Dharma Talks

Bernie Glassman

Bearing Witness

Much of Zen practice, including many teaching techniques used by Zen masters, is aimed at bringing the Zen practitioner to this same place of unknowing, of letting go of what he or she knows. After walking through Auschwitz and Birkenau, there is an end to thought. We are numbed. All we can do is see the endless train tracks on the snow, feel the icy cold of a Polish winter on our bare hands, smell the rotting wood in the few remaining barracks, and listen to the names of the dead.

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A Day with Bernie Glassman

Since the 1980s, Roshi Bernie Glassman has become a familiar figure to readers of Buddhist journals like Tricycle and Shambhala Sun. But now the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time magazine can scarcely report on the explosion of interest in American Buddhism without mentioning street retreats — penniless week-long excursions into lower-Manhattan led by Roshi Bernie –and the Greyston Foundation, a mandala of for-profit and not-for-profit businesses that serve the poor in Glassman’s adopted neighborhood of Yonkers, NY. Indeed, the vision of urban renewal and human reclamation only dimly imagined by ’60s radicals is vividly embodied in the work Glassman and his community have done in this often forgotten corner of affluent Westchester county.

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In thinking about the possibility for forgiveness, my first thought was that I don’t have the power to forgive anyone; in fact, it’s hubris for me to think that I can forgive someone else. At the same time, as a Zen Buddhist teacher, I believe that we are all one body, that no one is excluded from the Circle of Life. All of us–men, women, children, the killers, the killed, the tormentors, and the tormented–are billions of cells of one body.

If this is the case, whom are we forgiving? If we’re all one, what does it mean for an SS officer to ask a Jew for forgiveness ?

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Founders’ Excellent Adventure

Always challenging, always surprising, Roshi Bernard Tetsugen Glassman is one of the most provocative figures of American Buddhism. An aeronautical engineer who began his Zen practice in the late fifties, Glassman is one of the dharma heirs of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and upon Maezumi Roshi’s death, was given charge of his worldwide sangha.

Yet it seems the life of the settled Zen teacher cannot satisfy the restless, visionary mind of Roshi Bernie Glassman. At his base in Yonkers, New York, he established a multifaceted social service agency called the Greyston mandala, showing a capacity unique in the Buddhist world to attract high profile supporters and millions of dollars in public funding.

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Harvard Divinity School Lectures: Bearing Witness

For me the three Zen Peacemaker tenets of not-knowing, bearing witness, and loving actions are almost the answer to everything.

It is very important that we understand what is meant by them. From the questions you sent in this week, I sense that there is still confusion about what is meant by “not-knowing,” and “bearing witness.” When there is loss or fear, if one can bear witness to what is happening, the terminology becomes very different; You would no longer necessarily use words like “loss.” Certainly, when loss occurs, you are not bearing witness, so you talk about it as loss. Or when the fear rises, you are not bearing witness, and you deal with fear. But as one bears witness, radical changes occur.

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Holy Week in the Streets

I wish to talk about going on the streets during Holy Week, the week of Easter, the week of Passover, one of the saddest and most joyous times of the year. I go on the streets at other times of the year, too, and each occasion is special in its own way, but the streets feel different during Holy Week. The re-membrance and caring that spring to life during that time are unmistakable and unforgettable To give you a feel for what I mean, let me describe the 1996 Holy Week street retreat.

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A House of One People

One obvious obstacle to a House of One People is that not all people want to come together in a spirit of oneness, certainly not those who spill blood in the name of Christ or Allah or Jehovah. Celebrating diversity, however, is also not simple. In our secular society it’s all too easy to minimize the differences between the religions. Many claim that all religions are nothing other than different manifestations of some ultimate reality. Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, and Confucius are all put into one neat category, as though they’re interchangeable.

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Issan Dorsey

I think of Issan Dorsey as the shadow in many people’s lives. He was a drug addict, he was gay, he appeared in drag, and he died of AIDS. For many years he lived right on the edge, befriending junkies, drag queens and alkies who lived precariously like him, on the fringes of society. When he died, a Zen teacher and priest, he was still befriending and caring for those whom our society rejected then and continues to reject now, people ill with the AIDS virus.

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Memories of Maezumi Roshi

I first met Maezumi Roshi in 1963. At that time, he was a young Soto monk working in Los Angeles at Zenshuji under Sumi Roshi, then Sokan of North America. I attended a small zazenkai at Zenshuji. Although I had some familiarity with zazen, walking mediation was new for me. So I asked Sumi Roshi, “What are we doing during walking meditation?” Sumi Roshi turned to Maezumi Sensei and indicated that he should answer. “When we walk, we just walk,” was the young monk’s reply. Even today I am struck by the simplicity and directness of this teaching. It has guided me throughout all these years.

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Bernie Glassman Sees No Boundaries

In the inner city of Yonkers, New York, Roshi Bernard Glassman has a big vision, big ambition and a big vow to help all beings in need. If his audacious experiment works, he hopes (with a smile) it will replicate all over the universe.

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The Three Pure Precepts and Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It’s our teachers that come from Japan, from the west, carrying the torch. It’s all of us coming from wherever we came from, gathered here. Why did we come here? What are we carrying? What are our teachers carrying? What is it that we want to receive? And what is it that we don’t want to receive?

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Reflections on the Beginnings of the Zen Peacemaker Order

Starting from scratch means starting from unknowing. You get a piece from here and you get a piece from there and you put them together. We have no idea how the end will look. We may have a vision of how we’d like it to look, but we don’t really know. This is a very hard practice, but if we can start with unknowing, with no right and no wrong, then there’s no problem. Nothing can come out wrong.

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Partnership Beyond Death

I followed a daily schedule.

In the mornings I took a bath. Then I sat in front of my wife’s picture. Sometimes I listened to music. Sometimes I looked at the birds outside.

I read and re-read the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, whom she admired. I played with her dogs. I read her journals.

During the rest of the day I worked on the formation of the Peacemaker Community and developed its web site. I was available to teachers and senior students, usually by phone.

Sometimes I laughed and said that in comparison to the way I worked over the past 30 years, I was not doing anything. But when the sun went down I was exhausted and I went to bed early. For I was actually working very hard. I was bearing witness.

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