by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
February 2nd, 2016
I continue to watch closely as my husband, Bernie, does physical therapy to strengthen the right side of his body, afflicted by the stroke that sent blood coursing through the left side of his brain. He stands with some difficulty while holding on to a bar with his left hand, and begins to walk slowly while the therapist on the other side helps him step forward with his right leg. Like almost all of us, Bernie assumes that once he walks the legs will go by themselves, so he moves his chest forward thinking the legs are there, only the right one isn’t. He can’t assume that what worked before is working now. And without much feeling in the right leg, he has little awareness of where it actually is.
I stand behind the two men, feeling how each small scene paints such broad strokes. I myself, who haven’t suffered a stroke, also tend to move forward with my upper body ahead of the legs that carry me, ahead of myself, mind working out some future plan or scenario while the body lags behind. I remember Bernie often telling me that Maezumi Roshi, his teacher, used to caution him: “Tetsugen, when you move fast, people stumble.” I’ve stumbled. And now Tetsugen, or Bernie as he’s presently known, moves very, very slowly.
The therapist is also concerned that Bernie will favor the left leg, which he’s aware of, over the right: “Don’t stand on the leg you know can hold you,” he tells him. “Stand on the leg you don’t know can hold you.” Let go of what you know, the working limb that gives you confidence, and lean on the other side of the body, the side you don’t trust, that you can barely make out is there or not.
“Don’t wait for the brain to figure it out, you do it first.” And I remember 1986 when I participated in my first public interview. In that highly ritualized, public ceremony, one student after another approaches the teacher and asks a question. I approached and quoted a verse from the “Gate of Sweet Nectar” liturgy: “I am the Buddhas and they are me,” meaning that I am everyone and everything, and they are me as well.
“I don’t believe it,” I told Tetsugen Sensei, as he was known then, “so why should I chant the words?”
“You don’t have to believe it,” he said. “Just keep on chanting.”
More on Bernie’s Recovery on CaringBridge.org
More writings by Eve Marko on Eve’s Blog
Photo by Peter Cunningham: 1980, Bernie Tetsugen Sensei and Taizan Maezumi Roshi, outside of Greyston Mansion in Riverdale, New York.
Transcribed from a recording at Bernie’s house in Montague, MA USA, 9/21/2015
BERNIE: So we all talk about the interconnectedness of life, the oneness of life, but if we look carefully at ourselves and see how many aspects of life we shy away from or won’t come in contact, and then try to figure why. I think the biggest reason is fear. So that’s how these Bearing Witness retreats… Well, I don’t know if they started because of that, but that’s where the large numbers started.
KD: I had a lot of fear before my first retreat, “How am I going to deal with this?” Just the fear of going, being in that place where so much suffering happened and so much torture and so much inhumanity was manifest. So I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me, you know. So just to go and go through the process and the practice of being in the camp at that time was] very freeing from that fear that I had. Just not that simple. And then to be talking about fear, how much fear there must have been in the camp at the time of the war. The atmosphere was extraordinary.
BERNIE: We were just together in South Dakota, in the Black Hills and we met with the Lakota folks. And the fear, the elders went to boarding schools ran by Church, Catholic Church, and the fear that must have existed there, because if they spoke any Lakota they were beaten up, if they wore any traditional clothes they were beaten up. In that school there is a track where people run around and underneath that there’s graves of children that died there. So they had a reason to be afraid, but that fear permeates everywhere. The other reason for these Bearing Witness retreats is our ignorance, which I think that is with most of the non-Native Indians that came, they] had no idea of what went on in their own country, of what we did.
KD: And are still doing.
