Transcripts of Schmoozing Podcasts

bernieclownyonkers-rightAs I was driving my wife, Eve Marko, to the airport, she suggested that I should start a podcast on the Zen Peacemakers website where I would post my thoughts on the Dharma and on life. I agreed with her that this would be a good idea. I hope you enjoy my schmoozing that I will be posting on a regular basis.

By the way, In Leo Rosten’s book “The Joys of Yinglish”, he defines schmoozing as: “To have a warm, heart-to-heart talk with a friend.”

The Schmoozing Podcasts I have posted via Sound Cloud can be heard by linking here.

I have had a request to have these podcasts transcribed so those in the deafhood can read them. Scott Harris has volunteered to do the transcriptions and they will be posted here as he completes the transcriptions.

Plunging in Israel-Palestine

In January 1994—it was my 55th birthday—I did a retreat in Washington, DC, bearing witness to the question of what should I do to serve those rejected by society, those in poverty, and those with AIDS? As a result of bearing witness in that retreat—I had gone there with no ideas of what to do. I had completed work on a major project in Yonkers, NY called Greyston, but I had no idea what I should be doing. So I sat in a five-day retreat, and I sat with that question. I bore witness to that question. And out of that came the vision of a container for people wanting to do spiritually based social action. I discussed it with my wife at the time, Jishu, and we decided on developing the Zen Peacemaker Order. And that is now being revitalized.

Now, in August 2014, I am faced with another question that has been burning a hole in my soul. For many years my wife Eve and I worked in the Middle East, in Palestine, in Israel, in Jordan. We had staff there. Eve was going there every two months. I was going every three or four months. We worked for many years. And then we stopped to build a big retreat center in Montague, NY.

And recently—as most of you who are listening to this know—there’s been major battles going on between Israel and Gaza (Hamas and Gaza). Even before that happened, I had become so frustrated with what’s going on between Israel and Palestine that I took an easy way out, which many of us do. I boycotted. I decided I wouldn’t read anything about it, and I would stop going there—even though I had family there, even though my wife is Israeli, and all her family is there, and we had been going twice a year. I stopped going. And I stopped reading the Israeli newspapers, which I used to do on a daily basis. That is an easy way out called denial, boycotting, avoiding. And it’s not in my nature to do that—although it’s in the nature of all of us to do that with issues that are too frustrating to deal with. So recently, just within the past few weeks, I decided I have to go to Israel—actually to a place where I can invite some Israeli activists, and Palestinian activists to join me if they wish, in a retreat. And I’m choosing a place in the West Bank, called A Tent for All Nations on a hilltop surrounded by settlements. And it’s a place where conferences for peace have been held, and all kinds of peace activities—and where settlers on a regular basis come in and destroy trees, and destroy properties.

So I’m going to go and sit for three days, with no idea what to do, and bear witness to the whole gestalt of what’s happening there—the occupation, the siege, the rockets, the killing back and forth. I will sit and bear witness to what’s happening there. And I will take the actions that arise out of that not knowing, and bearing witness. These are the Three Tenets of Zen Peacemakers. The action may be to do nothing. But whatever actions arise out of that bearing witness, I will take.

And as I said, I’ll invite a few people too, that are activists right now, both in Israel and Palestine to join me if they wish. And after that—even if nothing comes up—I will bear witness to individuals in Israel (right wing, and liberal), to Palestinians (in Israel, and in West Bank), and hopefully with some people in Gaza—to bear witness to their stories, and their gestalt.

I’ll report back after I do this.

Actions From Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Propagate Those Cells

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

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

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

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

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

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

May these cells propagate.

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


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

And the fish says, “What water?”

You say, “You are water.”

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

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

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

So intimacy is like fish and water.


Wow It’s a Vow

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, bye.

Roshi Peter Muryo Matthiessen

All photos by Peter Cunningham, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Roshi Peter Muryo Matthiessen was a master novelist, naturalist, and literary voice for nature—an acclaimed activist concerned with ecological issues, and the rights of indigenous peoples, social justice. He was a Zen teacher—a Zen Master, a Buddhist priest—Zen Buddhist priest, and founder of The Paris Review. He has written over thirty fiction and nonfiction books, and a plethora of powerful, deeply researched and artfully crafted articles. He was my first Dharma successor. And I gave him inka, that is, he became a Zen Master in January of ’97.

