Bernie's Rap on the Gate of Sweet Nectar at ZCLA, Part 1
This talk was given at ZCLA at Roshi Bernie Glassman’s workshop on the Gate liturgy in April 2015. It was transcribed by Scott Harris.
We are chanting my translation (with Maezumi Roshi) and adaptation (with Maezumiâs encouragement) of the Japanese Soto Zen liturgy Kan Ro Mon; Ro actually, literally means dew. But in the Buddhist sense, it has the same feeling as ânectar.â Gate of Sweet Nectarâso itâs a special kind of âdewâ that helps you to realize the oneness of lifeâthat is to appreciate your spouse. And Mon just means a collection of words, or phrases, or verse.
I trained here under my teacher, Maezumi Roshi from â66 to â80. And I trained with him about six blocks away from â64 to â66. There was a period where every evening we chanted the Kan Ro Mon in Japanese. So we didnât know what it said.
And somehow I fell in love with it. And I left here to start the Zen Community of New York. I chose New York to start the Zen Community of New York, because they sort of fit together, and also Iâm from New York. So it was a logical thing. But before I went, I sat down with him. I had been doing a lot of translations with him over the years. I was his first student to do koan study, so we translated all the koans in sort of two systems, so about 600 koans. Because about the time I started, he didnât like the translations that existed. And I would memorize them, come in, say. âWhat are you talking about?â Then he would say the Japanese, then translate it for me, and I would write it down.
I did a lot of different translations with him. But we had never done the Kan Ro Mon translation. And as I say, I sort of fell in love with it, without knowing what it said. So I asked him to work with me to translate it. And he did.
So we translated the Kan Ro Mon, and we used the phrase âGate of Sweet Nectarâ for the title. And then he also said to me that this particular liturgy dates back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha.
One of his Shakyamuniâs disciples, Magdalena, came up to him and said, âHey boss, [Because Shakyamuni Buddha is our boss] I had a dream, and in that dream I saw my mother hanging upside down in the lowest region of Hellâfires all around, and whatever. What can I do?â
And Shakyamuni said, âChant this.â And he gave him a chant. Now it wasnât like this. It was much smaller. And if you want to get a little bit of a gist of what it was see D.T. Suzukiâs book Manual of Zen which has a version of this. And youâll see itâs very short. I donât know if we have any records of what it was that Shakyamuni gave Magdalena.
When we did the translation, Maezumi Roshi said, you know, this starts off in the days of Shakyamuni, and in later days it was changed to include a lot of Tantric stuff.
So Roshi said to me, âYou can change it dramatically.â Because he had always been saying to me that âyour goal is going to be to take the Dharma that you grasp from me, and put it into this day and age.â Heâd say to me, âIâm Japanese. I canât make it American.â Thatâs what heâd say to meâover and over. So make things relevant to the day and age, which I tried to do. Make whatever changes you want to do.
So what I did within this text is take some things from Judaism. In Judaism thereâs a very important prayer called Shema YisraelâListen, O Israel. That word, Shema, is similar to the word attention, in the Gate, in my opinion. So thatâs very important. Everything Iâm going to say to you now, and tomorrow is my opinion, man. I may change my opinion tomorrow about what I say today. So just take it as my opinion. Donât take anything I say as truth, or right, or wrong, or whatever. Itâs Bernieâs opinion; as of whatever day this is, whatever time this is.
OK, but in my opinion that Shema and that attention (in the Gate) are the same. And in the Shema thereâs some words that are written in what is called a mezuzah. A mezuzah is put on doorsteps of Jewish homes. So when you go in, youâve got to kiss that thing, man. Otherwise youâre gonna be zapped by God. So you better kiss that thing. And thereâs also some things you wrap around your arm, and your head, and whatever. Thereâs a little box, and in that box is these same words. So I put those words in the Gate.
So when you chant The Gate of Sweet Nectar, you should know that God is not going to zap you, because youâre chanting those words. And Iâll point them out when we get to them.
