Much of Zen practice, including many teaching techniques used by Zen masters, is aimed at bringing the Zen practitioner to this same place of unknowing, of letting go of what he or she knows. After walking through Auschwitz and Birkenau, there is an end to thought. We are numbed. All we can do is see the endless train tracks on the snow, feel the icy cold of a Polish winter on our bare hands, smell the rotting wood in the few remaining barracks, and listen to the names of the dead.Read More
A Day with Bernie Glassman
Since the 1980s, Roshi Bernie Glassman has become a familiar figure to readers of Buddhist journals like Tricycle and Shambhala Sun. But now the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time magazine can scarcely report on the explosion of interest in American Buddhism without mentioning street retreats — penniless week-long excursions into lower-Manhattan led by Roshi Bernie –and the Greyston Foundation, a mandala of for-profit and not-for-profit businesses that serve the poor in Glassman’s adopted neighborhood of Yonkers, NY. Indeed, the vision of urban renewal and human reclamation only dimly imagined by ’60s radicals is vividly embodied in the work Glassman and his community have done in this often forgotten corner of affluent Westchester county.Read More
In thinking about the possibility for forgiveness, my first thought was that I don’t have the power to forgive anyone; in fact, it’s hubris for me to think that I can forgive someone else. At the same time, as a Zen Buddhist teacher, I believe that we are all one body, that no one is excluded from the Circle of Life. All of us–men, women, children, the killers, the killed, the tormentors, and the tormented–are billions of cells of one body.
If this is the case, whom are we forgiving? If we’re all one, what does it mean for an SS officer to ask a Jew for forgiveness ?Read More
Founders’ Excellent Adventure
Always challenging, always surprising, Roshi Bernard Tetsugen Glassman is one of the most provocative figures of American Buddhism. An aeronautical engineer who began his Zen practice in the late fifties, Glassman is one of the dharma heirs of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and upon Maezumi Roshi’s death, was given charge of his worldwide sangha.
Yet it seems the life of the settled Zen teacher cannot satisfy the restless, visionary mind of Roshi Bernie Glassman. At his base in Yonkers, New York, he established a multifaceted social service agency called the Greyston mandala, showing a capacity unique in the Buddhist world to attract high profile supporters and millions of dollars in public funding.Read More
Harvard Divinity School Lectures: Bearing Witness
For me the three Zen Peacemaker tenets of not-knowing, bearing witness, and loving actions are almost the answer to everything.
It is very important that we understand what is meant by them. From the questions you sent in this week, I sense that there is still confusion about what is meant by “not-knowing,” and “bearing witness.” When there is loss or fear, if one can bear witness to what is happening, the terminology becomes very different; You would no longer necessarily use words like “loss.” Certainly, when loss occurs, you are not bearing witness, so you talk about it as loss. Or when the fear rises, you are not bearing witness, and you deal with fear. But as one bears witness, radical changes occur.Read More
Holy Week in the Streets
I wish to talk about going on the streets during Holy Week, the week of Easter, the week of Passover, one of the saddest and most joyous times of the year. I go on the streets at other times of the year, too, and each occasion is special in its own way, but the streets feel different during Holy Week. The re-membrance and caring that spring to life during that time are unmistakable and unforgettable To give you a feel for what I mean, let me describe the 1996 Holy Week street retreat.Read More
A House of One People
One obvious obstacle to a House of One People is that not all people want to come together in a spirit of oneness, certainly not those who spill blood in the name of Christ or Allah or Jehovah. Celebrating diversity, however, is also not simple. In our secular society it’s all too easy to minimize the differences between the religions. Many claim that all religions are nothing other than different manifestations of some ultimate reality. Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, and Confucius are all put into one neat category, as though they’re interchangeable.Read More
I think of Issan Dorsey as the shadow in many people’s lives. He was a drug addict, he was gay, he appeared in drag, and he died of AIDS. For many years he lived right on the edge, befriending junkies, drag queens and alkies who lived precariously like him, on the fringes of society. When he died, a Zen teacher and priest, he was still befriending and caring for those whom our society rejected then and continues to reject now, people ill with the AIDS virus.Read More
