The first two series of talks were given at Felsentor, Switzerland, July 2014 by Bernie Glassman and Eve Marko on Bernie’s Six Decades of Zen Teaching/Practice (with occasional cameos by Rocky and Tootsie)
The days’ format was as follows: Bernie gave the morning talk, describing his practice and teaching in a 20-year segment. In the afternoon, Eve’s talk uncovered and discussed issues relevant to that way of practice.
Scott Harris has volunteered to do the transcriptions and they will be posted here as he completes the transcriptions.
Today I’m going to talk about my first twenty years in Zen. How many in the room have been involved in Zen more than twenty years? One . . . in Zen? More than twenty years? Oh no, you were a Sufi. [Audience laughs] One, two, OK, three, four . . . wow! So I’ll ask the same question tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the second twenty years—the last day, the third twenty years.
At any rate, my first twenty years—and what’s interesting—to me, at least—is each twenty years, the main activities which dictated my experiences that I had during those years. And when I look at it in terms of my terminology of the last twenty years, it came essentially out of the Three Tenets. So these are actions that arose out of bearing witness. And you’ll see, I mean the not knowing was obvious. And in each case they were bearing witness, and things arose, which then affected my life quite a bit.
And by the way, we’ve been working—a small group has been working on updating the Zen Peacemaker Order, and revitalizing it. And the Abbot of Zen Center Los Angeles, where I initially trained, she and I spent a week—all day long, each day—and came up with things to put on the web, and also we’ll be setting up regional circles to discuss these things. And one of the things we all looked at, that initial group, and Egyoku and I, was the wording of the Three Tenets, and of the Precepts. All together, the Three Tenets, and the Precepts, and we have Four Commitments. But the change we made in the Three Tenets is—the first two stay the same, Not Knowing, and Bearing Witness—the third we change to “Actions That Arise from Not Knowing and Bearing Witness.”
The problem with Loving Actions is that’s already a judgment. And it made people feel good to think that they were going to be doing loving actions, but what we are talking about is actions that arise out of not knowing and bearing witness. And then somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s good.” Somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s bad.” But that’s after the fact, and that’s commentary. The third tenet is taking action—the way we explicitly said it—taking action that arises out of not knowing and bearing witness.
So, the taking is very important. That is, do something. Don’t just sit on your cushion, and say, “Oh, I had a great experience, and that’s that.” No, do something with it. OK.
So, the first experience that I wanted to talk about—it just came up to me as I was sitting with you this last period—sitting is Bearing Witness. Many things come up, arise out of Zazen. Zazen is Bearing Witness. And if you’re doing Zazen in a good way—in my opinion, a good way—you’re bearing witness to the wholeness of life. Now we do, in the Zen worlds, we do have you work on certain things like breathing, or Koan study. So there you’re concentrating on something, and those are techniques we use in certain teachings. But eventually, you do what’s called Shikantaza—just sitting. And that’s bearing witness to the wholeness of life.
At any rate, I was just sitting. And what came up to me is an experience, which I want to share. It’s one of my first Zen experiences—it’s before I had a teacher. I had already been to a Japanese Zen temple to do some meditation, but nobody spoke English, and I decided to just do meditation on my own—do Zazen on my own. So, of course I was very young, and I didn’t have—oh, I was about twenty—and I didn’t have much information or knowledge. But I sat, and I made—actually I had a garage, and I draped it with black curtains, and I did Sesshin retreats. I did a lot of sitting. But I didn’t have a teacher, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
And one day I had an experience in which I felt I lost my mind—and it terrified me. And out of that experience, what came up was I quit Zazen. I quit for a year. I was so terrified by what had happened. That night I had to keep the lights on in the house. I had no idea what was going on. And so I stayed away, and it could have been forever. That experience could have led me to stop doing Zazen forever.
But, I had read a book called Three Pillars of Zen, which many of you might know. And a man, Yasutani Roshi, who appears in that book, and some of you are from the Sanbo Kyodan club, and that, was started by Yasutani Roshi. He’s my grandfather in the Dharma. My teacher studied under Yasutani. My teacher studied under three teachers, one of whom was Yasutani. So, Yasutani is one of my grandfathers. And I also studied under Yasutani, but that was later.
What happened is I had been terrified. I had read many things about Zen. And then I saw, and I read the book Three Pillars of Zen. And then I saw an advertisement saying Yasutani Roshi was going to give a talk in Los Angeles. That’s where I was living. And so I went to the talk. And at that talk I met the translator—Yasutani Roshi did not speak English. His translator was a man name Maezumi, who then becomes my teacher.
I went up to the translator, and I said, “Do you have [It turns out I had met the translator about four years before] a group?” And he says, “I just opened up a place.” And I started to study with him—every day.
If that hadn’t happened, I probably would have never gone back to Zen, because of that experience. I had nobody to talk to about it. So, the result of that experience for me was the importance of having a teacher, which then got reinforced when I became my teacher’s right hand person in our Zen Center in Los Angeles. And many students would come who had no teacher, and had been doing meditation for long periods. By then many people knew about meditation, and they would do it on their own. And in many cases, perfectly OK, but many cases the people that were on their own had damaged themselves. Some in a physical way—their eye sight had gotten worse, some their breathing had gotten worse, many had so conditioned themselves to working on things like Mu, or different things that they had read about that it was hard to get them to work correctly—correctly in the way that we wanted to teach.
So that just reinforced for me—if anybody in those days would say, “Can I study without a teacher?” I would say, “No. You’re opening yourself for problems.” All kinds of things can happen. There are many experiences that can arise out of meditation that can be traps. It’s like taking drugs and having an experience—it could be a problem. It may feel great. Wow! But it may cause problems. The main problem when it feels great is that you want to recreate it. “I want to do that again!” You know? And if you try to do it through meditation, you try to get your meditation to do that—to recreate the experience that you had. And that’s bad news, man. It’s bad news.
At any rate, that was the first experience that came out of bearing witness, out of sitting, and the fear that I had lost my mind. And so the action that had come out of that, which was dropping Zen, you could label it however you wanted to. But at that point in my life, that was the action that came out of not knowing and bearing witness. And most people will say, “Well, who wants that kind of action?” Well, I mean, who are you to choose? And you would say, “That’s bad.” So then we can have as our third Tenet bad actions, you know. At any rate, it was an action that happened.
So I was practicing with my teacher. At that time, my teacher, he was in the Japanese Soto club. And when he went to Buddhist University, he lived at a dojo at a training place of a wonderful man named Koryu Roshi, a lay Rinzai teacher. He lived there, and that’s where he started his koan study. And because of that, when he came to the States, he continued. He came as a young man to help in a Japanese temple. Maezumi Roshi was also studying koan study with Yasutani Roshi—there are two different systems of koans.
In 1969 Yasutani Roshi decided—he had been coming to the United States every year, helping a friend of his, I don’t want to give you all these names, but the friend was Soen Nakagawa Roshi, it gets confusing. But he was helping a friend, so he came every year to run sesshins. And Maezumi wound up being a translator on the west coast for Yasutani, and decided to start studying with him—although he had been studying with this other man, Koryu Roshi. And he also was part of this Soto tradition.
So I was practicing with my teacher Maezumi Roshi, and it was a time that he was not doing koan study. So in ’69, when Yasutani Roshi told him that “I’m not going back anymore to America—the United States—come with me to Japan, and finish your training with me.” And Maezumi said, “OK.” And then he said, “Bernie [he called me Tetsugen in those days] Tetsugen, you run the Zen Center here in Los Angeles.” So, I was just thirty years old, right, and I was put in charge of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which meant giving talks and interviews, conducting the Zazen.
And also that year, Koryu Roshi—the man that Maezumi Roshi started to do his work with when he was in University—decided to come to the United States, to Los Angeles, so that Maezumi could finish the koan study with him. So he came. And Maezumi Roshi had been gone for a year, and then he came back for a month, then he went back to Japan. But when he came back for the month, Koryu came. And I decided Maezumi Roshi was my teacher—my root teacher—but I decided to do sesshin with Koryu Roshi (and Maezumi Roshi was translating).
And I joined that sesshin. I passed the koan Mu, in a way that Koryu Roshi and Maezumi Roshi thought was very unusual. So Mu is a koan, usually the first koan in koan systems. A koan is something you contemplate on until you can present the meaning—but not intellectual meaning—you can present it via expression, that you’ve experienced what it is. And working on a koan Mu, is exactly like working on what is not knowing? —The first tenet of our Three Tenets.So to pass the koan Mu, you are supposed to experience the state of not knowing. OK. So the Three Tenets actually come out of my Zen training. And they come out of—as you’ll see—a lot from the koan study.
But at any rate, so I was—in the terminology we use now—I was bearing witness to not knowing. Didn’t know it was not knowing, so it was in the form of this word Muuuuu! I was bearing witness to that. And an experience came out in which I felt the unity of life. And they said—I mean they do testing and whatever—but they thought it was very, very deep. In fact Koryu Roshi went back to Japan, and told everybody about what had happened with this guy, this American. So I actually went to Japan shortly after and did more study with him. And everybody that saw me said, “Wow, you’re Tetsugen, huh?” They all had known about it. That experience dictated my next almost twenty years—no, ten years. Ten years had passed, fifteen—but at any rate, it was a major thing during those first twenty years.
So the two big experiences during those first twenty years was 1) feeling I had gone crazy, and out of which came the feeling I have to have a teacher; and 2) the experience of the unity of life in such a way that I felt that I could help people have that experience, and that it was extremely important. It was the most important thing in my life.
So I quit my job. That became my whole profession. And I was very tough; in I felt I had done it through a tough kind of experience. And it was very tough, in that you know, my teachers were Japanese, so they trained in almost a Samurai kind of way. It was a very tough kind of situation. We would never allow anybody to come in late. We would never allow anybody to move once we were sitting. We would never allow anybody to whisper. We would, you know [claps] help them [claps] to try to realize things. And I felt that was very important, because the experience I had experienced, for me was so important, I wanted people to experience that.
So for that first twenty years, the practice in a way that I was involved in was all about me. And I was trying to have other people have the same experiences that I had had. And those experiences would then be all about them. It’s an interesting twenty years of practice, in which I have—I feel—that maybe eighty percent of the Zen groups around the world, that’s what they’re doing. And it was extremely important for me, but in my opinion it’s not the only way to practice. And in my opinion I would not—I have stopped doing that kind of practice for a long time now.
And the question that I have—do you have to go through that phase? Does everybody need to do that, or can you bypass that phase? And I think you can bypass that phase—personally, that’s my opinion. But as I always say, everything I say is my opinion. I have no truths—nothing I can say that would be other than my opinion about things.
Let me stop a little there and ask for questions, and I’ll get your sense of what I’ve been saying.
Audience member 1: Bernie, I’d like to ask something. Peter Matthiessen, who passed away in April, I remember a number of times said to you that he thought that what made your next stages so strong was precisely because you had this first stage. I remember him telling you that.
Bernie: I remember too.
Audience member 1: You know, that he said that’s what changed everything, in terms of two and three, the rest of your life. So, he had a different opinion from yours.
Audience member 1: And I wonder if you want to address what he said—that if you don’t have that, you can’t do the other thing.
Bernie: Yeah, I don’t know. He said that to me many times. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about the second phase of my life, which was serving people, which came out of an experience. So the question is, could that experience have happened without the first twenty years of my life? That’s basically what he’s saying. The work I did during that second phase did not come out of that first twenty years. It was triggered by this experience, which was so deep for me. And so the question—which I have no idea—the question is can you have that kind of experience without those twenty years?
Audience member 2: You say that people can bypass that first period, but what is it exactly that you can bypass? Is it the experience you had, or is it the way you were trained?
Bernie: Yeah, so that’s a good point. What I’ve learned, and what’s been a constant through the sixty years is meditation—so I’m not talking about bypassing meditation. Meditation has been part of my daily practice for those sixty years. And by the way, it’s not quite sixty, because I’m only seventy-five. So that would make fifteen—it’s actually fifty-six years, so I rounded it off.
So, when I say to bypass, it’s the toughness—that austerity. And we know that there are all kinds of Zen Centers. Thich Nhat Hanh has a Zen Center—he doesn’t have that kind of austerity. We, you and I, and many people here practice Zen in a Japanese model. And that model is a very austere model. It really comes out of the Kamakura period, which is the Samurai period in Japan. Shakyamuni Buddha did not practice that way. So, it’s not from that era. And one of the things that drew me to Zen was all of the stories of Chinese monks that were living in the mountains. And that was not their style.
So, when I say you can bypass the austerity . . . I’ll give you a sense of the austerity, it’s crazy, in my mind. I’ll give you two examples. There’s a man, his name was Ban Roshi. He was a student of Harada Roshi. Harada Roshi was a teacher of Yasutani Roshi. So Ban Roshi was a brother of Yasutani Roshi in the Dharma, and a wonderful teacher, an amazing guy. And I went to his Zendo. When you go in to the hall leading to the Zendo, on the wall is all these broken keisakus. A keisaku is a stick in which we walk around and will hit people to help them deepen their practice [claps]. You know, it’s interesting, when I talk about our first precept, not knowing, the state of non-rationalizing, different Zen teachers throughout the ages have used different techniques to help us have that state. So I’ve concentrated on what we call plunges, or going to the places where the brain can’t fathom what’s happening. But there’s all kinds of . . . Rinzai Shreeeeee! In that scream—it’s hard for the mind to rationalize. It brings you right to that place. Tokusan, a Chinese guy, hippie Buddhist, whatever you said, he would hit you with a stick sixty times. If you didn’t say anything he would hit you with a stick. So he was using that stick to get you out of your thinking—out of ideas, and experience a state of non-thinking.
So the keisaku, theoretically, it has a few purposes. They say it helps if you get drowsy sitting; it gets rid of the drowsiness. For some, it puts them to sleep, or makes them unconscious if you hit hard enough. And, if you hit hard enough . . . In the thirties in Japan, in the Soto sect there are two major monasteries Eihei-ji and Shoji-ji. In Shoji-ji—I think it was in the thirties—during Zazen a monk was killed with the keisaku. Japan being Japan, the parents came to the monastery and thanked the Abbot for allowing their son to die in such an honorable way.
So the culture, the hitting is good. So it’s not just to wake you up. I said that because not only could you fall asleep, you could fall dead with the hitting. And we, in the Zen Peacemakers have a whole bunch of different kinds of practices that help you experience this not knowing. And if you’re involved in koan study, that’s what that’s about. A lot of Zen practices are about trying to get you to do that. And bearing witness—Zazen, is a major way of doing bearing witness.
But we’ll also bring you into places where you wouldn’t normally go, and it enlarges the sense of bearing witness. And I think in my third talk, I’ll talk about how that happens.
Audience member 3: Can you talk about—a little bit about your revelations around Mu?
Bernie: The revelation around Mu was experiencing the oneness of life. Pretty simple. No separations. That’s a basic experience. The word Buddha (I was going to say it’s a basic experience in Buddhism) the word Buddha means to awaken—an awakened one. And that awakening is called in different languages different terms. In English it’s called enlightenment. In Japanese it’s called kensho, which translates into English as “seeing the nature.”
So, I always say, “awakened to what?” Awakened to the unity of life. Awakened to the oneness of life. Awakened to the interconnectedness of life. So that’s what Buddhism is about. That’s what Buddhism is about. And there are just different techniques. So Mu is one technique to help people do that, the way it’s used.
You know, in Shingon there’s a lot of mystical stuff. In Tendai they try to do it through philosophical stuff. There’s techniques through visualizations, through chanting, all kinds of ways. And the Zen Peacemakers, our major way besides meditation, is through social action—via the Three Tenets. Not just any kind of social action, it’s got to be based on those Three Tenets.
So if you’re a Buddhist group, or a Buddhist teacher, that is your life’s work—what are the ways to help people experience the oneness of life? And people come up with different things. It is not just to make us feel better. Now during those first twenty years, in today’s talk, the first twenty years, a lot of it is really about feeling better. And one of the ways you can feel better is to say, “Oh, I’ve been enlightened,” without knowing what that means. For many people, to be enlightened means to be nice, to be happy. That’s that first twenty years. You get involved, and you feel good, you sit, and it’s a good feeling. It feels good. And then maybe things come up, and it feels even better. But it’s all about your self, and how you feel. And maybe you’re more . . . it’s not a bad thing.
But for example, I think mindfulness is in that game. Mindfulness is about how do I do things more concentrated, do it better? It’s a game about me. It’s not in the game of how do I serve others? That’s a different game that we’ll talk about tomorrow—at least in my opinion.
But that doesn’t mean the first stuff is . . . And some people will argue that you can’t serve others unless you’ve taken care of yourself. And I don’t—that’s not my opinion. So, tomorrow we’ll talk about that. But I get that all the time. Even I got that in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. And I gave him my opinion. That in my opinion you can take care—you can work on the experience of the oneness of life via social engagement. You don’t have to do one first, before you do the other. That’s a very common concept—I think even Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh’s way of thinking, whatever.
So, you know, just different opinions—you don’t have to take my opinion. And of course, what I am most interested in is people experiencing things, not taking my opinion about anything.
Audience member 4: I have a question. How you felt, because you had a lot of students in these twenty years, did you never have doubts that one upaya—such a tough upaya—would be for all of them? Did not many people [go] away? And what did you think then?
Bernie: I thought they went away. Yes. Many People went away, because my way of doing. There was a person who came up to me later on, that I met, and she said she dropped out of Zen because of me—because her impression of Zen was what I was doing. You know, I mean it seemed sort of natural for me. Many people think that they run into as a teacher, that’s what it’s all about. Anyway, she felt that Zen was all about my style of doing things. And she couldn’t stand it. And she told me that she dropped completely out of Zen.
Audience member 4: And you, yourself, you didn’t have doubts about—you never asked yourself maybe it’s not for everybody?
Bernie: No, I knew it wasn’t for everybody. I wasn’t interested in it being for everybody. I was interested in working with those who wanted to work this way. Being interested in working with everyone moves into serving others. I wasn’t there yet. I knew that this was good for you, and the way I was doing it, man, would really help you.
You know, later on, in later years, what struck me—because I became an organic gardener—and what struck me was that I was using chemical methods to produce flowers. And I thought that that was the way to do it, that was very important. And later on I learned that there are organic ways of doing this. You don’t have to use chemicals, which can hurt the soil. It can hurt. You can produce beautiful flowers, but also can hurt the soil. But at that time I wasn’t thinking about that. I was concentrating on work. I had enough to do, you know, we had a lot of students in the Zen Center Los Angeles. By the time I left, we had two hundred people living on the block. We’d split people up among my teacher and myself. I had over a hundred people that I was responsible for. It was too much. I was not worried about those that didn’t like this way. There were other places to go—other things people could do. That wasn’t my concern.
Audience member 5: You said that to be able to take care of others, you don’t have to get first to the stage of taking care of yourself. Is Buddhism originally about taking care of others?
Bernie: You know, when you say, “Is Buddhism originally,” I don’t know what that means. Are you talking about Shakyamuni Buddha, because that’s the origin of Buddhism? Now, if I step away from the question I just posed, Buddhism (I just defined the word Buddha), Buddhism is those people, or those clubs that are helping people to experience the unity of life. Now, if you’re going to experience the unity of life, can it be just about your self? So if you ask me, originally—Yes, originally Buddhism is about the world—about the unity of life. And so it has to be involved with everybody. It cannot be just your self. That limits you, in my opinion.
In others opinions, they say, “You’ve got to first take care of this body, before . . .” And I never know what that means, because what they’re saying to me is that you should first become enlightened before you do anything else. Well, enlightened to me is you’ve experienced the unity of life, of all of life. I don’t know anybody who’s done that. And I’ll talk about that . . . well, since it came up, I’ll talk about it now.
Kobo Daishi is the founder of the Shingon sect in Japan—the tantric sect in Japan. He’s considered by the Japanese to be the number one spiritual philosopher, or spiritual person of all time. And a man named Dogen is considered number two. And Kobo Daishi lived in late 500 A.D. And he said, “The way you can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment is how they serve others.” So there’s two things there; one is that enlightenment comes in stages. And when Shakyamuni Buddha says, “We’re all enlightened as we are,” that includes the fact that most of us think of our one body as one body. Bernie’s arm generally doesn’t think it’s separate from Bernie. And if everything I’m doing is about Bernie, then Kobo Daishi would say, Bernie’s enlightenment, the depth of Bernie’s enlightenment (since he’s only serving himself), it’s himself. That’s how deep it is.
One can experience the unity of life in so many stages. And there’s no way of not serving, once your experience is bigger. The actions will arise automatically to serve those, and that goes on, and on.
So your question brings in two things. What is Buddhism? And what is it originally? And my feeling—so I have this metaphor, which says do not conduct your life via the things you don’t have. Take the things you have, and make the best meal possible, and serve it—and offer it. So, many of us conduct a lot of our life by things we don’t have. That is, somebody says, “Would you get involved in this project?” Then, “Oh, I don’t have enough time. I can’t do it. I don’t have enough money. I can’t do it.” In Buddha’s world, what was said, “You don’t have enlightenment, you can’t do it.”
So, for me, wherever you are now, look at the ingredients you have, and make the best meal possible. And serve it.
Audience Member 6: I wanted to ask how would you describe serving? What is serving? And who . . .
Bernie: Right. So, what’s interesting for me is—I don’t know Kobo Daishi’s words in Japanese. He was Japanese. I know the translation. So I’m curious what word was serving. I should look that up. I need to look that up. It doesn’t matter too much. Because serving—many times in English the word serving implies another, right? So, if we say we’re just serving ourselves, what does that mean? Now my feeling is that we always will be taking care of ourselves. We don’t necessarily take care of others. So maybe taking care would be better than serving.
For example, you know I use the example of the arm—it’ll probably come up in these days. But if the arm is gashed, this arm will do something. It doesn’t think about, “Should I take care of it, or not?” You wouldn’t call it serving. It just automatically takes care. And in my opinion, whatever is in our head—which many times we call our ego—whatever we think we are, we automatically serve that. We don’t think about, “Should I?” You know, if I’m hungry, I look for food. We don’t say, “Well, there’s other things to do. Maybe I shouldn’t do that.” Or if I need to breathe, “Eh, there’s other things to do. Why waste time breathing?” I don’t do that, you know, I take care. So I think that’s a better word than serve, because serve implies a dualistic thing. And Kobo Daishi is saying look at who they’re taking care of. If I’m only taking care of myself, then that’s my state of enlightenment. That’s not bad.
But since, in my opinion, we all are one, if we’re not taking care of the majority of that one, there will be problems. And vice-versa, if we’re taking care—if we could see the Palestinians and the Israelis as nothing but me—it’s hard not to take care. But as long as I can see them as others, I can blame one or the other, get angry about this, about that, and I don’t have to do anything. I can just sit there, “Ahhh, they’re all screwed up, man—especially those Israelis, especially those Hamas people.”
Eve Marko: [In Tootsie voice] But Rocky, that would seem to imply that you really need an enlightenment experience to know that everybody’s one—in order to be like that.
Bernie: [In Rocky voice] Yeah Tootsie, I think you do.
Eve: So therefore, your enlightenment experiences were very important.
Bernie: I think they were, and you keep having them. And as you keep having them, your ego, or the Dharma, or Indra’s net—the portion of Indra’s net that you’re working with. The energy field of life that you’re working with—that keeps growing.
Eve: So how important is it to really sit, and sit, and sit, and have an enlightenment experience, so that you can see everything as one, and then take care of everything?
Bernie: To me it’s very important—that’s ’cause I grew up as a boxer. I don’t think it’s so important to most people. That’s why the world’s a mess.
Eve: But you described that in your first phase you didn’t do anything—I mean, I know you had a family and everything—but you didn’t take care of the rest of the world. You sat, and you sat, and you did sesshins, and you sat, and you sat, and you sat, and you did koans, till you had a big enlightenment experience, which showed that you are one with everything. And out of that, you can serve everything, or you can take care of everything. So is that what you think everybody else should do? Take the first twenty years, and sit, and sit, and sit, and sit, and sit, till they have a big experience, and then they can take care of everybody.
Bernie: In my opinion, Tootsie, the sitting is great, is important. And, what I’ve learned in my life, if you get involved in social engagement via these Buddhist Peacemakers, it speeds the whole thing up. It speeds the whole thing up. And that came to me on my first Street Retreat. But that’s for tomorrow, that’s not during these first twenty years, see. In these first twenty years it was all about sitting on the cushion, and in the Zendo, and the formal way I had trained. Later, different upayas, or different expedient means were used. And the process of that awakening to the unity of life seems to be much, much more sped up—to me. So that’s why I do it that way. To others, no, so they do it a different way.
Audience member 7: A couple of questions—first of all, what is the experience of unity of life? What is it?
Audience member 7: So, second—there are many people taking care of others in the world, without maybe having the same experience of the twenty years. Does it mean they do without having the experience of the unity of life, or have they caught the unity of life experience another way?
Bernie: Well, I would have to know the people. So I say that serving others, or taking care of others, or social engagement via the Three Tenets can have a huge effect on the experiencing the oneness of life. It doesn’t have to be done through the Three Tenets. It could be done—I’m doing it because I like it. It could be done for very selfish reasons. And I don’t think that leads to that experience. I think it can make you feel good. I was on my first Street Retreat; there were many people that were taking care of us. And you could feel love in their eyes, and they certainly felt good. But we that were being given things, we could experience them feeling superior to us. They were helping us, and it made them feel superior—better than us. We were lower. And that’s not about the unity of life. And I think that can happen many times—that we’re doing things not through these Three Tenets, or not through a selfless way, but in a way to make us feel better—feel more . . . yeah, I got to use the two hands again.
So, here’s Bernie. And this hand doesn’t consider itself part of Bernie. This hand feels separate from Bernie, and calls itself Mary. And this hand feels separate from Bernie, and calls itself Charlie. So there’s Charlie, and Mary, and Bernie. And Charlie and Mary are social activists. And they read, they’ve gone to retreats, and workshops, and they read books, which said they’re all interconnected. But they haven’t experienced it. So there’s still a separation.
And now Bernie gets hungry. Mary sees there’s a bunch of food—there’s food here. So Mary reaches for food to give to Bernie. But Charlie says, “No, I want to give the food to Bernie, ’cause I’m a social activist, and I want the merit of giving the food to Bernie!” And Mary says, “No, no, I’m a social activist. I want to get the merit of giving the food!” So they fight. Who’s gonna give the food? In the meantime, Bernie starves to death, and Mary dies, and Charlie dies.
So that’s a case of doing social action not from the standpoint of the Three Tenets. And that’s a very common thing, and it’s great. We all acknowledge, you know, wonderful things. But I also think there’s another way.
Audience member 8: What does Bernie do when he feels the suffering of the Palestinians?
Bernie: The question is “What does Bernie do when he feels suffering?” Everybody is suffering, right? But, what does Bernie do when he feels the suffering of Israelis, or Palestinians, or Africans, Nigerians? What do you do when you feel the suffering, because there’s suffering everywhere? What do I do when I feel the suffering of Francisca, because she is suffering, because Palestinians are suffering? It goes on, and on. What did Shakyamuni Buddha do? He said, “Everyone is suffering.” He said there’s nothing in life but change, and also suffering. So what did he do? What do you do? What do I do?
I try to approach the situation from the standpoint of not knowing. So I’m not approaching from the standpoint of the Palestinians, from the Israelis—from I don’t know. I’m coming from not knowing. Then, I bear witness. And then I see what arises out of that bearing witness. It has made my life so simple. I do everything out of the Three Tenets—everything out of the Three Tenets.
And it’s all I know. I mean, that’s all I can do. In fact, I was telling Eve, I’ve been very frustrated about the Middle East, because we’ve done a lot of work there. I have family there. All of her family’s there. She’s Israeli. She used to go every two months. We had staff in three different—Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. I go every four months. Now we’ve stopped that work, but she goes twice a year to visit family. But I, about a year ago (maybe even two—I don’t know) I came to the decision of boycotting. So what was I doing about suffering? I was boycotting. I didn’t go.
When I talk about the fact that we’re all in clubs, and when we look at our club—that’s who we’ll deal with, that’s who we’ll visit, that’s who we’ll invite in. And I say what do we do with people not in our club? The majority of us avoid it. You know, if there’s a homeless person in the street, we don’t look at him, or her. We’d cross the street. We don’t invite people that we don’t like politically to our house. We don’t watch their TV shows, read their books—we avoid.
So there I was, I was frustrated. And what did I do? I avoided, by boycotting. That’s denial, man. That’s avoidance. And I would say, philosophically, I don’t like that. But that’s what I did. That was my immediate reaction. Bearing witness to what was going on there, the action that came up was boycott. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
I’ve been doing a lot more not knowing and bearing witness, and another action that arose a couple of months ago (I think, maybe a month, I don’t know) is I gotta do something. I have no idea what to do. But that came up out of the Three Tenets. I gotta do something. This morning—either last night, or this morning—because I’ve been spending a lot of time bearing witness on what do I do? I already last week told Eve that I need to go back to Israel, because I need to bear witness. And I want to do something. I can’t just plan what to do. I need to bear witness, and see what comes up.
Today (or last night, I can’t remember) something came up, because I’ve been spending so much time bearing witness to this question. And what came up is I need to go there, and do a Bearing Witness Retreat (not a big Bearing Witness Retreat). I need to sit there with a group of people that I know, that are activists both in Israel and Palestine, and maybe some others. I don’t know yet who to invite. It could be just me. I’ve got to sit, and I don’t know where. It could be in the desert. It could be West Bank. I don’t know where. I’ve got to sit, and ask myself the question what do I do? And just use that as a koan, and bear witness. Because that—on my third day I’m going to talk about this—that’s how the Zen Peacemaker Order arose. I did exactly that. I sat on the steps of Washing D.C. in the snow, and asked myself the question what do I do, in terms of people that are rejected. And out of that came create the Zen Peacemaker Order.
So, at any rate, that’s what I do with everything. I do not have any preset ideas about how to take care of any issues that you might have, or anybody else might have, or how to reduce the suffering of the world. I mean, in my opinion, the world will continue to suffer ’cause that’s what Shakyamuni said we all are doing. Almost the question about how do you reduce the suffering of the Palestinians or anybody, to me would be how do I reduce the suffering of you—of any person. I don’t know. You’ll join fields. I become a Zen teacher, and try to help people realize the oneness of life. Others become doctors, physicians, psychiatrists. Everybody’s trying to help everybody end suffering, man, but it’s no simple task.
Audience member 9: So, what importance is a Zen sesshin? Do you need it any more?
Bernie: So, in terms of myself, if I just look, I haven’t signed up for a sesshin in years. I mean I signed up for Bearing Witness Retreats—that’s very different. But what you’re calling sesshin, do you remember me signing up for one?
Eve: Sure, when we had the place in Montague, we did sesshin. We lead sesshin with Peter once, if you remember. We did—not too many though.
Bernie: Yeah, enough to where I can’t remember. When was that?
Eve: About . . . not more recent than seven years ago.
Bernie: In terms of my own life, so if somebody came up to me and said, “How important is sesshin?” I would ask them, you know. Is it something you want to do? Then do it, you know. It’s different than sitting. I think sitting is extremely important. And I personally like Bearing Witness Retreats much more than sesshin, or the Street Retreats in different places. You know the idea of sesshin is not that old. I mean Shakyamuni Buddha didn’t do sesshin. It actually arose because—I think it arose maybe two hundred years ago—and it arose mainly because the people that decided to do it felt that individuals didn’t have enough oomph on their own. You know, they were too busy with where’s the warm weather for swimming, and you know, other issues. And they decided they needed a concentrated thing.
And for me, during those first twenty years, man, I did hundreds of sesshins, and it was great. What was amazing, when I did the first Street Retreat, we had about twenty of us, and some of us, like myself, had been involved in Buddhism for so many years, done so many sesshins. Some, there was around four among those twenty, had never meditated. We all had a very similar experience about the identity of—about the oneness of life. So it brought up the question to me, you know. I had done hundreds, and hundreds of sesshins, and here one Street Retreat, and it had such an effect, because it brought us [claps] right into it, what sesshin [claps] hopefully does.
So it was not my main vehicle ever since then, although I did a lot of sesshins still. When we moved to New York—well, this was already New York—I did a lot of sesshins still, until I can’t remember, I think ten years, maybe twenty years. That’s why I wanted to make it clear on the first night that this was not a sesshin. You know, if that’s what you wanted, fine. But we don’t do that.
Audience member 10: It seems a bit to me that the social engagement is like a new methodology. Coming from the point that if you look at Christianity, it’s at the end of the Way of the Cross, where you find love your neighbor. If you go to Buddhism, it seems at the end where you understand the lesson of love. And it seems on the surface, if you start with the tenth ox picture. So the confusion might come from first enlightenment, then you feel it in your heart that you can serve.
Bernie: Yeah, I don’t share your opinion.
Audience member 10: No, I don’t have an opinion.
Bernie: Oh, but you said that Buddhism . . .
Audience member 10: I have question.
Audience member 10: My question is because the social engagement seems like the essence of all the other different methodologies, all the other different ways. And so I was asking if starting with the social engagement way, if this is like an old methodology?
Bernie: Like an old?
Audience member 10: Like an old, like an old [translator clarifies] like a new, like a new methodology? A different approach—start with open heart, and then look at what’s coming up in an experienced way.
Bernie: In my opinion, no. In my opinion, if I look at all the different—I’ve done a lot of interfaith work, and study in different traditions. And in most of them, you’ll find that they divide into clubs, which specialize in certain ways. So in Christianity, you’ve got the Franciscans that are specializing in social engagement. And you’ve got the Cistercians that are specializing in contemplative work. You have divisions like that. So also in Buddhism, for example, if you go to Japan the biggest Buddhist group in Japan is called Rissho-Kosei-Kai—the largest group—they only do social engagement. There are no priests, they’re ministers and they work in third world countries. That’s based on the Lotus Sutra.
So, the same here, when Buddhism first came to the West, what people specialized in is the contemplative orders. And then that became the only way. But I think it’s very natural within any religion, or type of work that different clubs will arise that focus on different things. That’s my opinion. And each one would probably say, “You’ve got to start with this, then that will come up,” and whatever. Those are arguments to talk about the height of the club—I think, I don’t know. That’s my opinion.
I don’t know, were Franciscans looked at as weird when they arose, doing social engagement? Or were there always groups in Christianity that focused on social engagement? I don’t know the answer to that. And certainly you know, you find this, in Christianity you have groups like the Franciscans, all kinds of groups that are all about social engagement, as the way of God—you know, as the way of doing things.
Audience member 11: So, in an abstract way . . .
Bernie: Whoops! I just picked three people, and guess what—we’ve run out of time.
Eve: But the bell hasn’t rung.
Bernie: But the bell hasn’t rung.
Eve: That’s a koan.
Bernie: That’s a koan. So the koan is why are we stopping if the bell hasn’t rung?
Audience member 11: So, in an abstract way, do we help the situation in the Middle East if we all take care of each other?
Bernie: Huh? Do what?
Audience member 11: In an abstract way, do we help the situation in the Middle East if we all take care of each other? That’s what you just said. If we all take care of each other . . .
Bernie: So, in my opinion, it’s not abstract. If we all take care of each other—it’s very rare to see that happen—but in my opinion, if we all took care of each other, there’d be no problems. So there’s that wonderful example where—I don’t know if it’s God—somebody takes this person up to visit Hell. Right, you’ve probably heard that. And all these people are at a table eating, and they each have chopsticks. So this is probably a Japanese Hell. They each have chopsticks, and the chopsticks are about two meters long, and they’re having a lot of trouble eating. And then the person says, “Well, can I see Heaven?” So God takes him down to see Heaven. In Heaven, that same banquet table, all those people, same chopsticks, but each person is taking their chopsticks and feeding somebody else.
So that’s one example of saying yes, if we take care of each other, there’s no problem. And if we just take care of ourselves, there will be problems. That’s an opinion—my opinion.
Audience member 12: When you ask about Christianity, traditional Christianity, I think Christ himself was an activist, as I understand his teachings.
Bernie: Yeah. I think so too. But then lots of clubs form after that—different styles that teach. Theoretically—it’s sort of interesting—different clubs arise to probably, they say, to teach brotherly love. But maybe not, maybe they say they arise so that there can be more Christians—to procreate the numbers of Christians. And that’s happened in Buddhism. A lot of the Buddhist groups grew, and then the theme becomes how many people can have Jukai, and how many people can, you know, to grow the numbers. The original reasons of actualizing the oneness of life get forgotten.
I see the bell is ringing. But lets’ have one more at the sound of the bell.
Audience member 13: It’s OK.
Bernie: OK. He wants to serve the body. Get some food, man.
OK, so for me tomorrow is the next twenty years. And this afternoon . . .
Eve: Before that . . .
Bernie: Yeah, before that, what?
Eve: We’ll see.
Bernie: But certainly, in a way this will continue, Eve will make comments on it, and you will have thought it through as you chew your food. Chew what we’ve talked about.
Eve: Rocky, I have one last question.
Bernie: Ah ha Tootsie! By the way, if you don’t know, we have a radio show, Rocky and Tootsie. And usually we tweet or something, and did I tell you at St. Virgil, one of the guys in my group, in the workshop, is a cartoonist, a Buddhist cartoonist. And he’s now into making animation. And in September, he’s going to make an animated Rocky and Tootsie—take one of our shows, and there will be a film, an animated film of Rocky and Tootsie.
Eve: So Rocky, what I want to know is . . .
Bernie: Yeah Tootsie?
Eve: Did anybody ever say the word love in all those first twenty years of your life?
Eve: Why?! How come they didn’t say love?
Bernie: That’s an interesting point. That first twenty years was not about love. Now I consider love to be the rug that ties the room together.
Eve: What’s that?
Bernie: They now have the Dude book in German.
Eve: How could you be without love?
Bernie: Because that wasn’t . . . It’s interesting. Well, we had Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, you know Kannon, Avalokitesvara. But, during those first twenty years, my training—I almost divorced. My training, most of the people that lived at the Zen Center of Los Angeles divorced, or the children became really screwed up—because it was a monastic model. And love was not part of the model. And family was not part of the model. So our schedule—my schedule—made it such I never saw my kids when they woke up, because I was in the zendo. I never saw my kids when they went to sleep, because I was in the zendo. I never saw my kids on the weekends, because we always had weekend activities. So, I’m very, very lucky—I think—that my kids are in very good shape, and we love each other. And I think they’re really, really great kids. But they had such a wonderful chance of being totally screwed up by the way they grew up. And I was told by my teacher that family doesn’t count. The Dharma counts. Family is like a one lifetime thing. The Dharma is forever. It’s a whole different way of thinking, and I bought into it. In those twenty years, for me, the whole thing was that scene.
Eve: Man, I’m glad that I didn’t know you then.
Bernie: Yeah, and I’m sorry that I knew me then!
OK, let’s go eat.
Audience ember 14: How about taking care of your own body in that time? Love—taking care of your own body.
Bernie: I didn’t do any of those things. Anything that you can think of that sort of seems sentimental, or helpful—no. No, that wasn’t my life—in those twenty years—it was before. But that experience that I had of the unity of life, within the environment I was in—that experience put me on a track, which I don’t find good or healthy at this point in my life—but then I did. And that was a twenty-year path.
OK José. Let’s go eat.
It would have been a better path—I think—for monastics. So somebody like Dogen, yeah, no problem.
[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=” My 60 Years Journey in Zen – The 2nd 20 Years: Social Action”]
So, this is my second twenty years in Zen—sort of the second twenty. I will start around 1976. That’s about forty years ago. I had just received dharma transmission from my teacher. I’m not sure exactly when that was—I should know, it might have been ‘75; it might have been ’76. Sometimes I waste a little time trying to figure out years. But 1976 was the opening of a monastery in New York, Dai Bosatsu Monastery that Eido Shimano Roshi was in charge of. And he started in—that celebration started with a one week Sesshin, which he invited people from different Zen centers across the country. And I was invited to represent our Zen Center of Los Angeles. And I already had had dharma transmission. So that was July ’76—that Sesshin—so somewhere before that.
But more important in ’76, was this experience I had in which . . . So until all of that, I was in the mode of, you know, your samurai Zen teacher. And then in 1976 on my way to work, I was in a car with four people, driving to work. I had about an hour trip to go to work. And I had an experience, which I’ve talked a lot about, because it was so important in my life. It was an experience of feeling all of the hungry spirits, or ghosts in the universe—all suffering, as we all do, not just the Palestinians, everyone is suffering.
And they were suffering for different things. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough enlightenment. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough food. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough love. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough fame. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough housing. Some were suffering because they had bad teeth—like me, all kinds of sufferings.
And what came up immediately was a vow. So it’s another case of these Three Tenets, you know. I had been for a few weeks—a little context; a few weeks before, I had had this question about reincarnation, which I might talk about in my third phase. But I had this question about reincarnation. And I went to Maezumi Roshi, and I said, “Can you talk with me about reincarnation?” And he said, “Go read the letters of . . .” I can’t remember her name. In The Three Pillars of Zen, the young woman who was dying. And Harada Roshi visited her, and there were letters back and forth between them. She had an experience, an enlightenment experience. He thought it was very deep. They had letters going back . . .
Eve: Is that Ken Wilbur’s wife?
Bernie: No. Three Pillars of Zen, it was edited by Phillip Kapleau. It’s a Zen book. I can’t remember her name exactly, but it’s something like Iayda. So anyway, I had read them. They’re not very long. And I was sort of bearing witness to those letters, because somewhere, somehow they had something to do with reincarnation, because that’s what my teacher said I should read.
But at any rate, so out of that, in this car ride to work, pops up this vision of all of these hungry spirits. And immediately it also popped up, those are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. So whatever pops up, that’s me. And all of these hungry aspects of myself popped up. And an action came out of that, which was a vow to serve, to feed—it was really more to feed all of these hungry spirits.
So until then, I had decided that my work was going to be in the meditation hall, and in a temple. I had quit for the fourth and last time my job at McDonnell Douglas. And I was now a full time Zen teacher. And I was going to work only in the meditation hall, and work only with people who came to our Zendo, and wanted to be trained.
But now I made this vow to work with all these hungry spirits. So that meant I had to change the venue, change the place I worked. And now it was still to work in the meditation hall, but also to work in all of life, all of society.
And then the big question arose to me; what would be useful to help people in these different spheres of life—like business people, and entertainment people, and social action people, and all these people? What would be good, what we call upayas, expedient means, or ways of helping people to experience the oneness of life in those spheres? All of my training had been in the meditation hall. I was trained in how to run Sesshins, how to use the kyosaku properly, how to wear my robes properly. I had been trained in koan systems. I had done two different koan systems. So that was a lot of koans—around six/seven hundred koans. I was trained in how to teach people to do meditation, in different ways—with breathing, with Shikantaza, different styles. And I also had been interested in interfaith work, so I had been trained in Christian meditation, in Jewish meditation. Those are my trainings. But I didn’t think that would work in the business world.
So this was my new kind of study—what would be the method? Also, I have to say that this may have been influenced by the fact that for a number of years before ’76—well, for a long time—in our Zen Center of Los Angeles, we had morning liturgy, afternoon liturgy, and evening liturgy. And it’s sort of prescribed what that liturgy is in the Soto sect. There’s some choices, some variety, but the evening service that we did was called Kan Ro Mon. And we did it all in Japanese (it’s really Chinese—but Japanese pronunciations). And somehow, that service really affected me. And I knew nothing about what it was about, because I was just chanting these Japanese words. It turns out that that service—and I sort of start finding this out after the experience of the hungry spirits—that service is about feeding the hungry spirits, in the five Buddha fields.
