Just My Opinion, Man!


bernie-upayaThis webpage is a way to discuss my opinions with you, man! I am posting my Opinions periodically.  I have listed recent opinions by posting date below followed by a listing of opinions by themes.

 

 


February thru August 2014 Posting Dates

Please link below to opinions by date posted.

May, 2012 thru November, 2013 Posting Dates

Please link below to opinions by date posted.

Prior to my Journey to the Field in Brazil I was sent questions by Alessandra Kormann journalist of Folha de S.Paulo for an upcoming interview. These were her initial questions after reading our website and my opinions on those questions. I will be in Brazil from September 2-5 and will give my thoughts and opinions to that Journey when I return.

Themes

 

Please link below to opinions by theme.




What is Karma?

A Story of Karma an Interview of Bernie Glassman By Batya Swift Yasgur

I vow to be oneness I vow to be diversity I vow to be harmony I vow to penetrate not-knowing I vow to bear witness I vow to take care of myself and others

–Vows of the Zen Peacemakers Order

Every year, I do something strange. Some people might even consider it bizarre. I bring a group of people to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where we sit at the selection site to meditate, pray, recite the names of the dead, and hold counsel. We all come from vastly different backgrounds, walks of life, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and countries. We gather to bear witness to the enormity of suffering that took place there. We gather to confront our judgments and labels about what happened, about each other, and about life itself. We gather to bow to the unknown. We gather with trust that loving action will flow from our explorations. We gather to celebrate our oneness and our differences. We gather to honor the Interconnectedness of Life. This experience of Interconnectedness of Life is key to my understanding of Karma.

Karma Is a Story But then, so is everything else.

From my perspective as a Buddhist, I regard everything as Emptiness. A physicist might use different terminology and say that everything is Energy. Energy permeates everything that exists, energy is everything that exists, energy is the fabric from which everything is woven. This includes the things we think are “solid” and permanent. You and I are constructed from particles of the same Energy.

Within that Emptiness, events come and go. Experiences arise and recede. They seem real, but they are nothing more than transient configurations of energy, with no substance. They may seem like facts, but they are stories. The Energy never changes. It doesn’t have a narrative. It doesn’t move forward or backward, it doesn’t grow or shrink. It has no birth, no conditioning, and no death. It has no beginning, end, or middle. It is outside time, inside time, and unaffected by time. Linear time is a perception, not a reality.

So how do we translate those energetic waves into the experiences that form the building blocks of our stories?

The brain has instrumentation, circuitry that takes the energy and makes something out of it, like a radio has an antenna that converts radio waves into sound. The television converts waves into a visual picture. Our brains convert energy into perception that we think is “real.” Certain waves become “vision” and others become “sound” and still others become touch or taste. The brain is a fantastic receiver, a fantastic transmitter, and a fantastic database—an absolutely amazing storage system. The sum total of everything experienced and then stored is called memory. My Karma is my own unique instrumentation.

My brain may convert a particular set of energy waves into some experience that I regard as “real,” while your brain may convert the same set of energy waves into a different experience that you consider “real.” But it is the same energy. Recognizing and realizing that we are individual in our circuitry but universal in our make up is my definition of the Enlightenment experience. Understanding that fundamental Enlightenment experience is the key to what I call Karma.

Direct and Indirect Karma We are everything. Our Karma encompasses all the direct and indirect things that happen to us, and to everyone else in the universe—and not only in our universe, but in all of the multiple universes and galaxies. In the Buddhist tradition, we call it the Oneness of Life. In some traditions, it is called God.

I define Karma based on a Chinese ideogram, which actually consists of two ideograms–one meaning indirect Karma and the other meaning direct Karma. When you combine these two, you get the meaning of Karma: all the indirect causes and effects, plus all the direct causes and effects.

“Direct” Karma is relatively easy to understand. It consists of things that are the results of the things I do, actions I take, and thoughts that I have. Direct Karma is something I recognize. For example, if I bump my head, I recognize it. My direct Karma is that if someone bumps me on the head, I may label the person as “unintentionally” hurting me, or as “intentionally” hurting me, and conclude he isn’t a very nice guy. Whatever my conclusions, I can find a direct cause-and-effect between the bump on the head and my reaction.

“Indirect” Karma refers to things that have affected me without my recognition. For example, my DNA obviously affects my health, my biology and my thinking, but I’m not consciously aware of its impact. Additionally, my DNA isn’t a result of one particular action. It’s the result the millions of interactions that led to my ancestry, my parents’ meeting and marriage, my conception, and the body/mind I have now. Solar radiation might be changing me, the ozone layer might be affecting me, but I have no direct awareness of these

Since we are all interconnected, anything that anyone does affects my Karma and anything that I do affects everyone else’s Karma. All the direct and indirect causes affect not only me, but all beings. Individual Karma, collective Karma, and global Karma are irrelevant terms because we are all one thing and therefore there is nothing but changeless, formless, timeless Being. There is no past, present, or future. There is just ”now.” So our experience in the moment we call “now” is affected by everything that has already happened or will ever happen. I may label some things as “already happened” and others as “will happen one day,” but that is a perceptual label. I may label some things as “direct” and others as “indirect.” In reality, all time and space are simply What Is.

Buddhists sometimes refer to this as “Indra’s net.” Indra is a deity, originally from Hindu mythology, whose palace on Mount Meru sits under a net. The net stretches out in all directions, right to infinity. At each vertex of the net sits a pearl, and because the net is infinite, the pearls are likewise infinite in number. Each pearl contains a reflection of all the other pearls. So if you look closely at any given pearl, you see every other pearl that exists, all infinitely connected with one another. The Whole is present in every part, and every part is present in the Whole. Every moment—be it “present,” “past,” or “future”—is reflected in every other moment.

Koan and Karma In Zen we have techniques called Koans—riddles or paradoxes to be meditated on, which are designed to help the practitioner experience things as they are prior to labeling, to experience our selves before we developed a name, a self-perception, and a story. Each label, each story, separates us from What Is, and creates duality where in truth, all is One.

Emptiness is things as they are before I put a label on them. As I write, I’m looking at a birdfeeder in my back yard. The hummingbirds are hovering around it, darting in and out, their wings quivering against the summer breeze. Everything is labeled. The hanging glass object with holes is labeled a “birdfeeder.” The liquid in it is called “sugar water.” The beautiful colored things with the long beaks and the whirring wings are labeled “hummingbirds.” The sensation on my check is labeled “breeze.” The season is labeled “summer.” But to someone blind who hears the whirring of the hummingbird’s wings without seeing the hummingbird, it’s just a mysterious sound. Similar to a baby, who sees only objects but has no vocabulary, so he can’t name them, define them or interpret them.

The energy waves are crystallized into a story that we call “Experience.” Then we label that experience a “fact” if we believe it, and if we don’t believe it we say it’s a “lie.”

For example, right now I’m smoking a cigar. Why am I smoking it? Because my cousin introduced me to cigars when I was young. I was on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, where I grew up, walking with my cousin. I remember the light spray of the sea and the wooden boardwalk under my feet. I remember what my cousin looked like and how he handed the cigar to me. I remember inhaling and since then, I’ve been hooked on cigars. But smoking is a label. Cigar is a label. Hooked is a label. But the bottom line is that I’m smoking a cigar right now.

And maybe my cousin has a completely different memory. Maybe he remembers the scene as taking place outside a movie theater. Or maybe he remembers me as snatching the cigar, or finding it unpleasant the first time. If we agree on the memory, we call it a “fact.” If we disagree, each of us thinks the other is lying or doesn’t remember correctly. Anyone who watched the movie Rashomon knows that many people can witness something, and each “sees” something different.

If I share a “truth” with someone else—meaning, we agree on the facts—I’ll get along better with that person than if I disagree. Human beings go to war with one another when they don’t agree on “Truth.” One person thinks there is a God, another one doesn’t. One nation thinks that history unfolded in a certain way, while another nation has a completely different version. Israelis and Palestinians have their own version of history. The Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda each has its own version of history. The Americans and the Germans each have a different version of history, or a different interpretation of facts they agree on. Each thinks their version is true and the opposing version is false.

And each group takes action on those Stories. This is the reason for so many genocides. The Germans believed they were a superior race and that the world had to be “cleansed” of inferiors. From their perspective, they were doing a service to the world. The Hutu in Rwanda believed that the Tutsi were cockroaches, who were polluting their homes and villages. They honestly believed they were performing a service by killing the Tutsi—including their friends, neighbors, wives and children–just as many of us believe that cockroaches pollute our homes, and we reach for a can of Raid.

I think that all of these versions are equally true or equally false. They are all Story. Real Truth has no opposite—because how can there be an opposite of What Is? The very act of misunderstanding, misremembering, or misrepresenting a “fact” takes place within the broader totally of What Is. The duality of truth/falsehood is splashed across the greater screen of a Nondual Truth that doesn’t change and has no opposite.

The mind cannot grasp this, which is why I call it a Koan. Our stories are both real and unreal. Our Karma is both real and unreal. That is the nature of Koan.

Memories of Present and Past Lives Memory lies within the realm of Story. I may remember my childhood, growing up in Brooklyn. I may also remember that I lived in the 18th century and murdered someone, and then regard my hardships of this lifetime as a consequence of that murder. But all of this is a narrative I tell myself. I don’t regard it as a literal linear account, any more than I regard events of this lifetime as a literal, linear account.

This differs from the Tibetan concept of rebirth. “Buddhism” isn’t uniform in its approach to Karma. In Zen, for example, we don’t believe that an individual soul can reincarnate again and again as the same person, as Tibetans do about certain Lamas. We don’t talk about that type of reincarnation. But I’m sure if you ask 100 Zen masters, you’ll probably find 100 different versions—or Stories—of what reincarnation is. There are many versions of what the Buddha said and what was meant by “rebirth,” but my understanding is that he was reluctant to talk about life after death. It was of no concern for him. This was in the realm of philosophy, and he made it clear that he wasn’t a philosopher. The Four Noble Silences contain nothing about reincarnation or the afterlife.

As I see it, everything instantly and constantly is reborn. That’s my version of reincarnation. My person energy field–my instrumentation– is active every instant, and each instant is different, so I’m continually being reborn.

A metaphor for this is a live oak tree. If you look at an oak tree, it’s always alive. Green all year round. If you look loosely, there are leaves falling. They fall, disintegrate into the soil, and there are always new leaves sprouting. I can look at that oak tree as a big energy field that’s always changing. It will be different at any instant you look at it. Leaves have fallen off and leaves have popped up. You could say one of the leaves that fell on the ground is reincarnating as one of the leaves up in the tree, but that’s your story and it’s more of a Tibetan than a Zen story. From the Zen perspective, things are always changing, dropping away and popping up, but they leave no traces. How can this be? It is another paradox, another Koan.

All of that fits into my story of what interconnectedness means. I believe that we’re all interconnected, it’s all one universe. The memories we have could be from anything, since it’s all one thing. All the pearls are reflected in all the other pearls. There’s no past, present or future, and no such thing as space. It’s what Jung calls cosmic consciousness. In Buddhism, it is similar to Alaya, which means storehouse. The term originated in the Himalayas, as a place where snow is stored. Vishaya is what we might call “Storehouse Consciousness.”

There is a vast storehouse of memory, a vast energy bank consisting of all the experiences that human beings have ever had, are having now, or will have in the future. My instrumentation may pick up another person’s memories and experience them as if they were my own. They may then be interpreted as “my” past life. “My” memories are part of “my” story and have no more or less substance than any other part of my story.

Implications of Story I would like to make clear that calling everything a “Story” is not a license to be uncompassionate toward another’s suffering or pain. I’ve sometimes heard people say dismissively toward someone in distress, “Oh, that’s just your Story. Get over it.” On the contrary, when we realize the Interconnectedness of all Life, the Oneness of All There Is, we are more compassionate because if another person is hurting, then so are we.

The person I call “Bernie” consists of many parts—limbs, organs, tissues, bones, and cells. If my right hand is gashed, my entire body will spring into action. My brain will think of ways to get care for my injured hand. My feet will take me to the doctor. My tongue will explain to the doctor what’s wrong. My left hand will change my right hand’s bandage. Wouldn’t it be absurd for the other body parts to say, “Oh, it’s only the right hand hurting. I’m going to get on with my life.” If my realization and actualization expand not just to “Bernie,” but to all of society and the world, then when someone is gashed or starving I’ll naturally take care of it. Because, in doing so, I’m taking care of myself.

Standing apart, we can call that compassion. With somebody like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I think he is manifesting that actualization in the world. He’s not just taking care of his particular sect or particular tribe or the Buddhist community. He is serving the world, because that is who he is. So, yes, we would call that compassion. But it’s also just the normal functioning of non-duality.

Compassion in Action: the Zen Peacemakers The Interconnectedness of Life lies at the foundation of the Zen Peacemaker Order, an organization I founded together with my wife Sandra Jishu Holmes. I had been involved in social action with underserved populations for many years prior to formally founding the organization. In April 1991, I decided to hold a street retreat. Since I was heavily involved with working with populations that were homeless or impoverished, I wanted to join with them in living on the streets. Around 20 of us did a seven-day street retreat in the Bowery of New York. Many of the retreatants were long-term Buddhist practitioners; some had never meditated and knew very little about Buddhism. All the retreatants had strong experiences of the interconnectedness of life and of living in the present. Street retreats became one of the cornerstones of my practice, which eventually led to the founding of Zen Peacemakers.

Several years later, I held my first retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had been to Auschwitz on my own two years earlier and had vowed to return two years later to lead a bearing witness retreat at the camps. Not just a retreat for Buddhists, Jews or Christians but for everyone–people with different memories. People with different Stories.

Hitler and Nazi Germany had been determined to stamp out differences. They had deified one race and one culture, declared all others inferior, and selected some to be exterminated. Put in different terms, they were determined to impose their Story on others, to splinter off one component of the Whole and discard the rest. I was determined to bring people from different religions and nationalities to the very place where diversity had once been condemned to a terrible grave. There, we would bear witness to our differences.

And indeed, our retreats have drawn individuals and contingents from a wide range of backgrounds and countries—Poland, Germany, the United States (including Native American spiritual leaders), Israel, Ireland, France, Holland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and Africa. Rabbis, Catholic nuns, priests and monks, Buddhist priests and teachers, Imams, Hindus, Sufis, Palestinians, Israelis, and laypeople from all walks of life. We’ve had children of survivors, children of victims, and children of Nazis. We have commemorated the victims and we have commemorated the perpetrators. We are all one body and 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 indivisible body.

Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers There are three basic tenets of the Zen Peacemakers: Bearing Witness, Not Knowing, and Compassionate Action.

Bearing Witness means bringing Presentness and empathy to suffering, but it’s more than that. It means “grocking” the other person’s pain. Joining with the other person’s pain. Experiencing the other person’s pain as if it were your own. Getting to the point where there’s no duality, no subject and object, no “self” and “other.”

There’s bearing witness to oneself, where I am wholly one with my own pain, confusion, and suffering. There’s bearing witness to another human being, for example, someone homeless or someone dying. In our society, we often turn away from the homeless because we find it unbearable to see a disheveled, unwashed person sitting in the street, with a battered Styrofoam cup and an outstretched hand. We look away and hurry on. We turn away from death, afraid of our own mortality. Bearing witness means entering the reality of suffering. Turning toward it, instead of away from it.

When we visit Auschwitz, we are horrified and repulsed. Our first inclination is to flee from our horror and revulsion. During the retreat, we don’t deny our feelings. We bear witness to our own horror and revulsion. We sit at the selection site and deal with what’s coming up for us. We bear witness to the enormity and unspeakable atrocities that took place at that site. And we bear witness to each other. We celebrate our diversity and we celebrate our Oneness.

Not knowing means standing back and allowing ourselves to be led, rather than thinking we need to lead. For example, when I visit children in refugee camps, I have to allow them to show me what they want me to do, and what they don’t want me to do. I have a red clown’s nose, and one of the things I do is to stick it onto my own nose. But when they’re kids from different cultures, they may find me scary, rather than funny. Or they may not be accustomed to smiling. I’ve been around children whose parents have never seen them smile. So I have to watch them very carefully and allow them to show me what’s OK and what’s not OK. I need to give up the idea that I know anything at all about what’s best for them to see, hear, or experience.

On an even deeper level, Not Knowing means suspending judgments and labels—right and wrong, good and bad, thinking we know what should have happened and what shouldn’t have happened. It means stepping out of duality.

But it’s more than that. We take our exploration to the place of not knowing, to where the brain can’t come up with answers. Answers stop us from growing, struggling, and healing. It’s not the answers that are important, it’s the questions. Questions lead us deeply into a situation. They are the key to entering the place of Not Knowing. To being where we are. Sitting deeply with the questions. We can say that Auschwitz and all it represents is a Koan that leads us deeply into the unknown, where our minds cannot follow. One of the Peacemaker vows is, “I vow to penetrate the unknown.”

Loving action will emerge from the Bearing Witness and Not Knowing. How do we know what action to take? How to heal? The right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t come with a fixed idea of what is needed. We don’t have to figure out the solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises. Loving action is right action. . It’s as simple as giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who has fallen on the floor. We take such direct, natural actions every day of our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special.

If I’m in 100-degree weather, and sweat is pouring down my face, I don’t think about what to do. Automatically, I reach up and wipe the sweat out of my eyes. My action doesn’t arise as a statement to myself, such as, “boy, you’re hot, go wipe your forehead.” It’s reflexive, instinctual, and doesn’t have to be thought up. It comes out of Bearing Witness, I call it Loving Action. If it comes out of plan, I call it dualistic thinking. Ninety-nine percent of time, our reactions are dualistic, rather than emerging organically from Truth.

When we bear witness, and when we step out of thinking we know what another person needs, when we become the situation—homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death—and then the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.

Karma Without Traces In the Zen Peacemakers Order, we commit ourselves to healing others at the same time as we heal ourselves. We don’t wait to be peaceful before we begin to make peace. In fact, 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.”

We heal our Karma by healing ourselves. We heal ourselves by healing our Karma. Part of that healing is recognizing our Karma as Story, and seeing our Story everyone else’s Story as well. We are one Story.

In the Zen centers of which I’m abbot, and in the Zen Peacemakers Order, we start our day’s schedule with a verse of atonement: “All evil karma ever committed by me since of old, on account of my beginningless greed, anger and ignorance, born of my body, mouth and consciousness, now I atone for it all.” After chanting this verse we begin our morning meditation, and after that we go on to our daily peacemaking work and social action projects.

How do we atone? By being “at-one.” By seeing that at every moment, a part of me is raping while another is being raped, a part of me is wantonly destroying while another part is being destroyed, a part of me goes hungry while another eats to excess. We are all interconnected. We are all one. If we get stuck in anger, in blame and in guilt, then we are paralyzed, we can’t act. When we can get beyond those things, when we can forgive, then the right action arises by itself, and we begin to take care of each other. In doing so, we shed our karma.

In Buddhism we say that we are all constantly transmigrating from one realm to the other at every minute. There is the hell realm and the realm of the gods. There is also a realm of hungry ghosts. One of our images for a hungry ghost is a painfully thin person with a tiny mouth, a long, narrow throat and an immense stomach. The hungry ghost is always hungry, but has only a tiny capacity to absorb the nourishment that he needs.

I am full of hungry ghosts. I’m full of clinging, craving, unsatisfied spirits. Each part of me that is struggling, in pain, unsatisfied, angry, and unresolved, is a hungry ghost. A starving child, an abusive parent, a drug addict who kills to get his fix, a brutal mercenary, they are nothing but hungry ghosts, and they are all starving, struggling aspects of me.

All evil Karma ever committed by me since of old…

”Me” is everyone and everything. “Me” is the SS guard, the victims marching to their death, the city inhabitants looking away.

Now I atone for it all.

I only have “now” in which to become “at-one” with all these hungry ghosts, all these people who are none other than myself, I let go of guilt, blame, and anger. I let go of fear and paralysis, and I take loving action.

I let go of Karma.

I let go of my Story.

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Actions From Unity

I was having an evening coffee at a café, after a ceremony in Rwanda honoring 5,000 people that were massacred. And at the table were a number of people, including Heinz Jürgen. And we were talking about Not-Knowing, about the Zen Peacemakers three tenets—Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action.

Heinz Jürgen Metzger is a Zen teacher—a member of the Zen Peacemakers Order living in Germany. He’s German, and he’s been my translator for many, many years in Germany. He knows our language and how to—he’s the best translator to German that I’ve run into.

And talking about Loving Actions, and how in my opinion, what I mean by it—by loving actions—is those actions that arise out of entering a situation in a state of not-knowing. Bearing witness to this situation, that is, removing the subject/object dichotomy, by trying to be non-dual. And then the actions that arise I call Loving Actions.

And the word Loving Action has evolved—originally I was using the Hebrew word tikkun, which comes from the mystic Jewish tradition meaning “repairing the cup that was shattered into pieces, into fragments, by the force of God’s energy.” And that the role of the righteous ones is to bring those pieces back to make one again—the cup. And since the word is Hebrew, and I couldn’t use tikkun as the third tenet, and I translated it as “healing action,” which is one of it’s many translations, though it’s meaning is really “repair,” as I just said before—bringing the fragments together and making things whole.

But in English, and again for me the word “healing” implied too much—implied that when we say “we’re healed” or whatever, it seems like our problems are over. And in my opinion, problems are never over. We do the best we can in situations. New things arise, and we do the best we can. And it’s a healing process going on, but we don’t heal things. That’s my opinion at any rate.

So a number of years ago I switched to Loving Actions. And then ran into the difficulty that for many—most of us—loving actions is actions that fit our notions, or concepts of good actions, of compassionate actions, loving actions. So Loving Actions tends to be things that we use—come from our brain. We have concepts of what a loving action should be, or a compassionate action should be. Where as I always meant the Loving Actions are actions that arise out of that Bearing Witness. So they’re coming from the heart, rather than the brain is one way of saying it.

But what Heinz brought up, is that he’s using “actions out of unity.” And that is exactly what I mean by that third tenet. So I will switch to that and propose to the Zen Peacemakers Order that the third tenet, instead of being called Loving Actions be called Actions that Arise Out of Unity.”

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Propagate Those Cells

In the early 1970s, Jonas Salk—famous for developing a vaccine for Polio—was a member of the Zen Center Los Angeles. And one day he and I were talking. And he was talking about how wonderful he thought Zen was. And he told me that in his opinion, the best way to deal with infections, or a diseased body, or a diseased system, is to inject a healthy, strong cell into that diseased system, or infected system. If the cell is strong, it will duplicate. And eventually it will override the unhealthy cells, and create a healthy system, or a healthy body.

Well, recently I returned from a Bearing Witness retreat in Rwanda, with my wife Eve. I think the retreat went really, really well. And one of the things that I noticed was that about five years ago Fleet Maull and Genro Gauntt—Grover Genro Gauntt—went to Rwanda and did a number of workshops on Council, and different processes—some retreats. And now, five years later, we introduced a Bearing Witness retreat, in the nature of our Auschwitz Bearing Witness retreat, where half the participants were Rwandans or Africans. There were a few from Congo. Half were internationals from ten different countries, four different continents. Many of those internationals are members of the Zen Peacemakers family.

We sat together for about five days. We did Council every morning. We did different processes. We had attending the retreat people that were survivors from the genocide that happened twenty years ago. We had perpetrators. We had a perpetrator and a survivor, where the perpetrator had actually cut off the hand of the survivor. They were both at the retreat, and they worked through a forgiveness process. And still, obviously, there’s lots of trauma going on. We had rescuers. And we had a rescuer and a person he had rescued—a ten-year-old boy (twenty years ago, so the boy was now thirty), and they were sharing their experiences.

There aren’t that many trauma groups in Rwanda. There should be, because the whole country seems to be traumatized. But there’s a wonderful woman named Therese, who has a trauma center. And she was trained in the way of Council by Fleet and Genro, maybe four or five years ago. She now has trained over a hundred Council facilitators—many, many groups. And she’s just one person. So there, the healthy cell of Council has permeated throughout Rwanda to where there are so many different groups.

And I spoke with Therese. She would love her groups to be part of the Zen Peacemakers family. So I linked her up with Barbara Wegmueller, who trains Stewards in Councils around Europe. And a Steward is someone who understands, has been trained in the spirituality of the Zen Peacemakers. And Therese in Rwanda really wants that to happen. So now Barbara will train Therese, and then help Therese in training other Stewards in Rwanda. And so they will become part of the Zen Peacemakers family.