Memories of Maezumi Roshi
I first met Maezumi Roshi in 1963. At that time, he was a young Soto monk working in Los Angeles at Zenshuji under Sumi Roshi, then Sokan of North America. I attended a small zazenkai at Zenshuji. Although I had some familiarity with zazen, walking mediation was new for me. So I asked Sumi Roshi, “What are we doing during walking meditation?” Sumi Roshi turned to Maezumi Sensei and indicated that he should answer. “When we walk, we just walk,” was the young monk’s reply. Even today I am struck by the simplicity and directness of this teaching. It has guided me throughout all these years.Read More
Bernie Glassman Sees No Boundaries
In the inner city of Yonkers, New York, Roshi Bernard Glassman has a big vision, big ambition and a big vow to help all beings in need. If his audacious experiment works, he hopes (with a smile) it will replicate all over the universe.Read More
The Three Pure Precepts and Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It’s our teachers that come from Japan, from the west, carrying the torch. It’s all of us coming from wherever we came from, gathered here. Why did we come here? What are we carrying? What are our teachers carrying? What is it that we want to receive? And what is it that we don’t want to receive?Read More
Reflections on the Beginnings of the Zen Peacemaker Order
Starting from scratch means starting from unknowing. You get a piece from here and you get a piece from there and you put them together. We have no idea how the end will look. We may have a vision of how we’d like it to look, but we don’t really know. This is a very hard practice, but if we can start with unknowing, with no right and no wrong, then there’s no problem. Nothing can come out wrong.Read More
Partnership Beyond Death
I followed a daily schedule.
In the mornings I took a bath. Then I sat in front of my wife’s picture. Sometimes I listened to music. Sometimes I looked at the birds outside.
I read and re-read the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, whom she admired. I played with her dogs. I read her journals.
During the rest of the day I worked on the formation of the Peacemaker Community and developed its web site. I was available to teachers and senior students, usually by phone.
Sometimes I laughed and said that in comparison to the way I worked over the past 30 years, I was not doing anything. But when the sun went down I was exhausted and I went to bed early. For I was actually working very hard. I was bearing witness.
There are many ways of studying the precepts. What I would like to do here is to use the 8th precept to illustrate a way of actually practicing with the precepts. There are two parts to this practice, as I see it. One is to use one’s imagination to extend the narrower, more literal meaning of the precept to cover much more than we normally think of. By doing this the precept can come alive for each of us in our own individual lives in exactly the way it needs to. Once I identify the best way to understand the precept for me, then I can take it into my life and work with it.
I have a pop quiz for you today. There is only one question; it’s not an easy one. How long should a man’s leg be? A student told me it should be as long as the other leg! Not a bad answer, but it’s not the answer given by the famous person who asked this question. Any ideas?
This book by Joan Halifax tells us about a life that touches both suffering and joy. It is the story of a Western woman’s journey to compassion. It is also a book that explores engaged spirituality, a way of practicing compassionate action in the world.Read More
Buddhist Peace Work: Creating Cultures of Peace
Review by Joan Jiko Halifax
Edited by David Chappell
Many people have observed that where there is the deep shadow of suffering in the life of the world, then there is also penetrating light. Such are the lives, communities and work of the compassionate people in this important and wise book. This book explores the lives and actions, insights and guidelines of some of the world’s most beloved Buddhist practitioners, teachers, and social activists who are currently working to end suffering in the life of the world. These friends from different cultures and schools of Buddhism are all actively engaged in the singular activity of peacemaking. They express their work of compassion in profoundly diverse, wise and brave ways. And they have used the philosophy, practice, ethics, community building, and beauty of Buddhism to help with this endless work of compassion in action.Read More
A Practice of Compassionate Care of the Dying
The practice of Giving and Receiving is done to develop our compassion and our ability to be present for our own suffering and the suffering of others. It is also a practice of loving kindness, a practice that opens up our whole being to the overwhelming presence of suffering and our strength and willingness to transform suffering and confusion into peace and well-being through the energy of loving kindness.
