Gate of Sweet Nectar at ZCLA Part 2: Mudras

This talk was given  by Roshis Bernie Glassman and  Egyoku Nakao at their workshop on the Gate of Sweet Nectar liturgy in April 2015 at ZCLA. It was transcribed by Scott Harris.

All right, you have a handout with all the mudras. As Bernie mentioned, Michael O’Keefe has been doing these mudras for several decades, doing The Gate every day. On a recent trip to L.A., he and I (Egyoku) got together, and I had a tutorial from him. And then I asked Jitsujo, who many of you from Sweetwater know, to do the finger drawings.

OK, so let’s get started. And while we’re at it, we’ll also do the mudras. Any questions you might have about how we do certain things—feel free to bring it up. Especially those of you from Sweetwater, who do this once a week, you may have a variation. I’ll try to remember to point out where there are actual changes in the text.

So, our plan at ZCLA is after this workshop is over. Probably some time in June, we will sit down with our version of The Gate, and start to reimagine it, rethink it, and relook at it. And there’ll probably be some changes that will arise from that.

At ZCLA we use the five Buddha families as our organizational mandala. And I think we may do that at Sweetwater. It’s something Bernie has always encouraged us to do. And so we have mudras for each of those families, but they’re not necessarily duplicated in The Gate. I want it to be much more integrated with our organization as well.

All right, to begin, as Dharma Joy mentioned, it takes about eleven people to do this version. And the way we do things at ZCLA is when you appear, we ask you to do something. So it’s always a joyful celebration of our whatever is arising. We’re gonna make a meal with that.

So we begin with what we call our “Usual Officiant Entry.”

Ching ching, ching ching, ching ching, ching ching.

I believe in the handout you had this morning you have the Officiant Entry, for those of you who might be interested in what that looks like.

So the Officiant enters. And I wish we had a room where we could do it in a circle. But we really don’t, we’re sort of confined to these old houses here. So the Officiant goes up to offer powdered incense. And the first mudra comes shortly after that. So really the first mudra of The Gate is when the Officiant enters and bows in—the Mother Gassho.

So at the very back of this handout you have an index of the mudras. So the Mother Gassho is the gassho that we’re all used to doing, which is . . . You can just do it with me. Place your hands together, your palms together. There’s no space in between. The tip of your nose is about in line with the tip of your fingers. Your elbows are a little out—not like this, which a lot of us love to do. Like that, but it’s really dignified, you know. It’s where we’re meeting, right? Buddhas and sentient beings are meeting—right in front of our eyes. And we bow, like that. So that’s the very first mudra of The Gate. Well, you could say the first mudra is shashu, but let’s just go with that.   

Then the Officiant walks up to the alter, and offers incense. Then we go into this mudra, which is like a protection, a purifying mudra—which is your right hand over the left, so just right over left. And we hold them over the incense, and move it in a circular position. And this is just clockwise one time. And some of us do it three times, but just one nice big circle—but discreetly. And then you move your hands to your chest. And then purifying down to your hara. And you just let the mudra go, and back into the Mother Gassho. Sidestep, and return to the Bowing Mat.

And at that point we’re going to do three bows together.

After the three bows, the Chanter will begin the introductory verse, which is Krishna Das’s Hungry Hearts. You know it’s interesting, when we first received the song, what we did is we had a little Gate session one afternoon. And we tried the song in all different places of the liturgy. We would do it this way, put it her, put it there. And finally, really it felt best for us at the very beginning. So we go through the song, and we have the Chanter chant alone the first time, to kind of set the rhythm. And every Chanter, of course, does it differently, which is really very interesting to chant along. Some voices are very low, some are higher. Everybody gives their own rhythm to it sometimes. But the rhythm that Senchen gave today is sort of what we aim for. So aim for that.

Once change which Daigo pointed out to me—the very last line, “I make them mine.”

Audience member: You know, I will say that will be harder to sing. And you have to change “joy and sorrows” to plural, because “joy and sorrow” could be an it.

Roshi Egyoku: You know, I’m gonna take Daigo’s word for it, because what he stressed to me is this is Krishna Das’s song. And I don’t want to fiddle with it myself. There was something else long ago that I didn’t have correct, and I changed that. But I did them this morning, and it was fine. In fact the it sounded a little odd.

Audience member: Egyoku, I remember doing that with Krishna Das in Auschwitz, and we actually did it without anything. So it was your “joy and your sorrow. I make mine.”

Roshi Egyoku: “I make mine.” I like that much better. OK, we’ll do that. Yeah, I like that, because that’s a real affirmation. Yeah it’s real affirmative. I make mine. I love that.

OK, so the Officant is in shashu. And you all know shashu from your Zen life.

The Officiant goes back up to offer incense after the song, returns to the Bowing Mat. And I don’t know if I indicated that here, but when you return, you can return in the Mother Gassho. The Diamond Gassho, which we’re going to do, is really intense, and I think it’s better to just walk back with the Mother Gassho .

So we’re going to move into the Invitation of the Calling Forth of All of the Buddhas. For that portion the Officiant is in the Diamond Gassho, which is your palms together, and your fingers are interlaced. So your right thumb is over your left thumb, and then your fingers are interlaced this way. There’s no space between the palms of the hand. And again, your elbows are up, and your eyes are looking through your two middle fingers. So your gaze is like right through there. You’ll get cross-eyed. It’s really hard to maintain. But you’re doing it with that kind of concentration and focus. So those of you at ZCLA, there are going to be some real changes. At ZCLA, see if we do this, I’m seeing Shakyamuni Buddha. Right through these fingers, some times my eyes go buggy. You know, and I have the candle, and my fingers are whatever. So the focus is there.

The surround environment is soft. Right? So you get a sense of the intensity of this mudra. And the scenery around you is soft. The scenery . . . that’s very interesting. And the motion, or the feeling that you’re generating is one of complete receptivity. Like we’re inviting in, right? Like we’re inviting in all of these Buddhas. And as Bernie suggested this morning, we’ll invite in some wording of, I don’t know hungry ghosts I guess, hungry energy. We’ll figure out what to do with that.

And then at ZCLA we’ll probably also—we’ll have to really think about this, but—include being one with the mother of the Buddhas, Prajnaparamita. We’ll have to figure out how all of that goes.

Audience member: I have a question. When the Officiant, I heard that when you’re facing the image, your gaze is connected with the eyes of the image . . .

Roshi Egyoku: You know, I don’t know that that’s going to be possible, depending on where your image is. So like if it’s really high it’s going to be difficult to do. But it would be great if you could do it. This is a little high. It’s going to get higher. But that would be an interesting kind of thing to remember. Do you remember, Bernie? I think your image is a little lower.

Audience member: Yeah, he’s about my height.

Roshi Egyoku: Any questions?

Audience member: For adding in, is it the hungry spirits that you add in, or is it like the fighting demons, and you know?

Roshi Egyoku: I think we just really have to think about it. My sense always of this section was really inviting in the Buddhas as a way of grounding. It grounds me.

Audience member: But you were saying something a little different, which was to invite in the dark . . .

Roshi Egyoku: The shadows, the dark, the disowned. Yeah, but I don’t know. I want to think about it, I think, because it’s implicit in the whole liturgy. What comes up for me is you need a grounding to invite in, to be developed. All my undeveloped parts need grounding too. You know, what you call forth appears.

Audience member: It’s a detail, but when one does the Diamond Gassho, if you are looking at the space between your fingers as you first instructed, then they remain in front of your face—if you look at a more distant object, as in Buddha, your dominant eye will drag it over one side or the other.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, so it’s a real practice in focusing and intensity.

Audience member: Well, the question would be which one does one do? You can focus on either one, but I don’t think both.

Roshi Egyoku: Well, you know, nothing is static. So in that kind of intense gaze . . . You know for me it’s both, because my height is just where the Buddha is.

Audience member: Well I’m talking about the left or right side, because your dominant . . . If you put something between your fingers, your dominant eye is going to . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, well that’s what makes the mudra interesting, because you switch eyes. I mean I move my eyes.

Audience member: But you can’t keep the object in the same spot when you move …

Audience member: Actually I see both of them, and then . . .

Roshi Egyoku: But the object doesn’t move anyway, so . . .

Audience member: It’s either between fingers with one dominant eye, or it’s on both sides of your fingers if you get both eyes.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, you can switch around. I think. And it’s actually a really fascinating thing. You know, I find when I’m making the adjustments I have to make just to maintain that state of being, it’s very fascinating. And try not to faint, right. Mudras really engage you. I mean the whole sutra, but the mudras really engage you in that kind of way. I think you sort of get into a zone, like a real mindset where those kinds of questions just aren’t important.

Alright, so then after the Buddhas have been invited in, we return in shashu. We all know approaching the zendo we’re in shashu. There’s one exception to that we’ll come to later. And then we return in the Mother Gassho.

When we return we have the attention, or as Bernie said, calling everybody to really listen—calling to attention, calling all of us and the hungry spirits, all our hungers to attention. And we do that as an invitation, in the way that Senchen . . .

Senchen, would you please do your attention?

Senchen: [sings] Attention.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, you just want to go. It draws you in. It’s that energy that just draws you in, and welcomes you in. So that’s what you want. As opposed to attention! Maybe we should type it differently or something, but it’s that sense. It’s an invitation to come in.

Audience member: Our attention is a little sharper. We do Attention! But I was really pleased this morning hearing that difference. I like the energy of it . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Yes. I think you could. It’s something we struggled with too. When Bernie instructed me on the Gate, it always was as an invitation. And Attention! Just doesn’t quite make me feel like coming in, you know? So I do like that sense of really drawing in, or welcoming in, an inviting in. It’s very intentional. So I think it’s something to consider. And I think those who chant also feel the difference of that energetic.

Bernie: When we did it back in ZCLA when Maezumi Roshi was here, it was that strong attention. That’s very Japanese also. And this feels better to me.

Roshi Egyoku: It had a more military sense.

Bernie: Yeah, it’s very military.

Audience member: I thought The Shema (a jewish prayer) was very helpful, because when you hear that, that gives you exactly the tone.

Bernie: Yes, it’s the same thing. It’s not Shema! [Sings] Shema . . .

Audience member: It’s like the bell before the zazen period.

Roshi Egyoku: Alright, so then we’re going to go into the Mindless Gassho. And this is a really interesting one to do. So, this is when you know how stiff your fingers are. So you’re putting your index finger, and you’re having the end parts meet like that. And your thumbs are going just like that. And then your other fingers are open. Now if you can, and I can’t do this, but if you can put your palms together at the bottom, that would be good. I can’t quite do that. Daigo could do it. But he has big hands, so maybe that’s what did it. He and I would laugh a lot, because his hands and my hands did very different things, even trying to do the same thing. So you’re like this.

So again, elbows high. And your middle fingers touching. Yeah that’s what made it hard for me to keep my palms together. Front palms together, back palms open. Oh, I’m thinking of another one. And then eyes again gaze between the tips of the middle finger. OK?

It’s the last tips by the knuckle, that first knuckle, coming from the fingertips together.

Audience member: Where is the gaze?

Roshi Egyoku: Your gaze is between these two—the middle finger, at the tips.