I also love metta meditation. If youâve done any Insight Meditation work, youâve done metta meditation, but itâs throughout the Therevada world. So I have metta meditation in there.
Thereâs another big piece that comes from The Psalms. And it was put in here; I mean I got it from this Rabbi thatâs sitting over here, Don Singer. Heâs a Rabbi, and been involved with us. We met, I donât know forty some odd years ago. Yeah, we met a long time ago. At any rate, those words are from the Psalms, right? Thatâs the end of the Gate, the last four lines. And I think Shlomo might have sang them. No? You started that?
Rabbi Singer: Well I put it in the English.
Bernie: You put it in the English. He did it in the Hebrew? The tune was who?
Rabbi Singer: Thatâs from a traditional tune. [sings] This is our light. The length of our days. Day and night we meditate . . .
Bernie: So thatâs part of the Psalms, see. So thatâs in there too.
Rabbi Singer: And ShemaâI know itâs your opinion, but itâs the truth. It is in the imperative form. Listen.
Bernie: Yeah, I know. But I never use the word truth. I mean I stopped using the word truth, false, good, and bad. I only deal in opinions. And anything anybody says to me is an opinion. And what I realized, only a year ago, is that opinions is the language of nonduality. So if anybody asks you whatâs nonduality, you can tell them that only dealing in opinions is dealing in nonduality, that is because opinions donât have values. Theyâre not good. Theyâre not bad. Theyâre opinions. So this is maybe a little off the beat, but an important thingâyou know the image, when climbing to the top of the mountain? And so for any tradition, this image can be used. Whatâs the language at the top of the mountain? You see this is a non-dual place. So I already gave you the answer. The language up there is your opinion. So if we can talk about opinions, weâre all on the top of the mountain. And you are kicked off right away if you say something is good, or bad, or . . .
So itâs simple. Stay out of duality, and just share opinions, and talk. So up there itâs a lot of discussion, but itâs all different opinions. You could have gotten up there through Zen, through Judaism, through Christianity, through Islam, through Atheism. You could have gotten up there so many ways. And you share your opinions, which you do. You drink coffee, you smoke cigars, and you share your opinions. Itâs a wonderful life.
Who could ask for anything more? And you can do it right away. See, all you have to do is stop using dual words. And stop projecting, like this guy up here, because heâs sitting on a chair knows some kind of truth. No! Iâm sharing my opinion.
So the history, we added different things. Also within the history, as I said, it starts off by somebody wanting to help his poor mother who had died, and was now suffering in Hell. It then moves on top be a liturgy to give support to ancestorsâto everybody who had died. It then moves onâand this for me is a critical shiftâit then moves on to be a liturgy for all those who have died that nobody knows had died. You know, there are homeless people freezing to death in the winter, especially in the Eastânobody knows.
In those days there were people dying in wars. And the news wouldnât get back home until a year or so later. So there are all kinds of people dying that nobody knew about. So this liturgy was also for them. Because nobody knew, and so nobody was doing any liturgy. So this was for them.
When I started working with it, I made another shift. I started chanting this liturgy for all aspects of society and of myself that Iâm not taking care of. Not a big shift from all those people that were dying that nobody knew about, and nobody was doing services for. See? But an important shift, because itâs now for all of my aspects that Iâm not taking care of, and all of societyâs aspects. So I made the shift of it originally being a liturgy for only dead people. And the Soto sect in particular is full of liturgy for dead people. Most of the liturgy that I learned was liturgy for dead people. I donât know maybe they were a patriarch, not matriarchsânow we do, we include the matriarchâbut it was all for dead people. I wanted it to be for live people too. For those aspects of ourselves and society that arenât being served.
So thatâs what this liturgy is about. And with that in mind I made different shifts in the wording.
About twenty-five years ago, I did my first Street Retreat. I started a practice I called Street Retreats, where I went to live in the streets. And people came with me. And I think Iâve done my last Street Retreat, because my body says, âBernie, what the hell are you doing?!â And you know, I ache for about a week after it. So three years ago was my last. But then a year and a half ago, I went to do another. So that was my last. So, weâll see.