Sending and receiving is one of the richest and bravest practices that we can do with people who are dying. In teaching this practice to caregivers for more than twenty years, I have been told again and again that this one practice has helped them immeasurably in attending to their own fears around pain, suffering and dying. This is one of the great meditation jewels that offers a way for us to cultivate natural mercy.Read More
Learning as Initiation: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Healing
In our culture, education means that we have been led out of ignorance into knowing and knowledge. Learning is described in terms of the accumulation of facts. In looking at how learning is experienced in tribal cultures, for example, we discover that the complement of education as we know it in the West is initiation, plunging inward. Initiation takes us into the unknown and is grounded in not-knowing. I propose that the initiatic dimension of learning is imperative for Western culture now.
The next phase of our study is called Aspects of our Lives and is a study of the precepts. The precepts are really the heart of our practice. This is where we truly meet ourselves, where we deal with the aspects of our embodied selves, aspects of our human condition. There is a ceremony called Jukai which means receiving the precepts which is a ceremony of becoming a Buddhist. During the ceremony you take refuge in the Three Treasures, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha and you receive the sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts. This ceremony is also called lay ordination. As preparation for this ceremony you make a Rakusu, which is a small version of the Buddhist robe and represents the Buddha’s Teachings.Read More
Every Day Life
Last week the question came up of how we can take this practice of awareness, or paying attention that we are developing while we’re doing sitting meditation, into our lives after the bell rings. Usually the first thing that we learn in our meditation practice is just how active our monkey minds really are. Sometimes when people begin meditating, they are astonished when they discover just how active their minds are. It’s the first time they’ve actually stopped to look at the activity of their minds.Read More
The opening section of this Sutra is called the convocation of the Assembly. I don’t know if Sutras are composed in sections like scenes in a play or if the sections were later superimposed to help in studying them. But as a curtain-raiser the Convocation of the Assembly makes dramatic sense. We bring together the audience, we call together the faithful, the Sangha or —we bring together all our faculties to study this Sutra. To study this Sutra, to practice Zen, to experience this moment, first focus all your faculties like the Diamond point of a drill.Read More
Dwelling in Unity
I noticed a Buddhist poster entitled Great Compassion Makes a Peaceful Earth in the Naropa library here, which shows baby leopards lying down with baby deer and pandas and every kind of creature of the forest and plain. It’s a little bit like the famous painting of the peaceable kingdom with lying down with lions. I think that this is often what our image of “dwelling in unity” is ….. That our lion nature will lie down with our lamb nature. That evil will somehow be tamed and good will prevail. Some of us enter into zen practice with the idea that we can finally root out those parts of us that we don’t like and transform ourselves into someone “wholly good.” Of course we are wholly good just as we are. As Rabbi Don said on Tuesday, we are the inner life of god.Read More
Fukan Zazen Gi
“Yet if there is the slightest deviation, you will be as far from the Way as heaven is from earth.” Dogen Zenji was always writing from two perspectives. What we call the Absolute and the Relative. We could call it the intrinsic and the experiential. Intrinsically we are perfect just as we are; when its cold we put on a sweater, when its hot we take it off, if we’re hungry we eat, if we’re tired we go to sleep. and it’s true of cats and dogs and birds and rivers and mountains as well. Dogs bark, birds chirp, rivers flow. Winter comes, spring comes, clouds form, rain falls. Whether we know it or not we are all part of the Way. We are in the midst of it. Not only that, we are the Way, just as we are! So how can we deviate?Read More
We’ve been studying the precepts, and with every one we say, I Vow. What does this mean? Why do we do this? What is it all about? Looking at these impossible vows, how do we practice? Having taken these vows, don’t we still get angry, depressed, frustrated? In the beginning we think that these feelings are obstacles on our path and a sign that we are not good Zen practitioners. But gradually we come to understand that this is our practice.Read More