Dharma Joy: Roshi, can you just swivel this way for the camera a second?

There we go. OK. Thank you.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, my fingers are very stiff, so I’m just feeling it when I do this one. I don’t know how you feel.

Sometimes depending on your hands, your middle fingers touch, just at the top.

Audience member: But it looks from the picture like the whole finger.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, but it’s not natural. I mean you can’t . . . If you have really big hands. I think for Daigo, he could. So we had a lot of laughs, because I said, “How do you do that?” He said, “Well, your hands are different.” So yeah, like that.

Isn’t that interesting?

Audience member: . . . if you do that. There’s more energy in your hands.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, but you also are not as open, so. Yeah, I can’t do it. I mean, there’s no way I could possibly bring those together. But if you can, and then these are open, so . . . You might have different flexibility in your fingers, or you just, you know, have more finger than I do.

Alright, and eyes between the tips of the middle finger. OK, so the Officiant remains in this mudra throughout all of the various vows that we will be reciting. So it’s a little while that you’re maintaining the mudras.

So we go through the Vow to Feed the Hungry Spirits, which is spoken, the Prayer of Food Sharing, which is sung, Prayer for Raising the Bodhi Mind, which is spoken. Now the Prayer for Fulfilling These Vows, which is sung, I’ve made a change in it. We used to say, “I further beseech you to sustain me day and night, and give me courage to fulfill my vows.” So Daigo has been doing this version all these years, said to me, “Please clarify to me, with Bernie, who’s the ‘you’?” Is it the hungry spirits? Is it the Buddhas, and so forth? So Bernie said, “It’s the Buddhas.” So thinking about different variations we could say there, I just changed it to “all Buddhas.” “I further beseech all Buddhas to sustain me day and night, and give me courage to fulfill my vows.” So there’s no mistake about who we’re beseeching.

Dharma Joy: In the next one, where it says, “In offering this meal, I pray that you get its merits,” that’s also going to be all Buddhas.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah.

Audience member: I thought that was a koan.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah.

Audience member: Egyoku, when we did the Diamond Gassho, was an encouragement for feeling of receptivity. So are we maintaining that particular feeling throughout the mudras, or each mudra has a different feeling that we’re invoking?

Roshi Egyoku: Some mudras we specify the kind of energy we should generate. But what do you think Bernie? I think we’re still in that very receptive place, obviously, because we’re inviting something so enormous. It’s so huge, right? And the whole Gate is one of receptivity, right? You could say it’s a practice of receptivity. It’s an invitation.

So even when you see a hungry ghost appear, and you think eww, you’re still in this receptive pose.

Audience member: Interesting that you just said that, to think that this is a practice of invitation. We’re not like doing anything. What we’re doing is the invitation. Is this true? Is this how you see it?

Roshi Egyoku: That has been a lot of my experience with it.

Bernie: I would say that for the first half. But by the time you’re doing the “NO MAKU SA RA . . .” you’re shifting to . . . We’re offering food, and we’re offering teachings. So then it becomes an offering.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, but you know it’s an interesting question, because I think it’s like the attitude of receptivity really sets the ground for offering. Because in a way you can’t offer what you’re not receiving.

Bernie: Right. And it’s very important after receiving, to offer. It’s not just about you receiving.

Audience member: So I was thinking how this relates to the Three Tenets, and this is like going along with the bearing witness. We’re not acting yet, we’re just receiving . . .

Bernie: Well, the receptivity part is the not knowing part. You can’t fully receive if you’re in a state of knowing. Whatever you’re knowing is blocking stuff coming in. So not knowing puts you into a state of real receptivity. And then you’re bearing witness, and then the actions become the offerings.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, I think you’re asking in a way a very profound question. I know in my own experience it was always easier for me to give. And many people it’s very hard to receive, and be really receptive to an offering. We don’t even recognize offerings sometimes. We deflect it.

But this really says, first of all, you know, ground and prepare yourself by receiving, like really moving into openness and not knowing. First of all, you can’t skip that step. That’s been important for me.

Bernie: It’s interesting; I think a lot of how we talk now comes out of our practice with the Three Tenets. I don’t think other people that are doing this would necessarily have the same kind of discussion.  I’m going to talk tomorrow about the fact that there’s a very important period in Japan called Obon, when the Priests are going around to all the donors, all the people associated with his or her temple. Usually they’re his temple, and doing the service. And in fact during that week I would say a large percentage of their income for the year is coming during that week. And I’m trying to think would they say they’re in receptive or . . . I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

We’re looking at it through the eyes of the Three Tenets. And that’s only the last twenty years that we’re looking at it that way. When I did the translation thirty-five years ago, I wasn’t looking at it that way. But that’s how I think we talk now, and that fits in well with the whole Zen Peacemaker Order.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah. And at ZCLA we’ve been doing this now for seventeen years. A lot of people want to know what it means, and all that, but I like to just engage a ritual, and see what it opens up for me. So it’s kind of interesting to have this conversation, and hear these questions, really.

Alright, so after that Mindless Gassho, we’re now going to move into the Diamond Fist. So this is a really interesting part of doing the Gate. So our left hand goes into the Diamond Fist Mudra. And then our right hand will go into the Invitation Mudra.

So for the Diamond Fist, let’s spend some time on that now. So first of all, this is your left hand, and you fold your four fingers over your thumb. And then you move your thumb a little bit out. And then you raise your fourth finger like this. So your fingernail part is just sitting on the knuckle of your thumb. Do you see that?

So then you find a place—and you want to stand up for this part. This raised part of your forefinger; you’re going to find a spot in your lower back. So your lower back muscles to the left of your spine—so just start moving around there—the left of your spine, below the kidneys, and above the pelvic girdle. Right there, do you feel that? Your feet are apart, because you can’t be grounded if they’re together, so they’re a little bit apart. It’s going to be different for everybody, right? You’re gonna ground yourself in there. You see that? You have to kind of move around and find, like right there. It kind of hurts actually. Yeah, it must be some kind of a point. Do you know which point that is? That’s the Meridian Point. You go like, ouch.

Alright, and then your right hand will be in the Invitation Mudra. Which is like this. So your thumb and middle finger meet. And all the other fingers are upright, and the ring finger and your pinkie should be together. But I cannot do that. Ok, like Mukee, look at that. Oh my gosh! Photograph him. His fingers are together. I can’t do that. Isn’t that something? It’s very interesting, you know.

So, now this is a really interesting part, and a part that really requires the Officiant’s focus and attention. So for the very first part, [chants] “NOBO BO HO RI GYA RI TA RI°TA TA GYA TA YA,” at GYA TA YA, you’re going to move this finger, and you’re gonna like call the hungry spirits in. You’re inviting the hungry spirits. It’s hard on the thumb, isn’t it? Keep all the other fingers straight out. Oh my gosh, I can’t do it. I got a muscle spasm.

Audience member: This is inside your sleeve?

Roshi   Egyoku: This is inside your sleeve. Yes, that’s right. The priests have long sleeves, so this is all covered up. So if you forget, nobody will know.

[Audience laughs]

And so it’s “YA . . . TA . . . YA.” Three times. Yeah, it’s just three times. We have to really listen too to the chanting, YA . . . TA . . . YA. OK?

And then we do it in English, “Being one with the unconditioned. TA TA TATA, TA TA TATA.” My thumb is going into spasms.

Alright, and then the next one’s a little easier. So then we go back to this, TA TA TATA. Alright, so then we’re going into the Dharani of Hell Crushing, and Hungry Spirit Throat Opening. And all we’re going to do this time is like, to do this. So again, you’re in Diamond Fist in your left hand, and your right hand is in Invitation. And at “OM BO HO TEI RI GAY TA RI°TA TA GYA TA YA,” GYA TA RI you’re gonna pull this down, and snap your fingers. I don’t know, the Japanese do it in a strange way, but we just snap. I don’t know the Japanese way. Do you know? It’s like some strange thing they do, but we just snap. And just one time.

So let’s do it on GYA TA RI. [chants] OM BO HO TEI RI GAY TA RI°TA TA GYA TA YA. So you just do the snap, right there in the middle of that mudra. Or [chants] “Being one with the Boundless Tathagata.” It goes very fast. So you’re like moving around quite a bit. Sometimes it’s passed and you’re like Oh, I didn’t snap yet.

Audience member: Do you return to the mudra?

Roshi Egyoku: Yes, you return to the mudra. Exactly. It actually helps to return to the mudra.

Audience member: But you have to do it in a quarter of a second, otherwise the whole thing falls apart.

[Audience laughs.]

Roshi Egyoku: So we have here a note. This has three implications. It’s calling the hungry spirits to attention. So now we’re saying, “Hey, you’re here, so let’s get with it.” Inviting them to open up their throats, because you know, they have these thin throats, so I don’t know how you do that. And providing delight and joy. Isn’t that nice?

Alright, so then you go back to this. And this next one I really like. Dharani of Expansion Prayer Upon the Food and Drink. So again, you’re in the Diamond Fist on your left hand. And then what you’re going to do in this mudra is on “SA BA RA,” you’re going to rub your fingernail three times. I don’t know if there’s a particular direction, but I just sort of go like that. One, two, three, at SA BA RA, and then at “UN” you’re going to snap your fingers. And then, you’re going to visualize—while you’re doing all of this—you’re also visualizing the transformation of this limited amount of cornmeal in the bowl, or whatever you’re offering, into this boundless, boundless food that fills the whole universe, and feeds every single being.

So there’s a lot going on in this mudra. So let’s do it with the chanting. So remember on “SA BA RA,” you’re gonna go, rubbing your fingernail three times. And you’re gonna snap your finger on “UN.” And UN is the last word of this line. So we’re in this mudra . . .



Being one with all Tathagatas and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva,

Please nourish and sustain us.

“Please nourish and sustain us,” is when you’re going to start. “Avolokitesvara,” we do the three, and then “Please nourish and sustain us.” So let’s do that.

[Chants] Being one with all Tathagatas and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva,

Please nourish and sustain us.

I think it’s more like “Please nourish and sustain us,” Although I highlighted “Avalokitsvara.”

[Chants] Please nourish and sustain us. [snaps] OK?

And then you go back into this Invitation Mudra for the very last one, Dharani Upon the Dharma Taste of the Sweet Nectar. So you’re remaining in the Diamond Fist and the Invitation Mudra for this fourth section. “Be one with the dharma of the sweet nectar that the mysterious light of Tathagata expounds. And after having your meal, clean your body with sweet water, and drink the sweet nectar of dharma, so that both body and mind are well satisfied.” So for that whole portion . . .



Being one with the Inconceivable Body Tathagata,

let the nectar of Dharma spring forth.

Now comes the fun part. You’re going to offer the food.

So when Daigu was actually reviewing this, this was actually very complicated, how he learned it from Bernie, and how he was doing it—because it’s very, very specific the number of times that you’re actually chanting this NO MAKU SAN MAN DA.

So just to say what he taught me, and we have modified it. We talked to Bernie a little bit. I think we tried this in the beginning, we couldn’t quite sustain this. So the dharani is repeated twenty on, or more times. It’s a minimum of twenty-one times. Fourteen times, or till the Officiant has completed the food offering. That’s the NO MAKU SAN MAN DA.” So we may do close to fourteen. I don’t know, it depends on how fast the officiant is. I’m not sure. And then seven times in English. And we maintain the seven times in English, because we have a little bit more control over that portion.