So, I then worked with my teacher to translate that into English. And it’s all about the mandala, and the different entities that live in the mandala. The mandala is divided into five Buddha fields, five types of energies. And those energies . . . That’s a model—I’m a mathematician, so we work with models, so that’s one model. But that model is a way of dividing life. The mandala is a circle, so that’s a whole life. And then it’s dividing it into five kinds of energies—a spiritual energy, a social action energy, a business energy, a study energy, and a relationship energy. We’ve talked a lot about relationship energy, so that’s one whole—there’s a Sanskrit term, padma is relationship energy.
And my book, Instructions to the Cook describes the Buddhist principles I used to develop this project called Greyston, in terms of these five Buddha fields. And in the book, it calls it five different types of foods. You know, but it’s the five energies.
Anyway, so that was quite surprising to me, that here’s a service—we had many different liturgies that we chanted—but here’s one that somehow really attracted me, without my knowing any of the words. And then I had this experience, and it turns out that it’s dealing with the same thing, in a sense—well, in a big sense. In a big sense.
Now, in Japan that service was used particularly for all of the spirits in those five Buddha families that were being neglected, for various reasons. So it could be that somebody died in a war. And in those days, a long time ago, it might take thirty years before news came back that somebody had died. So that service was for all of those that had died and nobody knew about it—that they had died. It was for, like in our case in New York, for the homeless that nobody’s taking care of. It’s for all of those that are not being taken care of. And in a sense, for all of the parts of our selves that aren’t being taken care of, which leads to all of these hungry spirits. You know, I need more fame. Who’s going to take care of that? Who’s going to give me more fame? Or I need more money, or I need more love. So that particular service is about that.
Now we made—because it’s such an important service for me—that has become, for a long time now, the main service of the Zen Peacemaker Order. And there are many places, many centers that will chant that, and recite that on somewhat of a regular basis. And I also—because it was so important to me—I divided it, line by line, into koans. I created a new koan system based on that. And only a few people really—a number of people studied those koans with me, but only a few finished. Eve is one of those. So she wound up doing workshops on how to perform the liturgy, in terms of the gongs, and the booms, and there’s a lot of—there’s horns blowing [makes a horn noise], there’s all kinds of stuff there. And of course there’s the meaning. And she’s done that workshop in Europe a few times.
OK, so I had that experience in ’76, and by ’79 I was planning to leave the Zen Center of Los Angeles and move back to my original home, which was New York. And I started to meet with people in the New York area to create a board, and to plan where we would start, and how it would be. And I talked to them about the fact—when I came back to New York—I wanted to build a society, an actual society in the city. A little bit like the old cathedrals were, where they were a whole city. And the community we built, I wanted to build it via the five Buddha families. And that meant that we were going to be involved in social action, and business, and all these different things.
And most of the people just laughed at me, and said, “You’re crazy, Bernie. What we want is for you to come here, and set up a Zendo. And that’s why you’re coming here. We want to sit with you, and study koans, and do that.” I said, “Well, that may be what you want, but I’m coming here to do that.” And they said, “Aaach, you’re not. We still want you to come, and we don’t believe you.” You know, “this won’t happen.” That’s what they said to me, these people before I came. I have the minutes of those meetings.
So anyway, we moved to New York, and I started to build this mandala. First I built a spiritual base, and then the study base, and then the business base to give us resources, and then the social action base. And all along, I was looking how does this work in terms of relationship? How do we keep it so it stays a full mandala? At that time, I think I was the only one involved in that thinking. Everybody else was pretty much it was a regular Zendo, but just for a while. And then, they start shifting, and many people left. People would leave because I wasn’t doing what they wanted. It was a little bit crazy. But we were doing a real life plan.
So, for me what was happening while we were doing our meditations, and koan study, and different Zen studies, and teaching people that, at the same time we were trying to develop a work practice. What do you do, in terms of work, that would help the people who are working experience the unity of life? That was my question. So my question, as we started to work in these different fields was not just how do we do a good job? Or in social action, how do we help? My question was how do we do it in a way that helps the people that are doing the work, and the people that are being served—how do we do it in a way that helps both of them experience the oneness of life? That was always my question. And that question has never stopped. And it’s at the forefront of what I do.
So I’m not doing things just because—I mean there’s so much that needs to be done. And the world’s full of a lot of people. My particular study and practice was how do you do that in a way that helps the people that are doing it, and the people that are being served experience the oneness of life?
What’s interesting to me—one of the things that’s interesting to me—is that in my early years (in the first twenty years), whenever I gave a talk (I was always giving talks. I’m a terrible writer. I can’t write, but I can talk. And many times people have to figure out how to shut me up. Once I start talking . . . ), so in those first twenty years, whenever I gave a talk, always there would be some people that would say, “How do we bring this into our life? I understand about how you sit now, but how do I bring it into my life?” Always I had that question. And you probably heard that question yourself once or twice—but, always.
In the second twenty years, never, never heard that question. Because when people saw me talking, what they saw was somebody who was bringing it into his life. That’s my feeling—why that question never arose again, after the first twenty years. So that’s an important little piece of information, because in those first twenty years, always we said that the practice has to be in your life. I mean that’s what my teacher said, and my teacher’s teacher. You know, I studied with Yasutani Roshi, with Koryu Roshi, Maezumi Roshi. They always said that, and people like weren’t seeing it. Because if they saw it, they wouldn’t have asked the question. But they kept asking the question, “How do we bring it into our life?” So that’s important to look at, I think.
So, we got into business. We built a bakery. But it was all in a plan. My plan, as I said, was first to build the spiritual base. We had a very good sitting schedule, and Sesshin every month, a lot of Sesshins. We had liturgy, and people learning. Eve is fantastic at liturgy—she’s not a priest, but she knows all of the liturgy, how to hit the bells, and all of that kind of stuff. So she can teach people that. But we did liturgy, we did all of that. And we had a lot of study. And of course we studied the five Buddha families. And we did studies of all of the various texts, and all that kind of stuff.
And we had some small business, but I wanted to create a big business. And we started something. We spent about six months to figure out what we would do, because I wanted something that could be used as a work practice. Now most of you probably know, if you go back into China, and even Japan, a lot of the monks in temples, they were supported by the monks working. They were farmers. They had rice crops, different things. And in fact, the man (he was Chinese), the man who wrote the first rule—in Zen Peacemakers Order we have a rule, that’s what makes it an order. There was a rule; the first rule for Zen made Zen an order. The first rule was written by a guy who’s—the Japanese pronunciation is Hyakujo, everybody knows Hyakujo, who studied Zen. And he’s the guy who said “A day of no work is a day of no food.” And when he got older—now I think he got really old, he got to maybe seventy-five [audience laughs]—and they took away his tools (the gardening tools, and whatever), because he was too old. He was getting dizzy, or fainting, or whatever. They said, “No more work for you, man.” And so he said, “OK. No more work, no more food.” And he stopped eating. Now eventually they tried to convince him, “You gotta eat.” “No. If I’m not working, I’m not gonna eat.” So they had to give him back his tools.
Audience member: Meshugenah.
Audience member: Him.
Bernie: “He was a meshugenah,” she says. [Audience laughs]
He wrote the first rule, which is a very interesting rule, if you read it. Because he said that you can’t have any images in a Zendo, or in a Zen Center. Because, he said, if you put images in, then before you know it people are going to start asking you to make prayers for the Lords to win their battles, and for rain to come, and they take you away from the practice—which for him was the sitting.
So I’m switching back and bringing new idols into the Zendo. And those idols are serving all the hungry spirits. And I had one member, when I introduced and talked about this service . . . Kan Ro Mon in English translates as The Gate of Sweet Nectar. And it’s not a direct translation, pretty direct, but I included some pieces from some other traditions. So one of my members got really mad. She said she wouldn’t chant it because she had enough troubles of her own, and did not want to bring all of these hungry spirits into the space. And in that chant, we’re inviting all of the hungry spirits to come into our space, so that we could suffer with them, and take care. And she says, “Leave me alone already! I’ve got enough suffering!”
So, we started the business, and we built this Greyston—first a bakery, to make money. And as soon as we were OK financially, we started to expand what we were doing. And what I did is—I didn’t have a plan as to what we would do. I’d listen to what was going on. We built our bakery in a very poor part of town. And I’d listen to what was going on in that poor part of town. And it seemed like the biggest issue was homelessness, and single parent homelessness. There were crack vials everywhere on the streets, so drugs was also big.
So out of bearing witness to what was happening where we were, we started to do things. First, to feed people in the local soup kitchens, but then we started to build housing, permanent housing for people. But you couldn’t give somebody an apartment that didn’t have a job. They would lose the apartment. So at the same time, we were creating jobs. And if you’re a single parent, you can’t work in that area either. You couldn’t get childcare. We didn’t have the social system you have here. So, we had to build childcare. And there were drugs everywhere. So we had to get involved in drugs.
So we looked at the whole picture, essentially again bearing witness to what was going on. And out of that, came this Greyston model. And this Greyston model was built on the Buddhist principles. What we did came out of the Three Tenets. And the structure is intimately involved with these five Buddha families.
And I’m going to present a program on how all that happened, and what those details are in New York. And I found out that Barbara wanted to attend that. And now Cornelius is going to attend that. So we’ll have various folks that have studied that whole way of doing things, and that model. I find it, of course, very interesting, because that’s what I did.
But what comes out of that is it’s not the Zendo anymore. What comes out of that, when you work with all five energies of that mandala—you’re working in all of society. And we don’t have all these techniques developed in those five spheres of how to help folks experience the oneness of life. Remember, that’s what Buddhism means. So it has to be based on that. So it means we still have work. We developed a bunch of upayas. And some very important—that I’m going to talk on the third twenty years. But at this time we were still exploring how do you serve, how do you take care in a Buddhist way?
I did not introduce any Buddhist notions to our staff. Most of the staff are people that either had been homeless, drug addicts, convicts. We hired them right off of the street. We do no checking of their backgrounds. They have to work well. If they don’t, their buddies fire them. We do not preach any Buddhist values. But the whole structure, the whole environment they’re working in was informed, in my opinion, by our Buddhist values.
So, it’s fascinating, this started thirty-two years ago. It’s still growing very nicely. It’s done so many wonderful things. The staff is about 180 people. Most people came off the streets. We have a program, called Pathmaker Program, which works with a person on their life, in terms of the five Buddha energies. What do they want their life to be, in terms of spirituality, in terms of work, in terms of study, in terms of relationship, and in terms of social action?
And about a year ago—we had a person in charge of that program—about a year ago, she worked with the staff on the vision, and mission, things like that that most companies do. And she first asked the people to think about what do they think is the spirituality of Greyston. Now, remember these are folks that never heard of Buddhism. They knew there was this guy Bernie, that was the founder. I came back, about a couple years ago, this work, the mission work was started before I came back. But they knew that this was all started by this Zen monk. So at least that was the myth about me. There was this guy Bernie who started it. But they didn’t know anything about Buddhism. There is a Zendo in that building. And there is a teacher that lives in New York. But none of the staff were going to that. Some other people went to the Zendo. But they knew that there was such a thing as meditation. They saw people going.
At any rate, they worked, and they came up with three principles of spirituality of Greyston. The first principle—this is what they came up with—the first principle was that we should listen to what other people have to say. The second principle that they came up with is that we should get to know what their lives are about. And the third principle they came up with; we should serve the community.
These are folks that when they first came into Greyston, they didn’t care about anybody but themselves—where to get a hit (Is that the language you use? What’s the German word for a hit? To get drugs, how to get some drugs.). They didn’t care about their wives, their families. So after a certain amount of time, one of their principles was how to serve the community.
So, I have an opinion that this was a way of teaching folks about the oneness of life. We had some other little tricks that had to do with the work, and whatever. But people were really getting that. Now they’re asking for meditation. They’re asking for meditation—to come into our meditation. I now come down once a week, but they want to bring mindfulness throughout the whole company. And we’re talking about bringing council throughout the whole company.
But if you come and visit, I’m sure you will feel that there’s something unusual about Greyston. It’s many buildings—many, many, buildings. It’s quite large. You know, it’s not just in one town. It’s a few different towns. It works with seniors, and youths, and with AIDS, and with all kinds of things. But if you come, you’ll feel something different. And because of that, it’s being studied. The model is being studied in many of our colleges. But when they study it in our colleges, they leave out the spiritual component. And I think, therefore they will miss the point. That’s my opinion.
And so we developed a little course too, to show them. So besides Barbara and Cornelius that are going to attend that, there’ll be many different business people that want to bring that model into their companies—both in U.S. and in Europe. That’s gonna happen.
So after a while, we had built this Greyston, it was going along. Eve had a few different jobs at Greyston. She worked in sales, selling cakes and stuff.
Eve: I hated it.
Bernie: I didn’t know that. She worked in fundraising. And she’s a great writer, and she wrote a proposal. We started an AIDS facility for both a health clinic, and housing. And our governor put out a proposal—they were going to give a million/two million, do you remember?
Eve: I think ours was a million and a half.
Bernie: A million and a half dollars for what they thought was the best AIDS program in the country. And she wrote the proposal, and we won that. So we had a lot of little, and big, or different kinds of things that happened. One of the things that I thought is fantastic is—In the United States, New York is considered to make the best cheesecakes in the country. They don’t count Europe. So, in the United States, New York is the best area for cheesecakes. And there was a newspaper (it doesn’t do it any more), it used to do an annual award for the best Cheesecake in New York. And we won that award. And for me, what was so fantastic is that the best cheesecake in New York, which means the best in the country, was made by people that our country considered garbage—that threw away those people, didn’t consider they could do anything. So all of the products that were made at Greyston were superb. And they are all being made by former homeless, former prisoners/convicts, former drug people. I just love that. That was quite wonderful.
So after a number of years, I felt it was time for me to move on. I’m a very unstable person. And when things become . . . well, at any rate, I don’t want to get sidetracked. It became time to move on, for me. And there were people who I felt could do a great job—maybe better. I’m good at the initial vision. I’m not such a great administrator. So when things go into that phase where it has to be more operational, I’m not necessarily the best. I like to keep creating new things.
So at any rate, I decided I wanted to do something else. And because of the work at Greyston, and also my Zen work, I had traveled a lot, and met wonderful groups all around the world doing all kinds of beautiful things. So I decided to do something else, but I didn’t know what. But I had the Three Tenets. So, what did I do? I had no plan of what to do. This was 1994, so it’s still during that second twenty years. And I decided to bear witness to that question of what should I do?
And the way I did it is I chose a place to go sit, and do meditation, and to bear witness on the question. And I raised the question for myself, I said, “What should I do next to work with people that are being rejected by society, in particular AIDS, homeless, poverty? What should I do?” It was my fifty-fifth birthday. And since it was my birthday, I invited people to join me in the sitting, with that theme. To bear witness to that—it’s like a koan. That’s what you do when you do koans. You bear witness to the koan. So here’s a koan, let’s bear witness to it. And about twenty people came—or I don’t remember, something like that.
And I decided I always like to do things on a very special spot. So I chose that we would do this, we would sit on the steps of the Capitol of the United States, in Washington, DC. And we went there. My birthday is January 18th, so it’s very cold there. And it turned out to be the coldest week in fifty years in Washington, DC, so we were covered with snow. And we have pictures of that.
And something arose out of that bearing witness. And what arose was the Zen Peacemaker Order. What arose, to me, was that we should build a container for people who are interested in meditation and social engagement. And I went home, and discussed it with my wife. Her name is Jishu, and she passed away in ’98—March, ’98. So I went home—this was ’94—went home, discussed it with her. And she said it was a great idea. And she said, “Let’s base it on precepts—on a rule, on the Three Tenets, and on precepts.” And we decided to spend a year—I don’t know if we decided to spend a year, but we wound up spending a year—working on that rule with a bunch of wonderful teachers. Eve was one of those. Joan Halifax (some of you know) was one of those. A woman Egyoku, she’s now the Abbot in Los Angeles was one of those. Genro Gaunt, if you’ve been to Auschwitz, you know him—but he comes here to Switzerland a lot—so he was one of those. Pat Enkyo O’Hara was one of those. And we sat, and we talked about precepts for about a year. And those are now called the Zen Peacemaker Order Precepts. And we have a Zen Peacemaker Order Rule, which consists of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the Three Tenets, those Ten Precepts, and Four Commitments, which were proposed and developed during the World Congress of Religions (we adapted). So that was the beginning of Zen Peacemaker Order.
I’m gonna stop there. When did we go to Auschwitz?
Bernie: ’96. So tomorrow, we start in ’96. So that brings us up to ’95, around the same time, maybe a little later than ’95. I forget, but I’m gonna close that middle twenty years that way. And tomorrow we start in the next twenty years. So let’s open it to dialogue. We only have ten minutes, so you gotta ask quick. We got eight minutes, because Eve wants two minutes.
Audience member 1: My question Bernie, yesterday you looked back on the first twenty years in Zen. I wonder what continued from your first twenty years in the second twenty years?
Bernie: It continued all the time—till now. I mean, you’re here. It continues all the time, but it expanded. What I consider Zen training expanded. And I’ll talk about that tomorrow. This is Indra’s net, so we could say that the first twenty years, it was a portion of the net. The net is all of life, and we were working with one portion. And the second twenty, there was a bigger portion, but this is still a part.
Audience member 2: I hear you talking about your path, and I’m wondering is it me just beginning to come over to understand, what is your path. And your path, what you want to bring for us to recognize—or to bring us, to share your path for us, where you want to give a gift to us to continue, or for now where you want to pass on to us to continue on your journey, or one we can put in. So really, really like to ask for Buddha path Master here, now, present also reflection our Master in everyone. So for me, right now, I would like to ask one question. You are talking about your path, what you want to bring for us in the moment, and for us to bring in to the future? Thank you.
Bernie: I think, in my opinion, what you’re saying sounds true to me. It sounds like the reason I’ve been doing workshops, and things of this nature is to offer this path that I’ve done, and for those who like it, to jump into it.
It’s not always been what I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve been very active in building Greyston, and doing these different things that I’ve done. And what happened—I’ll tell you the explicit thing that happened that changed me into doing this, to including this—is I was invited to do a dialogue with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Frankfurt, five years ago. And it was His Holiness, myself, and a Catholic Priest and Abbot (I’m forgetting his name, he has a beard, very involved in social engagement, who, I believe he is in Frankfurt). So he was the third, three of us, and it was in this big soccer stadium, about 15,000 people—the Frankfurt soccer/football stadium. And at the time, I asked him (the man who was organizing, a wonderful newscaster, like a Charlie Rose of Germany, I’m forgetting his name) . . . And he asked if I would come, and I said, “Why me? I’m an American.” And this was in Frankfurt, and it should be a German Buddhist person doing social action. And he said, “We don’t have any.” That was shocking to me. So, I actually Googled German Buddhist social activist, and I came up with Bernie Glassman. [Audience laughs]
So I went. And Willigis Jager was there, with his assistant at the time. And Willigis Jager was Cornelius’ teacher. And he studied with Yamada Roshi in the Sanbo Kyodan. And he has stayed at our place in New York, when he was on his way back from Japan. He did Zen studies in Japan. So we talked then, but I hadn’t seen him since then. That was like ’81. So we spent some time talking. And his assistant said to me, “Could you start giving talks here in Germany, because social action is a very important thing, and nobody’s talking about it? No Buddhists are talking about it.” So I thought about it, and I started to do it. I hadn’t been doing these kind of workshops before that—mostly. It was mostly just in projects. And that’s what started me doing it.
So, yes, the direct answer is that’s why I was doing it. I did it, trying to hook people up to do projects themselves, to get Buddhists to know that it’s not bad (a lot of Buddhists felt it was bad to do—social engaged work).
Eve: We’re running out of time. So, this is not just an answer for you, but for everyone, for the rest of today.
So this today was taking Zen out of the Zendo—not leaving the Zendo, but taking out to the world. And tomorrow it’s taking Zen to the streets. So, I think when you asked, “What is it that we’re getting from the story?” It’s the question for everybody here (including us) continually is how do we take this practice into every area of our life? Every area of your life, and my life.
So Bernie gave his answer. It was social action, it was business, but he also said, “There are many sectors where practices have not been developed yet.” Because Buddhism was monastic, so a huge area where it has not been developed is the home—family, children. It’s one of the biggest concerns people have. What do I do with this practice that was monastic for 2,000 years, and now we’re bringing it to the West, and making it available everywhere? But, what do I do? What do I do with my children? What do I do with the person I live with? What do I do?
And in all these areas, I think everybody has to start—if you’re interested in what he’s presenting, so yes that includes social action, and everything, but includes every area. And I think it would be a really nice thing if for the rest of the day, everybody works on what are the practices that I’m trying to develop in the different areas of my life? That, as he said, will bring people to see and experience the oneness.
Bernie: And don’t answer the question by saying, “meditation.” We know, meditation, we know that’s it. What else?
But that’s because he was a new Zen student, and new students always think what they just found is so fantastic. But I think that that’s what’s happening with Z.P.O. The Zen Peacemakers seed, there’s about 140 affiliates around the world now. And the amount of people that have heard about the Three Tenets is huge. They’re not all doing things. So now we want to encourage people to do things. And if they do, there’ll be new seeds all over the place. And that will shed more light, I think. And I think that’s what we’re doing, sort of more light is happening. And if it’s healthy, then it grows. If it’s not healthy, it’ll die. So just because you do something based on the Three Tenets, if it’s not healthy, it’s gonna die. If it’s helpful, I think it will live, and grow. And I know it won’t be just in Zen places. It’s already happening that all this stuff we’re doing is effecting all kinds of . . .
I was just visiting a wonderful group in Los Angeles that works with street gangs. It’s called Homeboys. And it’s a Catholic priest that’s in charge. And I was just talking with him; it’s a Catholic Priest that thinks he’s a Buddhist. He’ll come to Greyston soon. He’s ill; he’s got cancer—not in good shape. But he’s been working for a very long time, and saved so many people. And he’s built a huge thing called Homeboy Industry, and Homegirl Industry. And he’ll talk with people—these are all street people, these are gang people that are killing each other. You’ve heard of the killings that go on among those kinds of gangs. That’s who he works with. And it’s grown tremendously. And it’s very much on the same principles that we do. When we talk, we can talk like, “Yeah, so he comes first, we come first,” it don’t matter. It’s the same principles. And what he’s doing is fantastic.
Eve: The lunch bell has rung.
Bernie: The lunch bell has rung, I’m sorry. So we will go to lunch, and we’ll continue with . . . I don’t know, what are we continuing with?
Eve: We’ll see.
Bernie: We’ll see.
[/learn_more][learn_more caption=” My 60 Years Journey in Zen – The 3rd 20 Years: Practice In the Streets”]
At first there was no Indra’s Net. So that’s like when Indra says to Heinz, “Build me a monument.” There was no idea what to build. And then boom, an action arose. So, in science, they say the Big Bang arose, and energy starts expanding. It expanded to a certain distance, but it kept expanding, it never stopped. It kept expanding, still expanding. And they called the universe—all of that—energy. And I call that also, that’s all energy. And I also call it Indra’s Net.
Now somewhere along the line, things started to happen, and other actions arose. And those actions got called names. Just like when we have an action, we then name it—because we can’t stand not naming things. It’s very hard. We gotta name it. “Oh, that’s good. That’s bad. That’s suffering. That’s pleasure.” We gotta name it, man. We can’t deal just with the thing. That’s too much somehow—or too little. So we give it names.
So as this stuff expanded, they start giving it names. They gave the whole thing the name, Universe. And then boop, these other actions happened, and they called them galaxies. And then they called other things suns, and other things planets, and other things people, and other things cockroaches. They gave names to everything that arose—all the stuff that arose.
Basically, it’s all energy. That’s my opinion. See, what I’m giving you . . . Don’t take it like it’s the . . . Well, I don’t believe in truth. I was going to say “the truth, according to Bernie.” But I don’t believe in truth. So, it’s Bernie’s opinion.
All this energy, and all these things are arising, that’s the Indra’s Net. And each thing that we gave a name, like a cockroach—that’s a pearl. Or we think of a unicorn, and we think “unicorn.” That’s a pearl. So all these things that arose are pearls that everything is contained in them. That’s why Shakyamuni Buddha, bless his heart, said 2,500 years ago (a little bit more than 2,500 now, huh?), he said, “Everything as it is, is.” The enlightened way—it’s all one. He’s talking about that whole Indra’s Net, or that whole energy field, or an individual. So within that individual, that’s one net, one pearl. Everything is contained.
But because (and here’s the rub), because of our deluded thinking (I don’t know if he used the word deluded, maybe we can just say thinking.), the brain works dualistically. And so the brain is naming everything, and causing separations. Because of that, we only see a certain portion of the net. Or we only grok a portion of the net. It’s not that we see it necessarily, but all of the things that come up is in this sub-portion of the net. As we deepen (This, again is my explanation of enlightenment) our sense of the interconnectedness of life, we are experiencing more, and more of this energy field—or more, and more of Indra’s Net, which now includes more, and more things.
So if I could extend/deepen my interconnectedness of life to the whole energy field, or the whole Indra’s Net, you see what that means? What that means is that you now understand Jung’s “Cosmic Consciousness.” Because that’s what Jung said, there is a cosmic consciousness. And it’s all of that. And we are part of that.
And so, when I now see something, I say, “Oh, that’s my reincarnation.” That means I’ve extended my experience of interconnectedness to include that part of the energy field that’s my reincarnation—or your reincarnation.
OK, I wanted to set that all straight before I go into this, my next twenty years. It all makes sense, right?
And of course, it’s just an opinion. But it satisfies me. Now that opinion took me sixty years to develop. And it’s not that I developed it. It just came out of something. The elements—I’ve been talking about Indra’s Net for probably fifty-five years. I’ve been talking about the Big Bang in this way for probably about twenty years. Putting it all together all happened because . . . And I’ve been thinking about reincarnation for a long, long time. Because if you remember, yesterday I said that experience I had of all the hungry spirits came by my bearing witness to reincarnation. So that’s what had happened. Recently, in the last six months, somebody asked me—they’re writing a book about reincarnation, and they asked if they could do a chapter on me. And they asked me about reincarnation. And this is what came up. I hadn’t thought of this before. So, in my head, this is an opinion that arose six months ago. But this fits in very well with the experience I had, what is it, forty years ago? I’m losing track of time—when I experienced the hungry spirits. That came out of bearing witness to reincarnation—starting with no idea of what it was. I had read all kinds of things, you know, as you have I’m sure. There’s so many different theories. The Jewish mystics have a theory. Of course the Tibetan Buddhists have a theory. There’s a lot of theories around reincarnation. I’ve read, I’ve studied all that stuff. But it was out of bearing witness that the opinions that I share come from. I very rarely share what I read. So I wanted to put that in context.
So now we’re starting the next twenty years. You have a sense by now, probably why for me; the Three Tenets is such an important way of practice. Because in my life, it just lead to such amazing changes, and opinions. Every opinion of course, you’ve got to get rid of, or at least explore deeper, and deeper. And certainly, don’t think that you’ve experienced some kind of truth. It’s an opinion. But they’ve been wonderful for me.
Eve: So Bernie, all these opinions are also pearls.
Bernie: Yes, exactly. Everything is a pearl. Every thought is a pearl. When somebody says, “This is the right thing.” That’s a pearl. So all that stuff is contained in us too. And that’s why it is not easy to let go of all those facts, that are pearls that are shining in us. They have their own power. And if that power is strong enough, that leads to our knowing certain things for sure. What I think is fascinating is when we know things for sure, then we can blame, right? When we don’t know things for sure, we can’t blame. Everybody’s to blame. I mean if it’s all this energy field, man, how do you blame anybody? It’s all interconnected, but once we know for sure things, then we can blame and say all kinds of stuff.
I’m at the beginning of this next phase, so I’ll give the history. And since Eve was involved, she will give her version, when my version doesn’t correspond with her version—which most likely will happen.
So I had a student that many of you probably know, named Claude AnShin Thomas. And when I met him he had already been pretty heavily involved with Thich Nhat Hanh. He had been in the Vietnam War. He had had a mental breakdown. He was a very confused person. He couldn’t sleep at night, you know. He’d be kept up by the bombs, and all kinds of things. He had been a tailgate gunner on a helicopter, shooting people. And then he had a nervous breakdown. At any rate, he came to me wanting to know if he could ordain with me, and be my student. And for many different reasons I agreed. And it turned out that he was soon going to be involved in a walk. He did a lot of walking. His practice was walking. He walked across Europe. He walked all over. And very soon—maybe a year, I can’t remember the timing—he was going to join a bunch of Buddhist monks who chant the Lotus Sutra (demonstrates chanting), and they march and beat a drum, and chant—and they walk. Their practice is walking and social engagement. So somebody here was confused about Japanese maybe not being involved in social engagement—their leader, sort of a Gandhi kind of guy in Japan told them if they weren’t in jail half of the year, they weren’t being a good monk. They had to do resistance. That was part of their practice, and walking.
So they were planning a walk from Auschwitz to Hiroshima—through all of the war-torn countries. And AnShin had decided to join them. So I said that I would go with him to Auschwitz, and give him lay what’s called Jukai. Jukai means taking the Precepts, as a layperson. And I would do that at Auschwitz. And then I would join to the last month of that walk, and ordain him as a Priest at the helicopter site where he was stationed in Vietnam.
And it turned out there was an interfaith conference being held at Auschwitz, in regards to this walk. And so different people were invited for this interfaith conference. And the group that was going to walk was sitting in Birkenau during the conference. And we were all wishing them well. Then they started their walk. So I decided to go to the interfaith conference. It was my first time to Auschwitz.
And Eve was on her way to Israel to visit her family, so she said she’ll stop off with me. And that was also her first time physically to Auschwitz. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor, so the Holocaust was part of her daily growing up. But this was the first physical time to Auschwitz. So we went.
And then there was a tour; I mean there was all this conference stuff. For those of you that have been to Auschwitz, that’s where I met Ginny. She was at that conference. I’m not sure if there was anybody else at that conference who’s been a part of our retreats. There was a Lakota man there. The Lakota elders have come to Auschwitz, and we’ll have a Bearing Witness retreat with Native Americans one day. But at any rate, we went, and part of that workshop is they give a tour. And so in the tour we entered Birkenau. And I was struck again—like before when I was struck by all the hungry spirits suffering, and wanting to be fed, wanting their suffering to be relieved—so now I was struck by the feeling of souls. In my head it was like millions of souls wanting to be remembered.
And so again, this came out of my bearing witness to that place—this action of these souls arising, wanting to be remembered. And that sent me on a path of designing a retreat that would work with that theme. It took about a year and a half to design the retreat. And what’s fascinating to me is this will be the eighteenth year, or nineteenth year, I don’t know . . .
Eve: I think it’s twenty.
Bernie: This is the twentieth year? It might be the twentieth year. Eve is a very good historian. I have a very bad time with that kind of thing.
At any rate, so it’s a long time. And at each of these retreats—I haven’t been to all of them, maybe three or four that I didn’t go—and in all of these retreats, when I’m there, I always talk about for me, what the retreat is about—which has to do with remembering. See, these souls, what’s fascinating to me is that most people who come pick a few souls. Maybe the Jewish souls—the Poles in the first retreat picked the Jewish and the Germans. They said, “It’s all about you guys. It’s got nothing to do with us.” Everybody in that is saying, “This is what it’s about.”
I’m saying it’s about all. It’s how we treat the other. I mean that’s where the handicap were killed. That’s where gays were killed. That’s where the gypsies were killed. That’s where the Polish intellectuals were killed. That’s where the Catholics were killed. That’s where the Jews were killed. That’s a lot of people, man.
So for all those years I was saying that. And other people were writing “Oh no, it’s about the German/Jewish thing.” That’s too narrow. Nothing is that narrow. That’s our way of thinking—narrow. It’s like thinking the Israel/Palestine thing is about the Israelis or the Palestinians. It’s not about either one. It’s not even about the Middle East. It’s about the gestalt of this Indra’s Net, and why we are constantly picking on each other, or doing things. What’s the deal here? Once we narrow it to one group, “oh it’s what the Germans do”, and then they feel guilty or, “oh it’s about this.” We lose the picture, man. I think, in my opinion, if you don’t see the whole net, you go astray. And you’ll cause more problems. That’s my opinion.
So I tried to devise such a retreat, and we called it a Bearing Witness Retreat, and in my head a Bearing Witness Retreat would come out of two things—a place, I’ve always been interested in the place. So Zen Peacemaker Order, that retreat a few of us chose the place, the Capital, Washington, and out of that came something. This time the place for me was Birkenau. And the theme was how we treat others. But because I chose Birkenau, for most people the theme is the Holocaust. That’s never been my theme, and I’ve said that each time. I keep repeating it, because it still amazes me.
And I just received something that’s going to be a book that’s going to be published that’s gonna talk about the transformations that different people had. And in the introduction it talks about this whole retreat was to commemorate or to deal with the Holocaust. And I don’t know how many times I’ve said that that’s not what it’s about, the retreat. But at any rate, you’ll see I have hot spots too that get pushed. But also what’s interesting to me is how hard it is to look at the whole picture. You know, to look at the bigger picture of what’s going on.
So at any rate, out of that experience we spent a year and a half, and Eve was instrumental. In my opinion there were three cofounders of that retreat—myself, Eve, and a Polish man, André Kudelski. Some of you know André, and some don’t. We couldn’t have done it without any of those—all three of those had essential roles to make that work. And all three have been involved over all these years. But we haven’t necessarily gone to every one. One of the times that I didn’t go—and in that retreat we have Spirit Holders . . . And the role of the Spirit Holder is to stay tuned to the gestalt of the retreat. And if it’s getting away from the intention, to change the schedule, to tweak the schedule. You know, we’ve modified the schedule many, mnay, many, many times. It’s pretty good, but still it needs to be tweaked each year. And hopefully those Spirit Holders can do that.
Now as I got closer to feeling that I’m not around that much, and whatever, I started some training programs for those Spirit Holders. So that we could discuss—for the Spirit Holders, and also for the next generation of Bearing Witness Retreat leaders—so that we can grok more what role does the Three Tenets have to play in these Bearing Witness Retreats. So when the Spirit Holder says, “We should tweak it,” they should be tweaking it because it’s getting away from the Three Tenets.
And of course one big way that it gets away we ran into the second time that we wanted to do it. I was very concerned because people that attended the first retreat were telling people that were thinking of coming about how wonderful it was, and how they were going to be transformed into loving people, and all this healing. And I didn’t want people to be telling people what it was about, because that was breaking the first Tenet. They were not coming in a state of not knowing. They were coming expecting to be transformed, and this is going to be a lovely experience. For me that was very harmful to what that retreat was supposed to be about. And I put a lot of energy into the first one to help plunge into that not knowing state.
Now that still continues, and still the beginning helps you do that, but there’s been a lot of talk, and a lot of other stuff. So we have to work with that. And the Spirit Holders have to look, and it continues through the retreat due to what goes on in the Plenary experience, you know, different things go on there. It’s still a wonderful retreat, and in my opinion it does work with the other. And that’s really, really important.
You know, I like to repeat this one particular story. Two years ago this woman came who lives in a village outside of Munich. And her grandfather ran a camp. And she was in my Council group. And the first day we introduced ourselves, and she said that she had been wanting to come to this retreat for fifteen years, but was afraid to. She was full of fear. And what she was afraid of was that she would meet a Jewish person, or a Polish person. And then there was a man in my group who lives in Krakau. And he said he had been thinking of coming for ten years, but he was afraid. He was full of fear. He was afraid he would meet a German person.
So could you imagine this woman for fifteen years full of fear that she would meet a Polish or a Jewish person? They were all over, Poles and Jews. You know, what was her life like? And he, in Krakau, there’s Germans all over the place. And he was afraid to meet a German person.
So, they met. And four days later they’re hugging, and that fifteen years of fear was gone to them. They didn’t have to talk about German Holocaust, or any things of that nature. They felt each other. And they felt their differences, and their samenesses, and just being in contact with each other.
That’s why I wanted all these different people. And it doesn’t always help. There was a Jewish guy that came from Los Angeles. And that year we had an Imam, a beautiful guy named Ihab, who lives in Yaffa. That’s a city right south of Tel Aviv. He’s, I don’t know, six generations Yaffa, maybe more. I mean his family’s been there forever. And we had a Plenary, and I asked him to talk. And after that evening, this Jewish man came up to me and said, “How dare you allow a Palestinian to talk here?” Now this is after I had talked about how we treat the other, and what the retreats about. “How dare you allow a Palestinian to come here?” And through the retreat, at the end of the retreat he said he had a very powerful retreat, and he still feels I should not allow Palestinians to come here. Who’s suffering more, the Imam or this L.A. Jew?
So in one of the years where I didn’t attend, one of the Spirit Holders—Cornelius is now the German Spirit Holder. Before Cornelius, a man named Heinz, I wonder if it was the same Heinz that was the author . . .
I never asked the architects last name. This one is Heinz-Jurgen Metzger. But at any rate, Heinz was our Spirit Holder. And as I said, Eve and I both weren’t there that year, and he introduced the thought of remembering the Capos, the guards and the S.S. that worked there. And what I was told was about half of the retreatants were gonna leave. They were very, very upset at that notion.
And so the next year, I made that the theme, and we did a lot of work on that. And there was a woman who had been very active with us, an Israeli who is a teacher of nonviolent communication, had been a teacher for years, and years, and was doing beautiful work in Palestine and Israel. She had worked directly with Marsha Rosenberg. And she was now involved with us a long time. And she came up to me one of the evenings when we were dealing with the subject of allowing Capos, and Gestapo, and what Heinz had introduced. She came up to me, and she was serious, she said, “Bernie, you’ve got to separate us, because I will kill him.” So this was our experience. N.V.C. trainer, who’s buttons somehow was very well pushed enough to where she seriously (and before being in N.V.C., she was in the police force), and she really wanted to kill him.
Audience member 1: And Heinz said he felt so in danger that he wanted to leave the retreat.
Bernie: Yeah. Well, Heinz was scared, because she meant it. She wanted to kill him.
At any rate, one of the things that was so important for me personally—which again, I didn’t realize until yesterday, and I don’t know if it was yesterday, because I have such a bad sense of time, but it was recently—what struck me is that when I went in to Berkinau that first time, and could feel all these souls wanting to be remembered, those souls included the Capos and Gestapo. But it took us ten years before we started to include a process, which we now have for the last eight years or something—a process on working on the aggressor within us.
So when I reflect on that experience of the souls wanting to be remembered . . . You know when some people here me talk, they think, “Oh he felt all the Jewish people.” But in my consciousness, at that time, it included all the groups that I mentioned. Because I knew that’s where the Gypsies—so we had the Queen of the Gypsies at our first retreat. And we had the S.S. house at Auschwitz 1, that’s where were housed all the gays that came. And we almost always had handicapped, we’ve always had survivors, and X survivors, and children of Gestapo, you know, that big variety.
But it took Heinz to bring that up, and for us almost to lose all of our retreatants—the notion that they should be remembered too. Because if you’re talking about suffering, was it just the Jews that suffered then? It doesn’t work that way. Just like now, you go to Israel and every Israeli is suffering. And if you step over to the West Bank, every Palestinian is suffering. If you went into Gaza, everyone is suffering. And the soldiers, like her nephews that go in there and see what’s happening—they’re suffering. And they will continue suffering after it’s all over. After it’s all over, all these people are suffering. So, what’s the deal? What ends the suffering? If you choose one piece of this Indra’s Net, is that gonna do it?
At any rate, the power of that Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz lead me to make Bearing witness Retreats a major part of the work I do. And Street Retreats is one form of Bearing Witness Retreat. And by now we have many within the Zen Peacemakers. So there’s a Zen Peacemaker family, which is rather large. And we’re now revitalizing the Zen Peacemaker Order to only be those people that are engaged in social action. But if I now look at all of the people that are now leaders of different Bearing Witness Retreats, they’re all part of Z.P.O. And we’re requiring anybody who joins Z.P.O. to go to at least one Bearing Witness Retreat every three years. Genjo probably leads Street Retreats about five times a year. A couple people here are from Frank Waele’s sangha. They’re involved in Street Retreats annually, but he then does other Bearing Witness Retreats.
So that’s become a very important part of our work. And in my head, for something to be a Bearing Witness Retreat, it has to come out of the Three Tenets. And that’s why I’m doing a training now of what it means to organize a Bearing Witness Retreat, because the name catches on, and people call all kinds of things Bearing Witness Retreats. I don’t mind that. But it’s important that if people want to be part of what we’re doing, that they grasp the Three Tenets, and how these Retreats should be, and not cause more problems by creating a Bearing Witness Retreat that they think is going to deal with an issue, and give people all the answers to what that issue is about.
You know, that’s so common among us. When we first started council, and even now when we do council, the hardest people to learn how to do council are teachers, and ministers, because they want to preach. They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to be open to everything. They know the answers. Man, they’ve been in this business a long time, and they want to preach to us, and tell us what’s the right way of doing things, you know. So council’s very difficult for them, and it’s very important for them, I think. That’s my opinion.
And so this last twenty years, it’s been about preaching the gospel of council, and of bearing witness work. And I think that’s what I wanted to say.
But I just want to add that I think you can see how these Bearing Witness Retreats increase our experience of Indra’s Net, or this energy field. Because a lot of what we’re bearing witness to are parts of that energy field, or parts of that Indra’s Net that we don’t want to be in touch with, or we haven’t wanted to be in touch with. So for this woman, look at her energy net—this woman from near Munich—she kept all Jews and Poles out of the energy field. She tried to, you know, you can’t keep them out, because it’s an energy field, it’s Indra’s Net. But her brain was trying to keep it all out. And what does that create? It creates fear. It creates suffering. So in my opinion, the suffering that any of us our going through has got to be because there are portions of this net that we’re keeping out. If we experienced the whole thing, there’d be no suffering, in my mind. How could there be? It’s all; we’re all just all these things happening.
Eve: What? You mean all this pain is gonna make us happy?
Bernie: No, but happiness and pain will be just two pieces of the net. I mean it won’t be that we’ll make a problem out of it.
Eve: Rocky, come on! I mean come on; you want me to go to Rwanda. You want me to go to Congo. You know what goes on there? The rape, and the mutilation, and the children, they take them to the army. And you think if I stay away from that, that’s what makes me sad?
Eve: Oh Rocky, come on. That makes no sense at all.
Bernie: I never said I make sense. I just share my opinions. That’s my opinion.
Eve: But how can that . . . If you give me a choice between going to the Congo and seeing all these things, and watching a comedy on TV, which is going to make me happier?
Bernie: Going to the Congo. It’s going to open up your—in my opinion, Tootsie—if you do that, then more of that net’s going to be there. Now they may give you things to do. Probably stuff is gonna happen, and you’re gonna want to do certain things. But I think you won’t be as fearful, or as nervous as if you did do it. To me, the smaller the net that you are dealing with, the worse it is. You’re confined, and yet inside you do have some sense of everything going on. But you’ve got like all these walls; so all that stuff just causes problems. Just like that woman, in her mind, “Poles are haters, so I gotta be afraid of meeting a Pole.” Extend the net, now she’s with a Pole, where’s the hate? “How come you don’t hate me?” It changes. So for me the experience, and that’s what Buddhism is about, it’s experience, experiencing these things, and as Shakyamuni Buddha said, “It’s experiencing the interconnectedness of life, the oneness of life.”