Intro to Ox-Herding Pictures
About a year ago I started studying the ox herding pictures with Sensei Bernie. The ox herding pictures were developed by the Chinese. The Chinese are a very earthy and picture-loving people and tradition tells us that a master ching-chu first drew the ox herding pictures in the middle of the 11th century. He believed that the pictures would speak to the people at their level of understanding. You all know the Chinese proverb that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” These pictures are the story of man’s search for enlightenment, or as one commentator calls them, zen buddhism’s version of “the pilgrim’s progress.”Read More
What is Practice
The next phase of the “How to Raise and Ox” program is called the “Oars of Practice.” Here we will use the Paramitas as a practice vehicle to study ourselves trying to make a change in our habitual way of being.Read More
Who Am I
There are three kinds of views of self. The first is that this body is the self, or these feelings, perceptions mental formations, or consciousness are the self. This is “the belief in skandha as self,” and it is the first wrong view. But when one says, ‘The skandhas are not the self.’ one may fall into the second wrong view and believe that the self is something that exists independently from the skandhas and that the ‘skandha is different from the self.’ The third wrong view consists in the belief that there is a presence of the self in the skandhas, and there is the presence of the skandhas in the self. This is called ‘the belief in the presence of skandhas and self in each other.’
The House of One People is a place where the world sought for unity in diversity is housed. Here students from every race, tradition, and culture come and practice zazen. This House can be a zendo, a barn, a hall, the streets; any place where people come to live their vision and where teachers promote the highest ideals of Zen insight and integrity.
I have now been living and working in The Bronx, New York for fifty-one years. What I have relearned in these many years working in the second poorest Congressional District of the United States (second only to one in Mississippi) is that in order to serve one must have the openness and innocence of a child. That compassion and love for oneself and others is essential, and that being always mindful of the moment you are breathing is the way to heal yourself and others.Read More
Who goes, and who stays? Taking effective action usually means making up rules, but someone will always fall in the cracks. Then we have to make a tough decision. We get angry and defensive. Sometimes we blame that person because we can’t help her. We also get angry because we see our limits, the areas we can’t or don’t wish to deal with.Read More
And on Easter Sunday, which we celebrate tomorrow, he arose. Not just his spirit or his soul, but his body too was taken up to heaven. What does that mean? One way to look at it is that he completely realized his True Nature. Before he’d believed it. He’d walked in the desert and had a vision of it, but now there was no doubt. There was no separation among body, mind, or spirit, no separation anywhere. Only Buddha Nature.Read More
Gift of Fearlessness
There is another way of giving fearlessness… It’s sharing the fear and vulnerability, showing the trauma as it’s being healed. This is a way of giving not from our strength, not from what we have a lot of, but rather from what we perceive as weakness, from our own vulnerability, from the side we prefer to keep private.Read More
Talk in Honor of Sandra Jishu Angyo Holmes
Today’s talk is a reminiscence about the woman whose picture is up on the altar. Monday will be the 8th anniversary of the passing of Sandra Jishu Angyo Holmes, the Co-Founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order. Jishu was her Buddhist name. Angyo, which means peacemaker, was a name which members of the Zen Peacemaker Order received when they were installed in the Order.Read More
We’ve dedicated this one-day retreat to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow. I want to talk about a particular night in King’s life, a dark night of the soul that he said changed him completely.Read More
The Search for Meaning
Meaning is something that gives coherence to the chaos of life. Our search for meaning is what brings us into the zendo, and it’s that very search for meaning that keeps us floundering and faltering. When we ask the question–What’s the meaning of it all?– the only answer we can give comes out of our idea of coherence and chaos.Read More
Not Thinking Ill of the Three Treasures