So the first seven are for all the hungry ghosts. The second seven are for all beings who have not been able to approach the alter, who may be reluctant to come, which Bernie spoke about. And the third seven, which we do in English, are for the Three Treasures.

So what we do at ZCLA is we just keep doing the NO MAKU SAN MAN DA until the Officiant returns to he hishiki. And then we go into the English version of that. Is that what you’re doing at Sweet Water Zen Center?

Bernie: And that’s how I was trained.

Roshi Egyoku: Is that how you were trained? So I don’t know where Daigo got this. But I included it as an alternative.

Bernie: Well it’s fourteen times, or until . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Or until, right. Fourteen times, or until. Right, that’s what it says right her.

Alright Bernie’s note, “An important character here is BAN, ‘NO MAKU SAN MAN DA, BO TA NAN BAN.’ BAN, which means Buddha Mind, or Buddha Body. It is the water of Dharma Nature, of Vairocana Buddha, Buddha of Formless Forms, which purifies all delusions and defilements. In this Dharani you’re giving the milk and compassion of Vairocana Buddha to the hungry spirits.”

Bernie: Now I’d like to just mention that Vairocana Buddha is the representation of not knowing—of the first tenet. We usually say Vairocana Buddha, Formless Forms. And it’s in the center of the mandala. It’s the state of not knowing. And Vairocana Buddha is the one that appears when you’re giving the precepts. So the Officiant that is giving the precept is supposed to get into that mind of not knowing.

Roshi Egyoku: So you’ll recall we were in this mudra, Invitation Mudra, and then we’re going to move into the Feeding of the Hungry Spirits. So the NO MAKU SAN MAN DA. This will change, for those of you at ZCLA

So we’re like this. And we’re starting, NO MAKU SAN MAN DA, BO TA NAN BAN. And then you’re gonna go in to the Mother Gassho. And you’re gonna bow. And then you’re going to sidestep. And then you’re going to go back into your Diamond Fist, and the Fearless Mudra. OK?

So then you’re in Fearless Mudra, and you’re going to approach the alter in the Fearless Mudra. And your fingers are all together in the Fearless Mudra. It’s hard, isn’t it? So it’s just like this.

So I think you all know the story, when Devadatta tried to kill the Buddha, got an elephant drunk, or riled up, and the Buddha went like this. And so do the elephant, so this is giving no fear—the mudra of giving no fear.

So you approach the alter in this position, in No Fear Mudra, trying to keep your fingers together if it’s possible. You go all the way up to the alter. And when you get to the alter, you back bow into the Mother Gassho. And then you’re going to sidestep and offer incense as usual. And then you’re going to sidestep by the food. So we have the food here, as you can see. So sidestep by the food. And you go back into your Diamond Fist. And then you’re doing this mudra—I forgot the name of it. Middle Finger Mudra, oh yeah. Middle Finger Mudra. We had a lot of fun with this one, Daigo and I. You’re going to the Middle Finger Mudra, and here’s what you’re going to do. So you go over your water, and you’re going to do like clockwise three times. And you’re gathering up the energy, and then into your middle finger here. And then you’re going to do this three times, and . . . You don’t make that noise, but [laughs]. Nobody will know.

Audience member: When you’re doing the circle, do you keep your wrist bent at this angle, and move your whole arm? Or do you . . .

Roshi Egyoku: No, I go like this. My arm moves.

Audience member: OK.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, we just do it like this. So the picture shows it kind of like that, I think.

Audience member: And that’s with the water?

Roshi Egyoku: Yes.  This is the gathering of all the energy. And then the water gets mixed with the food.

So then, you know however you do it, we put a little bit of cornmeal, and we put water, we place three scoops of water and just mush it all up. And then we sense the bowl like you’re used to doing I’m sure. You may have to offer more incense. And I think we cover the bowl. And at some point you lift it up, and you again have this visualization of it going to every corner of the universe. Expanding, that’s the expansion of the food. In our case we have cornmeal—the whole universe becomes cornmeal.

Audience member: You know Egyoku, I have some kind of a version where there’s rice and each repetition is choreographed. Is that like an older version, or that was the complicated version that you were speaking of?

Roshi Egyoku: No, I think that’s probably how Maezumi Roshi taught you, because the Japanese use rice, and for our, once a year we use rice. You know, when we do the big ancestor alter. And then you sort of mush it, and  . . .

Audience member: Each one is choreographed. I got that from Enkyo I guess, maybe.

Audience member: We do rice and raisins.

Roshi Egyoku: You do rice and raisins, and you wet them all?

Bernie: The food should be what’s common to your sangha. And what I like is if it’s after a meal, or before a meal (like before breakfast), that some of the food from that meal is what’s put up there. It doesn’t have to be rice. As she said, Japanese do rice, but we’re not all Japanese—some are, some aren’t.  If it’s part of the food that we’re going to eat, then I like that feeling.

Roshi Egyoku: It’s interesting, because when you think about it, rice is the main dish. It’s always the main dish for Japanese people. But I know I’ve seen Japanese Priests do it, you know, just mash it in your palm. And so we used to do that from time to time, but then you end up with this whole mess. And if you put it back in the water, then you need a towel to wipe your hands. But I don’t know the other thing you’re describing. Enkyo might have gotten that from someone possibly.

OK, so any questions about that?

Audience member: When we used to go into Fearless, we would make two or three rounds of . . .

Roshi Egyoku: No.

Audience member: So now you’re just going . . .

Roshi Egyoku: That’s right. It will probably take you around NO MAKU SAN MAN DA, BO TA NAN BAN.

Audience member: We’re not waiting for you?

Roshi Egyoku: No.

Audience member: I Just wanted to mention, at Sweet Water in the part where you lift the bowl, we actually take chopsticks and offer to the various directions.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, we do that when we do the more formal. It’s a great thing to do. Chopsticks, or a spoon, your fingers—that has a real organic feeling. Then you have to clean your hands. There’s nothing wrong with that. So you start to experiment.

Bernie: Personally, I like the fingers. But you know we’re offering a way. And there will be variations depending on the sangha and how the people there want to do it. And one of the things I would suggest is if it’s at home, if you want to learn the mudras, you should do it every day—or quite often. Because if you’re doing it once a month, or once a week, you’re not gonna really remember. But we taught this as a home practice. You could do all of this at your home. And a big advantage now is you could even tape it. So if you’re doing it at home, you could also have this tape and check. And if you do it at home for a month or two months, you’ll know it. But then if you don’t do it for a year, you’ll forget it. But if you’re home, or even at a place like this, you can put a little towel up there, so if you’re using your fingers, then you wipe it with the towel, or a towlette.

Roshi Egyoku: Or if you’re using raisins, you won’t even need it. You could just put your little raisins in, but then somebody has to go pick it up later.

Bernie: Now in my head, this part is a Buddhist communion. So you could even at a center, feed it to people—just like it’s done in Mass. This is really the same feeling as Buddhist communion.

Roshi Egyoku: You could have wafers.

Audience member: They call it the Celebration of Mass. So when you said that this morning, that resonated—that Celebration of Mass.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, it’s very interesting as you start to resonate more. It’s like you want to enact it more, and make it more relevant as we go through it.

Audience member: Will we actually have one recording of the whole walk through? The whole thing, so we can really at home just play that, and practice?

Dharma Joy: We can do it. Well we have a DVD for sale.

Roshi Egyoku: You can all have the DVD. I haven’t seen it in ages, and I don’t know if we’ve made changes since then. We might have, I have a feeling. Do you all have our Gate DVD? Senchen, can you make it available please, as a gift? And you can take as many copies as you want, because we have hundreds of them.

We recorded the Gate of Sweet Nectar with a project with Smith College, Dr. Peter Gregory. And we spent a whole day with camera crew just doing the Gate. I don’t know, we did it ten times I think. It’s so horrible, to just do the Gate over, and over, and over. And they filmed us, but that was quite a few years ago now.

There are also some very nice interviews that are part of that. But you’re all welcome to have a copy or copies.  So Senchen will just have them stacked up somewhere.

OK, where are we? So after you have fed, wash your hands, put everything away. You’ll return to the Bowing Mat. And we have here return in Diamond Gassho, and the only reason I left that is Daigo was really insistent. But I think Mother Gassho. And Bernie said Mother, and I say Mother, because again it’s hard to walk with the Diamond Gassho when you’re that focused. So just go back to Mother Gassho. Return to the hishiki.

Now we’re going to start the Offering of the Buddha Wisdom, so we can sit down again at this point.

Do you need a break, or are you OK?

All right, so now we’re going to move into the Dharani for Inviting the Five Families, the Buddhas of the Five Families. This part is really nice for the officiant. The officiant is in the Diamond Gassho for the entire Five Buddha Families. And the officiant for each family is visualizing the qualities of the Buddha family that’s being invoked. Now during this time of the Five Families the Ryoban (or if you’re in a circle, I guess it’s the designated people) will come forward and make an offering for each family.

And so when we actually rehearse the Gate we’ll do that. We’ll show you the moves. The Green Family (It starts with the Ratna Family), and you’ll notice that all the books . . .

So you all noticed, and I think you did this at Sweet Water, you have colored books for the Buddha families. So there’s red, yellow, and a white, blue, and green. So the people on the Ryoban and Jiko are representing the Buddha families in this case. So the people that pass out the books have to make sure they’re arranged in the proper order. That’s their job, you know.

You know this liturgy really asks a lot of everybody who’s participating. It’s really fascinating. So they bow to each other, come forward, and then they bow to the officiant. And the way we do it is the officiant returns the bow (Of course they’re in the Diamond Gassho.), returns the first bow. And then they turn together. And so what I remember you teaching me, Bernie, is that these two people act as one body. So they turn together. So if I’m here I’m gonna move my left leg first. And if I’m here, I’m gonna move my right leg first. We don’t get too fanatical about it, but those who know, it’s really fun.

And then you go up together. And you’re going to offer incense. So if I’m on this side I offer . . . well we just do one pinch because we don’t want to smoke ourselves out of the room. And I do it with my left, and the person on Bernie’s side would do it with the right. So it’s really like you’re one body is functioning. It’s very interesting.

And then we turn around. We face each other, turn around, come back here. And then we bow to the officiant, but the officiant does not return the second bow. The officiant is really focused on Buddhas, and visualizing the Padma Family qualities of we call it relationships, intimacy, seduction. We have to invite the ghost part of all those wonderful things.

And then they go back to the ryoban. And then we finish chanting that family. We move into the next family. Now the people second on the rioban repeats the same action. And so for every family we go through the same kind of enactment of offering for that family. And the officiant then for each family is visualizing the qualities of that family.

Now some of this language is one of the things I was talking to Bernie about that we want to re-look. So we use for the Padma Family, the first family, the unifying spheres. And I think Bernie, you now use integrating spheres, or something like that. I think you use integrating now.

So these are things for everyone to think about and reflect upon, and what the qualities of everyone that you want to bring out are maybe the most important. I don’t know.