There’s was also in my Council group, a young woman from Congo—a beautiful young woman—who works with orphaned children. And she herself has adopted three orphaned children, due to killings in the Congo—she’s young. And we will be planning—or hopefully planning, if everything works out—a Bearing Witness retreat in the Congo. So, the cell—the healthy cell—called Zen Peacemakers, in my opinion, is being injected around the world. We have—Africa will make five continents—and I don’t know how many countries—twenty, thirty countries around the world. This cell is being injected. And little by little spreading on it’s own, into a healthy body, and hopefully into a healthy society.

May these cells propagate.

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See the Ocean? . . . and That’s Only the Top of It!

So, a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, “Where’s the water?”

And the fish says, “What water?”

You say, “You are water.”

You know, the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to the notion that he or she is some kind of thing, and doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask, “What is the ocean?” Do we say, “It’s water”? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath—they became Hawaii. They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea—all kinds of stuff! But we just call it an ocean.

Some Jewish comedian is in a boat, looking down, and says, “See the ocean? And that’s only the top of it.” I mean there’s a lot to this thing, but somehow that evades us.

So enlightenment is like that. Enlightenment is the realization and actualization that it’s all just one thing—that I’m not this little thing. I’m air. I’m you. I’m rocks. It’s all one thing. But that relationship is so intimate, that we don’t see it. So somehow we have to awaken to that intimacy.

So intimacy is like fish and water.

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Wow It's a Vow

I would like to share with you my opinions on taking a vow, or vows. I look at all of life as energy. And everything we do and say makes ripples in that energy. I see a vow as an intention—as a packet of energy that spreads throughout Indra’s net, and affects not only us, but everyone and everything.

In the Zen Peacemakers, we are guided by three tenets. And they’re written as “Entering the stream of socially engaged spirituality, I vow to live a life of not knowing (thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe), bearing witness to the joys and sufferings of the world, and loving actions towards ourselves and others.” And in the Zen Peacemakers we have a day of reflection each month in which we repeat these vows. So we are constantly reinforcing the packet of energy of the vow of the three tenets. And you never know how that vow will manifest, but it will manifest. It does affect things.

When I started to work in Yonkers, NY, about thirty years ago, I made a vow to end homelessness in Yonkers. It had the highest per-capita homeless rate in the country. And it was in one of the wealthiest counties in our country—Westchester County. I had no expectation that I would—that we would—end homelessness. But because of that vow, I, and many others worked very hard to end that cycle of homelessness for many people. And in fact, as of maybe ten years ago, seventy-five percent of the homelessness was reduced. What particularly we did was not as important as the vow to do it, and letting that vow affect our lives and our work.

I remember when I was younger—just graduated college—it was June of 1960, and I was sitting with a friend in a pizza parlor. And I made a vow to do three things—to live in a Zen monastery, to live in an Israeli kibbutz, and to live on the streets. And without planning it, eventually I did all those three things.

So I look at the vow as having a lot of power—affecting the energy of life, what we call Indra’s net. So don’t take your vows too lightly, because when you make them, they will affect things.

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Mr. Nobody, String Theory, Multi-Universes and Indra’s Net

Recently I watched the movie, Mr. Nobody, which is a science fiction film made in 2009. The film tells the life story of Nemo Nobody, a 118-year-old man, who is the last mortal on earth after the human race has achieved quasi-immortality. Nemo, his memory fading, refers to his three main loves, and to his parents divorce and subsequent hardships endured at three main moments in his life—at age nine, fifteen, and thirty-four.

He reflects on himself as a young boy standing on a station platform. The train is about to leave. And he has to decide whether to go with his mother or stay with his father. They were splitting up. An infinity of possibilities would arise from this decision. And as long as he doesn’t choose, anything and everything is possible. Every day, every life deserves to be lived and is of equal value.

The movie reminded me of a student of mine, Joel Scherk, who was one of the founders of String Theory. That’s a mathematical theory which predicts multiple lives. Joel studied with me in the late ’70s, and actually died very young—just thirty-four. He had diabetes, and after a conference he somehow was in his room, and he didn’t have insulin, and his landlord found him after three or four days, and he had died.

But String Theory predicts—among other things—multiple universes. And from that time—from my time studying together with Joel—it has been my opinion that there are multiple universes. And that actually, at every moment of our life, as we bear witness to what’s happening, and our actions occur, those actions are the best actions that we could make at that time. They’re the actions based on our ingredients that we recognize and those that we do not recognize. And immediately after the actions, we tend to say, “Oh, I should have done different than that, I should have done this,” or “I should have done that,” or “That wasn’t the best thing to do,” or “That was a great thing to do.”

So at each of those instances, there were other alternatives of what we might have done. And in my opinion, all of those create multiple universes in which those things were the ones that were done. And all those multiple universes are of equal value. That is, each of the things we did turns out to have been of equal value. And as we stand in one of those universes, we may, reflecting back, say, “Oh, I should have been this, I should have been that.” But in my opinion, we always did the best thing possible we could do.

Again, in my opinion, all of those multiple universes—and as you can see from how I described it, in my opinion there are infinity of those universes—they are all contained in Indra’s net. Therefore, as we grok Indra’s net, as we become more and more in bearing witness to the whole of the net, more and more of those multiple universes become recognizable by us.

That’s my opinion, man. That’s mind-blowing, huh?

OK, bye.

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Groking, Second Foundation, and Bearing Witness

 

Hi. Today I want to talk about my interest in science fiction. I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger. I haven’t read that much recently, but there’s a few thoughts that have stuck with me all these years. One was “groking.” Grok was a word that was coined by Robert Heinlein, in a book he wrote in 1961—a science fiction novel called Stranger in a Strange Land.  And in the book it’s defined as “grok,” meaning to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes part of the observed—to merge, blend, lose identity in group experience. It’s hard to really grasp it. It’s sort of like a blind man grasping color. But, it can be experienced.

So I use “grok” a lot to explain what I mean by bearing witness. Of course then you’ve got to explain grok. So, in bearing witness I say that that’s a state in which the observer and the observed disappear, and it’s just the experience itself. That is, there’s no subject/object relationship. So bearing witness is to grok—to really become one with the situation.

Koan study in Zen was developed to help us experience this bearing witness. That is, there are many koans that the only way to answer them is to become all of the entities in the koan, and show the teacher—or the one you are meeting in the koan study—that you have become that. If you give commentary on that, that doesn’t work. That’s a subject/object relationship. Even if the commentary sounds right, it doesn’t matter. The koan study is aiming for you to experience that situation when the observer and the observed are gone, and it’s just the thing itself. So that’s “grok.”

Another book—actually a series of books—that I loved was Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation. That’s a series I think of five or six books. But in it, there’s a man, Hari Seldon, who comes to the conclusion that the universe—which was large, and many planets, different galaxies, and there was somebody overseeing the whole thing—but anyway, he came to the conclusion that it was going to end in chaos. And he worked out a way to predict—at least statistically—how things would flow. And he came up with a way to improve the probability that a stabile universe could occur sooner, if there were some interventions. Without interventions, maybe the whole thing would have gone total chaos in let’s say a billion years—I don’t know, a hundred million years. With some interventions, he felt he could lengthen the time by which after the galaxies went chaotic— that they could regain stability. And to do that, Hari creates two different Foundations—a Foundation and a Second Foundation. And the Second Foundation, nobody knows where it is. Nobody knows anything about it. He keeps that secret.

The First Foundation grows. And it’s very scientific, and it’s based on knowledge. And it goes the way that we’ve seen our planet go. A merchant class arises and takes over. And an information class arises and takes over. And the scientists arise and take over. That sort of repeats the cycle that we understand. And it’s based on knowledge. And it has a limited lifetime, because it has an inherent flaw. And the inherent flaw is that it is based on knowledge.

The Second Foundation are folks that can grok Indra’s net. They can grok the interconnectedness of life. They can grok the whole thing in a way where they’re not observing the whole thing, but they are part of it. And they can feel and understand the wholeness of the universe—of the world. And as the First Foundation gets into troubles, the Second Foundation groks the situation. And by bearing witness to that situation, comes up with loving actions, which are permutations to move the First Foundation back into some stability.

Sounds familiar for those that know about the Zen Peacemakers, and the three tenets of not knowing, bearing witness, and loving actions.

OK. That’s it for today. Bye.

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NPR Interview

Host: And now for a fuller picture of Zen Buddhism, we turn to the man known as the grandfather of socially engaged Buddhism, Bernie Glassman. He says Zen Buddhism is indeed focused on looking inward, but it’s also about helping the world around you. He’s been a practicing Zen Buddhist for nearly sixty years. And he’s the founder of a Buddhist peace activist group called Zen Peacemakers. His latest book is called The Dude and the Zen Master. Welcome back to the show Bernie.

Bernie: Thank you.

Host: Now as we just heard from our interview with Mark Oppenheimer, Zen became extremely popular in America in the 1960s, which is right around the time that you became interested in it. So, what appeal did Zen have for you, as someone raided in a Jewish home?

Bernie: I read a book in 1958 called The Religions of Man by Huston Smith. And there was one page about Zen, and it struck home to me. And what it was talking about was realizing the interconnectedness of life and living in the moment. As Ram Dass has said, “be here, now.”

Host: And that’s what grabbed you, “be here, now”?

Bernie: Yep.

Host: And what about other Americans? Why does Zen continue to be so appealing?

Bernie: Well, Zen is an experiential religion. That is, it’s not a dogma. It’s not based on any scriptures or sutras. But it’s based on a direct experience of the interconnectedness of life. Its mode is very simple. So it’s appealing to those that are not drawn to iconography or beautiful figures, but are drawn to personal experiences of the oneness of life.

Host: Would you call Zen Buddhism a religion? Or is it something else?

Bernie: Well, if you say “Zen Buddhism,” sure, it’s a religion. But, Zen can be practiced by people in many religions. So, I’ve empowered forty different folks as teachers of Zen. And some of them are Rabbis, some are Sheikhs—Sufi Sheikhs, and some are Catholic Priests and Sisters in the Catholic Church. So Zen by itself can be practiced by anyone in any religion, or by secular folks.

Host: And so when you say, “Zen can be practiced by people of these other faith traditions,” what is it that can be practiced across these faith traditions?

Bernie: Well, Zen means meditation.

Host: OK.

Bernie: So a basic practice of Zen is meditation. But it’s meditation directed—a particular kind of meditation, there are many kinds of meditations—Zen is a mediation that’s directed at experiencing the non-dual state—the state in which there’s no subject and object relationship. That’s a state that’s coming not from the brain, but from the heart. And in that state you are experiencing the oneness of life. The word Buddha means awakened one.

Host: Mmmm hmmm.

Bernie: And then the question becomes “awakened to what?” And it’s an awakening to the oneness of life. Within Buddhism there are many many different schools using different techniques to help you experience that interconnectedness of life, or that oneness of life. Zen focuses on meditation as it’s main method. But there are many other methods. As you mentioned in the introduction, I use social engagement as a major method of experiencing that interconnectedness of life.

Host: What would it actually look like to live as if you knew that we were all connected? How would that person live his or her life?

Bernie: Well let me give you an example—a metaphor. One of the major figures in Buddhism in Japan, who lived around 500 a.d., said that “the way that you can tell the depth of a persons enlightenment is how they serve others.” So let’s start with the simplest type of awakening experience. You function as if you’re all one. That is, your head, your arms, your legs—you don’t even say to people “Well, that’s all me. That’s Maureen.” You take that for granted. But your functioning is such, that for example, let’s say that your left arm and your right arm felt they were separate entities. And they called themselves, maybe Mary is the left arm, John is the right arm. If Mary gets cut and blood is gushing out, John might say “I haven’t studied medicine. I’m not a doctor. I don’t have the tools,” and might contemplate “Should I help Mary or not?” And maybe John walks away. And Mary bleeds to death. And John dies. And Maureen dies. Once that experience has happened, there’s no way that the right arm can ignore the left arm bleeding, and does the best it can do to take care of it. It doesn’t say, “Do I have the right tools? Do I have the right knowledge?” It just does the best it can. So now if we go a little further, and say a woman gives birth. At the time of birth the child might be colic and the mother reacts immediately, because there’s no separation. It’s one being. But as time goes on, they become separate entities. And now, I might walk down the street, see the child on the street that may have fallen, and I may say, “Well, I’m too busy. I’ll cross the street and get away from that.” If I realize that that child is me—I’m that child, that we are one body—I can’t walk away. I take care. So the functioning of life becomes one of service to all that you have connected with.

Host: And so, helping that child, or the baby, or whomever, this is what it means to be engaged with the world in your vision of Zen?

Bernie: I believe so.

Host: Yeah.

Bernie: And so as a practice, I take people to live in the streets to realize what it is to be a street person. And in fact, I then out of that experience have worked with the homeless in Yonkers, New York, building housing, childcare, creating jobs, taking care of people with AIDS, because it’s all me. So I take care of that which is me—which is the world. And so it looks like I’m serving the world, but in reality I’m serving myself. I’m taking care of who I am.

Host: Because it’s all of a piece. It’s all really one, in your conception of Zen. And if you were going to communicate one big idea that you would want our listeners to understand about Zen Buddhism, what would that idea be?

Bernie: Yeah somebody asked me “what would be my dying words?” If I were dying and saying to people what do I think is important to say, I would say, “It’s just your opinion, man.” That is, we have our concepts which we hang on to, and fight in fact. Many times we go to war and we kill people because they don’t hear our opinions. Because we thing our opinions are the truth—that that’s the reality. But in my opinion, those are just opinions. And if we can take that fact, then we can share opinions. We can disagree about our opinions. And we can dialog about our opinions. And then it becomes fun, man. But once we grab onto it as the truth, as the way. That leads to fighting, to separation, to isolation, and killing.

Host: And thus, when you let go of that, you have Zen Peacemakers?

Bernie: Yep. That’s my opinion, man.

Host: Bernie Glassman is the founder of Zen Peacemakers, and his latest book is called The Dude and the Zen Master. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Bernie: Thank you.

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Optimism, Pessimism, Hope and Expectations

Hello. I’d like to share with you some thoughts of mine—I should say “opinions”—about optimism, pessimism, hope, and expectations. And maybe we can throw in vow—no, I think that’s a whole other subject. So, I’m not very optimistic. And I’m not very pessimistic. I have a lot of hope, and hardly any expectations. Expectations pop up all the time. And I have to admit that even though I feel we shouldn’t have expectations, I have them all the time. And one of the signs of having expectations is that I get frustrated. I think expectations inevitably lead to frustration. I define hope as basically hoping that something will happen, therefore working as hard as I can to make that thing happen. And having goals—for example, when I started to work in Yonkers and homelessness, I said, “we’re gonna end homelessness.” That was my hope—in Yonkers, in Westchester. That was my hope. But I had no expectation—therefore, I wasn’t frustrated—although we did reduce homelessness by 75 percent over the years. But we worked as hard as we could, and what happened is what happened. It reminds of a time when we were working in the Middle East. And many groups were working in the Middle East. And there was a period around the year 2000 where everybody thought there would be peace. It was so close. Between the Israelis and the Palestinians—it was so close. And then, it all fell apart. And there were so many different groups working for peace—both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. And most of those groups fell apart. And they fell apart because of frustration. Their expectation was so high. And it didn’t happen. And the frustration became unbearable, and the groups fell apart. Those groups that continued, in my opinion, basically were working for peace because that’s what you should do. They didn’t have any expectations, even though it was so close. They had a lot of hope. And they worked very hard. But because there were no expectations, there were minimal frustrations. And they could continue working. So that leads me to optimism and pessimism. I tend to—in my opinion—I do fairly good at leading my life based on what is happening. That is, I’m not optimistic that something’s going to occur. And I’m not pessimistic that it won’t occur. I feel optimism and pessimism in a way is like expectations. It creates frustration. I try to live according to the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. That is, to approach everything without any—without holding on to any idea of what should happen, or what might happen, or in that way. And to try to bear witness to what’s going on. That is to be in the moment—to try to be in the moment. And then let whatever comes up come up. So, no optimism, no pessimism, just being here now—do the best I can. That’s my opinion, man. Bye, for now.

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Who Is It That Is Blind?

Recently I read a wonderful book called And There Was Light. It’s an autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, who was a blind hero of the French Resistance. At the age of eight, he became totally blind. Just a few weeks later, he realized that until he became totally blind that he was blind and that now, he can finally see. Remember that, his before being blinded, everything he met, he saw via his concepts of what he was meeting. He knew their names. And if he saw a tree, he knew whether it was an oak tree, or a pine tree. And he saw it via his concepts. And for him, that was not seeing. After he was blind he realized that. Because after he was blind, he went around in a state of not-knowing. But in that state of not-knowing that is not being attached to any concepts of what he was so-called seeing. In that state of not-knowing he could feel vibrations. He could hear the rustling of the wind, and the creaking of the trees, and the breathing of humans. He was hearing the sounds of the universe.

In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva of Compassion has different names. Kanzeon is one that many people know. And Kan means to deeply contemplate. Deeply contemplate on the sounds. Ze is the world—the Earth. Kanzeon is to deeply contemplate the sounds of the Earth, the world.

That’s what I call bearing witness. So he was thrown into that state of not-knowing and bearing witness. And for him it was a totally new experience and a wonderful experience. And he talks about how he would merge with things. He didn’t necessarily know the names. He would merge with things. And he would be filled with love and with light. And he would grok. He would totally grasp, in a whole different way the world that he was living in. And he felt he could finally see.

He met many so-called blind people. And he said about half of them had the same experience as he did. The other half were longing to hold on to those concepts they had. And where they didn’t have the vision to look at things and correlate them with their concepts. And they felt they were blind. He felt, he could finally see.

So, who is it that is blind? I leave us with that.

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Sameness and Diversity

In my opinion, sameness is the fact that everything is unique, just as it is. Each and every thing is different. That difference is the only thing we and everything in the world have in common. As human beings, we like to think that there’s something we all share. For instance, we often say that all people want the same basic things, or care about the same things. But in my opinion, we’re all different. In fact, the only thing we have in common, the only thing that’s the same about us is that we’re all different. I honor businesses for what they do. I honor non-profits for what they do. I honor governments for what they do. And then I invite everyone to the table. So that together, we can come up with innovative and broad-based solutions that can serve as many people as possible. The fewer, or less diverse voices you invite to the table, the smaller and narrower your solution will be. And the fewer people it will serve. Just my opinion, man.

Are you listening?

Hi. Are you listening? So, I’ve been thinking about listening. I just did a workshop in Seattle, Washington, at a synagogue called Bet Alef. It’s a meditative synagogue. And the workshop was on Saturday. But the evening before—Friday evening—I attended the services, and they asked me to lead them in meditation. And it was a beautiful service. And of course, we chanted the Shema. The Shema is a prayer that’s chanted many times a day by religious Jews. And some of the words of the Shema are placed in mezuzahs. Mezuzahs are the items that you see in Jewish households when you enter the doorway. And in that item that’s nailed to the doorpost are some words from the Shema. Shema means listen. And it reminded me that the beginning of all the Buddhist sutras is “listen” (“thus have I heard” actually). And we use that phrase, “thus have I heard” as a koan. Because that first phrase “thus have I heard,” in a sense we call that “listen.” In a way, that’s the essence of all of the sutras. That’s the essence of all of the teachings. And the rest of the sutras I would call commentary. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Icon of Compassion in Japanese is called Kannon, or Kanzeon. And Kan is to deeply listen, on—the sounds, ze—the earth. Kanzeon is to deeply listen to the sounds of the Earth—Shema in Hebrew. In Zen Peacemakers, one of the important practices that we do is the way of council. And one of the principals in the way of council is to listen from the heart. Not from the brain, from the heart. At the workshop in Seattle, I met Leah Green who is the founder of a beautiful not-for-profit called the Compassionate Listening Project. And whenever we do peace work at our bearing witness retreats, we do council and talk about listening from the heart. I studied for a year with Krishnamurti. It was quite a while ago. We would meet, for about a year, on weekends, a group of people, he’d talk with us. And he would try to bring us to a state of what he called “learning.” And he would ask, “What is learning?” And that state of learning was the state of deep listening. Because if you hear things from the brain—that is, if you hear things through the concepts and ideas we have in our bag—you can’t learn anything new. You’ve already got this concept tucked away that you’re attached to. And everything you see is seen through that filter (or heard). So listening is not just from the ears. We listen with the full body. We listen with our whole sense—with all our energy. And in fact, in that Hebrew prayer, the Shema, the words that are written on the doorsteps—and actually I use those words in our Buddhist liturgy, The Gate of Sweet Nectar—those words are “with all our might.” Be ready. Listen. Be there with no attachment to anything. Just keep listening. Have you heard that? OK. Till next time, keep on listening. Bye.

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Black Holes, the Big Bang and Not Knowing

There is a new theory that’s floating around concerning black holes, the Big Bang, and how it relates to the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers, not knowing. I’ve talked before about the Big Bang and not knowing, and there are write-ups on our blog and the website page, Just My Opinion, Man. But here’s the new stuff that’s just come out, in which in my opinion, I have now adopted as my opinion—that is I agree with this new opinion—with this new theory.

So, what are black holes? Black holes are regions of space; so incredibly dense that nothing—not even light—can escape from them. Most of these black holes are thought to form at the end of a big star’s life, when it’s internal pressure is insufficient to resist it’s own gravity, and the star collapses under it’s own weight. Most scientists believe (and it was also my opinion) that since there is nothing to stop this collapse, eventually a singularity will form. And if you have listened to my other Podcasts, you might know that in my opinion, that singularity corresponds to the state of not knowing. That is, that singularity is a region where infinite densities are reached, and general relativity ceases to be predictive—general relativity that Einstein came up with.

But the singularity theory has flaws. Since the laws of physics no longer apply in a region of infinite density, no one knows what could possibly happen inside a black hole. That is, it’s a singularity. And you can’t know what the deal is there, man. And that’s the same in the state of not knowing. You can’t know, otherwise it wouldn’t be a state of not knowing.

Stephen Hawking suggested in the early 1970s, that black holes can slowly evaporate and disappear. But in this case, what happens to the information that describes an object that falls into a black hole?

So in our not knowing tenet, that question is, “What happened to all of the information?” Indra’s Net—this net that extends throughout all space and time—contains everything, all information. So at the singularity, there’s a total state of not knowing, where’s the information, man? What happened to it? In terms of black holes, this information paradox (they call it an information paradox) has puzzled researchers for decades. Recently, some scientists (and now I have shifted to their opinion) have attempted to answer this question by exploring the idea that the universe—which is assumed in their opinions and my opinion, to have started with the Big Bang—that it actually emerged from a big bounce, following an earlier contracting phase. Quantum gravitational effects produce an effective repulsive force. So that matter wouldn’t have collapsed into a singularity, but it would have just reached a maximum compact state.

So this aint no singularity, man. That is, remember that singularity is what I call not knowing. So this thing—things compress and compress until it’s in a maximum compact state. Very, very small. Infinitesimal—can’t see it.

This way, the universe would bounce when the energy density matter reaches the smallest possible size in physics, causing the universe to expand again. And then possibly collapse again, and so on—back and forth. That is, the expansion spreads out through all space and time. Then it contracts at some point, gets back to this minimal point, bounces back, and so we have an infinite cycle of universes. A similar idea has been proposed for the fate of the collapsing matter of a dying star. Researchers say that quantum effects would stop the collapse of a star before it could shrink to a singularity. The star would then become a super compact object, bounce back during the evaporation process of a black hole, and finally explode. Everything eventually would have fallen into the black hole, would be released. Researchers say that as a black hole evaporates and shrinks, it’s boundary will at some point meet maximum compact state. When that happens, there is no black hole arising any more. And all information trapped inside the black hole can escape. In this case, the information would simply be reemitted into the universe.

So in our case, in my opinion, if the metaphor for the universe is Indra’s Net that contains all (everything, past, present, and future, all thoughts, all actions, all feelings, throughout all space and time, past, present, and future)—that as it gets small enough, to where we can’t see it anymore—that is, as we get to that place that is not knowing—we’re experiencing not knowing—still all of the information is still there. Get it? So therefore, anything and everything can be created.

That’s just my opinion, man.

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Big Bang, Karma, and Reincarnation

I want to give you my opinions on the Big Bang, karma, and reincarnation. I was trained as an engineer, and also as a mathematician. And so, in my opinion, I agree with those that feel that the universe was created by—or at least started with—the Big Bang many many many years ago. And in mathematical terms, Big Bang—the time of the Big Bang—is a singularity. That is, you can go back and back, and you get as close to when the Big Bang happened as you want, but you can’t get to it. It’s a singularity. For example, if you try to divide 1 by zero, that’s called a singularity.

