Trainings in the Zen Peacemaker Order are given around the world at various ZPO Events.
Written by Michaela Haas for Huffington Post, September 21, 2015.
One winter day I got stuck with Richard Gere in Kathmandu, Nepal. He was traveling with friends of mine, and a snowstorm grounded their plane to Bhutan. We spent a delightful day in Kathmandu, exploring the local art shops. While he gracefully accepted the wishes of enthusiastic fans to give autographs, he talked about his hope that maybe Bhutan would be the one place on earth where he could travel incognito. Television was still a novelty in the tiny Himalayan kingdom, so he hoped the Bhutanese would not yet know him. When I met him again after the trip, I learned that he had had no such luck: Bhutan had videos, and just about every Bhutanese had seen Pretty Woman.
Fifteen years later, though, Richard Gere did indeed stumble upon the secret how to be invisible, even in the midst of New York. In his new film Time Out of Mind (out this month), he plays an elderly alcoholic who ends up on the streets. Gere wanted to shoot the film documentary-style, and he was worried his A-list status would attract too much attention.
No need to worry. Disappearing in plain sight is easy: instead of crossing the Himalayas, all Gere had to do was not to shave for a few days, don a dirty cloak, and ask people for spare change. Nobody recognized him, because nobody looked him in the face. “I could see how quickly we can all descend into territory when we’re totally cut loose from all of our connections to people,” Gere, a long-term supporter of the homeless, realized.
Nobody recognized one of the best-known actors of our times, though he did not wear makeup or an elaborate costume. By simply blending in with the homeless, he became instantly invisible. “It wasn’t that folks didn’t notice me; they could see someone asking for change from two blocks away,” Richard Gere told Rolling Stone. “It was that they saw the embodiment of failure — and failure is something that people fear will suck them in.”
This experience is universal: We prefer to shut out the forlorn and forsaken. We do not want to acknowledge suffering. We don’t want to look it in the eye. And by doing so, we make the issue so much worse.
Every country has a homeless problem, but I cannot think of another developed country that scorns its homeless people more willfully, thus exacerbating their physical, emotional and mental health issues, sometimes beyond repair. Even the most heartless person would have to recognize that ignoring the issues means multiplying the human and financial cost not only for the individual, but for all of us.
It seems to me that there really is no place for suffering in our society outside of the designated zones we have specifically marked for it: hospitals, hospices, homeless shelters. How we, as a society, deal with suffering tells us at least as much about ourselves as the myriad ways we promote to achieve success.
Is it coincidence that America has the world’s highest documented incarceration rate? Or that in 2014 the city Fort Lauderdale passed a law that bans feeding the homeless in public? We live in a world where you can shoot a young unarmed black man and walk free, but face jail time for handing a plate of vegetables to a vagrant.
We go out of our way so that we do not have to stare suffering in the face. We lock people up, make them go away. Out of sight, out of heart.
For my book Bouncing Forward, I’ve met a remarkable man who does exactly the opposite of what most of us do: Roshi Bernie Glassman, a Jewish-born New Yorker and the founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, is not afraid to witness suffering, but goes toward it, accepting it, working towards healing it.
For the past 24 years, Bernie has regularly taken people to the streets. They plunge into the unknown, and let the streets with their unwritten rules become their teacher. Bernie softly hums Leonard Cohen’s lyrics about the crack that lets in the light. “That pretty much sums it up,” he says, “that’s what it’s all about: taking off the armor, becoming vulnerable.” The experience is much more intense than people realize. The retreatants sleep under bridges, beg for their food, and donate their participation fee to the homeless. “I did it because I wanted to connect with the homeless,” Bernie says. “When you’re homeless and begging, people completely ignore you; you simply don’t exist. Once you have been ignored like that, you can no longer do the same to other people; it becomes impossible to look away.”
You might have tasted Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. But you might not know that buying a pint supports a bakery with a unique hiring policy. The brownies in the ice cream are made at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York — the bakery Bernie founded after deciding that what the homeless needed most were jobs. Greyston hires anybody who walks through the door willing to work. Education? Felonies? Age? Who cares? No resume required. “I don’t care about their background. All I care about is, how is your work now?” says Bernie. The company motto, written in bright purple letters on the wall reads, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.” Bernie delivers his delicious indulgences — including a cheesecake named the best in New York — to gourmet restaurants, Whole Foods, and even to the White House. “For me, what was so fantastic is that the best cheesecake in New York, which means the best in the country, is made by people that our country considered garbage — that threw away those people, didn’t consider they could do anything. I just love that.”
When Greyston started, Yonkers had the country’s highest per-capita homeless population. According to Bernie, the homeless rate has since been more than halved, while it continues to rise in most other cities.
We need to find ways of weaving our suffering into the tapestry of our lives, individually and as a community. We need to bravely explore a new relationship with pain and sorrow and ask where it fits in. We need to make room for it to fit in. Because it is already here.
Shutting it out just means shutting ourselves in. Connecting with the homeless is the only way to bring them home.Learn More
Bernie: Now we’re open to questions. I also like the co-witness term.
Let’s say we’re co-witnesses. And as I said before, in the ZPO, I would want to bring the Three Tenets in. So I’m your co-witness. That means to me I have to drop any concepts that I have, and I have to bear witness to you. So here’s a practice of bearing witness to each other, and then see what arises.
Roshi Egyoku: And see what arises.
Bernie: And you have to forget Bernie such and such, and bear witness to what you’re really, and see what arises.
So here’s another example of how bringing the Three Tenets to everything we’re doing can be a whole wonderful practice. And the idea of having co-witnesses . . . I mean I’m trying to think, imagine if I was a co-witness with Maezumi Roshi. I don’t know if he’d be ready to go there. But if I could go there, I think that a lot of different things would have arisen. I was very close with him. But as we said before, in Japanese it’s really a Lord/Vassal relationship. I mean there’s strict rules about even the language. It’s strict.
But if I was able to do that, and if you’re able to do that, whether you’re in a position of having being a group, or being within a group—if you could do that, I think it would be a good practice.
So it’s not in the structure of ZPO right now. But I’m sure Egyoku will propose it, and it’ll be in that. It’s got to go through this circle discussion. Any new proposals—even the things that you see on the webpages . . . We have core practices, and we have all these different things to discuss. All of that’s gonna be discussed by these circles. So nothing is written in stone.
That’s another one of my—I don’t know if you would call it a vision—but that ZPO is an evolving thing, that it’s not fixed at any point in time. That it’s gonna be evolving based on the discussions of co-witnesses.
OK, so questions?
Roshi Egyoku: It might be even a better term than mentoring—co-witnessing.
Bernie: Yeah, because it implies a practice. To me it implies a Three Tenet practice. Whereas mentoring is still hierarchical.
Audience Member 1: I guess that’s one thing that arises for me, in talking about mentoring and co-witnessing, that the nature of these circles, and the nature of this kind of engagement is so transforming, and yet everybody’s at different places in their process of transformation. And I think it’s also kind of natural for someone to look to a co-witness that has more experience, and has evolved and developed in this model more than others. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s almost an inherent mentoring, or an inherent hierarchy. So I mean there’s an interplay between looking to others and this pure peer . . . Do you understand what I’m trying to say?
Roshi Egyoku: I do. I do understand what you’re saying, and I’ll respond from what I’ve really learned being involved in this process here. Yes, that’s true. If you come to me to learn something, I can hold that request in different ways. I can hold it from the place of I’m the teacher. I’m gonna teach you something, you know. I can hold it from the place of you and I are equals, and the invitation is to invite you in, to exploring that particular wisdom for yourself. Yes I could share information and what my experience has been. And there’s a big difference in doing it that way I have found, than from another way of “Yes I know this, because blah, blah, blah.”
You see? And that’s a huge difference. So for me the circular process has been about relinquishing that kind of knowing. So you’ll get to the Three Tenets again—relinquishing that kind of knowing. Right? I mean it’s a huge difference.
