Living a Life that Matters #3:  The Good, The Bad and the Different: It Ain’t What It Seems to Be.

By Roshis Bernie Glassman and Eve Myonen Marko
Given on March 7th, 2015 at Sivananda Yoga Retreat at Nassau, Bahamas

Transcribed by Scott Harris.

Photo by Rami Efal, of Muslim prayer rugs in Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque in Sarajevo, Bosnia/Herzegovina May 2015 during a planning visit for the Bosnia Bearing Witness retreat in Srebrenica.


Eve:  Good evening. This is our last evening. In our first talk,  I started off by asking the question—so we’re all trying to get to the top of the mountain, what happens at the top of the mountain? Maybe there are different things. But one of the things that happens is that we’re very much, pretty much the way we were. But the big difference is that I don’t think you have to be different. You don’t think I have to be different. I don’t think that my way is the right way. It’s a right way. And you are different, and that’s your way. And I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not judging it. I’m not judging it as you being better or worse—you know, of lesser value than myself, or what I say, or what I do.

So, it’s funny, because in that sense we’re all different, and we’re all on top of the mountain. And you see, in our differences, we’re actually very equal. Now that’s true not just on top of the mountain. On top of the mountain we realize we’re all equal. So that’s kind of an interesting idea. Usually, it’s like when do we think of equality? You know, like I’m equal with Rukmini. Well, you know she’s a friend of mine. And you know, she’s not a Buddhist, but I admire her practice. I got to know her over the years. I like her. I have respect for her. You know, so at some point, in that context, I’ll think we’re equal.

But equality of differences is something else. It’s that each of us, in our difference, is equal to everybody else. So in that non-differentiated world—in that world of the one where all these differences have equal value—no one is more important, or more valuable than anybody else. And we’re different.

So you see, sometimes we think our equality means that we’re not different. But it’s actually completely the opposite. The very difference is what makes us really equal. And on top of the mountain, we sort of see that, and we have no problems. We have no stories about my being better than someone else.

Yesterday Bernie spoke about Indras’ Net—the net of all the pearls. And he said that every single one of us, and every thing, and every moment, and every thing that comes up is a pearl. Well, first he called it a lump, and then he made it a pearl. And then he said, so there’s all these, you know gigantic number of pearls, that nobody can even count. And what’s that got to do with anything? That’s the question really. So there’s all these pearls—what’s that got to do with anything in our lives?

And at some point he began to really say that we usually cannot see the entire net. We stay away from parts of the net. We stay in only a part of the net that is familiar to us. So this pearl likes to stay with pearls that feel comfortable to her, that feel good. Even though we are all connected by the net—and not only that, but each pearl reflects the other. That means not just I’m connected by these different strings, and that everything that happens there, now happens here, but that you literally are in me. And I am in you.

And this is not some kind of weird Indian story. Actually modern science pretty much says the same thing, and is able to track the fact that we are made of pieces of minerals; of phosphorous that was there from the Big Bang that he talked about. Some of those things that went out there were these molecules of phosphorous that are there in our bodies. That was fourteen billion years ago. And we share the same processes, each of us, and all aspects of life as we know it right now. So that’s the net.

And then Bernie said yesterday, “I took a vow. And the vow I took was to help people see the oneness of the net—to see that essentially they’re all one.” Why is that important? It’s important because what I see as me, as the net, is what I’m gonna take care of. What I don’t see as me I’m just simply not gonna take care of. I mean it’s common sense, right? If it’s me, if it’s mine, if it’s this pearl, if it’s an area that I feel is mine, I’m gonna take care of it. If it’s an area that’s somewhere out there, I’m not gonna take care of. And they’re pearls I don’t care about.

So you know, if sometimes it’s very poor people I don’t care about. The pearls that are on the street, that have no places to go, I don’t care about. Sometimes it’s the pearls who go to the big hotel, you know, and buy wonderful meals, and buy wonderful rooms, and have a great time, those are the pearls we don’t care about. So there are areas we just don’t want to see.

Someone was talking to me the other day about her dismay over the plastic bottles that we just toss. And you know, she sees people tossing on the ground without even trying to recycle them, as if the ground is also, just not a pearl. You know, so what are they doing? They’re seeing themselves; they experience themselves as a pearl. And this pearl is thirsty. Here’s a plastic bottle of water. Pick it up, and glug, glug, glug, glug, glug. And when I’m done with it, I throw it out—because I don’t see that other pearl that is called the earth, the grass, fresh water. That’s not a part of the net that I’m really seeing.