And then the Ratna, we use livelihood. I don’t know if you’re still using livelihood, but we use the livelihood sphere. In our mandala we say resource sphere. So that’s another possibility.

And then the third is the Buddha, formless sphere, as Bernie described. And then the Vajra, so we use the study spheres. And then the Karma Family, which is the service spheres.

Audience member: It’s interesting, the order. I would think that the Buddha family would be the first one to go . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing because when you have it as a mandala, you know, we have the Buddha in the middle. I know, it’s interesting, isn’t it? But on our flag we have it at the end. But then when you close that loop, you visualize it as a circle again. So I don’t know what you’d consider the middle.

And just a tip for those of you who are going to be doing it—the chanter goes up on the third. And so oftentimes we can lose the chant at the Dharani. You know, because suddenly we don’t have the chanters loud voice leading us. So for those of you that are helping to hold the liturgy, just remember that, and keep projecting your voice out, because all the sudden nobody knows where they are. It’s just an odd thing that happens a lot of times.

Bernie: I just had an interesting thought—interesting to me at least. If you’re doing it as a home service for example, you can say what’s my dominant energy? And start with that energy. If it’s at a training group, you could say what’s the dominant energy here? And start with that. That’s a possibility.

Roshi Egyoku: For the order that you go in.

Bernie: Yeah. What I like about that is it makes you think what’s you dominant energy, which can change. I mean right now your dominant energy might be something different. So it’s bringing your attention to the dominant energy of you or the group you’re part of.

Roshi Egyoku: This is reminding of the very old days when I did tea ceremony. They had a training ceremony when they give you a chit. So you take a chit, and the chit tells you what position you’ve got. Whatever you got—maybe you arranged the flowers, maybe you served the tea, there’s like all kinds of things you could be doing. In this case we made it a different Buddha family, a different position, and you had to move into that role, like on the spot.

Audience member: We should pass out chits before Sunday mornings. It would be a lot easier.

[Audience laughs]

Audience member: I printed out the definition of the words, because it talks about what the healthy manifestation of that energetic is, but also what the shadow side is. So I have it as just like a little cheat thing in the morning, where it just kind of grounds each one.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah it’s very interesting. Maybe at Upaya you’ve gotten to this more, but we haven’t really gotten into a lot of that very much here. We had some training a long time ago, but we haven’t really carried it forward. Most of our mandala training or reference is really towards how we’ve organized ourselves as an organization, and as a sangha—not so much in these energetics. I know the Tibetans do extensive training on that, but we haven’t really gotten into it. I don’t know, that’s something maybe some of you can open up later.

Audience member: Along those lines, I was going to ask, because you have intimacy and seduction as opposites in the Padma family—I didn’t know if you had them for the other four.

Bernie: For those who want to get into those kind of details you can go on the Zen Peacemaker website, and search for Buddha energies, and there’s a chart there with all kinds of stuff—what season, what attributes . . . It’s a big chart full of stuff. And there are very different variations of it. This chart, I did. But there are different variations, depending on where the book’s written . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, and different Buddhas associated with it, and all that. I just haven’t gone there. But there are also some really nice little booklets from certain Tibetan teachers, Western Tibetan teachers on the Buddha families. If you remind me, I can give you some time with it, because it is a very succinct little thing. They’re not this elaborate, you know, kind of thing.

The Spectrum of Ecstasy is a good one. And then what’s her name . . .


Audience member: Mine was like Google. I would just look up the Sanskrit word, and then it took me to . . . Yeah, it wasn’t anything.

Bernie: I want to throw in one word, because you heard me talking about nonduality. So I don’t like the word positive or negative. That’s used in a lot of these things.

Roshi Egyoku: It’s a spectrum of energy.

Bernie: I like characteristics. So there are various characteristics, and depending on who you are you will call certain characteristics positive, and certain ones negative. But that’s very subjective. That’s very dualistic.

Roshi Egyoku: And you know, you have the colored glasses, and the postures, and you can get into the whole thing. But it is interesting, even just superficially, to know the spectrum. So like the Buddha family all includes spaciousness. So that’s one end of the spectrum, and the other end is like a total spaced out person. So each one has that spectrum, which is fascinating to know that, really.

So like Bernie has a lot of dominant Ratna energy, wouldn’t you say?

Bernie: I have dominant every energy.

[Audience laughs]

Roshi Egyoku: Dominant everything, but you also on one side you have the sun shines on every single thing, right? It’s like it’s not shining on certain things. And then the other side of that is greed—the grasping. So it is really kind of fascinating actually when you know the spectrum. But think of it as the spectrum, rather than as you were saying, good or bad.

Bernie: A side note—there was a period, my wife Jishu deeply studied all of this, and had done all the rooms at Naropa that were involved with these things and whatever. So we had a lot of studying and things around that. But we also created Sesshins where we’d put two people in charge that we felt would maybe . . . Let’s say the Buddha family. So we’d say these two people seem to have characteristics of the Buddha family. One seems very spacious, and one seems very spaced out. And we’d choose two people, and we wouldn’t tell them anything, other than create your own Sesshin. And then we did that with all of the families.

Padma was very interesting. She dressed up as a seductive woman, and stayed in the corner of the room. And so she was a person needing love, and not being able to receive love from anybody. And the other person was Sally. . . And the call into the Zendo was Phillip Glass music. And when we ate Sally would go around and feed us grapes. But they created the whole thing.

I chose people that I thought had sort of opposite characteristics for a family, and asked them to create a Sesshin for that family. And they all came out very different. It was beautiful. I loved it.

Roshi Egyoku: When we did out fortieth anniversary—I don’t think any of you were here—we enacted the Gate. And so we had, you know, I think Doka, you were the Padma, so she had this amazing . . . The mother, you know, with all the babies, everything just . . .

It’s on YouTube. So if you remind me, I’ll have Senchen send you the link.

Audience member: And to this day, I can see every time we say Avalokitesvara, I see them coming down. And the match to a hungry ghost was also a red. You know, and them the M. . .  was blue. You know, and then the spectrum was in blue too.

Roshi Egyoku: It was fascinating actually.

Audience member: I think they went up together. They were the one body. So you had the Buddha and the hungry ghost, the same colors, being one.

Roshi Egyoku: Very powerful. So it’s a fin DVD. Joan calls it, I love that funky crazy . . . [laughs]. It is really, you have to laugh a lot when you see it. Mostly because we all look so young.

[Audience laughs.]

Alright, where are we now?

Oh the Buddha families, and then we do the Karma family. OK, so then at that point we’re going to get ready for . . . What do you call it Bernie? What’s the word for this part? This most important part of the Gate?

Bernie: So this next part is actually the climax of this Gate. And it turns out it’s the Giving of the Precepts in the Shingon Sect. So Kobo Daishi, the Precepts he gave is what we chant. So that’s why it’s so important. At this point you’re giving the Precepts to everyone. And that’s why you’re doing the music. And you were with me at the monastery in Japan where they had a tram going up to the . . . They did the Gate every afternoon. The old Sojiji, Soji burnt down, and there’s a ne Sojijji in Yokahama. But the old one does it every evening—this Gate service. A few places do. But the one that we went to—I forget the name. You go up . . . During this time they didn’t have these things that we have. But they had bent horns—these long horns. And they would be blowing these horns while this is happening.

It’s a very important part of this. It’s the supreme part of this. You’re fed, you’re taught, you’re doing everything, and now you’re giving everybody Precepts. And so I’m not sure if you’re remembering the words. The words that Kobo Daishi used for giving the Precepts are fantastic I think.

She’ll continue on.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, it is an exciting part. I was just told that they dance at Sweet Water. They move you around, and that’s really great. I think the French do too. We’re a little bit more repressed in L.A. for some reason, but we’ll get there. We’ll get there. You’ll loosen us up. Sometimes we have a hungry ghost come in. That’s real fun.

So the officiant is in Diamond Gassho for this part. And the conch player comes up and picks up the conch, and calls the officiant forth. So the conch is blowing to the officiant. And the officiant begins, and I think you all know that the dark letters is a little more emphasis on the words. So [chants] OM BO JI SHI TA BO DA HA DA YA MI. And then we all start going with our bells and little drums, and all of that. And dance around the room. Stomp your feet. And everybody repeats. So we do it one time in the combination of Sanskrit and Sino-Japanese or Japanese. Then the officiant does it twice. [Chants] Now I have raised the Bodhi Mind. And it’s really interesting for me to listen to different officiants do it. You know, it’s kind of hard to inhabit these words, I think. Over time I think we get more embodied with these particular chants.

So that is the Dharani for Raising the Bodhi Mind. It’s done three times—twice in English, second and third time. And then we move into the Dharani of Giving the Bodhisattva Samaya Precepts, which Bernie just spoke about. So again, the officiant remains in the Diamond Gassho. And as we say here, the implication is since I have received the Buddha Sila, being one with it forever. It is maintained by maintaining the right Dharma of Buddha and not forgetting it, maintaining Bodhi Mind, saving others, being generous and giving the right Dharma to the right person at the right time, and being beneficial to all beings. So then the officiant moves into the second [chants] OM SAN MA YA SA TO BAN. And everybody repeats with their bells and whistles. And sometimes when the conch is blowing, we sort of softly ring our bells too. At one time we didn’t, but then we just want to get into the act, you know. And then when it’s our part, we like ring it really loudly. And so that proclamation is [chants] I am the Buddhas, and they are me. So that’s a very powerful thing to say.

Bernie: I’ve had students who could not say that, because they didn’t believe it was true—even after all of this stuff. Those were the same people that wouldn’t come up to the alter.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah. It’s very interesting, the more I know about the Gate, the more it’s just like really how hard it is to do it. You know what I mean? Because it’s just expansion, and expansion. It’s very provocative.

Audience member: Can I just ask a point of clarification about the lively, the bells, and everything. That comes during which part? That comes when the officiant is saying it, or when everybody is responding?

Roshi Egyoku: Before. We do it both times. So when the conch blows, the Doan also rings a bell. And sometimes we very softly do our little jingles. And then the voice comes out. So when the voice is out, we don’t . . . I don’t know, do we do it?

Audience member: You don’t do it. The officiant’s solo. So you do it during the  . . .

Roshi Egyoku: OK, thank you. That’s right, because then you wave your hand, and then you fill the universe with your noise and your voice.

Audience member: A tricky thing is I was just learning Doan, and the Doan can’t actually ring the bell when everybody rings the bell, because you have another cue coming up really fast.

Roshi Egyoku: So you have to be really fast.

Audience member: So with the dancing, the way that that gets worked in is we chant this, and then there’s a period where it’s just dancing, like after . . .

Roshi Egyoku: Oh nice. You’ll have to show us. And when is that? When would that be?

Audience member: We all say, “I am the Buddhas, and they are me.” We do it twice, and then everyone uses the noisemakers and dances. You know it’s sort of celebratory, and then the drums sort of keep the rhythm for that.

Roshi Ekyoku: For the dancing?

Audience member: Well just for the timing, to signify how long to do it.

Roshi Egyoku: Well we’ll do it your style. You’ll show us. That’ll be fun.