In the world of Zen, and the world of Zen Peacemakers, a singularity is that which cannot be known. It’s the first tenet—the state of the unknown—out of which everything can be created.

So, at the time of the Big Bang—this singularity—the whole universe is created, and starts spreading out—expanding. And what is it that is making up the universe? It’s energy. So energy is expanding out. And out, and out, and out. And then eventually starts coalescing. And we start having things we call “stars” and “planets” and “galaxies” etc. And the energy is what interests me.

This field of energy in Buddhist terms, we call Indra’s Net. This energy extends throughout all space and time. And it’s all interconnected. That is, if you perturb the energy anywhere, it affects the whole system of energy. So as these manifestations happen—planets, galaxies—everything, all of the energy’s effected. Nothing is by itself. It’s all interconnected.

And nowadays, we have a modern day Indra’s Net. We call it the Internet. And again, it’s all interconnected.

So to me, karma can be explained as if I perturb the energy anywhere—by anything, whether it be an actual movement by my body, or a thought, or a feeling—any kind of movement affects the whole energy field—the whole, not just universes, multi-universes, the whole energy field. So obviously, karma is for me (I shouldn’t say “obviously”), in my opinion, karma is the fact that anything we do, or think, or feel affects everything. And not just now (of course everything is just now), but right now is containing all space and all time—past, present, and future. So everything that I do, or anybody does, any motion, thought, feeling is affecting everything.

Now, our brain—our particular body—has a set of apparatus. Our brain, eyes, ears nose. Some of it works. Some doesn’t work. For some the eyes don’t work. For some the ears don’t work. For some the mouth—the voice can’t happen. But we do have various kinds of instrumentation. Just like a radio has instrumentation. Or a TV has instrumentation. And as you know, a TV can access the field that is being sent around and manifest it as pictures and sound. We watch movies, and TV shows, and things of that nature. Same with the radio—the radio is accessing the field and it’s manifesting it as music that we hear.

And so, in my opinion, our brain is accessing this huge energy field, which extends throughout all space and time. And it manifests as thoughts, and sights, and sounds. It manifests in different ways. And as it manifests, we label it, and say, “Oh that’s the past, that happened already,” or “that’s going to happen, that’s the future,” or “that’s right now.”

We’re only manifesting that section of the energy field that our system can access. Now what prevents us from accessing the whole thing? Our conditioning. Our attachments to our ideas and concepts block us from accessing the whole thing. As we let go of those attachments, we could access more and more. And that continuously happens. And I call that reincarnation.

So right now, whatever accesses, that’s what I call me. As that ability to access more and more, that is, as we are able to let go of the attachments that block us from accessing more and more, all of a sudden, there’s a new me. There’s a new you. Reincarnation has occurred.

Now all of this is just my opinion.

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Healing Oneself and Others

In my opinion, it’s a myth that spiritual people are not attached, that they’re somehow above the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. Not only are they affected by things, they’re tremendously affected by them. For rather than living in the realm of ideas and feelings about suffering, they live in the realm of action.

“How do they know what action to take? How do we know how to heal?

“When we bear witness, when we become the situation — homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death — the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.

“Loving action is right action. It’s as simple as giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who has fallen on the floor. We take such direct, natural actions every day of our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special. Each is simply the best possible response to that situation in that moment.

“In the Zen Peacemakers Order we commit ourselves to healing others at the same time that we heal ourselves. We don’t wait to be peaceful before we begin to make peace. In fact, when we experience 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.’ That’s just my opinion, man!

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Oneness

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until (s)he had freed all sentient beings from samsara.

Despite strenuous effort, (s)he realizes that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his/her head splits into pieces. Buddha, seeing her/his plight, gives him/her eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara attempts to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that her/his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Buddha comes to his/her aid and invests her/him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.

In each arm is that which is needed at the moment, a hammer, a bible, a condum, a handkerchief, etc. etc.

When we experience the oneness of life we manifest not only as many heads and arms but as all the phenomena of the universe and we contain all the phenomena of the universe.

I’m Buddhist, but as you know, I’m also Jewish. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Many people know that word, but what they may not know is that the root of shalom is shalem, which means whole. To make something shalem, to make peace, is to make whole. There is a Jewish mystical tradition that at the time of the Creation, God’s light filled a cup, but that the light was so strong that it shattered the cup into fragments scattered throughout the universe? (sounds like Avalokiteśvara, eh?)

And the role of the righteous person, the mensch, is to bring the fragments back and connect them together to restore the cup? That’s what I mean by peace. For me, peace means whole. The Hebrew Oseh Shalom is peacemaker, as in the verse “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Earth.” They shall work to restore the fragments into a whole.

And in Zen, as you know, our practice is to experience that wholeness, the oneness and interconnectedness of life and, in my opinion, to serve all of our aspects.

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Tradition

Merriam Webster Definition: a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.

When I hear the word tradition used by Buddhist practioners, I believe they mean a practice that has been around for a long time as in the dictionary usage of the word. When I probe further, in my opinion, they are referring to a practice that was developed by their teacher or by their teacher’s teacher.

In my case, my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, was considered very untraditional when I met him. His father was a well-established Japanese Soto Zen teacher and Maezumi Roshi spent his college years practicing Zen in a Dojo run by Koryu Roshi. Koryu Roshi was the head of the Shakyamuni Kai, a lay group of Zen teachers and students whose main study was koan study. Maezumi Roshi was also studying with Yasutani Roshi who founded the San Bo Kyo Dan a group of Zen teachers (both lay and ordained) that practices koan study, shikantaza and breathing practices.

Maezumi Roshi created many new forms of practice and also taught us the forms he learnt from his teachers. He constantly told me to create new forms of study that would be relevant in this time and place (western countries.) I believe that I have done that and have been labeled as untraditional. In my opinion, I have followed a tradition that I inherited from my teacher and from my genes.

Coming from a Jewish heritage and founding the Zen Peacemakers Order of DisOrder, I love the Jewish word mishegass which Leo Rosten defines as:

An absurd belief; nonsense; hallucinations A fixation

I prefer to use mishegass instead of tradition when I hear folks talk about their Buddhist Tradition.

After all, Shakyamuni Buddha is quoted as expressing the opinion that the only constant in life is that life is constantly changing.

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The Dude Abides

Hui-Neng, upon hearing a monk quoting from the Diamond Sutra, is said to have been enlightened. The quote he heard was: “Abiding nowhere, raise the Bodhi Mind.”

In the end of the movie by the Coen brothers, the Big Lebowski, the Dude says: “The Dude Abides.”

In my opinion, there is a wonderful similarity between these two statements.

Abiding nowhere is another way of stating the first Tenet of the Zen Peacemakers, Not-Knowing. Abiding nowhere means not being attached to any of my concepts or opinions, being totally open to What is. Therefore, abiding nowhere also means abiding everywhere, not excluding anything by holding on to something. If we can do that, right there the Bodhi Mind is raised.

When I say the Dude abides, I mean that he is open to everything. He abides everywhere without attachments. Things happen and he is affected. New things happen and he is affected. He’s not clinging to the old or to concepts formed by the old.

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Interconnectedness: The Rug That Ties the Room Together!

big-bangIt is the opinion of many scientists (including me) that about 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion started the expansion of the universe. This explosion is known as the Big Bang. At the point of this event all of the matter and energy of space was contained at one point. What existed prior to this event is completely unknown and is a matter of pure speculation. This occurrence was not a conventional explosion but rather an event filling all of space with all of the particles of the embryonic universe rushing away from each other. The Big Bang actually consisted of an explosion of space within itself unlike an explosion of a bomb were fragments are thrown outward. The galaxies were not all clumped together, but rather the Big Bang laid the foundations for the universe.

Where’s the beginning in the big bang? You can’t know what’s there before the big bang, right? You can go down pretty damn close i mean they’re going down in nanoseconds and seeing what happens in there. And they’re going forward and stuff like that. But in the very beginning, that’s what’s called a singularity. You can’t know.

Now you may notice that in the Peacemakers, our first tenet is Not Knowing. It’s a state of not knowing, so what we say is if you’re going do something first approach it from that state of not knowing, that is get back to that initial singular point – to that point before the big bang. So if i can get back to that point of Not Knowing right now, and be there, then something happens and that’s the big bang. Now it starts unfolding. And it can unfold in a very creative way because it’s starting from this point of not knowing, this singular point. It’s starting from the beginning. Whatever you believe in it was created out of that big bang. Before that there was nothing.

Our job in Zen is to experience that beginning, that place before there’s anything. That’s what’s meant by the koan “what’s the sound of one hand” It’s before any phenomena, what’s that state? It’s not so easy to experience. But it can be done, and it has been done, and it’s being done. So we want to get to the beginning. I’ll jump to the end of this discussion, but it’s also the beginning. There’s an end point as well as that beginning point. The beginning point is singular, the end point is singular, and that end point in the Christian and Jewish world is called God. In Islam, it is Allah. In the Buddhist world it’s called Maitreya. These are different terms for similar ideas. So there’s this beginning point and end point, and in between is an evolution from the beginning point to the end point. Things are evolving. But the interesting thing about it is that this end point is creating the evolution from the beginning point. So that end point is also right here, now, in the beginning. And it’s all evolving between these two points.

A little metaphysical, but what’s fascinating about it to me is that if you go to the big bang and there’s just not knowing, or if you go to our state right now and say we can get to this place of not knowing, there’s this anything can happen. As soon as something bangs, as soon as something coalesces, as soon as two relations meet and there’s an event… As soon as anything happens, each starts evolving. And the forms, and by forms i mean not just physical forms but spiritual forms and mental forms and conscious forms and unconscious forms… All the forms evolve.

If you look at one billionth of a nanosecond after that big bang, there weren’t any of us around. There were different kinds of particles – they kept evolving, and they evolved to where we are. That means everything we’re made of including our consciousness and our spiritual being dates back to that initial point. And going forward everything that we are keeps evolving to the singular point that we call God or Allah or i call Not Knowing – just the state of not knowing. So that for me the beginning point and the end point are the same and they’re drawing our evolution.

Indra was an ancient king of India who thought a great deal of himself. One day he went to the royal architect and said that he wanted to leave a monument of himself, something that all people would appreciate. The king’s architect created an immense net, which extended throughout all space and time. And the king’s treasurer placed a bright, shining pearl at each node of the net so that every pearl was reflected in every other pearl. And each single pearl, each person, each event, contains the whole of Indra’s Net, including all of space and time.

When we realize that we are all bright pearls in Indra’s Net, we see that within each one of us the whole body of the universe is contained. Since we are all already connected in Indra’s Net, there are no limits to the possibilities of connecting with other people in our lives and our work.

Still, it’s natural for most of us to begin “networking” with the people closest to our own interests and needs. Accountants network with other accountants, poets with other poets, and social activists with other social activists. This kind of networking certainly has its uses. It’s especially effective, for example, when we need help in solving a very difficult problem. But it is not a very effective overall strategy because it leads to a narrowing instead of a widening of your network. It results in ever diminishing returns. The tax accountants end up talking only to other tax accountants; the free verse poets end up talking only to other free verse poets; and the social activists of one school end up talking only to social activists of the same school.

When we network according to the vision of Indra’s Net, on the other hand, we begin by casting the widest possible net. We do this by defining our mission in the broadest possible way.

All of that fits into my story of what interconnectedness means. I believe that we’re all interconnected; it’s all one universe. The memories we have could be from anything, since it’s all one thing. All the pearls are reflected in all the other pearls. There’s no past, present or future, and no such thing as space. It’s what Jung calls cosmic consciousness. In Buddhism, it is similar to Alaya, which means storehouse. Vijnaya is what we might call “Storehouse Consciousness.”

There is a vast storehouse of memory, a vast energy bank consisting of all the experiences that human beings have ever had, are having now, or will have in the future. My instrumentation may pick up another person’s memories and experience them as if they were my own. They may then be interpreted as “my” past life. “My” memories are part of “my” story and have no more or less substance than any other part of my story.

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What is Meant by Greyston Mandala?

Greyston is modeled on two central principles from Buddhism. The first is Mandala, a symbolic representation of the interconnectedness of all life. The second is Path, the idea that all healthy living systems whether individuals or communities evolve along a developmental path with distinct stages.

The Greyston Mandala is an innovative, integrated set of non-profit and for-profit entities serving underserved populations in southern Westchester County, New York. Greyston’s approach joins community development with personal growth. The Sanskrit word mandala, meaning circle, indicates that Greyston’s services address the needs of the whole community and of the whole person within it. Greyston aims to create a healthy, vibrant and diverse community in which its clients, residents and staff are supported on paths to self-sufficiency.

In keeping with its commitment to honor the whole person and foster growth in all people and within this community, Greyston has pioneered a holistic approach to organizational and staff development called PathMaking. PathMaking goes beyond conventional human resource practices by recognizing and seeking to develop all aspects of the human individual: body, heart, mind, spirit, and self addressing professional and personal challenges.

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What is a Brief History of Greyston?

In 1982, I opened a bakery in the Bronx to employ my Zen students. I became increasingly aware of local low-income community needs in neighboring Yonkers, a city that borders the Bronx and contains the largest concentration of poverty in affluent Westchester County.

We moved Greyston Bakery to southwest Yonkers in 1987, declaring an open door hiring policy. Out of this hiring policy a new and larger mission grew. Greyston Mandala developed holistic, comprehensive-services and rapidly became one of the most successful examples of social enterprise in the United States. Today, Greyston serves over 2,200 community members annually. Greyston’s integrated network consists of for-profit and not-for-profit entities that provide jobs, workforce development, low-income housing, supportive services, childcare, after-school programs, comprehensive HIV health care and housing, community gardens and a new bakery facility that supplies the ice cream industry with brownie chips.

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What is Meant by Pathmaking?

Greyston’s unique community development approach is based on “PathMaking,” an idea developed from two key Buddhist concepts: mandala (wholeness) and path (transformation). A mandala represents integration and unity at a given point in time. The concept of path recognizes that individuals and communities evolve over time, and that the different aspects of the mandala – body, heart, mind, spirit and self – are linked in their development.

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How was Issan House (Residence for People with AIDS) and Maitri Center (HIV Health Center) Named?

Issan Dorsey

In my experience, many people come to Zen practice because they love the stories of Zen masters of long ago. They love reading about outrageous teachers who said strange things and acted in even stranger ways, seeming like children, fools, and even madmen to the rest of society.

It has also been my experience that while we love these characters that lived hundreds of years ago, we don’t love them so much while they’re still living. We don’t always love our present day madmen and eccentrics, for these are the people who manifest our shadow. They live in the cracks – nor just of our society but of our psyche. They put in our faces those qualities in ourselves that we’d prefer not to see – a refusal to conform, a refusal to “grow up,” a human being who ignores conventions and acceptable standards of behavior and makes up his life as he goes along.

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.

Like the old Zen masters of old, Issan Dorsey was outrageous; he manifested the shadow in our lives. And he was loved not just after his death but also during his life. For Issan had exuberance for all of life, and that included death, too.

I first met Issan Dorsey in 1980, just after he began the Maitri group on Hartford Street. I happened to be visiting San Francisco Zen Center and was in the zendo when Roshi Richard Baker, Abbot of the Center, announced that a satellite group of gay Zen practitioners was forming in the middle of San Francisco’s Castro District, under the leadership of Issan Dorsey. Baker Roshi strongly supported Issan’s work, as he would continue to do for years to come. That was my first meeting with Issan. By then I had formed the Zen Community of New York with a vision of manifesting our practice in the area of social action, providing housing and jobs to our disadvantaged neighbors. This was highly unusual for Zen centers in those days, so I was curious about how Issan’s mission would turn out.

During the following years Issan and I often talked on the telephone, he from San Francisco, I from Yonkers, New York. We’d exchange news about what we were doing, and one day he told me that he’d taken into the Hartford Street Zen Center a man dying of AIDS.

That took place in 1987. This may not seem so unusual now, 11 years later, for some Buddhist groups have begun to take an interest in their communities, taking care of the disadvantaged, the sick and the dying. After all, didn’t the Buddha himself begin his search for enlightenment after coming across illness and death outside the walls of his palace? But back in 1987, Issan’s behavior was seen as outrageous. Most people thought that the proper practice of Zen Buddhism was coming to a zendo and sitting on a cushion, nothing more. There was lots of talk about putting practice in our daily life and about the role of the bodhisattva who vows to save all sentient beings. But many believed that the role of the bodhisattva didn’t begin till after enlightenment. Thus, the practice of providing dying people with shelter, food, medical care and a warm and loving environment was not seen as a proper Zen Buddhist practice. In founding the Greyston mandala of organizations that helped the Yonkers community, I was constantly told that I was doing the wrong thing, and that both as a teacher and as a priest I was not transmitting the teachings in their pure form.

Issan, too, received plenty of flak for the work he was doing. But he didn’t let it stop him. So J.D. came into the Hartford Street Zen Center, having been told by his doctors that he had, at most, three months to live. Six months later I visited Issan and J.D. at Hartford Street. J.D. was still living and in excellent spirits. He didn’t die till more than a year later, and by then Issan had opened Maitri Hospice for more men infected with the AIDS virus.

During that visit I spent a lot of time with Issan, and fell in love with him. He was always “right there,” very present to the people around him, full of humor in what some may call a macabre situation. In fact, I often think of Issan as a combination of Lenny Bruce and the Dalai Lama. He had the ability to laugh through any situation, no matter how difficult or painful, greeting the grim corners of life with lightheartedness and even joy.

I remember when he called to tell me that he had just discovered that he was HIV positive. There was absolutely no sadness or fear in his voice. His tone was almost nonchalant as he talked about how he had loved his friend knowing full well that he was HIV positive, how they had made love, how he got tested and found that he was HIV positive, too, and now had to work with it. The conversation was that simple.

I was reminded of Fr. Damien, who had taken care of the lepers on Molokai Island in Hawaii during the second half of the 19th century. Leprosy is not easy to contract if you take regular precautions, but Fr. Damien had not taken those precautions. He ate from the same dishes as the lepers, he didn’t wash his hands, and finally he contracted leprosy and died.

I don’t wish to say that Issan didn’t appreciate the gravity of AIDS and didn’t take the necessary precautions. But I know how sensitive Issan was to the epidemic ravaging the gay population at the time, and in particular his friends in the Castro District, and I can’t help having the feeling that, like Fr. Damien before him, Issan wished to live and die through his friends’ pain. He wished to bear witness to everything they endured: their strong individuality, their exuberant life styles, their joie de vivre, and their illness and death.

Like Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Issan Dorsey bore witness to the joys and pains of the universe. People loved him because of his great delight in life, his way of evoking all the happy reasons we have for living. They loved him even more when he bore witness to our deep pain and sorrow. He didn’t just talk about it, he lived it, and brought J. D. Kobezak, who had AIDS, into the zendo.

There’s a famous Zen Buddhist chant honoring Kanzeon, who is none other than Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Once, in a telephone conversation with Issan, I told him that I had just completed a translation of the chant. Full of excitement, he asked me to send it to him as soon as possible since he wished to talk about that chant in a coming retreat. I did so. The chant celebrates Kanzeon, who hears all the sounds of the universe and bears witness to each and every one of us. The impact of such a bodhisattva surpasses our understanding. He influences people directly, as the direct cause of their transformation, and also indirectly, as part of the environment, the gestalt, that accompanies them on their path. Karma is the total of these direct and indirect causes. And this karma continues long after a teacher’s death. In fact, it is often said that a teacher’s greatest teaching occurs upon and after his/her death.

In 1997, ten years after Issan died, the Greyston Network in Yonkers opened its AIDS Center. We called the Adult Day Health Program Maitri Center, after Issan’s Maitri Hospice. We called the housing complex of 35 apartments for people with HIV/AIDS Issan House, after Issan Dorsey. Several months later I was walking through the center when a man I didn’t know approached me. He was from the local community and he had AIDS. He was not a Buddhist. He thanked me for our work in building the AIDS center, and then he told me how much he wished that he’d known Issan Dorsey.

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My opinion on: What is a Buddhist?

For me, being a Buddhist is walking a path with the intention of awakening to the oneness of life, the inter-connectedness of life. For some, it is joining the club of Buddhism by taking refuge in the three treasures, i.e, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

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My opinion on: What is Enlightenment?

The word Buddha means the Awakened One. Awaken to what? My opinion is that we awaken to the Oneness of Life, the One Body. That is my opinion of enlightenment. This awakening keeps deepening and deepening. What do I mean by deepening? Most of us are enlightened to the Oneness of our own body. I think that my arms, my legs, my face, etc. are all part of One Body. In fact I generally act according to that opinion without thinking about it. It is very natural to do so and, in fact, if I didn’t act that way, people might say I am deluded.

Kōbō-Daishi (774–835, founder of Shingon Sect) said that we can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others. If they are focused on themselves, they have awakened to the Oneness of themselves. If they are focused on their family, they have awakened to the Oneness of their family. If they are focused on their nation, they have awakened to the Oneness of their nation, etc., etc.  In my opinion, the Dalai Lama has awakened to the Oneness of the Universe.

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From Deb Pond: I have a lot of questions about what it means to be clear-minded. -What does it mean to be “already” awake, if we do not seem to be experiencing it now?,,, Believing we are already awake, when we do not know we are experiencing it -  is this just a concept? -I have heard about the “great functioning” as a being in tune with the environment and relating to it harmoniously – but not necessarily realizing one is doing so. Please clarify the great functioning. -Please clarify delusion and how it is different from awakening. -What sort of wakefulness exists in a coma? In the sleep state?

My opinion: As you can see from my opinion on “What is Enlightenment”, we are “already” awake to the level that we are awake. There are many levels of enlightenment. This is not a concept, although I am confident there are many concepts out there about enlightenment and my opinion is just my opinion. For me, the great functioning is the functioning due to our level of awakening and it should be ovious to everyone except, perhaps, the person doing the functioning. To me, delusion is any opinion that we are attached to. Opinions are not right, not wrong, not enlightened, not deluded. They are simply opinions. Any opinion we attach to is a delusion and we become deluded. Reading my opinions, what is your opinion about the coma state, the sleep state?

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From Sue Bulsara : What is your opinion about the following situation: if I act, one group of people benefit, if I don’t act another group of people benefit. Should I sit with it until I can access the place where both sets of people benefit? Or is that too Tao?

My opinion is that if you act, one group of people will benefit, and if you don’t act another group of people benefit.  Sitting with it is an action. My opinion is that there will never be a situation where everyone thinks they are benefitting from your action. Just throw the ball, Sue.

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From Chris Crumb: A while back I did a little online research about your teacher Maezumi Roshi’s life.  I was interested to learn more about who taught you.  A Wikepedia article and others stated he was an alcoholic and died as a result of his alcoholism.  It reminds me of Chogyam Trungpa another Buddhist  lama/teacher alcoholic.

I am wondering how you feel and what you think about your own teachers alcoholism?  Do you think it is possible to be fully awake and be a drunk?  To be enlightened and alcoholic?

Trungpa claimed he was drinking to experience what it was like to be one.  That sounds like denial to me.

My opinion is that I have never met a fully awakened individual and since the universe is infinite, i doubt if I ever will meet such an individual. I believe in continuous practice, ever deepening our state of enlightenment. An alcoholic is enlightened to the state of their awakening as is all of us. My feelings were and continue to be that my teacher could have done much better teaching if he wasn’t an alcoholic. To me, Trungpa’s claim was his opinion, man.

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From Billy Guilfoyle: Hey, I was wondering if it’s normal for a seeker or a spiritual advancer or whatever to want less and less, in the sense of romance and living extras. I live in my van, and lived in a tent in the woods for five months before that. I don’t feel the same longing for romance as before, despite having a high sex drive. It’s weird. Is there a sadness in not having anything to chase after?

My opinion is that some seekers or spiritual advancers want less and less, in the sense of romance and living extras and some seekers or spiritual advancers want more and more, in the sense of romance and living extras

My experience has been that my enlightenment has deepened as I got older and that has led to less in the sense of romance but I attribute that to getting older not to be advanced in spirituality. It reminds me of many older zen teachers saying that you should live in the present. As I have gotten older, I find it harder and harder to remember anything else.

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Rabbi Zalman's and Bernie's opinions on: Torah and Dharma: Part 1

Torah and Dharma

 Part I:

Torah hyphen Dharma

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Roshi Bernie Glassman

in Dialogue.

