Zen Peacemakers http://zenpeacemakers.org Tue, 03 May 2016 15:16:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Belonging to the Forest, Belonging to the Slum – A Zen Peacemaker’s visit to Brazil http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/belonging-to-the-forest/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/belonging-to-the-forest/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 08:55:36 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13516 image003

Belonging to the Forest, Belonging to the Slum – […]]]>


Belonging to the Forest, Belonging to the Slum – A Zen Peacemaker’s visit to Brazil

By Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller, Peacemakergemeinschaft Schweiz (Switzerland), Brazil February 2016

Our connections with Brazil started at the Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz. In this place where millions of people where killed and tortured, a lot of friendships and heart connections have started in this retreat that Zen Peacemakers have been doing every year in November for over twenty years.

Nature in Brazil

Nature in Brazil

Roland and I met Ovidio in Krakau in 2005, before the retreat. We had dinner together and he shared about his work in Porto Alegre as a psychiatrist, a family therapist and a mindfulness teacher, a field where Roland and I share a lot of common interest. Since then Ovidio has come to visit us in our home in Switzerland every year. He has brought us together with a Brazilian-Swiss couple living in Zürich, both Zen priests and senior students of Roshi Coen. Jorge Koho Mello and his wife Marge Oppliger Pinto have become precious friends in the Dharma. For many years these four friends have invited us to come to Brazil, and finally this year was the right moment to accept their invitation.

We were invited to speak about the ZPO in various Zen sanghas as well as in a Tibetan monastery. We would meet these sanghas and learn about their practice and their social projects. And in the meantime, Roland and I would have the chance to spend some days together in the nature of the country.

Green, green, vast green on both sides of the road as far as we could see; for two hours we were driving on this road which draws a thin line through the Atlantic rainforest. My breath got deep and it felt as if all the cells in my body smiled. The wild powerful rainforest is still there, it is still exists, grand, untouched, full of life! The Atlantic rainforest in the region of Santa Catharina is part of the cultural heritage of the UNESCO. It is the homeland for 20,000 different sorts of plants and 1,361 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and snakes.

Olga, Ovidio, Roland

Olga, Ovidio, Roland

The hills and mountains on the horizon have a haze of dust. This gives it the name cloud forest. Now in February, big groups of trees are full of blossoms, and huge bouquets of purple seam the endless, wild green. My whole body seemed to remember to belong to this nature. Years ago, when a group of whales appeared right next to the small boat off Cape Cod, so that I had eye contact with one of the huge whales, I had the same taste of a deep, intimate connection.

The nature in Brazil is such a treasure – it is paradise! The guide who brought us to Ilha Do Mel told us about the difficulties the Brazilian economy has right now and shared his opinions on politics and other issues. His German was perfect; he had grown up with a German speaking grandmother who left Germany before World War II. Brazil is a melting pot of many cultures, languages and peoples of different colors living together in a huge country.


After spending our first four days in nature, to assimilate from winter in Switzerland to summer in Brazil, we met Ovidio and Olga in Porto Alegre, where we learned more about their great work as family therapists, professors at university and their institute for family therapists. Ovidio also brought us to the Via Zen Zendo where he is a member of the board with Jorge Koho Mello and others.

There we met Jorge Koho Mello a Senior Zen priest of Roshi Coen and a teacher for street retreats ordained in this by Roshi Genro Gauntt. He and his wife Marge are very actively socially engaged and committed leaders in their Zen sangha in Zürich.

When our group arrived at the Tibetan monastery of Lama Samten, they welcomed us with prayer shawls. It was very moving to meet this big sangha where we spoke about ZPO and the practice of living the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers.

Left to right: Marge Oppliger, Jorge Koho Mello, Barbara Salaam, Lama Samten, Roland Wegmüller, José Ovidio Waldemar at CEBB Caminho Do Meio.

Left to right: Marge Oppliger, Jorge Koho Mello, Barbara Salaam, Lama Samten, Roland Wegmüller, José Ovidio Waldemar at CEBB Caminho Do Meio.

After our talk Lama Samten brought us to the soup kitchen of Dionisia in the favela.
Dionisia runs the soup kitchen. She spoke about her hard life and her struggles at a place like this. Twice she was attacked and hovered between life and death. She shared with us that the reason she goes up every day is her vow to cook the daily soup for a group of children who need to be fed. She showed us her small shrine room, which is also her sleeping place. A gift she got from the Dalai Lama is the most precious object, the treasure of this place.
What a blessing to meet this living Bodhisattva!

Lama Samten introduced us to the school and the kindergarten that are part of the temple at CEBB Caminho do Meio. The beautiful garden is a playground for the children. It was vacation time, but the place felt filled with joyful laughter as I looked at the Buddhas in all the five wisdom colors.

Our next destination was a place not far from the Tibetan temple. From afar a big Buddha is visible as a welcome to all the visitors to the place of ViaZen. The Buddha statue is 9 meter high; his eyes are watching far over the endless green of the wild forest. The place is a beautiful practice place for Zen practitioners coming not only from Brazil but also from Argentina and Uruguay. To meet Roshi Coen and her wonderful Sangha and her teachers was such a gift. The beauty of the ceremonies, like eating oryoki with a big group, was wonderful. The place of ViaZen is huge, like the Buddha statue; there is a potential for great environmental and education projects. The work that has already been done is impressive, and it will need many dedicated peoples more to support the projects. All will be well, step by step, and it will be for the benefit of all!

Our teacher Bernie was present as we spoke about ZPO, but he was also very much present in our hearts and minds knowing that he was recovering from the stroke he had had shortly before we left for the trip to Brazil.
To greet him with all our love, the whole Sangha gathered at the feet of the Buddha and we bought all the red noses we could find in the shop in Porto Alegre to send him this greetings from all of us with clown noses.
As we said goodbye to the head priest Shoden and Sensei Dengaku, and to Roshi Cohen and all the Sangha members, we felt deeply grateful and inspired, learning from their commitment to Zen practice in all its beauty, from their hard work and their warm presence.

After visiting ViaZen we spent time at the beach house of Ovidio and Olga, spoiled by their hospitality and sharing good conversations walking along the beach and lots of laughter, because Ovidio is a master in telling jokes.
The last part of our trip led us to Rio where we met the ZPO member Ivamney Lima, who introduced us to his teacher Sensei Alcio Braz, who is the head monk and teacher of Einji temple.
The temple is at one of the entrances to a community inside the Copacabana district, called Pavão-Pavãozinho-Cantagalo. It is a “favela”, a poor community along a hillside. There are many like that in Rio de Janeiro, places where the authority is shared between drug chieftains and gangs and the police, with occasional “battles” and the usual deaths.


Eininji Temple in Rio. Behind me Sensei Alcio Braz. Second from left is Ivamney Lima, ZPO member.