So what are the tools to help us do that? Zazen is one. But for me, what I’ve seen in my experience is this bearing witness stuff has done that much broader. And what’s interesting—this is just a thought that just came up—I haven’t seen people that do Bearing Witness Retreats become arrogant. I have seen many Zen teachers become arrogant, like they know what the deal is. I think when you do Bearing Witness Retreats, because they’re based on the Three Tenets, you get to know that you don’t know what the deal is, and you’re experiencing more, and more of the net. But they’re not carrying with it the notion that you know it all. And many Buddhist teachers that I’ve met seem to know it all. And it always sort of amazes me how they could feel that way. I just throw that out because it just came up, just an opinion.
So, any questions? We have fifteen minutes.
Audience member 2: I have a question in three parts. The first is more about the second part . . .
Bernie: The second twenty years? Isn’t that great we can talk about twenty year periods? Of course they’re all now here, right? It’s all part of this net. So in my case, and now in your case, you can experience that net, at least the part of that net that’s sort of Bernie for sixty years—or some parts of that, you know?
Audience member 2: I was asking myself . . . You told us yesterday about the new wineskin was needed. I was asking myself how do the practitioners of the old wineskin look at your new wineskin? And in your opinion, should the old wineskinners better be turned on to the new wineskin? That’s the second question. And out of that, the third question; should it maybe be an idea to integrate these Zen Peacemakers concept in existing organizations that don’t have anything to do with Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism in particular?
Bernie: OK. So the first part, you gotta ask them. How can I talk for other people? It’s hard enough for me to talk for myself.
Eve: It’s not that hard.
Bernie: I can just share my opinions, but I certainly won’t talk about anybody else. That’s just part of my practice. This came up in a discussion I had with Barbara. I would not for example recommend anybody go any other place, including myself. I mean people have to make their own decisions. And I have no idea what other people have to say. The only way I would have some idea—this is again not knowing, bearing witness—so if I wanted to know . . . So he’s [Cornelius] a Zen teacher, if I want to know what he thinks of the old skins and whatever, I can’t tell you what he thinks of it. I would have to come to him without any prejudgment, bear witness to Cornelius, and then see what comes up. And what comes us might be a question. “Hey Cornelius, what do you think about the old one?” But then, which old one? The second part of the first question—what part? And what’s the changes?
What struck me today was that during our sitting, in the morning sitting, I’m sitting, and this woman next to me, her nose starts to drip, and she starts reaching for her handkerchief. I guess it was a handkerchief, she was reaching for something, I could tell. And I could also tell she wasn’t finding it. In my old training—the training during the first twenty years—when somebody did that, my response was “Let it drip! Don’t move!” That was what I did in those twenty years. And now, I was sitting, I experienced this dripping and some movement, and what came up was I reached into my pocket for a tissue and gave it to her. That’s a change. It may not sound like a big change, but believe me when I trained you couldn’t do that, what I did. I mean I was the guy who would yell at you for doing that.
But at any rate, so there are so many different wineskins. Now, one of the wineskins that I learned back then was how to do Zazen. I haven’t changed that at all. Well, my body is now bad, so I do most of the sitting in a bathtub, because I have such bad knees and stuff like that. But I mean many of the forms I learned—I learned a lot of forms in those first twenty years—and I have kept many of them, most of them. But I let go of a lot. I dropped the kyusoku, for example, probably more than twenty years ago.
What was the second question?
Audience member 2: Should the old wineskins be turned over to the new wineskins?
Bernie: You know, what I learned . . . So, one of my advantages in Zen—I think, one of my advantages in Zen—is that I trained under three different Zen teachers, all very different. My direct teacher was Maezumi Roshi, but I started my Zen training with a man called Yasutani Roshi. I did the passing of Mu, and my first 100 to 150 koans with Koryo Roshi. So I trained under three different teachers, all of whom their styles were very, very different. And what Yasutani Roshi would say, one of the things that he said that effected me a lot, he said, it’s like in Japan, Japanese people love noodles. And there are all kinds of noodles—dozens, and dozens of different types of noodles. And so you have all these different noodle shops. And he said, “I’ll serve whatever noodle is right for the person who comes.” Well, that was not what some other places were doing where you had to do it this way. They served one type of noodle, and if you didn’t like that noodle—bye bye.
So from an early age I was working with all kinds of folks, including Catholic Priests, and Jewish Rabbis, and Muslim Sheiks, and Priests and laypeople. I learned to work with many, many . . . This is in the early twenty years, and continues. But I learned to work with many, many different forms, and which wineskin to use depended on the relationship. If I said that this is a wineskin that had to be used, that’s violating my first Tenet of not knowing. How do I know what’s appropriate unless we work together, and study together? And even then it’ll change depending on the time, the place, and whatever.
So that’s how I do things. I don’t have time to go into my little skit about the carpenter, about using a way.
Audience Member 2: Would it be a good idea to integrate the Zen Peacemakers concept into existing organization who don’t have anything to do with Buddhism or Zen?
Bernie: Greyston, for example, is such a case. Greyston is a huge organization. It’s not a Buddhist organization. It’s being listed as past of the Zen Peacemakers Order. It came out of the Zen Peacemakers, but it’s not a Buddhist thing. And the head of the bakery, a wonderful guy, and myself are preparing a training program for organizations that want to use the model of Greyston, which is basically the Three Tenets, and the five Buddha fields. So, yes, and that’s happened even by itself. People have come to us and trained, but not Buddhists. And these Three Tenets, as you hear, have no Buddhist terminology in it. And you’ll see those Three Tenets now all over the place. It’s sort of interesting, fascinating to me, how it’s arisen in different places.
Audience Member 2: Where did you find the Three Tenets? Where did you get them from?
Bernie: In my experience in Zen.
Audience Member 2: It’s your invention?
Bernie: I invented them. But I’m quick to say that the first Tenet of not knowing is the experience of the source of Mu. If you’ve done koan study, in koan study we’re trying to get you to experience that state of no knowing. But I put it into an easy way of talking. What I think I brought is an easy way, where I can take these Three Tenets and talk with any businessperson, or anybody. And the bearing witness is what I define as Shikantaza. But also, when I looked at koan study, for me, I wanted that student to become that koan, to bear witness to every aspect of what was going on. So that was bearing witness—and the actions that arise out of that.
Eve: So, when you say you “invented them . . . “
Bernie: I didn’t invent . . .
Eve: But they’re all pearls. So it’s like they were always there. So it doesn’t matter even when you say, “I created this. I created this book, this poem, this movie.” It was always there.”
Eve: And you’re just either seeing it . . .
Bernie: Expressing it in a different way, maybe.
So, I expressed it as the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. Yeah, I’m not sure, or I’m bringing attention to them. I’m bringing more light onto that portion of the thing. I mean the not knowing—take any religion, right. In Judaism, God is that which can’t be known. In Islam, God is that which can’t be known. In Christianity, the cloud of unknowing.
Eve: I guess my question is everybody here creates something. You create a song. You create a picture. You create a story. But if those are pearls, then really you’re not creating anything, because those pearls are there. So what is it that happens when we create something, you know, and at the same time it’s always there? So what is that? You know what I’m saying?
Eve: How do you unveil it? How do you unveil that pearl that’s always been there?
Bernie: Yeah. It’s an interesting question. So let’s go to the beginning. What’s the beginning? The beginning is before the Big Bang. It’s all there. Everything is there—all past, present, and future—before the Big Bang. But it can’t be perceived. And that’s what most religions call God—that which can’t be perceived. It can’t be known, right? And that’s what I call not knowing. And in Zen practice, that’s the source of Mu, if you’ve done work on koans. So every mystical tradition is trying to get you to experience that state before perception. That’s also the koan, What was your face before your mother was born, before your parents were born? That’s a koan. And that’s pointing to before the Big Bang. So it’s all there, but you can’t perceive it.
OK, now the Big Bang happens. And now it’s all moving out. And you’re saying that all the sudden I’m shining light on this portion that’s got to do with the Three Tenets. I’m just making this up as I go along. You know, I’m just thinking. And somehow, that other things that are perceiving it get excited by it, and join in.
So now we come to Jonah Salk. So we just did a retreat at Rwanda. A Bearing Witness Retreat in Rwanda, and Eve said to me . . . And a lot of things came up out of that. We did a retreat, and now there’s a lot of connections. There’s a wonderful woman that’s doing work with trauma. And she’s created over a hundred circles in doing this work. And now she and Barbara are connected. And she wants to become a Z.P.O. Steward. And all of her circles will be members of Z.P. And there’s a guy who wants to put light on all the Z.P.O. work that’s happening in Rwanda. A lot happened out of that. And Eve said, “You know, you don’t need to go again.” But next one, you go, you be the seed. You go, and things will arise, or they won’t arise. And stuff will continue.
So it reminded me of something that happened in Los Angeles, so it’s during the first twenty years. A man that in the United States is credited with developing the Polio vaccine, Jonah Salk—I don’t know if he’s known in Europe—he was a member of Zen Center Los Angeles. He sat with us. And one day he said to me, in his opinion, where there’s an unhealthy system—usually he was dealing with the body, we were dealing with society, the world—what he thinks you have to do is get a healthy cell, put it in the body, and if that cell is really healthy, it will multiply and eventually that body will become healthy. And he said he thought Zen was like that.
But that’s because he was a new Zen student, and new students always think what they just found is so fantastic. But I think that that’s what’s happening with Z.P.O. The Zen Peacemakers seed, there’s about 140 affiliates around the world now. And the amount of people that have heard about the Three Tenets is huge. They’re not all doing things. So now we want to encourage people to do things. And if they do, there’ll be new seeds all over the place. And that will shed more light, I think. And I think that’s what we’re doing, sort of more light is happening. And if it’s healthy, then it grows. If it’s not healthy, it’ll die. So just because you do something based on the Three Tenets, if it’s not healthy, it’s gonna die. If it’s helpful, I think it will live, and grow. And I know it won’t be just in Zen places. It’s already happening that all this stuff we’re doing is effecting all kinds of . . .
I was just visiting a wonderful group in Los Angeles that works with street gangs. It’s called Homeboys. And it’s a Catholic priest that’s in charge. And I was just talking with him; it’s a Catholic Priest that thinks he’s a Buddhist. He’ll come to Greyston soon. He’s ill; he’s got cancer—not in good shape. But he’s been working for a very long time, and saved so many people. And he’s built a huge thing called Homeboy Industry, and Homegirl Industry. And he’ll talk with people—these are all street people, these are gang people that are killing each other. You’ve heard of the killings that go on among those kinds of gangs. That’s who he works with. And it’s grown tremendously. And it’s very much on the same principles that we do. When we talk, we can talk like, “Yeah, so he comes first, we come first,” it don’t matter. It’s the same principles. And what he’s doing is fantastic.
Eve: The lunch bell has rung.
Bernie: The lunch bell has rung, I’m sorry. So we will go to lunch, and we’ll continue with . . . I don’t know, what are we continuing with?
Eve: We’ll see.
Bernie: We’ll see.
The first two series of talks were given at Felsentor, Switzerland, July 2014 by Bernie Glassman and Eve Marko on Bernie’s Six Decades of Zen Teaching/Practice (with occasional cameos by Rocky and Tootsie)
The days’ format was as follows: Bernie gave the morning talk, describing his practice and teaching in a 20-year segment. In the afternoon, Eve’s talk uncovered and discussed issues relevant to that way of practice.
Scott Harris has volunteered to do the transcriptions and they will be posted here as he completes the transcriptions.
So what we plan to do this afternoon is that I took some notes on Bernie’s talk, and I will try to kind of uncover from my experience some of the issues that he related to, and what you also brought up. OK? And you can also ask questions as you did for him. And then after the break, I’m going to ask Barbara Roland, and also Cornelius who’s here to do his retreat, but since he’s a teacher, maybe he also has questions that he wants to relate to from his years of practice. And again, you can always come in with your questions and clarifications. And what I’d like to do is then sit again at 5:30, because this is a lot of talk. And I also want to really take the opportunity to thank our translators, who really are working hard, and great, great appreciation to you for doing this.
So, Tootsie asked Rocky this morning, “What about love Rocky?” And for those of you who don’t know, we sometimes get bored with each other, you know. Like, oh we’re not married so long, but we know each other—teacher/student for almost thirty years. So we created these two characters, because we both like Italians. We love New York Italians. So Bernie created this character. He used to be a fighter when he was growing up, and he was called Rocky. Did you know that? So he created this Italian fighter/gangster called Rocky. And I loved my Italian friends when I was growing up. We used to wear these fishnet stockings, and long sweaters. Of course we always wanted to catch a man right away. And that’s how Rocky and Tootsie happened. And it’s nice because Rocky and Tootsie are not Buddhists. So when they explore things, they have to find a different language—not to use Buddhist terms, but to find different words to ask the same questions everybody else asks, but to ask it in different ways. And sometimes they get along better than Bernie and Eve. And sometimes they don’t, you know. OK.
Some of you know I just came back from Israel—actually Tuesday afternoon came out of Israel. When I was there—I have family, I have a brother, and he’s a grandfather. So he was looking at the television set, which showed all these horrible things. Because he has two sons that are down there, in Gaza. And he has two sons-in-law, who are down there in Gaza. And his grandchild, who’s a little boy about three years old, kept on talking to him. And my brother didn’t pay much attention, because he’s staring at the television set. And finally the little boy said (in Hebrew, but I’ll translate for you), he said, “Pick up your eyes, and look at me. Grandpa, pick up your eyes and look at me.” That’s what he actually said. And I think those words were great for many different reasons, including what happens to us when we watch television, what happens to us when we read newspapers, when we do Facebook. We don’t have our eyes—we’re not experiencing life. We’re not listening. You know, we’re in our heads, like he was. And a little boy says to us, “Pick up your eyes and look at me.”
So Bernie, earlier this morning, spoke about Zazen and koans as a way of experiencing life. So those of you who have done meditation, you know that the instruction is that your mind goes off on different thoughts, different thoughts, different ideas, thoughts, feelings, right? And you’re always supposed to bring it back to now. Right, that sounds familiar, right? You go off—come back. Why? Because you want to come back to the experience of this moment. That’s what it is. When you and I go into our minds and thoughts, it’s usually about the past, it may be fear about the future, some abstract thought about what’s happening in Ukraine, but you’re not here, now. So the idea of always coming back is to come back to the experience. Come back to the experience of this moment now. That’s what Zazen is. It’s experience. Really, that’s what meditation is. It’s experience, right now, this moment.
And for those of you who do koan study, you know that you’re asked not to give intellectual answers, but to give an expression of now. Express the answer now, without going into your head. So show me your experience of this koan. And if you’re not experiencing the koan, you’re not really doing . . . Well; you’re doing koan study, but a different kind of koan study. So let me tell you, in my experience, what was missing for me in those early years. And what was missing for me was experience of relationship. That’s what was missing for me. So, the idea was that you sat on the cushion, and yeah, you experience now. You did meditation, and if you did it well, you experienced this moment. And if you did koan study, you were able to experience the koan. But the question is, what happened relating to other people? So when you got up, the bell rang, you got up, and you went home. You came in to sit. You did your experience of your own meditation. The bell rang; you get up and go home.
Well what about relationship? What about the people who sit with you? What about the people who are your friends, the people in your house, your children? What do you say to them? And this was a difficult thing, because one of the first major things you learn in Zen is about emptiness. This term of emptiness I think is very confusing. But if you know what it is, it’s that you, as an I, or you as a separate independent entity, separate from the rest of life, doesn’t exist. That’s in some way what emptiness is. But if you think about what that means is that at every moment—like right now, you know if I look at Roland, and he’s speaking to Rachel, he is talking to her, but who is Roland? And Roland is a separate entity, but Roland is a combination of all, billions, and billions of elements from the past, and everything coming together in Roland. So he is relationship. You see, he is relationship. And Rachel is relationship. She’s not just a separate person. She is all the things that came together to create something called Rachel. And so that relationship called Roland is speaking, and relating to a relationship called Rachel.
In the early years, and even now, there was a sense in many sanghas that there’s Three Treasures. We say there’s the Buddha, and the teacher represents the Buddha. And there’s the Dharma, which is the teachings. And there’s the Sangha, which is the people. And the Sangha was the least important treasure.
And Bernie has often repeated to me what his teacher told him—that if you’re gonna work with Sangha, that’s the most difficult of the Three Treasures. And he told me that. He said, “Eve, after a while, you’ll find that giving talks is easy. Really, it’s not a problem. But how to get along, that’s a problem.” How to help other people in the Zendo to get along with each other. So those of you that are in sanghas, and communities, you know what happens. There is resentments. There is competitiveness. And we don’t know how to resolve them.
The old Zen Community of New York, which was the first incarnation of the Zen Peacemakers, we worked very hard in Greyston, and in social service that Bernie will talk about tomorrow. And there was tension because, you know, “You didn’t do this.” And if we worked in a bakery, “You gave me the wrong bills,” and “You sent me to the wrong address,” and “How come you’re giving me an order for twenty cakes? How am I gonna finish that? It’s already five o’clock, what are you doing?” And we had no tools. We had no tools. So some of you said earlier today that you love council. We didn’t know council. We didn’t do council in those years. We didn’t even sit in a circle. There was no such thing as people sitting in a circle. And although we did face each other—that was something that Bernie created—I know back in Zen Center of L.A., and many places, people faced the wall. They don’t face each other. And they certainly don’t sit like this. OK?
We had no tools for how to relate to each other. And what that meant also was we didn’t know how to relate to people at home. So imagine your child wants to relate to you. You know, what’s the child saying? He’s saying what my brothers’ grandson said to him. “Lift up your eyes, and look at me.” What are you going to say? What did the early Zen teaching teach you to say? What are you going to say? Are you going to say, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t exist really. You’re empty. You don’t know that, but you’ll find out. You don’t exist as a separate entity.” Is this any kind of help for relationships?
Yeah, we didn’t have Nonviolent Communication like Ruth. He’s a trainer in Nonviolent Communication. And now we have that a lot in our sanghas. We didn’t have any of that. So we had lots of violent communication—lots of violent communication.
So I think this whole issue of relationship was not honored in those days. Now it’s funny because Zen has teachings about relationship, in a particular way. So one of the most basic teachings in Zen is the differences in the oneness. And the idea is that we are all different, and we’re all one. And we’re both, all at the same time. So as Bernie explained this morning, the biggest work of a Zen teacher is to help people experience the oneness of life. But sometimes the differences, and that experience of differences, and what to do with those differences, which is the work of relationship, I think was deeply neglected. So, as I said Tuesday night—and I apologize if I repeat it, but I think it was very important—when I was in Israel (and I write, so it’s very often that I write about what I go through), I couldn’t write about what was going on there. It was so crazy. Instead what I did was I made a list of all these opposites. And it was all going on at the same time. “They’re bombing us.” “No, they’re bombing us.” “You know, our fighters have to go out through tunnels to get to them.” “No, we’re sending fighters through them to get to them.” “Our survival is at stake.” “No, our survival is at stake.” “Our sons are doing this.” And my brother’s saying, “My sons are doing this. Do you know how it feels like to me?” Or one of his sons-in laws is part of an elite unit. And he would say to me, “I was one of those who goes to the West Bank, and puts a mask on his head, and has to go into the family, and find the Hamas operative, and get him. And I go in, and kids are screaming from fright. And the mothers are screaming. They’re crying. And they say ‘there’s nobody here.’” And then he says, “And I hate to do that, because I have sons that age, and I can’t imagine what trauma I’m creating when I go into the house like that. But I have to do it. I have to do it. I hate to do this, but I have to do it.”
“I hate to do this, but I have to do that.” “I hate to bomb hospitals, but at the same time, they have weapons in the basement of the hospital, so I have to do that.”
And there were all these opposites—all these differences, huge differences. And the whole time I was there, I had this whole list. And it was like this. But what I was experiencing was how do you experience the differences? Not just sit on the cushion, and say, “Well, there’s differences, and there’s one. And that’s the practice.” But how do you practice differences? How do you practice differences in one? For me, through the practice of relationship. So I also mentioned Tuesday night, I was so moved by a YouTube of an Orthodox Rabbi, who after these three young boys were killed, or they disappeared, before the whole everything else started happening, somebody asked him, “How do we deal in this situation?” And he said, “I will tell you.” He said, “The two men who killed those three teenagers—Jewish teenagers in the West Bank—they are asking for peace.” And then he says, “You must think I’m crazy. You say, ‘Two people killed, in cold blood, these three teenagers, and you think they’re asking for peace?’” And he said, “Yes, but I’m telling you they’re asking for peace.” It could be that outside, because of karma, history, conditioning, circumstances, anger, all the things they are manifesting, and they are reacting in a very aggressive, murderous, terrible way. But deep inside, they are (in our language), they are A, and something else is B. And the A and the B have to come together. In our words, they have to form a relationship.
If you don’t believe that all these differences need to come together in peace, then what you’re saying, he said, “Is that God made a mistake. God was confused when he created these two Palestinians who killed those three guys. Do you think God was confused? Do you think that God is perfect, except for those two, and those two were the only mistake that God made? No. They too are part of that perfection. And they need to come together with the others. And they need to come together to make peace.” And yes, outwardly we manifest in all kinds of crazy ways. But deep inside, we have to come together. And that for me is what relationship is about. And yet, I knew all this. I knew the study of differences. I got that. But I didn’t get to the practice of relationship till this term Bearing Witness came, and the practice of Bearing Witness. That is what really pointed to this thing of relationship.
I’m just remembering somebody showed me an ad when I was in Israel, like a commercial, and it goes like this. So an Arab woman, covered, says in Arabic (and there’s subtitles), “You don’t belong here.” And then the next picture is of a Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke. “You don’t belong here.” Next picture is of a young Palestinian, and he says in Arabic, “You don’t belong here.” And the next picture is of an older European Jewish woman, “You don’t belong here.” And this goes on, and on. And at the very end, the message says, “This was presented to you by the Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Parents Group,” the group of parents who lost children—both Palestinian and Israeli. So what they’re saying is, “We don’t want you to belong with us. We don’t want you to be parents that are also losing your children.” But the way they did it is, “You don’t belong here.” “No, you don’t belong here.” “No, YOU don’t belong here.” “No, YOU don’t belong here.” You see? And there are all these opposites. And how to really hold these differences? That for me is the practice of Bearing Witness, and the practice of working with relationship. And all the tools—we had to develop tools—and learn tools from other people. We didn’t invent council. Council was created by other people. And to this very day, there are many sanghas that have no interest in council. They don’t want to. They think, “Ah, it’s too much talk, and it’s too . . . You know, it’s not Zen. N.V.C, what’s that got to do with anything? It’s not Zen. Zen is sitting on your cushion in silence. That’s Zen.” Anyway, questions?
Audience member 1: One thing that came up for me is when you say that for example, the Palestinians and Israelis have to come together in a relationship, and I wonder whether they are already in a relationship, but they’re not bearing witness to those relationships? Eve: Yeah. I mean, I know the Jewish liturgy very well, because I was raised in that kind of family. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. So the word peace, “And God will make peace. God who makes peace in the heavens will make peace on earth for all Israel and all people. Amen.” That verse ends every single prayer three times a day. It ends the grace at the end of a meal. You know, it’s like a mantra. “God makes peace.” You know, so everybody knows that. Everybody recites that. But what’s the experience of it? What’s the experience of it? If this is the way you’re behaving, and “it’s always them,” and “they don’t belong here, they’re the killers, they’re this”? How do you work with each other? What is the practice of that? What is the Zen practice of relationship? What happens when you go home? What is the Zen practice of raising children; of getting along with your partner? What is that Zen practice? I mean certainly when I studied with Bernie, I did talk with him about situations in my life with other people. But he’s told me that he never had one interview—or dokusan—with his teacher in which he ever talked about his life. Not once. Bernie: It was either koans, or “how do we build the center bigger?”
Audience member 2: May I ask a question? If you say, “God makes peace,” this is God on the object level, it’s the outside. Somebody will do it. So my question is where is God? Eve: Yeah, but the idea is that if you are a godly person, you are fulfilling the work here on Earth. I mean that’s what is understood by that. It’s not somebody else is gonna do it. Maybe some people think that, but I think many understand that it’s our work to do that. And what is that work?
So I think this was a big area that was neglected in those years. Bernie: I just want to throw in one message, that in terms of Zen, the image of God, or that concept (in my opinion everything is a concept), that concept is our first Tenet—that which can’t be known. That’s all. So when we talk about the first Tenet of not knowing, that is the Buddhist concept of God in the Christian, or the Jewish, or the Muslim traditions. And within each of those traditions, there are schools of thought that say that God is that which can’t be known. So they’re using their language of God to relate it to our language of the first Tenet—in my opinion.
Audience member 3: I hear you saying that there’s opposites. There’s nothing but opposites. But, I’m seeing it as the same. I’m seeing the dilemmas. Bernie: You’re seeing what?
Audience member 3: The same. I’m seeing everything as the same. You know, and they are in relationship. They’ve been in this kind of relationship for a long time. And to me, the only thing that will change that adversarial relationship is for them to see that they are in the same boat. They’re both losing their children. They’re both suffering. They’re all . . . It’s the same. So it’s interesting.
Eve: Yeah, so that’s why this group, this bereaved parents group was started by parents who lost their children. We met the founder, Yiyzhak Frankental, who’s son was kidnapped by Hamas and killed. And when we met him, I remember he said, “I felt that I was a failure as a father, because my job as a father was to protect my son. And the way I raised him, with the idealness of Zionism, you know, ‘they are out to kill us, you go into the army’ and so I didn’t protect my son. I did the opposite. I actually encouraged him in the wrong way.” And then he met a Palestinian who also saw, and that was the beginning. And that group, they act as mirrors of each other. And they see that.
And I’m glad you raised that, because one of the things about relationships is that . . . This is my opinion. It’s not Rocky’s opinion, you know. It’s Tootsie’s opinion. And Tootsie’s opinion is that “Boy I can sit on that cushion a long time [in Tootsie voice], but there’s a lot of things I’m not gonna see.” You know, there’s a lot of angers, and there’s a lot of . . . or just a denial of areas where I don’t want to engage even. Places where I’m blind, where I’m deaf. And I don’t think I want to see them on the cushion. Or I might see them after many years. Where I’ll see them a lot faster is in relationship—a lot faster. You know, when I talk with my husband, and he says this, and I say that, I can see what comes up. And everybody here has that experience. Am I gonna be able to see those things just sitting on a cushion and meditating? That has not been my experience.
So what is wonderful is to see those things in relationship. And some of the way that I will work with it is on the cushion. Is being on the cushion the only way? No. Over these last years I have done therapy. We have done couples therapy. I have done different things. You know, wherever I can get different kinds of help, to help me work. And I also sit on the cushion. But what I learned from relationship, what I see in that mirror when I’m in that relationship, what I learned from my own students about myself—oh, it will take me many years to learn if I just sit on the cushion.
Audience member 4: So that could be, really another understanding of sangha. Because my feeling it was a kind of a failure that in our sangha we began to fight because of competition. And my idea was when I had this practice for a long time, and all the others too, so we should really relate in a good, peaceful, etc. way. And when one of the big fights last year started, I thought oh, something must have been wrong. But when I understand what you said now, I can understand sangha as a place where I really can see here. Like in a relationship or a sangha, here I have this, and here’s this problem, and I can deal with it. And I have a space where I can find ways how to be with all these differences—perhaps with fighting, but without destroying each other.
Eve: Yeah. So what we’re discovering is that even though we practice many years, you know, we’re not so different from other people. Really. You know, we still fight with our husbands or wives. We still fight with our parents. You know, we’re not some all-wonderful peaceful people. We really aren’t. For me, that’s not what Zen practice means. But what Zen practice means, and what sangha means, is that I’m going to engage with it. I’m going to look at that differences—the oneness and the differences in the oneness. And when I’m with sangha, I’m with other people who are committed to looking at it the same way, and working with it also. That’s what that means for me. It doesn’t mean that oh we’re wonderful, perfect people that have no trouble. Audience member 4: But it’s really different from my beginning. My beginning was practice, and then . . . Eve: Never fight again. Audience member 4: Yeah, something like that. Bernie: That was your concept? Audience member 4: Yes. Bernie: Yeah, all concepts are concepts.
There’s a koan that relates to this. The koan is What is sameness? And the intellectual answer to the koan is that sameness is differences. Sameness is the fact that everything, everything is different. Now how do you experience that?
So when I started the Auschwitz Retreat, as an example, every year I would talk about why I started it. And I kept hearing people over the eighteen years talking about the Auschwitz Retreat having to do with all about the Holocaust, and it was all about the Jews and Germans—it was about the Holocaust. And every year, at Auschwitz, I would talk about that that retreat was about the differences, and how we deal with differences. I would make that a huge point. And every year that would be forgotten, because it’s very difficult to deal with the differences. We want it all to be the same. Or we want it all to be no suffering. Or we want, you know, we want everything to go away. And life, to me, aint that way.
It’s like my own body, if I look inside my body, and I say oh yeah, I always like inside my body no germs come up, no diabetes systems to come up, no cancer cells to come up. What kind of game am I playing with myself? I’m denying that my body is all differences, and that my ears fall apart—now I need hearing aids. My teeth fall out, and I need a partial . . . Eve: [in Tootsie voice] Rocky, you’re all fukakt.
Bernie: I’m all fukakt!
[In Rocky voice] I think the practice is learning that I am fukakt, and not trying to be not fukakt. I mean if I’m gonna sit around worrying about how am I gonna be un-fukakt?
Eve: [as Tootsie] Forget about it.
Bernie: Forget about it.
But I could learn. I could learn, I think, how to deal with it, you know. What does that mean? It means try not to forget your teeth when you leave. [Audience laughs] I now have left my teeth in different places, but usually in Christian places. [Audience laughs] I’ve left my ears, my hearing aids, usually in Christian places. So I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving my body parts at different Christian retreats I attend. So I’ve got to live with that now. But bearing witness to it . . . Tootsie every time I’m ready to leave somewhere says, “Did you remember your teeth and ears?” So the solution came out of her bearing witness to the fact that I keep forgetting things all over the place. Anyway, the point I want to make is that the word sameness is very tricky. It’s very tricky. I’m gonna make it easy for you. Forget the word sameness. The only thing you can say is the same is that everything is different.
You know, I want to add because it’s such an interesting thought; Eve just wrote an article that went out on our E-mail about the trauma that’s in Israel. That her mother, when something happens like what’s happening now (and it doesn’t even have to be this big), her mother goes into shock. Because her mother’s out of the Holocaust, and the shock that she has is that it’s happening again. That’s got nothing to do with anybody saying, “Well, you know, you’re not realistic,” or whatever. My Rabbi, who just passed away—a beautiful man, Zalman Schachter, he says that all of Israel is in post-traumatic stress. That’s their condition. And everybody looks at them, and says, “Why did they do such-and-such?” It’s like looking at somebody in post-traumatic stress, and saying, “Why don’t you behave differently?” That’s not so simple. And most of the Palestinians are in trauma. So you’re dealing with two groups of people in trauma—and very deep trauma. And you say, “Why don’t they all stop fighting?” “Don’t they know that they should be at peace?” “Haven’t they read any good books about . . .” whatever. Because many of you work with people in stress, I mean, in the U.S. we have so many soldiers coming back in really bad post-traumatic stress, it is not so easy to tell those folks, “Hey, don’t worry. Do a little meditation—no problem.” Yeah, thank you. What’s much more important to me is (but it’s not the first twenty years, so we can’t talk about it), you brought up Bearing Witness . . .
Eve: I want to go. I want to make one other point, because it came up so much this morning. What about taking care of yourself? So for me, that still relates to relationship, which is what is my relationship to myself? And a few of you know this, that we’re trying to put together a collection of household koans, or personal koans.
Bernie: I just read it. It’s great. Eve: Thank you. I . . . Now I lost my thought. [Audience laughs]
It’s work that I like to do with people, personal koans, or the householder koans—not the monastic koans that we usually get. And a few people made contributions. There was one woman who sent me this koan. It was very interesting. She said the koan was Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about! That was the name of the koan. And the situation she described is that she came back (She lives in New Zealand) after being away for many years. And she brought her baby with her. And she was nursing the child. She was talking to her older sister, and talking about how wonderful it is to nurse. And her older sister said, “Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” So she said, “Of course, when that happened, I got very angry. I said, ‘You always talk like that to me. You always made fun of me. You always belittle me. Ever since we were children, this continues. And I hate you.’” Something like that. Now she has sat for many years. So after many years of sitting, she said, “I now know that that was wrong. I know the practice should have been, I should have let go of the self, and said to her, ‘Tell me, you’re my older sister, what do you think?” That’s what she said. “That is the practice that I should do.”
So I looked at this, and I thought well, that’s your opinion. That’s not my opinion. And I really wanted to be sure, so guess who I live with? I live with my own teacher. So I asked him, “This is what I think, Bernie [I said to him], I don’t think that’s the right thing.” Because I think that letting go of the self, in Zen, doesn’t mean that you neglect the self, that you don’t pay attention to yourself, that you eliminate yourself, and you’re just with the other person. The situation includes me. I can’t take my self out of it. And in her way, when she says, “Oh, OK sister, tell me what you think.” She has completely denied her own self. She has denied her feelings, her emotions. She has denied her upset. She has denied what is coming up for her.
But I realize many people think of that as Zen practice. Letting go of the self—that’s what it means. It’s not taking care of your self. And that was not my understanding. My understanding—and so I wrote her this, and actually it’s in my commentary on her koan in this publication that we hope will come out—that no, you enter into relationship, and what that means. That means that you may sit down and say to her not, “Oh you’re all crazy, and I hate you.” No, that isn’t going to do. But relationship, it’s not knowing, and now bear witness. “Well, I’m bearing witness to how I feel, and I’m upset, and I’m sad. I haven’t seen you in fifteen years, and this is how you talk to me? This is how I feel. Can you please tell me why you said this? Or how do you feel? What is this?” And come into a relationship. You know, but don’t leave your self out.
So you know, Bernie said, “Well, I think you can take care of others. You don’t have to necessarily take care of your self.” I feel, I think you have to do both at the same time. In fact, I don’t know how to do one without the other. So he has his opinion. I have my opinion, although Tootsie thinks, “You’re crazy. I’m right.” [Audience laughs]
[In Tootsie voice] What do you, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Rocky. Bernie: [In Rocky voice] That’s true. [Audience laughs]
I always say that this is my opinion, and that’s right now. So I have a different opinion now than when we talked. I don’t know when we talked, but I wouldn’t say that I had that opinion anymore. My opinions are always changing. If opinions don’t change, that means you think they’re right. And that’s, for me, a problem. If you think anything you say, or anything you hear, you think it’s right—including, for me things like The Bible, or the sutras. So in Buddhism, somebody has written, and said that the Buddha had four noble truths. I call it four noble opinions. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a truth. Somebody that calls something else as the truth, and justifies what they’re doing, that’s not a way of bearing witness. It’s just quoting somebody else.
And I don’t know of any emotions that could come up that I would call bad. So for example, I’m looking at this Gatha of Atonement—which of course I can’t read, because I don’t read German, but maybe somebody could read it. We’ve changed it. If you look on the Zen Peacemaker Order website, if you look at the Gatha of Atonement that we put up. We changed it to “Not holding on to my anger.” There’s nothing wrong with anger. It’s just another emotion, as far as I’m concerned. Every emotion is an emotion. It’s hanging on, getting stuck there, that’s another issue. And in terms of practice, bearing witness to those things is a good thing, to me. So, we do a lot of things at Auschwitz which promote a lot of anger, which then allows work to happen in council. For me the retreat would be wasteful if everybody just came and got blissed out, or talked about how wonderful . . . I don’t personally like for people to talk about how wonderful it is, because that’s not the point. The point is what are the issues that occur. And that’s my . . .
Eve: But again, to go back to this thing of taking care of your self. Like I say, when I was in Israel, and there was all these sirens, and missiles, and all this coming, and all this upset, and depression, and anxiety coming. It is clear to me, so I do what I can. And at the same time, if I don’t take care of my self, it’s trouble. So I have to do both. It was clear for me coming back on Tuesday, coming to Switzerland, and arriving, and someone talking about the weather. And I looked at them like, “Where are you coming from? I mean, who cares about the weather?” You know, it was like I was on a different planet. But there’s so much to work out, so much to process in whatever ways you find. Maybe it’s just by sitting for a long time, and really taking it in. Maybe it’s to go talk with someone. Maybe it’s to have a cup of coffee with someone. But I think both have to happen. In order to be able to go on, you have to take care of your self. You know, you have to know your self. And it’s good over years, what traps you fall into about this, “Oh I want to serve. I want to serve.” I mean that was really good, Bernie said this morning, “Serving is too dualistic.” Once you use “I have to take care,” it’s obvious that I’m included. I have to be included. So that’s a much better term. Once you see that, then you also, “Well how do I take care?” You know, and I learned some ways of taking care this time, because I learned from making a mistake when I didn’t take care, and what happened. So my opinion is that the two, you know, they’re so intertwined I can’t differentiate them. I think the problem is the differentiation from the beginning. “Oh first you’ve got to get enlightened, and then this, and then you can go enlighten the world.” Eh, that’s just too separate for me.
You know, do meditation, and get busy, and work, and watch what comes up. It’ll come up for you. It’ll come up in the world. There’s no inside, no outside. We know that. Those voices in Palestine, Israel, believe me there were echoes of that in me. In different ways, I could see it. I could hear it. For me there was no difference. So that didn’t mean that I just took care of others, and hoped that I would be taken care of by that. I had to do both. I don’t know any other way to go on and do this kind of work. So, we had different opinions about that. Anyway, we have maybe a few minutes. Any questions? And if not, we’ll have a break.
Audience member 5: One thing that came up, when you talk about using this word sameness. I think often in our language, almost every word can trigger a different kind of problem. One word for me that came up was when talking about Palestine; you talk about the word peace, because there’s so many different meanings. I see in relationships, and social work so many people needing harmony. So it’s an important need, but often there are other needs that can be satisfied that are much more important. Maybe there will never be harmony with Israel. There are other things between them. So the question for me, is what do you mean by this word peace? Eve: I’ll tell you my sense of it. So harmony is a funny word. It’s not a word that I like, because it evokes a picture of everybody smiling, and everybody loving each other. And I don’t think that’s what it is. It’s much more. You know, I told my sister, who lives in Jerusalem, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. It’s just totally crazy. I don’t know what to do.” And I said to her, “OK, I’ll give you an idea what to do. In the next year, go and meet one Palestinian, and form a relationship. You know, you talk about your daughter. They talk about their children. You talk about your work. They’ll talk about their work. You talk about your family. They’ll talk about their family. Just one—forget 1.8 million Palestinians on the West Bank—just one.” Because for me, it’s forming that relationship that even if tomorrow they signed a peace agreement—that’s a political document. It means very little. They already did that once. But they didn’t do this work—the work of the relationship. If each person met one person on what’s called “the other side,” and they’ll form a relationship. Bernie mentioned this morning that the Buddha talked about suffering. You know, we all suffer. And somebody who sits with me said, “Would I really, really bear witness to that? Would I really see the suffering that somebody else goes through?” It actually humbles me. Because I realize that that’s what we all do. It’s common to all of us. Whoever it is, we all want something else. We struggle, we’re disappointed, we feel bad. There’s a real brotherhood and sisterhood in that world. And so there’s something about bearing witness to that that just makes me feel like “Oh I’m just like Carl. I’m just like you. I’m really in my own way, I’m just like them.” You know, those are the small things we can do. I don’t know would you call it peace? Would you call it harmony? Those are big words. But just that thing, that kind of relationship, one to one, I think is a very big deal.
[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=” The 2nd 20 Years: Social Action: Pick Up Your Eyes and Look at Me”]
I feel like there’s a lot here. And what do you do when there’s a lot? You add more. There’s a koan about that. So we have other teachers here, and so I thought I would ask Roland, and Barbara, and Cornelius also to give their reflections on what they saw in early years of practice, and if they saw, you know what worked well, what didn’t work so well—just their opinions. Bernie gave his opinion about those years, and I gave mine, and perhaps you’d like to say something also.
Roland: So when we came in contact with Bernie, and Eve, and with the Peacemakers, I was in Sufi training. And Barbara, we did it together. . . .
The practice we did was really yogic practice. And this practice was to figure out, to imagine love; to picture love is like the sea, and to plunge into this love. That was this yogic practice. Then we did a second practice that was a mantra—day and night, day and night, all the time. And when you practice this like two months, three months, or half a year, it just goes on, and on. It’s easy, but in the beginning it’s very difficult.
So we came from a quite different perspective to what Bernie and the Peacemakers did in the first twenty years. We were sure that we have to find love, and we have to become love. But what is love? And after ten years—maybe earlier, or later—I realized that love is empty. And that was the moment when I met the Peacemakers, and I met Bernie.
So first when I began to imagine love—it started maybe with Barbara or my children—but the longer you practice this, the more you see. So I got very close to the same idea, but from another way. Not by sitting, or by attending Sesshins, but by sitting two, three quarters of an hour a day, and sharing, eating biscuits together, drinking tea, and sharing dreams.
And that was for me, ten years. And then I had to do a new step. And the new step for me was I had the idea to do koans. And then I met Bernie. And then I went to Auschwitz. And in Auschwitz, I worked the Three Tenets. And I thought that’s the way I want to go. I didn’t understand any word about the Three Tenets when I practiced there, but I had the feeling I know what it is. I only have to find out what it is. And that has something to do with this ten-year practice of love, and insights into what it could be.
So I came from far away, but I saw that Bernie’s heart is like the Sufi heart. I felt his heart. He tells now, “I was a strong teacher, and I was hard and tough,” but what I felt myself was this open heart, that is the goal of a Sufi.
So I don’t know if it’s really important where we start, where we begin. But we have to go, and where we go, we never know. But then for me, it was always important to have a teacher. And I knew to have a teacher, that’s something that’s crucial. I need that. And then Bernie refused to be a teacher, because he was at this moment in the phase he said, “I don’t teach anymore. I am a peer.” And we sat in a circle. And then the circle training started. And this is one of the qualities that Bernie, for me, represented. That he was all the time changing. Eve said he has every day new ideas. And you are never sure that today what he says is really true tomorrow too. And I think that’s great. And I could swallow that. You have to swallow that, if you don’t, then you get into trouble.
And the time that I started with Barbara meditation is when we had little children. We married. She had already two children. And within three years, I found myself with five children. And still there was a goal to do practice, to maybe train together. And we did. We did these all our life together. We went a so-called spiritual way. But we meditated beside our children. And we tried to integrate our spiritual life in our normal life, because we had no choice. And we had a beautiful grandmother who gave us the opportunity to go away for night meeting, or even Sesshins, or even go together with the whole family to Sesshins.
So for me, my idea is to now find a monastic way, because it wouldn’t have been possible for us to do this way together by this monastic structure. And I was very happy then, after the Sufi way that Bernie, and Eve, and all these people, a lot of teachers we met. I had several teachers, and I loved them all. There was a lot of love. But we trained in Sufism. I found in this heart, Zen. I don’t know why, but it was there.
And so I would say that the Three Tenets for me still are the basic . . . The more I understand what it is, the more I see how precious it is. And how useable, how possible it is to use it as a tool in the daily life.
So when I hear that the Zen that Bernie did, and all these people it was so tough, I know I wouldn’t have joined there. I was in another way, and I preferred other things. But I see still the beauty what it is—what this strictness, and this discipline has. And I still feel this in Bernie and Eve, and I still feel it in the sangha. The energy, in a way, I wouldn’t say everything has gone. I would say there’s still a beauty. I can’t describe it, but it’s o flower of different tools, and energies who are here. And for me, it gives me some good feeling to know that they did this path. And in a way, they did it for me. And they were always open, and they shared, and they were committed. I would say the commitment was there, and of course a bodhisattva only has ten, or let’s say a thousand arms. So there are limits. But there are a lot of arms. And still, I feel these arms. I feel this open heart, this open mind. That’s for me the most important is that, yeah I would say open mind.