Compare that to—I’m remembering when we went in January to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and saw this big memorial to Crazy Horse, which is this enormous rock that’s part of his head that’s sculpted out of rock. And anyway, there was a quote for him, where you know; they had lost the Black Hills. The Black Hills were being plundered of gold, and this was their sacred land. And some white man said to him in a very derisive way, he said, “Well, where are your sacred lands now?”

And Chief Crazy Horse said, “My sacred lands are where my dead lie buried.”

That’s what he said. And he pointed there at the Black Hills. “My sacred lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Now look at what that realization is. What do you think this land is? Do you think it’s just some little pieces of dust, and rock, and pebbles, and you know, various minerals, and metals? That’s what the corporations that are still mining the Black Hills think of it. They think of it as right now they’re mining it for Uranium. So this sacred land that has been sacred for twelve thousand years, with big granite rocks, and out-croppings that go all the way from deep down in the earth all the way to the sky, and is considered to be a bridge between Heaven and Earth. They found Uranium there. So they’re strip-mining those hills.

And he’s saying, “But that’s not just land. That’s where we bury our dead.” Not just them, us too. For millennia we’ve buried our dead there. So that land is our dead. You know our parents, our grandparents, our ancestors, that’s all this land. So when I step on this land, you know, I’m stepping on the dead bodies of my ancestors. I’m stepping on myself. That’s a very different experience of the net, of the pearl called this Earth, called the Black Hills.

So Bernie’s vow was how to help everyone realize the oneness of life, and see more, and more, and more, and more of this net. So that may be a summary of the last couple of evenings. And just before I hand it over to Bernie, we had some meetings these afternoons with some people who are associated with the Zen Peacemaker hOrder, and who do beautiful work. And what we talked about really wasn’t our work in meditation halls. That wasn’t the point of it. It’s what we do when different people have different sections of the net that they go to work in, and how they bring this whole consciousness of the oneness of life, of the entire net into their work—be it mental health, be it corporations, be it I.T. All those areas need that fuller consciousness, that it’s not just a couple of pearls; it’s an entire net.

And then, how do we do that? What’s the vocabulary that you bring into an I.T. world? Into a corporate world—that talks about the entire net?

So those were some of our discussions in the afternoon.

So Bernie, what do you think about that?

Bernie: Wow. Before I start, what I’d love to see is you give the example of Mary and Joe.

Eve: No. That’s your example. You’ve got to give Mary and Joe.

Bernie: OK. So, I’m gonna talk about Mary and Joe. I’ve been talking about Mary and Joe . . .

Eve: A long time.

Bernie: I’m trying to figure it out. I have such a bad memory, but I think I’ve been talking about Mary and Joe for about forty-five years. Isn’t that something? I can keep talking about something for forty-five years!

Well, at any rate, I’m gonna talk about Mary and Joe.

[Microphone adjustments for Bernie to stand]

In Zen there’s a way of studying that’s called koans. Koans are statements. Sometimes they’re out of a sutra. Sometimes they’re out of the working life. They arise different ways. And you have to present them.

So there is one koan that says, “Make the old man get up.” I just presented it.

So, this is a way that I could present the effects of the oneness of life, and the effects when we don’t experience that oneness. Sometimes it’s hard for people to experience the oneness of life, and the interconnectedness of all life. You think, wow, that’s too abstract, man.

We talked a lot about it yesterday. Then I saw on Facebook somebody who is sitting in this room quoted that, and said (I think he said) that I said that within each of us is everything. And he said, “then you can’t be lonely.” Well, that’s true. Once you experience that, there’s no more isolation. There’s no more loneliness. We’re at one with everyone.

OK, so let’s start off. Most people I would bet at least 99 percent of the people in this room would say that they are interconnected, they are one body. I have various names actually. I use Bernie a lot. I have many different names. Because I studied Sufism, I have a Sufi name. I got a mantra from Asheshananda, who was a student of the divine mother, the wife of Ramakrishna—that name there. I have a Jewish name. I have a Buddhist name. I have many names. And I go by Bernie.

And Bernie . . . Let’s imagine Bernie thinks that everything, that his hands, his fingers, his elbow, his knees (my knees are in bad shape), but his knees, his toes. Bernie thinks that they’re all interconnected. In fact, it’s just one thing. And that whole one thing is called Bernie.

