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]