This open mindedness is for me, I feel that I can through this open mindedness, I can be myself. And I can find myself. And Eve, during her talk, she mentioned “no fear.” And that has a lot to do for me, is no fear—open mind, and finding new solutions. When it doesn’t work, OK, change. Change the way, and go with the flow.
So, still I say Sesshins are good. Bernie has done hundreds. I did maybe ten, maybe a little bit more—OK, let’s say twenty. Twenty is good, maybe thirty. I only say everything that is here that they talk about had, and has its beauty. But if you relate to change, and if you really use it when the time is right, then everything is OK. And then we have to bear witness. We have to out of not knowing, to bear witness to let come up what is the right solution. And for me that’s so precious that I can say that discussions—let’s say a retreat, or a plunge—for me has a lot of flesh on the bone.
And more flesh on the bones—that is Sesshin, still sitting every day is crucial. I find it’s important. And sitting every day—enjoy as a tool with good energy, I think. It’s so nice. Why should we thing that sitting meditation is hard, or has to be hard? It’s just like when I don’t clean my teeth before going to bed, I can’t sleep very well. That’s it. So it’s something that I have found that is very helpful—I count on. And I also think, I have the idea that all this process has helped me to be happier. I’m sorry I have to say.
Barbara: For me, my experience of oneness were my pregnancies—for sure, a deep connection, a deep intimacy. And that did not end after giving birth. It was like pieces of me started to move around. Pieces of me got teeth. Pieces of me lost these teeth. They had belly pain, and I was with them. And they didn’t communicate. They could not speak. So I had to be very aware to watch them, to see what they needed. And there were quite a bunch of them. So I didn’t have time to think on myself, because all of them. I had two teenagers, and three little children, twins at the end. And everybody needed something, and everybody needed something different. And everybody got not enough, in a way. So there were a lot of hungry ghosts around me.
And at one point, one of my friends said, “You really look not so well anymore.” And she said, “You don’t have to pack anything, just make sure that Roland will take care for the children for the weekend. They will survive, and you will come two days with me.” And this weekend I went on it, and we did some sitting, and we did some Tai Chi. And I really felt that this was like a golden thread that saved my life in a way.
And immediately I started to do meditation. And for me, in the moments when I sat in the beginning, I often just cried because I felt myself so tired. It was not that I was sad, but I was so exhausted. So I think to take care of our selves is maybe different for women as for men. So for me, it was extremely important to have these moments where I could really feel my self, how I really was. Because I could relate better then with the family. When I was too tired, I was like shutting down my self, and I was really not so much in connection. So I really felt that it is so important to be alive, and to give answers to the life, and to all these needs. And that I also had to feel my self, and my needs—even when I didn’t have the time for very long meditation. So we sat with the children.
But I also had in this time, like the longing to real practice. And nobody told me that having family, and having children, that this was practice. I had the longing to really practice, because even as a child I always enjoyed like masses, and prayers. So I had this strong longing. And I had the feeling that I missed something on a certain part, because I could not really do that—what I heard was practice.
So there was also something in my Sufi school—I loved the Sufi school, because we did studies about mystics, which I really loved. We did family retreats where we could take the children with us, and the children had little groups where they had a lot of fun. And we could listen to the teaching. And we could sit. We could sit longer in this. So this I really enjoyed.
What I wanted to say, I lost my point.
Ah, yeah. I often heard, in this time, a sentence that my Sufi grandfather said, “At one point on your way to enlightenment in a way, you have to pass a hungry child. You have food, but you will not give. You’ll just pass.” And all the time when I heard that, it was like, “What? I’m at the wrong place.” It was always like I was so shocked. And then, when I met Bernie in 1990 in Auschwitz, and when I listened to his teachings, I felt that maybe I should immediately change the way, and follow this teacher, because he spoke of it’s OK to feel it—the hungry children. And it’s maybe not so OK to pass this child. Because my whole body said no to this step. So Auschwitz changed my life completely.
This was nine years after I met my Sufi teacher. Because there I sat in the circles and listened to all these different voices. It was very, very challenging very often, because they were really sometimes difficult statements that I had to listen to. But the good thing is I had to sit there, and to listen several days. And always, even when a person said something very difficult, on one point this person said also something that I could relate.
So it never ended without relationship, even when we had hard times, and real hard challenges. I remember once a very orthodox woman in my group, who said things that I was so shocked. But at one I had also a Palestinian in my group. And at one point she just spoke about her children, and about her fear that she could lose her children. And it changed everything for me, because I could immediately relate where her pain came from.
It’s so beautiful, this practice, really—to listen to each other, and to listen to our self also. So this was my beginning.
Cornelius: When I started sitting, I was working in a bank. I was working in an IT group, so computers. The beginning was nice, but every time it was more difficult for me to work there. And then I used Zen to be myself in another world. So telling me that’s not reality what I’m living here, the reality is different. So I had context about what I’m doing, so I thought. So I’m sitting for a better reality, something like that.
But now when I think about it, I think it’s normal. I think you always start having ideals. You always start having concepts. And I think it’s The Way that makes you understand that it’s not about concepts, but it’s about now, reality, radical acceptance of seeing what is happening at this moment.
And later on I was doing psychotherapy, to be a psychotherapist myself. I had to fulfill 120 hours myself, doing psychotherapy. And there I learned that it’s a very important thing as well, to do sitting and psychotherapy. But I came in trouble, because the psychotherapist told me it’s not very serious, what I’m doing on the cushion. And then people told me that it’s not very serious making psychotherapy—that it can all be done by sitting, just sitting. And I was in trouble. I liked doing the two things. And I noticed it was good for me. And I would still say it’s a good way to do those things.
At one point I noticed that it’s about the same—listening to people when I’m psychotherapist, and sitting there and listening to myself. It’s about the same attitude I found out. And so there was somehow a peace between those two parts of me, which I found out was important.
If you’re sitting in shikantaza, and just sitting—it’s still for me a little bit like the same attitude when I’m listening to somebody in psychotherapy, or in the dokusan room. And I found out that it’s a great challenge, and it’s a wonderful exercise to be in the position, and to listen in this way. And it was much more hard to do that with personal relationships, than in the dokusan, or in therapy, because I’ve got the robe, which helps me.
And so I thought about really what can help you, what can contain you, to help you to not only blame others, but to have this free contact to myself, to others, to the world. What can help you to have a peaceful place, a container to look at the truth, without pointing at somebody else with this finger.
And I found the third thing I’m doing, which is mindfulness training. And I think everything is like a pot of something very good to eat. And we don’t need to make one meal out of it. I think everything is very useful, and for something else. But in total, it’s helpful.
I remember, it was in mindfulness training, when somebody told me, “What about your hatred, and your anger when you’re seeing what is happening in Palestine? When you see what is happening in wars,” and so on. And I remembered when I was in hospital with a child which was very ill. And there was a moment when there was no anger anymore. So no bothering with the world, why this child, and not somebody else? All those things you have in your mind, and it was just stillness, and it was just being there. It was just very sad, and it was laughing as well, and it was just what it was. So it came to a point of essential. It became essential.
So I’m telling this, my answer, when they ask me, “What about hatred”, and so on, was I see it like shelves around a center. And when you’re coming to the center, it comes to the essence. It becomes essential. And why I’m telling this is because that’s what I realized in Auschwitz.
So when I started working with Peacemakers, that we are thrown into situations where it’s going to be essential. The same thing when I am visiting somebody who is dying. So there is no tra la la. It’s just coming to the point—well, not always, but in a lot of occasions. And that is what I feel is what we are doing with Peacemakers—that we are just coming to the point.
Eve: We have a few minutes. So, do you have any questions for the three people who spoke, for us?
Audience member 1: I think for most of us who started to practice, when I started I had the feeling that I could escape to a better place—that everything would get easier immediately, in a way. And the truth was it would even become more real, and sometimes even more difficult. So it was not that it was easy. The whole thing became more workable in a way, more real.
Audience member 2: My own experience, in the first ten or fifteen years it created more separateness than unity, because you’re sort of practicing something, but you don’t integrate it into daily life. You go to your meditation class, or you go to your Sesshins, and then you go back . . .
I would like people to be more supported by their Zen teachers from the beginning about the integration process in their daily life. But what comes up for me is an important part of those first years is I would have longed for in hindsight.
Roland: You can think that it takes time. And if you give this burden to the teacher, it’s like you would like to grow the grass quicker than it grows. So we really have to be patient with ourselves, and with the ones we are together in relationships. So, we need a lot of patience, with respect to time. Little steps for us sometimes are not enough. I see this giving more to giving back. But OK, it really takes time.
Cornelius: Yeah, I’m not sure. It’s good to mention that in my time, when we started, we didn’t have Bearing Witness Retreats. No wonder how it is when you start in Zen, and you go to an event like that—or something else, something that plunges you into the depths of the bearing witness process . . . I’m just wondering if there could be other processes that people start with meditation, then Zen or something else could be supportive there.
Eve: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that is an issue. Again, it always comes back to the monastic culture. So the skillful means came out of the monastic culture. So if you know, your child gets sick, you have this problem, that thing with, you know, the house and work, a lot of these new things have to be developed in the West. And I think we are doing that more, as the years pass by. But if you started years ago, as Bernie described, and other people, for sure you didn’t find that. What you found was a more monastic framework that was not ready to deal with the situations you described. That was my experience.
Cornelius: I was in Japan last year, and I spent some time in a small Rinzai Zendo. . .
And one of her jobs was she took priests of the Rinzai temple on tours to the U.S., and to Europe to show them how we are practicing Zen in the West. They knew that the monastic process in Japan was not working anymore. . . .
Audience member 3: I’d like to share my experience with my first teacher. We had a great Sesshin. There were many people, fifty people. The talks were about peace, and taking action, and really not stopping in the dokusan room. And at the end of the Sesshin, I had political things with me. It was an initiative against export of war material from Switzerland. And what I experienced was almost nobody signed. I was like, “Whoa?” For me, it was so obvious. Of course you can sign to the concept of talking about peace and action. But it’s your acknowledgement of Zen. So I talked to people. And I remembered that Pia, she signed right away. And she started to talk with the students—many long-term students.
And what I thought from then on, is like these are like two separate things. We do koan practice. And even teachers who say, “What are you doing with that koan in your daily life?” And if something comes up that is against my political views, or is confronting me, maybe that part is missing—the political part in Zen training. I don’t know. Maybe what we talked before was the psychological part, it was missing—the ethical training. . . . So I just wanted to throw that out.
Audience member 4: It came up for me that I come really from another learning. Years ago I began studying with a teacher. It was a personal crisis for me at that time. And I happened to get to know a teacher that was Japanese. And he was trained in Japan. He was also trained in Zen. When he came to Europe, he was focused on family work. Like family massage, he was a healer. So with meditation, there was also always massage. And his focus was just very simple—just how to massage the children, how to also touch each other. He spoke of relation. And for me this was wonderful in this group, this family group. And I also got interested in Zen, and Japanese Zen. He was very shocked about that. . . .
And I also came to this Zen Peacemakers Circle, because I found this family. I like the Zen training very much, but somehow I missed the power of being in relation with each other. And this family feeling I found in the Zen Peacemakers Circle. And so for me this is just a wonderful gift. And this Zen tradition we have is also this focus on relation.
[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=” The 3rd 20 Years: A Wedding at Auschwitz?”]
So today’s point was the middle twenty years, which is taking the practice now outside of the zendo—not leaving the zendo, but in some way taking it out to other spheres of life. So there’s two things that come up for me. And the first is something that I already talked about last year, and we did a retreat about that, which is the householder life.
So, you know there are a lot of great adventures—I think of the whole Greyston time of building businesses, and not-for-profits as practice, and also as an adventure. And then the rest of us think, “Oh, well we have children. We have aging parents. We have jobs.” But actually every single one of those areas is a place for practice. And this I think is the big deal in the West right now—that after two thousand years of monastic practice, I think it’s up to us to develop new means of waking up, and helping others awaken in the life that we ourselves live—not as monks.
So for instance, those of you who know something about koans . . . You know, all those koans. A monk said to Joshu, “Give me a teaching.” And Joshu said, “Have you eaten your breakfast?” And the monk said, “Yes.” And Joshu said, “Wash your bowls.”
You see those things, they’ve come to us as some kind of a . . . You know, it’s like a story, or for me it’s like when I read Shakespeare. You know so much of Shakespeare has become these aphorisms, these sayings that are repeated so many times. If you read Hamlet, it’s like half of it is going to be very familiar to you, because people say those things all the time. So sometimes I catch myself reading Shakespeare, and I say, “Ah, he’s using a cliché.” And then I think to myself, “No, no. He’s the original!” He was the original, afterwards it became a cliché.
So in some ways it happened with those koans. They almost sometimes become clichés. But we forget that when they arose, they arose out of very close circumstances. So there were these monks studying together, and there was a teacher. And the teacher knew the students. He knew them. He saw them. They lived together. They ate together. They sat together. So when a monk said, “Give me a teaching,” the answer was customized to that person in that situation. It wasn’t just a cliché. It wasn’t, “Here I’ll hit you.” Why? You know, where did this hitting come from? Or where did this shouting come from?
And our job, in some way, and we have it, is to look at our own situations and say, “What are our koans?” So when Bernie said that the goal is “How do you help people awaken, everywhere, and in all the areas of life?” You know, if you’re living with someone, and you go home, if you’re a real bodhisattva (and we take those vows at the end that we’re going to help all beings awaken), then it isn’t like you did your job because you went to sit in the zendo. You’re now going home. And when your husband or wife says, “What did you do today?” What are you going to say? And what are you going to say that may help them awaken to the oneness of life?
You see right then, there’s a koan. Right then, if you are ready to plunge into it. See, so those monks were ready to plunge. They had their teachers. They knew that their teacher is going to say something, maybe give a turning word. So they were ready to plunge. You know, what does he mean by that? What is that?
So imagine that we, in our home, you came back from here. You go home, and somebody will ask you at work, at home, your friends, “What did you do at Felsentor?”
“Well, you know, they’re high up. And you know, they have nice rooms, and the food was pretty good. And there were these two weird teachers from the States . . .”
So you could do like that. Or you could say [snaps]. So what answer am I going to give that is going to awaken someone? Or do something? Serve somebody in some way; gonna take care of this whole thing?
So that’s when I started a compilation of our own householder koans. And the idea is your home, and your situation, what comes up for you that is like the old koans? Which means what is other for you? Where is there a situation that you stay away from? What are those things where, you know there’s a call, but you can’t respond. Or you don’t know how to respond? That’s your koan.
And if you’re ready to work with it the way that they worked with it in the old monasteries, I think it’s going to be as effective in helping people awaken as those old koans. And there are some people here who contributed to that collection of householder koans.
But the point is that in every area of your life, there is the opportunity to do the kind of work Bernie talked about this morning—helping everyone awaken. And it’s a brand new field. It’s like a start-up. It’s a start-up, really. It hasn’t been done. What are the new ways of doing this? What do we do with people who don’t meditate? Do we say, “Ah, you’re out of luck. You’re never gonna awaken.”? What do we do?
You know, when he talked about Greyston, none of those people came to the zendo. And the way the zendo was done then, there was no reason for them to come. You know, they were poor. They looked at us, and we were in silence like that. They didn’t understand it. Because what they needed was talking. They needed support. They needed to be there for each other. So they would go to these big churches, and there would be these great choirs. And they would sing songs, and they would help each other. And a preacher would preach, and inspire them. And that really is how they took care of themselves. They liked silence. Some of them really enjoyed five or ten minutes of silence. But did they really want to be in silence for an hour, and go to weekend retreats where it’s all silent? And was that the thing that was going to take care of them? I’m not sure.
So that, you go back to not knowing, you see. I think, “Oh, I know this is for everybody.” But is it? Or is there some other way to show people that they’re all one? And maybe it doesn’t involve meditation. Maybe it involves something else.
So it’s a very new time for us. And I think it’s a very exciting time, especially for what I call laypeople, or householders—people who are not monks.
So that’s one thing.
Bernie: As Eve was talking, I thought of a few things. One is today, as you know, was the funeral for a Pia Gyger. She was a sister, and the mother of her order, St. Katerina Werk for a long time. She changed it. You all know her history. Some may not know, if they’re not from this area. But when she started it was cloistered, and they’re in habit. And she changed everything. And she changed the whole group, St. Katerina Werk, to include first non-Catholics, other Christians, and then to include men. She broadened it quite drastically, and also did a lot of social action work.
And she told us many times that that period in which she was changing everything, she almost died—that literally it almost killed her. The stress of criticism, as you know, that’s radical for the church, what she was doing. And then she falls in love with a priest, a Jesuit. He’s still around. And they’ve been a couple for forty-one years.
And when we first met them (I don’t know how long they continued), they had gone to Paris. In the beginning of their relationship they’d gone to Paris. And they actually discussed leaving—he was a Jesuit, she was St. Katerina. They decided not to leave their orders—and to be a couple. But in their language, not to be a “genital couple.” But they were deeply in love. And when we first met them, they had been going every year back to Paris, where they honeymooned, for their anniversary. And they both finished Zen studies. They both studied in Japan, one finished in Japan, with the same teacher as Cornelius’s teacher. So Nicholas is an uncle in that Sanbo Kyodan, to Cornelius. Pia studied in that, but she finished with Aiken Roshi, who also was part of the Sanbo Kyodan. So I’m also related to all of them.
Nicholas first met me on the streets. I was doing a street retreat, and a Jesuit brother of his (American) said, “My teacher’s doing a street retreat.” And Bob said, “I’m gonna go join him.” Nicholas said, “Can I come along?” So that’s when I met Nicholas. He came to join that street retreat—the second, or the first (I don’t remember) that I did. And then he invited me to do the street retreats in Zurich, to be part of a Christian/Buddhist conference. And we did that.
And then the two of them spoke to me, and asked could they also get dharma transmission from me, because they were teachers. They were established. They had groups. But they wanted to be connected to a lineage that was doing social action. And they loved a phrase that I used at that time, and they kept repeating. And Sunday I did a keynote talk for Zen in the West, and I think it was Anna who brought it up again. She said, “Can you explain the new wineskins?”
What I had said—this is maybe twenty-five years ago now—that what’s needed is new wineskins. And they said, “Yes! We need that.” And in the church also, not just in the households, but the church needs new wineskins. And of course they were creating new forms.
That’s what my second twenty years was all about. What are the new containers for the broader spectrum? But when you talked, I just wanted to bring out that it’s not just the householders, it’s the whole monastic forms that need new wineskins.
Eve: But Rocky you know what I want to ask you?
Bernie: Yeah. No, I don’t.
Eve: What’s a genital couple?
Bernie: A genital couple is a couple that fucks around.
And a non-genital couple doesn’t do that. They kiss, and they hug, they cuddle. They just don’t fuck around. And that’s what they decided to do. But still, as far as the church is concerned, that’s not a good thing to do.
Eve: On that note, OK, so, the other thing . . . Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have asked that question.
So the other thing is going back to the story of Greyston—so I have many wonderful memories of Greyston, and how this group of Zen practitioners . . . Oh, I remember how I first came on the Zen Community of New York, which was that a friend wanted to take me there, because there was this teacher there from Brooklyn. And he thought I might like him. So we went, and we thought we were going to do zazen. And it was a big mansion, and a beautiful place. Not like this, but green, and in a very wealthy neighborhood. And to our surprise, there was no zazen that evening. Instead they were having a community meeting in the dining room, to talk about (to my great amazement) social action. This is ’85.
So the bakery had already begun—the business. And they were already serving food in the shelter. But now there was discussion about hiring more people for the bakery from the neighborhood. Originally it was all Zen people. It was members of the community. And then it was, “we’re gonna build apartments for homeless families. And there’s gonna be a childcare center, and there’s gonna be this, and that.”
So here’s this group, like you and me, there are fewer than here. There were fewer people than are in this room. And they weren’t particularly talented, or businessy. They weren’t bakers. I mean they learned it all. They weren’t naturally more talented than anybody else here. And they just said “OK.”
So there was a visionary man, who said, “This is what I want us to do.” Like he said, “We opened this business. We had retreats. Now we’re gonna do social action. We’re gonna develop this sphere, and that sphere, and that sphere. We’re gonna develop new things. We’re gonna do it all.”
And they said, “Oh, OK.” Nobody really believed it. But OK. And they did. So that’s the thing. And not everybody, because as Bernie said, many people, they didn’t want to leave that beautiful place. We left that place to go into a very poor area, full of drugs, and prostitution, violence, and killing, all kinds of things. And so many people didn’t come; because they didn’t feel their cars would be safe there when they parked. We had a zendo on top of the bakery, but it wasn’t like this. There were trucks going up and down.
Bernie: And it wasn’t like what we had, which was a mansion overlooking the Hudson River. Half the membership left, quick. They were afraid to make that move.
Eve: They were afraid.
Bernie: I can’t blame them.
Eve: Right. And there was a paint factory with illegal immigrants across. It was full of smells, very poisonous smells. And a meat factory on one side (could you imagine?) with the carcasses hanging out, and next door was an all-night bar.
Bernie: I loved it.
Eve: Loved it. It was great. You know they went out all . . .
Bernie: Not just a bar, believe me.
Eve: Yeah, so at 4:30 in the morning, you know we did weekend sesshins there. So you could never sleep at night because the music would be blasting through the walls. And at about 4 in the morning, we always kind of met together. Why? Because that’s when we woke up, and that’s when they went to sleep. It was very simple.
And we were really religious. We had our robes on. They must have thought we were crazy. And we thought they were pretty crazy. So there we are in our black robes, drinking coffee before the first thing. And they’re coming out of the bar, happy. And there’s a lot of women there, beautiful clothes hanging on to the “Johns.” And saying, “Come with me, I’ll give you a good time baby.” And all these people are meeting. It’s fantastic. And they’re looking at us in our black. And they don’t think there’s anything weird. And we’d look at them, and they’d say, “Hi, how are you doing?” We said, “We’re fine. How are you doing?” OK.
And that’s fine, you know. So it all came together. So there’s a lot of stories about Greyston. And also a lot of difficulties—everything that people come up with. You know, a lack of energy, a lack of money, things going wrong, things you count on and then it doesn’t happen, and then cancellations, and postponements, and on, and on. And it takes much longer than you think. And you’re tired, and you want to give up. But you don’t want to give up. And Bernie does not give up.
So that’s what it was.
Bernie: I want to mention one thing. What I’d also like to mention, in those days when I was doing that—you know I was in the early days of Zen, So I was friendly with all of the other Zen teachers, and most of the other Buddhist teachers—the Tibetan folks, the Insight Meditation folks. And what they would ask me—they knew about Greyston, we started Greyston—and what they would all ask me is am I teaching them to meditate? So the model that was in their head was the first twenty-year model. Was I bringing that to this inner city? That’s what they all wanted to know. How am I getting them to meditate?
So the wineskins that they had were the wineskins from this first twenty years. And they thought that’s what you’ve got to bring. And what I told my teacher—I remember it was a little shocking to him—I told him that I am gonna let go of everything I know—get into the not knowing—and wait for people from what we call “the hood” (neighborhood, it’s called “the hood”), wait for someone from the hood to arise as a leader. And I will learn from him what new wineskins we can make.
He said, “You can’t do that. I taught you all this stuff. You gotta teach.” I said, “No, I don’t want to do it that way.”
So that whole process started, again, with the Three Tenets. I let go of everything I knew. And waited for some people to pop up. And I watched what they did. And out of that started developing new ways of being. And we have Greyston, that you’ll see is quite unusual. But that was a major, major point, in terms of spirituality—that all of the teachers were expecting me to bring tools, and ways out of that first twenty years into this very poor neighborhood.
So in a sense—I just thought of it now—that’s very common. That’s called missionaries. That’s what the missionaries did. They go into some area, and bring their stuff. They didn’t go into an area and see what’s the deal here, and bear witness to what’s going on, and develop new forms. That’s exactly what it was. And these were all people that didn’t like the idea of missionaries. But they fell into that right away. That’s what you’re supposed to do, man. We spent a lot of years learning our things. Now we gotta teach the poor people and the heathens our ways.
Anyway, that’s the first time I thought of that in this context. So, thank you.
Eve: You know what that reminds me of? I remember going up once with one of the women up front. She was a help with the money, and she worked in the neighborhood. Her name was Hermina. And so we went out drinking one day.
Bernie: She was our treasurer, or our assistant treasurer.
Eve: Right. And she says, “I don’t understand what’s with you Zenies [that’s what they called us]. You know, you all kind of have these weird clothes.” Some of us had the clothes like you’re wearing, only it’s beautiful, it’s clean, it’s ironed. You don’t want to know what ours looked like, especially Bernie’s with that yucky brown, the threads all coming out and everything. “How come you always wear dark clothes? And you wear those dumb jackets, and you’re so serious. You’re so serious, girlfriend. What’s wrong with you, girlfriend?” You know, it was like they were reacting to what is this separation? Even with everything Bernie says, we still cling to the old forms. Why would we wear a Japanese Samurai jacket? Why, in Yonkers, why would we wear that? You know, because that’s what we were used to doing. And everything was so serious, and this is our practice. Oh forget about it! You know what I mean? It’s like she said, “Hey girlfriend, why don’t you just let loose, man?” That’s what she was saying to me, “let loose.”
And the other thing I remember, there was the front part, sales, administration, and in the back people were baking. Now in the back, if you were on the baking floor you had health regulations. So everybody was in whites, and you had to cover your hair completely. If you had a beard or mustache, you had to cover it. So it was so interesting that the minute you walked on the floor, everybody started looking alike, because they were all wearing the same thing, and with the same kind of covering. So you could see who was white, and who was black. You know, you could see that, but very often it wasn’t so simple to see. And they were all listening to the same loud rap music on the intercom. And you know, they were all busy with the machines, and the dishwashers, and the ovens. You know, it was all mixed, and yes, there were some very serious Zen people there. There were PhDs from Harvard there. There were all kinds of people there. And they were all mixed up together, and it was so alive. It was so alive.
Bernie: We all had many different jobs at Greyston. And there was a period where I’d come down at the end of office hours, to help wash the pans. There was a lot of pans to wash. And I remember this guy who was hired to wash these pans. We had a few people like that, but this guy in particular had been a real tough guy. And one day he says to me, “Bernie, I gotta ask you something. I’ve changed a lot coming here.” Because he would never have thought months before he got the job that he would do that kind of work. I mean he would sell drugs for a lot of money.
Eve: Yeah, he was a big dealer.
Bernie: I mean to do washing pans for a relatively small amount of money. He says, “I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve made a lot of changes. But I’ve got to tell you, when somebody says something that angers me, I want to off them.” What that means is I want to kill them. He says, “How do I change that feeling from coming up?” So those were the koans we dealt with. He was talking about different kinds of koans. That’s a koan, that’s very, very direct, and powerful. What do we do when somebody gets us angry? We have very simple things, somebody gets us angry and it’s eh. But it’s not that often that we get angry and what we want to do is kill the person that angered us. But for many people around the world, that’s the normal thing. You anger me, I kill you. That’s what we do.
Eve: But you know, some of us Zen people also wanted to kill each other.
Bernie: For sure. So those are gritty koans. You know, they’re not maybe such a nice world, but they’re an important world. Because those in one degree or another are very important koans I think. And it was very important. So I called that work practice, because we worked together, with the Zen students and the people off the street. They all worked together, and had to deal with all the stuff that came up. And a lot of stuff came up. Just like it comes up at Auschwitz. So it came up there—on the floor. And why did it come up there? And why does it come up in Auschwitz? Because they’re different cultures. The cultures are so different. And it’s not easy to deal with different cultures. That was part of the beauty for me of the growth of Greyston. And the other part of course was that we were providing housing, and job-care, and jobs, and people were going off of welfare, and all kinds of things were happening.
Eve: And AIDS-care.
Bernie: And when the AIDS epidemic started, we were right there to build housing for folks with AIDS, a health center.
Eve: You know there’s a lot more to say, but it’s already 8:05, so I think it’s better to get questions.
Audience member 1: I’ve got a question. When you got rid of the old skins, the old wineskins . . .
Bernie: We didn’t get rid of them. That’s important. We created new ones. So the ones I had, I put aside in working there. I still would go home to our Zen community, which happened now to be in that same building. And in our zendo we were using the old skins. But with the people in the neighborhood we weren’t. Just a minor point, we didn’t get rid of them.
Eve: Actually circles are new wineskins in the zendo—in a zendo environment—don’t you think?
Bernie: Oh, definitely. When I was taught—and I’m sure you were too—we weren’t allowed to talk to each other about our practice.
Audience member 1: OK, that was the question, but what did you do instead? Because the wineskins is something you get out of, and the first twenty years I suppose it was important to have forms—to be sure that you are doing right. And you were sure, and were able to let them go, to find new forms. What was the difference between a social worker and what you did?
Bernie: The difference was the Three Tenets. That is the difference between what we were doing and what a bakery would be doing, or a therapist or any social worker would be doing. The work we were doing theoretically was supposed to be based on the Three Tenets. Was everybody accomplished and doing that? No. Because remember, the Three Tenets you’ve first got to put aside all that you know and really totally listen. It’s hard to do. So most people doing that don’t do such a great job. But that was the training. And that’s where I would try to catch people if it looked like they weren’t doing that.
But I don’t know any form that we gave up. You asked the same question. We didn’t give up old forms. We brought in new ones. I gave up—I disrobed. So that might be called giving up an old form. I decided at some point that the robes were not helping me do my work. They were hindering my doing my work, and I disrobed.
But all those initial techniques, many things got modified. So when I was training in Los Angeles, the schedule was such that it destroyed families. I mentioned that. So we start changing the schedules. What time do you sit in the mornings, and evenings? And we start changing things, so that families could still be families. You didn’t have to be a monastic to meet our schedule. So that’s changing the schedule. And bringing the form of counsel into the Zendo was huge when we did it, because the rule when I trained (And I can’t remember if I kept that same rule. I probably did when we started in New York.), but certainly when I came to L.A., when you came to sit, you had dokusan with the teacher (interview with the teacher), but you were not allowed to talk with anybody else about what was going on with you, in terms of the Zendo work, the practice. And the practice was called the sitting. When you said “practice,” you meant sitting.
I shifted the word practice, and I still have to explain that to mean trying to experience the oneness of life, to experience non-duality. So it could be work, it could be anything. So I expanded the word practice. And we brought in counsel, which is a sharing. And for me, counsel, and the Three Tenets are very intertwined. Listening from the heart is our first Tenet—not knowing, deeply listening. Many people when they listen to somebody are judging them right away, and saying, “it’s this, it’s that.” And then speaking from the heart is bearing witness. So what’s happening, and what then comes up—not planning.
And in fact, Joan Halifax is the one who really developed the way of counsel in this country. She brought it from the North American Indians a long time ago, the Lakota tribe. But there are others—the Quakers have a circle; there are many other kinds.
Eve: More questions?
Bernie: Yeah, what was the point I was making with circle?
Eve: They’re new wineskins that you brought in to the thing.
Audience member 2: I have one question of example I know. We are family. How we can practice? How we can take this work, how we can join your work in such a country, in such a situation? We have to deal with our family. And also I would like to offer my personal offering. How can I do that? Is the koan for me to the person I think for me the work will be different. We have to meditate on different point. How in just a short time to practice myself in when I am listening? When I hear your past, how can I connect it with my past with your work? Is any koan for me where in this moment I also can practice it?
Eve: You know, as a couple, I really recommend a lot for couples to do council with each other. It’s a wonderful practice. And when you do it long enough, you really are able to say some very difficult things to each other. So when Bernie and I fight (which never happens) . . .
Bernie: Rocky and Tootsie, they fight all the time.
Eve: Never happens, you know. When we argue, one of us is gonna say to the other, “Well, should we do council?” Exactly what we do here, so you can take that home and do that. And I don’t know how old your child is.
Audience member 2: Six.
Eve: Already at that age people are teaching their children to do council. So that once a week, you know, the whole family gets together and they learn how to do council. And it’s a practice, and children have very short attention span, but they start learning and getting used to it that once a week this is what they do. And they begin to see themselves that, “Oh this is a space where I can maybe say some things that I don’t feel safe saying in other places.” But I think especially for a couple, it’s a fantastic practice.
In terms of how you can connect to our work, so I think Bernie was going to talk about the Zen Peacemaker Order Sunday morning. And there may be some answer to your question then. But I would say more directly, you know, you have to do whatever work you’re gonna do. You’re gonna make your offering. You know, so Bernie makes his offering, I make my offering. It’s very different. We have very different paths, he and I. We aren’t always together or anything. And you’re gonna make your offering, and that’s gonna be your work. Where it may come together is in these big containers—these new wineskins. So something like a Zen Peacemaker Order is a new container—a new wineskin to bring together and support people who want to do this kind of work based on the Three Tenets. And Pia Gyger was absolutely vociferous, meaning very eloquent, and insistent about the need for healthy structures, and good structures that help people do their work. She always talked about it. And the Zen Peacemaker Order I hope is going to be such a structure, that will bring people together who want to do work like that. And they’ll do different work, in different countries, and different continents. But there will be some things that they have in common, and support them.
Audience member 3: . . . your experience, and how it started—the change from the first twenty years to the second. And . . . mentioned that there were difficulties, and my question was what made you not to give up? Was it really only this one experience? I can’t believe that. And the other thing is I love my . . . and I think “Wow, that’s it.” And two days later I have a lot of doubts, and I let . . . and I go the old ways. And for me it’s a question of trust. Can I really trust in what arises? And is it only fear to go in new ways? But one of the things is I think of it’s only feeded by old patterns. It’s not really a new thing. And don’t trust in it to your things that you’ve done for a lifetime.
Bernie: The first one’s easy to answer. The second one was?
Eve: What happens when you have your self-doubt?
Bernie: Yep. So my experience is that always there is self-doubt. But I like to look at it in a positive way—that that’s what drives you to resolve that doubt. Some people say (the first time I read this was Yamamoto Roshi), he defined kensho—a great enlightenment experience—as being “one in which there is no more doubt.” And that is extremely, extremely rare. Until then, no matter what’s happening, whether you have enlightenment experiences or you don’t, you’re gonna have doubt. Now his teacher talked about doubt as one of the three elements that’s needed for practice. Doubt is one, determination is another. I have this doubt, but I’m determined to resolve the doubt. And the third is that you do it. You don’t give up.
And then you ask, “How did you not give up?” That’s easy to answer in a way, because I don’t think you can teach somebody not to give up. Some people don’t give up. Some people give up. Some people give up for one, and start again. I don’t know. In my life, I’ve never found it interesting to give up. I get interested when things aren’t working, and things are falling apart. That’s exciting for me. And I want to see how to make it work. But that’s just a weird characteristic I have. I don’t know, I think I was born with that, you know. I was just this little baby, and I couldn’t reach my mothers breast. And I wouldn’t give up, man. I wanted that breast, so I could get started . . .
And it continues now. Now I don’t know what to do about the Middle East, but I’m not gonna give up. And the bakery, and Greyston almost collapsed a number of times, and I didn’t give up. I just kept going. And I think one of the characteristics of an entrepreneur—they don’t give up. And they don’t look at failure as a problem.
Eve: Can I say something, Bernie? I think that if we’re lucky . . . You said that Bernie had an experience that took him into that. So I didn’t have that experience. But I think what happened to me may be more common to most people than what happened to him. And that is that as time passes, you know, you really get finally that it’s not about you. You know, you just kind of get it. And it’s a slow process, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t take care of yourself.
You know, in the Greyston years one of my big koans that I used to bring was what about me? Yeah we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them, we’re taking care of them—what about me? That was a very important koan. It’s like everyone is being taken care of. You know so then people get into their dramas, “Oh but it’s not good enough—I failed again—I thought I was doing it again, I failed—I knew I shouldn’t do it—catastrophe is around the corner—blah, blah, blah.” And it’s all very entertaining, and upsetting, and all that.
I’m sorry if I told this story, but it’s stayed with me for so many years this story. I always tell Bernie what was the shortest Dharma talk he ever gave? And that was when we first got a building to develop as apartments for homeless families. We had no money. We went into debt. You know, it was just a mess. So we got this old, old building. And the roof was leaking. And it had been abandoned and locked up. And a few people—I wasn’t one of them—but Bernie, they opened it up. We owned it. We were able to open it up.
So that night, he sat down and he gave a dharma talk. And he said, “Look folks, today we went into [the address was 68 Warburton Ave] . . .” And we went into the entrance, because it’s all dark, there’s no electricity. The floor is terra cotta floor, very old, full of water. There’s a staircase going up. And at the bottom of the staircase is a dead dog. I guess somebody locked the dog there, and left it. So there was this carcass, you know, a long time it’s been left like this. So he said, “You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna take out . . .” And people did. They took out the dead dog, and buried it with a Buddhist ceremony. “And we’re gonna clean up the floors. And we’re gonna renovate the whole building. We’re gonna change the roof, so there’s no more holes, and no more rain coming in. Fully renovate the building—there will be eighteen beautiful apartments. There’ll be a big child-care center. It’s gonna be the beginning of everything. Then we’re gonna build more apartments. We’re gonna do more of this, and we’re gonna do more of that.” Now at that moment we were broke. But it didn’t matter. You know, we had no money. “We’re gonna do all this. And then you know what’s gonna happen after years? Some of you are gonna leave. This is gonna happen. You know, there’ll be a big financial recession. So after about fifty or a hundred years, we’ll be dead, and the place will be abandoned, and it will be empty again. And it will fall into disrepair, and there will be leaks coming from the roof. And finally families will just leave the building. And somebody will lock a dog, and abandon a dog inside. And it’s gonna remain like this for another fifty years. And then maybe another person one day is gonna buy the building, open the doors, see the dead dog.” And that was it. And that’s our work.
And you know, it’s always stayed with me, because he wasn’t saying, “Please don’t have big expectations like you’re going to solve the problems of the world.” You know, really, let’s get real here. There’s a flow here. It’s not my flow, and I don’t think it’s Bernie’s flow. It life. Life is flowing. You know, it’s juts a big fall, and it’s flowing, and you know, we make such a big deal about ourselves. “Oh my God, can I do this? Can I write this? Can I do this? Am I enlightened enough?” And this, and this, and we cry, and we laugh. And that’s OK. That’s wonderful.
But you know, at some point it’s not about that. And when we start getting it more, and more, it’s not about that. It’s just about the water, just flowing, man. Just go with it. You know, find something where you fit in, and then just go with it. Don’t worry. Just don’t worry. That’s all.
Bernie: That sounds like good advice.
Audience Member 4: I had a question about bearing witness. When you cultivate to continue bearing witness, is it the same as cultivating compassion?
Bernie: OK, so what I mean by bearing witness, it has many words in English, and when you translate it, we all know that the translation in German is not such a good translation. What I meant when I came up with Bearing Witness as the second Tenet, I meant shikantaza. So what is shikantaza? Shikantaza is a Japanese word. Shikan means just. Za means sitting. And Ta is a grammatical term that makes whatever else is in that word emphatic/strong. And to do shikantaza, that’s to be in a state of non-duality. It has nothing to do with compassion, or any other label. Because any label takes you out of non-duality. So it’s just being in that state where there’s no subject, no object—the state of non-duality.
So I was looking for . . . how do you translate shikantaza? You can’t translate it as just sitting. That doesn’t work. You can translate it, but it’s clumsy, as JUST SITTING! That’s what shikantaza is. And in that state, there’s no duality.
So that’s what I was meaning by the word bearing witness. So maybe that gives you a better sense of bearing witness. So when we say shikantaza, to just sit and whatever arises, arises, let it be, become it, let it flow away, you know. So in the practice of bearing witness of the Three Tenets, we become the situation.
Koan study . . . you guys do koans with Frank?
Audience Member 4: Yes.
Bernie: You do koans? So koan study is the study of bearing witness. You have to become the koan. And as long as you’re not the koan itself, and you’ve come to the teacher with a description of what you realized, that’s no good. In the best of all worlds, what koan study is about is you’ve got to present yourself as the koan. And if it’s many people, you’re presenting yourself as many people. You’re presenting yourself as the non-dual situation that’s described in that koan.
So in life, the same thing—to bear witness to life, is to bear witness to all of the elements, without any dualistic thinking. And that’s why it’s not simple, and why we create practices to help you learn how to do that. That’s just the same reason why they created a koan system, to learn to do it through that.
But I want to add one little thing, because the koan system is not so old. It only goes back a certain ways. And before that it was what Eve was describing. You’re in the monastery, and sometimes the monastery was just little individual huts on a mountain. The mountain might have had a hundred monks. They were living there separately, and they would gather to hear the teacher talk. But their practice came out of the stuff that happened in their lives, on that mountain. And as she said, the teacher knew each of them. They were living together. And things would happen. They would stub their toe on a rock. And the teacher would work with what was going on. Then there grew a period where people weren’t living together like that. And somebody whose name happened to be Hakuin developed a system, a koan system. Using a lot of those same incidents as things for the new people that are going to study to train with. So now they’re working on not things that are happening in their lives, but things that came out of the stories of other people’s lives.
And some people got very upset that that was gonna kill the practice of Zen—koans. Because it was working with dead stuff. It wasn’t working with stuff out of life. And in fact, in Japan in the Rinzai tradition, it got mainly very, very, dead. Because in order to be in charge of your temple you had to pass a certain amount of koans. And so the teacher would start selling the koans—the answers. And for the majority of folks that do koan study there, it’s just a matter of how much dollars you’re paying so that you can be in charge of a temple. It’s got nothing to do with the experience of the identity of life. But of course there are wonderful Rinzai teachers. But that’s why Yasutani got upset—one of the reasons he got upset with the standard stuff.
So in a way what we’re doing, and what Eve is doing in her group is not using the koans that developed from old histories (which we said is the old monastic thing, their histories), she’s using koans that developed out of students lives. And that’s what you’re asking. “What do I do?” You work on things that’s in your life.
And anything that’s in your life—same with those guys back in China a thousand years ago, man—they walk out of their hut, and they see this beautiful woman, nude, taking a bath. And they get all excited, and they go to the teacher. “What do I do?” And he’d make them work on it as a koan.
So that’s what you guys gotta do.
Eve: He would make them work on it as a koan?
Bernie: Uh yeah. Oh boy. Imagine if Tootsie was available to all these Zen teachers. They’d go crazy. It’d be good for them.
Eve: And you call that the direct approach?
Bernie: D.T. Suzuki was one of those who thought that the koan system was destroying Zen, because it made it more of a dead practice instead of out of people’s lives. You know, those things got written down. It all got very formal, and away from life. That was at least his feeling. He was very critical of koan study.
I love koan study. And I see those problems. So if you’re gonna use koan study, there’s a way of making it alive—bringing that into the person’s life. If you can make it alive, then I think it’s wonderful. Which means no fixed answer, because it’s got to be a function of the person’s life.
Audience Member 4: Can you please give us an example how we can bring a daily life, this koan, with a daily life practice?
Bernie: Yeah. So there’s a simple koan—How do you stop the fighting across the river? And you can do that in formal koan study. But you could also say—How do I stop the fighting in Gaza? It’s the same koan.
Eve: Or How do I stop the fighting in my own home?
Bernie: And that’s the same koan. How do I stop the fighting with myself? Same koan.