Imagine that this hand thinks it’s not part of Bernie, it’s not connected to Bernie. We would call it a delusion, right? So this hand has a delusion that it is separate, not connected to Bernie. And in fact it goes by the name Mary.

So here’s Mary, and Mary has studied a lot of spiritual stuff, man. And Mary has read that we’re all interconnected. But she has not experienced it. So she still uses the name Mary.

This hand, on the other hand, calls itself John. And John thinks it’s separate from Mary, and separate from Bernie.

Imagine that Mary gets gashed, and the blood is pouring out, pouring out. John looks and sees all that blood pouring out, and John says, “You know, I never studied medicine. I can’t get involved with that.” Or John says, “I don’t have what’s needed to take care of that bleeding arm. I can’t get involved with that.” Or John says, “I just put on these new clothes, I don’t want blood all over my clothes. I’m gonna get out of here.”

And so John runs away. Mary bleeds to death. John dies. And Bernie dies.

Take another example—Mary and John are social activists. And they like to accumulate merit for doing good deeds. And all of the sudden they find out that Bernie is hungry, and there’s some food over here. So Mary goes to get the food. John says, “No, no, no! I want the merit of feeding Bernie. You can’t do that!” And he tries to get the food. Mary says, “No, no, I want to do it!” And they start fighting.

And so Mary and John are fighting as to who should get the food to give Bernie, and in the meantime Bernie starves to death. And Mary dies, and John dies.

This is the effect of the separateness of life. Of not seeing everything as me. Let’s say that there’s some experience that both Mary and John (maybe at different times) have, that they have an experience in which they experience interconnectedness. Now if this hand gets gashed, and the blood is pouring out, this hand will immediately react and do something. It’ll do the best it can. It’ll do the best it can. And it will use whatever it can.

It can not—it would be impossible for this hand to say, “I don’t care about that bleeding.” It can’t function that way. And it doesn’t even think about it. It reacts immediately.

Now if Bernie gets hungry, whichever hand is closest to the food, gets it and feeds. It’s no big deal. So the experience of the interconnectedness of life means that we will take care of whatever we are connected to, and it will be automatic. It’ll be automatic.

And one of the Japanese Spiritual Teachers, a man named Koba-daishi, who lived around 500 A.D., and was the founder of the Tantric school in Japan (the Tantric school of Buddhism in Japan), he said the way you can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment . . . And what he meant by that was the way we can tell how broadly we are connected to the whole net, to the oneness of life, the way we can tell is by how they serve others.

If I’m just serving myself, that’s my experience of the oneness of life—that this is all one thing and I’ll take care of it.

A mother gives birth, and a child is colicky. The child moves and the mother immediately reacts. Because it’s still one—and then it starts separating, because of different concepts and whatever.

And so when I see the Dalai Lama, and he’s serving the world, that’s the depth of his enlightenment. He is not just involved with Tibetan people, or with the different schools in Tibet. He’s working for the world.

So that’s the effect of connecting with different aspects. And as we talked last night—as I talked last night, it is not so easy to be connected with the whole. The whole Indra’s Net, or the whole energy field that moved out from the Big Bang. And so we’re all on different spiritual paths to try to realize the oneness of life. And it comes by different names—to become one with the divine, to become God, different names, different paths.

And I want to share a little my path, if that’s OK.

Eve: But I was gonna ask you a question.

Bernie: Huh, you’re gonna ask me a question?

Eve: Yeah.

Bernie: OK.

Eve: So, you know there’s a lot of people here, and everybody here is doing something. So there’s a lot of Karma Yogis here who are working here in the ashram. And there are a lot of people who have come here. And you have therapists here, and you have yoga teachers, and you have carpenters, and you computer guys, and you have writers, and you have artists, and you have many, many things like that. So in some way everybody’s feeding, everybody’s doing. But is that the same thing as doing that out of the sense that we’re all one?

Bernie: Perhaps. I doubt it. I doubt that there’s too many people in the room that have experienced the oneness of life, and do things out of that. We have many different reasons. But we’re on different paths, and we’re serving different folks, and that’s the portion of the net, or the portion of the energy field, or the portion of God that we’re in touch with. At least that’s my opinion.