But on that first Street Retreat, every day we gathered in a circle, and Hans Hokensen was on that. And he said, âYou know, I think we should dedicate the merit of this retreat [He had never chanted this.] to all Buddhas.â And I said well, thatâs a nice idea. And somebody else said, âBut we should also include all creations.â
Those are two lines inside of this liturgy. I was flabbergasted. They had never seen the liturgy. And theyâre chanting lines within it.
So from that day onâand as I say, twenty-five years of Street Retreatsâwhenever I did a Street Retreat, we always chanted this liturgy. And many of the people that have started Street Retreats in my lineage always include the Gate. A guy in Belgium does Street Retreats all the time, and he does this. And Michell Dubois . . . , a man in France, we were on a Street Retreat in Cologneâthe city of Cologne, in Germany. We were doing a Street Retreat, and he was on it, and Frank De Waele Â was there, Cathrine Pages, a bunch of . You donât know these people, but itâs OK. Theyâre all members of the Zen Peacemaker Order. And if you join the Zen Peacemaker Order, you will meet all these people. Because that is becoming an international sangha of friends, or people that will meet each other at different places, and share things. And theyâre wonderful people all around. If you go visit those countries, you can stay at their places. Itâs a good deal, man.
Anyway, we were chanting this. One day we were chanting it, and Michell says, âIâm gonna start a soup kitchen.â It came out of this. Because youâll see, this Gate, weâre gonna invite everybody. So he said, âIâm gonna start a soup kitchenâ in Paris. And he started one for the homeless. And the first week he served five hundred people out of his kitchen, out of Cathrineâs kitchen. And that soup kitchen is still going. It serves about three hundred people in a setting. And it came out of chanting the Gate of Sweet Nectar.
Here, each week the folks are chanting the Gate of Sweet Nectar, and bringing food to food pantries.
People bring food, put it on the alter, and that food goes to the food pantries. So Michell did the same thing, only for 3-5 hundred homeless people a week. Heâs one of the most disorganized people you could meet. Heâs a wonderful, sweet guy. And just imagine him going to the markets. And his grandfather had been the chef to King Louis. So he has that in his genes. Heâs a wonderful cook, but so disorganized you canât believe that anything would come out. But he goes through to the open markets the day before, and he gets second-hand stuff. But gourmet stuff, and he makes gourmet meals. So heâs serving gourmet meals to 3-5 hundred homeless folks a week. And it comes out of this.
So thatâs a little bit of the history and flavor of this particular liturgy.
Once we started to do Bearing Witness retreats at Auschwitzâwe now do that in various places, but the first of that was done in Auschwitz about twenty years ago. We do that annually. But it was obvious that this had to be chanted, because weâre inviting all of the hungry spirits, all of the unsatisfied, all of those that had been forgotten. There are so many that died at Auschwitz that nobody even knows about. And so this became a standard liturgy to be chanted at Auschwitz. And itâs translated into Polish, German, French, Italian, a number of languages. And that song that you heard at the beginning, thatâs by Krishna Das. Krishna Das is a wonderfulâin my opinion, heâs the best Kirtan singer. And heâs a wonderful guy. And I asked him to take that whole beginning in this Gate, and put it into a Kirtan tune. And he did the first four lines. Iâll point it out. We chant it, what he used to work with. But he only did the first four lines. But he has sung that at Auschwitz. And itâs amazing how . . . Yeah, he sang it at some of my wife Jishuâs ashes at this tree in a huge field, thatâs where they had dumped a lot of human ashes. And this tree has like three trees coming out of one. And so when we first put it there, this was sung for her, and many times after. Just two years ago Krishna Das was there. He did the service, and he sang. We have that video on the website.
What Iâve done many timesâitâs not done hereâis Iâve used his . . . Can you sing it? Lead us in the tune?