Audience Member 1: And relinquishing it at the same time your co-witness has certain expectations. I know you deal with this all the time, Roshi, that people come to you with the expectation of an unequal relationship.
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, and if I’m bearing witness to that, we’re I’m gonna came from . . . Now I could fall into the fact that yes, I do know better. [laughs] That’s fun. But it goes nowhere. It disempowers myself, and everybody else, right? So my invitation then to a person who’s coming with that is to invite them to recognize that, and invite them to stand on their own feet, and empower themselves. That’s really important.
We’re about liberation, aren’t we? It’s like there’s no liberation in the other, in my experience. It doesn’t mean we all don’t have information to share. Of course we do. And we have certain so-called expertise, but we have to realize the context of that. And that the dharma context for me is really about this constant invitation, right, to not know, and to bear witness, and to help each other remember that, and to help each other go there. So that becomes really important I think.
Audience Member 1: You mentioned liberation, which is very important in this context. You know, what is our intention with all of this?
Roshi Egyoku: Exactly. The intentionality is really key.
Audience Member 2: So I wanted to go back to the very beginning, when you started, Bernie. A vision came out of your twenty years of practice, at a twenty year point, or so.
Bernie: Well, at that time it was forty years.
Audience Member 2: Yeah, forty years, OK. And I grok everything that you were talking about in a sense, and loved a lot of it. The part that I’m not hearing for the ZPO is the leading up part. So that part of how you got there, how you came to Indra’s net, and started seeing it. To me, you two, and maybe the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh, this guy named Eddie that used to do lighting for us are some of the most enlightened people that I’ve ever met. But there’s a process that goes into that, getting to that point of just seeing that first sight. Is anything lost about that, or what gets us there? Because this practice that we’ve been doing so far has served us all in this room I think pretty well, in terms of going, “Ah ha! Oh! Now I kind of get it.” And then the rest of your life is about, you know, growing with that. Everything you’ve described feels like it’s really great on the growing with that part, but I’m not convinced yet that the long hours in the zendo, and the daily meditation, and some of the forms that support that (that supported y’all’s practice too) can be dropped. Or at least if they are, what’s going to replace that?
Bernie: If I look at my life, there’s not much I’ve dropped. I’ve added a lot of things I think, but not much I’ve dropped. And I think the things—in my opinion—the things that I’ve dropped were sort of cultural stuff, not spiritual stuff. So I’ve now been meditating for about sixty-five years. I never dropped that. I enjoy koan study, and I do koan study with certain people, and I also acknowledge that there are certain people that koan study is not the right upaya. It doesn’t fit.
As a teacher, you’re sort of entrusted with coming up with upayas, ways of doing things. I have dropped, I think, the restriction of who I would study with. I will study with anyone, whether they’re Buddhist, Christian. And by study I mean we’ll do things together. I dropped a lot of the clothing, and the way that you eat—those are all cultural things. And if I go back to Shakyamuni, you can see how those things always change from country to country. Shakyamuni did not wear black robes. And in fact he didn’t empower people. That comes about in China because of the Confucius tradition.
The way his sangha developed is a little bit the way we’re talking. You would seek out somebody that you wanted to study with. They were not a teacher. There was a sangha of people. They were all equals, but some had more knowledge in certain things, like how to brush your teeth, some had knowledge about how to meditate, you know. And people would seek out different people and share with them, but they didn’t know them. Although in our koan system we say that he started with Mahakyshapa But that was created back in China time.
But I don’t know what I dropped. The question you’re asking is would I have come up with a lot of these forms, thought of as upayas, if I hadn’t spent the first twenty years meditating—without doing those forms? In my opinion, if I had started off in the way I feel now, I think I would have gone much faster, and been more liberated. Why do I say that? That’s just my opinion. And part of that opinion is based on my experience.
When I did my first Street Retreat—so this was an unusual practice—and I did my first Street Retreat about twenty-five years ago. And there were about twenty people who went on the streets with me. Some of those people had been involved in Buddhist practice (both Zen and Tibetan) ten/fifteen years already. There were some people on that retreat that had never meditated. And then there was a mixture. I’d say that 90 percent of those people had an experience deeper than I had seen than most people that I knew of in the Zen center after twenty years.
So here were people that were put into a place where not knowing just came on them. So they were put into those Three Tenets, without them knowing about it, and without at that time me being clear about that. I mean I was doing that Street Retreat only because I was going to be getting into working with homeless. And when I was younger I had made a vow that I was going to do that. I was gonna spend time in a Zen monastery, I was gonna spend time on a kibbutz, and I was gonna spend time on the street. That’s why I was doing it.
But out of that first retreat, my life changed. And so did 90 percent of those twenty people. So my experience was “Hey, how did that happen to you? You have barely any meditation.” So the power of those Three Tenets impressed itself on me such that I based the rest of my life on that.
And to tell you the truth, if somebody forced me to say you gotta give up either the Three Tenets or Zazen, I’m gonna give up Zazen. I love Zazen. So I hope nobody forces me into that. But my experience—and that’s just me, so I can’t say for anybody else—but for me those Three Tenets have transformed me so deeply. So deeply.
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, and I don’t know that you’re being asked to give anything up. So I’m not really clear what you’re asking frankly.
Audience Member 2: Well, as part of the Zen Peacemaker Order, in a sense you just answered it with the Three Tenets. That’s kind of the twenty years, the equivalent of what you were calling the twenty years leading up. Let’s say somebody just comes in . . .
Bernie: But Roshi’s question is if you were to join the ZPO now, what is it that you’re being asked to give up?
Audience Member 2: Nothing.
Bernie: OK, so there’s nobody that’s joining the ZPO that’s being asked to give up Bernie’s first twenty years. I mean that doesn’t make any sense. I mean that was my first twenty years. But I think what Roshi is saying is that anybody joining, we’re not asking anybody to give up anything.
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, in fact you’re taking on some very powerful practices. You’re being asked to take on—at it just so happens you’re already doing most of it—but for somebody who’s not, you’re being asked to make commitments to Zazen, the Three Tenets, the Precepts. Yearly Sesshin, you can do many more. I mean all of that is all part of it. And for those who are already connected at various centers, that goes on. You know, that just continues to go on.
You know, and it’s not like you’re throwing studying out the window, and all of that kind of thing. You’re finding other ways to do it, other than just listening to somebody talk all the time, that will really create the condition for you to really open that up in yourself. And you have to take responsibility for it in a really different way. So we had a lot of those experiences here early on when we started sharing. And we didn’t really know how to work together in a circle. Everybody was used to somebody else, you do it, and then they would be put in the seat. Oh you take the seat then. And then people didn’t want to do it, because that meant really taking responsibility and owning your own power. So that was like a huge learning curve for a lot of people. We don’t have that so much anymore, because we sort of went through that phase.
So that’s really what we’re asking, is that that whole process, that takes place in a different way. From the very beginning the invitation is that each of us takes full responsibility for the practice—in a way that I think we don’t quite do when we’re just relating to a teacher.
Audience Member 3: I think we all do what we have to do. And when I was twenty, I mean I had to do the straight stuff, you know—straight Zen training. And now it’s been a long time, it’s been maybe forty years, but I think that what I’ve come to feel though is that it was unbalanced. It was very much weighted towards the not knowing, wisdom side. And I think honestly, really a little deficient with the heart, and compassion, and loving action. So I really resonate with the balance of the Three Tenets. I mean that’s really what is wonderful to me. And also the simplicity. I like that’s it’s very accessible. It’s very easy. It’s not really easy to understand. It takes a lifetime to understand it. But I think it is a lot simpler. And I really resonate with that. And it just seems more balanced.
So, I mean I did what I had to do. But over time I felt these other aspects, you know. Loving action, and bearing witness—I think those are really important. I was a doctor also. I just retired two years ago. I was working as a doctor for thirty years.