Edited by Netanel Miles-Yepez

ZALMAN SCHACHTER-SHALOMI, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. His family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941. He was ordained by the Lubavitcher Hasidim in 1947. For fifty years, he has been considered one of the world’s foremost teachers of Hasidism and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), holding posts as professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University, and most recently as the World Wisdom Chair holder at Naropa University. He is the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, the founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute, and an active participant in ecumenical dialogues, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama documented in the book The Jew in the Lotus. He is the author of Paradigm Shift, Spiritual Intimacy, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, and Wrapped in a Holy Flame. Reb Zalman currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

BERNIE GLASSMAN is a Roshi of the Soto Zen Buddhist lineage, a student of Maezumi Roshi, and is widely known for his influential books Bearing Witness and Instructions to the Cook. He is the founder (with Roshi Jishu Holmes) of the Zen Peacemaker Order (1996), which bases itself on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world, and a commitment to heal oneself and the world. He is a close associate of Reb Zalman.

 

What follows is an edited excerpt from a dialogue that took place at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish renewal retreat center in Accord, New York in the Summer of 1997 called “Torah and Dharma.”

            Part one of this dialogue deals with the ecumenical relationship between Judaism and Buddhism, the modern phenomenon of “hyphenated spirituality” and “Jew-Boos.” Part two will look at Hasidic Jewish and Zen Buddhist tools of transformation.

 

 REB ZALMAN

From time to time, people come to me and say, “I would like to have a connection with Judaism,” or “I’d like to convert to Judaism. But, I don’t want to give up ‘citizenship’ in the non-Jewish tradition I belong to now. After all, it was through this tradition that I have learned to appreciate Judaism; can I also be Jewish?”

I feel it is very important to be advocates for people in this situation. There are very few people alive in what they are doing today, who don’t have some kind of a hyphen, whether it be an African-American, a Hindu-Scientist, a Sufi-Jew or a Jewish-Buddhist; there is a little hyphen there, whether it has to do with the martial arts or Gurdjieff. What they are saying with this hyphen is that they need more than one “phone system;” they want to be able to call on strength and resources from more than one place.

But, Jews also need to ask, “What is it to be Jewish?” Usually, rabbis will immediately turn this question into “Who is a Jew?” and start by saying, “If the mother was Jewish, she or he is Jewish. But, if only the father was Jewish, she or he isn’t.” Well, genetics tells us that this is way off base; each parent gives half of the genetic information, so it doesn’t make any genetic difference whether it was the father or mother. Nevertheless, one needs to understand how much of their quotient — of who they are in the world, and what they feel good about — is Jewish. This is the real question that hasn’t yet been fully integrated into the rabbinic legal structure. So, it is necessary to be aware of the equality of the parents’ endowment, as well as the socio-cultural integration with Jewish life.

Why do you think Divine Providence took Judaism where it did? I have a feeling that after the Holocaust, we had to send out for “vitamins.” And, these have come back to us from other religious traditions. They have also come from Jews who have become involved in these traditions and from people who have become converts to Judaism. These things are the dowry of hyphenated spirituality. If you want to survive in our world, you have to lower your tissue-rejection response a little, because otherwise, you will have allergies to everything, and this wouldn’t be good for the future.

I am pleased to have Glassman Roshi on both sides of the Buddhist-Jewish hyphen. I think that we would not have missed another hasid in Williamsburg as much as we would have missed a Zen Roshi named Bernie; a Jew with a remarkable life-story, and one who has what is necessary to be both, and more. I believe our Mother Earth, the Shekhinah1 puts her children in good places, and if you really trust Divine Providence, you’ll know this is the way it is supposed to be.

 

ROSHI BERNIE

Yes, the hyphen is important. I don’t believe that we can make one religion that is the best of everything. That doesn’t make any sense to me. We are all very different. What does make sense to me is that we each practice in the “well” of our respective traditions, and go deep into that well. There are so many wells. Reb Zalman’s well2 is but one well in Judaism, and I am attracted to that well over the other Jewish wells that I knew when I was younger. So, people studying in Reb Zalman’s tradition have to go deep into that well.

In Buddhism, and even Zen, there are also many wells. I have one kind of Zen. Not everybody who is interested in Zen will be happy with me. They will come and find that it is not in the mountains, and that is not what they read in the books! It is a different kind of practice, but it is my kind of practice.

We have to find the wells we are most suited to and go deeply into them. We can’t just make one big well; that doesn’t work. I think that as we go through our practice, it is important for teachers like Reb Zalman to show us the entrance to their wells so we can visit one another, and learn from one another. We can learn what compliments our well and create adjoining wells!

There is a rabbi who is studying with me, and Judaism is his well, but he is also a Zen teacher, and that is another well. It is just that he has adjoining wells. So, if I study with Reb Zalman, it is separate from my Zen study.

REB ZALMAN

In my own life, when I ask how the idea (that other religions were also interesting) entered into me, I think it must have been when I was about four years old and my baby-sitter in Vienna took me to church:

Papa and Mama weren’t supposed to know about this, but my baby-sitter needed to go to church to light a candle, so she took me along. I remember how she introduced me to those beautiful statues, “those terrible idols,” and I was so fascinated by them. All the while she is telling me — “This is St. Anne, she was Jewish. Here is St. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, and they were all Jewish.” She was talking to me about mishpachah, about family, and that interested me.

As a child, I had a funny notion in my head; all women are Catholics, and all men are Jewish! I would walk by a church and see ladies with babushkas (scarves around their hair), holding candles, and I would think, that’s what Mama does at home before Shabbat! And, in shul,3 I only saw men. So, to me, it was very clear — men are Jewish and women are Catholic. But, I always wanted to know what they did in church; I was fascinated by the smell of incense around a church.

Later, after I had been exposed to various religious traditions, I got to reading books on Zen Buddhism, books by D.T. Suzuki and collections of stories, like Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. With Suzuki, I had the feeling that Zen was only dry, hard and cutting, but in the stories, I felt a wonderful caring and concern that did something to me; they reminded me continually of analogous hasidic4 teachings and stories:

A Zen patriarch is going around collecting money in order to print the sutras. And, in order to print those plates, it’s a lot of work, and a lot of money is needed. So, he gets the money together, and Oy!, there is a flood. So, he compensates the victims of the flood with that money. And, nebbukh!, now he has to go collecting again. Finally, he has the money together again, and there is a famine! So the money goes to help the people in the famine. Finally, he gets the money together for a third time, and he prints the book. But those who know of such things say, “The first two editions of the book surpassed the third!”

This kind of teaching-story has a lot in common with hasidic stories; they always make you want to live that life. And my contact with the Zen stories made me want to learn to “sit” in meditation. And, I’ve had some wonderful experiences “sitting.” It is wonderful to hear the katsu5, and to ask, “Are you aware of what you are doing, or are you just sitting like a behemah, like an animal?” So, I made myself little katsu ornaments, including a little bell that hangs in my car so that every time I hit a pot-hole, it rings and I can be mindful of a mitzvah that can be fulfilled with consciousness alone. I have a wonderful fascination and love for that kind of “awareness.”

When I read the Dhammapada6 and translated these sutras into Hebrew, it was very interesting, because they sounded to me like Pirkei Avot, “the Ethics of the Fathers” in Jewish literature. They seemed so close that you could easily sneak one into the other, just as you could easily sneak a hasidic story into a Zen collection, or a Zen story into a hasidic collection, and you wouldn’t know the difference — just change the names and references:

There was a Rebbe, Reb Mendel of Vurka. In his community, they knew him as a shotek, one who is silent. He didn’t talk much. His father was a disciple and colleague of the Kotzker Rebbe, and one day, his father, Reb Yitzhak of Vurka, takes Reb Mendel with him to visit Reb Menachem Mendel Kotzker, who says to him, “Young man, where did you learn the mystery of silence?”  And, Reb Mendel began to open his mouth . . . and said nothing.

This kind of interchangeability tells us that what we are dealing with here is generic religion. There is such a thing as “no frills” religion, the basic transformative technology of a tradition. In Sanskrit it is called upaya,7 “skillful means.” These are the means that bring people to greater awareness. And, on top of those basic structures of skillful means, each tradition has added a flavor to give them their particular taste. That is their ethnicity, it is all that is Japaneseabout Zen. Some people are attracted by the ethnicity of different religions — the garb, the foods, the beads, the statues — but that is not the essence, the heart-essence is not in those elements. These are the things that help the “medicine” go down.

 

ROSHI BERNIE

I remember many gatherings where I was sitting with my teacher, and the question would come up, “What is Zen primarily about?” And, what would come to me was that it was about “learning how to serve.”

If you study the texts, there are really two stages; climbing up the mountain and descending the mountain. Realization is concerned with climbing the mountain — we all have realizations. Actualization is descending the mountain — that is the endless path.

In working with the homeless and addicted people, I have studied how the “12 steps”4 do their work.  The very first thing is to get past the denial stage, to be able to say, “I’m an alcoholic. I am always going to be an alcoholic.”  I cannot do a program for six months, or a year, and be done with it; it is a lifetime practice. In Zen, the student has to come to the same place of saying, “I’m addicted to myself.” That is always going to be the case, it is part of human nature. It is not bad or good, it is just part of human nature. It means that I will always be dealing with a dualistic realm. I will be involved in a practice that happens to be endless, because I am a human being.

But, what is going to be moving me toward the state of Oneness and of service as a natural state? Let me give you my favorite example:

Imagine that I have an illness that causes me to think that my right hand is separate from “me,” and my left hand is separate from “me.” They are different. The right is Abraham and the left is Sarah. Abraham and Sarah feel that they are individuals, completely separate. They go along doing different things, and they may even do some studies in which they have learned that they really are one body, all part of Bernie; they intellectualize that, but they are not working and living that way.

So, what happens when they really think of themselves as separate? Imagine, someone comes over and offers money.  Abraham reaches out for the money, and Sarah gets jealous and upset. Or, perhaps Sarah catches on fire, and Abraham looks and says, “Oh, shall I help Sarah? Maybe I’ll be sued, they’ll think I started the fire if they see me!” Maybe he helps, maybe he doesn’t. All that goes on because they think they are separate. This may go on for years. Then, they get involved in spiritual practice, something happens and they say, “Hey, we are one.” Now, they think that they are one, and this is another problem.

Imagine if you went around all the time thinking, “Oh, this is me, my stomach is me.” You function as if you are this one whole being. If one hand gets money, the other hand doesn’t get jealous. That notion now seems absurd; it doesn’t arise as it did before. If the hand is on fire, it is automatic that you would do something, it is not a question of thinking. It is automatic to take care of it the best way possible. But, you may make an error in taking care of it. The hand may get gangrene, and you may have to cut it off. So, taking care is not always looked at as being soothing. Some things may seem very drastic, but you do the best you can to take care of what is going on in that one body. If you are doing that, still thinking, “I’m doing this because I am one body,” there is still a certain sickness. Eventually, that sickness has to fall away, and you just do it.

Zen practice, at its base, is that we feel that this is all one being — we are all one. Ordinarily, we aren’t aware of that. And, until we realize that, we will not act accordingly. Even intellectualizing it doesn’t mean we act that way. How deeply we realize it is what is important.  When we see a room, how brightly it is lit determines how well we see the room. What position do you see it from? From where I am, I can’t quite see Reb Zalman. I see a foot. So, I have a certain perspective. Now, if I move, I have a whole different perspective and can see Reb Zalman.8 In Zen practice we try to move people around so that we can see the oneness of life from different perspectives; to see how much of it is a part of you. That is the hardest part. We are so conditioned in our lives that the conditioning has to be moved, and that is a slow process.

 

REB ZALMAN

When I first encountered Buddhism, I was at a loss about what do I do with the fact that there is no God in Buddhism. But, later, in the sixties when people were exploring psychedelics, I explored them also. And, I got to a place at one point where I felt a merging with the Divine Mind, and there I realized that God was an atheist; God didn’t have a God! When your mind gets out of “two-ness” and into that “one-ness,” there is no God; there is only “I Am That I Am.” So, then, you come to a pivot that flips very fast between “full” and “empty,” “emptiness” and “fullness,” and the questions fall away:

In 1975, I was in Boulder, Colorado teaching at the Naropa Institute9 (then in its second year) when I got the news that my father, of blessed memory, had died. They had taken the body to Israel so there was no point of me sitting shiva,10 doing my mourning, anywhere but Boulder. Before long, the news got around, and all the Buddhists of Jewish families from Naropa came out of the woodwork and helped me to make a minyan so that I could say Kaddish for my father. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kornfield were among them. And, before I said the first Kaddish, remembering Allen’s poem, Kaddish (a poignant work for me) — I asked him to read Psalm 49. He read what you read in the house of a mourner, “What can you do about death — a brother can’t save you, how could a stranger save you. Everyone, in the end, ‘drops the body’ and goes into the grave; just recognize that what you share with animals is this life and death.” It is really a stark psalm. And, he read it as if he had written it himself.  It was very powerful.

Then, I say my first Kaddish and I get to the Aleinu prayer. In the usual translation, a part of this prayer reads, “It is our task to give thanks to the Creator of all, to ascribe greatness to the Lord of Creation, Who has not made us like the Nations of the earth, and has not set us up like the families of humankind. He has not put our part with them, nor our lot with all their masses. For they bow down to emptiness and void and we bow down to the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.”

But, just then, as I was, saying this prayer after the Kaddish, I saw two tunnels. With one eye, I saw a tunnel going out into the universe where “they bow down to ‘emptiness and void,’” in a Buddhist context, with the Buddhist definitions of Emptiness, shunyata. And, the prayer was no longer saying that they bow down to “vain foolishness,” narishkeiten, to “stupid things,” but to Emptiness in the Buddhist sense. “And we, bow down to the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” Then, for a moment, these two became one vision for me, and once again took me right back to the center of knowing, “It is there. It isn’t there. It is there. It isn’t there.” I was “out” and couldn’t go further with the prayers for a while, but when I recovered, I finished the prayer with a new understanding, “On that day the Lord will be One and God’s Name will be One.”

 

ROSHI BERNIE

I often get asked about the “God issue” in Buddhism. The Buddha called for “noble silence” on certain issues — God and life after death were two of those issues. He was a very practical person. Buddhism does not deny this or that, it just doesn’t discuss certain things. As a teaching, it stresses not knowing. I think this relates to the realm called Ain Sof(“infinite nothingness”) in Judaism.11 Zen training pushes you to the point of constantly letting go of the ideas you have, not “getting rid” of them, just of letting go of the attachments to them.

We have a famous koan12 — “What is life? What is this? What is that?” Then, “What is the source of that?” These push you towards letting go of any kind of concept you might have of “What is that?” You first experience this “nowness,” and then you have to let go of any kind of insight you might have had about it. That is pushing you into Ain Sof, the Infinite Nothingness, into the unknowing. For me, a major revelation of this came when I was working with some Buddhist nuns:

They had been working with me in koan-study, when I heard them talking about a koan in terms of God. And, I found myself thinking, “After all these years of training, they are still talking that way?” Then, the very next thought was, “What arrogance on my part.  If I really believed in the state of unknowing, how can I be judging — who am I to be judging?”

That really opened me up and allowed me to work with people.

The only place where the Buddha Shakyamuni really talks about “denial” of God is in terms of himself. He said, “No one should make statues of me because you will start revering me as a kind of god-figure.” So, he put a ban on the creation of images of himself. And, for about 400 years, there were no Buddhist images. But people need those images to make things concrete, so over time, images entered into Buddhism. For us, they are seen as manifestations of qualities. Thus, we have bodhisattvas of love, compassion, and wisdom.They are the representations of aspects of ourselves. I compare them in my studies to the s’firot in kabbalah, they are sacred qualities.13

Kannon, (also called Quan Yin and Avalokiteshvara) the name of the bodhisattva of compassion, literally means, kan, “contemplation,” “concentration,” and on — the sounds of the universe. So Kannon is “contemplation of the sounds of the universe.” Contemplation is becoming, hearing the joys and sufferings of the universe, the “sounds,” and becoming that. This is the bodhisattva of compassion.

So, I don’t see a conflict with Judaism on this issue.

The Sh’ma of Judaism14Sh’ma Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad, “Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” — is so amazing to me, because in Buddhism, the sutras all start with “Listen,” or, “Thus have I heard.” Many times we change it to, “attention.” “Attention sanga.” Sanga is Israel. And we say it like this, “the absolute is the relative.” This is the message of the Diamond Sutra chanted everyday in Buddhism.

 

NOTES

1. The Shekhinah is the Divine Presence.

2. From the early 1960s, Reb Zalman has addressed himself to the masses of disaffected Jews who have found their own religious tradition bereft of spiritual depth in the wake of the Holocaust. He set out to find Jewish youth “where they were,” and to show them depths and options within Judaism previously unavailable to them. His success was based in his liberal acceptance of people exploring alternate paths of spiritual awakening (from LSD to yoga) and his legitimizing of alternate possibilities within Judaism (from rabbinical ordination of women to the acceptance homosexuality), and not least on his making available to them the deepest teachings of Jewish mysticism and meditation.

3. The synagogue or prayer-house.

4. Referring to the Hasidic movement in Judaism, begun by Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760), was a mystical pietist movement focusing on joy in service and the direct experience of spiritual realities.

5. A Zen roshi will shout “katsu!” to bring the students to attention.

6. An early Pali work of Buddhist teaching.

7. The full term is Upaya Kaushalya.

8. See the note prefacing the dialogue.

9. The Naropa Institute was founded in 1974 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It became Naropa University in the year 2000.

10. Literally meaning, “seven,” for the seven days one is in official mourning.

11. Ain Sof is a technical term for Jewish mysticism, kabbalah, designating the highest reality, God, as Infinite Nothingness, without thing-ness, a reality we cannot “know about.”

12. A koan in Zen refers to a (usually) short statement (often paradoxical) given to a student to meditate upon. Part two of this dialogue with deal with koans in detail.

13. S’firot in the kabbalah are divine attributes which are the archetypes of all modes of existence.

14. The primary creedal statement of Judaism said twice a day by every Jew.

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Rabbi Zalman's and Bernie's opinions on: Torah and Dharma: Part 2

Torah and Dharma

Part II:

The Technology of Transformation in Zen and Hasidism

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Roshi Bernie Glassman

in Dialogue.

Edited by Netanel Miles-Yepez

ZALMAN SCHACHTER-SHALOMI, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. His family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941. He was ordained by the Lubavitcher Hasidim in 1947. For fifty years, he has been considered one of the world’s foremost teachers of Hasidism and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), holding posts as professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University, and most recently as the World Wisdom Chair holder at Naropa University. He is the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, the founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute, and an active participant in ecumenical dialogues, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama documented in the book The Jew in the Lotus. He is the author of Paradigm Shift, Spiritual Intimacy, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, and Wrapped in a Holy Flame. Reb Zalman currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

BERNIE GLASSMAN is a Roshi of the Soto Zen Buddhist lineage, a student of Maezumi Roshi, and is widely known for his influential books Bearing Witness and Instructions to the Cook. He is the founder (with Roshi Jishu Holmes) of the Zen Peacemaker Order (1996), which bases itself on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world, and a commitment to heal oneself and the world. He is a close associate of Reb Zalman.

What follows is an edited excerpt from a dialogue that took place at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish renewal retreat center in Accord, New York in the Summer of 1997 called “Torah and Dharma.”

Part one of this dialogue dealt with the ecumenical relationship between Judaism and Buddhism, the modern phenomenon of “hyphenated spirituality” and “Jew-Boos.” Part two looks at Hasidic Jewish and Zen Buddhist tools of transformation.

REB ZALMAN

One day, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Habadmovement,1 makes his way home from out of town. As his carriage comes in, all the hasidim are standing and waiting to receive the Rebbe and welcome him. But, one hasid, Reb Shmuel Munkes, is waiting in his own particular way. What is he doing? He has wrapped his gartel, his sash under his arms and around his chest, and he is hanging from the second floor window, where the Rebbe’s office is. He had tied himself to the window and he is hanging out there. The Rebbe approaches the building and looks up at him, and Reb Shmuel (who was funny guy) says to the Rebbe, “If you were a cobbler, there’d be a pair of shoes hanging around. If you were watch-maker, there’d be a watch. But, you’re a Rebbe, and what should be hanging around? A hasid!”

The notion is that a rebbe has to be a hasid-maker and a hasid-fixer; taking a person and turning her or him into someone who uses the tools right for their own aspirations — that is a great thing, and Reb Shmuel wanted the Rebbe to advertise that just as the cobbler used to advertise with a pair of shoes! It seems to me that this is something of what a roshi must be to her or his students, using the koan2 as a tool.

 

ROSHI BERNIE

Teachers work with different kinds of students in different ways. There are a number of stages of koan, so the question asked is different for different stages. But let me give a few aims.

One aim of koan-study is to see the oneness of life. That is to see the state in which your ego-structure, or you are out of the picture. In that type of work, we ask the student to just try to “become.” The type of koan given is generally something that you cannot think too much about. There is a whole category of these koans, and some are better than others because they have less to think about.

A koan like that is, “Seeing your face before you were born.” From my understanding, in terms of the Four Worlds of kabbalah,3 or the s’firot,4 it is getting up to the keter5 stage, before anything is created; “What is your face there?” It is that kind of question. “The sound of one hand.” What is the sound prior to the phenomenal world? That is to say, before there is any kind of other to inter-act with.

One of the most famous koans is a question that a monk asked a very famous teacher, Joshu:

“Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?” For us, Buddha Nature is the absolute, that state prior to phenomena. The monk knows, because Buddhism says, “Everything is Buddha Nature,” it is not that you have it or you don’t have it. That is not the question. But he asks, and there is no easy way of answering. So, Joshu says, “Mu,” which is simply a negation.

But, that is not the point. As a koan, it is easy to work with because we ask what is Mu? The point is just to become “that.” In Judaism, it would be similar to saying, “What is aleph?6 So, the meditation there is to become that state.

In the beginning, one is naturally thinking and concentrating on it. It is still subject/object. Therefore, the roshi creates an environment in which you get tired in all kinds of helpful ways. Over and over you are concentrating on it until that subject begins to fall away. But you keep asking that question. It is something of a pressure cooker. You keep coming in and saying, “It is this! It is that. No, throw it out.” Finally you give in, and yet, the roshi sees that you’re still trying to force something and you are not really there. So the process continues. Eventually, you are beside yourself, almost in a breakdown. You are not there any more. But, that is still not good enough! Now, in that state, you have to keep going until something happens and there is “insight.” You leap out of that plane of recognition and see that state without being subject/object. When it happens, that is what we call a “first seeing of the state.” Of that this is just one body. Usually, it is very small insight.

Now comes the major part of koan study, where we probe through the koans. The first question would be like the monk sitting and asking himself, “Master are you there?” We then ask, “What is the spirit of that?” First, you have to sit with it and feel the whole gestalt. “What is the spirit,” and then, “what is the key point? What is the secondary point, the third, . . .” So, it is a probing. But it is trying to get you to pin down what is going on there. In the case of the koan of “What is your face before your parents were born, what is your original face?” that is really a little story:

There was a famous Zen teacher called the Sixth Patriarch of China, which meant that he was the sixth in line from the Buddhist master, Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth in line from Buddha Shakyamuni. The first twenty-eight were Indian patriarchs, and then Bodhidharma takes Buddhism to China and now we have a new line of patriarchs.

The Sixth Patriarch was an illiterate woodcutter. In some ways, he is somewhat analogous to the Ba’al Shem Tov, but not really in style. He is the founder of what we think of as the kind of Chan, or Zen that is practiced in Japan.

So, one day, he was out gathering wood to support his mother, and is coming back with his load of wood when he hears a monk reciting from the sutras. And the monk said, “Abiding nowhere, raise the mind.” With that, everything falls away and the woodcutter is enlightened and he says to the monk, “Where did you hear that?” This is where Buddhist training is needed. He had never sat before and didn’t know anything about Buddhism. And, that rigorous training could only be gotten up North.

China was like the United States, at one point. Northern China was the elite, and Southern China was looked down on by the northern Chinese. They were considered barbarians in a way. Of course, if you weren’t Chinese, then you were really barbarians. But if you were southern Chinese, you just weren’t very good.

So, he traveled from the south up to the north to study, and he comes to a monastery with 1500 monks, all very accomplished. He comes to the Fifth Patriarch, the head of the monastery, who asks him, “Where are you coming from?” He tells him that he comes from the South. And the Fifth says, “In the South, there is no Buddha Nature; they are barbarians.” And the Sixth says, “In the Way, there is no North and no South.”