Audience Member 4: I have been in a koan, also a sesshin, for some time. And there was a simple koan, just Who is me? And I would practice face to face, each one five minutes. So for that I find out I face each one person I got different energetics, also different faces. To their face, for me, I have different answer in Zen koan. For me they were so directly straight to ask me What is in me? And also for me to bring it out, to look at it, and to watch it. And for me to look at another person eyes to eyes, I get deeply washed, and refreshing. And I feel the transformations straight away. And that was very simple—just time. Face each other, and this time for others to give to me, and I was giving to them, that was so powerful. Just go to a person, just five minutes, and others five minutes. And in the end, I come out with such grateful.
Bernie: So, why do you ask the question? You have the answer.
Audience Member 4: Yes. But I feel like dojo is the place to bring such different spirits together. And for me right now, I’m also looking for the place. Like how can I bring my richness—how can I bring such things that carry on in me? Where can I go and say I wish to give this as a present?
Bernie: OK, my immediate feeling as you talk, is you need to find a teacher—and you may have a teacher to work with. Because it can’t be all your own thing. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
That’s important. What I said in my early years, and I started to quit Zen or whatever. You’re asking questions that you should be working with—I think—with somebody. If you’re only working with yourself, you’re bound to get yourself into a problem. That’s my opinion. You don’t have to listen to my opinion, but my opinion is that that is critical, and that’s not enough. So hopefully—but again, my opinion—for many people that’s the kind of practice that is only one. And that’s enough to do that. In my opinion there’s more to life than dealing with just your own stuff.
And I would hope that the person you find to work with will also besides work with your own stuff help you to move out of your own stuff. But I would say eighty percent of practitioners work with their own stuff all the time. So it’s OK, but it’s not my way.
So if you were asking me, if I was your teacher, man I would kick you out of yourself and into a bigger sphere. That’s what I would do. And you might not like that kick, but that’s what I would do. But that’s me; so don’t get close to me.
Audience Member 4: I’m looking for a teacher. . . So I think a teacher, and listening, the student and the teacher they are coming to the one point of, in Chinese we say when we are still not awake, we bound for the teacher. When we are awake, we are bound for the student. In the awakening part we say, when I not understood, I’m asking for the answer. When I understood, I asking answer to come to me. So that means I’m learning for the student where this come from. So I feel like this is like meeting. The teacher and the student are meeting each other. Where is the point? It’s you and me, we are same. And I think that feeling, for me right now; I feel like I need somebody just to sit beside me, I just want to talk. But for now, before now I felt like I more listen than talk. But I also need to listen for what I want to say for this person as empty. As unknown, what is inside to say? I would like to understand. I would like to have this chance. And what I really sometimes feel like, I want to stand up and jump. My body also wants to have some place to talk. It’s not only talking. It’s also action, also energetic emotion. And all of these parts, of these thousand hands, where to put? So I feel right now I’m like a cloud full of water. I want to find a place to rain. And where is the place outside me? And hurry on to find a toilet to relieve my stuff. And for now I also have to practice myself where is my patience. How I can relieve just by listening to somebody’s path. I also want to tell my path. I also want to keep my treasure, but where is the empty space? Where is now and here? . . . This is it. I want to meet you. Can I say something to you? I’m afraid to ask.
Bernie: Thank you.
Audience Member 4: And I think this is also a place for me in this such a feeling of myself, I also feel all of our self in one. And I would like to, because I’m sorry I come from East. So all of one who have past, also where I come from. So in the beginning I want to run away from that. So I come to here to learn something. And I would also like to share what I have learned from my West. I would also like to share what I have learned from the East. And important is where is the meeting? Where is now, here? How can I bring me to that? Also of life, what I want to experience before my last breath. Thank you.
So, I woke up this morning and took my morning bath, which I really enjoy because I have arthritis in all my joints. And a hot bath—a Jacuzzi is the best—but a hot bath is good. And a lot of things come up when I take my baths. So, I want to share this morning.
I started to think about—I was picturing—my daughter and her husband, and their new baby. They adopted a baby about six weeks ago now. And the child, his name is Milo. Milo had a urinary infection, and they kept him in the hospital to do some checking and things. And my daughter and son-in-law stayed in the hospital with him. Then I went to be with them. He was about ten days old. And they both had taken off from work for about three months. He’s a teacher, so for him it was time-off anyway.
And the whole scene was so beautiful. They were really bonding. You know, a new baby gets hungry, and you feed it. Then it’s got a little gas, so you help him burp—get rid of some of the gas. And then he has bowel movements or something—you change the diapers.
And of course when you have a new—it’s their first child—and you don’t know (some parents do know) what’s the right thing to do. And of course there’s been many books written about what’s the right way of bringing up children. I’ve had two children of my own, and they’re now in their mid-forties. But when we had them, we had our bible books on how to raise children. Everybody has their bible books. And there’s always new books being written.
And you’d think that after our children have been born now for a long, long time, right? And you’d think by now there’s probably a book, the way to bring up children. And of course parents—even before the child arrives—are reading all these books, and figuring out which is the best way, and the right way, and whatever. But we really don’t know, huh?
And to watch them, at first, there’s very deep listening. They wouldn’t say they’re deep listening, but you’re really paying attention to the child and reacting. And it was an intense time of bearing witness. You’re just—you and the child, as I described yesterday—there was one body, the three of them, and automatically, actions come up. Here’s a bottle. Time to burp. Time to clean. And things happen. Like, it’s a boy, and during the initial first few times of cleaning, after he dropped his load you know, there was a time when he peed all over them. You don’t get angry. You automatically sort of figure out what’s a better way of holding? What’s a better position so I’m not in the way of the stream of consciousness (or whatever stream)? And it struck me this morning that that is another way of talking about bearing witness—that bonding that arises.
When my wife and I moved here in ’97 or ’98—Joan says it’s ’97, I know it was March—and she died. My wife died unexpectedly. And Joan’s father died. And Joan and I went through a bonding time—I think. We spent a lot of time together. We were bearing witness. I was certainly bearing witness to my wife passing. And I never met Joan’s father, but we talked and shared. And it was more not the words, but there’s a bonding that goes on, there’s a bearing witness.
And out of that comes actions. And you can call those actions “loving actions.” I call any actions that arise out of the state of deep listening. In the Zen Peacemakers we have three tenets. The first one, not knowing, which literally does not mean ignorance. It does not mean not having knowledge. It means deep listening—not being attached to any of the ideas you have. We have many ideas, and many concepts, and a lot of knowledge. And I for one feel that the more we have, the better, but the attachments to any of those create problems. So when I talk about not knowing, I mean not being attached to any of those. Viewing them—if I want to label them—I would label them as “opinions.” And our second tenet is bearing witness. And in a technical sense, that’s non-duality. But, I think bonding is a beautiful word.
And the state of bearing witness, for those who know science fiction, I use the word “groking.” That’s from the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Bonding has a sense of practice. To be bonded, then you’re in that state of non-duality—that state of bearing witness.
And in Zen koan study, there’s a structure that a man named Hakuin (a Japanese Zen teacher) created. And at first, you’re trying to experience the state of emptiness, and then the state of what we call the source of what is there before we even have a label called emptiness. And that’s what I call the not-knowing state. And bearing witness, we have a term in sitting we call shikantaza—just sitting. That is a state of bearing witness to the wholeness of life—if it’s done right.
And koan study takes you into different situations where you’re supposed to become the situation. Again, bear witness to the situation, and then express that situation. And that’s the loving actions. They arise out of those two.
And the word loving is a judgmental thing, so an action arises. For some it might be loving, and for some it might be terrible, you know? But the action that arises, I call loving actions (I’m not fully happy with that term).
But I can’t think of a better metaphor than being in the presence of my kids and my grandchild, and seeing what was going on. There was no fixed idea of “oh, this is what we’ve gotta do.” And there was a total bearing witness to this young little infant. And out of the situation, things arose. Feeding, bathing, holding, smiling. So, in a way it’s so simple, huh? It’s so simple.
And a question that comes up is “what do I mean by practice?” or “what’s my opinion on practice?” There’s a Japanese term—it’s actually a Chinese character, kyo, and a sutra that’s chanted a lot in the Zen world called the Heart Sutra, and it starts off Kanzeon Bosa. So Kanzeon Bosa is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or Kanzeon Bodhisattva. Bosa is bodhisattva. And kyo —it’s a very common word—it means to walk. It’s a simple word, so it appears everywhere, you know? I believe when the light goes green it says kyo —to walk. Just the way we use walk.
But in the Buddhist world, kyo means practice. So when you take the Heart Sutra—and you’ll see many different translations, I’m always curious to see what word people use to translate that kyo. Sometimes it’s translated as practice. Very rarely is it translated as walking. But, my English translation for that word, kyo, is keep on trucking. So that has the flavor of the walking, but also as a practice. As a practice, it’s a very simple thing.
And in a more technical way, when I think of practice, there’s two senses—two ways. If I say in the common English thing, “we’re practicing things.” And also the practice as an absolute for me is a non-dual state. So if I say “work/practice,” it’s doing work in a non-dual way. If I say “zazen,” I would think zazen is seated meditation. And if I, doing it in a non-dual way, then it’s what Dogen would say zazen—or somebody would say—“Zazen is the teacher.” Its non-duality is the teacher. You can do seated meditation in a very dualistic way. And most of us do do it that way. It’s not so simple to be in a non-dual way. And at the same time, it is simple. Everything that we do is really in a non-dual way. But, because of our way of thinking, we think it’s dual.
So for me, when I talk about socially engaged Buddhism, what that means to me is things we do out of that state of bearing witness—out of that state of not knowing and bearing witness. So that’s pretty inclusive.
When my kids are taking care of their son, they would not say, “Oh, I’m helping him.” They wouldn’t say, “I’m serving him.” They’re just doing. That’s socially engaged Buddhism for me. So for me, socially engaged Buddhism is doing things out of that—out of the interconnectedness of life. If I’m not doing it out of that, but I’m doing it because, “Oh there’s something wrong and I’ve got to fix it,” that I would call social engagement, but I wouldn’t call it socially engaged Buddhism. Because the way I define Buddhism—it’s the awakening to the oneness of life. So it’s social engagement out of that interconnectedness.
Now, we’re all in some path, and Koba Daishi could tell you where you are in terms of your enlightened state, depending what you are, and many of you (especially since you’re here) many people want to experience—realize and experience—that interconnectedness of life. So they do upayas. So if you work with me in socially engaged Buddhism, it’s not just to do things that society would call social engagement. It’s to do it out of that. And so I would come up with upayas to help learn how to do that. Just in the same way as if you studied being with dying here, it’s going to be different than some other formal ways of dealing with dying—where it’s a separate person, there’s no bearing witness to what’s happening, there’s no being in that space. It’s very dualistic. It doesn’t mean that we can do that so simply, but we can certainly go and study and learn ways to do that. And many of us want to do that.
So for me, socially engaged Buddhism is also a way of life, and it’s an upaya. It’s a way of doing the practice, as we were talking about yesterday—so many different ways. I could do a practice of getting to experience the oneness of life. My practice could be koan studying. It could be psychological studies. It could be philosophical studies. Tendai sect is a sect that’s more on the psychological and philosophical ways. It could be Shingon—esoteric ways—all kinds of ways, all kinds of ways, all kinds of upayas.
And so the three tenets of not knowing, bearing witness and loving actions, they all need upayas. It’s not so easy to lead your life without attachments to your ideas. And in fact, zazen is one of those ways of helping let go of those attachments, let those attachments dissolve, fall away. But there are many ways of doing that. And I’ve created some of my own. I call one of them plunges—where I bring folks into a situation where the rational brain doesn’t think so well, it can’t comprehend what’s happening. It’s a scene where that doesn’t work. Koan study is another thing of that. And of course in Zen there have been different people that have come up with simple “aaahhh!” like screaming. That’s a way of getting rid of some of that kind of attachment. There’s hitting with sticks. I take people into the streets. I take people into the streets, not as a protest. I take people into the streets as a plunge, as a way of experiencing something which the brain can’t rationalize. And I keep you there, so that’s the bearing witness.
There are some things, some plunges that we take where bearing witness is easier to happen than others. Being with somebody who’s dying—that’s a plunge. Our brain does not know what’s going on. And especially if the person is close, but if you’re doing it as a practice, bearing witness happens very easily. And then what you do arises out of the situation. Maybe wiping the brow, maybe chanting, who knows? But it’s not premeditated like, “I learned these techniques, and this is what I’m gonna do in that situation.” If we’re doing it with these three tenets as a practice, then it’s what comes up, what arises out of that state of bearing witness. Even if you haven’t reached the state of non-duality, still things will arise.
So for me, practice—you could have sitting practice, you could have work practice, you could have social action practice, you could have chanting practice. If I put the word practice after something with a hyphen, I mean doing it in a non-dual state. And then the other way of looking at practice is “what are upayas so that I can experience that in a non-dual way?”
Let me see if there’s some questions about that because this is important.
Questioner 1: When you talk about the non-dual state, are you talking about that state of not knowing? Is that one and the same? Are you talking about more than that, sort of mind and action before thought? Can you say a little bit more about non-dual state?
Bernie: Yeah. What I call not knowing is a non-dual state. And we can practice, we can be aware of our dualities, as we’re practicing, trying to learn one’s non-duality. So I mentioned before that in koan study we try to get you to experience the state of emptiness. You call that non-dual, but if it’s got the label “emptiness,” it’s dual. The same way not knowing, if you’re calling it “not knowing,” it’s dual. And then we try to get you to experience the state before we give it that label of emptiness. In the world of physics the non-dual state is the state before the Big Bang. In the Kabbalah in Jewish mysticism, there’s a state before God. God is already into a dual state. So, shifting to physics, the Big Bang happens. That could be looked at as God, and then everything becomes a manifestation of that. It sort of all evolves. But there’s a state before that, before the Big Bang happened. So, same with not knowing—there’s a state where we can’t call it not knowing. That’s the real non-dual state. Once I call it not knowing, I’m now working in the wrong relativity and duality and stuff. Does that make sense to you?
Questioner 2: I just wanted to continue with this. So I understand the mother analogy. I’ve been a mother.
Bernie: You are, probably still are.
Questioner 2: I am a mother.
Bernie: And that relates to somebody else who said, “Does it last forever—that particular state?” It lasts forever, and yet it’s different.
Questioner 2: Yes. It evolves constantly. You know, I’m trying to get a feeling sense of this non-dual. And so I can refer back to an infant, and that feeling sense of being an infant. And yet when I go into the world, and practice that non-dual . . .
Bernie: Let’s stop for one second, and look a little closer at that sentence, “When I go into the world,” and where are you leaving?
Questioner 2: That’s true.
Bernie: Where are you exiting from?
Questioner 2: OK.
Bernie: So really, we’re in to some kind of ideas, right? You have a notion of something that’s not the world, and something that is the world.
Questioner 2: So I have a memory. I have a memory of a sensation, a memory of a feeling.
Bernie: Of not being in the world?
Questioner 2: No, of non-duality in taking care of an infant. We’re using that—I’m using that analogy. So, I have that sensation, that feeling. That’s a memory, but it’s still living in me. And I’m trying to understand—I’m pushing this non-duality understanding a little bit more. There’s a sense in—I’ve been trying to practice these three tenets—and how I’ve been working with the not knowing is by being open. When I’m in a situation, when I go into hospice and I don’t know what I’m going to meet, I’ll use that example. I’m going into hospice and I’m meeting someone new—I practice just being open. And then bearing witness to what’s actually there, and seeing sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t say something. When the healing arises out of it I’m really trying—my practice is trying to just be open. That’s how I’ve translated not knowing. And when you’ve got a newborn baby, that’s what you’re doing, you’re being totally open to it. And responding to just—you’re just open. There’s no conditions, you’re just total response. So in the practice, in developing the practice of not knowing, when you’re working with, let’s say going into a hospice situation, or your working with a child, it’s very poignant, it’s very you know, up front, real. They’re present. You can’t help but be there. In the daily practice of going to work, you know, dealing with the landlord, whatever, whatever, whatever, that’s what I mean by, “going into the world,” it’s not as clear-cut. The practice is not as clear-cut.
Bernie: OK. So I’m still a little confused. I’m confused about the terminology of “going into the world.” So I’m trying to grok what it is that you mean by “going into the world.”
Questioner 2: And I’m trying to grok what you mean by “not knowing.”
Bernie: Yeah. And also, when you talk about not knowing, I want to differentiate the two phases, because you talk about the practice of not knowing. So when you gave birth, you didn’t worry about the practice of not knowing. You were just there. So, then you were in that state of not knowing. You weren’t practicing to get into the state of not knowing. And then later with the hospice work, you were talking about practicing to get into that state of not knowing.
Questioner 2: Well the practice comes from not . . .
Bernie: Being in it.
Questioner 2: Shifting my action from wanting to go in to help, or fix—and taking a step back.
Bernie: Yeah. But did you have any of that when you gave birth?
Questioner 2: No.
Bernie: OK. So I’m just differentiating between the state of not knowing, and doing upayas or ways to get into a state of not knowing. And then what I’m hearing when you talk about going into the world—and correct me because these are subtle little words, terms—what I’m hearing is when you say, “going into the world,” is dealing with situations you’re familiar with.
Questioner 2: Yeah, there’s habitual response.
Bernie: Well, you think there’s habitual response. As our boss—my boss, I don’t know if he’s your boss, but I have a boss, his name is Shakyamuni Buddha—and he said, “Everything is change.” Everything is change. So what we call “habitual,” turns out to be in our head. This moment is completely new. Completely new! So, is this the world? That is extra to the moment arising. The moment arises, and I can label it “the world,” or “not the world,” I could label it in all kinds of ways. And I can say, “Oh, it came up in the old habitual way,” but that’s me creating those labels, that kind of thinking process. There’s an expression—I don’t know if it’s Japanese or Japanese Buddhist—that says, “If you meet someone you haven’t seen for two seconds, don’t think it’s the same person.” If you meet a sunrise, don’t think it’s the same. You know? Immediately we say, “Oh, that’s a sunrise.” But can you greet every moment as brand new? Not so simple. Not so simple. But is there something that happens that’s not of this world? I don’t know what that would be. I don’t know what that would be. It’s our way of thinking that this is the world and that’s not the world. If I go to a monastery, I’m getting out of the world. Why? A monastery’s not the world, you know? It’s a different scene. Some of them have tatamis, black cushions. Some have red cushions. It’s a different scene, but is it not the world? What’s the world and what’s not the world? I don’t know. For me, every moment, it’s the whole thing, man. It’s the whole thing. What’s memories? You talk about memories . . .
Questioner 2: Is that continual practice? That process, is that continual practice?
Bernie: When I talk about continuous practice, it’s very similar to when I talk about keep on trucking, so it’s always the two senses. One sense is that you just keep doing, and another sense is that you’ve got all these questions about what’s going on, and so you’re seeking new practices, new upayas, new ways of doing. So when you say, “you,” if you’re referring to me, I’ve become this simple Brooklyn guy that just, I just wake up. I smoke my cigar. I drink my coffee if some bodhisattva comes along and offers me coffee. And everywhere I go there seems to be beautiful bodhisattvas appearing, bringing coffee, and if the altitude’s high, telling me I gotta drink water. And I drink water, you know? And I’ve been involved in Zen for more than fifty-five years, and for many of those years I was seeking particular practices to try to—well I don’t want to be too flip but—now, I just enjoy my coffee, if it occurs, you know? But, it is endless.
And so I do think we are on this path of continuous practice. Later we’ll talk about—somebody asked about—after death I think. We’ll talk a little about that. That I don’t think could ever stop. I did want to also just question the word “memories.” You talked about memories of when you gave birth. And memories seem to have a sense of past, huh? So, a memory—see I think everything is just now, and I think things come up and we label it as memories. So, I don’t think it’s out of your system. I don’t think any of this is out of the system. Of course, I think it’s all interconnected. And what’s fascinating is we’ll have something we could call a dream or a memory. But they’re now. Right? It’s now. So a memory is like remembering a piece of one’s self that we might have forgotten. And something occurs, and now we remember it, but it’s all now. We’re just remembering something that’s a part of us, even if it seems to be on another continent, or even in another galaxy, or a different universe. We’re just getting flashes of something that’s us—that we had forgotten, maybe had never even remembered before. So all of a sudden, we could label it a vision—it’s all us. That’s how I see it, in my opinion.
Questioner 3: So, I’m a young practitioner/beginner.
Bernie: Me too.
Questioner 3: Cool. So I used to feel like spaciousness was like, you know, so great. And you know, some times I’m like, “Oh, I’m feeling so spacious, this must be a really good—I must be doing well.” And then when I’m walking around in that state, I feel like I can’t see the other person. I can only see my “spaciousness.” So I’m beginning to feel like that is a hindrance in my own practice. You know, I used to feel like this must be the non-dual state. You know, obviously I’m mistaken, I think. So I’m wondering what to do with that. You know, like it arises, and it fades. But sometimes it doesn’t fade, and I’m speaking with somebody, and I’m like, I’m so present right now, but really I’m not present, because I can only see my own spaciousness, and I can hardly even see the other person, even though I feel like, you know, I’m doing such a great job. So I’m wondering how to like, work with that.
Bernie: How to work with being spacious?
Questioner 3: Well I feel like it’s a hindrance when it comes to like—now the whole non-dual state, you know I’m kind of like, it will happen. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’ll just keep on truckin’ like you said. But I feel like zazen piousness is a hindrance to realizing non-duality for me.
Bernie: Yeah. So, in my opinion, man, the hindrance is the attachment to that spaciousness. Spaciousness itself is—it’s spaciousness, you know. Then you label it “great,” or “bad,” just like any other experience. And the ones that you label “great/wonderful,” you’ve got an attachment to. You want to recreate it. You want to be in that. That’s the hindrance—the attachment. If you haven’t experienced—we have a term, makyo, objects of the devil, ma is devil, kyo, objects—objects of the devil. And what are they? Anything that we attach to. So sometimes a makyo could be just beautiful, “aaahhh! Man, I’m in bliss, and I’ve got to recreate that.” That happens a lot with drugs. You can get into some beautiful states, “and I’ve got to get back there, man!” You know, it’s the attachment that’s the problem, not the state. And some things we say, “That’s awful! I got to get rid of that.” And that of course, our boss talks about, right? He said that we’ve got problems, right here in River City. And some of the problems arise because we want things that we don’t have. And some of the problems arise because we want to get rid of things that we do have. And what causes those problems? The attachments—not the thing itself. The thing itself is the thing itself. Some moments of spaciousness are fantastic.
Questioner 3: But my thing is, I can’t see, you know. When I’m sitting all day and I walk and I need to like engage with a person on a real level, on a real human level, not like a transcendental level, and I’m still spacious you know? I can’t see the other person. And I’m not attached to it; the spaciousness is just like clouding my vision. I can’t let it go.
Bernie: The only reason that you can’t see that person is because you’re attached. You can’t say you’re not attached.
Questioner 3: I feel like I need to snap out of it is the thing.
Bernie: Snap out of what?
Questioner 3: Snap out of like being all spaced out.
Bernie: Yeah. In my opinion it’s got to do with the attachments. So, what do you do with it, because we have attachments? So what I hear you saying is that you have a strong attachment to this idea of spaciousness. You had to label it “spaciousness,” right? And you’re attached to it, and you meet somebody and you can’t meet that person without being in that state of spaciousness.
Questioner 3: Or being zonked out.
Bernie: “Zonked out.” So, what you’re asking is “I need some help man, in letting go of that attachment to spaciousness.” You’re putting it a different way. I’m putting it that the issue is “How do I let go of that?”
Let me give you an example. OK, so my name is Bernie, and I’ve wanted to be a great carpenter. And so I went and I studied carpentry. And I heard of these different places where you could study carpentry. And I went to Sweden, and I studied carpentry. And I knew I wanted to collect knowledge of the Swedish way of doing carpentry. So I got to Sweden and I study all the Swedish carpentry, and I buy all the tools—they have special tools. And I put the tools in my bag. And I put the manuals in my bag, so I’ve got all this stuff in my bag. Then I go to Japan. They’ve got another way of doing carpentry. And I study their ways, and I put the manuals in my bag. And I buy all the tools, and I put the tools in my bag. And then I go back to where I came from. And I’m from New York, so I go to upstate New York. There’s a group that used to live there called the Shakers, and they did another kind of carpentry. And I studied their way of carpentry. And bought the tools and I put them in. And I went around and around, man. And I really know carpentry.
OK, so now I’m gonna have Bernie and Bernie. The first Bernie is attached to one of the things—one of the tools. And his hand—what does it mean to be attached—his hand is holding one of the tools. And he’s going around like this, see, when he’s doing his job. And somebody calls up and says, “Hey Bernie, I got a door that’s not functioning right. Can you fix it?” “Oh sure I can fix it. I’ve got all the knowledge. I’ve got the tools, and I’ve got a special tool, man.” And I go, and I take the door, and I take out my special tool that I’m attached to and I’m banging, banging, banging, banging . . . and I break the door. “Sorry, I’ll buy you a new door.” There, I fix it, by buying a new door.
The other Bernie has the same bag, but he’s not attached to it, to any of those tools. They’re all there. And so he goes. The same person calls, “Can you fix my door?” “I can try. I’ don’t know if I’ll fix it, but I’ll go try.” And I go, and I move the door. I try to grok the door. “Oh yeah, yeah,” and I reach in, and I pull out some oil, and I oil the hinges. “Ah yeah, oh, I feel a lot better,” and I get some sandpaper and I do a little sanding. “Ah, oh that feels good.”
So in your case, you’re filling up a bag of tools of wisdom—tools of non-duality—tools of the Buddha way. You happen to be attached to one of them, and the question really is how to let go of that? There’s nothing wrong with those tools. There’s nothing wrong with spaciousness, or with non-duality, or with zazen, or with chanting. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But you, in your studies, somehow you got attached to something. And you could say “Oh no, I didn’t get attached, it just happened.” Well, who are you blaming, man? Are you blaming the thing—the tool? The tool causes the attachment? It came up. What you don’t know is how to get rid of it—that attachment. But that’s the only way of getting out of that. Once you do, you can walk in your spacious way, “Hiya! Hey! Kenzo, man, I haven’t seen you in along time!” So, whatever’s coming up, you can’t blame it on what’s coming up—I think.
In my opinion, our issues are all around the attachments to our opinions of what’s coming up—or ideas. If it were really opinions, you’d be free. Opinions have no rights or wrongs, they’re just opinions. But we have lots of rights and wrongs. And things that we think are good all of the sudden become traps—we think.
The state is not the trap. Our attachment to that state is the trap—in my opinion.
Questioner 4: So, it leads me to a question that I had last night after the sesshin. I was thinking I’m very opinionated. And I notice that I have like preferences for example—preferences and opinions. And then I was just thinking, “oh I need to kind of work on it to be a little bit free.” And then I guess that was my question. That you know, like when you believe in something and you realize that you’re tangled in your own opinions, so that you can not really experience what is. And then I’m either tangled up to the opinion, and then whatever my action is so tangled up. So what comes up for me as an action is either very reactionary, or like coming out from my head. So it just basically feels like there’s a gap in between. But I’m just wondering that my thinking about—OK I have to work on my opinion to be free from opinions itself—or my preference.
Bernie: I’m glad you brought that up. In my opinion there’s no problem with preferences. So again, it’s the attachment to that preference. So I prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate ice cream. If I’m attached to that preference, means I would never even taste chocolate ice cream. But if I taste vanilla and chocolate, and I prefer vanilla—there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s my preference. I’m not saying one is right, and one is wrong. So I would not tell, “Genjo, you should eat vanilla ice cream, because that’s better than chocolate ice cream.” My own preference—I would never tell you that you should start smoking cigars, but I like to smoke cigars. I’m not attached to it. So a preference is an opinion. And you can have opinions and you can get attached to your opinions. You can get attached to your preferences. And that creates the problem—it’s always in the attachments—not in the thing itself. Things always arise, and you don’t have to like them. And you can do things around it.
I’m gonna talk a little about our Auschwitz retreat. Because when I decided to organize the retreat at Auschwitz, I spent about a year and half trying to get as many different opinions to come there. And there are a lot of attachments to those particular opinions. That happens when we have a diverse group. So for me it became—there were a number of themes, but the most important theme for me of that retreat is how we deal with diversity. So there was a lot of suffering in the room. The first retreat was about 150 people. And every morning we do council—many of you know what council is. And during the day we’ll sit on the tracks by Birkenau, near the selection site where Dr. Mengele chose some people to go to the gas chambers directly, and some to go to slave labor. If you looked like you couldn’t work—you were too weak to work—or if you were a child, too young to work, you went right to the gas chambers. If you look like you could do some work, you go to slave labor. And in the evening we formed a pleniary. We all came together and we chose different people to talk. The teacher at Auschwitz is what I would call non-duality. None of us are the teachers there. It’s the place is the teacher. And the place in and of itself is just the place.
So we divide the group into small groups for council, and we do it so that each group has a bit of diversity. So in my group last year, there’s a woman—the first day we did some introductions—and she said she’s been thinking of coming to this retreat for ten years. She’s German, and her grandfather was S.S. and worked in the camps. And she was afraid to come because she was afraid she would meet a Polish person, or a Jewish person. And then there’s a man in the group, he said he’d been thinking of coming for eight years, but he was afraid. He was a Polish person, and he was afraid he would meet a German person.
So, they had preferences. The German woman had a preference of not wanting to meet a Jewish person or a Polish person. And she was attached to that preference. And because of that attachment, she couldn’t come—couldn’t come. And that Polish guy had a preference. He didn’t want to meet a German person. But he was attached to that. Because of the attachment, he wouldn’t come. Somehow they let go of that attachment enough to come, but still that attachment was somewhat there. But they came, and they bore witness to each other. And by the third day, loving actions arose. They were hugging each other. Their attachments had fallen away.
Audience member: Maybe even their preferences.
Bernie: Maybe even their preferences. Maybe those preferences, once the attachment was gone, also fell away. That is, everything is constant change. And when the attachments fall away, opinions and preferences can also fall away—but not always. But they aren’t the problem. It’s the attachments that are the problem. And there’s not one of us in this room—in my opinion—none of us have a set of opinions that’s exactly the same even for a few minutes. So I do this kind of talking, and we’re doing this kind of dialog, and a lot of our opinions and preferences—not preferences so much, but opinions start shifting. Preferences is we do something, we like it, you know? But the attachment is a bit extra.
So I prefer zazen over—I prefer Zen kind of practice over Tibetan practice. But I’ll do Tibetan practices. You know, it’s not strong enough. I’m not attached, but it’s my preference. I like to sit still. I like simple things. I like to sit on the porch here and smoke my cigar, you know? But I’m not going to tell somebody else to do that that’s the right way of doing things. That’s the way I like it, you know. For me, life has become so much simpler—to be able to accept all of the different ways of different people. And I explore, I mean I’ve done a lot of interfaith work. I’ve lived in Catholic monasteries. I’ve studied Jewish Hasidic ways and Kabalistic ways. I took Mantra Vedanta. And this simple sitting is my preference. But why do religions go to war with each other? Why do we think that somebody is a heathen if they’re not in our religion? It’s not the religion, it’s the attachments.
Questioner 5: What’s the connection between attachments and fear? Because when you told the story about the two people in Auschwitz, one of the things that occurred to me that they were afraid of—meeting that other person and the repercussions from that.
Bernie: Yeah. Fear is a very important term. You know Kaz just did calligraphy—Kaz Tanahashi was here and just left, he was here a long time. And he did the Buddhist term for compassion is jihi. And the first term ji is what he did, for compassion, and that’s sort of the common—that’s the word we think of as compassion. The second part, hi, I would like him to do hi for me. Because hi means—Buddhist compassion is the combination of those two—hi means to remove fear. So somehow in my own case, for a long time now, many of the practices that I do for myself is I’m drawn into places where there’s some sense of fear. I don’t want to go there. Or I get nervous, you know. And when that happens, I go. And I sit there and to bear witness to why that fear is arising. And that’s how I see myself growing in a long time. So at the same time that I like to say I just sit on the deck and smoke my cigar and whatever, I’m also drawn into places where I don’t know what’s happening here, man.
So in my opinion—I mean I’ve never thought—your question’s a good one for me, it touches my own practice—I know that (I know?)—In my opinion fear arises out of a touching of the unknown. And why does it arise? Maybe somebody could tell me. I don’t know.
Roshi Joan just became seventy, and Zalman Schachter is somebody we both know—I’m very close with him. He’s now about eighty-six. And a long time ago he told me that every ten years—and that’s why I mentioned years, seventy—every ten years (and of course, this is his opinion) things will arise that are beckoning to take you into a space you don’t know—into the unknown. And fear will arise. And there’s energy forces that are keeping you in what you’ve been doing. Because you know it, even if you hate it, you know it. And it’s much more comfortable to be in something that you think you know. And in the realm of the unknown, there’s a fear that arises. Why? I’m not sure. And for me, that fear is a fantastic place to practice. And that’s why I like it in jihi—jihi, no hi—that aspect. And can we remove fear?
A lot of people are afraid of people dying. So if you’re doing your work as hospice workers—many people, my father (my mother died when I was seven) my father wouldn’t be in the same bedroom as her. When she was in the hospital for a little while, and then they released her because she was going to die, he was terribly afraid of death. When his sister died, he went into denial. He wouldn’t—he said she didn’t die. So things that we don’t know somehow can produce fear, it seems to me.
I don’t know what’s the instrument to make that happen. I’m sure one can analyze. What I know—I mean in my opinion—that’s a fantastic place to practice. To practice in those places where—another way of saying it is “it’s a fantastic practice in the realm of the unknown.”
There are people when they first started doing zazen, they can’t do it. Because they experience—they don’t know what’s happening. I’ll tell you about myself. I was sitting every day. This was before starting to practice on a regular basis with Maezumi Roshi. I didn’t start practicing on a regular basis with him until 1966. But I started to do zazen in ’62 on my own. I had my own little zendo, and my own little place. And I’d do retreats, and whatever. Before that I was just reading about Zen, in ’58. And then one day, I had this experience of everything disappearing, and I was terrified. And in fact, I went to bed. I told my wife I have to leave the lights on. I was terrified. And I stopped doing zazen—for about two years. And then I started again.
It was a totally unknown kind of thing. Why? For some people, that happens and it’s so bliss and “man, this is great,” whatever. I had this huge fear of the totally unknown. Why? I don’t know. In some sense it doesn’t matter too much. But if you’re with somebody that can encourage you to go into that state, that’s—I think that’s—quite wonderful. That’s my own opinion.
Questioner 6: My question in reference to non-duality is a relationship that I have with my brother. And I was brought up Reformed Jew, and he became a Lubavitcher. As an adult he’s a Lubavitcher. And even to the point where he tried to physically attack me, and verbally abuse me when my father died, because I was in charge of the will. And I wouldn’t move my father to another grave—it was going back and forth. Anyhow, I had the bravery to visit him in Florida, in April. And his wife started up, right before I left the house, again about, you know, it’s just, it’s a hard relationship.
Bernie: It’s a shanda man.
Questioner 6: So, I do my best. Yet I walk away with the opinion of I’ll never visit him again. I don’t want to see him again. It’s fraught with duality.
Bernie: Yeah. And the question is?
Questioner 6: Well, I know in bearing witness, as I become a chaplain, that I will be put in various situations that will be fraught with duality, and that I have to hold a neutral position, or hold my seat in that. And I guess my question would be is how to build that strength and resiliency in situations—especially family, you know he’s my only blood family left. It is fraught with sort of judgment and pain. We’re so far apart from one another in our lifestyles.
Bernie: Yeah. In my opinion, it’s to enter into the situation. That’s just what I was describing, that situations arise where, “I don’t know what to do,” “I said I’m afraid of it,” or “but I may not like it,” or whatever. And as a practice, I try to enter and bear witness. It’s the only way I know of dealing with anything. It’s to try to enter from the state of deep listening. You know, not-knowing, and try to bear witness.
I work in the Middle East. I just started again. My wife is Israeli—all her family is in Israel. They’re all Orthodox—well, some of them have sort of moved away from that. And there was a time, I got a phone call from Richard Gere—he wanted to work in the Middle East. He actually wanted to work in Iraq, but I convinced him to first see about the Israel/Palestine situation. And I asked him if he would first just go and listen. And we went—and it’s all very private—but we went, and we met with all kinds of people. We met with, you know, the musicians, the politicians, the heads of newspapers, and we met with the settlers—Orthodox settlers, and we met with a man in charge of suicide bombing. We met with as many—we took him to as many voices as we could—to hear. And some were very hard to listen to. It’s the same thing that happens at Auschwitz. We have survivors, we have children of S.S., we have Gypsies, we have many different nations, many different religions. We have Palestinians and Israelis at this point, we have Native Americans—it’s quite a mix. And no matter how progressive you are, you’ll run into somebody who in your opinion is all screwed up, man. And their opinion, they think you’re all screwed up. And it even could be within one family. But we purposely create that kind of container. Because I think if we can bear witness within such a container, we can grow. So, you know it gets worse when it’s your own brother perhaps. But, my mother-in-law who I love, and she loves me, and she’s gone to jail for the settlers. At any rate, so the only thing that I know is to try to enter as much as possible those places where there’s a difficulty. And if it’s in your family, that’s even better because that’s so much harder.
Making Peace: The World As One Body - Part 3
Anybody here that doesn’t know of Leonard Cohen? Everybody knows Leonard Cohen? So, I thought of him—two things—one when This Way, The Bell [Anthem]. You know that famous song of his?
Ring the bells
The bells that still can ring
There is no perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
I think that sums up our practice.
But also, somebody asked about mystery. “What’s the mystery?” I forget who it was. . . . Because I’m gonna give the answer to “What is the mystery?” He does that in his concert in England. He says, “This morning [he] realized the answer to the mystery of life.” And he then said, “Do you want to know what it is?” And they said “Yeah!” And he said, “You really want to know what it is?” And “Yeah!” And he gave the answer, which you know. “The answer to the mystery of life is . . . do dum do dum do dum dum.”
Now, are you happy?
OK, so two important things came up when I was taking my break. One was alongside generally, maybe always; with fear (I’m not sure) is a sense of vulnerability—as why the fear might arise—a sense of vulnerability. And our practice is about becoming vulnerable—taking off the armor. Removing the armor. I believe that’s in one of The Eight Awareness’s of the Enlightened Person, that Dogen talks on. That Shakyamuni Buddha first talked on before he died, and Dogen talks on. The Eight Awareness’s of the Enlightened Person, and one of them is dealing with taking off the armor.
I’m not sure if this fully answers why the fear arises, but when we are in those situations it’s like there’s a chink in our armor. And it’s fascinating, this notion of armor, because we all have it, and we create clothing, or an armor, for the world, or for the space that we tend to inhabit. And the same armor in one space could be disaster in another space.
There’s a man that—Primo Levi—Primo Levi was an Italian guy who went to Auschwitz, and a fantastic writer, and a wonderful chemist. And because he was such a great chemist, he wound up in what was called Auschwitz III, which was really a chemical factory, making Cyanide—making the gas, the main product. After a while it became the gas for the chambers. And he went back to Italy after release from Auschwitz. And in one of his books he talks about how many of the people he knew wound up committing suicide afterwards. And it was because of their guilt—they’re feeling that they survived. Anybody who survived Auschwitz saw many people die, and saw many people, and saw many cases where they lived because somebody died. At any rate, he talks about that, and then a year later he committed suicide.
And he writes about this guy that he met in Auschwitz who was a dwarf—a very powerful dwarf. And he said that he had built a set of armor—this dwarf—to where he had no problems in Auschwitz. No problems, he was quite amazing. After the war he wound up in an insane asylum. Because the armor he had developed in Auschwitz was not appropriate outside of Auschwitz. He was looked at as abnormal. We do that all the time, right? Somebody that doesn’t fit our world, they’re not normal. Let’s get rid of them.
So I’ll talk a little bit about my notion of clubs. It’s important. I use the word club a lot. And I think I talked a little last night. So my opinion is that we all create clubs—clubs that we belong to. And there’s nothing wrong about that. That’s just the way it is. We all have our clubs. And generally the way club is defined—or one of the ways that club is defined—is by who doesn’t fit in the club. So we all define our clubs, or we don’t necessarily define them.
My son, when he was very young, would take his plate and push all of the food he didn’t like into piles. And he’d call them “the yucky piles.” And then he’d have the food that he does [like]. Recently—this is like forty years ago, or thirty-five, between thirty-five and forty years ago—and recently we talked about it. And now he still does the same thing, but he calls it “good piles.” But at any rate, once you create the yucky piles, the issue is what do you do with them? His mother would say, “you gotta eat,” or “you should eat.” We weren’t that tough. And so he would come up with devious things. He would sneak it down to our dogs, or underneath the table, or whatever.
But those people that don’t fit our clubs, we gotta figure out what to do with them. What do you do with all those yucky piles? The most common thing we do—and we all do this—is we ignore them. So there are folks that we ignore. And what does that mean to ignore? It could be as simple as we would never read their books, or never watch them on TV, or listen to them on a tape. We certainly wouldn’t invite them to our house for dinner. We wouldn’t call them. We ignore them. In some cases, we cross the street. So there are many people that will pass a homeless person and not look at that homeless person—turn their eyes around, or even cross the street to avoid walking past them. That’s the ignoring.
There was a time in the United States (We’re in the United States, now? Yep.), there was a time here where if you were gay; there was a good possibility of gay bashing. That was another thing we did with people that didn’t fit. We beat ’em up. Even going back a little ways, we lynched them. We lynched a lot of people that didn’t fit our club. Of course we also have prisons. We’ve created a huge prison system for people that don’t fit our club one way or another. And Auschwitz, anybody who wasn’t Aryan could be killed there. Gays were killed there, the Gypsies were killed there, Polish intellectuals were killed there. Of course the Jews were killed there. There’s so many, if you weren’t Aryan—handicapped children were killed there. So we have all of these different ways of dealing with people who don’t fit our club.
There’s a practice that I’m particularly fond—a liturgy—that I’m particularly fond of. It’s called The Gate of Sweet Nectar. And I got attracted to it when I was training at the Zen Center Los Angeles. We chanted it every evening in Japanese. Somehow I got attracted to it—I didn’t know what it meant. But it deals with the five Buddha families. That I knew. But we never had translated it. And before I moved to New York, which was December of ’79 to start the Zen Community of New York, I translated that. I had done a lot of translation work with my teacher, and I translated that with him. And then he encouraged me to modify it.
It’s a particular liturgy that goes back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. It was rather short at that point, so it wound up in both Soto and Rinzai traditions. D.T. Suzuki has it in the Manual of Zen, but it’s rather short. In the 1800s somebody in Japan, Minzai, modified it and put in a lot of Shingon—esoteric—elements. Five Buddha families, and even the precepts of Koba Daishi are in there. There’s a part where we chant, and there’s bells, and all things, the climax of that liturgy, which says, “Now I have raised the Bodhi mind! I am the Buddhas, and they are me.” That’s the precept that Koba Daishi used for the Shingon sect. “Now I have raised the bodhi mind. I am the Buddhas, and they are me.” And that comes after a climax. The beginning of it is inviting all of the hungry spirits to come enter my mandala practice. And so it’s giving the precepts to all of these hungry spirits after the teachings, and after a bunch of stuff.
I’m not sure how I got here. We’re on clubs. Well, not knowing where I started, I’ll meander around.
So, this particular liturgy, it was used for inviting ones ancestors, feeding them, teaching them, and giving the precepts. And it’s done in all of the homes in Japan during a time called Obon. The priest will go to all of the people’s homes, and do it at their homes, for all their ancestors. And then you’ve probably seen pictures, they’ll send the ancestors home on little boats with candles down the river. “Go back home! We’ve had enough.”