Roshi Egyoku: It’s really interesting because twenty years ago, or thirty years ago, or in Bernie’s case fifty years ago, there weren’t a lot of options, even in this country, about practicing. So we did what we did. You know, we went to the places that were offered, and there weren’t a lot. Now you have a whole . . . Gosh, it’s just amazing. You can go to all kinds of places, and traditions. And it’s all here in this country. So you can go anywhere. I mean I think what the Peacemakers are creating is yet another upaya, right? That has arisen because of experiences that Bernie has had. But for those of us that have practiced for a while, or maybe not even practiced for a while there is a need to have and engage a spiritual practice in this particular way. Because it speaks to us very deeply. It’s really arisen from the depths of the people. And so that’s an offering that I think we can make.
Bernie: Another important thing to say is that I’ve read the pages on the website quite a bit. And in fact I wrote many of them, and we wrote many of them together. I don’t think I see one place in any of those pages where it says what you have to give up, or what you have to drop.
So I remember when I first got involved in social engagement in a heavy way, which was 1980. And for a while, always I would be asked questions of, “How can you do that when you’re giving up your zazen?” I didn’t give up any zazen. And I would say to them how much zazen do you do a day? You know, I was doing more zazen than they were doing. But the implication was that if I’m gonna do social action, that means you’re giving up the rest of what you learned in the standard Zen centers.
I didn’t give up anything, man. I added. I took what I was learning, and applied it to social action. I applied it too the business world. I applied it to many different worlds. But I don’t remember my ever having to give up anything, or that we’re asking anybody to give up anything. We’re not even asking you to stop showering more that once a week. I mean we’re not asking anything.
In most cases, what we’re adding—I think—is international fellowship. And I think that as you enter ZPO, you will find that all of a sudden you know people all around the world, having similar interests. It is still a limited vehicle in that it will be people who are interested in social action. And there are many people that that’s not their thing. Well, they wouldn’t join. They don’t join this club. This club is involved with meditation, social action, and with the Three Tenets. You may not know what that is at first, but you’re willing to study it.
Audience Member 4: Well, this is maybe a slightly different direction. I have to say that I’m asking this, or bringing it up really just wondering. Because I deeply resonate with everything that’s been said. And I feel drawn to ZPO for very much the reasons that are coming up. And I’m just sort of thinking about this whole idea of . . . I’m just thinking out loud here, but I kind of see what one thing I liked about traditional Zen practice was the idea of Dharma transmission, or you know, people not kind of coming off with a little of this, and a little of that. And thinking oh, this is it, I’ve got it now, and I’m gonna go market it or something.
So I’m just kind of asking how do you see (and I’m talking more about the part of the vision that you expressed Egyoku), how do you see this peer model, and the co-witnessing, and the bouncing off each other (which makes perfect sense), with the idea of someone having training that seems to be verifiable, that yeah I think it’s a good idea for you to . . . Do you know what I’m asking, or am I not making sense?
Bernie: Could I throw in a question? First of all, you pushed one of my buttons, so I repeat the button is tradition. My button gets pushed when somebody says tradition. And my first question is what tradition? And then the second thing is how do you relate to the tradition not knowing? That’s sort of a homework thing. In my experience when people say tradition, they’re talking one generation. Shakyamuni is the tradition of Buddhism, and he didn’t have that. But anyway, that’s just a button I have. That’s just me.
But the question I had is when you say “verifiable,” what does that mean? That’s my question. I know so many Zen teachers that I would not deal with. Or different kinds of teachers. I know a lot of people around the world. Some are homeless, that I would love to study with and deal with, and other people that are Roshis that I wouldn’t deal with.
So my question is when you said, “they’re verifiable,” verifiable is what? What does that mean?
Audience Member 4: So, let me ask you back, how do you know that homeless person is somebody that you’d like to study with?
Bernie: Because I feel like it. I don’t care about degrees, what degrees they have, or what plaques they have. I like to deal with people I like to deal with. And that’s a very subjective thing, but I think those plaques you’re talking about are also subjective. All Zen titles are very subjective. They’re given by one person to another person. And it’s what this person feels about that person. And I will deal with people I like to deal with. I don’t need to see their papers. That’s me, you know. I don’t care, just because this guy’s got a PhD. But what Egyoko was proposing was that every sangha do what they want to do. If they want to have their own Roshis, and Senseis, and Priests, and Precepts with their form, verifiable—fine. What she’s saying is that within ZPO what if we didn’t have that? What if we had two people that were now going to be co-witnessing each other, and bearing witness to each other, and if we had a sangha that was like that.
My deep sense, again, my opinion, but I would bet on it—that still with all this co-witnessing and whatever, if you wanted to have somebody teach, do a workshop on the Diamond Sutra, you would find somebody who you like to talk on the Diamond Sutra. And it may not be who you’re co-witnessing with. And it may not be who somebody gave transmission to. But there are gonna be people in different fields. If you want to learn about electricity, you might look around, “What’s Charles doing right now? I gotta get him down here to teach me some electricity work.” Do I care whether you’re a licensed electrician? If I’m gonna build something, maybe, because I need the permits. But I’m gonna look for the best that I feel good with, as a person to deal with.
But in terms of practice, do I need to search out for some Sensei, because they’ve been verified by somebody who I may or may not trust? Or can I look out for anybody within the group, like in the days of Shakyamuni, that I feel good studying with? That’s the questions that we’re gonna ask at the circles.
Audience Member 4: Yeah, and I guess I’m just musing.
Audience Member 4: I’m just kind of musing here because I’m wondering how those ideas kind of fit together. You know, I’m just kind of thinking out loud. That’s all.
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, I know. It’s a great question. And from my experience here, I always come back to is my invitation for both of us to bear witness together and to not know? Or is my invitation that you will learn this and that from me? And it makes such a huge difference, depending on where I’m coming from.
We can create all kinds of structures, and ways of doing things, and not even question the structure. You know, we can think that what really matters is that the right person, or the good person is in the position. But when I look at that, that doesn’t really address anything. It may make people feel good for a while, that oh, so-and-so is the Abbot, and she’s a really nice person. But you still have the structure. And the structure itself, for me personally, does not really support my growth, my own spiritual growth—in the way that I think another kind of structure really could.
So that’s something I look at a great deal. It’s kind of a subtle dynamic, in a way, but I’m constantly questioning. And then I think, well, do I just want to create more people (we call them successors), who are then gonna sit in these structures? No, why? I don’t think so.
What would serve? What’s the upaya? What’s the structure that would really serve? It doesn’t mean anybody can go off and study this, and study that, and learn this, and learn that. And we all are in sangha, sop we’re obviously going to maintain whatever needs to be maintained there. But is there another way to look at this, where we truly grow together? We truly grow—we call it collective awakening here. Collective awakening wisdom is that one person doesn’t just reach the top, but everybody is ascending and descending all together. And yes, we may be at different levels, and different places in our development and all that. But what I’ve learned here is it doesn’t matter. Because wherever you are, when the group takes a leap, everybody’s taking a leap. When the group descends, we’re all descending—wherever we are, and together.
So, it’s just a really different way, I think, of challenging myself to explore and to look at things.
Bernie: My sense is that after this is discussed in all of these various circles, if I had to be then I would say we’re gonna do both. We’re gonna have co-witnesses, and . . . Well, co-witnesses would be a new thing. What already exists is that all of the groups, they are empowering. They may use empowering, they may use titling. They’re having successes recognizing, whatever they’re doing. That’s gonna go on. That aint gonna stop just because we’ve added co-witnesses in the ZPO
How this sort of came up is I put on the web, and an initial thing to start talking about what would it take to go from Roshi to ZPO Roshi? There’s a person who’s a Roshi, and I’ll give an example. He’s never done any ZPO stuff. Because he’s joined the ZPO, do we use the title ZPO Roshi? And I would say no. They’ve got to become senior within the ZPO They’ve got to do Three Tenets, they’ve got to do social action. They’ve got to do the things we’re talking about. And then we would add the title ZPO to the Roshi.
