5) You are the founder of the Zen-Peacemakers and you initiated many social projects within the last decades: AIDS-houses, the Greyston bakery, housing-projects for homeless people. Your newest project is the foundation of Zen-houses. Can you explain what they’re for and what the idea is behind them?
Once as a kid, I heard some bums philosophically discussing Sunday comics. I thought ‘what wisdom! I gotta’ go live on the streets with these guys.’ Later, reading The Iceman Cometh made me want to live in the Bowery. While talking with a friend in college, I made three vows 1.to live on a kibbutz 2. to live in a monastary 3. to live on the streets of Bowery. By the time I started to work in New York in 1980, I had done the first two. I thougth “Before starting to work with poor, why not do # 3?“ That led to the first street retreat.
After my first street retreat, I noticed that all the groups providing services were Christian. We experienced all the different ways of service at the different places from different types of Christians. At most places, we felt like there was no dignity. They looked down on us. There was a big class distinction.
I found Bowery Mission to be the only place that had the potential to be able to help those under the power of a drug. The power of a drug is so strong that you need something very strong to break into that shell. Religion has that power. That’s when the seeds of starting the Zen House started.
We are training people to direct and staff Zen Houses, which will be practice centers and also have as there main thrust service to the community. My feeling is that in 10 years, there will be 100 Zen Houses. It’ll be like the CW movement. My hope is that it’ll be infectious and that people will copy. If you create a healthy cell, it will replicate. If it isn’t healthy, it will die out. Than someone has to think of some modifications and make a new one.