I first met him in 1976 at the opening ceremony for Dai Bosatsu Zendo, in the Catskills of New York. He told me that he wanted to leave his studies with Eido Shimano Roshi, and was looking for a new teacher, and we talked. And he said he would like to come study with Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles. So we set that up, and he started to do that. He lived in New York at that time (and until he passed away just a few days ago, April 5th, 2014)—has lived in the same place in Long Island, in the Hamptons—Sagaponack.

So he started to travel to Los Angeles, to come to Zen Center of Los Angeles to study with my teacher Maezumi Roshi. And since I was also teaching at the time, he was also studying with me. And he was one of the reasons that I moved back to New York—the state in which I was born—in December of ’79. There were a number of students asking me to move back to New York, and ready to start study, and he was one of them. And in fact [he] came on board of the Zen Community of New York in ’78, as we were starting to form how the Zen Community of New York would look.

peter muryo rick streetAnd from the beginning, he was one of the stronger students I had. He was studying all the time, coming to all the retreats, and in fact, he became my major student. And accompanied me in all of the Bearing Witness type events that I started to do. He was on the first three retreats. He was on our first Bearing Witness retreat at Auschwitz. He came again, then later on, came again.

bernie, muryo96


And during the first retreat at Auschwitz, it so moved him, he decided to write a book about (as he said at the time) about human nature. That book is almost out. It’s been published, and this is April 7th, I believe the book comes out in about one week. And it’s already had wonderful reviews.


muryo-maezumi-bernieHe decided to ordain, and did that with my teacher Maezumi Roshi. I helped in that ceremony, and I’ll be posting various pictures, and some of them are his novice priest ceremony.  And he ordained in Riverdale at the Zen Community of New York. And we were calling this center—the facility was called Greyston. He ordained in ’81. And he was going to be the first head, or senior priest that I was to have—in a three-month training program, in New York.

muryo,bernie,basho-stoneAnd so before that, I thought it would be good to do a pilgrimage to Japan with him, to go to all of the various places that figure in my lineage. And also, since he was such a wonderful poet, and writer, and naturalist, we also followed the trail of Basho, the famous Japanese poet and naturalist. And that was quite an amazing trip. We continued each day to do Koan study together. And that resulted in a book he wrote called The Nine-Headed Dragon River.

We came back. We had the training—the three-month training program, which he led. And then he became the first senior student—senior priest—at the Zen Community of New York.

He’s an amazing person—a very humble person. You know, he had done so much, written so much, had so many awards, and knew so many people. But he was very serious about his Zen studies, as well of course as all his work with particularly the Lakota, but various indigenous groups; with the environment; with the causes of the fisherman. He worked with Cesar Chavez, in union farm issues—very serious and very humble. You never heard him dropping names or resting on his laurels.

I love the man. I’ll always love the man.

And I want to end with two episodes. At the age of eighty, he was going home and it was a dark night, and a deer jumped out. And as they sometimes do, he hit the deer with his car. And he felt fatally wounded, and the deer limped away into the forest. And Peter was eighty, I believe at the time had some problems with his foot, but the thought of this poor deer dying a slow death—a painful death—really disturbed him. So he stopped his car, got out of the car, crawled into the woods to find the deer, and ended his life so that he wouldn’t be in misery. This is at the age of eighty.

He died at the age of eighty-seven. And his senior priest, Sensei Michel Engu Dobbs—a wonderful man who I feel will carry on Peter’s work in the zendo in a beautiful way—Michel spent much of the last few days with Peter. And Peter was already—he was in the hospital, he was on a lot of morphine—he was dying. And the last few days he didn’t speak. He didn’t speak. And he died on Saturday. And he came home from the hospital on Friday, to die at home in hospice. And Thursday night, Engu Michel was with Peter at the hospital. And as I said, Peter wasn’t speaking, but Michel saw on the TV screen it was Fox News. And so he said to Peter, “Are you watching Fox News?” Peter said, “No!” And then he said, “Do you want me to change the channel?” And Peter said, “Yes!” And so Zen Master Peter Muryo Matthiessen’s final dying words were “Get Fox News off of that TV!”

Read his books, and enjoy his writings.

Link here to read the New York Times Magazine article about his latest book and his life.

Groking, Second Foundation, and Bearing Witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK. That’s it for today. Bye.

Optimism, Pessimism, Hope and Expectations

Hello. I’d like to share with you some thoughts of mine—I should say “opinions”—about optimism, pessimism, hope, and expectations. And maybe we can throw in vow—no, I think that’s a whole other subject.

So, I’m not very optimistic. And I’m not very pessimistic. I have a lot of hope, and hardly any expectations. Expectations pop up all the time. And I have to admit that even though I feel we shouldn’t have expectations, I have them all the time. And one of the signs of having expectations is that I get frustrated. I think expectations inevitably lead to frustration.