So, it was a testing statement, and the Fifth Patriarch sees that this is his successor. Of course, if the patriarch were to do something too drastic, he would probably cause the killing of the soon to be Sixth Patriarch by all the “enlightened monks” there. So he says to the Sixth, “You go to work in the mill grinding the rice, getting rid of the hulls, making white rice out of brown rice.” And, he does that for a year, and a year later, the Fifth goes to the mill at midnight and says to him, “Is the rice ready?” And he answers, “The rice is ready.” “Has it all been separated?” “Yes, it has all been separated.” So, he makes him the Sixth Patriarch and says, “Now, run, because they’ll kill you.”

He takes him in a boat and rows down the river with him and lets him off and says, “Go hide for ten years.” The next day, he gathers the assembly of monks and tells them that he has retired. He doesn’t do any more teaching. They look around for who is taking over. There is no one there to take over. So, they realize that the lay-person is missing, and that something must have happened with him and the Fifth. They go after him to bring back the symbols of the patriarch’s authority, a few symbols handed down in that midnight transmission; a stick, a bowl, and a robe. They go to get these and this is the prelude of the koan of the “original face.”

The koan starts off like this. This former general is one of the senior monks. He had been a general in the army, retired, and been in the monastery for ten or fifteen years and was a very senior student. All the monks had gone in different directions but the general happened to be the one to find him. He came to bring back the robe and the bowl to the monastery, and the Sixth Patriarch puts it on the floor, and says, “The Dharma is not to be fought over. If you want it, take it.” The general reaches down to pick it up and can’t lift it. And, drenched with sweat he says, “I’ve come for the Dharma, not for the robe. Please give it to me!” And then the Sixth Patriarch says, “Forgetting all good and bad, all me and you, all this and that, before your parents were born, who were you?”

That is where this koan comes from. And the general realizes and says, “How can I thank you?” And the Sixth Patriarch says, “Don’t thank me. Your teacher is the Fifth Patriarch. It is as if you have been practicing shooting your arrow at the target with some teacher, and now you happen to hit something. It is not me.”

In that story there are many points. How do you get to the place of being ready to receive the Dharma? What is the role of the robe and the bowl? What is that state before your parents were born?

The first one, realizing the state of subject/object is like an entry exam. Then, start probing. The next series of koans deal with the use of expression. This is to help the students sharpen up their ways of teaching or talking about what isn’t so easy to talk about. Ways of expression doesn’t have to be talking, it could be shuckeling,7 or it could be the singing; it is building up the expressions.

The final koans are almost like review. They are even less of what one thinks of as koans, they are more of the interplay between relative and absolute, and the role of the precepts. Koan-study is one form of study in Zen. Not all of the Zen sects use it that much; it depends on the teacher. Koan-study is one technique.

 

REB ZALMAN

Reading D. T. Suzuki and others, I knew that a koan was “grist for the mill,” like a monkey wrench in the machinery, saying, “You can’t work it out with your head.” But, I also felt that you couldn’t get to how it “breaks the head” until you have worked with the head. And, when I was reading about it, it seemed as if it wasn’t supposed to be done this way. So, I didn’t understand that there was a discursive element of trying to “work it through.”

This is similar to how we do hitbonenut, contemplation. Indeed, as you were talking about that map of koan teaching, I was finding the parallels to Habad Hasidism8 were fantastic!

One of the things you do in Habad meditation, hitbonenut, is to go over a teaching that you have gotten from the rebbe. Today, most students don’t spend time going over a teaching, fixing it in the mind the way it was done in the past. This was also called, chazzarah — “going over,” “repeating,” or “reviewing.” Among the Habad hasidim, there was always someone (usually several people) who would memorize what the rebbe hadsaid, who remembered eight hours of the rebbe’s talk, and would even say, “Here is where he coughed.” We, with our literary development, haven’t trained our mind to hold such huge quantities of information. But, when you are a disciple trying to grow, you listen with intensity and a deep desire to receive.

But, once you have taken it in, then what? In the yeshivah,9 we would go and sit at a table and “review” the rebbe’s talk together, filling in points for one another until we had reconstructed the talk, and then we took it apart until we understood it. But, that was just one method. The other was for the individual’s meditation on a theme during prayer.

The hasid would usually start by shuckelen, swaying gently back and forth. You will find if you sit in a way that you can shuckel and be freer, that the body will be in a more active state than if it were just slumped over. This is important. In Hebrew, it’s called hitor’rut — “awakedness.” Likewise, in the middle of a meditation, something is going to come that yearns to be expressed, you want to lift it out of the heart and offer it up, saying, “Oh God, I want this to come to You, to reach You, I want to reach for You” and you make the gesture. So, these body aspects of the meditation are important in hitbonenut, they help to awaken one, to awaken the heart.

One of the rebbes, Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, puts it so beautifully. Before he teaches, he says, b’hair lev v’sum sekhel, “When the heart is awake, you put your mind to it.” Then, you pay attention to the teaching. This is not attempt at stilling the mind, or getting the mind clear. This is trying to fill the mind with a very specific content at this point, charged with the high value of the teaching.

So, when the shuckelen has got going and begun to open things up, you start to go over the teaching in your head again. You take the time to rehearse this inwardly, just reflecting on it. Then you feel it in your own body, laughing on the inside about how ridiculous it is when the Fifth says, “In the South, there is no Buddha Nature; they are barbarians.” And the Sixth says, “In the Way, there is no North and no South.” Go into this feeling and insight, remember it, and relive all the “ah-has” that you got when you heard that teaching from Glassman Roshi. You allow them to arise in you again. If you can, you go into one of these, and just pull out the file that is behind it, saying, “Let me take a look and see what is there.”

In discursive meditation, working with these processes, the question is, do you follow a thought or do you swim in the soup of those ideas? Does one focus on one particular point, or on the whole thing? The answer is, it depends on where the “point” is located. If it is located in the heart, then all the rumination that would come from the head would not satisfy. It would address the “words” but not the “sense.” If you are in a heart mode, then the ideas are just the way in which you float, because then it feels really good to say, “I want to bask in the light contained in these wonderful values and ideas.” Each time you receive one, you pick it up and caress it, like you kiss a sefer Torah,10 then you let it go and you appreciate it as it floats away.

Sometimes the center is more in the head and you try to make sense of your reality map. You check things out from that place in the meditation, What do I have to shift and go from the mechanical model where a human being is seen as put together; an arm, another arm, a leg, etc., like putting a doll together. Those are members, but they haven’t yet been re-membered. The members are cut off. When we connect with it, then you start going into the idea, you stay with the idea, and you come back and say, “Ah-ha.” To shift from the mechanical model to the organismic model requires me to re-tool my mind in this way. And, this is a very sharply focused meditation, because you have to reset the system files in your computer. That requires a really careful and focused awareness, and then you can’t “swim.” So, you first always ask the question, “What kind of meditation do I need to do?” If it is a feeling meditation, then go to that place, and begin with a little mood music, a niggun,11 and let all these ideas swim.

When you come to the conclusion of the meditation, ask yourself, “What action directive occurred to me when I was going over this idea?” There must have been some action directive. In order not to leave this as merely an idea, think about what you are going to do about this situation the next time, and start entraining it now as a result of understanding the “teaching of the original face.” “As a result of this meditation, I intend to do this.” Do it on the inside so that your body has done what we sing about with the words, hin’ni muchan um’zuman, “I prepare my body.” How do I prepare my body? I see myself doing that action directive.

 

ROSHI BERNIE

I’m drinking this in. What I am feeling is a new way of working with those teachings. It is a way of bringing our meditation methods to an understanding.

This year, I have been trying to figure out how I am going to do the teaching part of my work. I am working in so many different fields now and with so many different kinds of people. For some of these people, the methods I was trained in are not always appropriate; politicians, business leaders . . . Now, I am thinking of working with this situation differently. Usually, when I give a talk, there are many different points I am trying to get across. But, now if someone says, “Oh, that’s a good point,” we might stop there and stay with that a while; what a beautiful way to learn how to sit! If you hear a point, don’t get overloaded. Sit with it, play with it, examine it, sing with it, dance with it!

This dialogue ended with a chant of the sh’ma Israel to the beat of the wooden clapper and the bell.

 

NOTES

 

  1. The Hasidic movement in Judaism, begun by Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760), was a mystical pietist movement focusing on joy in service and the direct experience of spiritual realities. The Habad school of Hasidism was founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813). This is the branch of Hasidism to which Reb Zalman belonged in his youth.
  2. A koan in Zen refers to a (usually) short statement (often paradoxical) given to a student to meditate upon.
  3. Kabbalah, meaning, “that which is received” is the general term for Jewish mysticism.
  4. S’firot in the kabbalah are divine attributes which are the archetypes of all modes of existence.
  5. Keter, meaning “crown,” is the “highest” of the s’firot (see note 4) and is prior to manifestation, above knowing, but on the way to becoming.
  6. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In Jewish mysticism it often represents the primal unity before duality, symbolized by the letter bet.
  7. Shuckelen is a Yiddish term for the swaying movement used in Jewish prayer.
  8. See note 1.
  9. School of rabbinic training.
  10. A Torah scroll or book.
  11. A melody (often wordless) from the hasidic tradition.

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What do I mean by Clubs?

Based on our experience of the oneness of life, we form clubs. So in politics there is a liberal club, a conservative club, a neoconservative club. There are all kinds of clubs. For our clubs we build fences to protect us. We invite certain people in and we ridicule others. We can look at that liberal group. They know they’ve got the answers. They know who doesn’t have the answers. So they know who to invite, exclude, and to stay away from. And there is the conservative club. They know the answers; they know who to invite to their parties. We all have these clubs in different spheres of life, and there are many, many spheres that we create. These are the clubs in which we want to play, or dance, or we want to practice. And that has been going on for a long, long time.

In the world of spirituality or religion we have the Christian club, the Jewish club, Buddhist, Islam and Native American clubs. There are lots of clubs. Even within a particular club like Christianity we have Catholic and Protestant clubs. These clubs can get very violent. Such violence is happening even now in all the religions.

All of us create clubs of people we feel comfortable with and we deal in different ways with those we don’t feel comfortable with. The most common way is to deny them. We never invite them to our parties or our house, in fact if we see them on the streets we look or walk away. Another way to deal with people we don’t like is to put them into prisons, or we beat them up or we lynch them as we used to do in America with black people. Hitler came up with the ultimate idea: Kill everybody that you think is different or other.

Many Buddhist centers were created as clubs that excluded the poor. How many people can leave their spouse and kids and go to a Zen center to do a retreat? In the early days of Buddhism in the United States, many left their homes and jobs. Many families broke up because of the demands of the monastic model. When my children were young, I was meditating instead of spending time with them.

When you come from the interconnectedness of life, who is this “they?” Who is the one who knows the right thing? It is like the fingers saying to the foot “I know the right way to do this.” The foot says, “No, I know the right way! You do this!” And the tongue says, “I know the right way! You do it this way. But if you realize the oneness of this body, then fingers do certain things, and the toes, the ears do other things. When I am ready to die, the ears do not say, “I am going to heaven and the rest of you are going to hell.” That doesn’t make sense. That silliness creates a lot of suffering. At the very least, it makes us tired and lacking energy.

Another way of living is to recognize who we exclude and invite them in. I’m a Democrat. I’ve never voted Republican. I will talk with Republicans and invite them to my house. I can’t get angry at people outside my club. I don’t like their viewpoint, but I’m not going to be angry at the person for having it. In conflict resolution work, whatever faction you don’t invite to the table, that’s where the process will break down- Achilles Heel.

Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest working with LA gangs says in his book Tattoos on the Heart, “When we can see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will we abandon the values that seek to exclude.”

Comment by Alex Turner:

Dear Roshi,

Very instructive on the issue of clubs is Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”. He describes a social form he calls “the circle dance” in which those inside face each other but exclude the outside world, and this leads to violence, the horrors of overzealous socialism etc.  For this reason I find it very significant a key part of the art of painting the Zen circle is to be sure *not* to close the circle.  A club must breathe to be alive.  This relates to Rousseau on fences being the origin of the social contract, and that most basic form of discrimination, the cell wall, along with its internal complement, the model of self. All’s fine so long as it’s open, and it can’t be open to all things because many things are poison (except of course from the perspective of the absolute), but it must breathe.

my two cents anyway.

Alex Turner

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The following Questions and Opinions are Modifications of an Interview I had with Adam Tebbe of Sweeping Zen.

What brought you to Zen practice and what was going on in your life at the time?

The first time I encountered Zen was in 1958. I was in college studying to be an Aeronautical Engineer. In an English class, we had to read The World’s Religions, at that time it was called Religions of Man by Huston Smith (it had just come out). There was a page about Zen and it just struck me, like I felt I had come home reading it. So I started to study Zen at that time (basically by reading). There wasn’t that much in English–Alan Watts, Christmas Humphreys, D.T. Suzuki and I got quite interested in it. And then, around 1961 or 1962, I actually started meditation. None of the books that I had read talked much about meditation.

And then in 1963 I went to a Japanese Soto Zen temple in Los Angeles, in Little Tokyo, and met for the first time the person who was going to become my root zen teacher, Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi. He was a very young monk and he was assisting in that temple. But I sat at home and did my own sesshins (retreats) and got into a regular sitting practice (and kept reading, of course). I had been dabbling in many religions. I studied different religions from maybe the age of 12 or 13, but I started to concentrate on Zen. And around 1966 I ran into this Maezumi again. At that time he was still a monk, he was not a teacher. He was translating for a man, Yasutani roshi, who had become somewhat famous in the Zen world because of the book,Three Pillars of Zen. And he was translating for him at a workshop and I saw that his English was really good so I went up to him and asked if he had his own place, which he did. I started to sit with him on a regular basis, a daily basis.

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What were your first impressions of Maezumi roshi?

When I first started to study with him, he already had dharma transmission in the Soto lineage via his father, and that’s common in Japan (that was done at a very early age, before he came to the US). Until he finished koan study with Koryu Roshi and Yasutani Roshi, he would not do koan study with people, so he would talk about meditation and things of that nature. When I started to study with him, he was not introducing any of the Soto liturgies. As I said, I started studying in 1966; things that we take for granted now as Zen liturgy within the Soto sect he introduced to us during my ango (three month training period) which was in 1973. So that’s the first time we heard about oryoki or doing liturgical services. And he actually brought his brother, Junyu Kuroda, from Japan to train me in that.

So it was quite a while where we were meeting and talking about life and meditation. And that’s….in those early days, those of us who were drawn to Zen, I think that’s what we wanted. We didn’t know anything about Japanese Zen. Most of our readings were of the Chinese masters and the hermits. We were hippies more interested in a communal life and things of that nature, not necessarily interested in another religious institution. In the years since, that institution became more formalized. In the early days there weren’t very many people. I’d go to sit every morning and many times it would just be Maezumi, myself and maybe a few other people. But then it started to grow in the 1970’s and got rather large.

Before I left (December 1979), I was sort of his right hand person, if you will, and sort of instrumental in buying the property as we were growing. At first there was some resistance from everybody, but Maezumi wanted me to do those things. So I did, and we grew as the people came. By the time I left to go to New York, we had at least half the block, maybe more, and it was quite large. And then after I left, Zen Center of Los Angeles sold maybe half of the properties and lived on that money.

While I was there I was the executive director and we had different businesses and different programs, so we had income coming in. When I left, that sort of fell away. So they sold a lot of the properties and lived off of that money. There was a lot of equity in the buildings by the time I left. And then of course there were scandals around Maezumi Roshi in 1982. I left in December of 1979, and a couple years later there were the scandals and attendance went way, way down. Then, little by little, it all started growing back.

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Why did you disrobe?

The history about this dates back to around 1975. Maezumi roshi had dharma transmission from his father in Soto Zen, he received inka from Yasutani roshi (leader of Sanbo Kyodan) and then he also received inka from Koryu Roshi, Koryu roshi’s school was called Shakyamuni Kai. The Shakyamuni Kai was formed by Koryu roshi’s teacher, a man named Joko roshi; Joko roshi was actually a priest and teacher in few different Buddhist traditions.

Joko roshi had gotten very upset with the priesthood in Japan and felt that they were just drinking and whoring a lot, that they weren’t that interested in the dharma. He created his own group (Shakyamuni Kai) and he made it a rule that no priest, nobody with robes on, could study in the group. So, Koryu roshi became his main successor and vowed that he would not ever take robes. Maezumi became an exception, as he was an ordained priest. He studied in Shakyamuni Kai and saw Koryu in sesshin, eventually receiving inka from him.

Now, what we have to remember is that the Japanese take on several roles. There is part of Japanese culture that is coming from a Confucian culture, where it’s very important that a lineage doesn’t die–your family name can’t die and things of that nature; you’ve got to continue the lineage. These are not things that are part of Buddhism at the time of Shakyamuni, of course. It develops later, in China. So Maezumi had discussions with me about how we would continue the Koryu roshi lineage (the Shakyamuni Kai lineage), which is a lay lineage.

Remember that this is 1975.

How to continue a lay lineage? I said that it seems obvious to me that you’ve got to have role models. Everybody in positions of power at Zen Center of Los Angeles, and this was true of San Francisco Zen Center as well, had ordained as novice priests and were on a priest path wearing robes.

Maezumi said, “I’d like to have strong lay role models but, as people advance in their practice, they want to ordain.”

I said, “They’re all ordaining because, when they look around, everybody in power is in robes.” There were no lay people at all in power.

Maezumi said, “What do we do about it?”

I said, “Why don’t I disrobe and become that lay role model?”

He shot back, “If you do that, I’ll disown you!”

So he had this rational thought pattern of wanting to have a lay lineage but you’ve got to remember that he was born in a temple; his whole system, his innards, were all about temple priests.  I was his first or main student at the time and there was no way he would let me disrobe. It was then I realized there was no way we were going to have lay role models at Zen Center of Los Angeles and that discussion sort of died down until after his death. But, the issue was always there.

If you looked around (and I know all the old timers), they would all talk about these wonderful lay students and ask why ZCLA had no lay teachers. I’d respond the same as I did with Maezumi, saying that I thought we needed lay role models. They’d then say that all of the strong people want to ordain and I’d say, “Well, that’s because when you look around those are all the people running things.

This factored strongly in to my decision to disrobe, and I disrobed 15 years ago.

By the time I disrobed, I had served as abbot at a number of places, including ZCLA following Maezumi’s death and the place I later started, the Zen Community of New York. By that time I had installed other people as abbots and my main work was socially engaged Buddhism; I was not running a temple. My feeling had always been that you were a priest if you had a temple to run and take care of. Not a zendo. If what you were doing was concentrating on meditation and zendo aspects, you don’t have to be a priest. But if you’re going to have a temple, and if you are going to serve in that role, yeah, that makes sense.

So I had seen so many people ordaining that had no connection with running a temple. They were doing their work and then they would become Zen teachers, but it didn’t make any sense to me why you need all those priests besides there being this historical precedence within the Japanese Soto sect that says in order to be a teacher you have to be a priest. So I felt that was an unconscious thing to say, that you guys have to be ordained as priests. To me it never made sense.

Now, I do feel you need priests, but the priests should be people who have temples, and running a temple in the Soto sect means holding three services a day; very few priests that I know do that. Most of the people that I know that are priests have nothing to do with temple life. They have other jobs.

I felt that as priests that should be their vocation: they should be working at a temple. They might or might not be a teacher. You can be a great priest but a lousy teacher. I see them as two separate tracks and I actually make the studies and the paths that way. I have paths for priests and paths for teachers. I had some folks that I felt would be great priests but not teachers, and I did not make them teachers; they stopped at becoming full priests. From early on I saw these as two different paths. By the time I had disrobed, I saw my path as being out there doing socially engaged Buddhism, not being a temple priest.

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What do you do in Socially Engaged Buddhism?

I work in different kinds of socially engaged Buddhism. I’ve done prison work. I’ve worked on conflict resolution in the Middle East and all around the world. That’s what I’m doing now, now that I’m in my 70s and retired from being in charge of any big projects. I’ve been trying to do that for about five years; my main work now is going to different parts of the world where I’ve had connections and where I can do socially engaged Buddhism.

In India working with the Dalit, in Sri Lanka working with Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, in the Middle East working with non-violent work in Palestine and Israel with poor villages, in Brazil with people who are living in garbage hills, and also working in Rwanda, Africa. That is the kind of work I’ve been drawn to. It’s not priestly work. In fact, a lot of my work is just non-Buddhist. Of course the big work is Greyston. I’ve put a lot of energy into Yonkers, working with homeless people and with people with AIDS, working on inner city poverty. I’m still doing that.

 

SZ: Work that requires one to roll up their sleeves. Now, you’ve pretty much already addressed this but, what is socially engaged Buddhism as you see it?

It’s very clear for me. The social engagement part would be working with aspects of oneself and society that are underserved (that’s my definition for social engagement). The Buddhist part (for me) means doing that work coming from the standpoint of non-duality and, in doing that work, trying to help people realize the interconnectedness and oneness of life. So that’s the basis, the foundation from which I do the work.

In all of those works, I try to create ways of doing it which would help the people that I’m serving to realize and actualize the interconnectedness of life–the oneness of life. That I look at as being my role as a Zen teacher. Those are some of the vows that I’ve made to myself and out loud, that I would serve all of society and not just those who come into a meditation hall. I’ve changed the venue to be society and the main service is to realize and actualize the interconnectedness of life. The secondary service is to work with those aspects of society and oneself that are underserved.

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Does one have to be Buddhist to function as a Bodhisattva?

The bottom line for me is that the person has realized and is living the realization of the interconnectedness of life (the oneness of life). For me, that’s the awakening. For me, the enlightenment experience is awakening to the interconnectedness of life, that oneness of life; independent of what institution you belong to you can have that realization and you can function that way, and you could be within the Buddhist institutions and not be functioning that way.

So that’s my standard for making somebody a teacher. I don’t even like the word empowering or transmitting. I like the word recognizing. I recognize somebody as a teacher in my family, the Zen Peacemakers, if I feel that they have not only studied and mastered the trainings in Zen that we do (we don’t do everything, but the trainings that are passed down in my lineage) and that they understand that and can teach that, and that that they are also living a life that shows they are an exemplar of someone who has awakened to the interconnectedness of life.

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What are my Reflections on Issan Dorsey?

Issan Dorsey

In my experience, many people come to Zen practice because they love the stories of Zen masters of long ago. They love reading about outrageous teachers who said strange things and acted in even stranger ways, seeming like children, fools, and even madmen to the rest of society.

It has also been my experience that while we love these characters that lived hundreds of years ago, we don’t love them so much while they’re still living. We don’t always love our present day madmen and eccentrics, for these are the people who manifest our shadow. They live in the cracks – nor just of our society but of our psyche. They put in our faces those qualities in ourselves that we’d prefer not to see – a refusal to conform, a refusal to “grow up,” a human being who ignores conventions and acceptable standards of behavior and makes up his life as he goes along.

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.

Like the old Zen masters of old, Issan Dorsey was outrageous; he manifested the shadow in our lives. And he was loved not just after his death but also during his life. For Issan had exuberance for all of life, and that included death, too.

I first met Issan Dorsey in 1980, just after he began the Maitri group on Hartford Street. I happened to be visiting San Francisco Zen Center and was in the zendo when Roshi Richard Baker, Abbot of the Center, announced that a satellite group of gay Zen practitioners was forming in the middle of San Francisco’s Castro District, under the leadership of Issan Dorsey. Baker Roshi strongly supported Issan’s work, as he would continue to do for years to come. That was my first meeting with Issan. By then I had formed the Zen Community of New York with a vision of manifesting our practice in the area of social action, providing housing and jobs to our disadvantaged neighbors. This was highly unusual for Zen centers in those days, so I was curious about how Issan’s mission would turn out.

During the following years Issan and I often talked on the telephone, he from San Francisco, I from Yonkers, New York. We’d exchange news about what we were doing, and one day he told me that he’d taken into the Hartford Street Zen Center a man dying of AIDS.

That took place in 1987. This may not seem so unusual now, 11 years later, for some Buddhist groups have begun to take an interest in their communities, taking care of the disadvantaged, the sick and the dying. After all, didn’t the Buddha himself begin his search for enlightenment after coming across illness and death outside the walls of his palace? But back in 1987, Issan’s behavior was seen as outrageous. Most people thought that the proper practice of Zen Buddhism was coming to a zendo and sitting on a cushion, nothing more. There was lots of talk about putting practice in our daily life and about the role of the bodhisattva who vows to save all sentient beings. But many believed that the role of the bodhisattva didn’t begin till after enlightenment. Thus, the practice of providing dying people with shelter, food, medical care and a warm and loving environment was not seen as a proper Zen Buddhist practice. In founding the Greyston mandala of organizations that helped the Yonkers community, I was constantly told that I was doing the wrong thing, and that both as a teacher and as a priest I was not transmitting the teachings in their pure form.