The temple is a big house that was once inhabited by a rich family, before the neighborhood turned into a favela. That family left and lent the house to Tokuda Roshi, Alcio`s teacher, some 30 years ago. Sensei Alcio had been responsible for a Zen center in another neighborhood for 16 years when his teacher asked him to move to this temple, as the previous sangha there disappeared, for many reasons including the violence around. So he became responsible for this temple and brought the sangha from the other neighborhood here, not without some understandable resistance, says Alcio.

Things have got a little better in terms of security, and they have got some new people too, new residents, and little by little they are rebuilding the house and the Sangha. Sensei Alcio has also gone to Upaya and has met Roshi Joan, so now Roshi Joan is their teacher too; some of the sangha members have gone there.

The sangha is a Zen sangha but they are not sectarian. People in Rio tend to have different practices at the same time, so some practice the Afro-Native-Brazilian religions, and so on.
Roland and I immediately fell in love with the temple. On one of the altars there is a statue of a Native Brazilian, next to a statue of Maria and Kannon. The openness of the place to interreligious diversity is mirrored in Alcio and the residents. The atmosphere in the temple is filled with love and awareness.
As we went to the morning ceremony and early sitting period, I could not follow the recitation of the Heart Sutra. I have never experienced it so fast spoken. They said it is the Upaya style.


With the Bodhisattva of the soup kitchen Dionisia.


Our hotel at the Copa Cabana was a five minutes’ walk from the temple. Right at the corner at the entrance of the favela the energy changed. There is a lot going on around the temple. Visible, energetic, tangible, audible. As I was sitting zazen at the temple on Friday night, it felt like being in the eye of the hurricane, a unique experience.

At lunchtime a block behind Copa Cabana I saw three boys lying on the ground of the sidewalk. Thin eight to ten year old boys, sleeping in a deep drug absence. Heartbreaking, ungraspable. I looked around and saw busy people walking by and I felt compassion not only for the children on the street but also for the population around them. How much energy does it cost not to look at these children? Knowing that there are 10 million of them in Brazil? Every day groups of them are killed; they are victims of sexual abuse, prostitution, violence, hunger and illness. One of the NGOs writes that there are 1,500 children living alone on the streets in Rio….. I did not need any lunch after bearing witness to these children. Sitting with Roland under an umbrella at the Copa Cabana, every two minutes people were approaching us with a request to buy something or to give money. I took a picture of yellow blossoms that had just fallen from a big tree on the sidewalk.


Theatre of the Oppressed

Ivanmey took us to a Campus for a session of a theater play of the oppressed for teachers to learn about new methods. I was deeply impressed by the powerful young people, all residents of one of the largest favelas. In their interactive play they expressed their difficulties to be the “other”, the “one who is a criminal because he/she is coming from this dangerous, horrible favela”. It is indeed not an easy place to grow up in, not easy to get education, not easy to survive. And it is not easy to change to another part of society, to get a job and to be accepted by the population outside the favela.
I am impressed by the work of the trainers of these young people. At the end of the afternoon we shared with them about the ZPO and our work. We hugged each other and we expressed our gratitude to learn about their incredibly powerful expression and their will to change their situation.

This country has a nature like paradise, heavenly sunrises and sunsets, fruits in all colors full of sweetness and a whole range of all sorts of other realms. I came to Brazil to learn, and I experienced our first tenet Not Knowing. I bear witness to the joy and the suffering and I vow to support my new friends in their places and sanghas. In deep appreciation of how they serve the Dharma and work for the benefit of people in need.

With a deep bow,

Barbara Salaam

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“ONE HOOP, WIDE AS DAYLIGHT” http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/one-hoop-broad-as-daylight/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/one-hoop-broad-as-daylight/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 07:24:00 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13605 1350_black_hills_pc





I had wondered aloud several times about what kind of crazy white folks were wanting to bear witness to our people’s genocide. The folks from the Wantabe nation are pretty clueless, well meaning maybe but clueless, this could be dangerous, I was skeptical. The genocide of my people, the Mnicoujou is ongoing:  the mascots, the boarding schools, the textbooks, the incarceration, the whiskey, the meth, the white flour, the white sugar, the treaties, the land. Genocide like ecocide are words to me that hold breath taking unspeakable meaning.

I had gone to visit the rainbow tribe a month earlier, their coming was with much fanfare and some segments of our tribal community in the black hills mistrusted their intentions. I was unsure, so I went to investigate and on the road to the camp I saw a couple of kids from my UU fellowship running barefoot and fancy free, when I arrived they fed me pancakes and I sat for a while in their drum circle.  I left, not needing to linger, they were respectful to the land, they seemed genuinely happy, mostly self-interested I suppose, had I been ten years younger, I might have camped and become engaged, but I was chockful of engagement with white folks, there was nothing for me to learn besides, my dog Luta was geriatric, and I had been having to leave her more and more, I wanted to get back to her.

Later on that summer, investigating again, I came in the first afternoon while most everyone but Tiokosin and Jadina were touring Pine Ridge, you folks had a bigger tent, a tipi and looked a little more ligit than the hippies, but I had no real way to know you folks weren’t going to be donning regalia and dancing around said tipi, so I came back the next day. I was still so curious to see what bearing witness looked like.  

 The first day, I learned some stuff and met some people, so the next morning, Luta secured at her second home, I came back with my tent and began my relationship with the Zen peacemakers. 


2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

I stayed all week, soaking in the good vibes and the honest, thoughtful, compassionate folks I met everywhere.  I loved the not knowing.  I was in the middle of one of the most stressful years of my professional careers, the city of rapid city had woke up to it’s racist city moniker. We are mired in a border town situation that holds the answer to the future of humanity: what does a post-colonial Turtle Island look like?  What does an America that honors treaties and honors earth look like? It’s a daunting question and a complicated morass of ideological and historical understandings are necessary to even begin to answer it.  I was totally okay with a bunch of folks coming in to see what kind of good action can come from their involvement.     

I was amazed at all the love that came from the peacemakers.  One the last day one of the youngest participants, a five year old Polish girl who spoke no English, asked her parents if they were there about “love.”  That youthful wisdom was right on. I made lifelong friends.  I shared moments of awareness and awakeness and compassion with so many different people, some I can’t even imagine my life without them, today, they filled a place in me.  Then, a few weeks after the Black Hills retreat, after my very effective job of “white people whispering”– Genro asked me along with a Lakota group to Poland and my spirit, so full of my own people’s genocide survival and resilience was to open up even wider.