BERNIE: And are still doing. And why we have these ignorant things? Again, in a way I think it’s fear. You don’t want to know. So it’s fear, it’s guilt, but we don’t want to know. So we try to stay away. So, what I found for myself, maybe about 25 years ago actually, I was in a place that in my practice I needed to go to places where I didn’t want to know what was going on, where I felt I had to stay away, or where I was afraid of it. So those were the places I went. Now, in the old Buddhist traditions in India and Tibet they had what they call charnal practices where you would go to the cemeteries and sit with the spirits that are coming in, it’s] a very similar thing and a way of dealing with our own insecurity, our own fears, our own wanting to be ignorant of certain things and not really grasping that that means that we are not connecting to all that which is us. We are all one, we are all interconnected. So if we’re staying away from the large part the way we are staying away from the large part of ourselves, there has to be practices to bring those connections. And then I also feel very strongly that there’s got to be practices to celebrate that. And those are bhakti practices, chanting practices. I mean, there are many practices to do that, but I think that they take on another significance if it’s also linked with bringing in the shadow or the places we don’t want to know about, we don’t want to touch. So we make a good duo, man!
KD: And people get very attached to the way they live. Remember when I sang in… You asked me to sing it was in the women’s, no it was in the men’s… one of the men’s…
KD: Barracks, and so I sat down there on the mud and one guy just exploded, remember? “I didn’t…” and he ran out of there. Remember that?
BERNIE: I do. He’s a student of mine.
KD: Oh, was he? He must be a very good student. So he didn’t want to let go of something, right. I mean, he’s…
KD: He came back.
BERNIE: He didn’t want to open up.
KD: He didn’t want to open up. He was there with the suffering but he didn’t want to open, he couldn’t let go of that, he was attached to his suffering, I guess you could say.
BERNIE: I think so. I think so. And we put a lot of emphasis on that first tenet in the Zen Peacemakers, being open and being open to everything, you know. It’s very difficult and so he had studied that, but he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it, he was trapped by his conditioning of what should be instead of being open to what is. Another case like that that was sort of interesting, two years ago… We always go to the women’s barracks, there’s a women’s barrack where women were put when they couldn’t work any more, they were put in there, they weren’t given food, they were just left there to die. So two years ago we decided that we would have the men go to the men’s barracks and the women into this women’s barracks. We did that. Then went in Ohad, who is a rabbi from Israel and plays guitar, he started playing some Hassidic tunes and we were singing. There was somebody who got really pissed off. “How are you singing here? This is how we should sit.” And then we were supposed to meet up with the women, but we went on, we were singing, dancing, and it went on so long that it was lunchtime, so most people went outside the camp to the trucks to get their soup. But some including the rabbi went to the women’s barracks to see what was going on. It turned out that one of the men was engaged to one of the women who was in the barracks, they went and she saw them coming and she said… they were going to get married in a couple of weeks in Prague or something.
She said, “Why don’t we get married here?”
He said, “Here?”
She says, “Yes, why not?”
And they ask Ohad, “Can we do that?”
And he said, “Do you really want to do it?”
And they said, “Yes, we want.”
And he said, “Yeah, I can do that.”
And he married them.
Now, a number of people that were upset, there was a woman who was very upset about the women dancing and whatever, she was an Orthodox Jew. And then I pointed out, a few days later, in the evening, the last evening, Friday night, when we end, I pointed out that most people is those barracks were from the Hassidic Tradition, and a wedding in the Hasidic Tradition the men are separated from the women, and they’re both dancing, they’re singing and dancing, and then at some point the rabbi leads the groom to where the bride is and they get married. And I said, that’s what happened here! And can you imagine the delight of the people that we’re here, and singing… A wedding in their tradition happening right in their space. So both of those people who were so upset, “Wow, yeah, why you were so upset? We’re part of history-making.” And again, because they were afraid, they were closed.
[Above: Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony at 2013 Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat. Music performed by Krishna Das, Video taken by Sensei Andrzej Krajewski.]
KD: And even so, being closed and afraid, that is part of the program that they received from the culture. This is how we have to live with this, we have to be closed, we have to be afraid, we have to only be unhappy about it.