Issan, too, received plenty of flak for the work he was doing. But he didn’t let it stop him. So J.D. came into the Hartford Street Zen Center, having been told by his doctors that he had, at most, three months to live. Six months later I visited Issan and J.D. at Hartford Street. J.D. was still living and in excellent spirits. He didn’t die till more than a year later, and by then Issan had opened Maitri Hospice for more men infected with the AIDS virus.

During that visit I spent a lot of time with Issan, and fell in love with him. He was always “right there,” very present to the people around him, full of humor in what some may call a macabre situation. In fact, I often think of Issan as a combination of Lenny Bruce and the Dalai Lama. He had the ability to laugh through any situation, no matter how difficult or painful, greeting the grim corners of life with lightheartedness and even joy.

I remember when he called to tell me that he had just discovered that he was HIV positive. There was absolutely no sadness or fear in his voice. His tone was almost nonchalant as he talked about how he had loved his friend knowing full well that he was HIV positive, how they had made love, how he got tested and found that he was HIV positive, too, and now had to work with it. The conversation was that simple.

I was reminded of Fr. Damien, who had taken care of the lepers on Molokai Island in Hawaii during the second half of the 19th century. Leprosy is not easy to contract if you take regular precautions, but Fr. Damien had not taken those precautions. He ate from the same dishes as the lepers, he didn’t wash his hands, and finally he contracted leprosy and died.

I don’t wish to say that Issan didn’t appreciate the gravity of AIDS and didn’t take the necessary precautions. But I know how sensitive Issan was to the epidemic ravaging the gay population at the time, and in particular his friends in the Castro District, and I can’t help having the feeling that, like Fr. Damien before him, Issan wished to live and die through his friends’ pain. He wished to bear witness to everything they endured: their strong individuality, their exuberant life styles, their joie de vivre, and their illness and death.

Like Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Issan Dorsey bore witness to the joys and pains of the universe. People loved him because of his great delight in life, his way of evoking all the happy reasons we have for living. They loved him even more when he bore witness to our deep pain and sorrow. He didn’t just talk about it, he lived it, and brought J. D. Kobezak, who had AIDS, into the zendo.

There’s a famous Zen Buddhist chant honoring Kanzeon, who is none other than Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Once, in a telephone conversation with Issan, I told him that I had just completed a translation of the chant. Full of excitement, he asked me to send it to him as soon as possible since he wished to talk about that chant in a coming retreat. I did so. The chant celebrates Kanzeon, who hears all the sounds of the universe and bears witness to each and every one of us. The impact of such a bodhisattva surpasses our understanding. He influences people directly, as the direct cause of their transformation, and also indirectly, as part of the environment, the gestalt, that accompanies them on their path. Karma is the total of these direct and indirect causes. And this karma continues long after a teacher’s death. In fact, it is often said that a teacher’s greatest teaching occurs upon and after his/her death.

In 1997, ten years after Issan died, the Greyston Network in Yonkers opened its AIDS Center. We called the Adult Day Health Program Maitri Center, after Issan’s Maitri Hospice. We called the housing complex of 35 apartments for people with HIV/AIDS Issan House, after Issan Dorsey. Several months later I was walking through the center when a man I didn’t know approached me. He was from the local community and he had AIDS. He was not a Buddhist. He thanked me for our work in building the AIDS center, and then he told me how much he wished that he’d known Issan Dorsey.

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What were your impressions of Maha Ghosananda?

Maha Ghosananda stayed at our place in New York when he was working at the UN, so I got to know him very well, and we actually hired some of his Cambodian students; they didn’t have green papers but we hired them to work in the activities we were doing. But I have to say: face-to-face he was just a beautiful and sweet guy.

He stayed with us and then I’d see him around the world at different conferences or wherever. Of course, when you live together you get to know somebody really well. During the week he was living at Soen Sa Nim’s place there in New York, near the UN. He was working in the UN at this period. And during the week he would stay there, with Richard Shrobe. He’d stay at that place. But the air, the New York air, was really deadly for him. So on weekends, Friday, he would come up to us in Riverdale. Up north. It’s the Bronx, but it’s on the Hudson, so the air was much, much different. So he would stay with us on the weekends and he’d recuperate from his inability to breathe in Manhattan.

So we got to know each other really, really well. And he was extremely sweet. There are a few people I became very close to over the years, another being Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne of Sri Lanka. They are Gandhi type people. They’re just beautiful people.

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Is compassion a natural expression of non-duality?

You know, in some sense yes. I’ll just relate this to myself. If my actualization of the oneness of life is that ‘Bernie’ is always connected, and one of my hands gets gashed, the other hand is going to take care of it. Now you can call it compassion, or you can call it taking care of yourself. If my realization and actualization expands to not just ‘Bernie’ but to all of society and the world, then when something is gashed or starving you naturally take care of it. Because, in doing so, you are taking care of yourself.

Now standing apart we can call that compassion. With somebody like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I think he is manifesting that actualization in the world. He’s not just taking care of his particular sect or particular tribe or the Buddhist world–he is serving the world, because that is who he is. So yes, we would call that compassion. I think it’s just the normal functioning of non-duality.

 

SZ: I almost look at it as ‘enlightened self-interest.’ I’ve sometimes said to friends, ‘Hey, if you’re really selfish, help the world. It’s all going to come back to you.’ If you go out there and crap on everybody, you’re going to have people crapping back on you at every turn.

BG: I would go further and say help the world because that is who you are. The world is you.

It’s just like in that case of the hand bleeding. If I have to decide whether to help that hand and I decide not to and the hand bleeds to death, then Bernie bleeds to death and dies. If there are issues in the world and I don’t serve them, then I’m going to have more problems and if I do serve I’ll be in better shape. Because you see that’s me that I’m serving.

 

SZ: I think the only thing that really separates us is our thinking.

BG: Exactly, our delusions. It’s just what Shakyamuni Buddha said. How wonderful everything is enlightened, but, because of our delusions, our attachments to our concepts, we don’t see it. But, that doesn’t change the reality. One concern of our practice, and that’s another thing I’ve tried to do, is to introduce new upayas, new Zen practices, coming from the standpoint of what you would call compassion, to realize, to help you come to the realization of the wonders of life.

I’ve said, ‘What on earth is coming from karuna to help gain prajna?’ A lot of our practices were developed from the standpoint, ‘How do I increase prajna so that I will function in compassion?’ I have this little theory that if there were more women teachers creating upayas (most of our upayas come from men), that if there had been more women through history doing that, we would have more techniques coming from the standpoint of karuna, or compassion, to realize the oneness of life.

 

SZ: Karuna can bring about prajna.

BG: Exactly, exactly.

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What were your feelings surrounding the personal and public scandal of your dharma brother, Genpo Merzel?

I’ve known Genpo a long, long time. In the early days of Zen Center of Los Angeles he was my protégé, my next in command there, and we spent a lot of time together. In fact, I was the one who gave him inka. As you had mentioned earlier, Maezumi gave me inka before he died. In fact he was going to give me inka around 1982, and that’s when his standards were full bore. But he didn’t want to do inka at that time, because it would be a blotch on my record; he felt it wouldn’t be good for me. People would just talk. But he did give me inka before he died and I was pretty sure he was going to give it to Genpo within a few years. He always wanted to do things with me first before others, and Genpo was his next person.

We were really close and I did give him inka within the next couple of years I think, I can’t remember the exact date, after Maezumi had died. And I am still friendly with Genpo, and we talk quite often. I’ve never approved of all the stuff that all these scandals are about. Mostly they’ve been about women issues. I’ve never felt good about it, and he and I talk very frankly. I talk very frankly with him.. From my early days there were all kinds of things that weren’t part of my life that I didn’t approve of.

In the early days, for example, I very rarely talked about this kind of stuff with Maezumi roshi. And later on, I felt that I was probably an enabler for not doing that. So I am critical of myself. With Genpo I do talk, we do talk. I do not talk publically; I’m not going to share what I talk with him about in public ways. He generally calls me and asks my feelings right away. In this last episode (it happened about a year ago or more), pretty soon after that he called me and went over what had happened and asked how I felt and, I’m always very frank with him. I think we are quite transparent with each other, but I do not go public. That’s just the kind of person I am.

Let me just say one last thing about that. I have no illusions to say that is good or bad; that’s just who I am and that’s how I function, and I can be criticized for that and I would understand that. But at any rate, that’s who I am.

 

SZ: One other thing that I did want to ask regarding Genpo, while I remember. What was your sense of the letters that were being sent out at the time? I think it was 66 American Zen teachers that signed an open letter with recommendations to Genpo. What was your reaction to that? Was it necessary? Was it unnecessary?

BG: I’m not sure about those words necessary or unnecessary. I think people need to be free to express how they feel, and there were a lot of letters and emails going back and forth within our White Plum world. The piece that…what’s the right word…that I didn’t appreciate…I know many of the people, and many of the people saying things. I’m doing a book with Jeff Bridges now, The Dude and the Zen Master, and one of the themes of The Big Lebowski of course is, ‘That’s just your opinion man’.

So I think it’s important for people to feel free to express their opinions. I would have liked it if some of the people that I know, that were doing the same kinds of things as Genpo, had prefaced their opinion by saying, ‘You know, I’ve been involved in the same stuff.’ That is, not be hypocritical. Not be just criticizing him without taking into account what you were doing. So, to express the opinion and to give a little context as to who you are that is making this opinion, which might have been more helpful to me. And, to tell you the truth, I’m close with people within the White Plum, and I felt a certain amount of hypocrisy going on there.

In some cases, I saw it as a chance to blast somebody else without looking at your own conduct. Now, I’m not saying that just because you’ve engaged in the same conduct that you shouldn’t give your opinion. Just make note of your own conduct also, or give some type of context.

 

SZ: A person coming from that standpoint may have an even better insight into the whole thing.

BG: Exactly, exactly.

 

SZ: Personally, I felt it was necessary but, at the same time, it did feel a little bit like Monday morning quarterbacking, where everybody just sort of chimed in after the game was done.

You know it, I know it: there are other situations like this out there. Everybody talks about them but nobody really goes on the record with any of it until after the fact.

BG: What we don’t have yet in Buddhism are arenas like they have in the Catholic world, in particular, where stuff is looked at impartially. We don’t have it in White Plum, but we’re moving in that direction. We don’t have clear rules of conduct or ethics. There are often different sects that have their own ethical rules now, but there’s no ethical rule for the world of Buddhism (or the world of Zen, in a smaller world).

So if you have your ethical rules, and you’ve thought it through, and you have a way of looking at all the situations within a dharma center, then that makes sense. But now, for me, to come out with proclamations in an arena where there has been no body that has looked at all the stuff from the different standpoints–that has talked with say, his dharma successors, that has done the rounds of stuff–many of the people that I saw writing things, they were writing from third party information, or sometimes just hearsay and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t like that.’

But, they had no way to see if the things they heard are real. What’s the other side of the story? What are the various sides?

Then comment.

All that is needed and some day it will happen. But, the Zen world doesn’t have that. Like I said, we are just starting to do that within the White Plum. I think San Francisco Zen Center is probably in better shape with that kind of thing. But that’s within their own arena. This bigger letter that came out, they don’t have such a body. So all they could act on was second-hand and third-hand information, and you can get into trouble that way.

 

SZ: I think the Zen traditions, oddly enough, probably handle these situations better than some of the other Buddhist traditions. In the United States here, say in the Tibetan tradition, this sort of thing has been going on quite a bit, and there’s not always been a whole lot of willingness to really look at it. I think that, at the very least, our willingness to look at this stuff is a positive thing.

I would also think that some would argue that those ethical rules you mention are already in place: the precepts themselves. I wonder what you think about that, whether that would be the framework through which they would come up with something like you’re discussing.

BG: I think that’s a framework to begin to develop those ethical rules. The precepts are too general and the way the precepts are studied with the Rinzai Zen and within our lineage…the precepts are studied differently within different Zen groups. The precepts when they are studied within the koan system are studied only via the koan system. In the Zen Peacemakers, for example, we’ve changed that quite a bit. When we started the Zen Peacemakers, we developed a very comprehensive study of the precepts.

When I studied Zen, it was via koans, and many of our White Plum people did it that way (the early people of course). Via the koan study, the emphasis on the precepts was always taken from a standpoint of non-duality, and that leads into a trap.

There is no lie, there is no liar, there is nobody lying to you. You know.

The precepts can be studied in different ways, and one of the ways is from this so-called ‘Buddha Nature’ (I don’t like that term for it, sort of a non-dual way of looking at it), and can lead into a problem of, from my sense, of arrogance.

So the precepts are a good starting point, but if you are developing an ethics for Westerners (and believe me, when I say Westerners it’s a quite different thing if you’re European or US), it has to be pretty local. If we looked at it from a US standpoint and developed an ethical guideline, and it should be based on the precepts, I agree. But it needs more work.

 

 

SZ: We could take a page from psychology.

BG: It would happen. If you’re gonna put together that kind of a document and guidelines, there’s no way if you’re doing it in the US that you wouldn’t be bringing in all that; you’d be bringing in everything that is current now, which includes psychology.

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Have you got any final words?

Whenever you hear anything, and whenever you say anything, say, ‘Keep in mind that this is just my opinion. I’m not saying this as truth or fact, it’s just my opinion.’ And if you hear somebody saying something, that is just their opinion, and opinions cannot be right or wrong. They are just opinions.

And, if there’s somebody you really dislike, and they are talking, imagine them with a clown’s nose on and again repeat, ‘That’s just your opinion, man.’ Those are my parting words. With that, you won’t have any problems.

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I would like to give my opinion on the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. The three tenets are: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Loving Actions.

My Opinion on: What do you mean by Not-Knowing?

Not-knowing is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. My opinion of Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation, deep listening to the situation.

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My Opinion on: What is Bearing Witness?

What is Bearing Witness?

It is the role of the Bodhisattva to bear witness. The Buddha can stay in the realm of not-knowing, the realm of blissful non-attachment. The Bodhisattva vows to save the world, and therefore to live in the world of attachment, for that is also the world of empathy, passion, and compassion. Ultimately, she accepts all the difficult feelings and experiences that arise as part of every-day life as nothing but ways of revelation, each pointing to the present moment as the moment of enlightenment.

Bearing witness gives birth to a deep and powerful intelligence that does not depend on study or action, but on presence.

We bear witness to the joy and suffering that we encounter. Rather than observing the situation, we become the situation. We became intimate with whatever it is – disease, war, poverty, death. When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t flee.

From Barbara Salaam Wegmuller:

I like this: When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t flee!!! this is really my experience in this practice. Today George Eich told me stories, about what happens to girls in Kamodia, where my whole being wants to flee…..listening to the women from Ruanda when they told us their stories, in Auschwitz, I had the same experience, I had to force a part of me, to stay with me and to listen, it was like my soul wanted to disappear out of the room, because it was so sick. It is really about not to flee. But how can we change all this extremely sick stories?

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My Opinion on: What do you mean by Loving Actions?

My opinion of Loving Actions are those actions that arise naturally when one enters a situation in the state of not-knowing and then bears witness to that situation. It has nothing to do with the one’s opinions or other’s opinions as to whether it is loving actions or not.

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My Opinion on: Zen Peacemakers Tenets and Eihei Dogen

The three Core Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers,

  1. Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe;
  2. Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and
  3. Loving Actions

are based on three concepts to which Dogen Zenji gave expression more than 750 years ago.  Those are hi shiryo (Non-thinking,) shikantaza (Just Sitting), and Butsudo (Way of Awakening.)

Let me explain what I mean through the use of a koan.  The Koan is a simple one , the fourth case of the Gateless Gate by Mumonkan. The main case is one question: Why does the Western Barbarian have no beard?

The Western Barbarian refers to Bodhidharma, who came from the west (from India to China.)  “Why did Bodhidharma come to the East?” is a metaphor for the question, “What is Zen?” We say that Zen is life. So what is this Zen? What is this life we are talking about? If Zen is life itself, then what’s  the point of talking about bringing it from one country to another? What is being transmitted? These are the questions in that Koan. Of course, Bodhidharma is not some figure that lived many, many years ago. Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It’s our teachers that come carrying the torch. It’s all of us coming from wherever  we came from, to the places we are. Why are we 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?

There are a number of ways of looking at koans. For example, we use them to illustrate points. We write about them. So I’m writing about this koan in order to illustrate something. Another is to become the koan. This is actual koan practice.  In this case, become the Western barbarian! Become the beard! Become Bodhidharma! To pass the koan is to experience the state that’s being presented, being Bodhidharma.

This first condition of being brings us to Non-thinking.  In Fukanzazengi, Dogen Zenji says: “How do you think of non-thinking?  He answers, “Non-thinking.”  This is in itself the essence of zazen.”  Non-thinking is the state the koan wants us to experience.  It is nothing other than the state of not-knowing, the state of at-one-ment, of being one, of being Buddha, of being the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), of Be-ing, of returning to the One. That’s a very difficult place to experience. This is the place where we don’t know what’s right, what’s  wrong. This is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we are open to all the ways of all lives, of all beings and non-beings and sprits? How many of us can say that we don’t  have the answer, the right way? Or, how many us can say that every way that’s being presented is the right way?

Working on the koan also pushes us into the state of non-separation. The sixth ancestor in China, Hui-neng, defines Zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object, no space between  I and Thou, you and me, up and down, right or wrong.  This is Shikantaza.  Six years ago I began to translate Shikantaza into Bearing Witness.  For me, Shikantaza becomes a form of bearing witness to the wholeness of life, to ending our denial of the oneness of our life. As human beings each one of us is denying something. Each one of us is aware of certain aspects of life which we do not want to deal with. Usually, this is because we are afraid of them. Sometimes it’s society that is in denial about certain aspects and we go along with it.  Shikantaza allows us to bear witness to all of life.

A symptom of separation, a symptom of duality, is found in the word why. Many koans start with that word. “Why has Bodhidharma, the Western Barbarian, no beard?” Why! That’s the symptom of duality. Why do we wake up at the sound of the alarm clock? Why do we do this, do that? Why do we need rules and regulation? Why do we need forms? Why this form? Why is grass green? Eliminate the word why and again we come back to bearing witness. Think of Shakyamuni’s life and of his father trying to isolate him from suffering, from old age and death, from renunciates. That is a metaphor for the denial of, or separation from, those aspects of ourselves or of society that we are afraid of or not ready to deal with.

For me the importance of bearing witness to what is denied grew out of doing Shikantaza, out of bearing witness to life as a whole. When I bear witness, I learn, I open to what  is. There’s a healing process in that.  This is the second Tenet of the Zen Peacemakers, Bearing Witness. Bearing witness to things that I am denying or that society is denying. Bearing witness to the things I don’t want to deal with.

So if we work on the Koan, being Bodhidharma, just feeling the beard, being the beard, we see all the problems; the food that gets stuck in the beard, the molds that grow. We learn  how to clean it, how to comb it, how to become one with it, how to be Bodhidharma. Taking care. The beard teaches us. And the things that we are in denial about teach us. We don’t  go to them to teach them. They teach us. And they teach when we can listen, when we can bear witness. And bearing witness is for me Shikantaza.

For me the flowering of Shikantaza, the flowering of bearing witness, is Butsudo, the way of awakening.  In his chapter entitled Butsudo in Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji writes that the Way is not to create new sects and labels, creating new separations:  “Thus we should vow to find him (the World-Honored One) and to serve him in many lives.  Thus we should desire to meet Buddha and to hear the Dharma in many lives.”  The path is not one of this or that, of this practice or that practice, of this sect or that sect.  The path is one of awakening to the oneness of life, and functioning out of that awakening.

Many years ago in L.A. I had an experience in which I felt, I saw, the suffering of the hungry spirits. I was surrounded by all kinds of suffering beings. Almost immediately I made a vow to serve them, to feed them. How do we feed them?  By raising the Bodhi Mind. That’s the food for the hungry spirits. Raising the Bodhi mind the supreme meal is offered.  What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born.

So out of our Shikantaza, out of our bearing witness, the right action arises.  We don’t have to worry about what we to do.  If we become the state of not-knowing, if we truly do Shikantaza, the offering will arise. Fruit will be born, which is nothing other than the bone and marrow of the Tathagatha.

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The Big Bang

It is the opinion of many scientists (including me) that about 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion started the expansion of the universe. This explosion is known as the Big Bang. At the point of this event all of the matter and energy of space was contained at one point. What existed prior to this event is completely unknown and is a matter of pure speculation. This occurrence was not a conventional explosion but rather an event filling all of space with all of the particles of the embryonic universe rushing away from each other. The Big Bang actually consisted of an explosion of space within itself unlike an explosion of a bomb were fragments are thrown outward. The galaxies were not all clumped together, but rather the Big Bang laid the foundations for the universe.

Where’s the beginning in the big bang? You can’t know what’s there before the big bang, right? You can go down pretty damn close i mean they’re going down in nanoseconds and seeing what happens in there. And they’re going forward and stuff like that. But in the very beginning, that’s what’s called a singularity. You can’t know.

Now you may notice that in the Peacemakers, our first tenet is Not Knowing. It’s a state of not knowing, so what we say is if you’re going do something first approach it from that state of not knowing, that is get back to that initial singular point – to that point before the big bang. So if i can get back to that point of Not Knowing right now, and be there, then something happens and that’s the big bang. Now it starts unfolding. And it can unfold in a very creative way because it’s starting from this point of not knowing, this singular point. It’s starting from the beginning. Whatever you believe in it was created out of that big bang. Before that there was nothing.

Our job in Zen is to experience that beginning, that place before there’s anything. That’s what’s meant by the koan “what’s the sound of one hand” It’s before any phenomena, what’s that state? It’s not so easy to experience. But it can be done, and it has been done, and it’s being done. So we want to get to the beginning. I’ll jump to the end of this discussion, but it’s also the beginning. There’s an end point as well as that beginning point. The beginning point is singular, the end point is singular, and that end point in the Christian and Jewish world is called God. In Islam, it is Allah. In the Buddhist world it’s called Maitreya. These are different terms for similar ideas. So there’s this beginning point and end point, and in between is an evolution from the beginning point to the end point. Things are evolving. But the interesting thing about it is that this end point is creating the evolution from the beginning point. So that end point is also right here, now, in the beginning. And it’s all evolving between these two points.

A little metaphysical, but what’s fascinating about it to me is that if you go to the big bang and there’s just not knowing, or if you go to our state right now and say we can get to this place of not knowing, there’s this anything can happen. As soon as something bangs, as soon as something coalesces, as soon as two relations meet and there’s an event… As soon as anything happens, each starts evolving. And the forms, and by forms i mean not just physical forms but spiritual forms and mental forms and conscious forms and unconscious forms… All the forms evolve.

If you look at one billionth of a nanosecond after that big bang, there weren’t any of us around. There were different kinds of particles – they kept evolving, and they evolved to where we are. That means everything we’re made of including our consciousness and our spiritual being dates back to that initial point. And going forward everything that we are keeps evolving to the singular point that we call God or Allah or i call Not Knowing – just the state of not knowing. So that for me the beginning point and the end point are the same and they’re drawing our evolution.

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Intimacy is Like Fish and Water

In zen and in many buddhist groups we relate to a boss whose name was Shakyamuni Buddha. Some groups go back to different buddhas, like Vairocana Buddha, but zen and many groups go back to the founder Shakyamuni Buddha, from about 500 BC. Although he didn’t know that there was a B.C. at the time. And when he had his enlightenment experience, in our tradition at least we say that. he said “How wonderful! How wonderful! Everyone – everything is enlightened!” Except the problem is that most of us are attached to our notions and ideas that we’re not enlightened. Or we’re attached to some kind of notions and ideas. And so we can’t see that state of enlightenment. He said “Everything as it is is enlightened, so what we can’t see or we can’t accept is that everything as it is, is enlightened. So it’s a bit like the fish in the water.