But it also was used for all those who nobody was doing services for—nobody was taking care of. So for example, in the old days, before Internet, somebody could die in a war and their family might not know for a couple years because the war was so far away, and communication was not that great. So the service would be for those people, you know, that died and nobody knew they died, or sometimes homeless people who die and nobody is doing anything for. And so I expanded it to be a service for all those aspects of oneself and society that are not being taken care of. And that’s the service.
Oh, I see where I was coming from.
I do this on every Street Retreat that I’ve been on. Not the first one, the first street retreat that I did was about twenty, well it was twenty-one years ago this April, because last year was the twentieth anniversary that I went on the streets (in the Bowery). It was a closed Street Retreat. I invited people that were leading Street Retreats around the world, and they came, a group of us. There was a Rabbi from Israel, who leads Street—he’s our Rabbi now at Auschwitz. The last six years he’s doing Koan study with me. He’s five generations Israeli. And on Yom Kippur—for those who know Yom Kippur, it’s the holiest day in Judaism—he does a Street Retreat in Tel Aviv, in the poorest part of that town, which is now full of a lot of black Africans. A lot of discrimination going on, it’s a very poor area. And this year I’ll be in Brazil during Yom Kippur. Next year I’ll join him on that. But anyway, it was a group of people from Israel, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium. Pannavati came on that Street Retreat. She’s an African American Theraveda Nun working with the homeless down south.
And the first time I did it, each day during the Street Retreats, we’d gather once or twice a day in a circle and share what’s coming up. And people would tell me things, or would share what was coming up. And I was just shocked—or I don’t know if that was the right word—but several people said things that are straight out of that liturgy. And they didn’t know that liturgy. So I realized that that liturgy is a liturgy of the streets, and so every Street Retreat I did afterwards, each day we would chant that liturgy. And of course we chanted at Auschwitz.
We also say Kaddish in eight to ten different languages. We’ve translated it into all of the different languages of the groups that have come. We have it in Polish and German of course, but we also have it in Arabic—can you imagine that we’re chanting the Kaddish in Arabic—If you’re Jewish that has more meaning than if you’re not Jewish—because we have Palestinians come each year to that retreat?
And some of the centers associated with me have taken that on as a practice that they do. And Zen Center Los Angeles, where I trained originally, does that. This is where I was coming from. And once, a wonderful guy—he’s a beautiful guy, he’s a beautiful priest at Zen Center Los Angeles—they were chanting this Gate of Sweet Nectar, which is inviting all the hungry spirits. And he’s had the training. We train in that liturgy of how that’s inviting all aspects of oneself and society that aren’t being dealt with. So that was what was going on. And a homeless person came in to open the door, and started entering the zendo. And he didn’t allow that person in. And the person said, “But Father, I took my shoes off?” And he said, “You can’t come in.” A beautiful man, and our conditioning goes so deep. I’ll never forget that. “But Father, I took my shoes off?”
OK, let’s get back to questions. Or maybe we can have answers, and I’ll give questions.
Questioner 7: Actually I’m searching for the answer. I want to go back to what you mentioned earlier today, and that was the fear that you experienced that stuck to you from practicing for two years. I was wondering if you could share your process of recovering from that fear, and getting past it so you could practice again.
Bernie: Yeah, well in later years I attributed it to the fact that I was practicing without a teacher or somebody to talk to. I had nobody to—at that time—I had no one to talk to. I thought I was losing my mind, which I might have been. But it was—using the language of vulnerability—I was losing that which I thought was me—totally. And I wasn’t ready to do that. So I shut down all systems, and didn’t want to go there again, until I had somebody that I could talk to. Now with time, that fear receded, and I started to practice again. But also around that time, I did start practicing with a teacher. You know, so with hindsight, and having the opinions that I have now, that was a very important time. And if I had somebody to relate to it might have been . . . but here we are. Here we are.
Questioner 8: I would like you to talk a little bit more about what it means to you to go on the street.
Bernie: OK. So, I’ll give you the history first.
When I graduated—got my bachelor’s degree—my undergraduate work was in aeronautical engineering, and I worked in the space industry. My graduate work was in mathematics—my PHD is in mathematics. My graduate work was at UCLA in Los Angeles. My undergraduate was in Brooklyn. And when I finished, I was with a friend of mine sitting in a pizza place. You know, pizza places in New York are still the best in the world. And whenever I’m in New York I will always end up in some pizza place. But at any rate, so we were sitting in a pizza place, and he said, “So Bernie, what are you gonna do with your life?” That’s what you do when you are graduating undergraduate. And I said, “I want to do three things. I want to live on a kibbutz in Israel. I want to live in a Zen monastery. And I want to live on the streets.”
Now, before that I had run into—not run into, but there were two things that influenced me. One—a book that became a play, and I think a movie also, yeah definitely a movie also, The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neil. I was very impressed by that, and it deals with homeless people. And the second thing was, rather young at a cafeteria on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, with my father and his second wife, and next table were four homeless guys. And they were discussing the philosophy of the comics in the Sunday newspaper. And I said, “Wow, what wisdom! I’ve got to experience that.” That sort of led me to that. And then twenty years after graduating—around twenty years later—by then I had lived on a kibbutz in Israel, I had been a long time in a Zen monastery, and I was going to start working for the homeless in New York. And I remembered, hey, I was supposed to live on the streets. So this is a good time to do it, so I can experience what street life is. Not homeless—I make a big point of that, that I could not bear witness to homelessness because I had a home to go back to. I could bear witness to what it was to live on the streets. So I went to live on the streets. And I invited some people to join me. And we lived in the streets. We didn’t go there to teach anybody anything. We went there to bear witness to living on the streets.
For me it was a very important week. We went for a week—it was Holy Week, which means April. It’s the time when Passover and Easter come together, and Buddha’s Birthday—so, in the same time period. It rained the full seven days. And I made a point of sleeping in different venues, to experience the different ways of sleeping in the streets. You know, gathering cardboard bedding, on the sidewalk, sleeping in trains and bus terminals, and different things like that. In New York we did not sleep in any of the shelters. I was told beforehand that there’s a lot of tuberculosis in the shelters, and [it’s] not safe in New York. Especially at that time, there was a lot of tuberculosis going around. And we ate in a lot of venues.
And that gave me a very good feeling of how to do the work I was going to do, which in September there’s going to be a thirty-fifth anniversary. At any rate, that work has been very important.
But joining me were some very interesting people. There were people that had been practicing Buddhism for like twenty years or so. And there were people that had never done any meditation. It was about twenty of us. Peter Matthiessen was on that first retreat. Ann Wallman was on that first retreat. Ann Wallman was sort of close with Allen Ginsberg. And she and Ginsberg started the School of Poetics at Naropa. It was different kind of people, and people that like I said, never meditated. And all of us had a very deep experience. And I think part of it was because you really wind up living moment to moment. Where am I gonna pee next? Where am I gonna rest? You don’t check the Stock Market, or things of that nature.
The first year, I had certain rules. You could bring a dollar for every day that you were going to be on the street with me. You had to beg. You had to aimlessly meander. If you took your shoes off to sleep, you had to put them under your head or somewhere so they wouldn’t be stolen. You couldn’t have a change of clothes. For a week before the retreat you weren’t supposed to shave or shower. I think that’s about it.
And the next year I met a wonderful guy who was the head of a little village under a highway called the F.D.R. Highway in New York. And he said to me, “Do you allow people to bring money?” And I said, “Yeah, they can bring a dollar for every day they’re going to be.” And he said—this is very important for me—he said, “That’s no good. They can’t bring any money. Even a dollar allows them to make a hook to what you call ‘the world’.” And so from that year-on, the rule was no money, but you could beg.
And many people when they first—when they decided—to come, had certain fears. And they wound up coming because they felt a little bit safety—that I would take care of them in those fears, you know. I imagine. But the fears they had were generally—and like I said, I’ve been doing it for twenty years, and I have students that have made this their main practice, and there are people around the world doing this. And in fact, there’s a group in San Francisco that started doing it after reading about my Street Retreats that I’m very close with. The group is called the Faithful Fools. And it’s led by a Carmelite Nun/Sister and a U.U. Minister. And their whole practice, they work in the Tenderloin, the poor area in San Francisco. And their whole work is working with the homeless. And anybody who works with them, anybody on the board, has to do the Street Retreats. And they have trained Ministers, and in fact there is now a Street Ministry in the U.U. Movement, the interior movement, with people being trained in leading these Street Retreats.
Anyway, so the nervousness, or the fear was that they wouldn’t have enough food, also a fear of being abused, and maybe raped. None of that has ever happened, in all of the Street Retreats that I know of—and that’s hundreds of retreats. Certainly more than a thousand people—much more. I think Faithful Fools alone has taken thousands of people out. That’s every week. But, what do you think the biggest thing that people feel? It should be obvious, but it probably isn’t. Loss of dignity.
And what’s the transformation that happens, for the people that go and live on the streets? They cannot treat somebody else as if they’re not human—as if they don’t exist—because they’ve experienced people doing that to them. So there’s an actress, Ellen Burstyn, I’d like to tell her story. She came on the streets with me—when I think it was her seventieth birthday, or around that time. And I may be all confused, it may have been her sixtieth—can’t be. She’s about ten years older than me, so it had to be about her seventieth. And this is a story that she put in her book. She has an autobiography. And when she talks about herself, she still tells this story—ten years later.
She approached some people sitting near Tompkins Park in lower Manhattan. And there were some women having coffee or tea. And she went up to them and asked for some money. And a woman gave her a dollar. And she started to cross the street, and she was so happy she had this dollar. She was full of joy. And then she started to cry. And she said, “Why am I crying?” And then she realized that she cried because the woman that gave her the dollar did it like this [demonstrates giving without looking]. And she had never experienced that in her life.
So she bore witness to being ignored—to being thought of as less-than-me, somebody that’s not in my club, that I can’t even look at. And the transformation was huge.
Questioner 8: And can I share something that happened to me? I’ll cut to the chase. I’d been married thirty-one years, and I was in San Francisco, trying to help my son. And anyway, I ended up staying there, and my former husband filed for divorce while I was there. I ended up living right next to the Tenderloin. And I had a place to stay, but I didn’t—I’d been, shall we say, “removed from the club.” And I didn’t have a new club. And gradually, in some ways the street people kind of became—I didn’t realize it till later on—but, these were the people I began to identify with, as I didn’t have my regular life anymore. And so I would just wander around, pretty much like I was homeless. I had an apartment, but I didn’t have a plan.
And one day, because I was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, I decided that maybe what I could do—because there were so many homeless people there—that I would try to look them in the eyes and smile at them, because he recommends smiling as a practice. And it was a really interesting experience. I was a little afraid at first. But one day, I was walking through—what’s the square, down from Post Street? The big square. Anyway, I looked at this guy—he was all huddled up—and I smiled at him, walked on down the street. And all the sudden he said, “Hey lady, thanks for the smile.” And this voice appeared in my ear. And it said, “Go back, and ask him if he wants to be in the paper flower business with you.” I’d always had this fantasy that somehow—I’m an artist, and all I was doing there was making paper flowers. That was one thing I was doing. And so I just followed the voice. And I went back, and I got down, and I said, “Excuse me, but I was wondering if you’d like to be in the paper business—paper flower business with me?” And he kind of came out, and he said, “Well. . .” And I said, “I make paper flowers, and I just live up the street. I’ll bring them down, and you can sell them, and then we’ll split it.” I thought it would be better to have it be quid pro quo. So he said, “OK.” So I went back to my apartment, came down with the paper flowers. This story’s just amazing to me. He had taken his box, and he said, “I want you to make the signs, because your handwriting’s going to be better than me, and we need to really market this.” And I’m like, “man, I need this guy!”
And it was like; you know my world was just changing, because I had no idea who this person was. And so we had a little paper flower business for a day. I went off. We agreed to meet again at 4 o’clock. And I went back, and he said, “Well, I sold two. I gave away one, and I think somebody stole one.” You know, I said, “OK.” So it was starting to get night, and we walked up the street—I was on one side, he was on the other. And he said to me something like, “You know, you really made a difference in my day.” And I realized at that time that I was so lonely, and I had been thrown out of my club. And here was somebody who was giving me exactly what I needed. He acknowledged my being.
And so, it was one of those moments in your life that was just such a gift to me.
Bernie: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that.
We have time for one more before our break.
Questioner 9: So, when we look at people that are human beings, that are experiencing life on the streets, or homelessness—not “street people”—we have an assumption to be surprised when they’re smart, or something. And I think that is like completely inaccurate. Because any one of us, you know, except for the fact that we’re all like, most of us are like probably experiencing great privilege in our lives, could be homeless—could experience homelessness, could experience life on the streets. So you know, if somebody is like intelligent and they’re living on the streets, that shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, or surprise. So I just want to mention that.
Questioner 9: So, how might we use that approach with the larger ecological environmental issues facing us right now?
Bernie: Uh huh. Whew. Yeah. So, I’m this simple guy. And I always fall back to those three that you said. And the first one, I try to approach by deep listening, right? And I don’t know, I’m not pulling out any of the stuff yet. I don’t know the world’s falling apart. I don’t know, the world’s in great shape. I don’t know all that stuff. I’m entering. And then, I try to bear witness. Now this is not only to the whole world falling apart, it’s to myself as an individual; it’s to my work with my sangha, with my kids, wherever I go. It’s always just that simple. I listen. I feel what’s happening, and I let the actions arise. So whenever somebody asks me a question about anything, that’s what I do. I have no—I don’t know how to do anything. You know, I really don’t.
And, my experience is things will arise. What can be simpler than that? But, maybe not so—what’s the right?—satisfying. It’s nice to know some things we could do, right? I do this—pshheww—everything’s good, you know. I don’t know. I don’t know any things like that.
Remember when yesterday—I think it was yesterday—we were talking about, I was talking about the one body of Bernie. So I really don’t know what’s going on in Bernie, but I read some stuff. Like I read I’m basically a pacifist. And I’ve read that I’ve got—and as well as all, everybody in this room—cancer cells that are always popping up. And I’ve got white cells that are attacking those cancer cells. So what’s a pacifist gonna do, man? How can I get those white cells to stop attacking and killing other parts of my body? Those cancer cells are coming! These guys are battling them and destroying them. I’m sitting here as a pacifist, and this fight is going on in my body. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? And then this hand starts—something cuts it, it starts bleeding. This hand, the cigar falls on it and burns it, and it’s burning up. What am I gonna do? Which—what do I do first?
Isn’t it frustrating—everything that we’ve got to do? You know, I gotta breath, I gotta eat, I gotta shit. I’ve got so much work to do! What do I do first? What do I do second?
So, luckily somewhere along the line I learned about these three tenets. Or they popped up while I was taking a bath—everything important in my life pops up while I’m taking a bath. It popped up—oh, not knowing: try to just approach everything with deep listening, feeling what’s going on, man, and then groking, bearing witness. Oh, I can see what occurs. I took care of this hand, washed off this thing. OK white cells, go ahead, do it.
So that’s how I function. Now, I also happen to be—I was a space engineer. If you asked me how do I fly something to Mars, I could tell you how to do it, you know. So, I knew a few things, and I do what I can in everything that I do.
I don’t know a time when the world wasn’t falling apart. Of course I don’t know what—we have a koan, how’s it go?
Daizui was asked, “When the world—when the fire kulpa comes, when the world is all disappearing, falling apart . . .” because in Buddhist—should I say theology, we don’t have theology—cosmology, Buddhist cosmology, there’s different periods where you, where everything is growing, then it’s sort of neutral, then it’s falling apart. And then some of these things go on for different kalpas. They all go on for different kalpas. You know what a kalpa is? So a kalpa—how many people know what a kalpa is? So, there’s different definitions for a kalpa. The common definition I use for a kalpa is if you take a marble granite . . . Is marble granite? Does that make sense? No. So if you take a piece of marble, or a piece of granite—I don’t care which, whichever you prefer—if you take a piece that’s ten million miles high and ten—OK, cubed—ten million miles in each direction, every hundred years, an angel comes down from heaven and her wing brushes this cube of marble. When the cube is completely gone, that’s one kalpa.
So, our planning, our work, is in terms of kalpas, you know. We’ve got to make sure everything is OK for a kalpa. So if you’re in the kalpa where it’s all being destroyed, what do you do? What do you do? In that kalpa where it’s all been destroyed, then what do you do? After it’s destroyed, what do you do? It’s an important koan.
OK. So, what’s fascinating is that each of us, if we just listen to the moment—we bear witness to what’s going on—that different things will arise. I call them ingredients. And we all have different ingredients that arise. And we’ll take those ingredients and make the best meal possible. And we’ll find that you might be in the world of environmental work, and I might be in the world of cigar making, and somebody else in the world—homelessness. It’s a beautiful garden of people within these different worlds doing beautiful things—doing beautiful things. And sometimes we worry—can we do the things that will save the universe? Well, you can try. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I can take the ingredients that are coming up in me and do the best thing I can—and not blame myself for not doing better than the best I can. I mean it. So I really believe in befriending the self.
And someone was talking about how they’re doing all of these wonderful things, and at the same they’re criticizing themselves. They’re not doing good enough, you know. Recently I put some thoughts on a koan called The Tortoise Wipes Her Tracks—His Tracks. You know that little story? Big tortoises—you’ve seen them, somewhere. Peter Matthiessen wrote this beautiful book, Far Tortuga—hard to read, it’s in the dialect of the . . . it’s beautiful. Giant tortoises there—and they’ll come on the beach, and they wipe they’re tracks. To get rid of their tracks, they wipe it with their tail. But of course the tail leaves some tracks. So we do the best we can. And then, we make excuses. That’s what I call “wiping.” We sort of wipe what we’ve done to hide it, because we’re ashamed of what we did, it wasn’t good enough. And we want to get rid of our tracks. So we apologize. And we feel bad, “Oh, if only I had done better.”
Those tracks—the wiping—leaves new tracks. Leaves new tracks. So maybe the best thing that we can do is just make excuses. Oh the best thing I just did was so terrible. Oh, if only I could do better than the best I can do! Some day, one day, one day, one day, one day . . . I will do better than the best.
So I really believe in befriending the self. Take what’s coming up, and do it! That’s the best we can do, man.
Roshi Joan Halifax: You know, as you’ve been talking today I remembered this koan Kyogan’s Man in the Tree. And there’s this guy hanging in a tree, and his teeth are wrapped around a branch, and he can’t touch the tree with his hands or his feet. And this other guy walks underneath, and he says, “Hey, why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” So if the man in the tree answers, he’ll fall to his death. But if he doesn’t answer, he doesn’t help the guy who asked the question.
So, one of the things that I think is so powerful about the three tenets is that they don’t provide a solution—that they actually create a context where uncertainty, and your capacity to live with the power of uncertainty can increase when we practice them.
So I think, you know, most people who hear that koan are looking for a solution. You know, they’re like, “Wait a minute. There’s a solution here. What’s the solution?” But for me what is so powerful about the practice, but also . . . The first time you shared the three tenets with me, I thought about this work that I did in the prison system, and all of the concepts that I went into the prison system with, you know. Just looking at that building, which was so imposing and ugly. And then all the ideas about working with men on Death Row and in Maximum Security. And then carrying in the three tenets—just realizing if I’m attached to my opinions about this place, there’s no way I’ll survive. And coming into this process of going upstream and finding uncertainty is my ally.
You know, of living in this sort of spirit of interest, curiosity, inquiry, surprise—Brother David calls it “surprise,” just that surprise. Yeah there are incredible equations out there in the world with regards to the tipping point that we have, you know, drifted past in our consumerism. And, you know, we’ve had a few surprises in the past few weeks. What about this Algal Bloom, you know, in the Arctic. I mean we just—this is a self-organizing system. And there’s all these responses that are completely out of the realm that we know—that are presenting themselves. Just being that interest—Oh!
So for me, that’s one side of the equation. But the other side has to do with a sense of conscientiousness. You know, of really endeavoring to do your best intentionally. You know, in the sort of way of compassion that has an object—that’s preferential. You know, recognizing there’s suffering in the world. But I can say—I was saying to Bernie—we take people to the Himalayas every year, many clinicians. And the hardest thing is to watch the clinicians help people, instead of really being able to be penetrated by the world that they find themselves in. And the curiosity isn’t there when you’re helping per se, because you have a kind of solution.
So I wanted to thank you for, many years ago of, you know, sharing the three tenets—also working with dying people. I used to do lots of hands-on work with people who were dying, and it was the same thing. If I walked in prescriptively, there was no chance for intimacy. But when not knowing was there, the possibility for intimacy and surprise, always present.
Bernie: Yeah. Thank you. It’s—I think, my opinion is—also the way to have a successful marriage. There were a couple of questions about how do you make marriage sustainable? As a male, I was extremely used to fixing everything. So if my wife came up with a problem, I would fix it. And then, little by little, I learned, what about not jumping in to fix the problem that she thinks exists? What if I could just listen, bear witness to what is going on, and see what arises? And our marriage got so much better. Our marriage got so much better.
So for me it’s sort of funny, almost all questions come back to the same principle—that whatever the relationship, whoever you’re dealing with—as a Zen teacher for I don’t know how many years, people would come in dokusan, and I was ready to fix it. I’d say for twenty years every—I was chanting, “creations are numberless, I vow to save them.” And that became a part of my being. I knew how to save you. I could push you into enlightenment. I could fix everything. The first day I was here, Shinzan picked me up at the airport. And along the way he said—he’s doing dokusan, or daison, or whatever you’re calling it—and he said, “Do [you] have any advice?” And I said, “Don’t worry about fixing things. Just listen.” People want to be listened to. They may say they want solutions. Or they want . . . but that’s—I’ve never found that to be true, in my years. The key thing is to be listened to.
And then, if we could bear witness to each other, what a beautiful thing could happen in that interview room, or in the relationship, or in anything we’re doing. And let what arises arise. It’s also so wonderful because new things will come up. And you could be excited by the new stuff that’s coming up, instead of “Oh yeah, I know that’s the way to do it, man.” It’s a little boring.
I never know what I’m going to say. So it becomes exciting. Every once in a while I “Oh, that’s interesting. That’s a nice way of saying it.”
This last week I was somewhere—and again, I guess because in the ingredients in my being right now is my new grandson . . . Somebody was talking about “fixing” — I don’t know, a solution somewhere you know, doing something so it doesn’t happen again. And I thought of wiping the rear end of my grandson. Imagine if I approach you. I’m going to wipe this away so that it will never happen again. Yeah, what am I setting myself up for? But does that mean that I don’t wipe it away? You know?
Yeah. And then somebody said to me, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” And the only thing I can think of is because it needs to be done. So the same with my grandson—wouldn’t that be a silly question if I’m cleaning him and somebody says, “Why are you doing that? Don’t you know it’s gonna happen again?” Isn’t it a silly question? You do it because it needs to be done. And if it needs to be done billions of times, you do it billions of times. You know, you do what needs to be done.
Questioner 10: So, if we come to that kind of a freedom I think, when if we can accept the not knowing, and the spontaneity of caring or loving actions coming out of the moment of intimacy, what—you know I’m a psychotherapist and a Zen priest, I get to fall in love with a lot of people—what stops me from making a move sexually because I’m feeling so close to you?
Bernie: So, we’ve moved into another field. There are questions about vows—great vow. One question was . . . as you notice, I tend to put a lot of these things into metaphors, but let me get the question. Most essentials living great vows—what does it mean to live by vows? You know about that guy, Bucky—he did big domes. Buckminster Fuller, and he talked about trim tabs. I talk about rudders. I think of vows as rudders. And he talked about trim tabs in relation to big ocean liners—I mean they’re huge. And can you imagine trying to move them? So there’s things called rudders, but then there’s little trim tabs that can move the rudders. And I think of vows in that way.
When my previous wife, Jishu, passed away—there’s a picture of her on that alter in the hall, with all those—I think she’s the only woman, with all those deceased men. But we have a lot of women ancestors also. But anyway, that’s true. Why did I bring . . . Oh. When we cofounded the Zen Peacemakers, and we talked about what we wanted—and one of the things we wanted is for it really to—for the Precepts to be an important part of it.
So we have precepts in Zen. And I call those rudders, or trim tabs. The rudders might be, for me the rudders might be the Three Tenets. And then the Precepts—trim tabs. It doesn’t matter; you can call them all rudders if you want. And I study them; we study them in koan system. When I study them, we study them from different perspectives—from Mahayana perspective, which means it’s relative. How do you work with them based on the time, the place, the position, the people involved, stuff like that. With Theravada, a literal sense, but also from a Buddha-nature sense, and the stress is put on that. There’s no subject, no object, and basically when we studied it that way, we were given the license to do anything. We were super human. We could do anything.
So I had a man that I had installed as Zen Abbot—not as a Provisional Abbot—who after my teacher died, I was in charge of the places we had, the City Center in Los Angeles, the Mountain Center. But I also had this big center in New York that was occupying myself really—it was too much. And I was looking, at that time nobody wanted to take over those, be in charge of those centers. There was a lot of karma around them. And the first thing I did was divide them, because we had nobody who could handle both. And finally, somebody—I wanted Enkyo to be in charge of the city—she didn’t want to do that. She moved to New York and was working with me there. [I] put somebody in charge.
And I got a call one night, and he said, “I want you to be the first to hear. I was in bed last night with two naked women, (He was naked too) and one of the women (they were both his major students, as it normally is), and one of them has raised a ruckus! And I want you to hear first, before you . . .” So, I flew out, and I talked with him, created processes—council processes, sangha processes, stuff like that. But the interesting thing is that he told me that as a Zen Master, if he tells three women to jump into bed naked with him, they have to do it, because he’s the Zen Master. And this was based on his study of the Precepts.
So it felt like something was wrong there, in terms of is that a training that we’re doing to creating rudders that give that kind of thing? And when I look back, we were creating those kind of rudders.
So my wife and I talked about putting emphasis—and we then worked for quite a while with a group of people that we called the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemakers—to come up with the Zen Peacemakers Precepts, and to make that something you took in the beginning, not that you studied at the end, after you thought that you were now this wonderful teacher, and that you studied in a way which made you become a little arrogant even.
And I consider those, the rudders. And we then created a day of reflection. So to make it an important part of the life, those kind of vows—and they’re a bit general, but they do not include having naked women jumping into bed with you and it’s all OK, man—or naked men jumping into bed with you.
So it’s still subjective, but the Precepts, for me, you got to listen to what’s going on, and you for one know, you’ve been involved in Dai Bosatsu, everybody knows. If you listen, you hear a lot of stuff that’s going on, you bear witness to what’s happening, and you do the best you can. And along the way you create vehicles that can help. And I call those vehicles, “rudders.” You know, and you should always, I feel, one should constantly be reevaluating the rudders. And how do we reevaluate? I listen to what happens because of that. I bear witness to what’s going on. And then, well, time to change this one, or that one, you know.
So that’s how I approach it. I do feel it’s very important. There is something called “Beat Zen.” I had friends in that movement. I’m old enough to have had friends in that movement. And I think what they refer to as “Square Zen,” was because Square Zen had those rudders. Beat Zen didn’t believe in those rudders. Anything can go. And so my opinion is it’s good to have those rudders. And it’s good to look at ’em.
What are the rudders for our life?
Boy, we’re going to get through the whole process of spirituality, you know.
Questioner 11: So the question is that you kind of notice that maybe there’s no problem.
Bernie: Maybe there’s no problem?
Questioner 11: Yeah.
Bernie: In some sense, but there’s a lot to do. There’s a lot to do.
So, you know, again I take my grandson—he pisses all over you, you know and he craps, and his rear end is all full of this sort of liquid type brown stuff. You could call it a problem. Or you could say it’s not a problem, but there’s something to do. Right? We don’t have to add to . . . we’ve got global warming; we’ve got all kinds of stuff happening. So there’s lots to do. Why do we need the extra thing of calling it a problem?
But we do. I mean, that’s the way we talk. That’s a problem that’s not a problem. I don’t know what’s not a problem. You know, Roshi Joan, I was just, where was I? Oh, I just officiated a wedding, for Shishin and Shinko, and we were going over things. So, part of the wedding ceremony, there was—we were going to do the Gatha of Atonement. And they were using the exact same version you’re using, All Twisted Karma. And that word, twisted, when we first started chanting that we had, I think it was probably Aikens’ translation—one that we were using in Los Angeles. And it had “all the evil karma ever committed by since of old . . .” and San Francisco moved it to “twisted karma.” And I sort of like that.
And in my new, as I got older, I started to wonder, evil karma/good karma, problem/not a problem, is that intrinsic in what’s going on, or is that me subjectively saying, “That’s a problem. That’s not a problem. That’s evil. That’s not.” Is twisting, what does it really mean? Which of the karma? We’re constantly, right? Every second we’re creating karma! This whole one body’s creating karma. We’re all interconnected! This karma happened. So which of it is twisted, which isn’t twisted?
As I began to think, I couldn’t come up with a word that I liked, so I wound up using all karma. Cause it’s yeah we’re creating karma. So all actions, and then we create actions (karma’s a little different than actions, but it also has that kind of implication). And then somehow we’ll call certain of that “problems,” and certain of it “not problems.” But I think that’s extra. But it does not stop us from needing to do the actions. And if we could really approach the situation in listening and bearing witness, the actions will arise.
And to help, to help that whole process—especially the last part—study as much as you can. Learn all the schemes, and techniques, and languages, you know. Have it all in that bag like that carpenter guy. So the choices are immense, but no attachments to them. And now I approach, and something pops up, and my choice of what to do is so much bigger if I could fill that bag. But if I’m attached, my choice is so limited. And one of the attachments is “This part of the bag are problem stuff, and that part of the bag is the good stuff.” Then all of a sudden, I can only go to the good stuff, cause this is the problem stuff. Why is it problem stuff? Because somewhere, sometime, I went there, and I didn’t like what happened. So now, forever it’s a problem, and I can’t go there anymore. Man, I just cut myself off from a whole part of my bag of stuff. I want everything in there. And the truth of the matter is there’s no way for it not to be.
And now we have a hand in the back. We need a mic. Oh, but why don’t you give him the mic, and he’ll be next, and he’ll be quite ready—even though his name is not mike. He’s a Roshi. The room is full of Roshis, man. Watch out.
Questioner 12: Can you say more about bearing witness? Because actions arise from how deeply we’re able to bear witness, but bearing witness comes with all of our own conditioning and lenses. So, if you could say more about the process of deepening that?
Bernie: Yeah. So my opinion is that we are all conditioned. What does that mean? We have various attachments. We’ll never get rid of all our attachments and our conditionings. For example, my DNA is conditioning me in certain ways, and the fact that I was born in Brooklyn. Whew, that’s a big one—compared to being born in say Tokyo or India. How I grew up—even my thinking, you know. I was really deeply caught by Aristotelian logic, but luckily I studied, and I got into Quantum physics, and probabilities, and also Eastern logic. A equals A, and A doesn’t equal A at the same time, and stuff like that.
And yes, that’s all part of me. So when I’m bearing witness, that doesn’t go away. It’s all part of me. I’m not—in that bearing witness—I’m not hoping, hopefully we can train, and we can be put into situations where our attachments are minimized.
I came up with the word “bearing witness” and it’s a troublesome word. I mean it has many different implications in English. But if you’re German, it’s even harder. We couldn’t get a good translation for bearing witness. How many people here are from Germany, or speak German language? We use “Zeugnis Ablegen,” and I’ve never met anyone who thinks it’s a good word to use. But the same is somewhat true in English. There’s a whole Christian sense to the word bearing witness. So we have to talk about what does it mean?
So, I like to use the word “grok.” Who knows what grok means? That’s also somewhat of an issue. The removal of subject/object dichotomy. That’s a little easier to get, I guess. But that’s why koan study’s not so simple. To really do the koans, you have to become the situation. A famous koan, a simple one, Stop the Fighting Across the River. There are different approaches that one does with something like that. One approach is to go into deep samadhi. We call that denial. That’s not the way you stop stuff, but for yourself it’s pretty good. And we all do that, right? We’ll go into denial about some stuff that gets rid of it. And in koan study, what we want you to do is become the fighting across the river! You know, to bear witness, to really become whatever the situation—to become it. And then, out of that will arise the stuff.
So the best way of sort of describing bearing witness is to demonstrate it, you know, and to point out places where that happens. And that’s why I created these plunges. There’s no way if you come on the streets, that you will not bear witness to being on the streets. There’s no way. And once you’ve done that, you’ll experience it. And people that have been on the streets—they can talk to each other about it.
I’ll give you another example. I don’t know. Did I talk in this group about—I’m gonna repeat it I guess. So, my wife Jishu, years before we moved here, before she passed away, had a pretty horrendous stroke, which paralyzed her right side, and lost sense of communication, the ability to communicate. We happened to be near a hospital when it happened.
So we got to the hospital maybe ten/fifteen minutes after the stroke occurred. And then she was in for quite a while. And then physical therapy, but she pretty much regained all of—you know, she was not a good typer anymore—but pretty much regained everything. And her speech became regular. You know when you have that kind of stroke, you “ye… ye… ye… ye…,” talk sort of like that.
And I’ve been close with Ram Dass for a long, long time, and he was around when that happened. And then he had the same stroke, but he didn’t get to the hospital very quick. He was on the—he had the stroke. Nobody was around. Somebody, call it a friend, a student, Jai was going to be doing a radio show with him, called him. And there was no—Ram Dass crawled across the floor and got the phone, but he couldn’t talk.
And Jai said, “Is there something wrong?” They had been in India together. And one of the things that they had done is at different periods taken a vow of silence. That’s something Hindus like to do. I should do that some time. But at any rate, and while they had done that, they had come up with a little code. If they tapped once, it meant “no,” twice; it meant, “yes.”
So Jai said, “Did something happen?” And he [knock knock], “Yes.” “Do you want help?” [knock] “No.”
They conversed with—Jai with voice, and R.D., Ram Dass with taps for about a half hour. And Jai lives not so far from here. And he was actually scheduled, he was calling because he was scheduled to fly out to California, where Ram Dass was and they were gonna do a radio show together.
So after a half hour he was quite beside himself. Because Ram Dass kept tapping, “No. I want no help. I don’t want a doctor. I don’t want an ambulance. I don’t . . .” Everything was “No help.”
They had also talked in their years together that they would honor the other’s request to die if they wanted to die. So he was caught a little. And he finally decided—he was in the midst of bearing witness to all this, right—and what came up for him, he had to call somebody. So he went to another phone, and called a mutual friend that lived not too far away. Told them, “Get an ambulance over there. Something’s happened to Ram Dass.” And they did. So he got to the hospital pretty late in the scheme of things. And he still is in a wheelchair and it’s been quite a while.
So my wife and I visited him. I saw him pretty soon after it happened. And then, I can’t remember when, the two of us went to see him. And the two of them were talking, because they had the same experience. And it’s just so vivid in my head. They were talking. Her language was now pretty—it was regular. His was still very choppy. But they were talking about how they could understand what was going on, but they couldn’t communicate. There was no way that they could say anything. And how it had been frustrating, until at some point all that frustration left. And they both lit up. Because they had both born witness to that same experience of where we can communicate and be together without communication. They got to that where they were fully functioning, but there was no communication—that we call “communication.” There was no verbal communication. They couldn’t even write. There was no—but there was a direct one to one communication, you know.
And that came out of bearing witness to the same thing. And there was no way that anybody who hadn’t born witness to that, could feel exactly that same thing. You could talk about it. You could write about it.
And over and over, you’ve been there. There are different things that come up in our life that create, that’s bearing witness. And based on that, things arise and we do stuff. So I’ve tried to make a practice of how do we help create that? That is I’ve looked at different upayas. Zen as a school, I would say is about helping us to bear witness. Zazen is bearing witness to the wholeness of life. All I did in these three tenets is put in a sort of a simpler language the ways I was trained in Zen. That’s nothing that’s radically new, but it’s a little easier to follow the language I think.
Roshi Joan made very popular in this country, the Way of Council. And what’s some of the principles of the Way of Council? To speak from the heart, and listen from the heart. Right?
There’s a chant which I know is done here, Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo, and there’s a word in there in the Japanese, Nen. And you know the character, what it looks like, the Chinese character for Nen? It’s got two radicals. Shin: Mind, and Ima: Here. The mind of this moment—that’s the way I tend to translate it. And for me, the circle—the Way of Council, the circle we form—where the voices are coming up, where we’re listening from the heart, and speaking from the heart—that’s an expression of Nen. The mind of this moment. The mind of the circle.
But that could also be just with two of us, even though our opinions may be very different. If we can just share, you know, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, that’s the mind at this moment. And that again, is another way for me to define bearing witness.
In the largest sense, Kanzeon, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, in the Chinese and Japanese literally means concentrating on the sounds of the earth. Kan is contemplation. On is sounds, and Ze is the earth. So, to be open to the whole, all the sounds of the earth and the planets—that’s Kanzeon Bodhisattva. That’s compassion, but it’s bearing witness, see.
The actions of Kanzeon is what we call compassion. But that only happens because it’s contemplation on all the sounds of the whole earth. But we concil with just two of us.
So, if you and Sherry can just do council, and listen from the heart, speak from the heart, and without any idea of resolution, council should not have any sense of resolution. We’re speaking from the heart and listening from the heart. That’s a form of bearing witness, and actions will arise out of it. And most of you have trained in council. And you know, that’s true—very powerful.
Questioner 13: I wanted to thank you, Bernie Roshi, for coming and meeting with us. I’m deeply appreciative of your manner—of handling this wonderful group. I have two questions/comments that I’d like to hear your opinion of. And I think they’re germane to the discussion we’re just having. I’m wondering how your precepts translate into organizational responsibility.
You know, I have a sangha, and I’m wondering how not-knowing translates to organization principles, like organizational goals, maybe filling out corporate papers, grant proposals. I mean I can’t, just now, not knowing—that won’t work. But, I’m honestly interested in your response.
And the second thing was, I went to Vietnam in 1966, as a nineteen year-old, and got shot in the head, and was partially paralyzed. Now, I say that because at the time I went to Vietnam, there was a definition of the moral situation in the United States that was very much supportive of that behavior. That’s what men did as an ethical obligation, I guess. But then some time after Tet, 1968, the definition of the moral situation seemed to change.
I’m wondering, I guess my question has to do with what do we do with social morays as they change, relative to precept development? I find that to be a very challenging thing myself. And I’ll stop now. Thank you.
Bernie: I mentioned that in the Zen Peacemakers we had a group that spent time working on the wording of the precepts. And I remember, at the time we wrote down that they should be reevaluated periodically. We haven’t done that.
But, as individuals—the people that use those precepts—the various teachers have done that as individuals. But we actually did write down that it was very important to re-look at this every so often.
Now, I’m an extremist, so I re-look at everything every moment. Wherever I go, I try to grok what’s happening, and let stuff come up from this moment. So I’m constantly reevaluating, if you will.
I also was a systems engineer. I’m very systematic. I’ve been criticized for being too much of an organization freak. But, my mind works that way. It’s a little bit of a funny kind of a mind. I’m a sort of a mathematician, and my head starts running off in these, something called Markov Chains. I don’t know if you know that, that’s a certain probability that this will happen, if that happens, there’s a certain probability this will happen, and you get chains going, and all these probabilities. And oh boy, you’ve got a mind full of probabilities of scenarios—whatever. And, so those are all probabilities.
And at this moment, what comes up is what comes up. I have not seen it cause any problem in my not being a system freak—or filling out proposals, or doing any of that kind of stuff. I found it quite freeing. So I would have all the forms, the way I’ve done things, but it also allows one to be very creative. So filling the bag up with all of the stuff, all of the various kinds of organizational methods, you know. As you know, there’s been many different great schemes for organization theory. I mean, you can specialize in organization theory, get a PhD in it. So you can learn a lot.
And if you can—in my opinion—use the three tenets in whatever you’re doing, you will be more creative. It’s almost by definition—you’ve gotta be more creative, because you’re not bound to something. But it does not mean that you don’t have all that knowledge, you know. Yeah.
And keep reevaluating. So, I mean Shakyamuni said that, right? Our boss said that. Everything is change. I’m doing a book with The Dude, a guy named Jeff Bridges. It’ll be out this fall, The Dude and the Zen Master. And I have a whole set of koans based on The Dude’s life in The Big Lebowski movie. So there is an expression in a chapter in the book that’s called New Shit Has Come to Light. What that means is that everything is change. It’s always new stuff coming to light. Always. Isn’t that fun? It’s exciting, man.
Oh. Say more. Genjo say’s I didn’t finish something. You and I are doing council, and we have different opinions.
Genjo: And they’re radically opposed.
Bernie: Radically opposed.
Genjo: And we’re at a stalemate, because you’re listening to me, and I’m listening to you . . .
Bernie: A stalemate shouldn’t be there. If I’m just speaking from my heart, and you’re listening from the heart, there’s no space for a stalemate. The stalemate is in your mind because you’re not listening from the heart. You’re wanting me to say something different.
Genjo: Well, I’m wanting you to say—how did you—how—you were in the position . . .
Bernie: All you could want from me is for me to speak my heart.
Genjo: I understand that’s council. Now you’re the person who’s in sort of authority over this situation that is messy. And you have somebody who you’ve appointed who has a radically different opinion than yours. How would you resolve?
Bernie: OK. I’m in council with this guy who says, “I can screw anybody that I want.”
Genjo: That’s right.
Bernie: And we finish. We listen. We’re both talking from the heart.
Genjo: That’s right.
Bernie: And then we’re through. And in my position, the loving action that comes up is, “You’re fired.” Cause I’m in that position. I can do that. But I listened to him from my heart. I bore witness to everything that was going on. And the thing that came up was, “You’re fired. Get the hell out of here.”
Genjo: And if the hierarchical role were reversed?
Bernie: I’d have to get the hell out of there.
Genjo: Thank you.
Audience member: Exactly! Sorry. It’s good you heard it from a man.
Bernie: Yeah. I don’t know what else one can do. One can try to hang on to that thing. But that’s gonna give you a headache if you’re prone towards headaches. Or that’s life, that’s—for me—the way life should flow. Anyway, OK.
Questioner 14: What’s your opinion on the noble lie?
Bernie: The noble . . .?
Questioner 14: The noble lie. What Plato talked about is that it’s—he said it’s necessary, sometimes. I guess another way to call it would be benevolent manipulation. To tell somebody something that you—in order to get a positive result.
Bernie: Well, first off, I have a problem because I don’t have the sense of truth. I have the sense of opinions. So if you don’t have the sense of truth, you’re somewhat stuck into what a lie is.
In the precepts, when we worked on them, we say, “We will speak what we feel to be the truth.” Now I would sort of revise that. In this era of my life, everything that I look at that has the sense of dualism, for example the three precepts that come down from our precepts—do good, don’t do evil. I would get rid of anything that has that kind of flavor. Cause that’s a dual system, man. We’re trying to work in a—how do we say this in a non-dual way?
So, the implication of the noble lie is that it’s something being said that’s going to improve the situation, depending on somebody’s’ thinking. Right? So you first have to have somebody who thinks what the situation should be. Now I will bet you that my sense of what the situation should be is different than Russ Lindbergs’ sense of what the situation should be.
So if we were using that dualistic terminology of the noble lie, we would probably come up with very different things.
Questioner 14: Well, yesterday you were speaking about upaya—skillful means. So would there be any situations in which a noble lie would qualify?
Bernie: I don’t have that terminology. Again, I come to a situation not knowing. I try to bear witness to what’s happening, and I see what arises. I don’t have a sense of what is true, what is a lie. So, somebody may look at what is arising from me and say, “Oh you’re trying to—you’re manipulating, you’re doing some . . .” That’s their subjective view of it. Plato was a subject/object when he talks about noble lies. I’m just not in that terminology, or I don’t have that sense.