And then Egyoku said, “Well, why do we have to do that? Let’s not worry about entitlements within ZPO” She’s proposing that we don’t have these entitlements in ZPO, or recognitions, or whatever we call it. What we have in ZPO, she called it friends, we now have switched to co-witnesses.
And the groups that are training groups, they’ll do what they want to do. So as a training group, Egyoku can do away with having any more Priests, or she can continue. It’s got nothing to do with ZPO That’s her decision.
Roshi Egyoku: And what I like about what I hear you saying, which I really picked up on this time even more so is that wherever we are, whatever kinds of ranks that we have, titles, and all that stuff—when we enter a ZPO circle, that doesn’t mean anything.
Bernie: We’re all peers.
Roshi Egyoku: We’re all peers. We’re all mentors of each other. We’re all co-witnessing. We’re equals.
Bernie: That’s why maybe ten years ago, I don’t know how long ago, I became Bernie. Because that was how I felt. It’s not easy. I did not want to enter a group or a circle as Roshi Bernie. I knew it’s not so easy. And for many years after I made the decision to be called Bernie, people couldn’t do that. They couldn’t call me Bernie. Now most people can call me Bernie. But I wanted to be a part of the group.
Roshi Egyoku: It’s very isolating being these kind of crazy positions, you know?
Bernie: Yeah, I couldn’t hear exactly what you felt, because you were subjecting yourself to what I said. You were taking what I was saying as some kind of truth, and as you know, I do not use that word anymore. Truth, or right or wrong—it’s my opinions, man. But it was hard for me to be able to hear how you really felt, because you would project too much on me, and not share. And I want to learn from you guys. You know, when I go places, I want to learn. I don’t want to just be looked at as, “OK, what you got to say? That’s it, man.” No, I want to evolve.
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, one of the big questions that I had when I came back here as we have evolved here is, you know, we talk a lot about the equality of everybody, the essential equality of everybody. And then of course, you know, it was very clear to me that the structures I had been involved with didn’t speak to that—at all. So thankfully the Zen Center collapsed, and we could look at what are the structures that are actually going to reaffirm that, you know, all the time, that reminds us really clearly, right, that we are Buddhas calling to Buddhas. And really for me, that’s how I look at it. We’re calling out the Buddhas in each other.
And that we’ll also honor a uniqueness, but not in the way that a certain unique quality that somebody has is wrong, or doesn’t fit here. So that takes a whole other kind of structure, and reframing of our thinking. So circle is great for that, because, you know, that’s just right in your face.
And then how will all of that function? So what would be the structures, the forms, the upayas that even the Center would arrange itself around? So that whenever you step into one of these forms, that really becomes so immediate. It’s so in your face. I just feel that’s really important.
Audience Member 5: The feeling I have is—and I’m listening very closely—swirling words. Swirling words, like a tornado of words. When you spoke about how you were on a retreat with people who had no experience, and you were amazed at whatever they had experienced, I feel like you have to get back to the reality of being a piece of naked meat with a certain sensitivity that’s walking the planet, walking on the earth, and ripping food off the trees, and eating and so on, seeking a deeper feeling for what they’re living, what’s going on. And I don’t know if any structured anything can bring you to that.
I mean we’re basically feelings, sensations, thoughts, emotions. I don’t know what structures are better . . . You’re trying to experience the world yourself very really. And I think cerebrally developing structures kind of doesn’t do it. What does it is . . . Like you say if you go, and you confront somebody that you never in your life would never go near—fear is in the room. Fear is with you. And fear is fear. That’s the real thing. Or you might feel a kind of tears well up. And you feel like kind of you want to do something. That’s a feeling functioning thing.
And somehow it feels like for a spiritual (which is already a problem) path to be real . . . And people who have these very deep enlightenment experiences—that’s what they seem to be talking about. All of the sudden, it’s all gone, and there’s something else. Or whatever there is, I don’t know.
I mean, I can’t express it, because I haven’t rethought about it, or restructured it in my mind. Getting to feelings, getting to sensation, getting to a very raw place yourself, seems to be like a possibility of a really fruitful way of trying to accomplish what people are trying to accomplish.
But I don’t know. I’m no hero, so . . . Heroes do that, you know. They go where the dragon is, and they walk in.
Bernie: Well, you know, my opinion is sharing your opinion. And I call it what you were describing as feelings, and fear, and all that stuff. That’s what I see happening when we’re doing Bearing Witness. In a way that’s what I call Bearing Witness. We go into a situation, and we wait until those emotions come up, because of the actions that arise. And they may be fear, they may be tears, they may be joy. But this rawness that you’re talking about, that’s what would be an author’s way of describing Bearing Witness.
Can I encounter Egyoku in a very raw way? That’s what I call Bearing Witness. Or can I only encounter her because she’s got a certain position? She also was my student. Can I encounter her in a raw way?
So the structures that we were developing, that I developed were to try to help people enter a container to bear witness, because it’s not the normal thing for us. I don’t want to know Egyoku in a raw way. I want to know her in the framework that I created. That’s the easier way to deal. It’s much easier for you guys to deal with her as a teacher than as a friend. It will bring up all kinds of stuff. Go beyond friend. Can you deal with her? Can you bear witness to her? That’s a whole different world.
So what are the structures to help you do that, since it’s not so simple? That’s where the structures come in. If we could do these things without . . . And that’s the whole Zen Center. It’s just structures. To what? To help you do meditation. And then people come up with different structures. Some people think that a structure for a Zen Center has to be in the country. How can you have a Zen Center in the middle of town, where the helicopters come down with the sirens, and the . . . You know. You’ve got to do your meditation in the middle of 42nd Street. But he said on top of the hill where the wolves come.
So different people have different structures for how you’re going to do that. And ZPO is probably forming structures, but more important is the sense of fellowship. And another word that keeps coming up in me, but I have no idea what it means—I somehow feel that ZPO is a movement. I don’t know what that means, except that I was brought up as a Socialist, and we had Communist movement. But somehow, it feels like a movement rather than . . . I don’t know. I just throw that out.
Roshi Egyoku: Like for me it has a very deep resonance with a deep need in myself as a human being. And I don’t know that it’s that easy to meet. To have a place where that meets, where my deepest need and way to explore my life and express it is really met. And I think ZPO has that resonance. And I’m speaking for myself.
And something Bernie said very early on I just want to mention again, because I think this is really important—that he wanted to meet the parts of himself that he hadn’t met before, or he was afraid of, and that was too raw maybe to go near. And it’s that edge that I think the ZPO keeps reminding us, that this is really important as we grow, and expand, and we deepen—that it’s really these very edges, the very rawness of it all where you do want to go. I mean I feel that in myself too. It’s like you know, we all get a little too comfortable in our life as it is. Even when it’s uncomfortable, we’re still comfortable. So that kind of stretching, and intentionally stretching is a very powerful thing to do.
Audience Member 5: Maybe emotional truthfulness might be an ingredient to . . . Let’s say the circles. My feeling is that sometimes you walk out of a circle, and something has really happened. You feel like an intimacy with everyone. Those are times when people have somewhat bared their feelings. And when people don’t bare their feelings, it’s lifeless. It feels lifeless. So maybe some kind of feeling openness, or honesty, or whatever might be a good thing to try.
Roshi Egyoku: Well that’s certainly the intention of Councils. It doesn’t mean that we’re all going to go there every time. But that’s certainly the intention. There’s some times I don’t want to go there. So I don’t go there. And there’s some times I’m right there. And that’s true of most people I know. And we can accept that too. That’s part of the whole thing.
