This is the second of a three part conversation between Roshis Bernie Glassman, Wendy Egyoku Nakao and members of the Zen Center of Los Angeles that took place there on April 23rd 2015. This part includes Roshi Egyoku’s vision of the Zen Peacemaker Order as expressed at ZCLA. The first part featured Roshi Bernie’s vision, and the third part will include the Q&A they performed with the sangha.
Transcription by Scott Harris.
Roshi Egyoku: It’s wonderful that Bernie is putting out his vision. And it has challenged me to think about my vision. Although I’ve been involved with the ZPO practices since the, I don’t know, ’90s. And most of you who practice here know, we’ve been doing these practices, they’re deeply imbedded in ZCLA. So it’s just a natural direction for us to continue to explore. One of the things we’ve done here, which I hear manifesting in the ZPO is peer governance. For us we call it circles. You know, we do a lot of circular practice here.
And coming out of a structure that was not circular, it’s a very radical and transformational kind of effort. And we’ve done it long enough here that I think we have a deep trust in the power of the circle. And the practice of the circle, and transformational depth and breath of the circle.
And in discussing with Bernie about how the ZPO forms as we go forward, I realize that it’s a transition that the ZPO also has to make. Because we know it’s one thing to say we’ll be peer and circular, but none of us come out of an environment that’s peer and circular—which is fascinating.
So one of the things that I hold dear, in terms of a vision—I’m realizing more, and more is that the ZPO move forward in a way that does not concern itself with empowerments. For example, in the tradition most of have come out of, you know at some point certain students are empowered to be Zen Teachers, or Preceptors, or Priests, or whatever the empowerment’s occurring, all of the empowerments are.
And our model, as we know, has been historically one of apprenticeship. You know, long years of working with a teacher, and all of that. But as I’ve been studying what we’ve been doing here, and as I look at the Zen Peacemakers . . . You’ll see on our website, Bernie has put out a lot of things. And some of his things were developed some time ago that he’s put out for us to consider. It’s not that they’re actually happening, but they’re considerations. And he and I did a review of the practices a couple of years ago. And so those are out for consideration and development as we practice. You know, the practices will teach us, and lead us. So one of the things that I’ve sort of focused on are these recognitions, or empowerments, or these training paths as we used to call them in the old days. And what has occurred to me is what I would like to see.
A big part of my vision is that the ZPO be a true peer circular practice, where we truly come from the place where we are all—I’ll say Buddhists, since this is Z.P.O—(Some of you at ZC have heard my rap before, but I’m gonna put it out again.) and that what we really enter into is a mentoring relationship with each other. Or as Myoho said last night, “co-witnessing.” Right?
So what the ZPO, in my view, could provide, and what is most needed I feel, today in the world of spiritual practice, is a place, a circle for people to come together, and really share together, and explore together, mentor each other in our practices. You know, that we truly engage. So Bernie spoke about how the Three Tenets have completely transformed his life. And I’ve often said, for my life, for my spiritual life, the Three Tenets have been the most important practice that I’ve taken up.
And I do live that way, to the frustration of maybe some of you who wants to know what’s gonna happen. I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” But we’ll engage the practice. We’ll engage each other, and see what arises. You know, invite the collective wisdom in. Sometimes a collective folly arises, but that’s a great practice too. And we will be with each other, you know, in that way. And I’m realizing more, and more what a radically different way that is.
So for the ZPO I envision really an order where we have shared practices, and that each of us as members really take it on, as you know like serious life practices. And that we are committed to coming together and sharing, and supporting each other in what these practices are. And forget about all of these training paths, and empowerment paths.
That’s what I’m proposing. Because I think those are a distraction, really. Having been at ZPO, so much of my energy has had to go into those paths of practice. And I’m realizing now that I am sort of done with that kind of way of being in my spiritual life, and in being with all of you. I would not want to be part of another organization that is then creating those paths anew quite frankly. Because we have our own paths, and I think many people who are part of Zen centers, or practice centers also have those things available to them, if they wish to go there.
But what I don’t see really in the Buddhist world—maybe it exists in some, I don’t know—is places where we can come together as people who are deeply committed to practice. And just sit in the circle and really share what that is about. And to receive support from each other, to bring our questions to the group.
So a couple of years ago, I started something called a Mitra group. And at that time I didn’t really know what it was. But because I work closely with the priests here, and that’s a very defined circle at ZCLA, I thought well, what about all of the other people who are not taking the priest’s path? What is their practice, and how is that being served?