Questioner 14: Could I rephrase it as a motivational strategy?
Bernie: So here’s the closest—see if I’m getting what you’re saying. Let’s say I approach the situation. I’m totally open. I listen. I bear witness. And something is starting to arise, and I stop it and say, “Uh oh. I don’t want that to arise because I think that if something else is done, I would be—I’d get a better result,” or “it would be better for them, so I’m not going to allow what’s coming up to happen.”
I don’t do that. Is that what you mean?
Questioner 14: I was thinking more of—OK; I’ll give you an example. Recycling—let’s say I have a neighbor who doesn’t recycle. He throws everything to the trash.
Questioner 14: This person could even be me. Maybe I’m just too lazy, empathetic. But one way I could motivate myself to start recycling is I could say, “Well, if everybody did this, we could make a difference.” Even though I would basically—I guess I would know—or maybe I guess this is where the mistake is—that whether I individually recycle or not is a drop in the ocean. But, if I could motivate myself to do it, by coming up with this motivational strategy, this story, then it would result in a positive action.
Bernie: Yeah. I just don’t live in that world. So, again it’s—I’m just this simple guy. I’m sort of attached to these three tenets. You know, maybe if I could get unattached to those, that’s my next, maybe I have to work on that.
My feeling is if I approach it without all concepts, and I bear witness to what’s going on the best thing will arise. I have faith in that—that that will happen. And if recycling is the thing that should arise, it will arise. And if it’s not, it won’t. I’m not going to get into labeling what I’m doing as good or bad, or try to figure out how to motivate myself.
I’m always going to go into that situation and just try to grok it, man. And one of the situations is the planet. I’m the planet, so I don’t use too much water. It just comes up. I have faith that what will come up are the best I can do. The best meal I can do.
It may sound very simplistic, but the truth of the matter is it is very simplistic. It’s like that first line of Fukanzengi, by Dogen Zenji. “After years and years and years of practice, I finally realized it was right there from the beginning.” So, I’ve practiced years, and years, and years, and years. And at this point, it feels very simple. And it doesn’t mean that any of the practice has gone away. It’s just part of the daily life. But it’s not so complicated. The brain is a beautiful thing for complicating stuff.
All kinds of theories—I enjoy reading all kinds of theories and stuff, but I don’t get stuck in all that.
Questioner 15: You just mentioned after years and years of practice, you’ve come back to what was there at the beginning. I’d be curious to hear how you think about the years of really disciplined practice, and the role of, kind of preserving a lineage of practice—the value of preserving a lineage of practice, as American Zen evolves.
Bernie: Sure. That’s an important thing for me. So we have to first really unpack what you just said. Because one phrase that’s very important is “preserve a tradition of practice.” Right? Did I hear you right?
Questioner 15: A lineage . . .
Bernie: “Preserve a lineage of practice.” OK. Then, my sense is that you’re using “practice” different than the way that I described “practice.” So I need to know what you mean by practice. Cause I told you what I meant by practice, and you’re not using it in that way. So we don’t want to confuse ourselves. I’ve got to know what you mean by “practice.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. I mean practice in the other sense of . . .
Bernie: There’s no other sense. I want you to define what you mean by “practice.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. You know you have spent a lot of your life studying the historic texts, practicing . . . you know, studying liturgy, staying true to something that you’ve inherited from previous generations. And yet, you found a kind of freedom in it. And so I’m intrigued by this. You know there’s something in our Zen world that, you know we hold on to Dogen, we hold on to ritual, we hold on to many of these things. And it’s important that we transmit them with some integrity from one generation to the next. We seem to believe that—that that’s an important kind of integrity.
And yet you find a lot of—it seems that you are very free of it all, and yet loyal to it—what you’ve inherited.
Bernie: OK. So what I want to make as a shift, and you’ve got to agree whether you’ll allow me, instead of “practice,” perhaps you mean “upayas.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. I can go there.
B: You can go there. And I’m gonna say to you that the upayas of my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, were not the upayas that he was trained in. And that he created his own forms and his own upayas. So, if we talk about tradition of lineage, you won’t find the upayas of my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, going to some kind of lineage.
If we want to talk about lineage, you almost have to define—first we’ve got upayas and we have lineage. So we can create lines, but even that is an upaya, because in the days of Shakyamuni there were no lineages—he didn’t think that way. That arises in China because of Confucius model. They need lineages.
Maezumi has twelve Dharma Successors. If you look at their upayas, they’re almost all different. So if you look at students of mine, they might go back to me as a tradition, or they’ve created their own tradition.
So at Upaya, the tradition here is not my tradition, and it’s not my teacher’s tradition, and it’s not any of his teacher’s traditions. It’s the tradition of Upaya.
So that’s one of the phenomena in the West. I hear the word tradition a lot, and usually when I try to pin it down, it goes as far as the particular teacher in that place. And what they’ve done is combined a lot of the stuff that they’ve learned or studied, and they created their own schema.
Now, is that new here? No, if you go to Japan, or you go to China, you’ll find the same thing. And so we have Han Shan—he’s a hermit. Or we have Ryokan—he’s this drunken poet. We have Rinzai, we have—he’s Chinese. We have the sixth patriarch and his rival that starts the sudden and the gradual schools of Zen.
So it becomes complicated to say—to me—to talk about tradition. What’s important to me, that is basic to Buddhism as far as I’m concerned, is the awakening to the interconnectedness of life.
Everything else is upaya. Everything.
There are Buddhist groups that don’t meditate. And in my Yiddish way of thinking, it’s a shanda! It’s a pity! Can you imagine Buddhist groups that don’t meditate? But there are, you know. And probably when you talk to them, they have found some way that they think is better.
Now I’m very involved in social engagement. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not very involved in meditation. I don’t know anybody that’s just meditating. There are people that are just meditating.
One of my teachers, a guy named Yasutani Roshi, said that you can look in the window of doll shops, and you can see people doing Zazen. That does not mean that they’ve awakened to the oneness of life—just because they’re doing Zazen all the time. The important thing is the awakening to the interdependence of life.
And a role of a teacher in Zen is to figure out what upayas are right. My teacher said that to me. Maezumi Roshi, over and over, said to me that what I have to do is swallow the teachings that he’s doing—one-to-one teachings—and spit out (that’s the terminology he used) spit out what doesn’t work for your culture and time and place. He said, “I can’t do it. I’m Japanese.” He’s through and through Japanese. He says, “I can’t do that. You have to create the American Zen,” and it has to be appropriate.
There’s another way of—another metaphor that’s used a lot, at least in the Soto sect, and that is the egg. Which is the—the white is the part that the yellow eats, gives the nourishment? What’s the nourishment.
Audience member: The yellow.
Bernie: The nourishment is the yellow?
Audience member: Yeah.
Bernie: And the white becomes the chicken? No. The yellow becomes the chicken, and the white is the nourishment. And so the metaphor is that the transmission of the Dharma is like moving—taking that egg, and bringing it to another place. If you want that chicken to be born, the nourishment has to fit the culture—where it’s going. If you keep the same white in the new place, the chicken will die. It will not last. So it’s critical that the yellow move, which is the awakening to the interdependence of life. That’s the critical piece.
And the job of the teachers and—I’m gonna say teachers—is what’s the appropriate white in this new environment—in the environment where they find themselves?
So, I think that’s dealing with the question of tradition. See, if we want to just keep that white, it will die.
Now, does that say that everything that one studied and learned gets thrown out? No! It’s the role of that teacher to say, “What pieces am I gonna keep, and what pieces I’m not gonna keep?” And luckily we have so many different teachers, so we have many different styles, and we’re all very different. So different people will go to different places. They’ll go to the place, which jives with them. That’s natural.
We can’t have any sense of, “Well, they shouldn’t go there. They should come to me.” Well, if we don’t fit, why should they come to me? They should go to—not everybody in this room wants to go live on the streets with me. Or do you? We can all go right now.
No, I mean it’s a—does that go to the question? So, just to say it once more, cause you will hear—I guarantee all of you will hear—people talking about the tradition, and preserving the tradition. And when you hear it, stop for a second, and ask the person, “What tradition are we preserving?”
I’ll give you an example—one of my favorite examples. I don’t think I said it yet here. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
So, we were in Dharamsala—a group of Western teachers, Western Buddhist teachers. And each day we had different themes that we were talking about. And once a day we would meet with His Holiness at his place, the Dalai Lama. And in this particular week it turned out he was doing some other teachings and the heads of the four schools were there too. And one day, we had this long discussion. And part of it was what tradition do you maintain, or what teaching do you maintain? Something on that order. And he said, “When that question is posed to me, I think back to Shakyamuni Buddha, and say, ‘What would he do?’” That’s how he would answer. OK. He’d be lost here. You know, if we’re talking about Buddhist tradition, man, do you know that most Theravadans feel that Zen is not Buddhist, and what’s going on in Japan is not Buddhist? Why? You don’t live by the Vinaya, man. I mean that’s a non-starter. If you’re not going to live by the Vinaya, how are you calling yourself a Buddhist?
I talk about what, to me, what a Buddhist is, and for me it’s rather simple. A Buddhist is someone on a path of trying to realize and abide in the oneness of life. I asked Bob Thurman what he’d call a Buddhist. He said, “A Buddhist has to believe in reincarnation. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, you can’t call yourself a Buddhist.” That’s another tradition.
So anyway, His Holiness said that “I would go back to Shakyamuni.” And then he excused himself, because he had a bad cold and we had been talking for about an hour. And one of the teachers, a guy named Lama Surya Das—a Brooklyn Jew, actually more Long Island, but started off in Brooklyn—said to the four heads of the four lineages, “We just heard His Holiness say that if we want to look for what the correct tradition is, if it something that Shakyamuni Buddha would do, what about Guru Yoga?” And one of the heads said, “Well, what you don’t know Surya Das, is that the night before Shakyamuni died, he had a dream in which he saw that Guru Yoga was part of the tradition.” So tradition has a funny way of becoming—what’s the tradition?
And as we know, in that famous movie, Fiddler on the Roof, Tradition! (sung), that’s beautiful. My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, loved that movie. And I think as a Japanese, that thing about tradition. And he was radical. My teacher was radical, in the early years. And then in later years, he became less radical. That sometimes happens. But in the early years, the Soto sect would say, “You’re not part of us, man. You’re not part of us.” Deshimaru would not talk with him until much later on. He was doing koans. Unheard of—he was doing all kinds of things that were just not part of the tradition. And Yasutani Roshi criticized the tradition of the Soto sect as not being in the tradition of Buddhism—of not worrying about awakening, but worrying about other stuff.
Questioner 16: It’s not that important.
Bernie: No? Everything is very important.
Questioner 16: But, in the spirit of chess, I just want to return to the nobility lie.
Bernie: To noble lie?
Questioner 16: The noble lie, and . . .
Bernie: I have to get some of those.
Questioner 16: Try and use your language maybe to bring a little clarity.
Bernie: Maybe what?
Questioner 16: To bring a little more clarity. So it your metaphor about Bernie’s body, and Mary I believe was on the right, and Johnny’s on your left arm. And back when Johnny gets a cut on his left arm. And you’ve been at the Zen center. And you’ve been practicing your precepts, and even the three tenets. And so you’re bearing witness to what’s happening. And instead of just initially covering up the cut, you realize that Bernie is terrified of blood, and it would be much better if you maybe waited and did something else instead of just initially cover up the cut. The truth is that you’re cut. But the action that follows that—if the big picture and the bearing witness says, “Well maybe I should wait until Bernie falls asleep, and before I fix it, it’s going to terrify him. We would rather have Bernie not terrified.” Am I making sense?
Bernie: Well I’m gonna be a little radical, cause I don’t use the word truth.
Questioner 16: Maybe fact. Maybe fact is the word.
Questioner 16: OK.
Bernie: I can’t even go there.
Questioner 16: OK.
Questioner 16: See how radical I am?
Questioner 16: Dig it.
Bernie: So, maybe this Bernie, and maybe also this arm, to it, it’s bleeding and it’s cut. And this may really feel it’s not cut. I don’t call one truth, and one a lie. Now that’s pretty radical, right? Because you know it’s a fact. And I tell you that the world knows what the facts are. It’s so obvious. And we will go to war over those facts. I am so radical that I don’t know what the facts are. I try to bear witness and I let what comes up come up. And if this thing is trying to bear witness and it comes up that there’s nothing going on there, man, and walks away, that’s it’s—if you want to use that word—truth. That’s its truth.
Everything for me is subjective. There is no objective truth. Nothing to me is objective truth. You know, I start off with what is basically there, is the situation prior to the Big Bang. That’s called the source of one hand, it’s called the source of Mu, it’s called what I call not-knowing. Everything else is afterwards. Its’ a label that’s put on. I just put up a little writing I sometimes talk about; I call it At Play in the Field of the Pure Land. You know in the Bible there’s a phrase, “at play in the fields of the Lord.” Peter Matthiesson wrote a book, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and so I talk about at play in the field of the pure land. But the fields is prior to any perception. Perception then goes in, and something coalesces. And that instrumentation—that coalescing—is dependent on the subject. Another subject, the same field, will coalesce differently.
So, in the Diamond Sutra, where it says, “everything is a dream,” that’s . . . yeah. The cut on the arm, for me, is my perception. And if it’s not, it’s not my perception.
Questioner 16: Mmm hmmm. It’s so radical.
Questioner 16: It’s so radical. It’s good for me to hear it. You know, part of my . . .
Bernie: Well you’ve heard it over and over in Buddhism that everything is delusion. You’ve heard that. I’m just saying it in a non-Buddhist way. I’m saying it in regular language, but you’ve heard it in Buddhism over and over. It’s all delusion. And then you hear Dogen say, “Well, delusion is enlightenment.” So it’s all enlightenment. But, that there’s no fixed thing. I mean that comes up over and over in Buddhism. I’m just saying it in a very concrete way to make that bridge from where you were reading it as theory into—yeah, this high end is dangling off and you think that’s real, man.
Questioner 16: But, it seems like the edge of that is like paralysis. Like if everything is . . .
Bernie: It may seem that way, but for me the edge of that is total freedom.
Questioner 16: Uh huh.
Bernie: Huge freedom. I mean, it’s creativity, it’s everything is possible. Why? Because there’s nothing fixed. Everything is possible. Once you have anything thrown in there, you’re limiting the creativity.
That’s how I see it. And man, I’m ready to do anything. I see it as very, very freeing. But, you know, that’s my opinion. That’s just my opinion, and you can have another opinion. You do. I mean we all have different opinions. I’m not trying to convert anybody to my opinions. That would be horrible, from my standpoint.
Who asked about “being a householder?” And what did you mean by “householder”?
Questioner 17: Well, it is around what I’m thinking, and practicing, and being confused about right now, which is ordinariness. You know, how do you bring all this into—I mean I understand what Karen meant about the “real world.” And I understand what you’re saying about “it’s all the same world.” But you know, when we leave the zendo, and when we leave the lovely container where we all know what council is, and we all have some sort of understanding, and we go out to our work places and that sort of thing—and yeah, I’m really interested in how I can keep bringing what I’m learning here, and what I’m practicing here, into that environment.
Bernie: And that’s the householder environment?
Questioner 17: Well, I mean that’s a label I put on it. As you know—not a monastic.
Bernie: Not a monastic?
Questioner 17: Not monastic.
Bernie: So, when you’re here, you’re a monastic?
Questioner 17: People would say, “absolutely not.”
Bernie: They would say what?
Questioner 17: “Absolutely not.” No. I mean, but it’s a little bit safe.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: You know, because in the sense that we’re all in the same club, and we kind of know the rules a little bit. We kind of share the same vocabulary.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: So for instance, when I was once talking to my staff, and they were having some problems, and I suggested to them that they could change their perceptions about things—I thought, you know, just as an exercise. You know, what is it about this client that you really hate, that you really like? And they got really, really pissed off. You know, that was difficult. And I struggled with having the skills to know how to help myself, and help them through that situation.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: [Is] that making any kind of sense to you?
Bernie: Some kind. Yeah. Who else has a notion of what it means to be a householder? What does it mean? If you have a notion, you gotta share a notion, right? Sometimes a notion.
Questioner 18: Well, I guess my notion is similar—just being in the world.
Bernie: Being in the world.
Questioner 18: Yeah. Like outside of this container.
Bernie: Outside of . . .
Questioner 18: . . . of a practice container—of a supportive, practice container.
Bernie: Yeah. Why do you go outside of a practice container?
Questioner 18: Well, not like . . . I don’t know. It’s just the world can be a little bit more bigger than my practice container at times.
Bernie: Uh huh. Peggy wants to say something.
Questioner 19 (Peggy): What’s coming up for me is I’m wondering if they’re—what’s really being asked here is “Where do I find sangha?”
Bernie: “Where do I find sangha?”
Questioner 19: And that there’s a kind of ready-made sangha here, in a sense—or what people think of as ready-made sangha.
Bernie: Ready-made sangha?
Questioner 19: In other words, a group of people who share in a particular kind of practice, who are all on the same—all have the same interest in awakening, and seek to support that same kind of work in one another.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 20: I actually think of householder as family. So, the people who have known me, and loved me my whole life, or not loved me my whole life. And you know, kids and husbands and neighbors, and you know, people who know me outside of this container. And there’s familiarity, there’s old patterns, there’s ways that we have relating with each other that you know, are pretty entrenched—some of them. And it’s easy to—if it’s a beginning practice—it’s easy to get to go back to those old patterns without the support.
Bernie: Uh huh. Now I’m getting confused.
Questioner 21: I’m wondering also if part of what’s coming up too is the idea that you know, we’re among a very small minority of people, as Buddhist practitioners. And when we go outside of our sangha, and we enter the work place, or could be even members of our family, the work we do here, the practice that we do, the discussions we have, the things we are learning about our mind, and about the connectedness of things is very different from what most people talk about over a couple beers. And so, how do we find a sense of belonging perhaps? And how do we interact with people who have no idea what it is we’re doing? I’m just a Buddhist freak.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 22: I can relate to suffering that a long time—feeling that somehow that I was separate from, somehow the path was over there, somehow the practice was over there, somehow I was . . . And then, you know it just became actually grist for the mill. It became letting go of the biggest attachment, which was my original teaching group. You know so it was really—it was walking through a desert to actually allow myself to actually experience what it is I’d been studying I guess. So, actually it was perfect, even though I kept saying it wasn’t. So, I remember thinking, “I’m a householder,” and the whole idea of a walker in two worlds—as if there were two worlds. But it was always that separation, as if I had to be a walker in two worlds. Or also this idea of a different—a fourth-way school is a school where we do the work in the world. So that was another way that I would explain it to myself—that it was OK to be . . . You know, and then it got to where it didn’t make that much of a difference. Although I enjoy being with like-minded people just as much as people who like football enjoy being with other people who like football. But then it became all the same thing anyway. But that took a long time.
Bernie: You have the mike.
Questioner 23: I think it is about like, you know here it’s clear that it’s the practice is the main purpose, but I feel that it’s you know the bills to be paid. There are situations that can easily trigger a habitual way. I guess it is a separation, but I do feel I’m in this kind of environment for quite a long time. But I do feel that, so what do I do? You know, can I stay in this container forever, or am I going to somehow get something and start working? Something that, I was educated, or like trained for my entire childhood. Like, one day you are going to be a member of society, and then maybe have a family, and then get the job, and then you know, kind of that thing. And then being here—I came here because I question about those things. I’m interested learning about—so OK that is just my whatever I believe. And I came here to really see truth. But it kind of challenges to so-called mainstream. I don’t know if it really exists, or in my mind. But it just, like I still carry that somehow I have to make my way through it. And then, whatever I understand as a household, or outside world is that something, you know people have an opinion about it. And then somehow, the practice like this is like a little smaller bubble that we kind of train. And then some people will find a way. And some people kind of come here to get some kind of understanding, but go back. But now I’m kind of questioning about is it just illusion itself too?
Bernie: And sangha, what do you mean by “sangha”? Yeah, you said, “It had something to do with sangha.” Everybody knows the word “sangha,” right?
Questioner 24: I think for me personally, that the community that lives here at Upaya is not my sole sangha. But I think that—what I was bringing up—was that I think that’s a perception in people’s mind that somehow, you know, I think that you can find sangha everywhere. But I think what is often thought of, when you think of the term “sangha,” is somebody who practices in the same tradition as you, or who practices, you know, Buddhist practices, like meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation. They meet once a week, they, you know, ascribe to a certain set of precepts, and you know, the kind of tradition that Brian was speaking about before. You know, the kinds of things that fit into that kind of idea about, you know, Buddhist practice.
Bernie: OK. He wants to say something.
Questioner 25: So, I’m wondering if sangha would be wherever Buddha is—wherever Buddha-nature is. And I don’t know where Buddha-nature is. I don’t know where Buddha is, but I’ve heard that it’s unobstructed. So if that’s the case, I feel like sangha is unobstructed also.
Bernie: It’s all becoming clear, right?
Questioner 26: I think it’s that whole notion of club that you’ve brought up, and it’s all different ways of talking about the club—extension of the club. I’d like to hear more about that.
Questioner 27: I remember something you said in one of your books that was a plunge for me—where you’re talking about the Heart Sutra—Maha Prajna, and you said—I was kind of going along with it just fine, you know. And then all the sudden you said, you know, “Prajna is, you know, when you step in dog crap, and your shoe smells, and you know, when the sun rises—that’s prajna. And even when a Nazi puts a young child into a gas chamber is prajna.” And it shook me up, and out of a conception I had of outside and inside the circle. And I’m reminded of that in this conversation.
Questioner 28: Yeah, I think it is—people are primarily asking how to bring what we might be learning or gaining in the club—this club, we’re in the clubhouse—out into other avenues of living life. And I think you’re all about that. You’re the plunge, and going to Auschwitz, and living on the streets is all about how to bring what we might be able to explore or investigate in the safety of the club and the clubroom out into a wider venue that we call, “life and death.”
Bernie: Yeah. There was another question, which I’m sort of in my head relating to this, but it may not be. Somebody said—or I wrote down at any rate—I wrote down, “How did I become me?” Does anybody remember? You asked that?
OK. So let’s clarify some terms. “Sangha” is used in many different way, right? Shakyamuni Buddha used “sangha” very specifically to mean—and Theravada tradition keeps that very specific meaning of sangha as, “the monks and nuns.” I don’t think it’s the four classes—there’s monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. But I think sangha is just the monks and nuns, and originally just the monks. But then sangha, I believe pre-existed that.
When I studied in the koan system with my teacher, we looked at sangha in three ways. That was one definition. Another definition of sangha was those folks that were on the path of wanting to realize and actualize the interdependence of life. Now that goes beyond Buddhism, right? Buddhists don’t have a lock on that notion of the interconnectedness of life. You’ll find that in most—in many—traditions, usually among the mystics in those traditions. And then, we also talked about sangha as being everyone. So those are sort of three ways of talking about sangha.
And another thing that I think of when I think of sangha is community. There are different traditions where the emphasis is practicing by yourself. You know, going off into a cave and doing a long time by yourself. And in fact when I was ready to leave the Zen Center Los Angeles—this was in ’79—and I told my teacher that I’m not gonna set up a Zen Center in New York. I’m just gonna go and start doing things, and relating to people, and whatever. And he says, “Oh no! No sir. I didn’t spend all this time training you!” And I said, “Well, look at Dhola. You had all these wonderful people in China that went off an lived under bridges, and whatever.” And he said, “No. You have to create a center, because that’s where you’re gonna learn. You’re gonna interact with people.” You’re gonna interact with people wherever you go. But for him and for many people, he quoted Yasutani Roshi, saying, “You have to have a club.” He didn’t say club. “You have to start a place, with a sangha.”
In the Jewish tradition, if you go to pray in a synagogue, you need ten people. That’s called a minyan—but it’s a sangha. If you don’t have ten, then theoretically—I shouldn’t say theoretically—if you don’t have the ten, God is not there. If you have nine, not enough, man. You’ve got to get that tenth. And in the Reformed—you said you’re in the Reformed movement—they even now, include in that movement women as part of a minyan. But in the Orthodox, no, no, it’s got to be ten men. Otherwise God aint there, man.
So, personally I think sangha is extremely important. And we talk about three treasures being Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. And Buddha as the awakened one, the stress is on associating with folks that we think of as awakened. And as you know now, my opinion is we can grade those persons depending on how they serve others. And Dharma is the giving of talks, and doing this kind of stuff. And then there’s Sangha. And you’ll find different places that stress—where the upayas are stressing one or the other of those three. And sangha’s the hardest, because it’s dealing with relationship—and relationship is the hardest.
It’s not so hard to listen to a talk, like we’re doing now, right? It’s not so hard to be an awakened one, because Shakyamuni Buddha said, “we’re all awakened.” And I—that’s not so difficult. But sangha, where we gotta interrelate, and deal with—boy, that’s tough.
For many years I was a fierce monk—I’m gonna say “monk” but I don’t like the word monk ’cause I was not celibate. I was married. I had children. So we use the word Priest, because I was ordained, I was a Priest. And for many years, my desire was that we would all stay together—the people that were training at Zen Center Los Angeles. We grew into a very large sangha. We owned most of a block, and there was probably 200 people living right on that block, and people around, and it was a large sangha. And I wanted to keep us all together. There were some people who were becoming teachers and they wanted to go out and set up places around. And I had this thought—to create like a pressure cooker where we’d all stay there, and we’d all train, and whatever.
And then I had an experience—this is after I had finished my studies with Maezumi Roshi. I had an experience going to work. I worked at McDonnell Douglas. I had a parallel life, working at McDonnell Douglas, and sort of helping my teacher run this big Zen Center. And in a carpool on the way to work, I had this experience of the hungry spirits of the world. It was immense. And it was an experience of suffering, that is, of needing, of wanting things—and wanting power, wanting enlightenment, wanting money, wanting food, wanting shelter, wanting love. It was an experience of all these hungry ghosts, which appear in the literature—in our Buddhist literature, you know—big stomachs and thin throats. I had this experience, and at the same time that I experienced this, I experienced it all as manifestations of me. And immediately what popped up is a vow to feed all of this, to work with all that.
And out of that came the sense that I had to change my venue. The venue had been the Zen Center of Los Angeles. And I had to change it to where the venue was going to be the world—society. And I went and moved to New York. I created a Zen center. It’s called the Zen Community New York. And at the same time I was working in the business world. And I started to do social action.
I put a lot of thought into what does it mean in those venues? What’s the equivalent of Sesshin in the business world, in social action, in theater? What’s the equivalent of Zazen in those? I looked at all of the upayas that we had, and I started to think about what—and the upayas, again, were for helping us to realize and actualize the interconnectedness of life, so, how is that—what would be upayas in these different spheres?
And then after a while, I stopped thinking about them as different spheres. It was just, you know, wherever I went, that’s where I was. So when I was in the Zen center in my Priest robes, my house was the zendo, and the liturgy hall. I did a lot of training in various liturgies. When I was in the business world, my household was the business world. When I was doing social engagement, that was my household.
So the house was where I was, and in reality that’s true for all of us. Wherever we are, it’s our house. Now, sometimes it doesn’t feel comfortable. We can choose among all of the various households that we meander in. So when you go on the streets with me, one of the things you have to do is aimlessly meander. And in life, we do that; we meander from place to place. And sometimes one thing feels more comfortable than another. For some, the sun feels very comfortable. For some, the snow. Like if you’re at Auschwitz with me, and it’s snowing, that’s a lot better than when it’s raining. It feels much more comfortable to be warmed by the snow than to be in the rain, and you know.
But at any rate, different things are more comfortable than others. And that’s good. There are times when, you know, if I want to learn to swim, it’s nice to have a teacher that knows how to swim, knows the right kind of forms to instruct me, so that I can learn to swim. But I wouldn’t go to him if I wanted to learn about carpentry. So to come to a place that’s teaching meditation and liturgy, that’s great when I want to learn meditation. The trap is when one begins to think that’s all of life, or that there’s an in and an out. Because what we emphasize in the world of Zen is that it’s got to be your full life.
If it’s not you’ve just created a new trap for yourself. You’ve found a place that’s comfortable, and you want to stay in that space of comfort, and you won’t grow. I mean, you’ll grow to a certain place. There’s got to be more. There’s got to be more, I think.
It doesn’t have to be more. I mean most of us do stay in what we feel is the comfort zone, right? But you’ve got to deal with the Lubavitcher brother. It’s not comfortable, but you grow. You let the Lubavitcher part of yourself manifest.
Audience member: I’ll wear a wig.
Bernie: Yeah, those are the forms; it’s not the spirit. You could be in a monastic setting and have a shaved head, and that’s a form, it’s not the spirit. In any of these venues that you go to, there’s usually a form. If you go bowling, we put on bowling shoes. If you go with me to refugee camps, you put on a red nose. Those are forms, and the point of forms, of course, there’s a certain comfort. It’s reassuring to have a sense that you know what’s going on. It’s not necessarily the best way to grow, if you stay in the places where you think you know what’s going on. But to do it for periods of time, and the period of time might be a lifetime. I’m not saying how short or long the period is. So for me, Bodhidharma facing a wall in a cave—that is a household, his house happened to be a cave. And for those here, you’re householders, and your house happens to be Upaya.
Now we do also use the term, “householder” vs. “monastic.” So that’s why I wanted to know what you all meant, because there’s not one right or wrong definition. What’s important is that we know what we mean—what is it that we’re talking about? And what do we mean by that—being a monastic?
So when I joined the Zen Center of Los Angeles, I (and my wife), we had been exploring joining a commune or creating a commune. We had meetings with people. We were going to . . . and instead we joined my teacher. At that time there was just one house. And in my head it was sort of a commune. We didn’t know that much. And we didn’t have many forms. I started teaching with my teacher Maezumi Roshi full-time—that means every day—around 1966. 1973 was when forms were introduced. So for those first seven years, we didn’t know about Oryoki. We didn’t know about many of these forms. In ’73 we had our first three-month training period. In Japanese [it’s] called Ango—Period of Peace. And he brought his brother from Japan to train me. I was the first sort of head of that training period. And all these forms start getting introduced.
And a lot of people that were practicing there wanted to split, because they thought that they were practicing Zen, and that Zen didn’t have forms, all that stuff. It’s early days, see. We were doing meditation. He was giving talks, and doing interviews. But it was a somewhat a freer spirit. He was sort of a radical guy.
And then we start introducing forms. We introduced Jukai, and a lot of people said, “Hey, you’re starting to make differentiations among people!” The Jukai people started to feel better, stronger, more important than the non-Jukai people. And little by little those things all got worked through.
And it wasn’t until I left, many years later, that I realized that as we started to do that, we became a monastic form. My teacher’s Japanese, and even though he didn’t bring many forms, it was still a monastic scene that he brought. He grew up in that kind of scene. His father was married. It was a family scene. But what I mean by monastic, in those days what that meant was that family did not count—was not important. They were called householders, and it was negative.
So I had kids. But I could not have done what my daughter and son-in-law are doing—bonding with the kids. My kids were born—I had to be in the Zendo when they were waking up. And then as they got older, and they were going to school, I was in the Zendo when they were leaving to go to school. I was in the Zendo every evening when they were going to bed. So I was an absentee parent, because I was being formed as a monastic, even though we were in a family scene. And that was correct.
My teacher’s kids didn’t know him. And there was a lot of resentment. There was a lot of resentment with my children and me. We worked it out over the years, but they remember their early days when I was not there. I was in the Zendo. And I believed what my teacher told me, which was that the Dharma is forever, marriage and family is just one lifetime. It’s not important. Not important.
So as I sort of developed, for me after that experience of the hungry ghosts of the world, everything was important. I couldn’t think of a realm that was not important. And wherever I went, that was my house. And for me, throughout all those years I felt like my mission—or extremely important—that I . . . to realize the oneness of life. So that never changed. But how to do that changed depending on where I was. And certain forms were appropriate in certain places, and certain forms appropriate in other places.
And so little by little that distinction for me disappeared. And so there were people in black clothes, and people in—I remember when we first moved to New York, and I was always interested in interfaith work. So the meditation hall had no images, so anybody could come and meditate. And in fact the first code of the Zen monastery—back in China, it was written into the code—you couldn’t have any images in the monastery.
Now of course Shakyamuni Buddha said the same thing. He said, “No images.” Because why? “If you have images, they’ll start worshipping me as a God.” Probably ninety percent of the Buddhists in the world—there are a lot of Buddhists in the world—and they don’t all do what you’re doing. Most of them are praying to Buddha for rain, for fertility, for end my illness, you know. But at any rate, he said, “No.” And most Theravadins do not have images. And the first Zen rule developed in China by Hyakujo said also “no images.” Because if you have them, all of the sudden what you’re going to find is that the Emperors, and the Lords, and the Daimios, all these people are gonna come around and ask to have services so that we can win the war against such and such, or we can have rain because, you know. It’ll change, and he said, “We want the monastery to remain as a training ground for realizing the oneness of life, not for that other stuff.” But as people we want all that other stuff.
And in the Zen world, there’s a wonderful guy you all know about, Dogen. You probably all know Keizan Zenji. Is that name familiar? He comes a couple of generations later. He’s called the mother of the Soto sect. Dogen is the father of the Soto sect. If Keizan Zenji didn’t come, the Soto sect would have probably disappeared. Dogen was a very strict monastic kind of guy, although in a certain phase of his life he writes Fukanzazengi, where he’s talking about everybody doing Zazen, not just the small group.
But any rate, Keizan enlarges, and creates temples all over the place, and creates liturgy, and Priests. The Priests go way up in numbers, and the big role is to pray for the health, and pray for different things. And that’s how it grows, ’cause that’s what most people want.
I don’t know how I got there. Do you know, Brian, how I got there?
Brian: It was making sense to me.
Audience member: You were talking about your life . . .
Bernie: I was talking about how I became me.
So before that experience, the only form that made any sense to me was the Zendo. I had dedicated my life to being in that Zendo. And those who came into the Zendo were walking into my sphere of influence in terms of my figuring out how to—in those days, it was how to save them by beating them into having realizations.
It’s a little bit like—I was an organic gardener, and chemical gardening, it’s a little bit like chemical gardening vs. organic gardening. In chemical gardening you’re pushing things to sprout, but it’s not so healthy. And I was pushing things to happen, and I feel it wasn’t such a healthy life. But it was my life, and it took a long time for me to work through all that conditioning. A long time, and I don’t know if I’ve worked it all through. I’m sure there’s remnants there. Yeah.
Questioner 29: I’d like to finish a thread that you started before we broke for dinner. You were talking about the three tenants. And what I’ve been wondering is, you come in with don’t-know mind, not knowing. And then you pay attention, do your deep listening, your witnessing. And then what I hear you saying is that the loving action emerges. And my question, what touchstone or compass do you use to make sure that the loving action is indeed a loving action?
Bernie: OK, you didn’t emphasize too much the bearing witness. You talk mostly about not knowing, deep listening. And then for me it’s extremely important, that bearing witness period where you’re really just being . . .
Questioner 29: . . . being there and groking it.
Bernie: . . . and groking. And the third, I just have faith that loving actions will arise. Or I have faith that the actions that arise are the best actions that can arise out of that situation. I don’t particularly like to say “loving” or —originally the word I had for that third tenant, it was a Hebrew word and I was looking for a translation, “Tikkun Olam.” Tikkun Olam is—Olam is the world. Tikkun is the hard one to translate. Sometimes it’s called healing. Sometimes it’s called repairing. Because it comes from a sense that the light of God fills this cup, and it’s so intense that the cup scatters into millions and millions of pieces. It’s a little bit like what happened to Avalokiteshvara. And then the role of the righteous one, or the Tzadik, is to bring those pieces back together. It’s very similar to what we’re talking about of realizing the interconnectedness of life. So it’s sort of like repairing that fragmented thing.
So anyway, I came up with loving actions, but the critical thing for me was that—it was my feeling that—if you could do this not knowing, and bearing witness, that what would come up would be those kinds of actions. Now, that’s an ideal case, because none of us are going to enter a situation really not knowing and totally open. And none of us can fully bear witness—get into a non-dual state with what the situation is. So I’ve developed upayas for each, and also for the third. So here’s actions one can do, and a way of doing it that will help to realize the interconnectedness of life.
That’s the practice part of it all. And the absolute part of it all is that I have this faith that that will occur.
Questioner 29: The key is that really bearing witness to the deepest extent possible.
Bernie: They’re all key. I mean you can’t fully bear witness if you’re attached to some kind of notion. So the not knowing is extremely important. But you can create practices to help let go of these attachments. You can create practices to experience, to taste what’s meant by bearing witness. They’re all key. I wouldn’t say one is more than the other. And if I had to say one thing is more important than the other, it’s the loving actions.
Questioner 29: And your faith is that if the first are consciously thoroughly done, then the third will emerge?
Questioner 29: OK. Thank you.
Bernie: Right. And then, different people will look at those actions and say, “That’s evil.” And other people will look at those actions and say, “That’s wonderful.” So people will judge the actions depending on their own attachments, and their own conditioning. So that’s why it’s hard to give it a name.
Questioner 29: Part of what’s in the back of my mind is that a few years ago I did some study about the question of evil, and there was this guy named Becker (I think). Do you know him? His book was basically showing how so much of the evil is done in the world because people are trying to squash out evil. I mean, Hitler was trying to get rid of—by his lights, you know, as horrible as it was, he was trying to get rid of the vermin in the world.
Questioner 29: So, that’s what brings up for me the question of what’s the touchstone? How can we keep from deluding ourselves?
Bernie: You can’t. I don’t think so. I think, being human, we can do continuous practice. It’s like if you’re in AA, and you’re doing the path, you’re doing the steps. There are some people that say, “I’ve reached the goal.” Those people have a problem. There’s just the path. And . . . there’s just the path.
Now I will say—but I don’t believe this, but I will say—I mean I do, in a way, believe this—I will say that if you do things like that, you will minimize the suffering around you—not get rid of it—minimize. How do you prove such a thing? I don’t know. But that’s my opinion, that by working in this way, you will minimize suffering. So as Roshi Joan said, bringing doctors to do all this wonderful work.
When I went on the streets—I’ll keep it to my experience—when I went on the streets, there were people giving us food. And it was wonderful that they were giving us food. We were hungry. And you know that they meant well. But most people that were giving us food, we could feel that they felt superior to us, and that was horrible—worse than the food. We can get food somewhere.
So that fed into the work that I’ve done. So I’m starting what I call cafés. These are soup kitchens. But when you walk into our café, you can’t tell who’s homeless, who’s poor, who’s rich. It feels like a café. We’ve got music. We’ve got wonderful food. We’ve got servers, but you don’t know, the servers could be homeless, they could be wealthy.
I’ve tried, based on my experience of living on the streets, I’ve tried to create an environment where there’s dignity. The environments I went into, there was love, but not dignity. I could feel the love of the people, but I also could feel that they were helping us. They were better than us, you know. They were not appreciating who we were, our life. But they were taking care.
And that’s the sense I had from some of the issues that Roshi Joan was talking about. Some of the doctors, they’re doing wonderful things. They mean well, and they’re helping. But the people they’re helping get that sense that they’re being helped rather than what we want. We want love and dignity. And we want to be listened to, much more than being helped.
And that’s what I thought . . . in terms of what I call a sustainable marriage, or the dokusan room, or whatever. People want to be heard. And they want there to be dignity, not necessarily that the person that they’re talking to is better than them in any kind of way—in any kind of way.
Questioner 30: You mentioned faith.
Questioner 30: Yeah. Do you pray?
Bernie: Do I pray?
Questioner 30: And where does faith come into your practice?
Bernie: Uh huh. So, have you read Dogen’s Shobogenzo? Dogen Zenji?
Questioner 30: A little bit.
Bernie: OK. He has a whole chapter on faith, and he said it’s the most important thing. Did you know that? So, what is faith? Do I pray? I don’t pray to an exterior being. I don’t necessarily use the prayer, but if somebody’s not feeling well, I pray that they feel better, you know. I’m not praying though to some other . . . You probably chant vows every day here. Are they prayers? What does it all mean?
So, in the Hassidic tradition, the founder was a guy that went by name Baal Shem Tov—Man of Good Name. And he introduced a form of prayer in which you become one. It’s called bearing witness. It’s a total unification with the universe. And so it’s like changing the energy of the universe by adding your vibes to the scene.
Most times when we say “pray,” right, we mean to something external. And I would say that most Buddhists in the world—because most Buddhists in the world are Asian Buddhists that are praying—that are praying to something external. It’s not what we do.
So when you’re doing liturgy, and you’re having these dedications, it shouldn’t be that (it shouldn’t be)—my opinion is that it should not be that it’s some external being to have to make it all work. But it should be a full merging into the feeling that this should happen. War should end! Peace on earth! We could have those feelings. Clean air! We can have those feelings.
And what happens if we do, they create trim tabs in us so that we work towards that. So that becomes part of our path. At least that’s how I look at it.
Questioner 31 (Brian): I have a question I know I’ve asked many times in my life before. It’s a little bit like this. It’s back to this infinite circle concept that is part of your dharma—the notion of an absolute right or wrong. I’ve struggled with this concept, and I get it in some way. And then you look at something in the world, and you know it is absolutely wrong.
Bernie: Yeah. It’s a hard practice, man. Infinite circle—he’s talking about what I call maha. It’s not maha prajna para, but it’s maha, it means big. But it means so big that there’s nothing outside of it. And that creates . . . because there are things that we don’t want to say they’re part of us. I mean if I have realized and experienced the oneness of the whole world, then all that stuff is me? Hitler’s me? Famine is me? That’s a horrendous thought. So there’s a couple of options. We can say, “No, it’s not me,” and therefore I don’t want to realize the interconnectedness of all life. Now, Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Tough. We are one body, and it’s only our thinking that prevents us from seeing—our delusions, our attachments to thoughts—that prevents us from seeing that.”
So that’s what Buddhism is about. And it does bring that dilemma. So for example, it doesn’t mean just because this is all you, you don’t do things about it. So if we go back to the simpler thing, where you—Brian has realized the interconnectedness of Brian. And seeing that, he says, “Well, is that cancer in me, me? I don’t want that to be part of me. I don’t like cancer.” But it’s you. Does that mean you have to like it? No. Does that mean you can figure out what to do? Yes.
So even though it’s you, you might decide to remove it—surgically. You might decide to attack it with radiation, or harsh chemicals, depending on who you are. In Christian Science, you couldn’t do those things. You could die, but you wouldn’t be combating yourself. It’s just like Gandhi, who it’s all me, and if somebody’s going to kill me, then they’re going to kill me. But you could also realize the interconnectedness of life, and take different actions. You can’t say which actions are right or wrong. They’re very dependent on the particular environment.
So I’ve been asked at different talks if I had the opportunity to kill Hitler, would I, in the midst of all that? And I said, “Yes.” And I call myself a pacifist, and people got really pissed at me. “How could you do that?” And in the same way I would—for example, if my hand starts getting gangrened, I would gut it off, to save the other part, you know. But some people wouldn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re all one—that it’s all interconnected. It doesn’t mean just because it’s all interconnected, that we have to like—we can have preferences. And it doesn’t necessarily determine what those actions are going to be. In my way of thinking, they’ll be to minimize the suffering. So cutting off my gangrene arm is minimizing the suffering of this one body. But the arm certainly doesn’t think so.
And my sense is that’s probably the hardest part of this—that we are all interconnected. The fact that there’s pieces of us, whether it’s you or the whole world, there’s pieces that we don’t like, man. And we don’t want to admit that’s also us. Cause no there’s a little bit of a responsibility, “What do I do, now that that’s me? How do I function? What do I do?”
