Aaron Huey’s effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the struggle of the native Lakota people — appalling, and largely ignored — compelled him to refocus. Five years of work later, his haunting photos intertwine with a shocking history lesson in this bold, courageous talk. (Filmed at TEDxDU.)Learn More
Dear extended Zen PeaceMaker family,
On Friday, April 24th, 2015 we mark the Official Centennial Memorial of The Armenian Genocide where 1,500,000 Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Syrians and Chaldeans perished on the command of the Ottoman Young Turk regime.
We recognize the wound that has never been able to heal from the continual evasion of responsibility and denial of the contemporary Turkish government. We also see that denial as an expression of Turkish suffering around this history. We sit allowing ourselves to be fully present to these sufferings, Bearing Witness to the pain and resentment that racism and hatred has built over the last century and offer our open hearts and minds even to those temporarily caught in the grasps of that hatred.
We witness in ourselves our own murmurs of violence in our everyday occurrences that are the seeds of Genocidal intent. We say prayers for those hundreds of thousands of victims so senselessly murdered and for the perpetrators lost in delusion of their separation and hatred.
We recognize that the term “Genocide” was created by Raphael Lemkin in specific reference to the horrific mass killings of the Armenians and so is properly applied retroactively. And we also recognize the overwhelming majority of international scholars also agree.
So we pray for a resolution and political shift to allow a healing to finally begin for both. We have witnessed the huge Turkish outpouring of sympathy after the assassination of newspaper editor Hrant Dink and so we are perhaps seeing the beginnings of that possible shift already. And, in our lifetimes, we have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of Apartheid, so we do not loose our steadfast resolve that this too could come to pass in our lifetimes.
Eric ManigianLearn More
The people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are no strangers to hardship or to the risk of lives being cut short. But a string of seven suicides by adolescents in recent months has shaken this impoverished community and sent school and tribal leaders on an urgent mission to stop the deaths.
On Dec. 12, a 14-year-old boy hanged himself at his home on the reservation, a sprawling expanse of badlands on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. On Christmas Day, a 15-year-old girl was found dead, followed weeks later by a high school cheerleader. Two more young people took their lives in February and two more in March, along with several more attempts. The youngest to die was 12.
Students in the reservation’s high school and middle school grades have been posting Facebook messages wondering who might be next, with some even seeming to encourage new attempts by hanging nooses near homes. Worried parents recently met at a community hall to discuss what’s happening. And the U.S. Public Health Service has dispatched teams of mental health counselors to talk to students.
“The situation has turned into an epidemic,” said Thomas Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose 24-year-old niece was among two adults who also committed suicide this winter. “There are a lot of reasons behind it. The bullying at schools, the high unemployment rate. Parents need to discipline the children.”
Somewhere between 16,000 and 40,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe live on the reservation, which at over 2 million acres is among the nation’s largest. Famous as the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, in which the 7th Cavalry slaughtered about 300 tribe members in 1890, it includes the county with the highest poverty rate in the U.S., and some of the worst rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, violence and unemployment.
Suicide has been a persistent problem, a fact that is hardly surprising considering the grim prospects for a better life on the remote grasslands, say tribal officials.
Most people live in clusters of mobile homes, some so dilapidated that the insulation is visible from outside. At night, trailers are surrounded by seven or eight rusting cars, not because someone is hosting a party, but because 20 or 25 people live inside. Horses wander on the seemingly endless pastures, some with their rib bones showing.
Nearly 1,000 suicide attempts were recorded on the reservation between 2004 and 2013. Few weeks go by without a suicide, said Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, a suicide-prevention outreach worker at Pine Ridge.
But the deaths of the young people are especially shattering.
“Why so young?” she said. “Why do these kids think there is no hope? Well, look around,” DeCory, who has worked on the reservation for almost 30 years.
“The economic structure here does not support the population. You have a gas station, a little boutique, a big grocery store, Taco John’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. You have people of all ages vying for those jobs. People that are 50 and 60 years old are competing against the teenagers who want to work.”
Federal experts say that some reservation children experience a form of post-traumatic stress from exposure to family turmoil. The symptoms are comparable to those of military veterans returning from war zones.
Friends of Alanie Martin, a 14-year-old who hanged herself on Jan. 31, are still trying to understand her death. The cheerleader at Pine Ridge High School traveled to basketball games and, by various accounts, had lots of friends and was all smiles.
“She was very active. She knew everybody,” Ieisha Lefthand, 17, said, choking back tears. “In the locker, they had pictures of her, candles and people stopping by her locker crying.”
Some students say the suicide urge can come on reservation kids who are in a bad spell.
“While I was at my old school, I actually went through a hard time and tried to commit suicide and I ended up in the hospital,” said Shyla Cottier, a sophomore at Pine Ridge High School. “I got bullied, and then I had family troubles and it all just kind of built up to the point of that. My mom went to my counselor, and that really helped me.”
But not all the suasion is positive.
In February, Poor Bear said, a parent came to him with an alarming Facebook post: Nooses hanging in trees near Porcupine, a community of about 1,000 people. Tribal police later took down four nooses, apparently left there as an invitation, but could not determine who was responsible.
“A lot of the older teenagers are encouraging the younger ones on Facebook, leaving messages that say you know, ‘You need to end your life and go to a different life,’ and that’s encouraging them to go commit suicide,” Poor Bear said.
At the community meeting, many parents said the causes of the suicides included the decimation of their Oglala Lakota culture. The Sioux were forced onto the reservation in 1868. Tribal members for years were steered into boarding schools where only English was allowed. Religious ceremonies were discouraged.
“We need to do something. We need to take action” to build the children’s pride in their identity, said Sheila Slow Bear, Ieisha Lefthand’s mother. The parents agreed to hold a ceremony to give interested students an Oglala Lakota name.
After the tribe appealed for help in February, volunteer federal mental health professionals began two-week rotations at the reservation to supplement the nine full-time counselors at the Indian Health Service hospital who were overwhelmed. They encourage students to come forward if a friend is considering suicide.
“They have to understand that they are not snitching on their friends,” said Angie Sam, the director of the tribe’s suicide-prevention initiative.