  1. Then we move into the Gatha for Transference of Merit. And by this time you may be exhausted as an officiant, since your arms have been elevated most of the time, in which case you could just go into shashu. But I always feel—this is just a carry over from the old days, because it is the typification of transference of merit, I like to be in gassho. But if you’re too tired, then just go into shashu.

OK then following that we have the dedication that is sung by the chanter. And by the way, during the Dedication of Merit, the Transference of Merit, we have someone on the locutio, hitting the locutio, and we chant in unison with that rhythm. Oh and I forgot to mention the drum. So during the NO MAKU SAN MAN we have some really great drummers here. Daisin is one of them, so he’s on the drum, drumming away, getting all our energy up.

Alright, then comes the dedication, and this is something I think we all play with. We’re in the Mother Gassho as an officiant. We go through this, “All ancestors of the White Plum lineage, and the extended sangha . . .” And we’ll probably just insert the Zen Peacemakers at this point as a permanent part of it. This morning we did, and then acknowledge all of you here from different sanghas. And then extend out to our neighbors in L.A. and throughout the world.

Bernie: I have a suggestion. Instead of all ancestors, I don’t want to just keep this stuff in dead people. So either—you need to get the right wording—all ancestors and members of, or something like that. Include all of us, not . . .

Dharma Joy: Well that’s the next line.

Bernie: No its not. It’s calling out the ancestors of the White Plum as a specific thing, right? And my preference—everybody’s gonna do what they want to do—my preference would be all ancestors and members of the White Plum lineage. If you’re going to call out the White Plum lineage, call out everybody in it, not only those who have died.

Roshi Egyoku: You know interestingly enough, Bernie reminded me of this, would actually no longer use this as an ancestor service. I’ve actually made up a whole other service for ancestors remembrance. And that was because I wanted to shift away from associating this with Oban for us. Because we really moved in a different direction with it.

Bernie: Yeah, that’s my sense. And if Roshi includes the Zen Peacemaker Order, again it should not only say the ancestors. It’s all of us that are a part of it.

Audience member: Is it past, present, and future . . .

Bernie: Yeah, I like including all.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah so we’ll discuss this.

Bernie: “All members past and future” would be one way of taking care of that, of White Plum, or Z.P.O.

Audience member: As long as we don’t stay in the now I guess that covers it.

[Audience laughs]

Roshi Egyoku: Alright. Let us forever remember the causes of suffering. Let us forever believe in the end to suffering. May we always have the courage to bear witness, to see our self as others, and others as our self. So that I wrote at the request of Jishu for our Auschwitz Retreat—early ones. So I stuck it in here.

And then at ZCLA we also once a month, one Sunday a month since we do this every Sunday, we read the names of all of our people in the book of the past. Because we like to remember all of the people associated with the center who have died. And then if there’s a specific person who has died that we’re honoring, we include them. And then we will also mention a current world event, where there is a tremendous amount of suffering happening. So today it’s the huge earthquake in Nepal. And of course we have a strong connection with that because A . . . down here is from Nepal. His family is safe. Have you heard anything more?

Audience member: I got a message that they are OK.

Roshi Egyoku: So we have to keep up with current events. Sometimes people say the most bizarre things I think. But we try to keep it with some big world disaster, that scope of things.

And then the second part, “the victims of war, starvation, oppression, peace in the world, those who died before birth . . .” so all of that. Some of that is from an old dedication that we used at ZCLA for this particular liturgy. But we can relook at all that.

And then we get to our song. So the closing verse is our song. And we do this four times, and the officiant goes up on the third round, and gets back in time to do the closing three bows.

Audience member: So are we in Mother Gassho through the Dedication of Merit?

Roshi Egyoku: Yes, except for when you’re going up and offering. Because then we move into the three bows. And then in our case, when we are having a dedication to all the people in our past, then the whole sangha’s invited to come up and offer incense. And maybe you do something similar at Sweet Water, or there’s a memorial service of some kind.

And then we have our usual exit. And we line up to go to the Zendo.

So for us, the Gate, if we start on time, which we do pretty much, it takes us a good twenty-five minutes. So we try to aim to be in the Zendo by 9:00, but sometimes it’s a little after. And because it is a food offering, and we have such hunger needs in L.A., we encourage all of our members when they come for the Gate on Sunday to bring food. And it’s put on the alter, and then that’s delivered to the closest food bank to us, which is just a few blocks away.

Questions, comments? And then we’ll take a little break.

Audience member: Why is this called the Mindless Gassho?

Roshi Egyoku: By the way, it’s Mindless or Kilshui Gassho.  I don’t really know why it’s called that. I’ll check my Mudra book, and see if it says anything about it. Do you recall, Bernie?

Bernie: No.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, you know the effect of doing that Mudra . . .

Bernie: I have a feeling if you look at the original word, Mindless might not be the best translation.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, I’m sensing that too. But it is kind of a mindless condition you’re in. [laughs] It’s a very powerful Mudra actually. It’s more like a no mind kind of mindless. It really is that when you’re doing that. But I’ll make a note to check.

Audience member: On the Diamond Fist, I had actually learned it with the thumb at the base of the ring finger.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, I think that’s where it naturally falls when you put it over. But then you have to put it out, because you need the knuckle to put this on.

You know, there are probably variations of it, but this is how you end up. So I’m not sure what you’re doing here.

Bernie: It’s really nice that you have the drawings, and you’ll have the video of the hands. So if you want to do mudras—it’s not so common for people who are doing this service to do the mudras. I never do. I can’t remember. And my hand is so arthritic; it’s hard to do. But if you want to do it, you have enough resources to really learn that.

Roshi Egyoku: I tried to have a diagram for every single thing that I thought you might have a question about, even if it seemed obvious. It’s just easier if you’re visually oriented.

Yeah, that’s it. So that this knuckle really goes into that spot where your meridian is. So you have to feel that go out, then you know that you’ve got it.

Audience member: So we’re generating a recording of all of the tunes that are in it?

Audience member: The tunes are on that DVD.

Audience member: OK, super. And you said it might be a little bit older, but the tunes . . .

Roshi Egyoku: But the tunes are the same. And then Dharma Joy has been taping us, so . . .

Dharma Joy: We’ll tape the one tomorrow morning too.

Audience member: Is the tempo throughout the same? It changes, then there’s melody. Where do the melodies come from?

Roshi Egyoku: The sung parts?

Audience member: Yeah, and I was just wondering where that comes from?

Bernie: Are you referring to the initial vows—some are spoken and some are sung? Where are you talking about?

Audience member: Well, I guess . . .

Bernie: That mantras?

Audience member: Yeah.

Bernie: So in the mantras, you see the dark part? I think the melody comes because you are emphasizing some of those words, which are in boldface.

Roshi Egyoku: The boldface is the emphasis.

Bernie: Is there another tune?

Audience member: So there’s that part, and then the . . .

Roshi Egyoku: OM BO . . .?

Audience member: Yeah.

Roshi Egyoku: . . . Does say that differently than I do, and I’m not sure where she got that. She got it at Sweet Water . . .

Audience member: Yeah and when we were doing it today, I just noticed the difference, and I wasn’t sure where it . . .

[Audience member demonstrates chant.]

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, we don’t do that.

Audience member: So, but is there a standard?

Bernie: No.

[Audience laughs]

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, we don’t do that, we go straight. So we go [Roshi demonstrates chant] just straight across.

Bernie: Just to give you a sense—in Japan they usually have maybe once a year, I can’t remember how often, a gathering where the Inos of the various places give their tunes. And then they’ll vote which one they like. But they all have different ones, and they encourage that.

So there’s no standard in Japan. And then when we come here, there’s no standard because nobody knows what it was anyway. So we’re all creating our own things.

Audience member: So no standard is tradition.

Bernie: For example, I was hoping to get Krishna Das to do this whole thing, in a period of time. That never happened, but there’s no standards.

Roshi Egyoku: Yeah, it’s very interesting. Sometimes in Japan, what I remember is when you’re in a temple, and they’re chanting, everybody’s chanting however they’re chanting. Like every single person in the room, and if you’re in a temple, and at some point everybody’s just like in a chorus. It’s pretty fascinating. But you’re not like required to all sort of start on the same note, and all of that stuff. And it happens to us here too. You know, sometimes people will be all in different places, but at some point we’re all in sync. It’s just fascinating to listen to that. Sometimes it happens sooner, and sometimes it happens later.

(Continued in Part 3)

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Black Elk Still Speaks 



Two Weeks Left to Register for

2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat


From a talk given at the Green River Zen Center

on June 16, 2015 by Eve Marko

In the book Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk described how, at the age of nine, he had a powerful vision and was told by the great Thunder Beings to share this vision with his tribe. Afraid and unsure of himself, he was miserable for the next eight years:

“A terrible time began for me then and I could not tell anybody—not even my father and mother. I was afraid to see a cloud coming up, and whenever one did, I could hear the thunder beings calling to me, “Behold your grandfathers, make haste.” I could understand the birds when they sang, and they were always saying, “It is time, it is time.” The crows in the day and the coyotes at night, all called and called to me, “It is time, it is time, it is time.” Time to do what? I did not know . . .

Sometimes the crying of coyotes out in the cold made me so afraid that I would run out of one tepee into another, and I would do this until I was worn out and fell asleep. I wondered if maybe I was only crazy, and my father and mother worried a great deal about me. I could not tell them what was the matter for then they would only think I was queerer than ever.

I was seventeen years old that winter. When the grasses were beginning to show their tender faces again, my father and mother asked an old medicine man by the name of Black Road to come over and see what he could do for me. Black Road was in a tepee all alone with me and he asked me to tell him if I had seen something that troubled me. By now I was so afraid of being afraid of everything that I told him about my vision. And when I was through, he looked long at me and said, “Ah,” meaning that he was much surprised.

Then he said to me, “Nephew, I know now what the trouble is. You must do what the big horse in your vision wanted you to do. You must do your duty, and perform this vision for your people upon earth. You must have the horse dance first for the people to see. Then the fear will leave you. But if you do not do this, something very bad will happen to you.” So we began to get ready for the horse dance.”

He shared that vision and the dance at the age of seventeen. It was also Black Elk who said that in the seventh generation things would begin to change for the Lakota people, and I’ve heard a few elders say that this is now; we’re approaching the seventh generation.

In the Blue Cliff Record there’s a koan called Reviling the Diamond Sutra. It quotes the Diamond Sutra, which says in effect that if you did terrible things in the past, the punishment you’re going through now is a way of resolving that past karma. But how does that happen, I wondered. There’s cause and effect; therefore, if I did bad things in the past, I’ll suffer now. But how does my present suffering resolve the bad things I did earlier?

Anticipating our trip back to South Dakota in early June for meetings, I felt that many things we see around us—not just in the Black Hills, but here on this earth—spoke to this koan. As a society, we’re guilty of grave misdeeds against the first nations of this earth and against all its inhabitants, including the four-legged, those that crawl and those that fly, and the plants that supply us with precious oxygen. This earth is suffering; its people are suffering. How does that resolve the past?