And I could share that with my own path. I’ve been involved in a spiritual path explicitly for about sixty years. I was studying before, but I actually started to get involved with a teacher and specific ways about sixty years ago. And the first twenty years, my path was very much centered about me. I wanted to experience the oneness of life. And my venue was a Zen center. A Zen center in which we had many upayas, many ways of training to try to have that experience. Certainly meditation was a strong one. Zen means meditation. It comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana. It’s the Japanese way—they can’t pronounce the word Dhyana, so they say Zen. But it translates as meditation.

So certainly meditation was a strong one. We did a lot of meditation, a lot of retreats. And I probably yearly did—I don’t know—twenty/thirty week-long retreats. Sometimes longer ones, sometimes shorter. I did a lot of meditation. Daily, a lot of meditation.

But we also used different schemes. We had this thing that I described before, or I just mentioned, koans. There’s a system of koans that are developed to first have you experience the state of not-knowing. So I think I’ve talked, or maybe Eve can explain more, or I will later—the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers—not knowing, bearing witness, and acting out of that not knowing and bearing witness. But in koans the first thing that we try to do is have the student experience a state of not knowing—the state of emptiness.

And bearing witness, of course, meditation is bearing witness. And we use meditation to bear witness to this oneness of life.

So we learned those kinds of techniques. I spent, I don’t know how many years. I did two different koan systems—each to about 300/350 koans. That takes a while. I studied liturgy. I was a priest, and I studied liturgical methods.

So for about twenty years—my first twenty years—that was my world. And I was very intensely working with those that came to the Zendo. So if I look at this net, there’s a portion of the net, of people who go to Zen centers. That’s the portion of the net I was working with, and serving.

And then, about forty years ago, I had this experience of the hungry ghosts, the hungry spirits of the world—an experience that is myself, and made a vow (this is the first time that I made an actual vow) that I would serve that arena, which was now, for me, all of society. And the next twenty years was devoted to doing that. And I didn’t have the tools when I first made that vow. I had many tools, but they were all for people who came into a meditation hall.

I didn’t know how to work with people who were homeless, or business people, or people with mental afflictions, or high stress. I had no training. So for the next twenty years that’s what I did, is develop tools to work in that sphere—in the sphere of social engagement, and business world. And I increased my encounter, and then my experience of that portion of the net.

And then for the next twenty years, my practice became trying to experience that aspect of the net that I was afraid of. And I talked last night about how there’s many things that we’re afraid of, and so we stay away. It could be consciously, or unconsciously that we’ll stay out of those. And I consciously made it a practice of mine to enter into those parts of the net that I was afraid of. And therefore, I feel, that I got to experience the interconnectedness of a much larger portion of that net.

I call those my street years, because the first thing I did was went and lived in the streets. And then started doing other things that started to become the beginning of our Bearing Witness retreats in places like Auschwitz and other places. And I feel that in those years, what I was doing was working on the practice of removal of fear—of myself, and of others, those who wanted to enter those realms with me.

So the vow of trying to help people experience the oneness of life, that was an explicit vow that came about forty years ago. And it changed my whole . . . It changed my life. It changed my life. And it hasn’t ended. I don’t think my life has ended. It’s still going on.

Eve: So Bernie, let me ask you this. Not everybody wants to do, you know kind of started like you did—an engineer, space engineer, and mathematics, and Zendo, and business, and social action, and peace work. I mean everybody, you know, we have our work, we have our family. So my question still is all of us have some degree of awareness and experience of the oneness of life. Maybe we don’t see the entire net, but we’ve seen part of it. Maybe it’s just a part of my family, or it’s the part of my community, the part of my country.

Bernie: At the minimum it’s our selves.

Eve: Right, and minimally it’s our selves. But how can I do work out of the awareness of the oneness of life, rather than just let’s say textbooks, or out of my degrees—because that’s what we all do. You know, we all learn those things. But the kind of work you’re talking about is different. So just even in my profession—how do I do that?

Bernie: Well, first of all, I think, most of the spiritual traditions that I’ve explored, that’s what they’re doing—certainly the mystical aspects of almost all traditions. I think most spiritual traditions are providing ways for you to do that. And different people have different affinities, so we wind up having all different kinds of groups with different people doing it.

I wound up offering a particular way, which doesn’t appeal to everybody. I’d say sort of associated with the bigger world of the Zen Peacemakers (which is probably about 20,000 people), so it’s quite a number that have sort of gotten interested in the way we do things.

But it’s just one way. It’s again like going back to that mountain, and all these paths going into the mountain. It’s all different ways. So I was describing what happened to me. And as I went, there are different people that got interested.