So I just sort of picked, you know, I don’t know six/seven people, and just invited them to have a conversation. And we sort of struggled along. And at that time, my framework was still this path framework. And then it just sort of collapsed. And then it came back again. And Gesho was part of the whole thing. We’ve been bearing witness. We’ve been not knowing, really not knowing. And then just this year—so last year we started to meet again—and then this year, now after all this time, we sort of fell into, like the circle, in such a powerful way. So there may be ten of us in there, all people very engaged in their work in the world, really deeply engaged, who all have long time practices.
And what the circle became . . . So we moved totally out of a training path. What it became is a group of people very immersed in their work in the world, very deeply connected to practice, who come together and share what their practice really is in the world. And then we look at how that is transforming us, you know, personally. And then sometimes we have questions about how can it really manifest as maybe a concrete project.
So we have people who are in the prisons, somebody with a movie theater, a couple of actors in it, we have an environmentalist. We have council people. We have writers. It’s a really fascinating group. And as I was sitting there, I thought OK Mitra means friend, which we know. It’s from maitri. I always say Friend with a capital F, or a capital M maybe. But in any case, what I’m really seeing with that group, and I’m just bearing witness to the group, I mean I’m holding the space for the group, and I don’t always get to share because there’s you know, limited time, and they have so much to talk about. But what I see is a circle that comes together that has a very deep spiritual center, where people come and truly mentor each other. And we do that by sharing our practice, and how it’s affecting us, and seeking input from each other, and guidance from each other on how we can move certain aspects of our practice to manifesting in the world.
And I’ll tell you that was just a very powerful experience. And then I realized, well everybody in the Zen center is connected to things out in the world, including many of you who have ordained as priests. So I began to recognize the need for this form of practice. And I thought, you know for me, this is where The ZPO could really, really serve.
I feel that even though we’ve been doing circles here at ZCLA for, I don’t know, fifteen years, or so, that we’re just beginning to realize the depth and breadth of it, and the power of that to empower everyone in the circle. That everyone is Buddha, everyone is a teacher and a student in the circle. And we have tried to bring in the skill sets, and the upayas that will help us open to that. Because the conditioning to be teacher/student, and all of the different ways we have been disempowering ourselves for so long really gets challenged, I think, in the circle.
So one of the reasons I love to be in circle is I get to be a student of the circle, a student of all of you. You know? It used to be in the beginning when people talk, they all look at me. Now nobody looks at me. That’s how I know the circle is succeeding. Because it’s like so powerful. And you know, I don’t have to feel like I’m the teacher, and Oh god, I have to do this, and I have to do that. Because that is so disempowering really.
And I don’t want the people that I practice here with to have to go through that, and then have to struggle to free yourselves of that. It makes no sense whatsoever.
So I think we’re just at the beginning of understanding what the circle is. And we’re barely at the beginning of really exploring what it is to truly mentor each other, or co-witness (I love that) co-witness with each other. And personally I feel very strongly this is a really viable paradigm for us to explore. And I know once I step out of the old paradigm, I realize wow, I’ve kind of stepped out of it, but the sky’s the limit now. I hope we can explore, and understand how we can open up our spirituality.
So like our koan class, you know, we don’t have to keep a koan just between you and me. We can still do that, but let’s extend that now, and see how we explore and learn a koan together in full view of each other. And in doing so, I think many of you have experienced a tremendous expansion, and learning, and deepening. And that wisdom doesn’t belong to just one person. You know, we’ve all had strong experiences of that.
And of course we say that. You know, “You’re all Buddhas, blah, blah, blah,” but we don’t act like that. And the structures don’t promote that. So from ’97 when Bernie sent me back here, that’s been like a big koan for me. It’s like because our structure had collapsed here, which I came to realize is a true gift. At first I was like oh my god, what am I doing? And then I’m like, wait a minute now. It’s all gone, let it go. Don’t save anything, and let’s see what arises now that truly serves our needs at this time. And that has been very alive for me, even all these years later. Because obviously as our circle practices have taken root, and we’ve all had to keep expanding, and I’ve had to keep letting go, and having the structures I internalized just sort of fall away because everybody’s expanding. So when you expand, everybody else has to expand. Otherwise we can’t quite include you.
And I’m realizing we’re just sort of at the edge of all of that here. We’ve turned a few corners I think. So we know now we can trust the process. So I would like to see, I think right now my primary vision for the ZPO is this aspect, that we allow time for people to really explore this aspect, and to see what it really has to teach us. And in order to do so, we have to let go of the old paradigms anyway. And I know that’s easier said than done. But from my experience here, it really is doable. We can let ourselves enter into that sphere.
So that’s my vision for the afternoon.
[continued in part three, posted soon]