Well, I remember when you gave me those eight lines to work on from The Gates of Sweet Nectar, the actual translation as you gave it to me, the last line was “all of your sorrow, I make it mine,” which is the Bodhisattva taking on the sorrows of the world. So when I brought that to you, you said, “Oh, I want the joy too, you got to put that in there.” So I changed it to “your joy and your sorrow.” But it’s more inclusive, it’s more…
You know, when I… That first time I was in Auschwitz, I had my harmonium with me because I had been singing in Europe, so I took it into the women’s barracks and I though, “I will do some Devi Puja here, I will sing to the Goddess, the perfect woman who embodies all the women.” So I got in there and I put up the harmonium, I was just about to sing and I thought to myself, “Well…” First of all, it was so full. I don’t think I’ve ever sang to more people than the beings I felt in that barracks, empty barracks. I don’t have these kinds of experiences, but I just felt it, so I asked them, “What should I sing to you.” And what came back, they wanted me to sing to their children, so I sang Gopala, Gopala, which is the child Krishna. And I felt they felt such joy from that, because they were remembering their children and the love that they had for their children. That was a very beautiful experience, completely unexpected.
BERNIE: I think that’s the beauty of the Bearing Witness, is that what comes out is never really what is expected. There’s no planning it.
KD: Yes, there’s no planning it.
BERNIE: We just open, and bearing witness and letting it be. And so we enjoy, we grow receiving the unexpected… That feels good to me, like a lock.
Top Photo by Rami Efal.
By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
Jan 15th 2016
In the morning Bernie seems rested and not much changed from yesterday. Soon he, Alisa and I are greeted by Mark Keroack, President/CEO of Baystate Hospital, accompanied by senior staff, wanting to make sure Bernie’s getting the quality care he needs. We have no trouble assuring him that his staff and hospital are terrific. After that, terrific specialists examine Bernie’s body-mind, he gets that “too many people” look on his face again and says little. They’re satisfied with his progress, but we feel he may have slid back a little from yesterday.
Afternoon: Nap, lunch, and picture time. Alisa shows him photos of his family of origin: parents, four older sisters, aunts and cousins.Bernie points at each and calls them by name: Edith, Bea, Selma, Sally, my mother (who died when he was 7), my father. He looks at a photo of him surrounded by four adoring sisters who came to part from him when he sailed to Israel in the early 1960s. “Where were you going?” we ask. “Ship,” he replies. He studies each photo carefully, telling tales of his Communist aunts of whom he’s very proud. We follow most of it.
He asks Rami about who’s attending the planning meeting for the Black Hills summer retreat (he and Eve had to cancel).
He begins to tease his nurse. She asks him: “Do you know your name?” “Yes,” he answers, and nothing more. She shakes her head. “Funny man!” Alisa says that soon we should ask you to offer prayers for the nursing staff taking care of Bernie as well as for Bernie. At some point he chats so much, lots of it quite coherent, that we wonder whether it’s really such a good idea for him to learn to talk again.
Other times he subsides into a tired silence, or else the words are too slurred for our ears. The right side of his body is still fairly—well—still. Still no better antidote to expectations than reality.
But when the staff takes him down for an MRI he thanks them with a half-gassho, which we explain is a gesture of respect and appreciation. “I thought he was trying to shake my hand,” the young aide says. “This I like better.”
So much appreciation to all of you for your thoughts, wishes, meditations and prayers. Bernie shares a room with a Cambodian man who’s been there for 2 months with only a grandson who visits him for a brief period each evening, otherwise he’s asleep all day with no family or friends to watch over him. I wish we knew his name, perhaps tomorrow. Please watch over him, too, along with Bernie.Learn More
Dear Family and Friends,
Bernie suffered a stroke on Tuesday 1/12/2016 around 1pm EST. He spent 36 hours in Intensive Care, was “downgraded” to Neurological Intensive, and as of this evening was “downgraded” again to a regular hospital room in Baystate Health Springfield Hospital. His condition is stable and the plan is for him to enter an acute rehab program, probably early next week, for a period of 2-4 weeks. The stroke, due to a hemorrhage, affected the left side of his brain, thus resulting in very little movement in the entire right side of his body and also undermining his speech, which is now so slurred that we can only understand around 20% of it (a substantial improvement over Tuesday). No change to his eyebrows.
We are immensely grateful to Baystate Hospital and all its staff for superb care of Bernie and patient and honest interactions with us. The Montague town police and ambulances came some 10 minutes after we first called, and Bernie got “anti-stroke” medications within 30 minutes of the stroke itself, a great tribute to these first responders. This quality care continued in Franklin Medical, our local adjunct hospital, and then in the far larger Baystate in Springfield.