I define hope as basically hoping that something will happen, therefore working as hard as I can to make that thing happen. And having goals—for example, when I started to work in Yonkers and homelessness, I said, “we’re gonna end homelessness.” That was my hope—in Yonkers, in Westchester. That was my hope. But I had no expectation—therefore, I wasn’t frustrated—although we did reduce homelessness by 75 percent over the years. But we worked as hard as we could, and what happened is what happened.

It reminds of a time when we were working in the Middle East. And many groups were working in the Middle East. And there was a period around the year 2000 where everybody thought there would be peace. It was so close. Between the Israelis and the Palestinians—it was so close. And then, it all fell apart. And there were so many different groups working for peace—both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. And most of those groups fell apart. And they fell apart because of frustration. Their expectation was so high. And it didn’t happen. And the frustration became unbearable, and the groups fell apart. Those groups that continued, in my opinion, basically were working for peace because that’s what you should do. They didn’t have any expectations, even though it was so close. They had a lot of hope. And they worked very hard. But because there were no expectations, there were minimal frustrations. And they could continue working.

So that leads me to optimism and pessimism. I tend to—in my opinion—I do fairly good at leading my life based on what is happening.  That is, I’m not optimistic that something’s going to occur. And I’m not pessimistic that it won’t occur. I feel optimism and pessimism in a way is like expectations. It creates frustration.

I try to live according to the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. That is, to approach everything without any—without holding on to any idea of what should happen, or what might happen, or in that way. And to try to bear witness to what’s going on. That is to be in the moment—to try to be in the moment.  And then let whatever comes up come up.

So, no optimism, no pessimism, just being here now—do the best I can. That’s my opinion, man.

Bye, for now.

Are you listening?

Hi. Are you listening?

So, I’ve been thinking about listening. I just did a workshop in Seattle, Washington, at a synagogue called Bet Alef. It’s a meditative synagogue. And the workshop was on Saturday. But the evening before—Friday evening—I attended the services, and they asked me to lead them in meditation. And it was a beautiful service. And of course, we chanted the Shema.

The Shema is a prayer that’s chanted many times a day by religious Jews. And some of the words of the Shema are placed in mezuzahs. Mezuzahs are the items that you see in Jewish households when you enter the doorway. And in that item that’s nailed to the doorpost are some words from the Shema.

Shema means listen. And it reminded me that the beginning of all the Buddhist sutras is “listen” (“thus have I heard” actually). And we use that phrase, “thus have I heard” as a koan. Because that first phrase “thus have I heard,” in a sense we call that “listen.” In a way, that’s the essence of all of the sutras. That’s the essence of all of the teachings. And the rest of the sutras I would call commentary.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Icon of Compassion in Japanese is called Kannon, or Kanzeon. And Kan is to deeply listen, on—the sounds, ze—the earth. Kanzeon is to deeply listen to the sounds of the Earth—Shema in Hebrew.

In Zen Peacemakers, one of the important practices that we do is the way of council. And one of the principals in the way of council is to listen from the heart.  Not from the brain, from the heart.

At the workshop in Seattle, I met Leah Green who is the founder of a beautiful not-for-profit called the Compassionate Listening Project. And whenever we do peace work at our bearing witness retreats, we do council and talk about listening from the heart.

I studied for a year with Krishnamurti. It was quite a while ago. We would meet, for about a year, on  weekends, a group of people, he’d talk with us. And he would try to bring us to a state of what he called “learning.” And he would ask, “What is learning?” And that state of learning was the state of deep listening. Because if you hear things from the brain—that is, if you hear things through the concepts and ideas we have in our bag—you can’t learn anything new. You’ve already got this concept tucked away that you’re attached to. And everything you see is seen through that filter (or heard).

So listening is not just from the ears. We listen with the full body. We listen with our whole sense—with all our energy. And in fact, in that Hebrew prayer, the Shema, the words that are written on the doorsteps—and actually I use those words in our Buddhist liturgy, The Gate of Sweet Nectar—those words are “with all our might.” Be ready. Listen. Be there with no attachment to anything. Just keep listening.

Have you heard that?

OK. Till next time, keep on listening.


Black Holes, the Big Bang and Not Knowing

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

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

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

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

So in our not knowing tenet, that question is, “What happened to all of the information?” Indra’s Net—this net that extends throughout all space and time—contains everything, all information. So at the singularity, there’s a total state of not knowing, where’s the information, man? What happened to it?