Eve: I was wondering, it was like a set up for you to talk about the three tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order, and how that helps people do that kind of work in that way.

Bernie: Yeah. So this is recent—about twenty years ago. What am I? I’m seventy-six. So when I was fifty-five, I had done many different things. You know, fifty-five puts me into the third twenty years. I had twenty years in the Zendo, then I had twenty years doing social action, and then forty years . . .

Any rate, at some point I said to myself what do I do next? This is a personal quest. And I decided to do a week retreat—a week meditation retreat—on the steps of the Capital of the United States. I like power sites, and that was a power site. My birthday is January 18th, so it’s cold actually. And we sat. I invited people to join my birthday party. And actually about twenty people did. It was fascinating to me. By that time I had done different works. In that twenty there were two people that were homeless people that I had met in the streets, and they became part of this little gang. But we formed a circle on the steps.

It turned out that year—which was twenty-one years ago—was the coldest month in the history of Washington, D.C. So we sat in snow. And we were covered in snow in a circle. And I asked everybody to meditate on the question what am I going to do about those aspects of society that nobody’s taking care of? There’s a lot of aspects of society that are neglected. There’s many aspects of ourselves that are being neglected. So that was the question that I asked people to sit with. And of course I sat with that.

And out of that week retreat came the idea of forming the Zen Peacemaker Order. That’s about twenty-one years ago. And what that meant to me was creating a container of people that were interested in a spiritual life, and serving others, and doing social action. In the Hindu language, I would say combining Karma Yoga and I guess Raja Yoga.

And what came to me is three principles for that container. And the first principle—and this came out of my Zen training, out of that history—but the first principle was not knowing. I made it a practice to enter a situation without any planning, without any idea of what I’m gonna do. Answering a thing where there’s a problem, without having a fixed idea about how I’m gonna fix that problem. It meant I would enter a situation, and just listen, be totally open, and listen to what’s happening. That was, for me, the not knowing.

And then the second principle was bearing witness. I would stay in that situation. I would stay in that situation, and bear witness to what’s happening in that state of not knowing.

And then the third is I would take action. I would take actions that would arise out of the state of not knowing and bearing witness.

So for me it’s been a wonderful life, because I don’t know what’s going to happen the next moment. Things arise. And that’s been happening now for twenty years. And that’s the basic principles of this container that we call the Zen Peacemaker Order. And somehow, that spread. That spread, that feeling, or the interest in those tenets, and that way of doing things. And it makes it very easy, whether you’re a carpenter, or a physician, or whatever, to enter a situation without a plan of what I’m gonna do, and listen deeply—feel. Feel what’s going on. Bear witness to what’s going on. Try to get rid of the subject/object dichotomy. And then do something. So that became the basis, and it’s still the basis of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

Now, this is our last night here, and usually when I do talks I start off by asking you to ask questions. I hardly every just talk first. That feels wrong. I like to feel the ingredients. I like to feel who you are. What do you want to know? What do you want to talk about? So this is your last opportunity, cause we aint gonna talk, we’re gone. This is our last night. So please come up, I implore you, come up and ask questions.

I want to share one thing, and this is especially for Swami-ji. Normally when people ask me questions, I just answer. Last night you asked a number of questions, and I stopped and thought about them. That’s the first time I’ve done that in months. So I thank you for that. But please, come up and ask questions.


Audience Member 1: First of all, thank you for talking before asking for questions, because I really appreciate your talks. My question is how does one bear witness to someone who’s treating you badly, so that you don’t grow resentment, or fear, or avoidance to that pearl in the web? So how does one bear witness to that?

Bernie: Yeah. To be in that state of not knowing, or to bear witness (I just threw that out as the tenets of our Order), it takes a lot of training. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. Our tendency is not to listen. Our tendency is to say I’m gonna fix it. Our tendency is to say I know what to do. That’s our tendency. And in fact, that’s our training. That’s our training, when we’re little kids, you know, if you don’t know what to do, they start teaching you. This is what you’ve got to do, you know. And if you do it, you get rewarded. If you say “I don’t know what to do.” They say, “What are you, a dummy?” You know, so it’s not so easy. So we have trainings for it. And we have trainings for bearing witness. And I would say one of the things one should learn how to bear witness to first is one’s self. Because the same thing you just said about others, “How do you bear witness to people who are not treating you well,” or stuff like that—we do that to ourselves.

Audience Member 1: I asked you that question in December. How does one bear witness to one’s self?