Audience Member 6: First of all I feel really excited and grateful, because I feel like we actually have done a lot of leaps here. This conversation is already somewhere else from where other conversations have been before about this. And I’ve been hearing a lot of these questions. Some of these questions I had myself. I mean I’ve been speaking with Bernie a lot about coming from a very formal training. What am I missing? What am I letting go of? And one of the things that I’m trying to take in as much as I can is first of all, the social engagement part is not an add-on to the practice. It’s not something like, OK I’m going to juice myself up with meditating, because I love meditating, and once I feel good, good enough with myself, I’ll go do it outside, because now I have something to offer, or maybe I’m more open. And what I’m hearing from Bernie, and what I’m trying to take in is that this is a spiritual practice. So when we go and plunge into a situation, whether it’s in hunger project, or homelessness, or hospice, something like that—this is the same mind as zazen. So this is not different from zazen.
For me, that’s what kind of blew my mind when I went to Auschwitz the first time, is that I realized that it was so clear that I’m used to the process doing zazen—which is just kind of like sit with the whole thing, but it was kind of like closed off here—and all of a sudden I was doing it with all this. And all of the sudden you had your own circle, and that was included in that. So it felt larger.
And then I thought, wait a second, is this like an advanced practice? So is this for like really people that have been sitting a lot? And what I’ve been hearing more and more is no, it’s just like you really try to drop this inner and outer stuff. It’s just really bear witness to the whole thing.
And that’s what I loved about what you said about the honesty. Because when I bear witness, I can not be dishonest. Because if I’m evaluating what’s coming up for me, or what’s coming up for somebody else I’m dishonest, then I’m actually not practicing this. So I appreciate you saying that, and I’m confirming that the honesty is a huge part of this.
And I personally resonated a lot with the self-empowerment. I really loved that. And how to have this as an environment where we support each other’s self-empowerment, which is huge.
And I was thinking, so why am I going and filling up these guy’s water? You know? So I’m like an attendant, so I should be going and making sure they have cups filled. And I asked that to Bernie once, and it came down to intention. It’s like am I doing because he’s like a teacher, and I’m this young guy, there’s these thousands of years of stories of masters. It’s like no, it’s just like just fill up the water.
So where’s my intention in leveling those relationships? It’s hard. I mean I have my own tendencies. I constantly want to see him as something. And I’m deeply appreciating having this opportunity to just flatten that, and constantly encouraged to do that.
Audience Member 7: I had a lot of very similar questions to both of your questions. Because when you spoke yesterday as well about ZPO, there was a part about your vision for Z.C.L.A. to transfer into the way in which ZPO functions. Because there seems to be a difference still in the way that they function, right? This is a training center, and then ZPO is something else that you can enter into, and you can enter into this process. So that became a lot clearer to me here. And it may be (I’m not sure.) the intention long-term for Z.C.L.A. to transform it’s structures even more, where a lot of those traditional forms, which may be helpful for some of us, or not helpful for some of us, are there or not there. That was a lot clearer, because that was one of my bug questions about this place.
Roshi Egyoku: Well, it’s not clear. And the reason it’s not clear . . . If you had asked me in ’97 what my vision was for Z.C.L.A., I couldn’t have told you. Because everything that we have done has grown out of our practice. It’s grown out of the practices we’ve done. And that calls us to question what our structures are, and what our training structures are. And is it really creating the kind of affirmation of wisdom that we espouse in the Buddha dharma. Is it really doing that?
So for example, we all sit facing each other now. Now that wasn’t the case here. We all sat facing the wall. The first period we sat facing each other, the last period in the evening, but everybody faced the wall. So I’m sitting in the zendo, and you’re all facing the wall. And I’m kind of looking at this. And then I’m realizing we’re pretty clueless about relating to each other. Most Zen centers are, because they’re all facing the wall, and they’re all worshiping the teacher.
And Z.C.L.A. blew up enough times that I went through, where I became really clear that we had no idea how to be face to face, and in circle, and to speak to each other. We truly had no idea. This center has collapsed many times.
So as I sat there looking at everybody facing the wall, all in their own little world, doing their own little enlightenment trip, or whatever people were doing, I said you know, this is not a skillful means for us. So we starting just sitting facing each other, because then we’re aware of each other in the room at the very least. And you can’t really collapse into yourself so much. You can do very deep inner work, but you are very connected to everyone else in the room.
So these things, these changes, these shifts, come out of the practice that we’re doing. And the constant questioning—what’s the skillful means that is needed for us to grow and develop and mature in particular ways? So we introduce Council, sitting in circles. We had to learn how to talk. Well, you’re coming in to the center at a time where it’s a very established circle. At the beginning—oh my god—people would storm out of the circles. It was just like a nightmare. Because we really did not want to sit and look at each other, and learn how to relate to each other. And we didn’t know how to do it. And the levels of emotional maturity were so spread out. Really it’s taken years for us to get to the place where now it’s like commonplace.
We even went through years where we would have certain people who could not sit inside the circle. You know, they would sit outside. And you know, for years I’d let it go on because I’d be respectful of the rawness of people. Some people just can’t go there. And that’s OK too. But eventually you’d say would you just like to take a seat inside the circle? Now everybody just comes in the circle.
So for me, I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t have a plan to make Z.C.L.A. anything in particular. I’m not gonna live here forever. I’m not gonna live forever. So it’s kind of not my responsibility. But while I’m here, it is my responsibility, and all of yours too, to start to really look at what are we really practicing? What is it that we’re really supposed to realize? What is it really mean to mature as a spiritual person, and as a human person? And what are the means to get us there?
Those are the living questions for the Zen center. And these are questions I’ve lived with from when I returned in ’97. Those are really important questions. It’s not like I go to sleep and have a vision, this is what we’re going to be doing. So everything here that we’ve created has come out of this kind of question. And we try things. Something doesn’t work, we let it go, or it morphs into something else.
So for example, even our atonement ceremony is a pretty traditional atonement, except for one thing—in the middle we all get up and we bear witness to our own conduct. Well when I first suggested we do that, oh my god! You know, they’re making us do confession, and this and that. And I said, well I don’t know, because I’ve never been to confession myself. But why don’t we try this, and make it something really meaningful.
And so over the years we’ve really matured in the practice. Now still a lot of people don’t want to do it. They don’t want to get up there and say anything. So, nothing happens to you if you don’t get up. But the last time we had 100 percent got up. And if you don’t come at all, and some of you have lived here where you don’t come at all to those things. So, I respect that, that you’re not quite able to step into that energy field. At the same time, the invitation is there.
And then we look at what’s the impact? So in the beginning, when we did our atonement, some of you will remember, we’d get up there and say such and such, you know. It was like really intimidating. And then over they years—because we bear witness to everybody sharing as our own personal sharing, and we’re reminded to that every time—and then over they years people began to speak not only about where they thought their conduct was lacking, they’d start to apologize to people. And so like, we didn’t ask you to do that. That grew out of the practice.
And then that grew into alright; this is how I’ve been, like a real shitty person. And like OK, I’m really sorry I did that to you, or whatever. And then it morphed into and my intention is . . .
So those things just grew out of that we were really willing to engage a practice that we had never tried before, and we didn’t know where it was going to take us. I think that’s important. That’s what’s alive. And the invitation is open for everyone to participate. Some do, and some don’t. But we’ve kept it going now, I don’t know, almost twenty years we’ve been doing that. And it’s very powerful. The new year, everyone comes and clears their slate, so we go on, and on, and on. But every other month it’s a smaller group.
So my guess would be, as the center goes on, decade after decade people will still be sitting, there’ll be a zendo, there’ll be the precepts, you’ll be doing the Three Tenets like Shakyamuni had done it. I mean these things will go on, and other upayas will arise because they’ll need to arise. And they’re important to arise.
So that’s like important to understand that somebody isn’t just dreaming up we’re going to do this. It grows out of our own practice, and really questioning what’s needed.
One of the things that many teachers I know have struggled with—because they all come out of monastic type structures—well, most people are not doing that these days. And yet there’s something you learn about working together as a group if you’re doing Sesshin and all of those things, a very particular kind of circumstance.
So the question for me would be not that how can we make it so that everybody’s living like that all the time, which is, well we’ve been there at Z.C.L.A. But rather, what kind of structures could people engage in where there would be enough engagement that a certain kind of co-witnessing and maturing together would happen? So what would those things be?