Bernie has his struggles. His understanding of words, too, is diminished but doctors expect that to be fully remedied. When there are too many doctors around him he mumbles “too many people” and wants them to leave him alone. But nobody’s second-guessing the wonderful and loving care he’s getting here at Baystate. Yesterday, the day after his stroke, our alarm went off for the noon minute of silence for peace. He lay quietly, and then, with difficulty, raised his good hand in half-gassho.
Right now the prognosis for recovery from neurologists and rehabilitation doctors is good to very good; healers and prophets are saying excellent. They expect some permanent deficits in his right arm and hand, a little less in his right leg, and they believe his speech will begin to improve within 2-4 weeks (we don’t know if that’s good or bad). They believe he will become independent and self-sufficient within several months, and cantankerous and bossy in 4 days.
Alisa Glassman, Bernie’s daughter, flew in from Washington, D.C. and she and his wife Eve Marko are by his side. Marc Glassman, Bernie’s son, lives in Jerusalem and was in constant contact. They are supported by local Zen Peacemaker Order members, by the Green River Zen community, by Pioneer Valley friends, and of course by Rami Efal, Bernie’s assistant and spokesman to the world. Grant Couch and Chris Panos, president and chairman of Zen Peacemakers Inc. have a been a tremendous support behind the scenes in keeping the ZP operations flowing.
We are grateful for everyone’s patience through the first 48 hours of the event as we were waiting for Bernie’s condition to stabilize. We are also deeply moved by the outpouring of love and support Bernie has been receiving, on social media, phone calls, dedications and prayer of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, and religious traditions we didn’t even know of, all elements of Bernie world (for example, watch a Jewish Cantor lead a hip-hop reggae chanting of a healing Jewish prayer at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram on behalf of this Zen Buddhist teacher, then followed by their own Hindu prayers on his behalf). And of course, there’s also Krishna Das’s “Bernie’s Chalisa,” theme music for feeding the hungry spirits which many of you know but is great to listen to anyway when it’s KD chanting it..
We have created this Caring-Bridge page where you can leave Bernie a message. We will post updates there and it will also allow Bernie to easily browse and enjoy your words, especially when he begins rehab, which he’ll probably hate every minute of. That’s when your words and blessings–yes, even you Order of Disorder folks–will be a most important incentive.
Bernie’s 77th Birthday will occur this Monday on January 18th, 2016. Let’s celebrate with him! If you wish to send him get well cards / happy birthday cards (okay, OD ones too), please do so to
Zen Peacemakers, ATTN: BERNIE
POBOX 294, Montague MA 01351
With deep gratitude to all of you,
Eve, Alisa, Marc, Rami and the Zen Peacemaker Family
Photo credit: Cira Crowell, at Upaya Zen Center, August 2015, http://www.ciracrowell.com/
(Continued from Bernie’s Training: Social Engagement)
I had a student that many of you probably know, named Claude AnShin Thomas. And when I met him he had already been pretty heavily involved with Thich Nhat Hanh. He had been in the Vietnam War. He had had a mental breakdown. He was a very confused person. He couldn’t sleep at night, you know. He’d be kept up by the bombs, and all kinds of things. He had been a tailgate gunner on a helicopter, shooting people. And then he had a nervous breakdown. At any rate, he came to me wanting to know if he could ordain with me, and be my student. And for many different reasons I agreed. And it turned out that he was soon going to be involved in a walk. He did a lot of walking. His practice was walking. He walked across Europe. He walked all over. And very soon—maybe a year, I can’t remember the timing—he was going to join a bunch of Buddhist monks who chant the Lotus Sutra while marching and beat a drum, and chant— as they walk. Their practice is walking and social engagement. So somebody here was confused about Japanese maybe not being involved in social engagement—their leader, sort of a Gandhi kind of guy in Japan told them if they weren’t in jail half of the year, they weren’t being a good monk. They had to do resistance. That was part of their practice, and walking.
So they were planning a walk from Auschwitz to Hiroshima—through all of the war-torn countries. And AnShin had decided to join them. So I said that I would go with him to Auschwitz, and give him Precepts, as a layperson. And I would do that at Auschwitz. And then I would join to the last month of that walk, and ordain him as a Priest at the helicopter site where he was stationed in Vietnam.