Bernie: Yeah, so of course meditation is one way. Meditation is a very strong way of bearing witness to one’s self. But there’s trainings for both. And one has to do that. It’s not like you can take a pill, and now start with this sense of deep listening and bearing witness. It’s work. And there’s practice, and there are different schemes. What I’ve found, what I use—and that’s me, and maybe I’m just perverse—but one of my ways of doing that is by taking you to places where your mind can’t think about what to do, because it’s just beyond the capacity of your mind to think there. So I try to bring you to a space where you’re forced into the state of not knowing what to do, of being open—and then, keep you there. So we do a meditation retreat. In Zen, you know, we sit down, we don’t let you get up. You’re forced to bear witness to yourself. That’s one thing, but when we go to Auschwitz, we do not let people just go, see the horror, and leave. You got to stay there. And you got to deal with what’s coming up. And we make it hard for you, because we bring all of these different kinds of people. And we have practices to deal with the issues that come up. But to start off, to bear witness to one’s self, I’d say meditation is probably the best, and then we move from there.

Eve: I’d like to add something to that. Sometimes people, especially in spiritual practice think that, let’s say relating to somebody who’s treating you badly means that you take everything, or that you don’t say anything. That you kind of take it, and take it, and take it, or that you just listen, but don’t do anything back.

So actually this morning we talked to someone who had an interesting practice. He’s white, you know, a white male, and he goes to African Americans where he lives, talks about the effects of racism on their life. And they’re pretty angry. You know, they’re angry at white people. And he said, “you know, I hear this, and they’re upset at me, and they’re all that. And I’m not supposed to say anything.” Because that particular methodology is that he can’t say anything. His job is just to listen. And he said, “That’s been so hard for me, at times I had to just stop and go out, and talk to somebody else, or you know, get it off my chest, because I’m not engaging with them.” So that’s a methodology I don’t know anything about, but for me that’s a hard thing to recommend, because it’s a relationship.

So yes, there’s practices where you can listen, and not react, and not get defensive right away, and all that like that. But that doesn’t mean that you take yourself out of the relationship. It’s how to both come together. The two different people coming together and engaging in a skillful way.


Swami-ji: When two people relate to each other, is that a state of duality or non-duality?

Bernie: In my experience usually it’s duality. And there’s practices to help people move from that relationship of duality into having a relationship where it’s
non-duality . . . Well, yeah, I think so. I think there’s a way of helping people move into a relationship where they’re in a non-dual relationship, and now they’re sharing opinions. And I think that’s rare.

Eve: So how do we have a non-dual relationship?

Bernie: We limit ourselves to opinions. That is, an opinion does not have a value. It can’t be right or wrong, it’s an opinion. It’s not true or false, it’s an opinion. If we can relate through opinions, or relate experientially, I think then we’re relating non-dually.

Eve: So that’s funny, because do you know what I realized? If you were to ask most people how do you make a relationship non-dual, they say, “Well, you love each other.” You know, the closer you get [kissing sounds]. That’s how you become non-dual. But what you’re pointing out is, that’s not how you become non-dual. You become non-dual by letting go of being right, and just coming out of not-knowing, and you have your opinion, and you have your difference, and  . . .

Bernie: And we have a lot of experience in this.

Eve: In differences, yes. Like that, it’s not about just kind of coming together, and merging, or being the same, or all that.

Bernie: Yeah. I think so. In my opinion, that would be the case, which would allow us to be non-dual, and not agreeing. Not saying I agree with you—that’s not important. Maybe I share your opinion. But I would give my opinion, listen to your opinion, and we can discuss it, and share it. And I can do it in a state . . . I’m now asking myself this question. I’m raising a question to myself. Can I do that when I’m angry with you? Or is it only that I can do it when I’m in love with you? Or is it only when I’m neutral with you? Can I be in a non-dual relationship with you when I’m angry? Probably not angry—upset? But I don’t think I have to be in a loving position to be non-dual. But it’s an interesting question.

In Zen practice we do studies one-on-one, in a private room.  And these aren’t long studies. These are people that will come in. I may have given them a question to present, or to answer, or whatever. They come in and they’re short periods. And they run us through, they go out, they ring a bell, the next person comes in. I learned maybe fifty years ago, I’ve been doing this with large numbers of people. I will go into essentially Samadhi, in between people coming in and out. And so I think in my dialogs with the folks, I’m in a non-dual—they’re not necessarily in a non-dual with me—but I’m in a non-dual relation with them.