Teachers recently foiled a plan by several high school girls to take their lives simultaneously.
Pine Ridge School, which offers kindergarten through high school, is seeking federal money to keep its dormitory open during the weekends so students don’t have to go home, where most of the suicides happen. Many students spend the school week on the campus, in the reservation’s largest town, to avoid long daily bus rides.
“Before cellphones and everything, a kid could get away from bullying at school by going home and they felt safe,” DeCory said. But no more. “You’re no longer safe in your own home. These kids feel that.”Learn More
Living a Life that Matters #1: Sharing the Mountain Top
By Roshis Bernie Glassman and Eve Myonen Marko
Given on March 5th, 2015 at Sivananda Yoga Retreat at Nassau, Bahamas
Transcribed by Scott Harris, photos by David Hobbs and Rami Efal
Introduction: We would like to welcome all the new guests that arrived at the Ashram today. And we would like to welcome that came for the program on “Living a Life That Matters,” that will start tonight. And to those that are here to participate in the annual gathering of the Zen Peacemakers Order. So it’s a great honor to have our distinguished presenters. And we’ll introduce them shortly, and their group—like we mentioned last night.
So tonight we’ll begin a four-day program called, “Living a Life That Matters.” And it will be presented by Roshi Bernie Glassman, and Roshi Eve Myonen Marko. And we’ve been holding this program for several years—in fact we just had it in December. And it’s always a great pleasure to welcome Roshi Bernie and Roshi Eve. They’re great masters in the Zen movement in the United States, and in fact all over the world. And they do wonderful things, very good things, for the world—great believers in social action, and turning social action into spiritual practice.
But this time we have a special occasion, because we started talking about it two years ago—to actually hold the annual gathering of their organization, which is called the Zen Peacemakers, and to have it here at the Yoga retreat. So it’s really wonderful to hold this event here. And tonight we’ll have the opening lecture in this program.
So I’d like to introduce the presenters. Roshi Bernie Glassman is a world-renowned pioneer in the Zen movement, and founder of Zen Peacemakers. He’s a spiritual leader, author, and businessman, and teaches at the Maezumi Institute and the Harvard Divinity School. A socially responsible entrepreneur for over thirty years, Bernie developed the Greyston Mandala to provide permanent housing, jobs, job-training, child-care, afterschool programs, and other support services to a large community of formerly homeless families in Yonkers, NY. Bernie is the coauthor with Jeff Bridges of The Dude and the Zen Master, and with Rick Fields of Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Masters Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, and the author with Eve Marko of Bearing Witness: A Zen Masters Lessons in Making Peace, and Infinite Circle: Studies in Zen. Bernie is also the coauthor with Hakuyu Maezumi of Enlightenment: On Zen Practice, and On Zen Practice: Zen Writing Series.
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, and a resident teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts. She serves as a Spirit Holder at various Bearing Witness Retreats of the Order, and is also a writer and editor.
And so tonight we’ll have the first talk on “Living a Life That Matters.” We would like to welcome Roshi Bernie, and Roshi Eve. Let’s welcome them.
Bernie: Thank you. This feels like home to us. I’m not sure how many years, I can’t remember years anymore. We’ve been coming a long time. But I first met Swami-ji actually in Canada, and then later here. We’ve been coming here a long time. But for many reason for us it’s a very—you may not know the word hamishu, homey.
Eve: So, good evening everyone. Actually I think our first time here was 1999.
Bernie: She knows dates!
And what’s been very important in our life was we met Krishna Das (the Kirtan singer, not the accountant) here that year. And we’ve been since then very friendly and involved in many things together.
Eve: And we also enjoyed meeting the other Krishna Das.
So Rukmini mentioned that we were here just three months ago. And all that has to do with the vagaries of weather, because we live in New England. And New England has gone through some rough winters, which effects how often we get here.
Now three months ago this conversation started. And it’s been in my mind, and I think in Bernie’s mind these three months. I can’t even remember who it was that first put out the question—this metaphor for enlightenment. Someone said—and it was someone here, I don’t remember who, we had a number of teachers—and said that “enlightenment is like going up a mountain.”
Bernie: It was Swami-ji.
Eve: So it was—and if I get it wrong, you’ll correct me. It’s like going up this mountain. And depending on your tradition, and who you are, and your practice, you have your path. And you’re going up the path. And you have your opinion about your path, and how it’s important, and how it’s maybe the only real path there is. And you have your things you do, and your rituals, and the chants, and all those things. And then right next to you there’s another path. And there’s somebody else going up their path. And they have their stories, and their opinions, and their practices, and all the things they do. And as long as we’re on the path, and we’re working very hard to get there, all we can see is our path. You know, we’re just sort of climbing up, and falling down, and having our obstructions, hurdles, whatever. And what we see is our path. The few who get to the top, look down, and they realize that all these things that they thought was the mountain—they were all just paths, and they were leading up to the same place—the height of the mountain. So if you were a Christian and you were working very hard all those years, and you thought that was it, when you finally got up—or same if you’re a Buddhist, or you’re a Hindu—you get up there and you realize that they were all different paths coming up to the top of the same mountain.
And then somebody asked the question, “So what happens to the group that gets to the top of the mountain?” You see, “what happens to them?” And you know, we all have different opinions about that. So somebody might think, “Oh it’s all very nice on top of the mountain. It always shines like it does when we’re here. There’s a golden glow. It’s all pink. Everybody loves one another. There’s no more problems.” That’s the top of the mountain. And I know that there was somebody here, and there are different teachers—and again, different paths—who said, “Well, you know, once we get up there, there’s no more opinions, or stories about ourselves or others. All of that disappears.” And that day, three months ago when we were here, Bernie said, “No. In my opinion [because that’s his opinion] all there are on top of the mountain is our opinions and stories. There’s nothing else.” Now what did he mean by that? So he’ll talk more, but I’m gonna sort of take it up to a certain point.