NATIVEBANNER2016B Two weeks before I left, sadly, one Sunday, I made fast trip home across the prairie, a gray day that was in the middle of a hawk migration, hundreds of hawks greeted us on electricity poles, fence posts, everywhere as we drove home, as I drove my Luta home for the final time, her body had gotten too old. I had been fretting about leaving her, paralyzed with indecision, she knew it, I think, her health dramatically declined, and that evening, my nephews and nieces dug her grave alongside the creek that bears our name. Ours because my great great grandfather manifested destiny there with his dakota wife. My great grandfather is buried on the hill to the west, since 1832, for almost two full centuries now, Jewetts, our two leggeds and our four leggeds have been dying along that creek, and, since we’ve been living alongside it too, that next week, I packed up and went to bear witness to a Nazi death camp.

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2015 Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat, Poland

 The being there was critical, at Aushwitz-Berkinau: the shadows, the fog, the track, the guard bookstore, the tourists, the barbed wire, the broken bricks, the stones, the trees.  you have to witness that place, you have to smell the air, you have to touch the tracks. The heavy shroud of death and the raw nakedness of life flows along that creek in Poland, it’s palpable, it’s a place in history like Wounded Knee, like Srebrenica, like Barunjuba, like Khan Yunis, places where evil and man collide and earth never lets us forget.  

We called their names, those long dead spirits, Maria Baumgarten was five years old when she and her mother were meticulously entered into the papers of record. She died before the world could break her heart.  But so many years later, I called her name. And an image of my sweet niece Jaylee, so vulnerable, so fierce came to me and, me, in all my brokenness and all my fear, and all my weakness, I called out her name, fiercely but my voice shook:  Maria Baumgarten.  

 Later that week at dinner, our rowdy table of originals spontaneously began greeting folks by name a la “NORM!” from Cheers. We were loud and boisterous and like the spirits we greeted so solemnly by day, the spirits we greeted at night were thoroughly tickled.  We don’t just survive, we laugh, us humans.

On the final day we walked together in ceremony, praying as all the peoples of the world pray.  We walked as peacemakers, slowly with reverence, in homage to those who walked their final steps among those beautiful birch trees; their leaves were so perfectly golden that sometimes when they fell, it looked to me like raining sunlight.  

The next morning, we drove away in song.  The rabbis were singing shabbat songs as the buses whisked us swiftly away from Oświęcim, back to Krakow. Marsha Gildin told me on the way about Rabbi Schlomo, the Singing Rabbi who brought joy back to his people through song.  I loved that and him and her and the signing rabbis. I loved the idea of singing ourselves through trauma, we do that, in a way.  

I was so honored and humbled and awed to be apart of such wonderful circle of humans.  Black Elk said:


2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

“I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.


2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

There’s all kinds of different Lakotas:  the Hunkpapa, Sicangu, Itazipo, Sihasapa, Oglala, Oohenunpa and the really good looking ones, the Mniconjou.  Our Dakota cousins, the Mdwakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Sisseton, Yankton, Yanktonai, the Oceti Sakowin are still scattered throughout turtle island, throughout unci maka, doing what our ancestors taught us.  We are surviving.  We are thriving.  We are still here, fighting for peace of mind for our children, and respect and the freedom to drink sacred water unpolluted by industrial waste.  We don’t all look like Hollywood indians or powwow indians, some of us are barely legally enrolled, some of us were born when our ceremonies were illegal, some of us were beaten to a pulp for speaking our language, for having long hair, for living with our grandmas, like Russell Means said, we all held onto whatever indian we could, the sacred hoop of our people hasn’t been broken by three centuries of holocaust.  We survive without money, without justice and despite the Washington Redskins.

 Come and find out why! Maybe together we can use that knowledge to move humanity itself into a different paradigm. I’m excited for the second Zen Peacemaker Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills. My new puppy Nunpa and I are happy to continue to expand our peacemaker hoop, and to have more folks join us in continuing to do what our people have been doing in this land since time began, listening, learning and laughing together, as relatives.

Thanks for reading, please join us in July.


1350_black_hills_pcChas Jewett is a Mnicoujou Lakota from Rapid City South Dakota.  She is enrolled in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, she has a cat named igmu and a dog named nupa, she grew up on a cattle ranch her family still operates, was educated by the Benedictines, and spends a lot of her time walking alone in the woods, collecting stone hearts, thinking of funny things to say. She is an environmental, reproductive justice, human rights and peace activist and community organizer.

Photos by Peter Cunningham


Register to the 2016 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat Here:








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COMING SOON: NEW WEBINAR SERIES with BERNIE GLASSMAN http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/comingsoonwebinars1/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/comingsoonwebinars1/#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:47:29 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13588 BSS960



As many of you may know, back in January 12th ​2016 Bernie has suffered a stroke. ​His recovery, according to his therapists, is nothing short of spectacular, other than the peculiar phenomenon that he sometimes, while speaking about his condition, forgets the word ‘stroke.’ He will pause, then recite an esoteric mantra revealed to him in the bardo of neuroscience blackout – ‘Bowling…? Strike..? Stroke.’ – and off he goes resuming his spiel. Watching him do that is like watching a dynamo engine winding itself up, only to release with great gusto. Once he returned home from rehabilitation, between therapies and espressos, Bernie began working on a new book and found great enthusiasm to share his post-stroke insights and current expression of Zen practice, which to him feels fresh and unconventional. “What else is new, right?”

Bernie decided to share his process and study with all of us, for the first time, through periodic video internet calls (webinars). The webinar series will be open to all ZPO Member. If you are not a member yet this is the time to join this international community of spiritual practitioners and social activists and take part in this special opportunity to study with Bernie.


>>If you are an enrolled ZPO Member, you may register to the webinar now and be notified once the dates become available. Click Here to Register<<

Bernie is offering these teaching sessions free of charge. Any dana will appreciated and will support the Zen Peacemaker Order.

No bowling experience or shoes required


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Join the Zen Peacemakers in Auschwitz/Birkenau, October 2016 http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/apauschwitz2016/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/apauschwitz2016/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 02:17:58 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13578 ABWbanner2016v



“What could Auschwitz— this place oceans-deep with death and the source of so much fear-turned-hate in the hearts of people I deeply love— possibly teach me about living a full, beautiful, wise, compassionate life?” – Kineret Yardena. Participant of 2015 retreat.




Poem by Wisława Szymborska (Polish poet and recipient of Nobel Prize in literature)

In sealed box cars travel
names across the land,
and how far they will travel so,
and will they ever get out,
don’t ask, I won’t say, I don’t know.

The name Nathan strikes fist against wall,
the name Isaac, demented, sings,
the name Sarah calls out for water
for the name Aaron that’s dying of thirst.

Don’t jump while it’s moving, name David.
You’re a name that dooms to defeat,
given to no one, and homeless,
too heavy to bear in this land.

Let your son have a Slavic name,
for here they count hairs on the head,
for here they tell good from evil
by names and by eyelids’ shape.

