”
“You feel we’re all capable of genocide?”
“We are all capable if you press the right series of buttons. Your grandmother can turn into a genocidaire. Most of us, we’re lucky enough to never hit that combination of circumstances. But if we’re pressed hard enough and we think our children are getting not enough food or whatever the triggers may be, then it’s his people, it’s their fault.
“In a way, yes,” he continues. “You get behind that, you get the state behind it and propaganda machines, and then you demonize the people, that’s the first step—you demonize them and pretty soon they’re not people anymore, they’re meant to be despised. It’s exactly what happened in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust was simply a very big manifestation of it. And a very efficient one.”
“As for human nature…?”
“I think it’s an aberration of it. It’s pathological. It’s something that’s gone awry. But it’s something that we all have to watch out for.”
I ask him if in his exploration of the savagery of the natural world, “nature, red in tooth and claw,” he’d found any equivalent.
“I can’t find a single thing in nature where one animal, on purpose, tortures or is cruel. But human beings can be cruel, especially cruel to their own kind. Why? Somewhere along the line that had to be a useful evolutionary advantage. Maybe when we were living on the savanna and competing with other kinds of humans, Neanderthals or whatever.”
“And our brains got too big?” (meaning big enough to think up ideologies like Hitlerism or Stalinism).
“Our brains got too big. We have all this incredible technology. But our brains aren’t big enough to handle our…whatever…so we get amused by cruelty and corruption. For some reason it is very important to do this.”
“Amused by cruelty and corruption…” He trails off, not presuming to have an answer. Which is one of the most important things about his Auschwitz novel—he doesn’t presume to explain.
“Was there one particular place in the whole vast Auschwitz-Birkenau complex that you felt drawn to?” I ask.
“An actual physical place?”
“Yes,” he replies. “There’s a big buffer zone between the camp and the nearest town. And in that place they just tore out all the housing and they kicked the people out of the houses. But somewhere out there I knew that they had the original platform for the unloading of the prisoners. It’s called the Judenrampe, Jew ramp. That’s where I discovered this rail junction that pulled the rails inside the camp beneath the famous tower, ‘the gate of death.’”
That’s the gate with the notorious death camp slogan: Arbeit Macht Frei—“Work Will Make You Free.”
“But before that was built [the railway] ended a mile short of the gates, so no matter what the weather, these poor folks had to…they’re dragging all their stuff they were told to bring, in terrible shape anyway, and they had to drag themselves across the marshy flat to get to the gate. I knew that somewhere out there, there must be this huge railway platform, Judenrampe. So I tramped through the back of the woods and I found it. I followed the old tracks.”
The cover of In Paradise features a bleak image of a railway junction branching off toward the “gate of death.”
“Then I walked out, way out beyond the camp, where, according to the maps, they had a great, huge pit for bodies when the crematorium got overflowing. They were taking people out and bulldozing them into these enormous pits. I just wanted to see, sort of sense…identify that whole experience to the degree one can. And, of course, you can’t at all.”
“What was your religious tradition growing up?”
“I grew up in a WASP-y, Episcopal, Anglican tradition. But very, very casual.”
“What about spirituality?”
“Yes, I do believe there’s something there. There’s a creation, a creating force. But whatever it is is in everything we see. It’s in that log, in that stone. It’s just the power. And I’ve had many experiences with it. Certain circumstances bring it out, which all the mystics know. That is part of our Zen training too. It’s called an ‘opening.’”
An opening through what he calls a kind of “gauzy” veil that separates us from the spiritual realm.
“For a second, you see what the world is. It is a whole other way of seeing, which is horrible, terrifying, and extraordinary and a great blessing to have.”
“Was it a mystical experience that brought you to Buddhism?”
“Well, I’d had a number of semi-mystical experiences, mainly through psychedelics. I’ve never said it before, but the trouble with the drugs is that you can have experiences very like mystical experience. But there’s always a gauze screen, always something separating you. You never are really at one. You’re still an observer.”
“So you have been able to access the ungauzed, unfiltered awareness that you were seeking through Zen?”
“I’m not going to claim that I have. There are varying degrees of opening. But I’ve found a more profound opening than anything I’ve ever had.”
And soon we are back at Auschwitz again, but this time from a different—troublingly paradoxical—perspective. And question: How does one respond to the appearance of life amid a realm of death?
“One time we went in nice weather in mid-June. And it was very different. At the ash pits, where they dumped the ash, where people died, the vegetation was trying to come back. Even at the height of winter, I was astonished the first time I saw it. There was snow on the public crematorium. And you see little deer prints. And little lichens, mosses, ferns, coming back in the bricks right in the gas chambers. Life is coming back. You cannot help but recognize the extraordinary life force that will crop up virtually anywhere. They’ve found it even on the bottom of the seafloor, where the tectonic plates shift—sulfurous burning, totally toxic, way down in the darkness—and there’s life there.”
“Do you somehow feel that there’s a kind of unity in all vital phenomena?”