What a past that is. Only recently I discovered that American Indians refer to reservations as prisoner of war camps. Originally, I believe they were under the jurisdiction of the Department of War. The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest places in our country as measured by parameters like life expectancy, drug and alcohol use, teen suicide, domestic violence, and incarceration. Charmaine White Face, a biologist I met on this trip and one of the leaders of the organization Defenders of the Black Hills, has been testing the water in the aquifers under Pine Ridge over many years for uranium. The corporations that mined the Black Hills for uranium left hundreds of mines open, without sealing or treating them in any way. Her tests show that uranium has leeched not only into the Pine Ridge aquifers, but also as far away as the Missouri River.

At the same time, many people feel that resurgence is taking place for the Lakota, who are respected by other tribes for bringing back and teaching many of the old ceremonies. There’s a sense that something is shifting. Young people, aware of how many first nations have been driven to extinction, want to learn their old language and culture; they want to reconnect with their history, with who they are as a people. And when they do, they look to the Black Hills, an hour’s drive away from the Reservation.

This is their sacred place, where they always did vision quests, ceremonies, and where they buried their dead. One of the oldest places in the United States, near the midpoint of this continent, its hills are replete with wildlife, its rivers with fish. Metals with magnetic forces, giving rise to resonance, lie deep inside its earth, and enormous limestone rocks rise high up to the sky.

What have we done to this sacred place? We built gambling casinos and cities. We built Sturgis, where a million motorcycles will rally this August, before our retreat, and pound the roads and byways with their loud, heavy machines. And of course, we gave it to the corporations to extract the very metals that create this resonance, gold and silver in the 19th century, uranium in the 20th and 21st.

The Lakota don’t buy into our historical narrative that says they originated somewhere else and came from Asia across the Bering Straits. We were always here, they say. For me, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, of which narrative is validated through anthropology, science or history, and which doesn’t. It’s a matter of my ability—or inability—to listen. Catching the subtle expressions on people’s faces, I bear witness to my habit of saying things—even making sweeping statements—I assume everybody agrees to. But the American Indians have a different narrative, one that has been deprecated and ignored much like their language and culture. I bear witness to what it means to colonize a people not just with guns or restrictive laws, but also with education, values, and narrative, such as requiring them to send their children to Christian schools, prohibiting their language and religion, mocking their stories of their history and telling them what we know is true: This is what happened. This is how and when you came here. We know your real history; you don’t.

The Black Hills belong to the Lakota also through the Laramie Treaty of 1868, which was violated very quickly when gold was discovered there. Some years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills do indeed belong to the Lakota and the government should compensate them. They rejected the money because they want the Black Hills.

If you think that there’s no way that can happen, I note that New Zealand has begun a concerted effort to return to the Māori their ancestral homes, including some of its most beautiful and expensive coastline properties, unlike the land we allocated to reservations that, in addition to often not being the tribe’s home, also lacked resources such as arable soil and water. I was told that New Zealanders did this because they realized that their national identity is intimately connected with the Māori. This is also reflected in changes they’ve made to their historical narrative as taught in their schools.

Nelson Mandela said: It always seems impossible until it’s done. The day we return the Black Hills to the Lakota will turn the page not just on how we behave towards them, but also towards the earth we all share.

So two weeks ago we visited the site we will use for the August retreat, 175 acres used for sun dance by the Flandreau Santee Sioux. Genro and local Indian elders planned where the camping area would go, the tepees, the prayer circle, the kitchen, bathrooms, and showers, making it possible for us to stay on this sacred ground for the retreat. Throughout our days of meetings the Diamond Sutra koan didn’t leave me. I thought of the history, the causes and effects that become causes in turn, the suffering of this earth that obviates the wicked actions of the past.

Finally, a few days after we returned home, a Lakota elder wrote us the following: What we would like you to do is to pray. Come and pray with the Lakota. Come and pray with us, and for this earth. Immediately I was reminded of a verse Black Elk cited in his book: In a sacred manner you shall walk. Your nation shall behold you.

Right after reading that email I took our old dog to the forest, as I usually do. Walking up the path, I saw him chasing a deer. The deer made a big circle, came around, crossed right in front of me, and ran down to the creek. Ten minutes later he was back, crossed the path further up, and looked back at us, standing still.

We have to show up at the Black Hills, and in whatever form, we have to pray there, meditate, and send out our invocations for this land. I’m reminded of a teaching someone who once sat here repeated to us some 10 years ago: Your job is to eat what’s on your plate. It’s not to eat what’s on somebody else’s plate, but to eat what’s on your plate. The Black Hills are on our plate because we’re Americans. I’ve talked here about other Zen Peacemaker retreats at Auschwitz and Rwanda, but this retreat is ours, as Americans. It’s our thing to go there, do council, and listen—not just to the Hills but also to the people who’ve lived and worked there.

Listen to Steve Newcomb talk about his efforts to get the Vatican to rescind the Papal Bull of 1493, giving the kings of Spain all rights to this hemisphere: We assign to you, and your heirs and successors, kings of Pastille and Leon, all islands of mainlands found, and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the West and South. Listen to Charmaine White Face talk about her unrelenting efforts to show the Environmental Protection Agency what is happening to the waters under the Pine Ridge Reservation. Listen to Tuffy Sierra talk of what he has experienced in his lifetime, and in his family’s lifetime.

Really, really live this karma. Be there, take it on completely: This is what we did. This, too, is who we are, unconditionally, moment after moment. 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.

What we have to do, all we can do, is take that first step. That will lead to the next step, and the step after that. Begin the process. The Hills are magic. Our gathering there is insignificant over the general course of time, but bearing witness isn’t about past, present, or future, it’s 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.





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Four Weeks to Black Hills

“What we would like you to do is to pray. Come and pray with the Lakota. Come and pray with us, for the Lakota, for ourselves, for us, and for this earth.”

- Lakota Elder and Bearing Witness Retreat Spirit Holder

In this rare event the Lakota Elders have invited all those who wish to come and bear witness at the sacred Black Hills to the present day expressions of the genocide and suffering of the Native Americans in the United States of America.

We are entering the last month of preparation to the Zen Peacemaker Order Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills, South Dakota USA. August 10-14 2015

LISTEN to a radio interview Lakota Leader Tuffy Sierra and Zen Peacemaker Order Spirit Holder Roshi Genro Gauntt.

READ Roshi Eve Myonen Marko reflection on the vision of the retreat.

WATCH Aaron Huey’s TED talk on America’s Native Prisoners of War.

REGISTER here and get detailed information about the retreat.

For questions please call 347.210.9556 or email [email protected]

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Be My Witnesses in Jerusalem: Bosnia, May 2015

By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko

When I think of our time in Srebrenica, it’s not the gravestones I remember, rows and rows of white obelisks dotting long grassy mounds climbing halfway up the surrounding hills, nor the slanting walls of names that glittered even under gray skies. Nor is it the gorgeous forested mountains, the Dinaric Alps covered with beech and pine and reminding me of Switzerland, through which we drove to get down to the memorial commemorating a massacre of over 8,300 people.

In fact, when Hasan Hasanović invited us to join him as he testified about what he and his family endured almost 20 years ago, among more than 50,000 who came for refuge in what was the United Nation’s first “Safe Area,” to be protected by “all necessary means, including the use of force,”[1] I thought that was it. What is more powerful than the testimony of a genocide survivor? We sat outdoors by the entrance to the gigantic cemetery on a large rug alongside Muslim visitors, as Hasan—black hair and eyes, and a profile sharpened by experience—recounted how, when Republika Srpska army units (VRS) overran Srebrenica, thousands of Bosniak men and boys decided to try to make it to Tusla, in safe territory, on their own. Joining them, he made his way through 55 kilometers of rugged, mountainous terrain in the summer heat, with little food or water, all while being shelled and ambushed by the VRS. Those taken prisoner were removed and executed though they were civilians, so that in all, only about one-third of those who began the trek to safety made it, haggard and emaciated, haunted for life. Those who stayed behind underwent selections. Most of the men, including young boys and the old, were taken away and never seen again.

Register for the Bearing Witness Retreat in Bosnia/Herzegovina May 2016

IMG_0638A friendly, yellow sun appears to beam on some 8,300 obelisk-like gravestones marking the final resting place of those whose tortured bodies were finally found, identified through DNA, and interred here. July 2015 will mark 20 years since the Srebrenica massacre, and families are still searching for the remains of their loved ones. Not only were their boys and men murdered and buried in mass graves, their bodies were disinterred a short time later and hurriedly hidden away in smaller, better concealed graves. As a result, limbs from the same body can be found in different locations, mixed with many others, violation upon violation upon violation. When discovered, they were disinterred once again many years later, identified through DNA, and buried for a last time here, in the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Cemetery.

“By planned and well-thought out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica,” were Radovan Karadžić’s instructions to his soldiers.[2] That “unbearable situation” meant very little food, no running water, terrible overcrowding, and few medical supplies for 50,000-60,000 starving refugee families who fled from neighboring towns and villages to the UN Safe Area of Srebrenica. And when VRS troops overran Srebrenica, at least 20,000 terror-stricken men, women and children began to run to the base where 400 UN Dutch troops were based at Potočari, just outside the city. That’s when thousands of males, including Hasan, his father, uncle and brother, decided to try to make it through the mountains to Tusla, with only about one-third reaching Tusla at the end. Hasan’s father, uncle and twin brother were not among them. The others stampeded towards the gates of Potočari, where the Dutch soldiers barred most from entry. Then VRS soldiers arrived and selections began—of men and boys for killing, of women for rape.


But Hasan’s testimony was not what struck me deepest. It was visiting the old Potočari barracks of the UN forces, an enormous former battery factory complex that housed 400 Dutch troops. Their quarters were as cavernous as airport hangars; standing by one wall, you must look far to see the opposite wall. “They put 5,000 of them here in this room,” Hasan says, “but then they made them leave.” I try to imagine this many men, women and children here—did they have food? Did they have blankets? And what terror struck them when the Dutch gave them up to the VRS soldiers waiting outside?

In the Memorial Room are photos of the dead and a film on the massacre, but my head kept on turning around to take in that gigantic desolate space. The work is to be attentive, to bear witness—to voices, stories, photos, diaries, eyes. There are the old echoes of messages we heard at Auschwitz and in Rwanda:

IMG_0654Nobody knew about the ethnic origin of the neighbor, nobody cared, till the media and politicians kicked in their messages: Beware, they’re coming to kill you.

There’s the denial:

I found a notebook with my teacher’s writing names of Bosniaks. I confronted him and he said no, it’s not his.

I told my neighbor that I saw what he did—now he doesn’t say anything to me.

There are the questions: Where was everybody? Where were the UN and its promises of Safe Areas? What about the Dutch soldiers who, with little international backing, didn’t protect Srebrenica nor the thousands of refugees who begged for refuge, even throwing some out after taking them in? What do they carry inside them to this day? Where was Europe, where this was happening—not in secrecy but in light?  For the Balkans are Europe, including the 1.5 million Bosnian Muslims whose ancestors became Muslim in the 15th and 16th centuries. If you thought that Muslims in Europe are recent arrivals, think again.