Don’t jump while it’s moving. Your son will be Lech.
Don’t jump while it’s moving. Not time yet.
Don’t jump. The night echoes like laughter
mocking clatter of wheels upon tracks.

A cloud made of people moved over the land,
a big cloud gives a small rain, one tear,
a small rain-one tear, a dry season.
Tracks lead off into black forest.

Cor-rect, cor-rect clicks the wheel. Gladeless forest.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Through the forest a convoy of clamors.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Awakened in the night I hear
cor-rect, cor-rect, crash of silence on silence.
(translated by Magnus J. Krynski)


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“How Simple the Answers Are” – Testimonials from Council in Bosnia/Herzegovina http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/howsimple/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/howsimple/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 01:32:30 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13508 tam2b

Photo by Tamara Cvetković (left) “How Simple the […]]]>


Photo by Tamara Cvetković (left)

“How Simple the Answers Are”

Testimonials from Council in Bosnia/Herzegovina

In March 15-18 2016, The Zen Peacemakers, together with the Center for Peacebuilding and led by Center for Council Director Jared Seide (Read Jared’s report of the training here), conducted a four-day Way of Council training for 22 Bosniak, Croats and Serb women and men. This training is another step in the peacebuilding effort to address the deep suffering in the balkans following the genocide of the ’90’s.


“When I think of Council… It is fascinating how many layers of prejudices and expectations you have to strip off yourself to enter into an honest heart-to-heart conversation. It is fascinating how even when you think you have reached that point, you get astonished realizing how far you have to go to get to the point of speaking and listening heart-to-heart. And it is fascinating how, when you think that nobody sitting there with you can surprise you anymore, you discover that you have not even started that conversation. It is fascinating to discover that everybody can go far beyond in sharing the pain we all have. But above all, it is fascinating how simple the answers are. All you have to do is to be there, to step in it and let yourself be… whoever you never had an idea you were.” (Nikica Lubura-Reljic)

“Last week’s training in council was an amazing opportunity not only to familiarize ourselves with the methodology a bit better, and more thoroughly, but also to see it work in Bosnian circumstances. It might sound funny, but during our Auschwitz councils I had only one thing on my mind: this will never work in Bosnia. The fact that our mentality is pretty closed and that patriarchy, as such, dictates emotional distance, added to the fact that we haven’t had any formal nor systematically organized support on psychological post-war issues, pretty much determined my pessimism. Therefore, there is nobody happier than me to share impressions on our work and process!

Firstly, I must commend Jozo’s and Jared’s patience, which was needed to overcome all the mechanisms Bosnians use when somebody tries to open them and provide safe space for sharing their deep fears and emotions. As I anticipated, it took a bit more time to establish the container and include everyone equally. This experience has showed me that even though “my people” might seem tough and distanced, they can’t “escape” the power of council. In my opinion, all the singing, humor and hugging we tend to do in any serious situation are only defense mechanisms we use in order to cover our true selves. And council manages to defragment it, not to exclude it or make it forbidden but to infiltrate and include it in a completely reassuring manner. People truly heard each other, while overcoming the need to comment, to fix or to preach. They left council with much more faith in themselves and with the hope that its future use will help others to grieve, heal and laugh.

This experience has given me such immense knowledge and confidence. It answered a bunch of questions, gave a completely new perspective on the use of council in our work and helped overcome obstacles I imagined we’d have in the “logistical” sphere. Bringing it to Bosnia showed it in a different light, as something palpable, possible and real, so I’ve decided to commit to it and practice it with my family and friends — which resulted in my first “solo” council. Having in mind that I would never do anything without being sure that I could lead it till the end, and that I take my work perhaps too serious, the fact that I decided to do it shows how successful our training was.” (Ivana Gospođa Tapisirović)

Jozo Novak (L) , Tamara Cvetković (C), Boris Lovrinovic (R)

Jozo Novak (L) , Tamara Cvetković (C), Boris Lovrinovic (R)

“The Council training which was organized in Sarajevo was a great experience for me. It was the second council training for me but the first time I really recognized and felt the power and beauty of this method. I am grateful I had the chance to be part of this great group and to be a student of a great teacher. Jared is a teacher who can feel and satisfy what the group needs, as well as being very experienced and flexible in his work.” (Boris Lovrinović)

mevlojaredvahidin“With Council, our work at the Center For Peacebuilding got a whole new meaning. We strongly believe engaging Bosnians and Herzegovinians in Council will help us build stronger and more honest relationships among them. Council is the way for building peace, not only in BiH, but in the world. Experiencing Council opened many more opportunities for peace building in BiH. (Vahidin Omanović & Mevludin Rahmanović)

“I had a wonderful first experience with the Council method. It was so good to have this opportunity to speak in front of people and have them all listen to you without their own opinion. After these days, I felt very open and powerful. I still have that feeling of openness and real improvement in my communication with my family, friends and colleagues from work. For me, this is a kind of new skill, to listen to others from the heart and to openly speak from the heart. The whole process for me was incredible. And a little bit mystical, because of the incredible openness in relation to others and the amazing connection. This connection, I realized, occurs when we hear and recognize ourselves in other people’s stories. I had a wonderful experience and I like these principles and methodology very much. And I’m feeling better because this has helped me to say some things that I realize I simply had to say at the moment. When I spoke from the heart, I felt relief and release, as if letting go of a burden that I carried. Council is definitely something I’ll try to do with my relatives, my colleagues and friends. (Helena Martinović)

“I had the privilege and big honor to attend the training workshop on Council, arranged by my friends at CIM. I am just today finding some words which can describe my feelings and the change that I have experienced in myself…

The first day I was really confused and asked myself all the time: ‘What am I doing here???’ When I returned home, I found myself sitting with much passion and I spoke about all the work we did with my family, and started to try to convince them about how important Council was. I still don’t know what, but something happened with me this first day. Day by day, this wonderful and magical 4 days of training changed me, and it changed my attitude about others. The simple ‘rules’ push you to be careful with communication, to listen, to be open in front of people whom you are seeing for the first time. The facilitation was so nice and simple, charming, and in a subtle and easy way I was drawn into the process. I learned from what I heard and absorbed the words. I realized this workshop is different, you haven’t any paper, or material… it`s strange! But, step by step, this kind of thinking and communication with others starts to be part of you. Just today I saw things that are changing in me — in my every day communication with family, friends, on the job… When I found myself almost on the verge of aggravation with my family, because of the training, I realized that I was not really worried or angry. I really started to listen from my heart and talk from my heart.