“I do think there is unity. Because it’s hard to imagine that we didn’t all come originally from whatever that life miracle was, in the water or wherever. The whole plant and animal kingdom—everything. We were all part of the same blast. So yes, I feel a connection to it. With life. And death. Because that’s part of it too.”
“What’s your sense of the afterlife?” I ask him.
“I have a bit of trouble with the afterlife. My own instinct is that once you’re gone, you’re gone.”
“Really? Does that comport with the Buddhist view?”
“Now that’s a rude question,” he says. I can’t tell whether he’s joking or serious. “No, the Buddhists believe in reincarnation. But I have…you know you always try to verify your own experience, subjectively…and I’ve never had that strange sense of meeting…reincarnations. I had an experience I described in The Snow Leopard where I saw my father’s hands. Strange. And I felt there was somehow an overlapping of generations there. And you do have the feeling sometimes that somebody you meet, you know them very well. There’s somebody there that you knew. But by and large, I don’t.”
I tell him I have two more questions and I’d be gone myself. First, why he chose a poem by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatnova for the new novel’s epigraph. In particular the closing passage:
And the miraculous comes so close to the ruined, dirty houses— something not known to anyone at all But wild in our breast for centuries.
“What is that about?”
“That comes as close to anything I’ve found to expressing that thing that happened to us. Something not known, you’ve got to figure it out.” The people in the novel, when that mysterious “something” happened, “they can’t even say what it is,” he says. “But they know it’s true, it’s ‘wild in our breast for centuries’! Wow! Damn! I wish that line wasn’t so long, I would have made that the title. I think it’s one of the great lines of poetry and almost perfectly expresses things.”
My final question: “After all the amazing variety of adventures, experiences, you’ve had, is there something that you regret, that you have not experienced?”
“You mean other than the Nobel Prize?” he says, half joking. (Not inconceivable—or undeserved.)
“Yes, there is,” he says. “Sometimes I see something that delights me and I say, I wish I’d been around early enough to enjoy that. And that’s kiteboarding.”
I left shortly thereafter, nodding goodbye to the whale skull and thinking, well, that speaks of a vast life, doesn’t it, if your only regret is missing kiteboarding?
“Once you’re gone, you’re gone,” Matthiessen said. But I think he’ll always be with us.
I want to share some thoughts and feelings I have about Peter Matthiessen, who passed away last Saturday.
Peter was in the hospital till Friday, and I was told that he talked very little to none at all in the last few days of his life. But Michel Engu Dobbs, his successor, said that on Wednesday evening, when he visited, he asked him if he wished to chant the Heart Sutra in Japanese, or the Shingyo, as they did in his Ocean Zendo. Peter said yes, and the sick, mostly silent man and Engu chanted the entire thing in Japanese without missing a beat.
The next night Engu visited him again, and this time Peter was silent. But as Engu was leaving he noticed that Fox News was on the TV screen, so he asked Peter: “Do you want Fox News on the TV?” and Peter barked out in that low voice of his: “No!” “Do you want me to change the channel?” “Yes!” I think those were the last words he spoke to Engu.
These two vignettes say so much about the man. On the one hand he was deeply, almost vehemently devoted to a practice of realizing the oneness of life, and especially the practice of zazen. He delved deeply into the Heart Sutra’s Form is no other than emptiness; in fact, many of us still use the translation he did of it along with Bernie. And at the same time he had a passion for justice and decency in this world. Even in his later, older years he didn’t lose his anger over what we were doing to plants and animals who share this planet with us and continued to speak loudly and clearly on behalf of people he felt were wronged. He refused to find solace in transcendence.
In my experience, he was unlike many practitioners who seem to feel that since justice and injustice, right and wrong, are just more pairs of dualities, what’s there to get excited about? It’s easy to get turned off by a religious and political climate that is often highly fundamentalist and partisan, find refuge in concepts such as emptiness and oneness, and not act. Or else, not knowing what to do and feeling paralyzed, try to accept things as they are and leave it at that.
That was not Peter Muryo. He was conflicted and unsure of many things, liked to say he was the world’s worst Zen student, but he couldn’t stand neutrally aside in the face of injustice. I remember when we were on safari in Tanzania with him some years ago. Among us was a man with a high position in the Pentagon and one of Donald Rumsfeld’s advisers. Peter was always deeply courteous and gracious, never once said a word that betrayed his passionate differences with the Bush administration, especially over their treatment of the environment. But one evening after dinner someone asked him a question, and this man who preferred to never give a talk without copious notes at his side launched spontaneously into a deeply moving portrayal of what we, who’d been out in the savannah every day, couldn’t see: the world-wide depredation, the scramble by flora and fauna to adapt to this two-legged predator, and especially the responsibility to the planet that we, as Americans, had betrayed. It was a cry from the heart: scholarly, eloquent, low-key—and a cry nevertheless.