In terms of black holes, this information paradox (they call it an information paradox) has puzzled researchers for decades. Recently, some scientists (and now I have shifted to their opinion) have attempted to answer this question by exploring the idea that the universe—which is assumed in their opinions and my opinion, to have started with the Big Bang—that it actually emerged from a big bounce, following an earlier contracting phase. Quantum gravitational effects produce an effective repulsive force.  So that matter wouldn’t have collapsed into a singularity, but it would have just reached a maximum compact state.

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

This way, the universe would bounce when the energy density matter reaches the smallest possible size in physics, causing the universe to expand again. And then possibly collapse again, and so on—back and forth. That is, the expansion spreads out through all space and time. Then it contracts at some point, gets back to this minimal point, bounces back, and so we have an infinite cycle of universes.

A similar idea has been proposed for the fate of the collapsing matter of a dying star. Researchers say that quantum effects would stop the collapse of a star before it could shrink to a singularity. The star would then become a super compact object, bounce back during the evaporation process of a black hole, and finally explode. Everything eventually would have fallen into the black hole, would be released.

Researchers say that as a black hole evaporates and shrinks, it’s boundary will at some point meet maximum compact state. When that happens, there is no black hole arising any more. And all information trapped inside the black hole can escape. In this case, the information would simply be reemitted into the universe.

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

That’s just my opinion, man. Have a great day.

Is the Dharma Glutton Free?

I was eating in the Stone Soup Café, which is a new model for soup kitchens that is run by Ari Plisken. Just to give him the kudos he deserves, it’s a wonderful café, building community, having music, entertainment, things for kids to do, and great food. And the food includes gluten-free, vegetarian, and food with meat.

Last Saturday when I was there, I ran into an old friend, Chris Queen, who you might know as the editor of Social Engaged Buddhism in the West and also in the East. And he was taking his food, and we were sitting together at the table. And he started talking about how he enjoys the gluten-free food, and that the gentleman next to him was really piling it up and he was some sort of glutton.

And it struck me that in Buddhism we know that we are full of attachments to our ideas. And in fact, in Zen one of the principal practices is to let go of these attachments. That is, we are glutted with these attachments to our concepts. And being glutted, there’s no room for observing and experiencing things as they arise. Rather, we evaluate them due to our large supply of concepts and opinions of which we are attached to.

So gluten-free is supposed to be healthy for us. It’s getting rid of things that are bad for our health. And the state of not knowing is also very healthy for us. It lets us get rid of our attachments to the concepts and opinions that we have, so that we can experience things as they arise.

So for all of you eaters, please also let go of your gluten view of attachments.


To Know or Not to Know, is that the question?

To know, or not to know, that is the question.

From birth on, we are trained and taught to know things by their labels—by our concepts of things. So as a little kid, at some point, a kid points to daddy, and eventually says “Dad, Daddy!” And we’re all so excited. We say, “Wow, this kid is great! Look how fast he’s learning!” And then as we grow up, we go to school. And we learn concepts and ideas. And our bag of knowledge grows and grows. And all that’s great, I think—in my opinion.

And what’s the problem? Why do we stress not knowing? Maybe because to me having that bag of knowledge is one thing. Being attached to that bag of knowledge, and experiencing things not as they are, but as we’ve labeled them—as we’ve been taught what they are—from our concepts and ideas of what they are. That really ties us down. We can’t experience things as they are. We experience them as the brain—we digitize them as the brain has stored them in different data cells. We reach into those data cells. And we think that’s what it is we’re experiencing right now.

So we teach. And we learn how to let go of those attachments—how to experience things as they are.

To know, and yet not to know. That is what we’re all about, in my opinion.

Thank you for listening. Bye.

Healing Oneself and Others

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

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

When we bear witness, when we become a situation, homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death, the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out the solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness.

Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises, loving action is right action.

It’s the simplest giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who was falling on the floor.

We take such direct and natural actions every day in our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special. Each is simply the best possible response to that situation in that moment that we can do.

In the Zen Peacemakers Order we commit ourselves to healing others at the same time that we heal ourselves. We don’t wait to be peaceful, before we become peace. We don’t wait to be enlightened before we act. In fact, when we see the world as one body, when we experience the world as one body, it is obvious that we heal everyone at the same time that we heal ourselves. For there are no Others!

This is just my opinion, man

Who is It That is Blind?

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

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

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

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

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


Just my Opinion on Tradition, Tradition, Man

Hi. I just recently came back from a meeting of lay Zen teachers. And there were about twenty teachers there. And many of the people talked about tradition. And they’re dealing with changing some of what they call the tradition that the priests in their sanghas label as tradition. And I have to tell you that tradition hits one of my spots where I go a little berserk.