And it turned out there was an interfaith conference being held at Auschwitz, in regards to this walk. And so different people were invited for this interfaith conference. And the group that was going to walk was sitting in Birkenau during the conference. And we were all wishing them well. Then they started their walk. So I decided to go to the interfaith conference. It was my first time to Auschwitz.
And Eve was on her way to Israel to visit her family, so she said she’ll stop off with me. And that was also her first time physically to Auschwitz. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor, so the Holocaust was part of her daily growing up. But this was the first physical time to Auschwitz. So we went.
And then there was a tour; I mean there was all this conference stuff. For those of you that have been to Auschwitz, that’s where I met Ginni. She was at that conference. I’m not sure if there was anybody else at that conference who’s been a part of our retreats. There was a Lakota man there. The Lakota elders have come to Auschwitz, and we now have a Bearing Witness retreat with Native Americans. But at any rate, we went, and part of that workshop is they give a tour. And so in the tour we entered Birkenau. And I was struck again—like before when I was struck by all the hungry spirits suffering, and wanting to be fed, wanting their suffering to be relieved—so now I was struck by the feeling of souls. In my head it was like millions of souls wanting to be remembered.
And so again, this came out of my bearing witness to that place—this action of these souls arising, wanting to be remembered. And that sent me on a path of designing a retreat that would work with that theme. It took about a year and a half to design the retreat. And what’s fascinating to me is this was just the 20th year of that retreat.
And at each of these retreats—I haven’t been to all of them, maybe three or four that I didn’t go—and in all of these retreats, when I’m there, I always talk about for me, what the retreat is about—which has to do with remembering. See, these souls, what’s fascinating to me is that most people who come pick a few souls. Maybe the Jewish souls—the Poles in the first retreat picked the Jewish and the Germans. They said, “It’s all about you guys. It’s got nothing to do with us.” Everybody in that is saying, “This is what it’s about.”
I’m saying it’s about all. It’s how we treat the other. I mean that’s where the handicap were killed. That’s where gays were killed. That’s where the gypsies were killed. That’s where the Polish intellectuals were killed. That’s where the Catholics were killed. That’s where the Jews were killed. That’s a lot of people, man.
So for all those years I was saying that. And other people were writing “Oh no, it’s about the German/Jewish thing.” That’s too narrow. Nothing is that narrow. That’s our way of thinking—narrow. It’s like thinking the Israel/Palestine thing is about the Israelis or the Palestinians. It’s not about either one. It’s not even about the Middle East. It’s about the gestalt of this Indra’s Net, and why we are constantly picking on each other, or doing things. What’s the deal here? Once we narrow it to one group, “oh it’s what the Germans do”, and then they feel guilty or, “oh it’s about this.” We lose the picture, man. I think, in my opinion, if you don’t see the whole net, you go astray. And you’ll cause more problems. That’s my opinion.
So I tried to devise such a retreat, and we called it a Bearing Witness Retreat, and in my head a Bearing Witness Retreat would come out of two things—a place, I’ve always been interested in the place. The Zen Peacemaker Order was born out of a retreat at the Capital of the US, Washington D.C., and out of that came an international family of people wanting to do meditation and social action. This time the place for me was Birkenau. And the theme was how we treat others. But because I chose Birkenau, for most people the theme is the Holocaust. That’s never been my theme, and I’ve said that each time. I keep repeating it, because it still amazes me.
By Roshi Bernie Glassman
Photo by Peter Cunningham of Bernie, Sandra Jishu Holmes and the Greyston Builders, local Yonkers construction crew started by Bernie, at the first rehab project (2.8 million dollars) for homeless families (19 units of housing) and a child care center in Yonkers, NY USA. Greyston has built over 300 units of housing by 2015.
This is my second twenty years in Zen—sort of the second twenty. I will start around 1976. That’s about forty years ago. I had just received dharma transmission from my teacher.
But more important in ’76, I had an experience which was very important in my life. It was an experience of feeling all of the hungry spirits, or ghosts in the universe—all suffering, as we all do.