The temptation of cynicism is often there. Thinking ill of the Three Treasures is very profound cynicism. What does it mean to think ill of the Buddha? It means thinking ill of liberation, of awakening from delusion. It means denying that there is liberation from suffering. This has a profound effect not only on the person thinking this but also on the people around her.Read More
What to Talk About
What should I speak about today? We all have moments when we feel there’s nothing to say. We open our eyes, we look around, and no special insights or perceptions appear. We feel talked out, written out, thought out. There are traditional koans that deal with this. Nor is this something that just happens to me. Probably many of us here come to a point when we feel there’s nothing to say. Things are what they are, and any expression feels superfluous.Read More
…day in and day out, the prison environment communicates one thing to prisoners–shame. As we go about our day, it’s built into the wake-ups, the body counts, our prison jobs, the mainline stampedes to the mess hall and the body searches upon leaving, the periodic room shakedowns and urine drops for drug testing, and the “bend them over and spread’em” full body searches coming and going from the visiting room. There are continual messages built into the system and consciously and unconsciously reinforced by staff and prisoners alike reminding us that we are second class human beings at best–just a body to count, of no real value other than as grist for the mill of the growth-oriented corrections industry. Even when staff and prisoners exchange pleasantries or good-natured banter, the subtle or not so subtle message is almost always there: “You’re an inmate, a thug, a criminal; I’m not. I am a human being. I count; you don’t.”Read More
Denver Street Retreat
The sharing by the women in our afternoon council after their return from the women’s shelter called, “The Gathering Place,” were more than I could have imagined.They seem to have shared an experience of having a direct encounter with the divine, manifest through the women then met at the shelter, both the staff and the clients, and in particular one homeless woman they shared lunch with.Read More
We say that the giver, receiver, and the gift itself are empty and peaceful. This is our standard for dana paramita: the giver is empty of self, the receiver is empty of self, and the thing given is empty of self. Simply selfless. Without this wisdom, giving is an ego trip. How can we cross over to a life where benefiting others is more important than our own self-interests? Unsurpassable giving is realizing that there is no one who possesses and that there is nothing to possess. When we realize this, giving and receiving is done without any thought of loss or gain.Read More
Blessing for the Journey
Let us vow to remember the causes of suffering and to practice an end to suffering. I shall accept all that I cannot change, and let my heart be broken.Read More
Plunge: Skid-Row Los Angeles Street Retreat
During the first week of August, Genro and I took ten people on a three-day street retreat in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. We call this practice a plunge: throwing oneself into an environment radically different from our accustomed habitat, so that we may enter into and be taught by not-knowing.Read More
In the Practice Circle, the Oneness of Buddha is the teaching of Unknowing. Unknowing means that in this sphere of equality or sameness, we do not recognize any differences. Unknowing manifests as openness to whatever arises; all that arises is dissolved back into unknowing. It is the perspective of equanimity and tolerance, the broadest of all perspectives.Read More
Early Saturday morning on March 21st, Daiken called to tell me that Sensei Jishu had died at 11:25 p.m. the night before on the first day of Spring. She was 57. I kept thinking that my generation of Dharma teachers is not supposed to die just yet.Read More
Kalyanamitra is the Sanskrit word for spiritual friendship. This friendship is something much more than someone to hang out with, but rather connotes a person or even a thing that becomes our guide, a teacher, and serves to inspire us along our path to awakening.Read More
Woman Acquiring the Essence
As I began to explore my female Buddha ancestors, I sensed the lineage of women as a spiral, moving in wide, all-encompassing circles. I sensed, too, that in swallowing and promoting the male-dominated forms and milieu of my inherited tradition, I had concealed myself as a woman to myself and to other women. Here I was a woman stepping into the shoes of the patriarchs, so-to-speak. So where were the matriarchs? Where were the women to mentor me?Read More
You will be Buddha