What he said is, “You know I’m a Zen Buddhist. If I have my opinion about Zen and how important it is, and it’s this, and it’s all that, and I have my story about it; I know that it’s just my story and my opinion.” You know, it’s not anything else. It’s not the truth. It’s not the only way to be. It’s just my story. And I’m enjoying my story. I’m enjoying wearing this. This is a Rakusu, it’s like a lay robe worn by Buddhists. I enjoy my sitting practice. I enjoy all those things, and I no longer think that it’s the only way.
So that conversation’s been in my mind all these months. And we were in Israel just two weeks ago, talking with different activists and groups. So I’ll get to that. But you see, the thing that remained in my mind about this conversation is how difficult it is to just let each person have their opinion, and their story, and be who they are, without some notion that “Yes, but one day you’ll change.” You see?
I mean, here we are. This is a beautiful place. We’re probably pretty like-minded. You know, we probably like Yoga. We like the Bahamas. Maybe we like the ocean. You can imagine some common factors we have. But I’ll bet you anything that this day you talked to someone, and in this very loving supportive environment, you said to yourself something like, “Eh, you know, he’s really wonderful, but he really has to watch what he eats because look at the belly. You know, he has too much of a belly.” Or you talked to someone, and you said, “You know, she’s a wonderful woman, but I wish she wouldn’t talk so much.” Or you know, maybe it’s somebody you live with, and you’re saying, “You know, he’s a wonderful guy, but I know when he reaches the top of that mountain, he’s gonna stop smoking cigars, because he will know that this is not good for his health.” You know?
So there’s something. And a long time ago I first heard the term triumphalism. And it was first expressed by the Rebbe Zalman Schachter, who was the founder of a big Jewish Renewal movement. He said, “Interfaith gatherings are very nice, except that many people who do them, deep inside feel, ‘We love you. We’re ready to go to church with you, to synagogue with you. Were ready to do meals with you. We’re ready to do a lot of things. But one day, one day, you’re gonna see that our way was right. When Jesus comes, and whoever isn’t saved goes straight to Hell, you’ll know.’” But, you see, that’s the obvious one. It’s the subtle ones that are much harder to detect. That deep inside, if I see someone, I live with someone, I love the person, all that—but somehow, one day, he’s gonna change. When he becomes enlightened, everything is gonna straighten out, and he’s going to be more like what I want him to be—really. You see, there’s going to be this kind of equality. We’re all gonna kind of come in together, and be more alike—usually more like me. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s quite insidious.
And I remembered that when I was in Israel, and it was Saturday night, and we had a meeting, and this wonderful woman came—an Orthodox Jewish woman. It was a meeting of activists, and she was a widow of a man called Rabbi Menachem Froman, who we had met, and who was an extraordinary Rabbi who lived in the West Bank, and forged tremendous connections with Palestinians, and especially Palestinians with Islamic leaders. There’s many stories about him. And he felt that all these different negotiations being done were not that important, because the Earth doesn’t belong to anyone, but to God. And there’s a lot that we could say about him. He died just a year or two ago, a fairly young man in his sixties. So his wife continues his work, and she came. And at some point, you know, we asked her how she felt about this. And she said, “I feel really good about it.” And she said, “I’ll tell you why. It’s all about peace.”
So you know, earlier we chanted, you know, “peace, peace, peace.” She said, “There’s human peace. And that’s the peace that human beings make.” And who do we make peace with? Mostly we make peace with people we like. We make peace with people we approve of—people who are like us, share our values. Those are the people . . . and that’s “human peace,” she said. And then she said, “But my husband used to say, that ‘peace for the sake of God—l’shem shamayim—for the, in the name of heaven—peace in the name of heaven is made with all of the people who we don’t like, and we don’t agree with, and we can’t even stand, and sometimes we can’t bear to talk to them. We can’t have them in the same room. All those people—when we can be with them in peace, that’s peace in the name of heaven.’” And she said “this group [and there were many different people there] that reminds me of peace in heaven.”
So that’s how this conversation continues, you see. What happens on the top of the hill? Who are we at peace with at that point? And do they change? Or are they the exact same people that we’d see day by day? What happens on top of that hill?
So Bernie, I thought this was a good way to start.
Eve: So there’s different questions that come to mind that maybe could kind of . . . like, what does it mean to make peace on this basis? Does it mean that you just accept everybody as they are? And then, why do anything? You know, and what that has to do with the work? And also we really invite you to ask questions. So maybe at some point, I think what we did last time that we were here is we had people come forward . . . Oh, there is a mic out here? And so if you have questions that you’d like to ask, at some point come forward. There’s a couple of seats there. And at some point just talk into the mic, so that we can all hear your question, and all have the benefit of it.
Bernie: Yeah, I really encourage that, because we love dialogue. So please come up and ask anything. But as Eve was talking, and to say a little bit more about what Eve just said, there’s a new initiative that may be happening in Israel. And I want to speak with Swami-ji about it. It goes back to old days, a gathering, a group of people that are leaders in their own right, but very different leaders, and people who would never normally talk to each other or meet each other (except maybe to beat each other up). So I’m talking about . . . this is particularly the Middle East. And I’m talking about settlers, people from Hamas, people from Gaza, people from refugee camps, people from the army, business people. There was a young woman in Tel Aviv who said—an Israeli woman who said, “I can talk with Palestinians, I can not talk with settlers, other Israelis.” So this is a group of people that normally would not talk to each other. And now, we’re gathering. And the first thing is—what is there? Is there something that we share as a common vision? In a way it’s a question—Is there something on top of the mountain for all of us? Is there a common vision?
I threw out one possibility, which is sort of I think obvious—we would like our children to be able to play what they want to play. I think that would be common to everybody. Is that something on top of this mountain that we can talk about? We can share our opinions. Is there some other things? What is the discourse on the top of the mountain? Can we come to some vision that in a way brings peace? And as Hadassah said, “it has to involve the differences.” You can’t have a lasting peace if you leave out the people that you don’t want to deal with, even though it may be very complicated.