So shared circles is one of the things that evolved here as a viable, and you know that’s maturing in a really interesting way as I watch the circles work together, and study together, and take action together. So for us that’s been a viable form for that kind of maturity. There will be many other forms I would think would grow out of the maturity of our practice, and the depth of our practice.
I hope that answers your question.
Audience Member 8: Well you know, one of the things that occurs to me about this, and it’s just gonna sound so obvious, is that there is no one right way to do something. And I think sometimes in the back of my mind I think I should be able to find the right answer for how to run our Zen center. And the truth of the matter is that it’s going to be a little different according to every ingredient that we have. If you’re a little more rural, if you’re a little this—you know, our kind of dual partly being in Wisconsin, partly being in Chicago situation. There will be getting more true to allowing what we do to best utilize our ingredients to accomplish empowering our sangha. And that is what I’m hearing really strongly from what you’re saying. And it’s kind of comforting that not knowing. It’s kind of comforting to just realize that it’s going to evolve, and the more open you can be without a fixed idea—I mean really open, even the things you don’t like, and things that push your buttons—the more open you can be to that, the more valuable, and the more accurate and appropriate what you come up with is going to be for what you have right at that moment, and who you have right at that moment.
Roshi Egyoku: The Three Tenets right there.
Audience Member 8: Yeah, I appreciate what you’re saying. I’m a little slow sometimes.
Roshi Egyoku: Not at all. You know, it’s interesting. I attended a circle—one of our circles. And I don’t attend the circles often, but this one, I was there because I was a resource person. I decided to go to the meeting. And someone not in the circle came in because they had a complaint. And this person came in and made a real complaint, was real upset and all that. I’m sitting there just watching this whole thing. And the members of the circle just took it all in. I could see our circle practice working. They just received all of this outpouring of frustration and anger, and responded so skillfully. I was just so amazed. I mean it’s a good thing I was in amazement because my mouth was shut. And afterwards the guy was satisfied. He left. It all got addressed. He was heard, and everybody heard him. And later on, I said to the circle I’m so impressed at how you all responded to this situation. That’s when I knew I wasn’t needed at all in the circle.
So that’s an example, when we take it in so deeply that anything can come up, and we’re just in the Tenets. We’re just dealing with it. It doesn’t take me to come in and kind of facilitate. I wasn’t even needed in there. And I looked at it, and I learned so much. I said wow; this is really something, because I was ready to fly off the handle. I was tired, and I said oh god, listen to this stuff. And none of that was manifested in the circle. So it’s pretty powerful how deep this can really go.
Audience Member 9: I’ll say just a little about what our center’s been going through, since our founding teacher retired four years ago. And that was a very vertical situation. We too do a lot—we don’t do formal council, but we’ve got a lot of meetings where we sit around in circles and talk about issues and changes. And because we have three teachers, there is still some of that dynamic. But it’s really much flatter. But what I find very retching, and I wonder if you could just address this, is when it comes to the issues that are forms that are felt to be part of the tradition in the heritage, and there are some folks that are kind of the guardians of the flame. You know, they don’t really want to let go of some of these things. Do you manage those things also in circle? Or are those decisions that you also let evolve? I mean it sounds like the sitting in/sitting out, that was something that . . .
Roshi Egyoku: Well you know, I always say that being in LA, Southern California, this is like one of the most open groups of people I’ve ever encountered. And so we’re always willing to try. So like it’s kind of hard for me to relate to that situation quite frankly. Because we’ll try, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll learn—what are we learning from this form, this upaya?
And I’m looking for myself, and asking what do I need to let go of to really learn from this form, for example? Something like that.
Audience Member 9: Does it service?
Roshi Egyoku: And does it service? And in what way does it service? So we have a list of like our living questions, our guiding questions. And these would be some of them that we kind of write down, and check as we forget. We just forget. Oh yeah, there’s this question we could be asking.
Audience Member 9: Like we’ve changed our morning service. We combined it. So we did a six-month trial. And many of the people that came . . . And there were people that don’t come to the morning service. So, who is it serving? It’s serving the people that are there carrying that service every morning. And then after the six months, we moved the sitting time to six o’clock. And did a six-month trial. And there were opportunities to address that. So those are the kinds of . . . the spirit that I think we carry. It’s really important that concerning the whole. And always, I think in every organization, there’s probably a core group that carries everything. And so if they’re the ones carrying it, doing everything, we have to consider that as well. Yes, we want it open to everyone . . .
Bernie: If I’m hearing you right, you’ve got some leadership that isn’t necessarily open to this.
Audience Member 9: No, that’s not true. The leadership is mixed.
Bernie: So, what exactly was the question?
Audience Member 9: Well, I guess the question is just whether or not when it comes down to practice issues that are really deep tradition . . .
Bernie: There’s no deep tradition.
Audience Member 9: OK. Welll, are felt to be deep tradition. You know, then I just was wondering whether this was something that you also let the community handle, or whether you . . .
Bernie: Well, when you say, “let the community handle,” that would be a point that I want to put out. I don’t think any of this can happen if the leadership doesn’t first allow it to happen. So when I studies under Maezumi Roshi for example, I was his right hand person. And he made it clear to me that I was never, never to contradict him in public. I could not bring up at a board meeting anything other than what he wanted to do. And he told me. He said that’s proper, man. It’s a no-no, Bozo.
So this is not something that he would have done. And then my wife Jishu actually introduced council to many of us. Because she had done the training in council—she thought it was great. And she introduced it to . . . We had a workshop; it was all teachers of different sanghas.
Up to that time it was a no-no to talk to somebody about what was going on in dokusan with your practice. You came in to the zendo, you did your dokusan, and you left. You weren’t supposed to talk about your practice. Here comes council where you’re going to talk to each other about all kind of things!
So at that time, Insight Meditation wouldn’t accept it. They now use council. Many teachers would not accept it, because the tradition that they knew of. But they didn’t go back to Shakymuni. They went back to—in my opinion—power-hungry Japanese forms, where I want control. And you only can talk to me about it. You know, you can’t deal with each other.
But little by little, many groups took on council. But if you’re in a group where the person in charge doesn’t want something, that’s very complicated. And we had people joining ZPO—this has been going on for twenty years—they will write to me and say, “My teacher say’s you can’t do social action.” When I started doing social action in 1980, most Zen teachers, I would say almost every Zen teacher wrote me letters saying I was defaming the Dharma, and this is a no-no. You can’t mix Zen and social action. It’s not the Dharma. And I’d say, “God, I learned the Dharma’s everything. I was taught wrong.”
But to this day, there are people who’s teachers are saying you can’t do social action. They say, “What should I do?” And my only answer is if you’re in a group where your leadership says you can’t do that, you either don’t do it, you argue with them, or you leave. It’s sort of that simple.
But I don’t know any groups that can bring in new things if your leadership doesn’t want it.
Audience Member 9: I should clarify, we’re mixed. Our leadership is mixed. So that’s our challenge.
Bernie: A basic deal with it. I mean you’re hearing this place, this is rare. I would say what’s happening at Z.C.L.A. is rare among Zen centers around the world, where the teacher is allowing so much stuff to come out of the sangha, rather than out of the teacher, where Buddhadharma sangha. Most places the teacher is the Buddha, and supreme. And the Dharma is that Buddh’a teachings, and that stuff. At the sangha is relationships.
But here the sangha is bringing forth—because it’s based on those Three Tenets—the sangha is growing. And as it grows, the reforms come.
An interesting thought came to me; in some ways the ZPO and Z.C.L.A. are good co-witnesses. A lot of what’s popping up out of here has come through the relationship with ZPO And a lot of what’s happening at ZPO has come out of the relationship of what’s happening in Z.C.L.A. So it’s not only sanghas which are influencing forms and structures of Z.C.L.A., but also of ZPO, and vice-versa. There is a co . . . I think. And that may be because we’ve been served in that relationship for quite a while.