So a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, – “Where’s the water?” and the fish says “What water?”.You say: “You are water!” You know the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to this notion that he or she’s some kind of… thing. And doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask –What is the ocean? Do we say it’s water? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath – they became Hawaii! They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea all kinds of stuff. But we just call it an ocean. And some Jewish comedian is in a boat looking down and says “See the ocean? ….and that’s only the top of it” I mean there’s a lot to this thing. But somehow that evades us, so enlightenment is like that. Enlightenment is the realization and actualization that it’s all just one thing. That “I’m not this little thing”. I’m air, I’m You, I’m rocks – it’s all one thing. But that relationship is so intimate that we don’t see it. So somehow we have to awaken to that intimacy. So “intimacy is like fish and water”. We could replace it with “enlightenment is like us and the things we don’t see”, or “enlightenment is our ideas and our non-ideas”. It’s our knowing and not knowing. Because we’re knowing – because we’re attached to our ideas – doesn’t mean we’re not enlightened. Since it’s all one thing you can’t exclude the knowing state. You don’t exclude the water or the fish. What are the aspects of ourselves that are so intimate that we don’t see? We don’t see that we are all things. We don’t see that the bleeding person in the street is us. It’s so intimate we don’t see it. Our practice is about opening our eyes, awakening. Awakening to who we are. And that’s “getting to not know” us. When we know ourselves we don’t see who we are. When we can let go of all our notions of who we are we can really get into that open space of being – then we’re in that place of Not Knowing, in that intimacy of enlightenment. Now that word itself is very extra. It’s not a necessary word. But somehow we’ve got to use words. Our brain is very dualistic. We need words. Somebody was telling me just recently about a whole new field of therapy – maybe it’s not so new – that says all the problems are in the words. It’s a field that’s saying that without the semantics… that without the words you didn’t have a lot of the problems we’re talking about.

Questioner: Are there no problems in the animal realm then? They don’t call them problems I guess. Bernie: Yeah, that’s the point. If you take away the words, are the problems problems or are they just things that are happening? Who’s defining them as problems?

Questioner: If we didn’t have words, wouldn’t there just be something else? Bernie: Yeah, so what you’re saying is if we didn’t have the words – if there weren’t the semantics, we would create some other way of creating our problems maybe. In and of itself, the word “problem” is a problem. Problems are extremely subjective. Extremely subjective – you go outside, you know, this couple with their kids they go outside – they’re going to a picnic. They’ve got all their stuff together and they’re going out to go have a picnic and it starts to thunderstorm. It starts raining like crazy. They have a problem. The farmer on the other hand is looking up at the rain and saying “Wow! Great!” He doesn’t have a problem. So the rain in and of itself is not such a problem. It’s the thoughts we have about it. Or the plans we had -the expectations we had, and then something happens to screw up our expectations a little. But the rain itself is like the intimacy of fish and water. That is, sometimes it’s snow, sometimes it’s sun, sometimes it’s rain. It’s everything that’s happening. Sometimes different cells do funny things in our system and they become for us problems, or for our loved ones they become problems. The cells don’t know it, they’re just doing their thing it seems, and all together it’s the fish in water, I mean you go in that ocean, and there’s fish swallowing fish and whales swallowing fish and people harpooning whales and there’s all kinds of stuff going on.

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The Tortoise Drags His Tail

The tortoise dragging its tail is a famous image in the orient. Once while in northern Costa Rico I went to the beach at night when tortoises had come to lay their eggs. They’re really gigantic. Peter Mathiessen wrote a beautiful book – Far Tortuga. It’s in the dialect of the people in Tortuga. A little north of Costa Rica. But if you see a tortoise walking on the beach, their tail wipes away the tracks. But of course there are new tracks. The tail itself creates a new track. One of the ways we know ourselves is by all of our criticisms of ourselves. And all of the things that we think we’re doing wrong. And we spend a lot of time trying to apologize or wipe away or being sorry, “I’m sorry I did this, I did that, I’m sorry.” And that’s the tortoise moving the tail and wiping away the tracks. So we do things and then we sort of look back, and “Oh, I did that wrong”. So we’ve left all of these tracks of the things that we didn’t do right in our mind. And now we spend a lot of time trying to get rid of all of those tracks. And that very process of doing that is creating new tracks. Then we look back and say “Oh I didn’t do that right, I didn’t get rid of that right”. When you get to the state of Not Knowing You, you aren’t busy wiping away the tracks because you don’t have the tracks. At any moment you have the ingredients that are there and you do the best thing you can (make the best meal) with those ingredients, and you offer your creation. And then you look again and see what ingredients you now have and make the best meal you can and offer it again. It’s never about “Oh that meal was too sour” or that meal was too yucky or that meal… It’s “Here I am! What are the ingredients? What do I do? Let’s do it!. And then the next moment: “Here I am! What are the ingredients? Let’s use them in the way I can best do it. And then I offer it.”

When my son, Marc, was young he would take the food that he was given and make piles of all the stuff he didn’t’ want to eat – those were his yucky piles. Then he would eat the stuff that was left – the good stuff. And then he had to figure out what to do with the yucky piles. Because his mother would say you’re supposed to eat your broccoli or whatever he called his yucky pile. He might sneak it down to the dogs. We had dogs and cats. He might put it on his sister’s plate. There were different schemes. He says that now he creates nice piles. And leaves the yucky piles – he doesn’t call them yucky piles. Making nice piles and just leaving the other stuff around. But that falls in line with this whole notion of what do we do with the ingredients we have? How do we make the best meal? How do we offer it? And when we look at our lives, what do we call our yucky piles, and then what do you do with it? And just think of how much energy you spend or your friends spend being sorry instead of just doing something new. Talking about what they didn’t do, or what yucky piles they created.

The work of the jester or coyote (North American Indians) is to work with the yucky piles. They don’t call them yucky piles. They work in the cracks of society. They call out the issues that we aren’t dealing with. So it’s a little bit like what my son shifted to. Society or we will tend to recognize those things we like. And we work with that. We invite to our homes those we like. We don’t invite to our homes those we don’t like. We don’t think of them. We don’t even think of them enough to call them yucky piles. They don’t exist. We work with things we like. It’s very normal, so the jester is trained, the coyote is trained to see what are the yucky piles that individuals, tribes, societies have created and what’s the work to be done. They’re not the only ones who work with yucky piles. There’s whole industries that have been created to work with yucky piles – the homeless in the streets, the prisons, lots of different industries have been created to get the yucky piles out of sight – so that we could just deal with all the pretty things, and not have to see the things that we have shunted aside.

Our getting to Not Know You is not hiding. Not apologizing. Not screaming at others ‘cause they’re not doing it the right way. Our way is to do things. Is to look at the ingredients, make the best meal, and do it.

Here are the ingredients. I do the best thing I can at this time. If that’s what I’m always doing there’s no tracks to be wiped away. It sometimes gets confusing to people because they don’t’ know what they’re doing. It depends on the moment – it depends on the circumstances. What we are most comfortable with is to put people in a category. Even ourselves. Many people consider consistency a virtue. Because I know what’s going to happen – I know what the schedule’s is. I know what that person’s going to do. But that’s getting to know you rather than getting to Not Know You. Getting to Not Know You is to work with the ingredients and always be open to what’s required now. It’s not even what’s required – It’s to be… free. The rain comes down pouring on your head. You don’t stop and say “what should I do? Should I get an umbrella or should I wipe the rain away? Should I put a hat on?” You don’t go through all of that. The rains coming down. If you have an umbrella you might open it. If you don’t have an umbrella but you have a rain hat you might put that on. If it’s a fancy hat you might not put it on. You might hide it. So it all depends on the ingredients.

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At Play in the Fields of the Pure Land

If you’re totally Bearing Witness, and also in the state of Not Knowing – that’s this word play. So play is both of those together. Then you’re acting in this free way in which you are totally immersed in the situation. You’re not attached to any kind of conditions. So you’re just playing. Where? In the fields of the pure land, where you are. Playing where you are. That’s sometimes drawn as the tenth oxherding picture that’s got Hotei – the fat guy with a bag of everything. Ryokan is another such character. He was a drunken poet in Japan and a monk, deeply in love with a nun named Teishin. They wrote many love poems to each other. Ryokan loved to play with the kids. There’s a famous story where he was hiding. They were playing hide and go seek and he hid in a barrel and after two days: “Wow they still haven’t found me!” That’s the kind of person he was.

The word fields is also very important to me. At play in the fields of the pure land. I have a science background, so although I see everything as one interdependent thing, I look at it as a field. And things don’t coalesce until you have some instrument that perceives it. “The dharma is always encountered but rarely perceived.” And we say “Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.” How do you perceive anything? As a human we use our senses to perceive. We can perceive things via the brain – thinking or via touching or hearing or seeing or smelling or tasting. It’s through these various senses. And it’s generally a combination thereof. Not usually all of them. I don’t know whether you can perceive without the brain getting involved. Take a brain that you’ve totally lobotomized, or somebody’s brain dead. Can you perceive then? We certainly know we can make perceptions without one of the others. You could be blind, you could be deaf.

My daughter Alisa studied special education at B.U. and she was specializing in deaf folks, but you know you’ve got to study it all. But she got a job working with kids that were epileptic, they were deaf, they were blind. They were having seizures all the time. But they had touch, so she learned Helen Keller touch. She could communicate that way. And she would take them dancing, and sit with them right in front of the speakers so they could feel the vibrations of the speakers. And she would take them to the edge of the property where they could feel the waves from the cars going by. There are many ways to perceive, but my opinion is that it’s all fields. And that when you place some kind of object like a brain in there with these other different instruments, you perceive, and that’s when all this starts happening – we start giving names to those perceptions, and we start labeling them and then we get categories and then we can study them and then we can get attached to those labels and categories.

When you just start off – when you’re just feeling it all, it’s not as interesting. We don’t have all these fields of study. You can’t build schools. So you can see how all this can really develop. But initially it’s just these fields. And then when we talk about prior to the fields, we get to the instant before the big bang. Cause once the big bang starts, then we have these fields. Then we’re going to start having perceptions. But before the big bang we don’t even have the fields. My god! What’s going on here? Once we have all these perceptions and all these categories, then all these kind of questions like “What time is it?” come up. And all these kinds of decisions, like that’s the pure land and that’s not the pure land. That’s Buddha but I’m not Buddha – how could I be Buddha? So we could come up with all those wierd things, see? Before, you can’t come up with all these wierd things.

Questioner: Rupert Sheldrake talks about morphogenic fields, which says there’s a field out there that feeds us information. I don’t know if the brain’s involved or not. There’s the example of the cuckoo birds. The hatch in the nests of other bird species and the parents fly down to Africa. But when the fledglings are ready to fly they don’t know but they all go to Africa. How do they know? He says that humans also are subject to some kind of morphogenic fields, whether we know it or not. So that’s prior to perception I guess. Bernie:Fields is just fields. So he’s just talking about how within fields certain things can coalesce. There could be what they now call “tipping points” or whatever. He’s done a lot of work in that whole arena of fields. And made subcategories of fields. A field is very basic. Then you could start looking at different kinds of fields where different things are being perceived or whatever, but that’s already in the world of perceptions. That’s what I mean – that when you first start off, before the big bang, that’s the state of Not Knowing. There ain’t nothing. You can’t talk about tipping points, you can’t talk about the sparrows coming to roost. All that stuff comes later once you get out of the Not Knowing. So now you have the big bang and then you have this huge field. Even with that big field, if there’s nobody there perceiving, then it’s just field. As soon as you introduce anything, that can coalesce the field into what I would call a particle. We could call it different things. We could call it a dharma. The dharmas are phenomena, they’re particles. But as soon as you can coalesce the fields into anything – now you could start all kinds of studies. And you’ll then wind up with different schools of thought. In Buddhism we have the Alaya Vijñana – the storehouse consciousness. Jung has that. Sheldrake did his works. When Sheldrake published his first book, Bob Schwartz offered a $10,000 prize for anybody who could show that what he was talking about was true. And all kinds of examples came up. But those are already pieces of study. We’ve got people studying in all kinds of things and we’re going to learn so much about that stuff.

Questioner: I wonder, is the buddhist concept of shin addressing that deeper perception? Bernie: The shin that’s heartmind in Buddhism. It can be used in two different ways. Generally if it’s the heart – like sometimes we use that heart of compassion or that kind of heart, it would be a different term, not shin. Kokoru. The shin that’s mind in Buddhism tends to be what my dharma brother Gempo calls “big mind”. Sometimes you put “dai” (great) on it, so “daishin”. But that shin is more universal mind. And what sometimes confuses us is that it can be translated as heart or mind. It gets translated sometimes as heart, sometimes as mind. It’s more like geist – the German term for spirit. So it’s not the physical heart or the mind that we usually think of. It’s the universal mind.

Questioner: Would that be in terms of perception? Bernie: No, there’s no perceptions in that. Questioner: I’m a little lost here. Bernie: Me too, but that’s a good place to be.

Questioner: When you talk about field of course my image is an Irish green field with stones. Bernie: That’s nice.

Questioner: So when you talk about the big bang, and what went before the big bang, St. Thomas Aquinus would refer to that as god. And he defines god as Quam quam ignotum – it’s beyond all human experience, it’s something we can’t even conceive of. So once you have the big bang, then you have a world that is perceptible to human beings. But you’re saying that that has created a whole field of energy. Bernie: Yes, originally it’s just a field of energy.

Questioner: Okay so, Boom! – then it happens and now we have the world we live in. So I’m trying to tie in what you’re saying with this field. Bernie: I’ll tell you my opinion. Okay? I don’t know if any of the Buddhas think this. All I can say is this is what I think. So you have pre-big bang. You can’t go there. That’s my space of Not Knowing. That’s another way of defining it: pre-big bang. That should make it easy for you to understand my opinion of Not Knowing. Then there is the Bang. And now what you have is fields. The perceptions now come because of instrumentation that starts happening: that includes god. That includes everything. I don’t have a god pre-big bang.

Questioner: You have an energy field… Bernie: No. Pre-big bang all I have is Not Knowing. I have nothing. And then there’s the bang, and now I’ve got this field. Then within that field there’s instrumentation that starts happening – creates perceptions and everything including god comes out of that. Now I swing into sort of Teller/Desjardins thinking: That that god that has come in after that big band is pulling all of this in a certain direction. But doesn’t come into existence until the big bang, and then it’s just all now. So it’s like “What time is it? – When”. All of this is possible to talk about because of the way we perceive things. Because we’re coalescing this field. If I’m just part of that field I can’t ask those kind of questions. And I can’t even think about Desjardins’ evolution. Because that involves when.

Questioner: But that field – the actual field – its existence – That becomes a conduit into the pre-big bang. Bernie: No. There’s no conduit there. That’s the tricky thing. There’s no way into it. You can get as close to it as possible, but no way into it. Mathematically that is the equation: one over N. N can get as large as you want. Which would make 1/N as close to zero as you want. But you can never get to zero. There’s no conduit. It’s the other side.

Questioner: So that’s the Aha! of I don’t’ know. Bernie: Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. Instead of saying the big bang we could say Aha! Yeah. You know that was a very important invention: nothing. The zero. Before zero was invented mathematics couldn’t go anywhere. And the zero was invented or discovered in Europe not so long ago. A few hundred years. And mathematics could not advance. The zero did exist I think in India way before, but nothing is very important.

Questioner: The Christians at that point prohibited mathematicians from using zero. Bernie: You can’t blame them. Once you’re able to deal with nothing you could think wow!

Questioner: Is that jiju zanmai? Bernie: Yes. A Japenese term for playing.

Questioner: You’re talking about this big bang. But there have been many big bangs, because the universe is expanding and then collapsing. There’s infinite expansions and contractions. Bernie: Yes. And there’s controversy about how that functions. Some people say it all happened that time. And therefore there’s many different parallel worlds. And of course many science fiction writers are now writing about these parallel worlds and how do you get from one to the other. But some people think that there was an initial big bang. But now we’re getting into theory, or opinions. The important thing for me is that pre-big bang is Not Knowing. Once you have your Aha!, or once you have your perception – now you can bear witness to it. People keep mistaking what I mean by Not Knowing – the first of the Peacemakers’ Three Tenets. And I think once I say that it’s pre-big bang, then it’s not clear. Because they want to put some kind of thing to it. And whatever you put to it, it’s not what I mean by Not Knowing. But the Bearing Witness – that can only happen when there’s perceptions, right? I could perceive something and now I could bear witness to it – in the state of Bearing Witness I’m back in the field. I’ve gone back where there’s no this and that. And now I act and now I’m back into the perceptions. Now things have coalesced and now I start doing things. Why is this important? It may not be. The importance for me is learning how to look at the ingredients. And to really see the ingredients I think you have to Bear Witness. I mean you’ll see ingredients without Bearing Witness, but if you Bear Witness to a situation I think you’ll see the ingredients in a much deeper way, and so your actions, I think, will have the best possibility of reducing suffering. We all act. We’re all going to have perceptions and they’re all going to be biased by our thinking, by our knowing. So practices that allow us to get to that place of Not Knowing for me are very important. Plunges for example. That’s a fantastic practice for me of getting to not know. I happen to think plunges are the best. Because I do that. And you know, we all think that way. But at least I think it’s the best for me, cause that’s helped me the most. So when I say “the best” I don’t mean that. ‘Cause depending on who you are, different things are going to be best for you at that time. And you’ll change. As you change, other things may be best. So, you know, it’s always a function of the ingredients.

Questioner: Why? Bernie: Why? Why is not a question! I mean that’s just my opinion, man!

Questioner: What do you mean by a plunge. Bernie: Oh, I started doing what I call plunges. It’s like plunging into a pool. That is, it’s getting into a situation where your brain doesn’t help you out. That is, it’s beyond your capability to rationalize. So our retreats at Auschwitz are plunges. The situation is so immense that after you try to figure it out for a while, you can’t. So you’re plunged into something that’s beyond the capacity of the brain to think out. Our street retreats are plunges. Working with somebody close who’s dying can be a plunge. Meditation can be a plunge. All these things – even though they’re designed to be plunges – any of them could also be nice escapes. They don’t have to be plunges. It depends what goes on. You know, so there can be people that help you. Doing clowning work in refugee camps was a plunge for me.

Questioner: What does a plunge look like in meditation? Bernie: You know, it’s hard. The technical term for a plunge in Japanese is shikantaza. It’s a state in which there’s not subject/object.

Questioner: When you say that god is created, that always just turns something in me – that god is created. And then there’s that book – god is a verb… I love that. So it really makes you look closely at “who is god?” Bernie: There are different opinions of course. A lot of people feel that that’s true.

Questioner: You mean it’s not? Bernie: We have to remember that opinions are opinions. And I would never claim that anything I ever have said or will say is true in any sense – I mean it’s just what I think, what I feel. I won’t even go as far as to say it’s what I believe. Because I think things, but I’m very much open for them all to change in the next moment. I don’t particularly believe in anything I’m saying, but that doesn’t stop me from saying – I could talk forever about what I think and what I feel. I just like to every once in a while make sure that people listening to me don’t think that I think that any of what I’m saying is true. It’s just what I’m saying. That’s extremely important. People are always doing that – thinking that what they’re saying somehow is true, or they’ve got some truth. And we’re all looking for that. And for me that’s the biggest trap. What are your ingredients? What do you want to do? To me, what someone else wants me to do is just their opinion. I don’t care who it is – whether it’s Christ or Buddha or Yogi Berra.

Questioner: I remember one time you going before an audience of young people. And they made some kind of big introduction about who you were. And you got up on the stage and read the room. Then you said “Everything I’m about to tell you is fabricated.” Bernie: Yeah. I mean it’s what I think. But I’m always looking for the Aha! I mean I know that the things, the places I come to become traps to keep me from having new ahas. And that’s the fun part – to have the ahas. And so my practice is to try to be as open as I can – that’s my personal practice. And I try to seek out places where there will be plunges for me, cause I know that those help mo to open up more. Not plunges by definition. They’re places where I think I have some answers and that’s a trap. So if I can get into plunges – if I can get into spaces where “I don’t know what the hell’s happening here.” Then I can grow.

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My Opinion on: What do you mean by Socially Engaged Buddhism?

By social engagement, I mean serving or working for the underserved parts of society and oneself. Doing this service or work from the basis of the inter-connectedness of life is what I call Socially Engaged Buddhism. Buddha means to awaken to the oneness of life, the inter-connectedness of life. In my opinion, Socially Engaged Buddhism is both a service to life and a path towards Awakening.

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My Opinion on: Interconnectedess: Oneness of Life

Indra’s Net

Indra was an ancient king of India who thought a great deal of himself. One day he went to the royal architect and said that he wanted to leave a monument of himself, something which all people would appreciate.The king’s architect created an immense net which extended throughout all space and time. And the king’s treasurer placed a bright, shining pearl at each node of the net so that every pearl was reflected in every other pearl. And each single pearl, each person, each event, contains the whole of Indra’s Net, including all of space and time.

When we realize that we are all bright pearls in Indra’s Net, we see that within each one of us the whole body of the universe is contained. Since we are all already connected in Indra’s Net, there are no limits to the possibilities of connecting with other people in our lives and our work.

Still, it’s natural for most of us to begin “networking” with the people closest to our own interests and needs. Accountants network with other accountants, poets with other poets, and social activists with other social activists. This kind of networking certainly has its uses. It’s especially effective, for example, when we need help in solving a very difficult problem. But it is not a very effective overall strategy because it leads to a narrowing instead of a widening of your network. It results in ever diminishing returns. The tax accountants end up talking only to other tax accountants; the free verse poets end up talking only to other free verse poets; and the social activists of one school end up talking only to social activists of the same school.

When we network according to the vision of Indra’s Net, on the other hand, we begin by casting the widest possible net. We do this by defining our mission in the broadest possible way.

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My Opinion on: Do you think that Socially Engaged Buddhism is above other Buddhist practices?

From Evi Gemmon Ketterer: I heard frequently by more then one of “your” students, that you have put down your robes because you are “above” a practice like this and that Socially Engaged Buddhism is the only real way of a Bodhisattva. I never heard anything like this of you personally nor can I imagine that you put down your own training with Maezumi Roshi. I feel really appalled by these kind of statements, that comes always of people who have never in their life practiced full time in the face of a teacher; and I also feel it quiet embarrassed in the face of the monastics and ordained in our own lineage and of the others. I even get questioned about it by people who know, that I practice in this lineage, if this is what you are preaching. Is it so?

Bernie:

The major reason I disrobed is because I wanted to be a role model for Lay Practice in the Zen tradition. The second reason I disrobed is that I was no longer functioning as a Priest, I had left Temple practice and was concentrating on the teaching of Zen and on socially engaged Buddhism.

Truly accepting the oneness of life, I do not see any person or any role as better or worse than another. I do feel a strong need for Priests doing priestly functions. I do not see a reason for becoming a Priest as a step towards becoming a Zen Teacher. I also use the word Priest, rather than monastic, or monk, or nun, as most Zen Priests that I know are not celibate and not leading a monastic life as I understand that term. Of course, there are those who lead a monastic life and then I feel it is appropriate to use the monastic terms.

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My Opinion on: Are you not afraid to train a certain kind of ego</p> <p>that at the end comes up with statements like in the question above?

From Evi Gemmon Ketterer: The other thing what worries me about the Social Engaged Buddhism and how it comes over on the ZP page is that I feel a certain kind of activism that ends in an identification of a doer. The hardest thing for a dying person is to let go of exactly this identification “I am good as long as I am doing good, if I am unable to do good, I am not worthy to live any more”. But, Bernie, all of my patients are not able any more to do anything, mostly not even to keep their shit and urine under control. Sylvia always taught, not to make practice and the Bodhisattva vow another kind of stress, as we are stressed enough with our daily life anyhow. I was extremely thankful to her for this teaching, till I learned to serve from an enriched heart instead of an impoverished that seeks approval by being of service. I feel a huge pushing and pressure from the way, the ZPs are communicating by email and on FB. What do you think about this and are you not afraid to train a certain kind of ego that at the end comes up with statements like in the first question?

Bernie:

Using the ingredients I have, I make the best meal possible and offer it. Moment after moment, I do that again with the new ingredients which contain the results of the previous meal.  I don’t know of any real life situations where ego doesn’t pop in. It is our practice to continuously walk the path which helps to reduce this ego. I feel good with the work I am doing and with those that have chosen to walk the path with me. This doesn’t mean there isn’t more to do, in fact, the path is endless. I don’t like to deal in comparisons or quote what I think others are saying. I do the best I can with the ingredients I have.

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There have been various questions relating to Zen Titles, Training Paths and Lineage. I include my thoughts on these questions below.

My Opinion on: Background for Zen Schools, Transmission and Lineage

In Japan, I am familiar with 4 different schools of Zen, the Rinzai, Soto, Shakyamuni Kai and Sanbô-Kyôdan.

In the West, I am familiar with 3 additional groups, White Plum Asanga, Zen Peacemakers Sangha and Kanzeon. The White Plum Asanga was founded by my teacher, Maezumi Roshi with the intent of creating a new system of standards for the his family of sanghas in the west. This has not happened and the White Plum Asanga is an affinity group of teachers within the White Plum Sangha. The Zen Peacemakers was founded by me and Roshi Sandra Jishu Holmes and is a loose group of affiliates. There are no standards within the Zen Peacemakers accepted by all groups. The Kanzeon was founded by Dennis Genpo Merzel and consists of a loose group of affiliates. There are no standards within the Kanzeon accepted by all groups.