The man who is starting this initiative—he’s a Palestinian, and he trains people in nonviolent work, so he’s sort of a Gandhi Palestinian, lives in Bethlehem. He’s been doing it for many, many, many years. And we’ve been involved with him for many, many, many years. And he’s come to Auschwitz a number of times. And he sends all his staff to Auschwitz—our Auschwitz retreats. Some of you may not know, we lead an annual retreat at Auschwitz. This will be the twentieth year. And a methodology of those retreats—which we’re now doing several more in different places—we call them Bearing Witness Retreats. And one of the factors is to try to bring as many voices as possible, as much differences as possible, as many factors as possible. And then we work with the stuff that comes up. We work with the differences. And if we can bring ourselves to a common vision—that is, if we can get to the top of that mountain, or some mountain—there’s mountains, and mountains, and you keep going up—but if we can get to the top of some mountain where we can have a common vision, that can be a beginning of something.
In our own life, if you’re a family person, do you have a common vision with your spouse, with your kids, with your grandchildren, with your siblings? Is there something—can you find a common vision out of the differences? That means you gotta, whatever are our differences.
So in a way, that’s sort of a practice that’s aiming at just getting up a little hill. And what is it coming up? “Oh, I have common vision with my sister that we both want to breath.” But, how? How to breathe? It’s in the Hasidic tradition . . . well you guys work on breathing as a practice. In Zen it’s extremely important, working on breathing as a practice. In the Hasidic tradition there are different words for breathing. Breathing can be “the wind of God.” That’s a breath. “The soul,” that’s a breath—the continual breath. There are different kinds of breathing. What kind of vision do we have of breathing? And can we share these opinions?
If we’re at the top of the mountain, the key thing to me as a way of recognizing that you’re at such a place is that you can share opinions with somebody without saying, “No, no, you’re wrong!” Opinions can’t be wrong, see? Opinions—in my opinion—opinions is the language of non-duality. And that’s an opinion that I just formed about three years ago. So for sixty years I’ve been practicing, and for me non-duality was something you couldn’t express. But finally, I said, “Wow!” Realizing that whatever I say, and whatever I hear are opinions, brings me into the state of non-duality. And in our practice in Zen Peacemakers, that’s an extremely important place of having people experience that state. And we’ve created all kinds of techniques and whatever.
But it’s fascinating that one can think of having a language in non-duality. It’s simple. It’s an opinion. You can’t have right or wrong. Opinions don’t have rights or wrongs. They’re opinions, they don’t fall into duality.
So now we’re looking at this initiative of this group of people from many walks of that . . . It’s hard to imagine. When we were just there, we heard that this couple that’s part of the Zen Peacemaker Order—they’re big peace activists in Israel. If I go back enough years, the husband, he was a Colonel in the I.D.F.—the right wing. He formed a very important school for the I.D.F. in creativity. And then he had some kind of epiphany, and shifted from very right wing to very left wing, and became an activist. He’s still creating organizational things.
Why’d I bring him up? I lost my track.
Eve: Opinions and non-duality.
Bernie: Yeah. It’ll come up later.
This group in the Middle East, for me was very important. Not just for the Middle East—I could see groups like that, with leaders of very different opinions, very different styles forming around different issues. The environment—we have so many catastrophic issues. Forming groups, and then forming groups that support those groups. I know a lot of wonderful, wonderful people. And there was a time that I was trying to collect us, so that we could be voices at times of these catastrophes—or at times of catastrophes-in-waiting. And you can think of so many catastrophes-in-waiting. Can we leverage our different voices, our different opinions in something that could make changes, that could create a life that matters? I think we can.
What do say about that, Tootsie?
Eve: Oh, Tootsie—I have to explain what that is. You see, that’s more differences. When we get bored with being Bernie and Eve, we call each other Rocky and Tootsie. Because Bernie was a fighter when he was a kid, and he was known as Rocky, believe it or not. And I had my history, and was called Tootsie. So we sometimes, you know, just get bored and you know, “let’s do this,” so we become different people, and have fun with it.
Eve in Tootsie voice: So you know what my question is Rocky?
Bernie in Rocky voice: What, Tootsie?
Tootsie: So, if everybody’s just different, you know, so what happens? Somebody says, “I’m different, and you know what? I’m gonna kill you.” So what, that’s OK? What do you say about that, Rocky?
Rocky: I’ll punch ’em.
Bernie: Yeah, so this becomes all of our practices, huh? What we didn’t mention—and this came up too—in our meeting in Jerusalem, there was a man, what does he do?
Eve: He’s an organizational consultant.
Bernie: So he threw out this question to us. He said, “What do you mean by peace?” And so I gave him . . . because we call ourselves Zen Peacemakers. I gave the history of how we came to the word, which is a little . . . if you know Hebrew, it’s easier. But I’m gonna explain it anyway. Because when we use the word “peace,” we have a certain connotation—right—there everything’s OK, or something like that. And in fact, in Israel, people say “hello,” to each other, they say “Shalom.” Shalom means peace. “shalom, shalom.” Palestinians say “Salam, salam,” Peace, peace. We were doing work in Israel, and eventually we became sort of unwanted people, because in our name was “Peace.” And many organizations in Israel that have the word Peace are looked down at now. It’s peace, except for saying “hello” to each other, has become a dirty word.
But I didn’t come to the word “peace” in that way. The root of the word Shalom—Shalom is peace. And in Hebrew each word has a three-letter root word. I’ve been told that the three-letter root word of Shalom is Shalem. Shalem means to make whole, to reconnect. And in the Jewish mystical Hasidic tradition there’s a metaphor where the cup that’s holding the light of God—the light of God is so intense that the cup breaks into millions and millions of pieces and fragments. And then the role of the Hasid, of the righteous person is to bring those fragments back together—to reconnect.
In Buddhism it’s all built around trying to help people experience the interconnectedness of life—the oneness of life. So in many mystical traditions it’s about experiencing that oneness of life. That oneness of life is that state of non-duality. And you can’t have oneness of life if you’ve got dual stuff going on there, man. So that is to experience being on top of the mountain.
So I explained that’s how I came to Zen Peacemakers—trying to bring those fragments back together. And then afterwards, he came up to me. He said, “I want to be part of this, because that’s how I see it. I don’t think peace will work. But trying to get all the fragments together, that can work.” And that room was full of so many fragments.