I sincerely believe that this is the true path to understanding and to happiness for all of us. I strongly believe that Council is a way of communication, and conflict resolution, that must be part of everyday life for all of us. I would be so happy if one day this method could be included in schools, obligatory for all. I’m richer as a result of this experience, I have new people in my life who I value. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. We will try to expand it! Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this.” (Mira Mehmedović)


“When Jared asked me to assist him in Sarajevo I had a sense of excitement and deep resistance. Knowing my people, our recent history and its fallout, I presumed the workshop would be anything but easy. I also knew that I would have to dive into my old wounds, my personal hurt and be aware of the many trigger points that get activated when I am there. Day one was a true struggle. The level of mistrust and vigilance that has been build up is understandable, but I was surprised by the extent of the avoidance of intimacy and feelings which I observed. It took only a short while and couple of games before the atmosphere started to loosen up. As the days passed, we heard more and more stories how some who were involved in amazing peacemaking and reconciliation work have never been asked about their feelings, never been listened to or cared about. The joy and gratitude on their faces was beyond words.

BiH, as all ex-Yugoslavia, is a very patriarchal society, something I experienced so deeply years ago. When Jared decided to do “fish bowls” with men and women separated, the subject would come up over and over again. It was astonishing to hear one young man say how he feels frustrated since he loves cooking but his mom would not let him do so, for that was not a man’s job. Or to hear others revealing that they had been taught that a man is not supposed to express emotions, to be tender, to be soft. I could recall, with sadness, growing up a country where boys don’t cry; I, myself, never shed a tear in 22 years (probably the reason why I can’t hold back my tears today). It was wonderful to see how council could soften the hearts, the gender weight and the bias.

There were so many precious moments, stories, heart openings, laughter and joy, some I will remember for a long time: the woman whose heart came back to life, the woman whose husband, each night of the workshop, had to bear witness to her joy of deep transformation, and above all the last council we did in small groups of 4. By coincidence, mine was an all men’s group, each of us of different ethnicity. We did 2 rounds of deep sharing and then, as we reached the end of our time together, one man asked a favor: he wanted 4 of us to stand up and hug each other. So there we were 4 men in a circle holding each other in a deep hug for a long while. Not far from us, there sat a group of 4 women who, being deeply moved watching the scene, stood up and celebrated.” (Jozo Novak)

The ZEN PEACEMAKER ORDER invites you to join in Council in our Bearing Witness retreats in Auschwitz/Birkenau and the Black Hills.



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Coming Back to Ourselves: Council Training in the Balkans http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/councilbalkans/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/04/councilbalkans/#comments Mon, 04 Apr 2016 20:47:06 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13501 allrednose

  “Coming Back to Ourselves: Notes on a Council Tr […]]]>


The following report on the ongoing Zen Peacemakers peace-building efforts in Bosnia/Herzegovina is a glimpse into the ongoing development of our Bearing Witness program that includes Auschwitz/Birkanu, Poland, The Black Hills in Turtle Island/South Dakota, USA and Bosnia/Herzegovina. These are funded by donations and income from previous retreats (learn more here).Join2 They are planned, staffed and participated by many of our Zen Peacemaker Order members, who are actively pursuing social action causes around the world in ecology, human rights, refugee relief, hunger, homelessness, hospice, veteran support and prison outreach and others. To join the Zen Peacemaker Order and participate in world-wide community of spiritual practitioners and social activists, follow this link.


“Coming Back to Ourselves: Notes on a Council Training Workshop in the Balkans”

By Jared Seide, Center for Council, ZPO

Three participants in last year’s Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreat to Auschwitz had come from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). They arrived in Poland with some trepidation about just what the plunge would be like. They left shaken and pretty raw. When Jozo and I met them this month in Sarajevo, they were eager and energized. “I’ve missed you guys so much,” Boris said, “and, seeing you here, I’m starting to realize what the trip to Auschwitz was really about and why I’ve been feeling so unsettled these past months.”

Turning toward suffering can take many forms. As a practice, it can seem counterintuitive and, to be wholesome, it demands skillful means, deep fortitude and compassion. The suffering of the Bosnian people is deep and profound and the events of twenty years ago are still tender and uncomfortable. Even now, excruciating memories are triggered by certain sites, uncorked stories, even turns of phrase. Despite the notorious “Bosnian humor,” an off-color and surprising proclivity for diffusing tension with dark jokes, there seems to be a longing for a real encounter with our common experience of suffering. So much there has gone unaddressed, unrestored, unmet… and a deep and embodied experience of coming together to grieve, release, celebrate feels emergent.

Or so we imagined, as we designed a 4-day Council Training with an assortment of peaceworkers engaged in the complex and challenging work of rebuilding. The Zen Peacemakers Order is deeply committed to building relationships and bearing witness in BiH. Last year, the ZP team visited BiH with Vahidin Omanovic and Mevludin Rahmanovic, two Imams who have created the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM), based in Saski Most, BiH. Their inspiring work is devoted to fostering reconciliation between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. As their website states: “The legacy of violence, particularly the heavy toll it took on civilians, informs the present climate of distrust. Bosnia’s social fabric which, previously embraced diversity and multiculturalism, must be rebuilt by individuals and their respective communities. CIM’s mission is to empower people to work through their trauma and transform the society’s conflict.”


Mevludin Rahmanović(L), Vahidin Omanovic of Center for Peacebuilding (CIM) and Jared Seide (C)

The Zen Peacemakers administration decided to postpone the Bearing Witness retreat there to 2017, and to focus on deepening relationships and building capacity. One offering was to help CIM train a cohort of its members in the practice of council. The thought was that council could be a useful tool for CIM’s work throughout the region, as well as a way to equip a local team to co-lead council circles throughout the Bearing Witness Retreat next year. Both Mevludin and Vahidin had experienced council in Auschwitz but, like Boris, they were curious about its relevance and applicability to a culture that had created, and was recovering from, historic unrest.

As with Rwanda, I was moved and honored to accept the charge of dropping into the field and introducing the practice, in partnership with a group of folks who had lived through genocide and were committed to healing their country and its diverse communities. As with Rwanda, I set forth with a strong intention to share this practice of council, tempered by awareness of my profound ignorance of the culture, conditions, relationships and language. I was blessed with an extraordinary partner in Jozo Novak, who has been studying council for several years and had grown up in the region, immersed in the culture and speaking the language. Jozo has navigated a profound relationship with BiH and has looked deeply at the impact it has had on him and his peers. His ability to translate, both the language and the culture, was invaluable.

And so it was our intention to enter humbly and listen deeply and to invite our friends there to try on the practice of council and experience how it might engage them, and they it. I began the workshop with a bit of a gimmick, admittedly – partially to diffuse some of the tension of expectations and the onus of being an “outside expert.” Before the group arrived, we assembled chairs in rows, placed a podium at the front of the room and began the workshop in the style to which so many had become accustomed, what the participants called “frontal learning.” After a few minutes of presentation, I asked the group to pause and say what they were noticing, what their expectations were, how they were experiencing their body/mind/heart/spirit as a result of this format. And then we shifted the furniture.