And they were suffering for different things. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough enlightenment. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough food. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough love. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough fame. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough housing. Some were suffering because they had bad teeth—like me, all kinds of sufferings.
Out of that, in a car ride to work, a vision of all of these hungry spirits popped up. And immediately it also popped up, that these are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. All of these hungry aspects of myself popped up. And an action came out of that, which was a vow to serve, to feed—it was really more to feed all of these hungry spirits.
So until then, I had decided that my work was going to be in the meditation hall, and in a temple. I had quit for the fourth and last time my job at McDonnell Douglas. And I was now a full time Zen teacher. And I was going to work only in the meditation hall, and work only with people who came to our Zendo, and wanted to be trained.
But now I made this vow to work with all these hungry spirits. So that meant I had to change the venue, change the place I worked. And now it was still to work in the meditation hall, but also to work in all of life, all of society.
And then the big question arose to me; what would be useful to help people in these different spheres of life—like business people, and entertainment people, and social action people, and all these people? What would be good, what we call upayas, expedient means, or ways of helping people to experience the oneness of life in those spheres? All of my training had been in the meditation hall. I was trained in how to run Sesshins, how to use the kyosaku properly, how to wear my robes properly. I had been trained in koan systems. I had done two different koan systems. So that was a lot of koans—around six/seven hundred koans. I was trained in how to teach people to do meditation, in different ways—with breathing, with Shikantaza, different styles. And I also had been interested in interfaith work, so I had been trained in Christian meditation, in Jewish meditation. Those are my trainings. But I didn’t think that would work in the business world.
So this was my new kind of study—what would be the method? Also, I have to say that this may have been influenced by the fact that for a number of years before ’76—well, for a long time—in our Zen Center of Los Angeles, we had morning liturgy, afternoon liturgy, and evening liturgy. And it’s sort of prescribed what that liturgy is in the Soto sect. There’s some choices, some variety, but the evening service that we did was called Kan Ro Mon. And we did it all in Japanese (it’s really Chinese—but Japanese pronunciations). And somehow, that service really affected me. And I knew nothing about what it was about, because I was just chanting these Japanese words. It turns out that that service—and I sort of start finding this out after the experience of the hungry spirits—that service is about feeding the hungry spirits, in the five Buddha fields.
OK, so I had that experience in ’76, and by ’79 I was planning to leave the Zen Center of Los Angeles and move back to my original home, which was New York. And I started to meet with people in the New York area to create a board, and to plan where we would start, and how it would be. And I talked to them about the fact—when I came back to New York—I wanted to build a society, an actual society in the city. A little bit like the old cathedrals were, where they were a whole city. And the community we built, I wanted to build it via the five Buddha families. And that meant that we were going to be involved in social action, and business, and all these different things.
And most of the people just laughed at me, and said, “You’re crazy, Bernie. What we want is for you to come here, and set up a Zendo. And that’s why you’re coming here. We want to sit with you, and study koans, and do that.” I said, “Well, that may be what you want, but I’m coming here to do that.” And they said, “Aaach, you’re not. We still want you to come, and we don’t believe you.” You know, “this won’t happen.” That’s what they said to me, these people before I came. I have the minutes of those meetings.
So anyway, we moved to New York, and I started to build this mandala. First I built a spiritual base, and then the study base, and then the business base to give us resources, and then the social action base. And all along, I was looking how does this work in terms of relationship? How do we keep it so it stays a full mandala? At that time, I think I was the only one involved in that thinking. Everybody else was pretty much it was a regular Zendo, but just for a while. And then, they start shifting, and many people left. People would leave because I wasn’t doing what they wanted. It was a little bit crazy. But we were doing a real life plan.
So, for me what was happening while we were doing our meditations, and koan study, and different Zen studies, and teaching people that, at the same time we were trying to develop a work practice. What do you do, in terms of work, that would help the people who are working experience the unity of life? That was my question. So my question, as we started to work in these different fields was not just how do we do a good job? Or in social action, how do we help? My question was how do we do it in a way that helps the people that are doing the work, and the people that are being served—how do we do it in a way that helps both of them experience the oneness of life? That was always my question. And that question has never stopped. And it’s at the forefront of what I do.
(to be continued soon)