Eve: You know, Bernie, what this reminds me of too, is when we went to Indian country. So, you know, we were in Israel a few weeks ago, but in late January we were in South Dakota planning this big Native American retreat in August. So we met with a few Elders. And that’s not easy, because they’re very distrustful of white people. And actually the Lakota—you know this is the reservation, the big Pine Ridge Reservation, right next to the Black Hills. And they have good reason to have no faith in the white people, given how many times we violated our own promises, our own treaties. And to be on that reservation, and to see the enormous percentage of poverty. . . Till I was there, I didn’t know that in the United States there’s a place where the mortality rate for men is forty-eight. I didn’t know that existed on the Continental United States. I’d never seen a poverty like that. And we’ve lived in urban ghettos, but I’ve never seen anything like that. No hospitals, no doctors, just this empty land, and trailers. So there’s stories, but the thing I connect with what Bernie was just saying is that we met with you know, a few Elders, including the Head Holy Man of the Oglala tribe, which is the tribe of the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. And he was very ornery, and kind of unpleasant, and argumentative. And basically, I don’t know what it was that somebody said. And he just turned on him, and said, “You know, don’t fix us. Don’t fix us.” So, what was implied there was, “Yes, I know we’re dreadfully poor. And yes, alcoholism is rampant. And yes, there’s tremendous drugs, and tremendous suicides—especially by young people. And tremendous incidents of domestic violence. And yes, we lost our sacred grounds, the Black Hills, which are right there, and where once people went to do vision quests, and to get medicines, and to bury the dead. People now go to play in casinos, because that’s what was built up there—casinos, and western-type clothing stores, big motorcycle rallies—yes, that’s what happened in our Black Hills. But don’t fix us. Don’t come to us and say, ‘Oh we’ve gotten something for you to change you.’ We don’t need to be fixed.”
And you know, we had to talk all that out. And at the end he actually invited us that evening to take part in the sweat lodge on his own family property. But none of this would have happened without this wonderful man who is our friend, and part of the Zen Peacemaker Order, Genro Gauntt. And what Genro Gauntt did—he’s this very, very white man, I mean you can’t imagine someone whiter than Grover Cleveland White III . . .
Eve: Really. I mean tall, white, almost pink skin, blue eyes, you know, he used to be blonde before he turned grey. And in 1999, he had the idea that he wanted to bring one of the Lakota people to our Auschwitz retreat. And after talking, they actually sent someone. So then he thought to himself, “You know, they came to us—I’m gonna go over there. I think it’s the polite thing to do.” So he goes over there to Pine Ridge. And he has these wonderful stories of what happened when he went to Pine Ridge. And there’s these Indian cowboys, and they look at him. And they look at this very tall, very white man coming in and sitting down. And they say, “You ride, man?”
And he says, “A little.”
“OK, good. You’re coming riding with us.”
And they had one of their big annual rides, you know. In the dead of Winter they go—I think this is the Crazy Horse Ride—and they go in the dead of Winter for like nine days, tracing this route of what happened when people started, and ending at the site of Wounded Knee—the last big massacre of Indians by our government, by our military. But he started coming there twice a year. Twice a year he came—each time for two weeks to two months. And he did that for sixteen years, he would come to Pine Ridge. And people would say to him, “Well, what do you do there?”
He says, “I don’t do anything.”
And they say, “Do you bring stuff? Do you bring money?”
He says, “No.”
“Do you bring any teachings?” Because he’s a Zen practitioner, now a Zen Teacher.
He says, “No.”
“Do you teach them how to meditate?”
“Well, what do you bring?”
He says, “I don’t bring anything.”
“What do you do?”
“I don’t do anything. I just hang out there. And I learn, and I participate in the rituals. You know, and I just stay at this big trailer with my friend Tuffy Sierra. And I help his wife cook dinner. And you know, I help them with their horses, and help them fix the tires on their broken cars. That’s all—and then I go home. And six months later, I just come back. And Tuffy fixed me up, and the car breaks down. And we kind of worry about the car together. And then I go with him, and I hang out with him for two months, and do all this. I don’t do anything.”
And after sixteen years of doing nothing, we are finally able to have this retreat happen in August—because of this guy who did nothing. He didn’t come to fix anybody. He didn’t come to bring things. He just stayed with them. He just bore witness to them. And it is the relationships that he built with them that are really the foundation for this retreat that’s coming up in August.
Bernie: It will be about 300 people, and about 150 Indigenous folks. And it will be a tremendous experiment in not-knowing. We will be on Indian time. We will have certain schedules. You have a fixed schedule here. There, we will have a schedule, but there is no chance that any of that schedule will happen. Things will happen as they happen—that’s the Indian way. If it’s supposed to happen, then it should happen. And if it’s not supposed to happen—even if you schedule it—it won’t happen. So we’ll have multiple things happening at the same time.
One thing for sure—there’ll be so many differences there. I mean there were, like I say 150 Native Americans—not all Lakotas. There will be Indigenous folks coming from Columbia, from a tribe that just emerged. They were completely unknown to civilization, except to themselves—until about ten years ago. So a couple people from there will be coming. A couple of Shivananda Yoga teachers will be coming. I think there will be a couple of Aborigines from Australia coming. Many different kinds of Indigenous, but the majority will be Lakota. Many Elders, and the Elders all fight with each other. They’re so different. And the internationals will be from the States, from Europe, Latin America, from all over.
So it’s gonna be another experiment in how can all these differences share opinions? Can we come up with a common vision? And then can we expand? You know, in all these cases where I’m looking at us—can we come up with common visions?—the next question is always how to expand that common vision? Are there are practices that we can do that will help us expand?
So for example, this group of thirty to fifty leaders in Palestine, Israel area—they’re going to be trying to come up with a common vision. And then they’re going to do Bearing Witness Retreats together. They’ll have to break into pieces, because they’ll be in refugee camps, settlements, in Arab villages, in all kinds of places. And then after those retreats, they’ll come together again, and in fact where they come together’s been decided—Gush Etzion. It’s a settlement where settlers and Palestinians are holding discussions. And they have a place that’s big enough for those thirty to fifty people to meet, and to share out of these Bearing Witness Retreats. Has anything come up that allows us to increase our common vision?