Working in a circle is, of course, a common practice for reconciliation work, but the careful and subtle awareness of what it feels like to be seen, included, “on-the-same-level,” open and connected would be revisited throughout our days together, taking on greater depth and subtlety. The councils that followed and the teaching about the essential elements of this practice reinforced the power of creating a container for deep presence, offering an invitation to let go of our expectations and judgments and to celebrate the opening of our hearts. As the stories came, the participants began to let down their guard and shed armor they were mostly unaware of. They began to see the impact of engaging our narrative as a generative act that leads to healing. And they articulated the emergent awareness that intimacy with our personal suffering is the key to being effective working with the suffering of our communities.circle

In addition to experiencing the variety of modalities of council, we talked about neuroplasticity and meditation, attention and self-regulation. I shared some metta practices and the brilliant work that Roshi Joan Halifax is doing around teaching compassion; her GRACE model is powerful and easy to practice. We talked about the “field,” inside and outside the circle, and liminality. We spent a great deal of time on identity; aspects of ourselves we present and those we hide and how that impacts relationships (as well as the work of council). And we played with forms of witnessing each other and the awareness of things waking up in us. It was powerful to hear Rumi’s poetry recited by an Imam: “Beyond right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field; I will meet you there.”

The feeling of elation and inspiration by the last day was palpable. But the participant who, Jozo and I agreed, put up the most resistance throughout the first day described an extraordinary journey through this work, perhaps more dramatic than the others. She spent an hour in the bar after day one, expressing her confusion and frustration and had to be convinced by Vahidin to come back the next day. She was frustrated to not see the methodology laid out clearly, to be asked to experience a series of weird sensations that were uncomfortable and to be groping for a tool that didn’t seem to make sense. She went home that night, she later explained, and spent two hours relating her day to her husband. She talked about the unusual, puzzling sensations and this new approach that was really unaligned with the expectation she had of learning about a new technique. Something was stirring in her that was new, peculiar, but it had her attention. Day two began to open the floodgates for her. She had hardened herself to her pain and closed off the part of her that could engage both her own story and her empathy for others. As her trust grew, her resistance abated; the council circle was encouraging her to soften, to move the energy, to turn toward the suffering. That night, apparently, the debrief with her husband went on for three hours, until her husband asked her to stop talking. And her take-away at the end of our time together was a sensation that she explained to us all was like nothing she had ever experienced: a lifting of a huge weight from her shoulders and cracking of a hard shell that left her feeling joy and deep love for the group that had listened so deeply and heartfully that she was able to “come back to myself.” The day after the workshop she posted online that she missed us all dearly and that she’d spent all morning explaining the “amazing 4 days” to her NGO coworkers and had convinced them all to come to a council circle she would facilitate for them shortly. Three other participants related stories of initiating council circles with peers and family.

Jozo Novak (L) , Tamara Cvetković (C), Boris Lovrinovic (R)

Jozo Novak (L) , Tamara Cvetković (C), Boris Lovrinovic (R)

In the end, I was left with immense gratitude. The commitment of ZP to foster this work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the openness and embrace of the kind and caring Imams who run CIM, the passion and hard work of Roshi Frank de Waele of Gent Zen Sangha to organize and raise funds, the tender and powerful support Jozo brought to the circle… And what a blessing to experience the amazing and inspiring courage, rigor and resilience of this group of change-makers, living the healing that comes from a great intimacy with suffering and a devotion to opening the heart to serve themselves, each other and the healing of their community.

I am so excited to see how this work and this group continues to deepen. I hope you all will have a chance to bear witness with them in circle next year.


Read more testimonials from the training participants here

Jared Seide is the Director of Center for Council. He has designed, piloted and coordinated Council-based programs in prisons, assisted living facilities, youth groups and a variety of non-profit and faith-based organizations and social service agencies. He is a member of the Zen Center of Los Angeles and a sixth cohort graduate of the Chaplaincy Program of Upaya Institute, under the direction of Roshi Joan Halifax. Read more about Jared here.


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BLACK HILLS: GOING BACK–AGAIN AND AGAIN http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/going-back-again-and-again/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/going-back-again-and-again/#comments Tue, 29 Mar 2016 20:13:44 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13485 0736_black_hills_pc




By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko

Photos by Peter Cunningham, at the 2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat



Grandmother Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance died this past week. She is one of the  Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers representing native peoples all over the world, leading petitions and prayers for peace, human rights and the rights of our planet and its citizens.

Grandmother Beatrice, an Oglala Lakota, came to the Zen Peacemakers’ retreat at the Black Hills last August along with her daughter, Loretta. She was already somewhat frail, but I was deeply moved to see her. How strong these Lakota women have had to be! They raise not just children but also nephews, nieces and grandchildren, and are often the most consistent breadwinners for their families. Grandmother Beatrice was no different, and in her younger years had to combat alcoholism like many other Lakota. But she became a leader and an inspiration to others, advocating finally not just on behalf of her native land and people but also for the entire globe.

I often wonder about how people who’ve gone through trauma heal themselves. This question has accompanied me all my life. While other children grew up on Mother Goose rhymes, I grew up on my mother’s stories of the Holocaust. I couldn’t possibly understand the full extent of what she carried, but I did get just enough to wonder how one continues after such a childhood. How do you live with these memories and voices, these pictures in your mind? How do you not go crazy? And how do a few, like Grandmother Beatrice, use these kinds of early concussions as ballast to push off from and surge upwards, helping others rise, too?

In July 2016 we return to the Black Hills to bear witness once more to this sacred place, promised by treaty to the Lakota and then sold down the river for gold. After gold, for other metals, the most recent one being uranium. It’s our old Western way of doing business, not just selling off the earth and its inhabitants as if they’re ours to sell, but also selling off our own word, our own honor.

0734_black_hills_pcWhat I’m thinking of today is the slow step-by-step process of healing, which has to start with letting go of denial and facing the consequences of our actions. So the retreat begins with a visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest areas in our country. We go to Wounded Knee, the last massacre of the Plains Indians, which took place in 1890. And then we stay at the Black Hills, one of the most gorgeous places in this country, mark the presence of what’s still there (elk and antelope) and what’s not (herds of buffalo). We listen to Indian elders describe not just the past but also the present, and not just the present but also prophecies for a future. We do ceremonies, council, and meditation, we walk in the Hills and bear witness to the confluence of these two vastly different cultures and the people we’ve become.

At the end, I experience a growing sense of us as one whole people, one whole earth. It’s a slow process, one person at a time. For me it’s a commitment to go back again and again, knowing that this job won’ be finished in my lifetime, that it’s a step by step, year by year process—which is no reason not to do anything but rather a push to get on with it. It’s not my work, but the work of generations, with my being just the smallest of birds flapping its wings to keep the air currents circling, the fire burning, the work flowing and growing—and encouraging others to do the same.