Eve: But that’s what Emannuel Leven said that actually you’ll never be in a non-dual relationship with your own children. In other words, wherever you have a relationship with anyone which has potential for all of the projections, and the wishes, and all that—that’s exactly where you’re not gonna have a non-dual relationship.

Bernie: To be in a non-dual relationship, does it require both people to be in that? That becomes very difficult. That—I think—that is describing folks that are on top of the mountain. So the folks that are on the top of the mountain, they are in a non-dual relationship with each other. Otherwise . . . Anyway . . .

Swami-ji: The second question, which was a continuation—When we are on top of the mountain, and we are in a non-dual relationship on both sides, our knowledge, our paths crossed. Our achievements, our realizations—are they redundant, or complementary?

Bernie: I certainly don’t think they’re redundant. In my opinion, if it’s all there, the characteristic on top of the mountain is that they’re not controlling you. They’re there, but they’re there as needed. They’re not in control, and dictating what we’re doing. Which means you can never predict what the person will do. And if you’re controlled by your knowledge, then you can predict what the person’s gonna do. That’s my sense.


Audience Member 2: First I’d like to thank everyone here for having us this week. For the Zen Peacemakers family, it’s a very lovely place, and we’ve really enjoyed ourselves. My question for you is two parts. You know I’ve read The Dude and the Zen Master a couple of times, and the first thing that just kind of popped up is how is it that you came to the conclusion to do a book on The Big Lebowski, and kind of portraying him as a Zen master? And the second piece of this is one of the tales from the book is about the tallest blade of grass. Do you remember that? How the tallest blade of grass gets chopped down. And I think—I could be mistaken—it kind of talks about, you know, enlightenment, or shalem when you’re kind of bringing the pieces and the fragments together. But I want to kind of get your take on activism and the tallest blade of grass from that perspective.

Bernie: I don’t remember that, so  . . .

Eve: I think the tallest blade of grass had to do with Jeff Bridges saying that all these things are coming at him all the time, and  . . . I hardly remember it either Bernie.

Bernie: She edited the book, so she knows it better than me. I just spoke it. Those were conversations. I don’t remember.

Eve: But there was something that I think about. There’s a Japanese saying that the tallest tree is the one that gets the most wind.

Bernie: Yeah. Well there were two things that came up, but they don’t answer what he was asking. Was that—that we have this expression in Zen that the taller a tree grows, the more wind comes on it. And that’s just the way life is.

Eve: So he was talking about just being buffeted by so many needs, and so many things. And you know, like everybody else, he wants a quiet life. And he was asking what do I do? And at that point the Zen master said, “The tallest tree gets the most wind.”

Bernie: And that means it’s gonna bend. If you don’t bend with the wind, you snap. So you bend. And for me practice is in a way like putting more stability into it. So it’s not that you don’t bend, because as they say, if you don’t bend with the wind, it cracks. But you come back to a stable position quicker, the longer you practice. But it never gets to a place where you don’t have to bend with the wind. That’s just the natural flow of things.
The other thing that I probably said in the book too—Shakyamuni was walking with one of his disciples, and he said, “Build me a temple.” And the disciple took a blade of grass, and planted it in the ground. But I don’t know if that’s what you were referring to.

Audience Member 2: Thank you.


Audience Member 3: Hello. Thank you for your talks. I love the idea of coming with an opened mind, and with the realization of not knowing, because I don’t know if a lot of people feel like this, but a lot of my life is not knowing, and not knowing what to do about things. So I’m just bearing witness. But I’m really curious as what types of social action come from the idea of not knowing, coming into a situation not knowing, and bearing witness. What types of social action have come out of the different retreats that you guys have held, and your practices?

Bernie: Well, within the Zen Peacemakers, there are about twenty-five different types of social action going on. At places where you can train different types of things from, working with slave trade. I mean, there’s a group that’s working with reintegrating Gypsy girls back to their families, after they’ve been in the slave trade. Because a Gypsy family will not normally take back a girl that had gotten into the slave market. In Vienna there’s a group that started a pub, where all the staff are handicapped people. There’s a group in Germany where all of the students are deaf, and they have their own meditation hall, and things. They do things together. There are people working with veterans with PSD, with post-traumatic stress, with alcoholics, with prison work, with death and dying, with conflict in Middle East, Ireland, and different parts of the world. And they’re listed on our website. The training centers are listed by locations around the world, and also by social action.