So what we’re talking about is practices, people that are doing different practices. And then also coming together with other people that are doing practices, and seeing if there’s some kind of shared vision.
We should open this to questions. We’re talking too long.
Audience member 1: Thank you for being here, and thank you for inviting us to ask questions. I’m only up here because I was told that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. So, I would like your opinion on my opinion about peace and why there seems to be so little peace in the world right now. I think it’s because of our relationship with our egos. We all, each and every one of us have an ego. And we are meant to have an ego. But I think the problem is that we don’t have a good relationship with our egos. I think, in my opinion, we need to acknowledge our ego, respect it, and give it it’s place. We need to instead of treating it as the enemy, we need to embrace our ego, and say, “OK, I know your place. And I’m aware of you. And I’m not going to let you control me.” Because if somebody is attacking me, or threatening me, I feel like the part of me that wants to fight back is because the ego is taking over. But if I’m able to distance myself, and say, “OK, that’s not me. This is me.” And I can just, I don’t know, let it go. And I would like there to be more education, and more awareness of the ego. And I would like your opinion on whether you think the ego has anything to do with peace. Thank you.
Eve: You know, so the ego—it’s a concept. It’s a psychological word. I think the practice itself of non-attachment, letting go of ego, or I would say what is to letting go of all things—my fears, my stories, my anxieties, my wishes, my desires—all those things that I get attached to, and prevent me from living fully the life I’m given, moment-by-moment? That for me is the question. And I think that’s the same question you’re asking. And I think that’s a very, very strong and long practice. Even for people who might have—and certainly Zen has it’s stories of these enlightenment experiences, where suddenly somebody experiences fully the unity of life. What we also no is that even if you’ve had that experience, you’re still gonna have to work out all that stuff. That stuff doesn’t just go away forever because you had an extraordinary experience here in Sivananda. You had this wonderful chance, and wonderful meditation, and BOOM—something happens. And you go out there and see the full moon. And you see something, and experience something wondrous. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow morning you’re not gonna get up and—maybe not right away—but soon the same fears and anxieties, and patterns of behavior will come right back. So I think that’s hard work. And I think it’s very important work. And I think that all of us—here, of course, there are practices to deal with that, and we have our practices to deal with it. I’m not sure it’s just a matter of educating everybody about ego.
Bernie: That’s another concept. Educating about ego becomes another concept. You’ve got to experience this letting go—I think. And we’ve developed, there are many, many practices working on individual ego. And I think we’re talking about practices that are working on not just our individual ego, but on a systematic ego, of society. So it’s going a little beyond. It’s important to work on one’s self, and come up with those methods. And there are lots of different methods, and you can choose the ones you want to do of course. And, we have to also look a little broader—I think. We don’t want to become hedonistic, and only think about ourselves—in my opinion.
Audience Member 1: Thank you. So, what I mean by “education of the ego,” is to become aware of whether the person’s behavior towards me is because they’re not at peace with their ego, and they’re driven by that. The whole peace thing—it’s very upsetting to me why there’s so much war in the world. As it is to everyone, upsetting. So I just thought of this.
Personally, what I know about Zen is the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have very little knowledge about Zen. And I will go, and Google it, and find out what it is. And if I were to think of something that Zen means, having not really studied it, besides that book, I would think of like the horizon—just what the horizon looks like. But I’m very naïve to the whole Zen thing.
Bernie: Well, I want to thank you for the plug, because this is the first year in many years that the Ashram asked me to bring some of the books I wrote. So we’ll have some books, and you can read about Zen. You could read about Bearing Witness. You could read about, as was mentioned before, The Dude and the Zen Master, and their rapping. Then you could read Infinite Circle, which is more technical about Zen. Anyway, there’s a series of books, and they will get to the bookstore by tomorrow morning. So thank you for the plug, Ma’am.
Audience Member 2: Good evening Roshi Eve, Roshi Bernie. I’d first like to say that I think it’s amazing how when Bernie, you don’t remember something, or Eve, you don’t remember something, the other one remembers the date or the name of the place. Your collective consciousness is adorably fantastic.
Bernie: “Collective Consciousness!”
Audience Member 2: So my question—going back to the mountain, we’re all trying to climb this spiritual mountain, to get to the top. And in the Hindu tradition, we talk about Samsara, this endless life cycle, trying to realize the self, and attain this inward epiphany of ultimate reality, and that sort of thing. But we say that even when Samadhi is realized, when we find this state of bliss, this self-realization, eventually that soul needs to go back down to Earth, and attain a human life again. So my question for you is, once you reach the top of the spiritual mountain, does one have to go back down?
Bernie: I’d like to leave that for tomorrow night, because that leads me into my whole opinion about reincarnation, and all that kind of stuff. And it takes me about fifteen minutes. I don’t have that much time left for tonight.
So tune in tomorrow night and I will give you all of the answers about Karma, and reincarnation, and all that stuff.
Eve: And now you see, Krishna Das’s phone rang, just now. And the funny thing is that the ring was the exact same ring as the man who took us in Rwanda to different places. [Eve imitates the ring.] I’ve never heard that, except in Rwanda, and now in the Bahamas. So don’t tell me things aren’t connected. You know, and they all have this resonance. You see? It all resonates very deeply—even with a phone ringing.
Bernie: So come back tomorrow night for Part Two (of three). We’ll give you the penultimate opinion. But please feel free to take us off track by bringing questions, and stuff you’d like to hear about.
Thank you. And see you tomorrow.
Reflections by Eve Marko on
Exploratory Visit to the Black Hills and the Pine Ridge Reservation
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Whiteclay, Nebraska, is not a town like others on the map. It consists of some half dozen very large, red sheds facing each other across the muddy road that winds down from the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation a mile north. Pine Ridge, in the state of South Dakota, has been dry for over a century, but this town is just as wet as could be, and not just from the sickly clay that turns to sludge with each rainfall.