The word tradition is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by people in a particular group, families, society for a long time.

So I trained in Zen Buddhism, and I got involved about fifty-eight years ago. And I trained with my main teacher—I called my root teacher—Maezumi Roshi. Starting to train with him every day from 1963 until I eventually moved to start my own Zen center in New York. I’m originally from New York. And the training I did was at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. And my teacher, Maezumi Roshi was born in a very traditional Japanese Soto Zen family. His father was not so traditional. He was a major figure in the Soto sect. But he was also the President of the Buddhist community in Japan. And he made a lot of decisions that the fundamentalists in the Soto sect got mad at him for.

Maezumi Roshi, when he was going to college—Buddhist University, Komazawa—actually lived in a dojo of a lay teacher named Koryu Roshi. Koryu Roshi, I consider my heart teacher. I passed my first koans with him. I first went to Japan and completed about a hundred koans with him. But Koryu Roshi’s teacher, named Joko Roshi, was very upset with the priests in Japan. He didn’t like that there were so many alcoholics, so much womanizing going on. And in his opinion, not that much interest in the Dharma, but in making money out of the funeral process in Japan.  (I’ll talk more about that in a later Podcast.) So he created an organization called Shakyamuni Kai, and didn’t allow any priests to train there. But Koryu Roshi made an exception of Maezumi Roshi and one or two other people. Maezumi Roshi was a priest in the Japanese Soto sect. But he trained in koans, studied with him, and he trained in a lay format.

And then he also trained with another teacher that was from the Japanese Soto sect, Yasutani Roshi. And Yasutani Roshi was upset with the Japanese Soto sect because they only allowed priests to become teachers. And the main work of the Japanese Soto priest is to do funerals. Very few do meditation. And very few are interested in experiencing the interconnectedness of life.

So Yasutani Roshi started his own group called Sanbo Kyodan. And he allowed anyone to join. And he used all kinds of techniques. And in fact, many people from other religions studied within the Sanbo Kyodan. Some you know—Father Lassalle.

OK, so that was Maezumi’s background. And then he came to the States to work in a Japanese temple. But he also went to study with a lay teacher. A famous teacher to do koan study with him—Senzaki Sensei. And Senzaki Sensei was a very unique person. It would be hard to say what tradition he was following. And in fact, when I started to work with Maezumi Roshi, most of the Japanese people were saying that Maezumi Roshi’s so untraditional. That meant he wasn’t doing exactly what they did.

And then as we trained in L.A., my teacher, Maezumi Roshi would tell me when I’m finished, please spit out everything that I think won’t work in this culture, and create forms—new forms—that will be appropriate for this time and age in the West.

So my teacher’s very untraditional. And I might say that was his tradition. And I inherited that tradition of being untraditional. I also was trained in most of the methods of the Japanese Soto sect, which is basically liturgy. And also in two different koan systems. So I did a lot of training that goes back a ways. But the thing I learned working with Maezumi Roshi is that what people call “tradition” generally goes back only to their teacher, or at most, to their teacher’s teacher.

After all, if we look at Shakyamuni Buddha, from which this all came, there’s nothing in the days of Shakyamuni Buddha that would have agreed with Kamakura Zen or later forms of Buddhism that arose. And there are, of course, especially in the Theravada tradition, many people that try to keep the tradition practiced by The Buddha. And that has caused other kinds of problems.

The Vinaya, as set out by Shakyamuni Buddha, as we know had a distinction between men and women. There are many rules and regulations that made sense in that time, but lost the sense later on. And so trying to keep to the way Shakyamuni Buddha practiced would get many many people upset nowadays. In terms of gay practice, and gender issues, and many other things.

And as you know, I am also Jewish. I love the Jewish word mishegas. Mishegas is a Yiddish word (Yiddish means Jewish) which basically means nonsense, or a fixation. Now in Buddhism, we train to be able to get rid of the goal of our fixations, to keep our ideas and concepts, but not fixations around them, not the entanglements, the attachments to them. So mishegas is a fixation. And when I hear people talk about their Buddhist tradition, what comes up in my mind is that they’re talking about their mishegas.

As a final statement, I would like to remind us that Shakyamuni Buddha is quoted as expressing the opinion that the only constant in life is that life is constantly changing.

Have a good day.

Just my Opinion on Sameness and Diversity

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

Big Bang, Karma, and Reincarnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now all of this is just my opinion, so thank you. Until next time . . .