Though she’s a dharma successor of mine, I don’t deal with her in that way. We’re really co-witnesses. We do a lot of talking, a lot of sharing. And things come up. One year it’s this, one year it’s that. I mean I only heard this idea today. And now I’m full of that idea. And she got the word co-witness from you. You see how . . .
And then you say, “Well what’s it gonna be?” Man, that aint the Three Tenets. We don’t know tomorrow. We don’t know the next minute what it’s going to be. Isn’t that an exciting way to live? I feel alive.
Audience Member 10: One form that our sangha I feel has not changed that much over the years, but I perceive has changed a lot, is the dharma talk. And it maybe superficially looks really traditional. You know, there’s one person, and there’s a bit of formality involved with entrances and stuff like that. But I also see that as evolving a lot at Z.C.L.A.
First of all, who gives talks? Secondly, the form of talks. At first I was thinking we’re still doing this. And at my school we don’t even have lectures per se any more. You know, that’s passé. But here we have somebody sitting over there and lecturing. But actually as I observed and thought about it more, not only has the form really evolved a lot over the years, but also it’s really fulfilling a need—I think—in the sangha. Because people come and really expect to interact in that way. And so I was wondering if either of you had any thoughts about that structure. Do ZPO’s . . . Obviously ZPO doesn’t have dharma talks per se as one of it’s forms, right Bernie?
Bernie: Yeah, ZPO’s a collection of individuals. And there are training centers. And a training center is a center that wants to maintain Three Tenets, and can offer some form of training. ZPO does not get in to what the structure, or what goes on in the training centers. It’s this collect group of people.
Roshi Egyoku: And I think what’s really important to recognize is the dharma talk is a viable training form. And the fact that we open dharma talks to many people to give a dharma talk. Like a reflection on the Precepts, anybody who’s taken the Precepts will be invited to give a dharma talk with a reflection on the Precepts. Well, that was unheard of. You know, Maezumi Roshi was the only one who gave those talks. Of course then Bernie became his successor. So that has opened up.
But I think what’s really important to recognize is that there are many other forms that we’ve introduced, that compliment and stretch us. And it’s not about replacing something necessarily. But that we are willing to experiment with different kinds of upayas.
So for example, in the old days we had something called Shozan. Where the Shozan-ji would sit up, all formal. We’d have people come up and ask questions in a particular way. Well that just like didn’t work for us at all. And so that’s evolved to public face-to-face. And that’s become a really powerful upaya for us.
So what that is, Bernie, is they do what I call “Oprah’s Couch,” because I sit there, and open it up. Somebody comes in and sits here. And we have a conversation in front of everybody, facing. And sometimes I’ll engage the whole group in the response. Sometimes only one person takes up the whole hour and a half. We had that too. Because everybody is sharing, offering. We’re co-witnessing really. So we do that like once a month.
And that’s an outgrowth of realizing the formal Shozan does not work for us any more. There was no life in it. And people just couldn’t get it, and all of that. And so we experimented with many different arrangements for that. And finally we hit upon this one, and it was like Oh this is really great. And we’re facing everybody, so we’re all engaged in that form. And somebody’s having like a private face-to-face in public. It’s like a public face-to-face.
And I didn’t know if that was going to work or not. But what I discovered, because we sit in circle so much, is that people may be nervous, but they’ll come up and share really intimate and just powerful sharings, from which we can then all engage in co-witnessing and exploring together. And I think there’s a lot of dharma that comes alive, and is shared there by everyone in the group.
So that’s an example of sort of reimagining a form. Because the old one doesn’t serve, yet it encapsulated something important.
Bernie: So what you’ve just described, in my terminology, would be a training center based on the Three Tenets. So when we talk about a training center based on the Three Tenets, we’re not asking to give up anything. What we’re asking, in terms of the Three Tenets, is to approach what you’re doing from a state of not knowing. That is, OK, don’t call it tradition, and I gotta now keep to that. I have no concept about this . . . What did you call it, that practice?
Roshi Egyoku: Shozan.
Bernie: Shozan. Applying Three Tenets to Shozan would be, I’d say, OK I’m gonna drop my concept of Shozan. It’s what it is. I don’t have to call it tradition. I’ve seen Shozan in Japan. It’s not the way we did it. That was more formal. The person who asked the question—they were handed pieces of paper. They asked that question. And the person who answered—they had paper, and they read the answer. And there was little bit more fanfare. When we did it at Z.C.L.A., we still had fanfare, but I didn’t have any answers. And nobody had prepared questions.
But from the Three Tenets, it’s what it is. I don’t have any idea about it. And will not use the word tradition. And I’d bear witness to the practice, and what comes out of it. Ah, it doesn’t work here any more. So let’s do something different. That’s evolved into . . .
So the process she described is bringing the Three Tenets to the things you’re doing. So you’ve got to be open enough to say, “This aint tradition. This is the way my teacher wanted it done.” You’ve got to look at it very openly, and say, “I get it. I get what’s happening, because I’m bearing witness to it. I see what’s happening. But it don’t serve me, so I will change it.” Or “It’s great. Let’s keep it.”
You go through that process on your stuff, and if you do it that way . . . So she probably didn’t think, “I’m doing it according to the Three Tenets.” But that’s what happened because it was engrained in her. She was saturated with me saturating her with that kind of thinking. And so stuff evolved, you know.
But we never have said—I mean you can’t find anywhere in our kind of talking—“Get rid of things.” You get rid of them if it comes out of the Three Tenets that it’s not needed, or not the best thing now.
Audience Member 10: Well on your website you have different talks and things . . .
Bernie: Say it again?
Audience Member 10: On the ZPO website, there are dharma talks posted . . .
Bernie: I do dharma talks all the time.
Audience Member 10: Yeah, so I look at those quite often . . .
Bernie: What’s the point?
Audience Member 10: I don’t know.
Roshi Egyoku: And another place I’ve been bearing witness, the Three Tenets really worked, is our Sesshin. So we do the Sesshin that we’re used to defining as Sesshin. And I don’t know, one day I decided with everybody, you know, we’re not sitting enough. And people are not, I think, experiencing zazen in a way that really could be possible. So then I came up with another form for Sesshin. We still do the one that many of you consider to be traditional. But we also started to what we call the Wall Gazing Sesshin (although we face each other). And I said, well, let’s not do Oryoki for that. But we didn’t throw Oryoki out of the window. We still keep it for certain kinds of forms, but we introduced the one bowl meal. And I love that, and Ed just absolutely loves it. Did we lose anything by creating this new form? I don’t think so. It’s a powerful form. I don’t hear anybody complaining about it.
And for me as a teacher, for me to be able to do the Plum Blossom, and . . . , it is like heaven. We aren’t doing any service. We’re just sitting. Most of the time there’s no interview. There’s no talk. We’re just sitting. We’re doing Yoga. We’re eating one bowl meals. It’s like I died and went to heaven or something.
You know, it is really powerful. And people who never thought they could sit in that way have learned to have a much deeper and more stable sitting practice, which I believe is very important. I believe it is. I don’t think many people here necessarily believe that. Why do I say that? Because I don’t necessarily see them sitting.
So I wouldn’t worry too much about what gets thrown out. The question is what are you willing and able to do? For me that’s really the question. So you have this huge (Bernie likes to use the meal metaphor) you have this huge meal laid out for you here. And which part of it are you going to partake of? And people pick and choose, and you’re picking and choosing. And that’s fine. You have to do a certain amount of it. The lives you’re leading—it’s fascinating in a way for me to listen to people, because like everything is just laid out for you.
So who’s deciding what you’re going to be doing? Well, it’s not me that’s making that decision. I make the decision for myself—what practices I’m participating in, and attending, and all of that. But everybody gets to make it for themselves. So for me, that’s what I mean by Buddhas calling to Buddhas. You know, nobody’s going to go after you unless you’ve made a commitment, and you’re not keeping it. Then it’s a whole other conversation.
Well, should we wrap up? I think we’ve talked ourselves to death.