“This is where they come to drink,” Bennett “Tuffy” Sierra tells us. We reach the end of the row of beer stores in a few seconds flat so he pulls onto the broken pavement. Instantly a gaunt, ageless woman appears at his window, wearing nothing over her thin gray sweatshirt though it’s almost freezing outside and a cold rain flattens the thin strands of hair on top of her head. He mouths no, shaking his ponytail for emphasis, wrinkles deepening in his dark brown face.
“My father died from drink. My uncle was hit on the head right outside that store and made it to the side of that trailer there—see it?—where he went to sleep, only it snowed that night and he died of hypothermia.” A cousin sobered up for 20 years, then went back out. Police shot and killed him when they found him waving a gun outside a bar.
Went back out. Not fell off the wagon, not started drinking or using again, but went back out. It usually starts with drinking at Whiteclay. A few, like Tuffy Sierra, once a champion bull rider in rodeos up and down the state of California and throughout the West, finally stopped coming down here. But of those who’ve stopped, many still go back out.
Some are Tuffy’s relatives: The girl who went into recovery and became a counselor, only to go back out, drive her car into a ditch and die; the grandmother raising six grandchildren all on her own because her husband drank here in Whiteclay and disappeared one day, no one knew what happened to him, while her daughter tried to get sober but went back out and died in less than a year.
Years ago the Lakota went back out season after season to the ancient, game-rich Black Hills, so called on account of their dark canopy of pine trees. The Hills had been recognized as sacred for over 12,000 years by the local inhabitants even before the Lakota arrived, home to powerful spiritual forces. Granite outcroppings connected heaven and earth, the world of the spirits and the realm of humans. Dotted with archeological sites and sacred places that connect with cosmology and astronomy, the Hills are the center of the Lakota’s universe to this very day. Their origins lie in the cave white people call Wind Cave, the breathing cave, with its honeycomb calcite surface, just one of 7 hallowed sites used for vision quests, ceremony, medicine, and burial.
“We called the place for vision quests Matȟó Thípila, Bear Lodge,” we’ll hear later from Birgil Kills Straight, holy man of the Oglalas. “You know what you called them? Devil’s Tower. Another place is Hell Canyon. “ The Lakota don’t have words like devil and hell, he tells us; those concepts are not part of their tradition.
People were not supposed to live in the Black Hills; Indians only came there to connect with the spirit world. Recognizing this, in the Laramie Treaty of 1868 the US government agreed that the Black Hills belonged to the Lakota. Six years later thousands of miners swarmed over these ancient mountains in search of gold. The government reneged on the treaty, even threatening to cut the Lakota’s food rations to coerce them to give them up. More recently, after the US Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills were taken illegally, the government made a financial offer for restitution. But the Lakota don’t want the government’s money; they want the Black Hills. For no one can really own the Black Hills, like no one really can own land or earth.
Now, driving in mid-January between snow-capped, granite rocks, we see what white people have brought to the home of the great spirits. We’ve brought the cities of Deadwood and Lead, old mining towns that now, with their Western-motif hotels, museums and casinos, provide a mecca for hikers and bikers, not to mention tourists who come in search of Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane. The town of Sturgis hosts a renowned motorcycle rally every year; this summer will see one million cyclists revving it up and pounding the roads. Color, history, fun-filled days, each a reminder of pure and simple theft.
I try to imagine people swarming over our house and back yard because they just heard there was gold underground. I try to imagine saloons opening up in the middle of the Vatican, brothels arising in Mecca or on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, mining operations under Bodhgaya in India. There are still gold mines in Lead, but they’re small stuff. Now the big offenders are corporations stripping the Hills for their wealth of metals, including uranium.
We leave the shadows of the Hills, turn east, and cross over to the flat Pine Ridge Reservation, a land of mixed grass prairie, with pine and cedar further south. Heavy winds scatter sand and dust. I look over my left shoulder to the north and see the buttes and spires of the Badlands, bleached in the sun, while Tuffy continues telling his stories: My grandfather didn’t know a word of English in the Catholic boarding school he had to go to so they shaved his head and didn’t give him food or water for two days; it was forbidden to give our families traditional funerals; there are unmarked graves around the boarding schools for Indian children who disappeared.
No matter where we go and whom we meet, Tuffy has a tale to tell, a connection to make: an aunt’s mother-in-law whose leg was just amputated on account of diabetes; a cousin’s grandfather whose wife died of alcohol long ago, leaving him alone, cared for by a granddaughter who walks long miles to his house because she has no car, the two grandsons in prison; a relative of his wife, dead because of driving under the influence. His family is large and extended. “We have a saying,” Tiokasin Ghosthorse tells me. “We may be landless, but we’re not homeless.”
But the relentless litany of names of relatives, far and close, reminds me eerily of the names we chant around the Selection Site at Auschwitz-Birkenau in our November retreats, names of those who died: Maurice Fischer, Piotr Marianski, Janusz Rylko, Samuel Faber, Erich Goldschmidt, Sara Goldschmidt, David Goldschmidt, Rahel Goldschmidt, Michael Goldschmidt, Sofia Goldschmidt.
It’s no accident that on the week marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army, I find myself, along with Bernie Glassman and Grover Genro Gauntt, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, for talks arranged by Genro with Oglala Lakota elders Tuffy Sierra and Birgil Kills Straight, and Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a member of the Miniconjou Lakota of the Cheyenne River Reservation north of Pine Ridge. His reservation is home to 25,000 people, Tiokasin tell us, with unemployment at 90% and no doctors on site, just a few physician’s assistants. The population of Pine Ridge is 30,000, with numbers that top the charts when it comes to rates of alcoholism and related illnesses, drug abuse, domestic abuse, incarceration, poverty and suicide. Until very recently men could expect to live till the average age of 48, women till 52.
Seventy years used to mark a lifetime. Today it’s still a milestone, a time to pause, take stock, look at your life as it intersects with history. See what’s changed, and what hasn’t.