IMG_0883There is an ongoing edginess here, a wariness of more war. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro—six countries so linked by people and history that violence in one spills over into the others. Peace and stability here are fleeting and fragile. Right now there is nervousness over the protests against Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in Macedonia. There has been too much experience of dictators using the power of their office and the media to broadcast messages of national patriotism, revive historical grievances, and send people out to the street before marching them across the border for the purpose of ethnic cleansing or revenge.

“The radio began to broadcast that the Muslims will start a jihad and there will be massacres everywhere, and people felt they had to defend themselves.” Vahidin Omanovic, a Muslim imam, has been doing peace and reconciliation work through his Center for Peacebuilding for a long time. He began his adult years committed to taking revenge of Serbs for what they’d done to his family, until he met Paula Green, of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, who came to train local activists in making peace. That changed his life. He trained with her there and then got a Masters Degree in her program at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT. He is our welcoming and delightful host, meeting us in Day 1 in Sarajevo and taking us northwest to the city of Sanski Most in northwest Bosnia, where he lives and works, giving us a better sense of the texture of things while on the road. Most Bosnian Muslims don’t owe allegiance to other Muslim authorities, he explains; their sense of home isn’t located in Pakistan or the Middle East, they are home, Europeans who became Muslim almost a millennium ago. How long has your family been here, I ask him. As long as anyone can remember, he says, and then adds with a twinkle that there’s a very old cave in the hills of Sanski Most, and they came out of that.

IMG_0876The Bosnian Catholics are very different from the Croatian Catholics, the Bosnian Orthodox different from their counterparts in Serbia, and everyone borrows something from everyone else, he adds. Six different countries, 5 different nationalities, Jozo Novak tells me, who is from Croatia, all creating a complex mosaic of religious, ethnic, and national identities that is hard for us outsiders to really fathom, though Jozo and Vahidin, from different lands and religions, speak the same language with only minor differences in intonation, and seem to understand each other at a glance. The Dayton Accords rewarded the Republika Srpska for its ethnic cleansing by giving it 49% of Bosnian territory. The rest comprises the Federation, referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the entire thing is known as Bosnia.

What are not complex are the shells of farmhouses dynamited to prevent their owners’ return that one finds around Sanski Most, itself only a short distance away from Prijedor, a city in Republika Srpska. Many houses have been rebuilt by families who fled the area to other parts of Europe; the properties and homes have been in their families for generations. “We can build more than they could destroy,” Vahidin says. At the same time, many of those families, even after rebuilding, are still not coming back. We pass graffiti on a shelled house that simply says London.


The old streets of Sarajevo are dotted with Sarajevo Roses. These are cracks in the concrete caused by shelling during the siege, and when the siege was over they filled those cracks with a red dye to indicate that death had taken place there: maybe a mother picking up milk for her family, a factory worker on his way to work, or a small child picked off during play. Sarajevo is a jewel. Famous for its long tradition of cultural and religious co-existence, it was sometimes known as the Jerusalem of Europe. This Balkan Jerusalem was encircled and besieged for 1,425 days, the longest siege of a civilian city in modern history. Its people suffered an average of 329 shells per day lobbed at its buildings and streets, and estimates run as high as 18,000 people killed, including 1800 children. They died doing what children do: playing football, going off to school, waiting for a bus. It’s estimated that every single building in the city suffered some damage between 1992 and 1995, and some 35,000 were totally destroyed, including hospitals, the town hall and main government buildings. The renowned National Library burned down, taking thousands of rare books with it.

The religious harmony Sarajevo is touted for extends to its ancient buildings, bazaars, and stone walkways. The neighborhood of Ferhadija Walkway includes the Gazi Husrev Begova Mosque originally built in the 16th century, an old Orthodox church dating back to the same time, the Stari Hram synagogue built by Sephardic Jews escaping from Spain, and the more recent Catholic cathedral. All are within footsteps of each other. East and West meet here in so many ways. In Baščaršija you can drink strong Turkish coffee and smoke a water pipe in shaded cafes in gardens off the street, or visit art galleries and shops that show the Viennese influence from more recent times. But many buildings still carry bullet holes or cavities where shells had penetrated the walls, and everywhere are the Sarajevo Roses, reminding you of the death by artillery that came from the surrounding mountains.


(Above,  Mt. Trebevic overlooking Sarajevo, location of VRS artillery)

We stand high on top of those mountains now looking down at Sarajevo, much as VRS troops had looked down from where they encircled the city over 20 years ago. They thought it would be easy to tire people down and cause them to surrender. There’s a magnificent view of the city, but once again, my eyes are drawn to the blue-gray skies above, skies that can be so empty and so full all at the same time. Sarajevo below seems vulnerable and fragile, bursting into flame with each shell, and at the same time was so strong and resilient, outlasting the besieging forces for close to 4 years till they themselves withdrew.

Perhaps I’m drawn to the big cavernous spaces in Potočari and the cloud-muffled skies over Sarajevo to remind myself to avoid Western simplifications and ideals.  The narrative about Bosnia and the Balkans isn’t as simple as: There are people who want to live together in equality and diversity and there are those who don’t, or it’s a swamp of ethnic and religious conflict, or it’s always been a place of diversity and peace. When I bear witness I have to beware of ears that listen to what they want to hear or eyes that see what they want to see. The hard part is listening to voices that don’t fit any neat category: Serb inhabitants put to death in the pit of Kazani in the very mountains where we’re standing, even graffiti marking the bobsled run used in the Winter Olympics that took place in Sarajevo in 1984. All the voices are there, often seeming to conflict to my black-and-white mind, and when I hear too many I start shaking my head as if to say, it’s just too much, it makes no sense. And still, we can’t turn away, we can’t turn deaf. So I stood in the cavernous hangar space of Potočari and on the mountains above Sarajevo, and searched not for silence, but for the voices beyond speech, beyond tears, and recalled what the apostle Luke said, in quoting Christ: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.[3]


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[1] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 836 (1993).
[2] Directive 7, United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, April 19, 2004.
[3] Acts 1:3, 6-8.

Photos by Eve Marko and Rami Efal


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Two Months to Black Hills

First nations around the world have lost their lands, languages, and ways of life at the hands of American and European colonialists pursuing an agenda of domination, genocide, theft, and the elimination of indigenous cultures and identities. Entire nations have vanished. This catastrophe is not just theirs; it belongs to all humans, and to the earth itself, for it has been succeeded by the calamitous loss of animals and plants, and the specter of global warming.

What does it say about us and our separation from this earth? What does it say about our relationship not just to biodiversity, but to human diversity? What does it say about our cultural assumptions of superiority and how they continue to underlie our historical narratives? It is time to bear witness to our systems of thought and values, and to their actions and results that persist to this very day.

While hundreds of Native American tribes have been eliminated, drastically reduced in number, exiled, and traumatized, the Lakota/Dakota people of the Western Plains have gained a prominent position in the world psyche as a major archetype of what has befallen America’s native people. The massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, is viewed by many as a defining event in the genocide of the American Indians, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. What we are most blind to is the continuous institutional violence practiced on the Lakota Nation and other tribes, comprising treaty violations, Congressional acts that permit thievery of their land and resources, the building of dams and flooding of burial grounds hundreds of years old, and the constant encroachment of corporate interests looking to “develop” lands commercially and mine sacred sites for various metals, including uranium.

The Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in August 2015 is but the first step in a process of coming together with Native Americans, many of whom continue to distrust the Wasichu, or white man, punning the name with wašin icu, which means he who takes the fat, someone who is greedy and dishonorable. This first step is bearing witness to the trauma, pain, and loss suffered by members of the Lakota Nation at the hands of the American government and corporations, supported by the ignorance and denial of most Americans.

For this reason, the first day of the five-day program will consist of a guided bus trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation (put link for trip), one of the most impoverished areas in this country. During the next four days, the retreat will take place on land belonging to the Flandreau Santee Sioux in the Black Hills, ten miles north of Deadwood, South Dakota. We are deeply grateful for their generosity. This gorgeous site consists of 170 acres of rolling, graceful meadows.

Place has always been critical to bearing witness retreats. The Place in this retreat is the Black Hills, one of the oldest geographic formations of the North American continent, situated close to its mid-point. Their rock layers are ancient, the mountaintops eroded over a few billion years into hills covered by dark evergreens. Native Americans have always been here, they say; the game-rich Hills and trout-filled streams have been their sacred land, home to ceremonies, vision quests, and burial grounds. These same Black Hills have been stolen and exploited by white Americans over the past two centuries for their silver and gold, and other metals. There are estimates of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of open-air uranium pits leeching uranium into water cisterns serving the Pine Ridge Reservation and as far away as the great Missouri River.

In the Black Hills we can bear witness to our separation from this earth. For this reason we urge as many participants as possible to camp on-site for the duration of the retreat.

The violation of the Hills runs alongside the violation of their people. The four days of the retreat will include talks by Native American elders, spiritual leaders, and educators on the history of this colonializing process. Testimony will be given in the Prayer Circle on the present-day lives of American Indians as a result of the ravaging of their culture, land, and language.

Mornings will begin with council circles led by trained facilitators, so that individuals could share their experiences in small groups. AA meetings will take place every day.

This retreat is but the first step in a process that seeks to bridge the divide created by centuries of fear and distrust. Its purpose is to bear witness. In addition, there will be invocations of atonement and for forgiveness, as well as prayers with members of the Lakota Nation for transformation of our social consciousness, respect for their history and the terms of our joint treaties, and for a new relationship among peoples and with the earth.

Register to the Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills here.


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Twenty Years Ago, Long Long Ago: Reflections On How It (Auschwitz Retreat) All Started by Eve Marko

This article will appear in:

AschePerlen. Zeugnisse aus 20 Jahren Friedenspraxis in Auschwitz mit
Bernie Glassman und den ZenPeacemakers

Pearls of Ash and Awe. Testimonies from 20 years of Bearing Witness in
Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman and the ZenPeacemakers

Lieferbar Oktober 2015 / available October 2015

I first accompanied Bernie Glassman to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the first days of December 1994, before anyone conceived of a bearing witness retreat at the site of the concentration camps. He was going there to do a Transmission of Precepts ceremony for Claude Thomas, a Vietnam veteran, at an interfaith convocation convened there by Buddhist activist Paula Green and the Nipponzan Myohoji Zen community. Claude was later joining a group that would walk from Poland all the way to Hiroshima, Japan.

In my family, two aunts and an uncle died at Auschwitz. Another uncle barely survived the hard labor and lived the rest of his life like an extinguished candle. My grandfather died in 1944 and my mother and her other siblings hid in cellars before getting caught and sent to the Terezin camp near Prague, Czechoslovakia. They were close to death when the Russian army liberated the camp in 1945. Given all this history, I thought, what better way to go to a place like Auschwitz than with one’s own teacher?

But as I sat alone on a bench along the Vistula River on the weekend before meeting Bernie, I wasn’t so sure. Years of Zen practice slipped off me like snakeskin, revealing underneath the Jewish woman whose forbears lived, prayed, starved, and finally left Poland for Czechoslovakia.

“Don’t just go to see where they died,” my brother had told me on the phone, “also go to where they lived.” So I had indeed flown to Warsaw and taken the train south to Krakow, peering out the windows at dark, hushed houses and even darker twilights. Other Westerners in the compartment, en route to the convocation, talked eagerly and happily; they were not Jews. They didn’t listen to the clanging wheels or the shriek of brakes, they didn’t look out at bare, wintry farms and remember shtetl markets, they didn’t try to pierce through black beech and pine trees and wonder about unmarked graves in the forests.