Bernie: We’ve talked a long time. It’s time for either a cup of Starbucks (a cappuccino), or a cigar. It is too long to go without either one of those. I aint giving it up, even though my doctor thinks so. I bear witness to it. I come from not knowing about my cigars, and say, “Come on Bernie, it’s tradition. Smoke your cigar. They won’t know who you are.”
Roshi Egyoku: Thank you so much everyone for coming. It’s been wonderful, a great group to have here. A perfect size, just a perfect group to come together for this—it’s been helpful. And thank you Bernie for you vision.
Bernie: So in terms of putting on the web, the vision, we gotta cut it off after . . . I mean it can’t be this much.
Andrzej Getsugen Krajewski, is the head teacher of the Polish Zen Peacemakers in Warsaw, Poland and co-organizer of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat. Born 1939 with strong wanderlust. Graduated Faculty of Philosophy at the Warsaw University to spend some lazy years on traveling foot. Active with the political opposition in Poland during the Marshal Law in 1980s. Writer and literary translator (from Swedish to Polish.) He began practicing Zen with Dae Soen Sa Nim in 1980 and in 1983 continued his Zen practice with Genpo Roshi. Since 1997 he has been training with Roshi Bernie Glassman.
He received Inka from Bernie on August 4, 2015.Learn More
LAST TWO DAYS to REGISTER for the 2015 NATIVE AMERICAN BEARING WITNESS RETREAT in the BLACK HILLS.
“Bear witness to the Black Hills: colonized and exploited for 150 years, and still offering grasslands and canyons, lakes, streams and waterfalls, and summer wildflowers for those still seeking a vision. Our gathering there is becoming the place, the people, the moment. It’s having no idea or expectation, just the wish to be there with other people who want to do this. I invite you:Come to the Black Hills this summer.” – Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
(Recited at Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat in various languages.)
May the Great Name whose Desire gave birth
to the universe Resound through the Creation
May this Great Presence rule your life and
your day and all lives of our World.
And say, Yes. Amen.
Throughout all Space, Bless, Bless this Great Name,
Throughout all Time.
Though we bless, we praise, we beautify,
we offer up your name,
Name That Is Holy, Blessed One,
still you remain beyond the reach of our praise, our song,
beyond the reach of all consolation. Beyond! Beyond!
And say, Yes. Amen.
Let God’s Name give birth to Great Peace and Life
for us and all people.
And say, Yes. Amen.
The One who has given a universe of Peace
gives peace to us, to All that is Israel.
And say, Yes. Amen.
A Midrash on Translating Kaddish
In Jewish tradition, it is said that when a word is articulated, the inherent attributes and meaning carried by the word are released into the world. In Judaic-Christian teachings, the most well known example of this is found in Genesis, where we are told that when God said, “Let there be light!” there was light. As spoken by the Creator, the word gave birth to the fact and reality of what it held within.
This teaching was very close to my heart when my dear friend Rabbi Don Singer and I sat down in my studio in Topanga California to make our translation of Kaddish, knowing that it would be used at the first Zen Peacemaker Order Auschwitz Retreat in November 1996, the very month and year my son would be born. After all, as a poet and translator, I too feel the yearning most writers experience in their effort to find some way for their word to become the thing itself in the hearts and minds of those who hear or read what they have written. I was comforted to know that Don was beside me. A true companion on such a mysterious journey is a good thing to have.
What follows, then, are some notions that Don and I traded across the table as we sought to embed into our translation—almost like secrets told in the dark—some of the mystical meanings of the original Kaddish. Needless to say, every error and mistaken intention belongs entirely to us. We embrace them with joy.
May the Great Name whose Desire gave birth
I remember how shocked I was to hear Don tell me that the original word could be translated as desire. “Does God have desire?” I asked. Don smiled. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?” “Well,” I said, thinking of my pregnant wife,” I suppose you’re right. After all, desire is often what comes before something or someone is born.” Don laughed, and I laughed with him. But, then something occurred to me. “Is God’s desire the same as ours?” Don got serious. “Now, that’s a serious question,” he said. “That could take some time. But, why wouldn’t it be? Aren’t we made in his image?” “Yes,” I said. “That’s what they tell us.” “So?” Don asked. “So?” I said. We were quiet for a moment. “Don,” I said, “What was God’s desire?” What, indeed?
Resound through the Creation
God is called The Great Name in the first line of our version, and it could be asked whether or not the sound of this Great Name had a beginning, or has an end, or if it ever ceases to sound? Each articulation, each sounding of the Great Name, the Origin and Source of all things, carries the dual meaning of the word “original”: that which existed at the beginning, and that which has never existed before. To sound, then, is to resound. And, to resound, is to sound.
And, the only moment in which anything can make its sound, is the only moment there is or ever has been. It is the moment we call Now. We tried to indicate the singularity of what a moment is by giving the word its own line.
And say, Yes. Amen.
One day, Don and I were talking about the fact that though there are many names of God, in Jewish tradition it is said we cannot know them, and so we refer to God in different ways. I asked Don, “Are none of God’s names known?” and he said, “Sure they are, but not by so many people. Although,” he continued, “actually, everyone knows them.” “What are some of them?” I asked. “Well,” Don said. “Now, that’s a question! But, I’ll tell you,” and he leaned toward me in the posture of someone about to reveal a gem. “One of God’s names is Yes!” And then he shouted it a second time, to make sure I knew what “Yes” could really mean. “And another one,” he told me, and this one he really shouted, “is Now!”
Throughout all Space, Bless, Bless this Great Name,
Throughout all Time.
We repeated the word “throughout”, and we strung out the length of the line here to give the sense of what ‘throughout’ could mean. It means all the way through, one hundred percent, and beyond even that. If we think of the nature of undifferentiated space and time before the Creation, that is “throughout,” “space,” and “time.”
Name That Is Holy, Blessed One,
“Name that is Holy” is another way of referring to God. It is like “Great Name” in the first line. But, “Blessed One” is not just like saying to someone, “You are blessed to me, you are my blessed one.” No. For the “Name that is Holy,” the name that is blessed, is One, is Oneness itself. And since it is Oneness, it is beyond all naming. Beyond even saying it is ‘beyond.” No word can say what Oneness truly is. And so we say “Beyond! Beyond!”
The One who has given a universe of Peace
gives peace to us, to All that is Israel.
As long as we live in a dualistic way, based on dualistic thinking, the peace of living as oneness, as One, evades us. Every tradition speaks about this. Only when human beings return to one, to oneness, can our world repair itself and return to the original peace that is its birthright, its nature, its origin, its source. After all, the source of peace is Peace itself. The source of oneness is One. One and Peace are not two things.
We capitalized the A of All as a way of inserting into the Kaddish the sound of Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Why? Because the sound of Aleph is silence. It is the Great Silence from which all possible articulation derives. Out of this silence comes laughter, comes sounds of the pain of living, come blessings and prayer, come questions and confusion, comes praise. And out of the silence of Aleph comes our own silence, a silence of oneness shared, at the heart, by All. Is this not the sound of the Great Peace we seek?
The original Kaddish contains the word Israel, and so it is in our translation as well. But, what is Israel? Is it a geopolitical entity? A particular people? One of the mystical Judaic definitions of the word Israel that I love is, “one who struggles with God, or with their relationship with God.” I knew there would be controversy when our translation seemed to ask for peace for Israel. It could seem so divisive. And, when I was at the Auschwitz retreat a few years ago, I saw that my expectation was correct; someone heatedly told me that Don and I were “wrong to do it.”
But, that is why we said to All that is Israel, which places the Aleph of All in close proximity to Israel. After all, we knew this was a Kaddish to be said at Auschwitz. What better place to remind us of the pain in our hearts, the pain of the struggle all human beings suffer to understand the rigours and nature of reality just as it is. And, what better place to remind us, right there in the midst of that pain, of the ever-present potential for discovering the very oneness that defines the path of peace.
And say, Yes. Amen.