In between meetings at the Pine Ridge casino we stand outdoors, taking in both the warm sun and the strong wind that blows across the prairie. Genro rolls a cigarette while Bernie puffs at his cigar. When we resume we talk schedule, though we already know that time will mean different things to different people. We talk about council, weather, ceremonies, vision and orientation, openings and closings. We talk about tribal affiliations and the formal ID cards that many Indians carry. We discuss who else to invite to the retreat: native peoples from South America, India, New Zealand, and Hawaii, as many first nations as will come. Will they wave accusing fingers at people like us, like me, a white American? My family didn’t arrive in this country till 1957, I want to tell them, and then only after they endured the European cataclysm of World War II. They know nothing of the Black Hills or the Reservation, their only knowledge of Indians is what they’ve seen in movies.
There is such a thing as historical trauma, sociologists and psychologists now say. If so, then there is history, and history’s not what happened in the past, it’s the stories we hear now and the stories we keep secret. So when we finally get to the cemetery at Wounded Knee and Genro and I walk in frozen mud and snow up the hill in the frigid twilight to pay tribute to those buried there, I know that I’m seeing not just a monument to the last big massacre of the American Indians, but the tip of a modern iceberg. For this massacre that we’ve finally acknowledged is only the miniscule, visible part of the unacknowledged—the institutional violence against First Nations and the earth they so fiercely love, time and time and time again. Whether through corruption, payouts, alliances of government with corporations and mining interests, and our own denial and oblivion, we constantly sacrifice the children of the earth—her mountains and hills, her trees and plants, animals and birds, her precious water aquifers, the humans who love her—for more metals, more uranium, more concrete, more development. Dams are built flooding centuries-old tribal homes. Burial grounds are desecrated and museums collect the bones of Indian dead for their exhibits. Wealthy philanthropists give money to build museums and memorials to these cultures as though they’ve already gone extinct, instead of safeguarding their spirit and aliveness now.
So when I think of what we, the non-Native society, has done to the first peoples of this land, I’m aware that the first peoples and the land are practically the same thing. Crazy Horse, enduring much grief and loss, was asked by a derisive white man, Where are the Indians’ lands now? To which he replied, pointing, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” When we walk on the land, we are walking on soil and rock that contain the bones of our ancestors. When we pollute, strip mine, and damage the earth, we are doing this to our own dead. The earth is our family, our ancestors, our grandchildren. It’s us.
“Our lives are not our own,” Tuffy reminds us. “God acts through us.” So what do I make of God’s actions as I trudge up to the snowbound cemetery, neglected and half-abandoned on top of the small hill? A young man wearing a cotton shirt over a thin red, hooded sweatshirt, in torn sneakers that turn wet and muddy in the snow, follows us as the sun sinks in the direction of the Black Hills 150 miles to the west. He lives in one of several trailers down below in Wounded Knee. There were lots of cabins down the hill in 1890, he tells us. A Catholic church abuts the cemetery; in the past other churches also clustered around the hill. How did this come about? In the Christmas holidays, the young man explains, priests and ministers would come bearing holiday gifts for the families that lived below. The grandfathers would give out the gifts and be asked to sign a paper acknowledging receipt, but what they were actually signing, unknown to them, was permission to build a church on the surrounding land. “They wanted to get rid of our own religion, our own way of life,” he exclaims.
What strikes me as we drive across the Reservation is the invisibility of it all. Whiteclay was visible, buildings as brown as the mud on the streets, people huddled outside in the rain, haunted, hopeless eyes. On the Reservation we hardly see anyone. Individual or clusters of trailers, a few cabins, cars junked and half-buried. We see more animals: cows and herds of horses, dogs in the tiny towns of Pine Ridge and Kyle. The prairie seems emphatically flat and endless, like a stage on which so much has once happened, and now so little.
Paolo Freire wrote that when you’ve been oppressed for a long time and you know that you’re not strong enough to fight your oppressor, you let the rage out on yourself and those closest to you. You drink, you do drugs, you beat your spouse and children, you self-destruct. Next January will mark 125 years since Wounded Knee. Lots will be written, the evening news may even talk about it, but how much will they say about the day-to-day grinding poverty, the wounds and trauma inherited down through the generations? How much will we want to know?
In the west the Black Hills beckon. Don’t fix us, I’m hearing silently from those around me. Don’t come here with your treatments, social workers and medicines, your census takers and sociologists, your money. Yes, we need it, but first we need our religion and our ceremonies, we need the sacred caves and mountains, the rocks and snow-topped pines of the Hills. We need the land where our dead lie buried.
Genro’s been coming to the Reservation for 16 years, summer and winter, for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month or more at a time. For years people have asked him what he does there. Do you bring money, they wonder. Do you bring medicine, educational programs, trainings? Do you teach meditation? He doesn’t bring anything, he tells them. He doesn’t do anything, just hangs out with Tuffy Sierra, his extended family, and other tribal members and family. He watches, participates, listens, learns, and out of doing nothing a bearing witness retreat will emerge in August 2015.
On the day Tuffy drove over to meet us at Rapid City he saw a field of white-crested hawks, he told us. He also saw two eagles, one completely black, and they flew right over his car as he left the Reservation. Black Elk said that the healing here, in these Hills, in these Great Plains, would begin with the 7th generation. I count off the years and realize we’re not there yet; at 65, I may not be around for that. So what can I do? Go there and bear witness. Leave behind my preconceptions and come. Something will arise from that, it can’t help but. Life and death will come together and renewal will happen. It always has; what it will look like I have no idea.
Click here for information and/or registration for the August 2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills of South Dakota.Learn More
This retreat will focus on the American Indian genocide, oppression and neglect that began at the end of the fifteenth century and continues to this day. A defining event of this era is the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on December 29, 1890.
Although hundreds of Native American tribes have been either eliminated, drastically reduced, moved or vastly traumatized, for many reasons, 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 retreat will be multi-faith and multinational in character, based on the Zen Peacemaker Order’s Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness.
Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers are returning for the 20th year to the old site of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oświęcim, Poland, for a Bearing Witness Retreat in November 2015. Bernie Glassman began the annual Bearing Witness Retreats in 1996, with help from Eve Marko and Andrzej Krajewski. They have taken place annually every year since then. Much has been written about these annual retreats; at least half a dozen films have been made about them in various languages. They are multi-faith and multinational in character, with a strong focus on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action.Learn More