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Question from: Lisa Gakyo Schaewe

I’m curious about why you referred to WPA, your Zen Peacemaker order and Kanzeon but not Daido Roshi’s MRO.  Is there more of a division between the training and lineage at Zen Mountain Monastery and these other orders? What about the sanghas of other teachers who received transmission from Maezumi?  I understand you can not speak for them all, but since you did mention Genpo Roshi’s lineage…

My Opinion: I am very close with Genpo and speak to him often. I thus have opinions about his lineage. I have not been in much contact with the Zen Mountain Monastery or the other teachers who received transmission from Maezumi Roshi. Therefore, I am reluctant to share opinions on them with such limited knowledge as I have.

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In the Rinzai sect, one can use the title Roshi after finishing Koan study and receiving Seal Of Approval (Inka) from their teacher.

In the Soto Sect one receives DharmaTransmission (Shiho) from their teacher when the teacher decides to do so. Inka and Shiho are equivalent stages in the two different sects.

Koryu Osaka

The Shakyamunikai was founded by Joko Roshi who was the teacher of one my teachers, Koryu Roshi. Joko Roshi was upset with the way Japanese Priests were conducting themselves and created this group for laypersons only. Koryu Roshi was his main disciple and was in charge of the Shakymunikai when I started to study under him. Koryu was also one of my root teacher’s, Maezumi Roshi, teachers. I consider Koryu Roshi my heart teacher. In this school, after finishing koan study, one can receive Inka when the teacher decides to confer it.

Haku’un Yasutani

Another of Maezumi Roshi’s teachers was Yasutani Roshi (I also studied under Yasutani Roshi) from whom he recived Inka in 1971. Maezumi Roshi received Dharma Transmission from Kuroda Roshi in Japan in 1955. He also received Inka from Koryu Roshi in March 1972.

Yasutani Roshi received Inka (1943) from Harada Roshi, a Soto Priest and Teacher. Yasutani had received Dharma Transmission many years before (at least 10 years).

Daiun Harada

Harada Roshi received Dharma Transmission in his 20’s and later went to study with Dokutan Roshi, Abbot of Nanzenji in Kyoto, a Rinzai Teacher. He received Inka from Dokutan Roshi. Since many of Harada Roshi’s students were from the Soto Sect and had received Dharma Transmission before coming to study with him, Harada decided to give Inka to them as a step after Dharma Transmission.

In the Soto Sect, Inka is not one of the steps in training. Dharma Transmission is equivalent to Inka in the Rinzai Sect. Also in the Soto Sect, Dharma Transmission is only given to Soto Priests. Inka in the Rinzai Sect, in the Shakyamuni Kai and in the Sanbô-Kyôdan can be given to both Priests and Laypersons.

Yasutani Roshi left the Soto Sect and founded the Sanbô-Kyôdan (Jan. 1954) so that he could have laypersons as students and confer Inka on those he felt ready for it. As I mentioned before, he could not do so in the Soto Sect. This is still true in Japan (also, a layperson can’t receive Dharma Transmission in the Japanese Soto Sect.)

Hakuyu Maezumi, Bernie

My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, and I started to discuss this situation in Japan in 1974. He wanted to continue the lay lineage of Koryu Roshi and he wanted to honor the tradition that Harada Roshi started of giving Inka after Dharma Transmission. He only gave Dharma Transmission to Priests. He gave his first Inka to me in 1995. He died shortly after so he was unable to give any more Inkas.

I have given Dharma Transmission and Inka to Priests and Laypersons.

Lineage

This is usually determined by the Lineage Chart you receive at Dharma Transmission. This document varies from school to school. I am only familiar with the chart used in the Soto Sect and the chart that I have developed for the Zen Peacemakers and now use. I believe I am the only Teacher using the chart I developed. Various Teachers within the WPA have created their own Lineage Charts. Thus, at the present time there is no universal standard within the WPA. There has been some confusion as to whether Teachers in the WPA have both Soto and Rinzai lineages. Unless they have transmitted the Dharma from a Rinzai Teacher and received a Lineage Chart to that effect, they should not claim a Rinzai Lineage. Maezumi Roshi gave Lineage Charts for the Soto Sect only.

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My Opinion on: Was Maezumi Roshi a sucessor in three different lineages of the Soto as well as the Rinzai school?

Bernie, Maezumi

Baian Kuroda

Maezumi Roshi was not a successor in three different lineages of the Soto school. He was not a successor in the Rinzai school. He was a dharma successor(1955) of his father, Hakujun Baian Kuroda Roshi with a Lineage Chart from the Soto school. He studied and had Inka (seal of approval) in the Sanbô-Kyôdan from Haku’un Yasutani Roshi and studied and had Inka from Koryu Osaka Roshi in the Shakyamuni Kai.

 

 

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My Opinion on: Dharma Holder, Zen Teacher and Zen Master

Although I state my opinions concerning standards in the White Plum Asanga (WPA), I know that there aren’t any standards that hold for all the groups in the WPA. Thus what you are reading is mainly how I have done things.

In the White Plum Asanga, the title Sensei can be used after receiving Dharma Transmission. The title Roshi can be used after receiving Inka. Inka is generally given by one’s teacher. If the teacher has passed away it can be given by another teacher if:

  1. the receiver is over 50 years in age and
  2. the receiver received Dharma Transmission at least 10 years ago

I translate Sensei as Zen Teacher and Roshi as Zen Master. The literal translations of Sensei and Roshi are Teacher and Old Teacher.

In the Japanese Soto Sect anyone (usually over 50 years) can be referred to as Roshi. It is a formal title and usually used when introducing someone at a conference or in a publication. Sensei can also be used for anyone, usually in a more intimate way. Sensei is commonly used in all parts of Japanese Society (e.g., one’s martial arts teacher, tea teacher, school teacher, plumber, etc.)

In the United States, the use of Sensei and Roshi has arisen in many different ways. I feel only qualified to give opinions on what I have been exposed to both in the White Plum Asanga and in Japan.

In the WPA we use different words for individual study with the teacher, private study, daisan, dokusan. In 1977-78, Maezumi Roshi, myself and Genpo Merzel met and created standards for what could be studied in each of these forms and who could teach in these forms. We decided that Dokusan would be reserved for Roshis and they could use any of the upayas they had trained in. Daisan was reserved for Senseis. Maezumi Roshi invented the term Dharma Holder (Hoshi: literally, Dharma Teacher) when Genpo Merzel Roshi finished koan study. He wanted Genpo to do koan study with students but he wasn’t ready to give Genpo Dharma Transmission. Subsequently the position of Dharma Holder has been used for those that teachers entrust to hold private study with students (essentially, an Assistant Teacher.)

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My Opinion on: Background for Priests, Preceptors and Ministers

At the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the priests were Brahmins. He created a Sangha of Monks and Nuns without Priests. The Founder of the first Zen Rule Baizhang Huaihai ((749-814, Jp. Hyakujo Ekai), in China, wrote that Zen Monasterys should not have statues so that a Priest function would not develop and the training of Zen Monks would be focused on awakening.

Keizan Zenji, the mother of the Japanese Soto Sect, helped spread Zen to the masses by nurturing the construction of Temples, by developing prayers for health, wealth and good being and by developing a priestly class to conduct these services.

In time, the Soto Sect developed a unique plan for enlightened ancestors. At the time of one’s passing, the Priest gives the deceased a new name and the Soto precepts to start them on the path to becoming an enlightened ancestor. After a 49 year journey, if accompanied by appropriate services along the way, the deceased becomes an enlightened ancestor. If the services are not done, the deceased winds up in Hell. Thus, the Soto Zen Priest has a very important function in helping the deceased reach enlightened ancestorship. My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, did not appraise me of this priestly role. I learned about it from Nara Sensei (previous head of the Soto Sect University, Komazawa) who has published a paper on this system (he claims it is unique among the Buddhist countries.)

In Japan this has basically become the only function of the Temple Priest, funerals and memorial services. Priests are not trained in individual or family counseling.

In the Japanese Soto School, you have to be a Priest to become a Zen Teacher. That is, you have to have the ceremony of Denkai (Full Priest) before having the ceremony of Denbo or Shiho (Dharma Transmission.)

In the west, we have many Soto Zen Priests with no priestly function. They simply became priests as a step towards becoming teachers. I feel there is a strong need for priests that carry out priestly functions but not for priests that are not trained in priestly functions.

When I studied and helped translate (1976-1978) the Transmission Documents with my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, he made it clear that there are two different paths of study: 1. Priestly and 2. Awakening. I have maintained those two paths of study in my teaching and included 2 new paths of study: 1. Preceptor and 2. Minister.

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My Opinion on: Priests, Preceptors and Ministers

The Priest path within the Soto Sect consists of:

  1. Taking Novice Vows (Tokudo Shukke)
  2. Serving as Head Trainee Priest (Shuso)
  3. Becoming Full Priest (Denkai)
  4. Changing the Robe (okesa) Dene
  5. Being Abbot for a day at Eihei-ji and Soji-ji (Zuisse)
  6.  Becoming Abbot of a Temple

Tokudo translates as ceremony. Shukke translates as leaving home. In the Therevadin and Tibetian traditions this means becoming a monk. In the Japanese Soto Sect the ceremony text says the person is becoming a monk by leaving home (i.e, family, livelihood, etc.) but in fact this is generally not done so we use the word Priest. I have seen the word Lay Monk used by some Zen Teachers. This seems to be an oxymoron to me. Denkai translates as Transmission of the Precepts and empowers the Novice Priest to be a Full Priest. In Japan, there are further studies of the Precepts that must be done in order to become a Preceptor. Lay people can receive the precepts once per year at the major Soto Monasterys (Eihei-ji and Soji-ji). This ceremony can only be performed by Preceptors. The ceremony of becoming a Novice Priest can be performed by Full Priests. In Japan, the major function of the Priest is performing funerals and memorial services. In the west, I am not sure what the major function of the Priest is as most western Priests do not function as Priests but have taken this step as a step toward becoming a Teacher.

In the Zen Peacemakers, we treat the Preceptor Path as a major study path and both Priests and Laypersons can choose this path in conjunction with other study paths. The teacher of this path should be a Preceptor. The ceremony for becoming a Preceptor should be performed by a Preceptor.

In the Zen Peacemakers we have created the form of a Zen House which is a residential house serving the local community. The Zen House combines meditation practice with socially engaged Buddhism in the community. We have also created the position of Minister to serve the local community. Both Laypersons and Priests can enter the path of study leading to becoming a Minister.

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My Opinion on: What is a Zen Circle?

Most Zen Groups work on a vertical organization model. I decided to try working with a horizontal model and this resulted in the Zen Peacemaker Circle. The Zen Peacemaker Circle, modeled on Indra’s Net, is an organization of interlocking circles, the aim of which is to realize and actualize the oneness and interdependence of life. The basic unit is a local circle, where Zen practitioners gather together for study, mutual support and social action. Each local circle determines its vision and mission and its general way of functioning.  It has a regularly scheduled meeting and determines its own schedule.

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My Opinion on: What is a Zen Circle Steward?

Each Circle has one trained Steward who coordinates the meetings. The training consists of Council practice, Non-violent Communication, Five Buddha Families and Sociocracy.

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My Opinion to: What are Bearing Witness Retreats?

In the days of Shakyamini Buddha, during the rainy season, Buddha would stop his meandering and spend time with his monks and nuns in one locale. In Japanese this period is called Ango, a period in space and time of peace. In English we use the word retreat to often mean “getting away from the issues of the world.” A Bearing Witness Retreat is becoming one with the “issues of the world.” A Zen Meditation Retreat is to bear witness to the wholeness of life. I use the word “plunge” for my Bearing Witness Retreats. To plunge into the unknown, i.e., to plunge into that which my rational mind can’t fathom. These plunges or Bearing Witness Retreats have helped folks let go of their attachments to their ideas or concepts and experience things as they are.

My two best known Bearing Witness Retreats are:

  1. In the Streets and
  2. At Auschwitz/Birkenau

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My Opinion to: Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz event a retreat?

From Judy Lukin: Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz event a “retreat?” It seems so incongruous. How could one have a “retreat” at the site of the torture and murder of one’s family and one’s people? One retreats to a place of safety. Auschwitz was not that. Your work seems good and important, but my family’s history makes it difficult for me to get past the use of the word “retreat” in this context.

As you can see from my explanation of Bearing Witness Retreats, I use the word “retreat” differently from how you refer to it. At the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat we invite as many voices as we can to attend and we deal with the issues of diversity. This means we deal with anger, guilt, love, hate, forgiveness, non-forgiveness, blame, victim, oppressor.

I is indeed difficulft to do this work but my experience has shown that much healing arises from this. I have never looked at a retreat as a place of safety but rather as a place to deal with the inter-connectedness of life which is often very threatening to our sense of ego.

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My Opinion to: How do you forgive?

From Adrian Dec: How do you forgive? I am finding this very difficult at the moment, in relation to my family history. I attended the Auschwitz Retreat a few years ago and even though I felt I made some progress I still find it difficult to full forgive what happened to my Polish/Jewish ancestors at the hands of the German Nazi’s. I know real forgiveness is possible – how did you do it?

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 (see Sunflower by Simon Wisenthal)?

Our Zen Peacemaker Order conducts an annual bearing witness retreat at the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. During our 1996 retreat, a man of Jewish descent, living in Denmark, stood up and spoke about forgiving all those who had perpetrated unbelievable cruelties at Auschwitz. A short while later I got up to my feet and added: “And then what? So you forgive, and then what? Is that the end of it? Or is there something else to be done?”

Whatever forgiveness is, it is not putting an end to the matter. It is not marking an episode closed and completed–out of memory, out of mind. Forgiveness does not end bearing witness. If anything, it deepens the process of bearing witness. If I really believe that we are one body, then the killer, the torturer, the SS guard, are all me. Can I forgive myself? Can I see past the blaming, the accusing, the rage, and the guilt? If I can, then I can take action. I can begin to take care of the situation and the people around me. I can take care of this universe, which is none other than my body.

At the Zen Peacemaker Order and in Zen centers of which I’m abbot, we start our day’s schedule with a verse of atonement: “All evil karma ever committed by me since of old, on account of my beginningless greed, anger and ignorance, born of my body, mouth and consciousness, now I atone for it all.” After chanting this verse we begin our morning meditation, and after that we go on to our daily peacemaking work and social action projects.

How do we atone? By being at-one. By seeing that at every moment, a part of me is raping while another is being raped, a part of me is wantonly destroying while another part is being destroyed, a part of me goes hungry while another eats to excess. We are all interconnected. We are all one. If we get stuck in anger, in blame, and in guilt, then we are paralyzed, we can’t act. When we can get beyond those things, when we can forgive, then the right action arises by itself, and we begin to take care of each other.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we let killing and destruction continue unchecked. If gangrene has infected my arm and I get stuck in blame and guilt, then I’m not taking care of my body and the gangrene will destroy me. Forgiveness is getting past the discussions of who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s to blame and who isn’t, and taking action. Which may mean radical treatment against the gangrene. It may even mean amputating my arm in order to save the rest of the body.

Forgiveness means bearing witness to all aspects of ourselves, seeing how one aspect does something, another aspect suffers, and they’re all me.

In Buddhism we say that we are all constantly transmigrating from one realm to the other at every minute. There is the hell realm and the realm of the gods. There is also a realm of hungry ghosts. One of our images for a hungry ghost is a painfully thin person with a tiny mouth, a long, narrow throat and an immense stomach. The hungry ghost is always hungry, but has only a tiny capacity to absorb the nourishment that he needs.

I am full of hungry ghosts. I’m full of clinging, craving, unsatisfied spirits. Each part of me that is struggling, in pain, unsatisfied, angry, and unresolved, is a hungry ghost. A starving child, an abusive parent, a drug addict who kills to get his fix, a brutal mercenary, they are nothing but hungry ghosts, and they are all starving, struggling aspects of me.

“All evil karma ever committed by me since of old.” Me is everyone and everything. It’s the SS guard, it’s the victims marching to their death, it’s the city inhabitants looking away.

“Now I atone for it all.” By being at-one with all these hungry ghosts, all these people who are none other than myself, I let go of guilt, blame, and anger. I let go of fear and paralysis, and I take action.

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My Opinion to: Is there a way I can study with you?

I am frequently on the road and you can join me there. It is possible that I will be giving a Workshop near you. A diverse multi-faith group gathers every year, in November, to bear witness at Auschwitz.

I invite you to become a Friend of Bernie.” There are various categories of membership starting at $9 per month.

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My Opinion to: Why is the logo you use on the new webpage the same as the Emporer of Japan, the paulownia?

The Zen Peacemakers Logo is the same as the Logo of my teacher, Maezumi Roshi’s temple,that he founded, in Los Angeles which is the same as the Logo of the temple he was born in, in Japan, Koshin-ji. After he died, I became the Abbot of Zen Center of LA and soon after installed Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao as the Abbot.

The Pawlownia leaf is used in many variations for many logos in Japan. Many of the variations have to do with the number of buds on the leaf. The Pawlownia leaf with 5, 7, and 5 buds is the Logo of the Emporer of Japan and is the symbol of the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan. The Logo in our tradition, Koshin-ji, Zen Center of Los Angeles, Zen Community of NY, Greyston, Zen Peacemakers has 3, 5, and 3 buds.

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Prior to my Journey to the Field in Brazil I was sent questions by Alessandra Kormann journalist of Folha de S.Paulo for an upcoming interview. These were her initial questions after reading our website and my opinions on those questions. I will be in Brazil from September 2-5 and will give my thoughts and opinions to that Journey when I return.

 


My Opinion to: Did you always want to change the world (or at least try to make it better)?

Alessandra: I read in your website that you found your way into Zen practice after reading the book World’s Religions, when you were studying to be an Aeronautical Engineer. But how was your life before that? Did you always want to change the world (or at least try to make it better)?

Bernie: I was born into a Jewish Socialist environment and so social action was in my bones since childhood. At the age of 12 years, I began an intensive search in World Literature regarding the existence of God. I have never felt I want to change the world. I am attracted to situations that I don’t understand or that give me fear. I respond to the ingredients I see before me and make the best meal I can out of them.

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My Opinion to: What was your family like? Have your upbringing influenced your social engagement in any way?

Alessandra: What was your family like? Have your upbringing influenced your social engagement in any way?

Bernie: I was born into a Jewish Socialist environment and so social action was in my bones since childhood. My mother died when I was 7 years old. My father was not involved in social engagement, but all my aunts and uncles on both sides were heavily engaged and thus I feel I was definitely influenced in social engagement by them.

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My Opinion to: How did the idea of creating a bakery to employ Yonkers’ homeless came to you?

Alessandra: How did the idea of creating a bakery to employ Yonkers’ homeless came to you? Did you have any previous experience with bakery or cooking before? Why to make cakes instead of bolts, bricks or clothes?

Bernie: I wanted to create a livelihood training space for zen students, I call it work-practice. I wanted a livelihood that didn’t require experience, a place where we could train people from scratch. I also wanted our zen center to have a livelihood and not only depend on donations. I made a list of criteria that the livelihood should have. The list included: can accept workers with no experience, has the potential to support the zen center, produces high quality products, has the potential to be a socially responsible business. We had no previous experience with a bakery before but several of our zen students were wonderful cooks and bakers. There also was a bakery owned by a sister zen group in San Francisco that was willing to train us.

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My Opinion to: What does a person or a company need in order to start a business like this?

Alessandra: What does a person or a company need in order to start a business like this? Since it’s not all about charity, but also a profitable business, what kind of previous experience one must have to succeed?

Bernie: In my opinion, you first need sufficient start-up capital. You can recruit people with the experience that is needed. You also need a champion of the vision. Someone who will keep going thru the ups and downs since, in my opinion, there will always be ups and downs.

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My Opinion to: Who must take the lead in fighting poverty?

Alessandra: In your opinion, who must take the lead in fighting poverty, especially in underdeveloped countries: governments, NGOs or even individuals or companies interested in social responsibility?

Bernie: In my opinion, each one of us must take the lead. It is too easy to blame others.

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My Opinion to: What do you think about Bolsa-Família?

Alessandra: What do you think about Bolsa-Família, a Brazilian social welfare program, in which poor families receive money from the government in order to keep their children in school and have them vaccinated?

Bernie: I am not familiar with it, so I can’t comment on it. I will read about it on the web.

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My Opinion to: Do you believe that one day extreme poverty will be wiped out from the world?

Alessandra: Do you believe that one day extreme poverty will be wiped out from the world?

Bernie: No, I don’t believe in Utopias.

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My Opinion to: Regarding to the street retreats, what do you think is the best gain to the participants?

Alessandra: Regarding to the street retreats, what do you think is the best gain to the participants? Have you known many people which changed their lives significantly after an experience such as this one? What kind of learning one can take from a street retreat?

Bernie: The main change I have noticed is that, once you have done a street retreat, you can no longer look down at other people. Your level of dignity for all beings is greatly increased. You also gain an experience of living in the moment.

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My Opinion to: What is the purpose of the concentration camp retreats?

Alessandra: What is the purpose of the concentration camp retreats, besides bearing witness and keeping these horrible memories alive? What kind of people join these retreats and why? What do you feel when meditating in Auschwitz?

Bernie: There is the experience remembering those that die or are dealt with in horrible ways and of the trauma that those who inflict those horrible ways live and die with. There is also the experience of being with and sharing the feelings and thoughts of many different peoples and cultures. The participants of the retreats (by design) include survivers, relatives of survivers, relatives of perputraters, folks from many cultures, i.e., jews, gypseys, gays, many countires (Germany, Poland, USA, Israel, Palestine, Switzerland, Belguim, Netherlands, Brazil, etc. While meditating one feels the prescence of many souls nurturing us.

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My Opinion to: I’d like to understand better the way Greyston Mandala works.

Alessandra: I’d like to understand better the way Greyston Mandala works. Are there many companies that are partners in your social programs? May any company join the network around the world? Or do you help other institutions that are interested in following your example?

Bernie: At present there are many companies within the Greyston Mandala in Yonkers, e.g., housing development, bakery, AIDS health center, childcare, youth care, family care. These companies partner with other agencies that have specific resources such as architects, health agencies, therepy agencies, construction companies, etc. We are also exploring the construction of a large scale bakery facility in the poorest village (Arab) in Israel to assist them in their economic development (75% unemployment)

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Three pure precepts: cease from evil, do good, and do good for others

Dogen Zenji says of the first pure precept, “Ceasing from evil is the abiding place of laws and rules of all buddhas.” This abiding place is the state of non-duality, of not-knowing and non-separation. The Sixth Ancestor of Zen defines zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object—no space between you and me, up and down, right or wrong. So we can also call this precept “Returning to the One.”

It’s a very difficult place to be in, this place where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. It is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we are open to all the ways of all lives? How many of us can say that we don’t have the answer? How many us can say that every way that’s being presented is the right way?

Zen is a practice that pushes us to realize what is. To me, zazen is a form of bearing witness to life, of bearing witness to the elimination of the denial of the oneness of our life. As human beings, each one of us is denying something. There are certain aspects of life we do not want to deal with, usually because we are afraid of them. Sometimes it is society itself that is in denial. Zazen allows us to bear witness to all of life. To me, that is the essence of the second pure precept, doing good. Dogen says, “Doing good, this is the dharma, supreme enlightenment. This is the way of all beings.” Bearing witness to things we are denying or that society is denying, bearing witness to the things we don’t want to deal with—this is the second precept. When we bear witness, we open to what is, and we learn. The things that we are in denial about teach us. We don’t go to them to teach them. When we can listen, when we can bear witness, they teach us.

For me, the flowering of zazen is the third pure precept, doing good for others. Dogen says, “This is to transcend the profane and to be beyond the holy. This is to liberate oneself and others.”

What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born. So we don’t have to worry about what to do. If we cease from evil, if we become that state of unknowing, if we become zazen, the offering will arise. The fruit will be born.

The question always come up: how do we bring our Zen into our life? But Zen is life. What is there to bring? And into what? The point is to see life as the practice field. Every aspect of our life has to become practice. I was trained in a traditional monastic model whose forms are conducive to the state of not-knowing. The question for me is, what forms can we create in modern society that will be conducive to seeing the oneness of life? What are the forms that will make it easier for us to experience that state of nonduality? Almost anything we do will cause more dualistic thinking. How do we lead ourselves, our brothers, and our sisters into a state of nonduality?

That’s the question. That’s the koan.

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