Only some six years had passed since the overthrow of Poland’s Communist government; the beautiful Old Town was not yet crowded with tourists, cafes and flashy shop windows as it is now. The Jewish quarter of Kazimierz had only one café and bookstore at the very top of ulica Szeroka; Klezmer and Jewish revivals, now a staple of Kazimierz, were still a long way in the future. I walked for hours searching for small bare rectangles on doorframes where mezuzahs had once hung and the carvings of Jewish stars or menorahs on the walls of the old houses, then sat along the river beneath Wawel Castle watching the crows, listening for the trains as they approached Krakow Glowny, the main train station. Is there an East European Jew who doesn’t dread the sound of trains in Poland, who doesn’t imagine instantly the sealed boxcars, the lone whistle of a locomotive echoing across a ravaged countryside, shunted down smaller tracks till it finally rolls in, slowly and exhaustedly, under a brick arch and comes to a stop?

I walked a great deal that weekend and never once saw Poland or Poles, just the dreadful land of stories whispered to me at night long ago when I was a child.

I picked up Bernie at the airport and together we continued to Oswiecim, home to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We arrived in the late afternoon at the German Hostel, which would host several of our retreats in later years, and were greeted warmly by Paula Green, but almost instantly I felt like a stranger. Talks were being given in the main room by a variety of speakers: Buddhist monks in orange robes, Catholic priests wearing collars, rabbis wrapped in talises or wearing yarmulkes, whites and blacks, activists and saints. Maha Ghosananda was there from Cambodia and Russell Means from the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota.

What am I doing here, I wondered in confusion. This is not my family, this is not my people. They talked about compassion, love, and making sure that Auschwitz never happens again; their words meant nothing to me. We were in the same place but they were on a different planet. To my ears they talked spiritual jargon, while in my body I could almost feel the children huddling against my legs as we walked together towards where the guards pointed, watched by knowing eyes full of dread.

What’s this got to do with wisdom and compassion, I wanted to ask the person at the microphone. Look at where we are! There are no words for a place like this.

We walked to the Gate of Auschwitz 1. It was a freezing night and the ground was covered with ice as we stood in front of the slogan written in black, Arbeit Macht Frei, and there lit a candle for the first night of Chanukah. The flames of those candles dancing in the cold wind lightened my spirits.

But the hardness came right back the next day when we went into Birkenau, entering under the famous guard tower and walking down the tracks. Like so many people before and after, I was stunned by the vastness of the camp, sharpened by its geometric flatness and precisely placed barracks. There were wood and brick structures, but more than anything there was the terrible bareness of it, the frosty air that whispered of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, a death city peopled by ghosts. That first time it was easy to let my imagination take over, sense a quivering inside the barracks, look up at the sky and feel that the land where I stood, filled with visitors, was more abandoned than the North Pole.

Once again I remembered the stories I heard as a little girl lying in bed as my mother recounted what happened to Frieda, her sister, who chose to hold on to her baby and die with him rather than to part with him and join the laborers, as Mengele suggested. I thought of Mordechai, 10 yeas old and sickly all his life. When they knew they had to go into hiding, his parents scraped up some money to keep him in a hospital for safety, but the Nazis sent all the patients, including children, straight to Auschwitz. No mother had accompanied this young boy to his death and my grandmother never forgave herself.

But the old voices were interrupted by the strange singsong of the Nipponzan Myohoji followers chanting their devotion to the Lotus Sutra, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, and banging their hand drums as they walked down the tracks. I was repelled. This is not yours, I wanted to tell them. It’s our place of death, destruction, and grief, not your peace pagoda. Its gray, empty skies are meant to be left empty and alone, a perpetual question mark, not filled with rallying cries or chants. I blamed them for my eyes remaining dry, the lack of tears down my pinched cold cheeks. I shouldn’t be here, I thought to myself. I shouldn’t be here with Buddhists or Christians or American Indians. I should be here only with Jews.

Up ahead a crowd assembled around the remains of a crematorium. I didn’t want to join them, didn’t want to hear any talks, especially by a man who now slowly made his way to the center of the group and introduced himself as a Protestant minister. I watched from the perimeter as someone gave him a mike but he shook his head. He began to talk in a low voice, faltered, tried again, stammered, and stopped. He looked around him, and quietly said that he hadn’t wished to speak but was persuaded by others. And then he apologized. Till he came here he had no idea, he said, how much his co-religionists had contributed to the mass murder at Auschwitz. He collapsed and people hurried to help him up, but he remained on his knees and apologized for the words and messages of his religious tradition, for the subtle and not-so-subtle ways his religion had demeaned mine, his people had persecuted my people, and his participation in oblivion and denial. He ran a home for children who came from places of war all around the world, but that meant little in a place like this, he said. Here there were no good deeds to evoke, no partial expiation. All he could do was express his deepest sorrow and guilt, as a Protestant minister and as a human being.

And that, finally, was when my tears came. I sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed in my entire life, before or after. I remember the liquid heat burning my cheeks as I stepped away from the group, hardly seeing where I was going. Something opened that had never opened in 45 years of life, something was touched that no previous memorial service, story, or Jewish prayer had ever touched. And it came through the words of a Protestant minister who’d looked hard and deep at the spiritual abyss of Auschwitz and made no excuses. He didn’t open up his Bible to find justifications or beatific quotes we could all find refuge in, he simply collapsed in horror and then apologized.

What unlocks us? What opens up deep traumas that I believe go way back before our parents’ stories, before our childhood, even before our birth? Therapists can help us deal with issues of our lifetime, but what about the karma of history, the fears of multiple generations? How do we finally confront streams of fear and hate that seem as old as time? I don’t know the answers to these questions, only that my own turning came that afternoon when I encountered the tears of a Protestant minister whose name I don’t know to this very day standing on the remains of Crematorium 1.

I experienced a profound act of letting go. Certain things changed radically afterwards, first of which was my relationship to German people and the German language. But that was only a beginning. Returning to Auschwitz year after year also helped me shed the insidious identity of victimhood and its accompanying sense of specialness and entitlement—not right away, of course, the process continues, but it began on the grounds of Birkenau that winter morning in 1994.

That, too, was the day I heard Bernie speak out his resolution to do a retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau and bring others with him. Six months later we returned to Krakow and were met at the airport by a tall, broad-chested man from Warsaw, Andrzej Krajewski, who’d heard we needed help to create a silent retreat at the site of the camps. No, Bernie explained right away, it wasn’t meant to be silent; it wasn’t meant to be a Zen sesshin. It would present an opportunity for people to engage with others about their relationship to this place. And not just with others, but also with Others, with those who personified their fears and hatreds. It would be a retreat where as many different people as possible could come together, in the very place where differences, or any variation from the Aryan norm, were eliminated. Instead of remaining in your private realm of thoughts and memories, as I had tried to do, you would bear witness to those who spoke differently, who even said things you disliked.

He jotted down a draft schedule on a cocktail napkin he had in his pocket: small groups in the mornings, walks to Birkenau, sitting by the Selection Site, chanting names, and in the evenings meeting all together, in one big circle of diversity.

Twenty years have come and gone, twenty years of personal narratives from many different people, including different narratives from the same people as they’ve come back again and again. Some are stories about being Jewish and losing members of your family in the camps; some are about being German or Polish, about being gay or Gypsy. Many participants have only a tangential relationship to what took place at Auschwitz, but they too have their stories about the things that have marked their lives. I remember a European woman crying over and over about her broken relationship with her father that never mended before he died. Between sobs she apologized that in this place she was talking not about murder and genocide, but about a personal loss that took place many years later.

German participants have talked about the secrets in their families; Poles talked about the silence in theirs. Palestinians and Native Americans have inveighed against the loss of their land, Rwandans wept about their own massacre. Who hasn’t had her story of loss—a son, a daughter, a parent, a future? Who hasn’t been blamed? Nazis, Germans, Poles, Israelis, Europeans, Americans, President Clinton, Saddam Hussein, and yes, even Jews. What hasn’t been expressed during these retreats? Anger, rage, self-righteousness, indignation. It’s so easy to be offended, especially by superficial opinions that barely seem to scratch the surface, or sudden laughter and giggly gossip by people who for the moment forget they’re standing in the middle of the world’s biggest cemetery.

Certain words came up often, like healing and transformation. You don’t come to a giant cemetery for healing, a participant raged one year. I agree, but nevertheless, it can find you. What started out 20 years ago as mourning my own dead, grieving for what happened to the Jews of Europe, became over time something quite different. There’s great power in the place where life and death come together. How do you meet this place, I’ve asked myself each November, year in and year out. Each time the answer has been different, for meeting this place is meeting my own self in the form of Auschwitz.

So in November 2014 I looked up at the gray skies over Birkenau and asked myself not what my family members and other inmates saw there 70 years ago, but what will be seen there 70 years from now. How much of this will still exist? Will anyone care? Or will things have happened that will dwarf the camps at Oswiecim?

Don’t do this work for yourselves or for the people who come, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, said back in 1996 when Bernie talked to him about that first retreat. Do it for the souls that are there.

Right now it’s no longer just the past that calls out to me from the ruler-straight railway tracks and the remains of chimneys. Rather, the past has reached its tentacles to shadowy corners of our present and our future, too, giving Auschwitz, with its stones and rubble, a timeless quality. But it is no abstraction. Something there is deeply present and continues to cry out, warn, remonstrate, implore, and summon forth our energies again and again.

This article will appear in:

AschePerlen. Zeugnisse aus 20 Jahren Friedenspraxis in Auschwitz mit
Bernie Glassman und den ZenPeacemakers/

Pearls of Ash and Awe. Testimonies from 20 years of Bearing Witness in
Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman and the ZenPeacemakers

Herausgegeben von Kathleen Battke, inspiriert von Ginni Stern (USA) und
Andrzej Krajewski (Polen)/

Edited by Kathleen Battke, inspired by Ginni Stern (USA) and Andrzej
Krajewski (Poland)

Zweisprachige Ausgabe/Bilingual Edition: Deutsch-Englisch/English-German

Hardcover, ca. 288 Seiten, € [D] 19,90 Preis auch in US-Dollar??

ISBN ist 978-3-942085-47-2

e-Book € [D] 16,99, 978-3-942085-50-2

Lieferbar Oktober 2015 / available October 2015

In 1996, Bernie Glassman, Eve Marko, and Andrzej Krajewski plunged into
Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first time – together with 150 people from 10
nations. Ever since, Peacemakers from all over the world, many cultures
and religions have joined this retreat each year. In a place where
million-fold murder became machining, participants not only encounter
the horror of the past, but also their own inner victim/perpetrator,
their in-/humanity, and the abundance of ALL of life in this very moment
of Not-Knowing. – This book strings more than 70 testimonies of
participants to whom the Retreat experience was deeply moving or even
life-changing. For those who are looking for a heart-opening,
transformative peace practice with impact, these honest stories offer
inspiration – and the encouragement to open out.




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