Read more of Eve’s writings on her blog www.evemarko.com




“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the Universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit. And that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Sioux medicine man, Native American Spiritual Leader.

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“A Voice I Am Sending As I Walk” : An Invitation to the 2016 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/voice2016nat/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/voice2016nat/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 16:46:04 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13425 NATIVEBANNER2016C





By Eve Marko, Grover Genro Gauntt, Rami Efal

“With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.”[1]

Personal healing—experiencing all aspects of our psyche as whole, as one body—takes years. Family healing, a little longer. Healing among communities, nations, and cultures takes generations. And what about the healing among humans, plants, animals, and the earth? How long does that take? If it takes an age, don’t we have to start immediately, persevering step after step, action after action, every day and every year?

This summer the Zen Peacemaker Order will hold its second bearing witness retreat in the sacred Black Hills at the heart of Turtle Island. The first took place last year, in August 2015, but in some way it began in 1999, when Grover Genro Gauntt first went up to the Pine Ridge Reservation, meeting with Birgil Killstraight and Tuffy Sierra, the first of many tender forays into this middlemost nucleus of history, treachery, trauma, and denial. Sixteen years of this culminated in the retreat in the Black Hills in 2015.


Genro went back year after year. Showing up again and again is an important practice for all of us who care about what the Black Hills stand for, historically for us here in America, and worldwide. The Hills are sacred to many native peoples and were promised to the Lakota and Dakota Nation by the United States government according to treaty. The promise was broken for the sake of gold, an archetypal mode of behavior repeated time and time again around the world. Be it lumber, salmon, elephant tusks or metals like gold and uranium, we have plundered the earth and wiped out many of its inhabitants. Now we are paying the price.


The killing of 425 Lakota at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890 marked the last major event of the wars with the Plains Indians. After that massacre, Black Elk, the famous medicine man of the Oglala Lakota, had a vision in which he saw that the Sacred Hoop had been broken: When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. . . [T]he nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.[2]

He had thought it was his life work to make that tree bloom again; it never did. Instead, he saw something else. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree! Finally, he saw that the mending of the Sacred Hoop would begin in the seventh generation after Wounded Knee.

We are now living in the time of the Seventh Generation. Many of us reading this are not Native Americans but rather wasichus[3]. And if we aren’t directly involved in the continuing degradation and gradual destruction of the native population, we are citizens of a culture that has actively done so, knowingly or unknowingly deriving benefits from those actions. Instead of being discouraged, we can begin to walk step after step. The Buddha said, [b]y the falling of water drops a water jar is filled. The sage with goodness fills himself, he soaks up little by little.[4] It is incumbent on us—for the sake of justice and restitution, for our sake, the sake of our children and grandchildren, and the coming generations that will demand of us what we did when we saw the earth degraded and plundered—to renew the vision of mending the Sacred Hoop.

It is our deep intention and prayer that this Bearing Witness Retreat plays its own small part in this process, and that we all realize wholeness, health and harmony amongst ourselves, the earth’s native peoples, and the earth itself.


It’s a grace and privilege to hold this retreat in the Black Hills, on a consecrated site owned and used for ceremony by the Santee Sioux tribe, with grass, pines, wildflowers and ponds, blessed with prayers from previous ceremonies and Sundances. Located at the geographical center of Turtle Island, the Black Hills is the place of seven Sacred Sites that have been used throughout history by many nations for prayers, petitions, purification, visions and spiritual sustenance. The central Sacred Site, Peshla, or Bald Head, is close by.

This year the retreat will take place earlier than before so that more Native people, especially young people, can participate. Each day will begin with a sunrise prayer ceremony around a sacred fire, followed by sharing councils. In addition to presentations by Native elders, we will also bear witness to the Black Hills, the Place (in Judaism, one of the names of God), in prayer, silence, guided meditation and walks, and ceremony, joining all our hearts in the deep wish for the mending of the Sacred Hoop and cooperation, communion, and community among all peoples and with mother earth.

There will be breakout working groups for those wishing to help hands-on. Last year participants organized a drive to send winter clothing to Pine Ridge. This year we will bear witness to other needs that arise, be it community gardens or home maintenance, in Pine Ridge as well as other reservations, and galvanize volunteer labor and financial support.

One bearing witness retreat, or even a dozen, is but a small step in this long healing path. At the same time, we each have our own role to play, our own silk thread of this flickering web to honor with both intention and action. It falls to us to do what we can, with both humility and persistence, to share in the healing of the Sacred Hoop. It also falls to our family, friends, and community—so let’s invite them. Please join us in this work of few expectations—and an immeasurable future.


Why do we do bearing witness retreats? 

One of the central practices of the Zen Peacemakers is to bear witness to the traumas that have afflicted this planet. Our earth, like the human body, has suffered abuse and fracture, affecting the functioning of the entire body.

Each node of suffering is different from the next: Auschwitz, Rwanda, the Black Hills, Bosnia/Herzegovina, the travails of refugees landing on European shores—these are not the same. What unfolded and continues to unfold at each place, each moment, is subject to its own karma, its own cultural, historical, economic, and political conditions. Coming to the Black Hills is unlike going to Auschwitz. At each retreat we plunge into its specific culture, customs, and language, even as we bear witness to what they have in common, the harm done to those we define as Other. The clothes may differ; the wound is usually the same. Returning to these different retreats year after year, we affirm our oneness as it manifests in unique, local expressions, while ministering to this one deep wound.


[1] Song of the White Buffalo Maiden, as quoted in Joseph Epes Brown’s The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Oglala Sioux.

[2] Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux.

[3] Lakota name for non-Native people.

[4] Dhammapada, Verse 122.

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BEAR WITNESS TO THE BLACK HILLS IN 2016 http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/blackhills2016marpro1/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/blackhills2016marpro1/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 03:34:29 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13390 NATIVEBANNER2016B







Tuffy Sierra, Charmaine White Face, Bernie Glassman, Eve Marko and Violet Catches introducing the 2015 retreat.

In 2015, the Lakota Nation and Zen Peacemakers conducted the first Native American Bearing Witness retreat in South Dakota. It hosted over 180 people from over a dozen countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia who came to the Black Hills to bear witness to the land and to individuals from the Shawnee/Lenape, Tohono O’odham, Navajo, Mohawk, Lakota and Dakota nations about first-hand accounts of intergenerational trauma, present-day teen suicide epidemic, acute poverty, alcoholism and addictions, as well as presentations on historical bulls leading to the genocide and ecological justice issues. Together, each morning, we awoke to a ceremony appreciating the bounty of all that was around us – we bore witness to the majestic Black Hills – the running water streams, the tall grasses – referred to by the Lakota as Cante Wamakhognake – “The heart of everything that is.” We bore witness to our own lives and hearts – all that the hills gave rise to.