There’s no limit. It’s more what arises from the people. The thing that stands out is that those places are doing social action based on using the three tenets as a model—as a way of doing it.

Eve: I just want to add that there’s a difference between not knowing and ignorance. So when someone says, “You know, I don’t know what to do.” Or “I don’t know if it’s gonna rain tomorrow.” That’s ignorance, you know. Not knowing points to actually letting go, practicing, letting go of my knowledge. Letting go . . .

Bernie: Of the attachments in that.

Eve: . . . of all the assumptions I’m making, and now I’m gonna bear witness. So that’s different from ignorance. There’s a lot of that confusion, and I wanted to say that.

Audience Member 3: Thank you very much.


Audience Member 4: Hey guys. So I’ve got some words exploding. Please bear with me. I was thinking a lot about the net of pearls, and the perspective of the net. I keep going back to these topics of placing weight on different materials in this “hereality”. And I keep wondering about the possibilities of switching perspectives of negative and positive. I’m trying to formulate this in the correct way. I have like a thousand weird words written on this page.

Bernie: Were you here last night?

Audience Member 4: I was not. So I’m sorry if I was a little late.

Bernie: Yeah, we spent about fifteen/twenty minutes on the net last night.

Audience Member 4: OK. Maybe to be more specific—thinking about the idea with sound a lot, that depending on which tone comes after which, it can seem negative or positive. And I was just curious if you’re open to the possibility of switching negative and positive. Or shifting the idea . . .

Bernie: Well, personally, I don’t have negatives and positives. I try not to work in the world of duality, of values. So I see different perspectives. But I wouln’t call one negative, and one positive. That’s me.

Audience Member 4: I think that’s yeah, I might have used the wrong term, but perspective, are you open to the idea of . . .

Bernie: I am open to all perspectives.

Eve: But, you see, this is where not knowing comes in. So if you first heard something as positive, you see, and you knew that was positive. Now you’re hearing a second tone, and you’re comparing. You see, that’s where the knowing begins to influence how you label the second note.

Audience Member 4: Totally.

Eve: So the thing about not knowing, isn’t about you don’t have a sense of was it an F, was it a G major, was it whatever? You have that sense, but you have no attachment to whether it’s positive or negative.  You see, now the next note, it’ll be whatever it is. But you’re not gonna label it necessarily as positive or negative. Does that respond to your question?

Bernie: Let me give you another example, which I love, is that if you see a sunrise. And Wow, and then your brain comes in, and says, “That’s a good sunrise.” Tomorrow I see a sunrise. “Ah, that’s not a good one.” What does that mean? It means I’m comparing it to the one I saw yesterday. So the state of not knowing is I see a sunrise. Wow. Next day, I see a sunrise—Wow. I’m not comparing. I’m not labeling that this is good, that’s bad. It’s a sunrise.

Audience Member 4: If I could refine just a tiny bit. Like let’s say throwing a bottle on the street, and not caring. In some of my thoughts of oneness, that doesn’t matter, because it’s all one thing. And I’m just curious. Or not eating meat, or careful about what kind of “toxins” you put in. If it’s all one thing . . . That’s kind of what maybe I was trying to say earlier. Sorry it took me a while to get there. If you have any thoughts on that . . .

Bernie: Just that if it’s all one thing, as you said, it’s all part of the one thing.

Audience Member 4: Thank you.


Bernie: How are you doing?

Audience Member 5: Are you asking?

[Audience laughs]

I’m doing well, thank you. How are you? My question also kind of relates to the net. Because it’s everything, is there distance between the pearls, in so far as can we get closer to . . . You know, are we further away from certain pearls, and closer to others?

Bernie: Certainly I would say that we haven’t experienced most of the net, and most of the pearls. Those that we’ve experienced, they’re us. So there’s no distance there. Those that we haven’t experienced, you could say it’s an infinite distance. I mean we’re not even aware that they’re there.

Audience Member 5: OK. Thank you.


Bernie: Okey Dokey. It’s time to end. Thank you for your attention. And please swallow what you want, and spit out what doesn’t seem right. Goodnight.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Bernie and Eve – appreciated this one and shared with our zen community in Oak Park, Chicago. look forward to seeing you both in the Black Hills.

  2. Love your talk Roshi and Eve.. Mary and John.. Great analogy, easy to understand.. My hands in Gassho.. Thank you.. ! Keep up the vow.. Willem

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