Oops, there has to be a mike. And we’re almost over, so we’ll have one more, after you, which will bring us over the limit.
Questioner 32: I was just wondering about what you were talking about, right here isn’t that like when you would say the differences are relative nature vs. absolute? I mean we, everything that arises, our psyche—we all have all of it. All of it in the container is us. But it’s the relative nature, where as the absolute is that which is the consciousness from which all arises. So when we’re—that’s the simple way to understand that. What do you think? Is that, would you say . . .
Bernie: I’d say that’s a nice way of putting it. It works for you. I don’t know if it works for everybody else. But absolute and relative are both relative terms. That’s a dualistic concept, absolute and relative.
Questioner 32: The concept of absolute . . .
Bernie: . . . is a relative term.
Questioner 32: But that would be . . .
Bernie: You can’t have the concept of absolute without the other thing . . .
Questioner 32: Yeah, right. But just for our general, working in our . . . Oh, I hear, wait. Just as your life evolved, your life, when I hear your story, I’m hearing like a psychological and spiritual change. Do you think we, as humanity is also doing that?
Bernie: Well certainly I think we’re all changing. I think everything is change. Now, it is also my opinion, you know Intela Desjardin, and The Evolution of Conciousness, to where at some point it evolves to where it’s all interconnected and whatever. So that’s a process of evolving. What he also talks about is that it’s evolving to God. And God is the one who started that process, so it’s all one thing, but it’s evolving.
Yeah I like that theory. I mean, I like a lot of theories. And they’re all theories. I’m such a simple guy that we could talk about various theories, and the bottom line is that moment after moment what I do is try to approach this moment, from a standpoint of not-knowing, and try to bear witness to what’s happening now, and see the actions that arise.
And then we can write theories about it, and talk about it in different ways. And I do. After all, I’m an engineer, a mathematician, and all these different things, but that’s not how I live my life. For me those are all just theories and whatever. But that’s one that I like.
When I first got involved in Zen, the whole notion that we’re all interconnected was considered a cult. Zen was considered a cult. And now, that’s what you see on TV. We’re all interconnected. So something’s changed in the consciousness of the planet. I mean it’s like you say, “We’re all interconnected,” and people say, “So, big deal. Everybody knows that.” So something’s evolved for sure. That doesn’t mean just because we can talk about it that we’ve experienced it. And how can we tell? You all know. We can tell how deeply we’ve experienced it, how we serve others.
Roshi Joan: I wanted to say a few things before Bernie talks. When Bernie and I met, I had been practicing since ’65. I then had a wonderful Korean teacher I began with, then in ’75—very strong practice. He was a radical, but strict, crazy—I learned a lot practicing with him. I became a teacher in his community, but he wasn’t so involved in social action. That really wasn’t his interest. You know, I’m not sure what his main interest was. It was probably everything. But, the sort of feeling that I had from the 1960s, being in the civil rights and anti-war movement—it wasn’t quite a fit.
And so when I met Thich Nhat Hanh more intimately—I met him in ’66—that definitely was a game-changer for me, in terms of the relationship between Buddhism and social action. But it was in ’85 that I met him again, and went to Plum Village. And it was just Thich Nhat Hanh, myself, Sister Chung Kang, and Baker Roshi, who was in a sort of crushed state. And I remember it was in very early spring—the daffodils were just coming up, and that Thay really had a vision that was more integrated in terms of what I felt practice for me was about. It was not only the deep practice of meditation, but also being deeply socially engaged.
And so I spent a decade—you know, received the Lamp Transmission, the blessing so to speak, became a teacher in his lineage. And I appreciated so much what Thich Nhat had to offer. But I have to say between the cultural difference, the gender difference—he was so nice, in a way. And I always felt like I was a bull in a china shop. You know, I was kind of robust, and out there—I never felt quite—you know, I couldn’t talk to him—it’s just this sort of Buddha field. And we actually spent a lot of intimate time together, the two of us, or John Connolly, and him. But it was never this kind of straight across the pipe feeling.
And I met Bernie over the years, and when he and I reencountered each other, it was like yeah, here’s somebody—I mean for me a teacher’s not somebody who’s up there, it’s someone who’s accompanying you—who’s a friend. I realized this is somebody I could talk to. His ethics, and the ethos really fit with me, practice was great. Our sesshins were not in a beautiful place like this. They were in Schoolhouse Six, which was an abandoned, wrecked schoolhouse. Samu, we put on gloves, and picked up condoms, and syringes. We didn’t have zafus. We were in the outdoors, sitting in broken concrete weeds. We were sitting on top of concrete blocks and old tires. We were living this life—it was totally different, OK.
Yeah, this is great. I didn’t have to do a twelve-month year. I spent a lot of time in Yonkers, working with Bernie. And I was ordained in an AIDS clinic, which just felt right, you know, for the kind of person I was.
I also realized that we need refuges—that, you know, Bernie needs to come here. I need to come here, because I’m all over the world—and many places in really rough circumstances. You know, sitting in Northern Thailand on a platform—Julia’s been there—with all these women who are H.I.V.—who are now their sort of village leaders, doing things that are really tough. Then it’s great to have a place where you can practice where there’s peace and beauty.
And the sense of inside and outside doesn’t exist for me. I was saying to Bernie when we were walking down here, we have this young resident, he said, “I really want to do social action.” I said, “Great. Everybody who comes through the door of this temple is suffering.”
So often we want to identify with some super-tragic place, or some really heroic activity, but one of the beauties of what Bernie shared with us last night is that being a householder means that the whole world is your house. The whole world is your house. You know, it’s the airport, it’s here, it’s Rwanda, New York City, it’s downtown Santa Fe.
And this kind of inside/outside—I’m so glad you said it, poor thing got picked on for a couple of days—but anyway, because a lot of us have this, “there’s this, and then there’s that.” There’s no this and that. It’s the whole thing. And the virtue of being in a place like this is that you can realize it. The non-virtue is you can forget it. It’s so easy to forget in the privilege of our situation. But here also you can build capacity. But there, which is the same place, you also build capacity.
So I know that many of us have expectations of how teachers should be. And as you’ve seen in this time with Bernie, some of the teachers that look the greatest have the biggest feed at play. You know, they got the best outfits, the best looking monasteries, you know, they’ve got the most interesting expression on their face, but they’re not right. They’re deluded.
And sometimes our idea of what a teacher is, is not met until you get older and you recognize that what you want is not something that pours down . . . you want a relationship that is characterized by authenticity. It’s just honest, transparent, unfiltered.
So I know Bernie’s schedule is just so dense, it’s kind of like mine. To get him to come here is like a lift, but you know, we’re Dharma buddies, so it’s really a joy for me that he took time, not only to be with us in this way—to share his heart and mind—and to kind of help us to see things in a different way.
I love this quote that Aiken Roshi sent me. He translated, or shared one time, it says, “The Vegetable Root Sutra—Water that is too pure has no fish.” You know, the Dharma includes everything. It’s everything. It’s not here, special. It’s everything. And Bernie has carried this his whole Dharma life. He gave away a place much more beautiful than this to go live in the slums. And I choose to travel in really rugged situations, and serve in really unpleasant situations a good part of the time. But at the same time, I’m lucky enough to maintain and nurse this beautiful place that I can come back to—that you practice in.
So I wanted to say those few words to you, because I think my heart’s gratitude is really so great for, you know, everything we’ve been through together. We’re Dharma friends, but also you taking the time to be here, so thank you.
Bernie: Our last session together—I just want to say a couple of words, and then I want to go around like we did at the beginning, but this time asking you to say what the one thing that you think you’re taking away with you from our time together.
As Roshi Joan said, when we were walking down, she mentioned going to special spots for socially engaged work, and how it reminded me of a time I was at an event at Tricycle. They used to put on every year—I don’t think they do it anymore—Change Your Mind Day. And I have a hard time at some of those kinds of wonderful talks. At any rate, so I gave my talk, and the presenter normally sits up on the stage. And there’s a fairly large group, and I took the mike off of the wire, and start walking around with it, and put my nose on and started talking. And then there was one woman who said, “How do I do social action? It’s too complicated. What do I do? Can you give me any advice?”
So, I went over to her. I said, “Could you please stand up? What’s your name?”
“Genjo, why don’t you say ‘hello’ to this nice young lady next to you?”
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Hello.”
Audience member (Karen): Hi Genjo.
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “What’s your name?”
Karen: I’m Karen.
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Hi Karen.”
Bernie: And could you ask her, is there any way you could serve her?
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Is there any way I could be of service to you today?”
Bernie: And then I sat down.
So, It’s about that simple. You know, you don’t have to look for any particular worlds. It’s right here, right now.
OK. Also at breakfast, Genjo mentioned that he’d like to come to Auschwitz, and I couldn’t even remember if I taught anything—I never even remember what I say. So I asked Joan, “Did I mention Auschwitz?” “Yes you did.”
So I just wanted to offer the invitation. If any of you have nothing to do the first week of November—or if you want the experience of your life—you can come. We still have space. It’s quite . . . I have never—I haven’t stopped learning from Auschwitz. I stopped going around the eighth year. And then I went back on the tenth year, because there was a tenth anniversary. And it was just amazing for me. So I kept going. And then I stopped again.
As part of what I like to do when I’m teaching, or doing things is to hand it over, so that there’s a next generation. I particularly, from the very first year, wanted our Polish contingent—we have groups all around, and there’s a Polish Peacemaker community, led by a wonderful guy, André. André’s been to every one, and helped me organize—I could never have organized it the way I did without his help. He was in the Underground, and in the Solidarity Movement, actually had to flee Poland, took me to meet leaders of the Solidarity Movement. He’s an amazing guy. And I wanted him to take it over, but he’s not that kind of style.
So at any rate, I stopped again. And then a student, Peter Matthiessen . . . Peter Matthiessen came the first retreat, and started to write. He’s a writer. He’s many things, but one of them is a writer. And he started to write about the retreat—not so much about the retreat—about the anger, the guilt, the blame, all the stuff that comes up. So that’s seventeen years ago, he started. And he came back the second or third time—can’t remember—and then a couple of years ago, I had stopped coming. He called me, and said, “I need to go back.” He’s still working on the manuscript, seventeen years. He said, “I have some unresolved things. I need to go back. Are you going?” I said, “Well, I’ve stopped.” Someone else, actually Steve Moore was now running it. And he said, “Well, would you go once more with me?” So, I was going to do a very sort of secretive retreat—invite about ten people, because for me, that retreat doesn’t work unless you have a diversity. I need people from different aspects of life. So I said, “I’ll invite some people, but I’ll keep it secret, because Fleet’s organizing one.” And so I told Fleet, and he said, “Well, nobody signed up yet, and if you’re gonna do it, word will leek out.” I said, “It won’t.” He said, “Word will leek out. It’d be too complicated.” So he didn’t do it that year, and a lot of people came—about 160. It’s the most we could house. We stopped it at 160. It filled up in about two months. We started a year before, but it filled up right away.
And Peter came. He finished one manuscript, which was more non-fiction, which my wife and I read. He’s very meticulous, Peter, and also very cautious. He’s nervous—he’s such an amazing guy. But he’s nervous, because he’s not Jewish—to publish something around Auschwitz. And one of the issues was his friend, William Styron, who many of you know wrote Sophie’s Choice, and was criticized by Jews all over the place. “How could you write something?” It’s such a weird world we live in. But Peter’s very sensitive, and it’s complicated. So it’s going to be a wonderful book, because the issues are complicated, you know. It’s very easy to get mad, or to think “Oh, this is how we’re going to resolve it.” But we as humans are very complicated beings. And he’s dealing with all of that kind of stuff.
So he’s decided to do it as a fiction. And he has rewritten it. And Eve and I are supposed to get the manuscript soon. And he doesn’t know if he’ll ever publish it. You know, he’s been working seventeen years, this is a major work for him, but he’s not sure if he’ll publish it. But both Eve and I encourage him to publish it, but he’s a stubborn guy. You know, he’s like Roshi Joan. All these old people get set in their ways. So, I went back with him, and it’s now something I have to do each year. Auschwitz is not done with me. It’s the only way I can say it.
Let me give you one other thing.
About—I’m gonna make up a number, because I can’t remember years—about eight years ago, we have Spirit Holders. So as I say, the teacher is Auschwitz. But we have a set of Spirit Holders—a German man, a Polish man, myself, my wife, Israeli—the Rabbi, Swiss—some people that have been to almost all of the retreats. And we meet each day to get a sense of how it feels—like how it feels. And then we might shift the schedule, or change things.
So about eight years ago, I wasn’t there, and our German Spirit Holder, who was Heinz Jurgen who some people here know, said—when we sit, we sit in the morning three periods, in the afternoon three periods, and during some of those periods we chant names of people that have died there—and he said/suggested the idea of chanting names of the S.S.—the so called perpetrators. And about half to three quarters of the retreat almost left. It was . . . the suggestion of that was . . . so, I heard about it when the retreat ended. The next year I went back, and I made that the theme of the retreat.
And there was a woman that was coming each year; she was trained by Marshall Rosenberg in Non-Violent Communication, an Israeli. She had been a police detective before becoming a trainer of N.V.C. in Israel—worked with Israelis and Palestinians, a beautiful woman. And during one of the councils, we did Spiral, and she came up to me, and she said, “You have to hold me, because I’m ready to kill Heinz Jurgen.” And she meant it.
So there’s a woman trained in teaching, and being a trainer of N.V.C., and she was ready to kill this guy for his bringing this thing up. Well, the Rabbi, who’s five generations Israeli, Ohad Ezrahi, created a service, or a process around the aggressor within us. And that’s been happening for the last five years. And for me, it’s been an extremely informative piece of that retreat.
So I’m just giving you a flavor of . . . there’s many things that go on at that particular retreat, and they’re all—I think—rather important.
OK, So I’m just inviting. If you have it in mind, it’s five days, Monday through Friday. It ends with a Sabbath meal. And then after the Sabbath meal—that’s optional—then there’s an ending group, people share, and entertain. You have magicians, all kinds of people come. The weekend before we have a two-day training in Council work, because we do Council every morning. But also there’s particular energies at Auschwitz, so we offer Council training for those who want to have it. Fleet does that. Fleet Maull does it, and we also, if you’ve been, if it’s the first time that you’ve been there, we don’t allow you to take any roles. We want you just to bear witness to the retreat. So even if you’re a trained Council Facilitator, you can’t be in that role. First year, nobody’s in a role, just bearing witness. But if you’ve been there before, and you go through the training that we do, you can be a Co-Facilitator, and then little by little, a Facilitator. All the Facilitators have been to probably at least ten retreats, you know. So it’s a very experienced staff.
You wanted to say something?
Audience member: Something similar happened to what you were saying, chanting the names of S.S. people. In Holland we have liberation day on May 5th, and Memorial Day on May 4th. And in a village close to the German border, the national committee that was organizing, you know, the particular day, wanted to include the German soldiers that were buried in the cemetery in that village. And they asked the Major if he agreed, and he did. So they included, you know, everybody that suffered from the war. And it was a big, very intense reaction, especially from the Jewish community, but also from all of the people. And also a lot of support of, you know, including, just seeing that there’s been so much suffering. And in the suffering, there’s no difference also.
Bernie: Yeah, we’re amazing people. I mean the club effect, we talked about clubs, the club effect is huge.
Two years ago we had a youth program there. We invited youth from 16 to 24, I think was the age group—I can’t remember. And we had youth from Palestine, from Israel, from Switzerland, from Poland, from Germany, from the U.S., Belgium, quite a number. And the coordinator for the Palestinian youth is a beautiful man who now comes each year. He’s an Israeli Palestinian Imam. A beautiful voice, and his wife is Jewish, and teaches turning, Haron Zalikha. We introduced Zalikha to people in Palestine. You didn’t necessarily see Zalikha, but she was here for Joanie’s party. But anyway, he’s a beautiful man, and I asked him to talk at one of the preliminaries. Depending on what’s happening, we sort of choose how we’re going to do that night. We’ve done an evening with this man who died. Did I mention a man, August, who died? He just died this week, we started a hospice, and he died in the hospice. He was a . . . I said I was going to let you guys talk, but . . .
So, August was one of the few to escape from Auschwitz. He was a Polish prisoner. He was in Auschwitz I, that’s where most of the Polish people were interned, but he escaped—it was early on. A group of about thirty planned an escape, maybe fifty planned it. About thirty escaped, and about six of them actually escaped. The others were all caught and killed. But also for each of the six that escaped, I think 200 or 300 people were killed, for each person. So it’s a heavy thing to escape.
At any rate, he’s one that escaped, and he came to our second retreat, the second year. And at the end we had in those early days, we had a thing where we invited people to join the Zen Peacemakers. Wherever they were, whatever sangha, they could join the Zen Peacemakers, there’s an international movement. And he jumped in to the circle of people wanting to join the Zen Peacemakers, and I said to André, “André, does he [because August does not speak English], does he know what he’s jumping into?” So André explained, he says, “Oh, he wants to become a Peacemaker.” So he then came to all our retreats from then on—became very close with André.
And then about ten years ago, he wanted to meet with André and myself. And he said he wants to do something for the survivors, because they’re all dying, you know, of age. And we decided to do a hospice. And in the year 2000, there was a groundbreaking for—it was the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is in January, very cold. And it was a big deal, and there was a big interfaith thing, and the Rabbi from Berlin came, all kinds of people, and I was a Buddhist representative. But then the President of Poland was there, and members from their Parliament, and all the survivors—it was a huge thing.
And then about ten minutes away was the place where the hospice was going to be built. And there was a groundbreaking, and the President, myself, and August, this man, August, you know, dug the hole, and put the thing in—a tube in the ground. And in that tube was the flag of Poland, the flag of Auschwitzim, the logo of the survivors, Auschwitz survivors, and the Zen Peacemakers logo. And the President of Poland said that our retreat has caused more peace, more healing than anything he’s seen around Auschwitz. And that’s why he had invited me to come.
But at any rate, the hospice was built. Its opening day was on the seventieth anniversary of August escaping from Auschwitz. And he just died about three days ago, in the hospice.
And I don’t know why I got on that track. Oh, the Imam! Yeah.
So, I asked the Imam to talk. We do things in different places, and a couple of years we did an evening in a torture room, in Auschwitz I, you know, above where the firings wall is, where the cells were. In the attic there’s a torture room, and August was tortured in there. So we met there once, twice, with him and a woman that was tortured there.
We always meet one evening in the barracks, late at night. We always meet in the children’s barrack, and in something that’s called the women’s barrack. Normally there’s a vigil, an overnight vigil in the women’s barrack. What’s called the women’s barrack is a barrack where women got to a place where they couldn’t work. They were put there—not given any food—they were just put there to die. It might take days, or whatever. So we had the vigil there.
Krishna Das came last year. And we always have a service there, Kaddish there, and different kinds of things. And then he went back and sang to the women. And he spoke to me after. He said he first apologized that he wasn’t singing in their language, but he just felt the place filling up with people.
And then for months after that, I mean people would tell me they would be at a Kirtan concert—he does concert, Kirtan—and he was still talking about how that’s the largest audience he’s ever sang to. That he has sang to, you know, thousands in different places, whatever, but it was extremely transformative for him—to be able to sing to all those women.
So, I asked the Imam to speak, and before the retreat I was sitting in this square called Kazimierz, it was the old Jewish center in Kraków. And I had lunch with a progressive Jewish family from California—a husband, wife, and two children that were coming to the retreat. And I asked the Imam to talk one evening. And after he did, that night, this guy came up to me and said, “How dare you allow a Palestinian to talk here!?” The first night I talk about the usual clubs, and what this retreat is all about. And I said, “Oh, that’s a problem, huh?”
And so, I introduced him to Ihab, and I said, “Why don’t you tell him what the problem is?” And they spoke until about one or two in the morning. He was a little bit more cordial. But at the end of the retreat, his family thought it was very, very important, whatever. He came up to me, and he said, “You should never allow Palestinians here.” So, he went home angry. I don’t know what else went on, but he was still angry about that.
So you may come and get angry. Or you may come and feel some other things. It was very important for Ihab. His wife is Jewish Israeli. And they were married ten years at that point, with two children, beautiful children. And he called her that second night, and she told him that for the first time in their relationship that most of her family died there. She had never talked to him about—even though for a year he was organizing bringing youth there, so it was a topic—but she couldn’t share, couldn’t talk about that. And she didn’t come. It was his coming, and her hearing the effect on him of coming—this opened her up. So their relationship became much stronger.
Audience Member 1: So, what I’ll take away is—having spent lots of last night awake, and thinking about things. And thinking, well, what I would ask Bernie Roshi is . . . and then I think, well, you know what he’s going to say. He’s going to say, “Go back to the three precepts—not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.” So, I’ll try to remember that, and do it.
Audience Member 2: Yeah, I share that—just the simplicity of that. So the take-away for me is the Keep on Truckin.
Audience Member 3: First of all, thank you so much. Being in your presence has been a gift to me. And I think my take-away is the incredible power of listening.
Audience Member 4: I realize that I’ve met a dharma companion, and I think there will be a long association between myself and Roshi Bernie. And I just wrote my wife, inviting her to the Auschwitz—to come with me, saying that I was committed to go for my fifty-eighth birthday—on my fifty-eighth birthday. And I’ve always known I wanted to go to Auschwitz, and now I know why I’ve waited—to be able to go with Bernie. Two things: One, there was a massacre in Seattle a couple years ago, where we were sitting in Sesshin and we heard the shots. We didn’t quite know what it was, but later found out that seven people (I think it was seven people) had been shot and killed in one house. And there was a multiface service a week or ten days later, and one of the things that I was sure to do for my part of representing the Buddhist community was to read all of the names, including the shooter who had killed himself. And there was a big sigh in my part of the audience that was present. But I knew it had to be done. And another one; I was at a retreat at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, just after 9/11, and in New York state. And the Sesshin was so close to the retreat; I could barely get a flight. The flights had just come back on. And everyone at the retreat—I don’t know if everyone felt it, but I certainly felt it—that we were breathing the breaths that couldn’t be breathed by those who died so suddenly.
Audience Member 5: I feel like I’m continuously, you know, this is the second time I’ve heard you speak. And the first time it took me six months to even write my paper for the chaplaincy—because, just to digest what Bearing Witness meant. And so I feel like I’ve gotten some . . . there are tears coming up . . . I’ve gotten a deeper understanding about it. And I’ve got a sensation that I can’t articulate about the non-duality, that I’m just going to sit with. And . . . the vulnerability of being able to bear witness, and doing nothing action, and that it’s an internal—resiliency is an internal process as well as an external process, and it doesn’t happen over night. It’s hitting the edge of capacity, and coming back, and coming back out again. But it’s coming back out again, and each time being able to bear witness deeper, and deeper. The necessity of that in today’s world, the loving action.
Audience Member 6: I’m also feeling emotional—talk about the oneness. I think I got a lot of pearls from the last three days. One big one is the ingredient of faith, in addition to the first two tenets—the having faith that loving action will arise. And yesterday Roshi, in the kitchen, shared that you are our dharma grandfather. And excuse my language, but I feel really grateful to be standing on the shoulders of such a compassionate bad ass. Thank you.
Audience Member 7: I too am very grateful to be in your presence. I’ve followed your work for a long time. You’ve really underlined for me that impermanence is not something to be afraid of—that it’s a great gift. It’s the dharma field in which we play and create. And the importance of groking before you start playing.
Audience Member 8: Thank you very much for coming. And what I enjoyed the most was to see the dharma. And it’s inspiring to me. Thank you.
Audience Member 9: This weekend I really enjoyed your ordinariness. And I like your snowy white mane, your lovely warm eyes. There’s so much love—it’s very nourishing to be in your presence. And I enjoy how engaged everyone is in your presence. And also, I really appreciated hearing about your life’s work.
Audience Member 10: I think I’m taking away a deeper sense of the liberating potential of leaning into fear—and sitting in fear—and also surrendering, and letting go. Thank you.
Audience Member 11: I spent a lot of the weekend actually thinking about my father, who’s alive, and who’s really been in many ways the most important person in my life—and a very, very powerful moral compass for me, and a lot of heart. And we’re Jewish. So when I was young, we lived overseas, and my dad was working in East Africa. And then we traveled for a long time. And the one country that we completely avoided was Germany. And it was always so strange for me to watch my father, who was so loving, and so open, step into this place of real anger and hatred. And it’s kind of ironic, because we actually bought a VW camper. We went to Germany to do that, and then left. But I’ve also been spending a lot of the weekend really contemplating the power of going into the places that scare me. We talked about that some, and recognizing that karmically there’s a hard edge for me there—around the Holocaust, and around Germans. And that fear is always in the places where I bump into the places where the heart is closed. And I’ve done a number of my own types of plunges over the year, because I at some level have recognized the power of going into places that I’m afraid of. And last night I actually—I drove home to Albuquerque. I was exhausted, and decided I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. And I dreamed. In my dream I was in the Middle East with my father. And I’ve actually lived in Israel, and spent time in the Middle East as well. But in my dream, my father and I were waiting for the rest of the family, and we were somewhere in the Middle East. And at some point I realized the rest of the family were gone. They’d been taken, and put in prison or killed. And I woke up with a start, and just this incredible immense sense of—some mix of love and sadness. And so, I think what’s next is I’m going to see if my father will come with me to Auschwitz. Thank you.
Audience Member 12: First I just want to say thank you. It’s hard for me to come up with just one thing, because there’s so many things that I’m taking away. Just a couple—I read your book on Bearing Witness a couple years ago. And at that time, I knew I wanted to meet you. So, I realized that. But I hadn’t really taken in the practice of the tenets at that time. This past year, when my brother was diagnosed with leukemia, we pulled out Joan’s book on being with dying. And I feel like that was a huge plunge for our family. And we really—we did live those tenets through that process. It’s all kind of coming together for me here—how much that was true. So that’s one thing—it’s just kind of reflecting back on what that was, and having a way of speaking about it. One of my questions when I came here had to do with the environment. And there’s something in your conversation about that, where you said all you know, in your opinion, is to follow those tenets. And the piece that was really helpful to me is to know that you’re doing your best. And sort of the forgiveness of all those other things that I think I should be doing, and that’s not good enough. So, that’s a really important piece for me, that I’m doing my best.
Audience Member 13: I want to continue with this work, and learn more of the upayas of how you go through those—the Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and the Loving Action. And I believe you have a group in Boulder. Is that right? Bernie: Outside Lafayette. Audience Member 13: In Lafayette. OK. Bernie: Not that I have a group. They’re my family, my wife’s family; they’re all very different. But there is a group in Lafayette. Audience Member 13: But there is a Zen Peacemaker group? Bernie: Yeah. It’s part of the family. That particular group is led by a man that I’ve made a Roshi, but he was a dharma successor of my teacher. So, part of the White Plum—that’s the family of my family—a little bit complicated. But they are . . . and his wife runs a country place. I just installed her as Abbot at that place. So there’s a male teacher, and a female teacher. And they’re part of our family. Audience Member 13: OK. So there, is that possibility. Bernie: But you’re part of the family. Audience Member 13: All right. So, thank you.
Audience Member 14: Thank you very much. This has been very rich for me. You asked about take-aways, and two of the most important for me was number one; you can tell the quality of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others. And the other is the importance of the essential nature of recognizing and experiencing the interdependence of all things—the connectedness of all things. Thank you very much.
Audience Member 15: Takeaways—something you said at dinner the other night, which was how often Zen can cultivate arrogance. And I really appreciated how you, for all of the study that you’ve done, kind of stripped it down, stripped down all of those texts and translations, and forms, to just being. And so that’s inspiration to see. And the other—I run an organization, and so often, you know, my board, and all the people who depend on us, and that stuff, reward me for having answers. You know, you get compensated better, all those things, because you have good answers. And it was good to be reminded that the reward is in sitting with the questions. So, thank you.
Audience Member 16: Thank you. I think what you’ve allowed me to really touch in with is that whole simple thing of keeping things simple. I’ve been really touched by that spaciousness that you’ve created here. It’s actually one of the things I really, really engaged with. It’s simply witnessing others, and other’s stories. Just now, just listening to people has been very heart opening. You talked yesterday about the kind of tussle with cancer cells, and white blood cells in a story. I’m not quite sure why I’m sharing this, but I mean several years ago I had cancer. And the G.P. told me something about lymphocytes, white blood cells. And actually, they don’t have to battle. Because actually, the nucleus of the lymphocyte can’t change. And actually that really allowed me to sit with myself in a much more simple way, that I actually just embrace. You don’t have to fight.
Audience Member 17: I think the impact of this weekend was really huge. There were many things that I feel the seed was planted. I received a seed that I can just now . . . to take care. So, thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Audience Member 18: I want to thank Roshi Joan for asking that I attend this. And I’m a student here, and new in the chaplaincy program. And I’ve been practicing for the last eight years in Kagyu Nima Buddhism. So it’s . . . You know, many years ago I was in San Francisco. I stopped in at the Zen Center. And they were all—had to sit against—you know, had to face the wall. And I thought this is too intense. So I got up and left. I went out, and smoked a joint. And that was the end of it. I was like I can’t do this, it’s too much! Many, many years ago. And it’s interesting to come back into Zen in this particular lineage, and I appreciate it very much. And to see that really, the only club that causes any sense of duality is within myself. Clubs are important, but the duality aspect is something that I can disengage from, as I become more interconnected. And another thing that I appreciate in this workshop is that you are a demonstration of interconnectedness. This whole workshop has been the heart opening of everybody. From the moment you sat down and asked us to engage, it is truly our workshop. So, thank you.
Audience Member 19: I’m also in the chaplaincy program—just started earlier this year. And there’s so many avenues I know that can come from participating in that. But one of the things that I’m most interested in is getting to the edge of my own death—preparing for my own death—and keeping that in the forefront of everything I do, and everything I bring to any situation. And what I’ve been finding is that I can sit with it. I can wrap my mind around it. I can think about it, plan for it. But when I let it go into my body, when I really start thinking about—that this flesh/form is going to end, and imagining the decay, and imagining just it’s nonexistence, my body has this astonishing reaction. It fights back. My heart starts beating. My breath shallows. It’s a very much fight and flight reaction. And I haven’t quite known what to do with that, except sit with it, and bear witness to what comes up for myself. But your statement that you touched on—that fear may arise from the touching of the unknown brought I guess a sense of—I’m not sure what the word is—that made so much sense to me. That made a lot of sense to me. Because I think this edge that I’m pushing to is my body understanding that it’s self-preservation mode will not go on forever. And again, the statement you made, I think is allowing me to continue to sit with what comes up, and bear witness to what I’m experiencing. And I’ll see where else that takes me. So thank you.
Audience Member 20: I always think I know what I’m going to say, but then when I get the microphone, I have no idea. There’s so much that I’m still digesting. And I guess part of it is, living in South Korea, I’m surrounded by, and sometimes involved with a Buddhist community, which does not emphasize social engagement—not so much. And it seems to focus a lot on finding your true self, and once you do, you will automatically become more interconnected and engaged. But I don’t see that happening. And I see so much suffering, and corruption actually, as a result of that. And in my heart I have never been able to detach myself from the suffering of others, and the suffering of the world. And so, even though I live in a place where there’s a much larger Buddhist community than here, I keep coming back for my teaching, my learning, and my progression. And I’m so grateful to be able to come here, and learn in a lineage from someone like yourself, who has opened up so many ways of waking up—whether it’s in a bath tub, whether it’s through immersion, immersing yourself in the suffering, and bearing witness to that. And I pray that I may also have the courage and the strength to be so radical. And I thank you for that.
Audience Member 21: I woke up to a dream this morning, of receiving a package. And when I opened it, it was a parasol—a golden parasol. And I was thrilled to get it. And I didn’t really understand it, but sitting here on this reflective time, it kind of came together for me. And the parasol is to be able to hold in front of me, the parasol was actually bearing witness, which is your gift to me. And that parasol protects me so that my heart can stay open. And whatever comes at me, I don’t have to put on any armor. So, thank you very much.
Audience Member 22: I think that what I’m taking away is—not sure if I’m grateful for it yet but—I feel really uncomfortable in some ways. And I think that’s good. That not in an agitated way, but just in a sense that I think, you know, some of my little assumptions have been turned around, or upside-down, or sideways. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I can feel certain uncomfortability. And I think that new shit is coming to light.
Audience Member 23: Well, I feel very grateful to be here, and learn from you. And I am taking many things, but one is about no attachment to the skills. And also the picture of the carpenter with his big bag. And also to open, open, open to everything. Everything is included—not just the good things. And the way how you explain the Dharma, it’s so simple. That’s what I leave with. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Audience Member 24: Well thank you for being here, Roshi. Thank you, also, Roshi. I definitely feel like the bull in the china shop. I spent about five years living on the streets, in my early twenties. And I actually felt more comfortable there than I do here. And I think that’s because, you know, here everybody is so gentle, and nice. And I personally find that pretty off-putting, because that’s not my experience essentially, you know. And I feel like it’s authentic, you know. People are generally nice here, and it’s authentic. And that’s fine. Yeah, well, the bull within me is definitely breaking things. And I think that’s because, you know, I keep on saying that bull needs to go away, or I’m going to end up back in the streets. But, you know I realized how am I gonna tame the bull, or tame the ox if I don’t let it in? So, I’m prepared now to let it in. And, you know, the Keep on Truckin’ thing is definitely . . . because I was just about ready to say, “You know what, I’m over it.” Like just this past week, but I’m not over it. And I refuse to be over it, because you know, continuous practice is Truckin’. And who am I to just give up? So, definitely I’m taking away the Keep on Truckin’, without a doubt. Thank you.
Audience Member 25: Thanks for being here. What I’m going to take away is the three tenets—and to see them differently than before. And the other thing is the opinions—I really like that. Thank you.
Audience Member 26: I think I realized—well, of course, only to some extent—how much I didn’t understand the three tenets. So I did find the question I was seeking, in that now when I want to think, I’m thinking about how to learn, experience something, not-knowing, with a mind that is constantly secreting knowing. And that it’s only when I get there, that I’ll actually be able to bear witness. That I didn’t realize the depth it takes to bear witness. Thank you.
Audience Member 27: I thank you, Roshi Bernie Glassman, and Roshi Joan Halifax, and all the residents that make this place possible. I loved being here. I’ll take away a lot. This morning has been very emotional. So I loved the part about the opinions, and the egg, and the egg needing to have an awakening in the center—not just that form. All the nutrition is great, but you know, without that egg, you know, the chicken won’t be born. And I think I’m getting that this thing of bearing witness is like, you know, the spiritual bypass that can happen in our own life, when we get into the teachings early. And then, you know, for me there was like a big crash. And then it seemed like that culture thing—which was my question early on, as I started this little trip that I’m on currently, by going to the grandmother’s council meeting. And so that was sitting with me, the intergenerational healing—and that you spoke so much about it, regarding Auschwitz. And so I’m grateful for that awakening. And I remembered even a very young experience of that when I was a very young child in Puerto Rico. And so getting out of the teachings, and doing a very personal biographical healing, and working with people doing their addictions recovery, and all the personal stuff. Now it feels like that’s now merging into this intergenerational kind of thing. And I’m glad to kind of maybe be seeing that that may be where this, at least now this journey has repeated itself a lot. And I had a visit in the middle, in Colorado, with my sister, who’s husband is like total . . . you know, the fear of mine was I didn’t want anyone to be attached to any of their thoughts, or any of this identifying with culture at all. I wanted us all to just kind of make it transparent, and you know, sitting with him, it was like, “Ahh, you’re so kumbaya, and blah blah.” And he was just like, “You’re crazy.” You know, and it’s not gonna happen that way. And so I have to not be afraid to step in to it all. And I sat across the table with him, and we usually avoid those conversations. But now that my mother is gone, in these last five years, walking the end of her path with her, which has been a huge experience, I don’t know. Things are new. And I appreciate this very much.
Audience Member 28: Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life have been just pure accident. When I came to Upaya six years ago, as a resident, Roshi Joan asked me why I chose this place. And I said, “Well, Upaya’s geographically midpoint between Houston and San Francisco.” [Audience laughs] She was affronted. But in the same way, I kind of stumbled across this retreat—also by pure accident. And in the same way, it’s been tremendously enriching. What I’ll take away from it is the possibility of doing a Street Retreat—because it scares the living hell out of me. I think about doing it. It sounds even worse than Roshi’s Wilderness Fast. So, I think that’s a sign that I probably should do this at some point. Yeah, thank you.
Audience Member 29: Thank you very much for your teachings. I’m very grateful, especially for Not-Knowing. I feel that I’m all the time in my head, and thinking, and trying to find solutions, and answers. And, I’m honest to myself that there are not so many answers that I can find to many problems. So I think not knowing is very honest. And I hope I find the strength to go to places where I’ll leave my comfort zone. Thank you.
Audience Member 30: Thank you so much. There’s a lot lot things that I’m going to be taking with me—but of course the three tenets. And, how do I say this? When you were going through the tenets, I had a big, I guess, realization that it’s really at the crux of communicating and being in the world. And also, that there is not such a thing as being in this world and out of this world. So I choose the world. And, I was thinking that in my relationship with my partner, when, as I embody the three tenets, I don’t need to be Mr. Fix-it. And, thank you for that. And that I need to be really, really listening—and I need to be listening in all areas of my life—not only to my partner. Because I come to realize that . . . when you hold council, like you speak from the heart, that we can agree to disagree, and that’s OK. And that the loving action will come up. Thank you.
Audience Member 31: Thank you very much for your teachings. So, while trying to be as present as possible for the teachings this weekend, I can’t help but notice my mind racing ahead to how I’m going to apply this to my work. So, I’m a professor. My semester starts two weeks from tomorrow. I listened closely to your teachings about the role of opinion, and subjectivity, and non-dualism, and trying to understand how I’m going to integrate those into my work. Again—mind racing ahead. And so I’ve noticed, in Zazen this weekend, I’ve noticed a very interesting thing happening. What’s been arising while I’ve been sitting is thoughts about how often I’m dualistic, oppositional with colleagues and students, people I work with. And it’s been most interesting. Instead of, in my usual way would be to see that as one more proof about my usual way of being—non-acceptance of them. This weekend in Zazen, what I’ve noticed is a general turning towards that—acceptance of that, compassion towards that part of myself. So I don’t know exactly where that’s going to take me, but it feels like a real gift. Thank you.
Audience Member 32: So, I want to thank everybody, everybody who shared. I have the benefit of being at the end, so I can say that—almost the end. Also to the Roshis, also to my fellow residents, and whoever’s cooking in the kitchen right now, it smells delicious. Or maybe that’s leftover, I don’t know. I think I’m coming away from this time with a lot of glimpses of things, and a lot of curiosity. I sort of grew myself up Christian Evangelical. And, then I kind of changed from that, still remained Christian, but was liberal, progressive, wanting to change the world. And it wasn’t coming from a good place. It wasn’t coming from a sustainable place. There weren’t good upayas for developing a desire to change the world. And so, there was just a lot of use of anger, and frustration, and guilt of privilege, and these other things that could get short-term results, but were just not good for me actually. So I have a bit of exhaustion, residual from that training. The talk about social issues, because it seems like it’s asking people to sacrifice themselves in ways it doesn’t contribute beneficially to the whole ultimately. So I never would read something like this. And I’m really glad that this came to me—this retreat came to me. And it just gives me new ways to start approaching serving people. So thanks everyone.
Audience Member 33: I have just a very strong sense of appreciation. So, thank you very much. I feel sort of astonished by life, and both the complexity and simplicity, which is so well seen by you. And, what was the word that you translated as loving actions? Bernie: It’s a Hebrew word, Tikkun Olam. Audience Member 33: Tikkun Olam? Bernie: Olam means Earth. Tikkun is a repair or a healing. Audience Member 33: I really appreciate having that word. And you know, just having a word that names something that I have searched for, for my life. And then to be given skills to actually see that, or do that, or bring that together—it’s really beyond what I expected in my life at a certain point. So, thank you very much.
Audience Member 34: You’re Grandpa. Thank you so much for your teaching here, also for all that you are bringing into our world day, after day, after day, without stopping. And thank you, my Roshi, as well. I’m so grateful that you are in my life. And when I first started calling you Grandpa, I was holding if that would be OK to say so. But it felt so right. And being a Grandma myself of nine, I thought I could do that. And I really feel like a granddaughter—you know, being happy to be with you, and enjoying that, and so honored to learn from you. And I met you before I went to Auschwitz, when I met Roshi Joan, and your children were there, Kaz was there. And the first council, we were asked, “Why are you here?” And I said, “I really don’t know why I’m here.” Not knowing that was really quite a good answer in your terminology. And gradually, I’ve come to see what a life changing experience that was, and what fortunate karma to be there. So, what I’ve learned is a deeper understanding of the three tenets, and looking at my opinions as opinions—just opinions, and really a deeper commitment, and understanding of serving as continuous practice. And you’re such a great inspiration to do so, and so is my Roshi. And I will encourage many more people to come to Auschwitz. Thank you.
Bernie: Two things popped up as we were going around. I just want to share them, even though theoretically we should end. One is when Shinzan, you brought up the carpenter’s bag. You may have gotten the reference, but if you didn’t, I just want to make sure you do—that the figure in the tenth Ox Herding picture, Hotei, has this big bag. So Hotei is—that’s the tenth Ox Herding picture, so that means it’s where we’re supposed to wind up. You know, that’s the epitome, back to the market place. And in that bag, is everything. And wherever he winds up, the right thing comes out. You know, wherever it is. So that’s just a beautiful way, for me. Hotei is also considered a Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha To Come—the Messiah in a different terminology. And then the club thing—so, we all have clubs, and that’s just the way life is I think. One thing that we could do is try to see if we can have some passageways between our club and other clubs. It’s not . . . I don’t think it makes sense to try to eliminate clubs, because they exist. And if you can make passageways—there’s even a . . . when the scientific analysis of connectivity started to happen—remember the early days, all these books about stuff—and one of the interesting phenomena’s for web people, was that if you only sent out your messages to groups that are like you, you were creating a small island. That you should—this is a mathematical theory—you should send your messages to those that are nothing like you, because then you start winding up with an interconnected world. You know, the Internet is just another expression of Indra’s Net, which is the expression of the interconnectedness of life. So, the same with these clubs—create passageways, no matter how subtle, and all of the sudden, the life becomes broader. And then, and sometimes it happens that you connect bridges. So recently, I posted an article on my opinion page, it was a two-part article, the two-part discussion I had with Zalman Schachter. I don’t remember when, I think it was probably at Naropa—it doesn’t matter—but it was called Torah Dharma—Torah and Dharma. And he brought up at that time the hyphen. So, it’s like, you know there are Ju-Bu’s. They’re Jews, hyphen, Buddhist. So he brought up the importance of the hyphen, which I look at as a bridge between clubs. So it turns out that he and I, we do have a bridge. I’m his Buddhist teacher, he’s my Rabbi, and so that’s a little bit more work. But the passageway, that’s important. And the wildest passageway, the better. My friend, Jeff Bridges, he’s very involved in hunger projects. And he wants to go on the Rush Limbaugh Show. He will be at both Republican and Democratic conventions. Now he’s a very progressive Democrat, he’ll be playing at the Democratic Convention. But there are many Republican governors and people that are part of, have joined the End Hunger. They’ve got a theme, No Child Hungry. But that thing of—maybe think of that place you would never go, and maybe make a little bit of an open door between your club, and that club. And I think we definitely, we have to grow that way. If we just stay in our club, we can only grow within our club, you know. It just makes sense. Especially if it makes sense to a kid from Brooklyn, man, it’s gotta make sense to anybody. OK, so thank you all. And thank Roshi Joan for inviting me here.