ZPO Member Eric Manigian of New York City and over 1000lbs of clothes heading to Pine Ridge.

Following the retreat in 2015 several members-led actions came forth, including the delivery of several thousand pounds of winter cloths and distribution in Pine Ridge reservation throughout the year. A Lakota delegation accompanied the 2015 Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat and shared their ceremonies alongside with Muslims, Christians, Buddhist and Jews.

The Zen Peacemakers, together with the Lakota Nation, will return to the Black Hills this summer for the 2016 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in South Dakota, to continue this ongoing and long-term process of restoration of trust.

Why Return? In the Zen Peacemakers, we practice bearing witness to the oneness of life, and to all that which veils this from our experience. Auschwitz, Rwanda, the Black Hills, Bosnia/Herzegovina are not the same. Each place, at each moment, is subjected to its own climate and politics, bathed in its own lore, its own history, its own forms of kindness and its own forms of ruthlessness. Coming to the Black Hills is unlike coming to Auschwitz. Coming to the Black Hills is unlike returning to the Black Hills. While bearing witness to a specific place in time, we bear witness to how these different places reveal a universal human tendency – to divide in the cruelest of ways.  ​T​his tendency marks our home-planet in different coordinates, but they, too, are interconnected. By returning to these different locations we minister one deep wound. We reveal and affirm both the oneness, the shared, universal experiences across cultures, beyond borders and despite apparent differences, as well as the nuanced diversity of its local expressions. By returning to one wound, we minister all.​ Join us.

dsc01674For twenty years, the Zen Peacemakers, a 501(c)3 non-for-profit organization led by Zen master and co-founder Bernie Glassman, created Bearing Witness Retreats in places of deep suffering around the world, such as in Rwanda and in Auschwitz, where this retreat has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. These retreats are open and all-inclusive, crafted in intention to bear witness to suffering and to heal by bringing together as many, often estranged, constituencies as possible.

“When we see the world as one body, it’s obvious that we heal everyone at the same time that we heal ourselves, for there are no ‘others.’ ” – Bernie Glassman



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WHAT’S IN A PHOTO? http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/whats-in-a-photo/ http://zenpeacemakers.org/2016/03/whats-in-a-photo/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:31:40 +0000 http://zenpeacemakers.org/?p=13371 bernie 031sml

  WHAT’S IN A PHOTO? By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko Pho […]]]>
bernie 031sml

bernie 031sml



By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko

Photo by Peter Cunningham

Monkfish Publications, which is publishing a book on Lex Hixon and the radio interviews he did in New York City’s WBAI in the 1970s and 1980s, recently asked us for a photo of Bernie from years ago. I SOS’d Peter Cunningham, photographer extraordinaire, and we went back and forth with various old photos (“Wow, look at that one!” ”Who’s that guy?” “Remember her!” “When was this?”, and on and on), and somewhere in that process, it hit both Peter and me how historic some of photos are, and the broad, multi-weave tapestry we’ve not only witnessed over these decades but have been raveled into ourselves.

One photo showed Bernie, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex at a table in the Greyston mansion in Riverdale. Bernie, bald and in his tattered brown samue jacket, is the essence of animation as he lays out one vision after another, Peter looks pensively (painfully?) down, probably wishing he was back home writing a book, and Lex shines like the sun, face radiant. I’m not there, it’s before my days, but I’ll bet a million dollars that this was a board meeting to discuss Bernie’s thoughts and plans for opening up businesses and not for profits as vehicles for Zen practice. Any old member of the Zen Community of New York will remember those endless meetings, the excitement, exhilaration, and the trepidation (How are we ever going to get the money!).

It caused me to recall my own first experience, coming up with a friend to the Greyston mansion in 1985 for the evening sitting, only to bumble into the middle of a residents’ gathering in an immense dining room. Generously, we were invited to sit in the corner of the long table as they talked about plans to serve monthly meals at the Yonkers Sharing Community to homeless people, hiring those same folks at the Greyston Bakery (which was already in existence), following that up by building permanent apartments for homeless families (in a county that for years built no apartments of any kind, just private homes and Mcmansions), child care centers, and programs to help folks get off the welfare system. I sat there, novice that I was, and thought to myself that I was witnessing something historic, a vision for Zen practice that I hadn’t seen in other American communities.

Photos bring back people, some of who represented new answers to the question of what Zen practice will look like in America. Can a Jesuit priest like Fr. Bob Kennedy get dharma transmission? How about Nancy Mujo Baker, who has never ordained? Or transmission to a Sufi sheik (Lex Hixon), a Jewish rabbi (Don Singer)? Can a teacher be a writer or social activist rather than one who only teaches in a zendo (Peter Matthiessen often apologized for being a very poor student and teacher because he wrote fiction and nonfiction on behalf of the environment and Native American leaders like the imprisoned Leonard Peltier)? By now there’s a sense that a lot of Bernie’s responses have met wide acceptance (it’s hard to find a Zen center now that has no social action involvement of any kind), but years ago his open approach, and his desire to work with a great variety of people, generated controversy and criticism.

He likes to quote his own teacher, Maezumi Roshi, who said that Zen was life, all of it, nothing excluded. Zen was construction of 68 Warburton, the first housing project (We have to replace the roof! How many windows in each apartment? Square footage? Public spaces?), Zen was after-school programs for kids, tenant organizations, AA meetings and Christmas parties, AIDS centers and businesses.

Most people like the exciting photos: lying on a bench at the first street retreat in 1991, or standing by the tracks at Birkenau working out retreats at Auschwitz. But I prefer the more boring photos of people at meetings, contemplating a whiteboard on an easel, a human at the side holding a magic marker, working out new structures, new earth forms and movements to support practice-based activists, laying the seeds for events that no one could yet see for they were far in the future, such as pilgrimages to the beautiful, ravaged Black Hills, working with refugees arriving in leaky boats on the Greek coast, bearing witness in favelas in Rio, Brazil. And then there are scenes not caught by any photo, moments that reflect the full totality of life, such as Joan Halifax sewing a kesa, or priest’s robe, out of multi-colored fabrics from people whose death she’d accompanied, or sitting on a terrace outside a gracious Zurich home as Bernie, in a curious, thoughtful voice, first articulates his Three Tenets: Not-knowing, bearing witness, loving action.

You don’t need much faith when you’re trying for short-term results. But working towards an unfathomable, unforetold future—that’s a different thing entirely. You have nothing to go on, just the daily thread, the daily practice, the daily work, the one time in the day when you open your eyes and smile even as inside your heart clenches in loss or defeat. Dropping your cynicism but not your doubt, letting yourself be used in acts of creation.




Originally published on Eve’s blog. Read more of her writings on www.evemarko.com

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