What kind of shift is necessary for us to declare from the depths of our being that each and every person will become Buddha? One of the most endearing aspects of this bodhisattva, whom Shakyamuni says was no other than himself in a past life, is his simple practice of respecting others by recognizing their Buddha nature. No “buts” — just respecting others!Read More
From the perspective of the one body, the body that sees one absolute reality which connects all beings, compassion for anyone or anything is automatic. In fact, it can hardly be called compassion: when the left hand is burning, the right hand comes to its aid, naturally, without thought. Seen in this way, compassion for a person with HIV/AIDS presents no special problem. Seeing our selves as the one body, we can say, “we all have AIDS.” And therefore we will take responsibility for caring for those with HIV/AIDS. The catch, of course, is, how do we see the world as one body?Read More
When we begin sitting, we are often immediately relieved that we’ve finally sat down and started to practice. We settle into the quiet and we bliss out for a while. But then, if we are really aware, we discover that we may be actually less comfortable than we were before. Somehow, things we have buried or numbed start to surface. One of the things we might become aware of is how angry we actually are.Read More
A very old verse treasured by Zen Buddhists is the verse of the Faith Mind. It’s a classic, and in a way, very Taoist description of the balanced state of mind, the state of Shikan. Some of you consider that you do shikantaza, and I encourage you to practise that. It’s a practice that requires a lot of concentration; it’s not just sitting down and mulling over your life by any means. It’s learning to allow each and every thought to drop away until you’re just in that beautiful, wonderful space of the moment. And when you’re in that space there’s no judging yourself or others, everything’s just fine — just there — whatever it is. And even if you are dying, and in a way we are all dying, when you’re in that space it’s O.K. — that’s just where it is right then.Read More
The old song “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” is a song about being distracted from what’s going on, from action, by art. To the accompaniment of a magnetic melody, the singer talks about misplaced priorities and the lyrics tell of allowing the means to take precedence over the goal… Of course. The challenge arises when we upset the priorities, as the song says, and allow the WAY it is done to obscure WHAT is done. “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” is a songwriter’s warning, a red flag. Be alert, be attentive.Read More
A woman said recently in my office, “I’m exhausted,” and wept.
A man looked out the window, was still a few moments, and then said, “I can’t lie to myself anymore about this.”
These are moments of truth. They are the moments when we feel that whatever we’ve discovered or found can’t be reduced any further. We’ve come to the very bottom, there is nothing more left to unpack. This is it!
It sometimes takes years to come to these moments of truth. And when we do, the potential for healing arises.Read More
In 1996 I realized that without entering that darkness we sustain the illusions that create the event. So now my heart tells me to go to Auschwitz every year, with other Jews and non-Jews who are drawn to dwell there for a while, to look, listen and bear witness, to let the heart break without the protection of the “golden calf of scorn.”Read More
The Meaning of One
Once when I was preparing for the High Holy Days, I told Maezumi Roshi that in Hebrew the holy days are called the Days of Awe, the Ten Days of Repentance. “Mmmm,” he pondered. “Repentance?” He looked me in the eyes and said, “We call sitting repentance.” Then he smiled. Delighted, I am sure, that he had hit the mark. He had shown the one heart in the two traditions.Read More
Introduction to Shaviti
This book is the true testimony of a man who knocked on the gates of Hell in order to reenter and discover the meaning of the events he lived through many years before in the Auschwitz death camp. He wrote his first testimony a few months after World War II in a transit camp in Italy, still wearing his “Auschwitz shrouds.” He was not expected to live. Racing death he wrote as in a trance, completing the book Salamander in exactly two and a half weeks.Read More
This expedition to Chiapas proved highly successful on several fronts, both that of performing in the communities and of investigating the possibilites of a long term project.Read More
Trip to Kosova
Here is the report on my recent trip to Kosova. In a nutshell, lots of good work in a desecrated landscape with hopeful people bracing for a tough winter.Read More