I recently came across this quote by Hannah Arendt: Moral conduct depends on the intercourse of man with himself. It comes out of bearing witness and reflection on what one has seen. It doesn’t come out of books, dogmas, or the media, but is a deeply personal matter.
Peter took the world personally; he spoke and wrote for it. He never equated the practice of letting go with apathy. He was as deeply engaged off the cushion as he was on it. I feel his aliveness deeply, even now.Learn More
All photos by Peter Cunningham, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Roshi Peter Muryo Matthiessen was a master novelist, naturalist, and literary voice for nature—an acclaimed activist concerned with ecological issues, and the rights of indigenous peoples, social justice. He was a Zen teacher—a Zen Master, a Buddhist priest—Zen Buddhist priest, and founder of The Paris Review. He has written over thirty fiction and nonfiction books, and a plethora of powerful, deeply researched and artfully crafted articles. He was my first Dharma successor. And I gave him inka, that is, he became a Zen Master in January of ’97.
I first met him in 1976 at the opening ceremony for Dai Bosatsu Zendo, in the Catskills of New York. He told me that he wanted to leave his studies with Eido Shimano Roshi, and was looking for a new teacher, and we talked. And he said he would like to come study with Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles. So we set that up, and he started to do that. He lived in New York at that time (and until he passed away just a few days ago, April 5th, 2014)—has lived in the same place in Long Island, in the Hamptons—Sagaponack.
So he started to travel to Los Angeles, to come to Zen Center of Los Angeles to study with my teacher Maezumi Roshi. And since I was also teaching at the time, he was also studying with me. And he was one of the reasons that I moved back to New York—the state in which I was born—in December of ’79. There were a number of students asking me to move back to New York, and ready to start study, and he was one of them. And in fact [he] came on board of the Zen Community of New York in ’78, as we were starting to form how the Zen Community of New York would look.
And from the beginning, he was one of the stronger students I had. He was studying all the time, coming to all the retreats, and in fact, he became my major student. And accompanied me in all of the Bearing Witness type events that I started to do. He was on the first three retreats. He was on our first Bearing Witness retreat at Auschwitz. He came again, then later on, came again.
And during the first retreat at Auschwitz, it so moved him, he decided to write a book about (as he said at the time) about human nature. That book is almost out. It’s been published, and this is April 7th, I believe the book comes out in about one week. And it’s already had wonderful reviews.
He decided to ordain, and did that with my teacher Maezumi Roshi. I helped in that ceremony, and I’ll be posting various pictures, and some of them are his novice priest ceremony. And he ordained in Riverdale at the Zen Community of New York. And we were calling this center—the facility was called Greyston. He ordained in ’81. And he was going to be the first head, or senior priest that I was to have—in a three-month training program, in New York.
And so before that, I thought it would be good to do a pilgrimage to Japan with him, to go to all of the various places that figure in my lineage. And also, since he was such a wonderful poet, and writer, and naturalist, we also followed the trail of Basho, the famous Japanese poet and naturalist. And that was quite an amazing trip. We continued each day to do Koan study together. And that resulted in a book he wrote called The Nine-Headed Dragon River.
We came back. We had the training—the three-month training program, which he led. And then he became the first senior student—senior priest—at the Zen Community of New York.
He’s an amazing person—a very humble person. You know, he had done so much, written so much, had so many awards, and knew so many people. But he was very serious about his Zen studies, as well of course as all his work with particularly the Lakota, but various indigenous groups; with the environment; with the causes of the fisherman. He worked with Cesar Chavez, in union farm issues—very serious and very humble. You never heard him dropping names or resting on his laurels.
I love the man. I’ll always love the man.
And I want to end with two episodes. At the age of eighty, he was going home and it was a dark night, and a deer jumped out. And as they sometimes do, he hit the deer with his car. And he felt fatally wounded, and the deer limped away into the forest. And Peter was eighty, I believe at the time had some problems with his foot, but the thought of this poor deer dying a slow death—a painful death—really disturbed him. So he stopped his car, got out of the car, crawled into the woods to find the deer, and ended his life so that he wouldn’t be in misery. This is at the age of eighty.
He died at the age of eighty-seven. And his senior priest, Sensei Michel Engu Dobbs—a wonderful man who I feel will carry on Peter’s work in the zendo in a beautiful way—Michel spent much of the last few days with Peter. And Peter was already—he was in the hospital, he was on a lot of morphine—he was dying. And the last few days he didn’t speak. He didn’t speak. And he died on Saturday. And he came home from the hospital on Friday, to die at home in hospice. And Thursday night, Engu Michel was with Peter at the hospital. And as I said, Peter wasn’t speaking, but Michel saw on the TV screen it was Fox News. And so he said to Peter, “Are you watching Fox News?” Peter said, “No!” And then he said, “Do you want me to change the channel?” And Peter said, “Yes!” And so Zen Master Peter Muryo Matthiessen’s final dying words were “Get Fox News off of that TV!”
Read his books, and enjoy his writings.
Link here to read the New York Times Magazine article about his latest book and his life.