Calling out to hungry hearts
Everywhere through endless time
You who wander, you who thirst
I offer you this heart of mine
Calling all you hungry spirits
Everywhere through endless time
Calling all you hungry hearts
All the lost and left behind
Gather round and share this meal
Your joy and sorrow, I make it mine
Roshi Egyoku: So that it of the last line should be them. We havenât gotten around to changing it.
Bernie: So, Iâm going to use a word that I hate. So I will contradict myself as soon as I say it. The tradition is to have that song appear as it appears in this. And tradition is a word that I dislike, because I think itâs a cop-out. Itâs saying that what you learned from your teacher, or your parent, or someone, that thatâs the right thing. And in my opinion there aint no right thing. And I believe in not knowingâcoming to something without any ideas. So if I come that way, I canât call on tradition. It doesnât make any sense. And I have to look at it fresh, and bear witness to whatâs happening.
But traditionally this appears where it is in your book. But Iâve done many times, put it before the liturgy starts. So here if you go to a place where they do the service, and if they have the money, they have a big bell. And they are hitting the big bell to call everybody to come in to do the liturgy. Instead of that big bell, I sing this song. Iâm calling everybody in, because I like that feeling. And at Auschwitz, same thingâwe chant that until everybody has come together, and then we start.
So itâs just another variation on a theme. As you know, itâs very important to have variations on a theme. And I encourage anybody, everybody thatâs going to use this liturgy to start with something . . . I mean thereâs a subset of you who are going to be trained how to do all the bells and whistles, and stuff like thatâand shaking of stuff. But I also encourageâadapt. Do what feels good for you.
So for example, my wife Eve Marko, in her Zendo, they donât use a ryoban. A ryoban, it means the bosses. And it comes out of a monastic model. And the people that go on a ryoban are the various bosses of the placeâthe big shots. And if they donât have enough big shots, somebody goes around and says, âYou, go on the ryoban. Be a big shot.â But in a big monastery there are specific thingsâthe head of the kitchen, tenzo, is one of the big shots. Godo Roshi, the head of training in the meditation hall, thatâs another big shot. The head of the guestâYudoâI donât know if Yudo is here, but that kind of position, the head of the guests, heâs on the ryoban.
One side is sort of the administrative heads. The head accountant, thatâs really the boss of the monastery. The Abbott, they come and go. The guy who handles all the finance and whatever, heâs forever. Heâs got all the money, so heâs really important. Heâs on there. And then on one side is all the executive types, administrative types. And of course Ino is one of those positions, because theyâre the leaders of the chanting. Theyâre the heads of the liturgy of the monastery. Then on the other side is heads of the training. Itâs sort of different. The administrative heads are there for a long time. Itâs a job, man. Youâre there for twenty, thirty, forty years. The trainees are there for three months. Thereâs a head trainee and different trainees.
So thatâs called the ryoban. And thatâs a form. In your head if youâre using that form, you put people you want to honor. And you think through, who do I want to honor? It doesnât have to be the bosses. You could put kids on the ryoban. You could find a homeless person, bring him in, and put him on the rioban. Be creative.
So thatâs one way. My wife, Eve Marko, in her center she does it in a circle. She does this liturgy. I donât know, maybe itâs because she never ordained, and she doesnât get into all these things. Sheâs learned about them all because unfortunately sheâs married to me. But also when she was studying she learned about all these things. And she was our head Doan. A Doan is generally in charge of the bells and stuff, drums, things like that.
I want to introduce the word MC. Master of Ceremonies, thatâs a term used in the Episcopal churches, many churchesâMaster of Ceremonies. And here the MC is really Roshi Egyoku. That person knows all the positions, and is directing people how to do them. And they can change. You know, she can change how they want it done. And thatâs common throughout the world, that thereâs somebody thatâs . . . In the theater it would probably be the production person. I donât know what the equivalent is. So the fifteen people that weâre training today, that are gonna train in these different positions, whatâs very important is that they also understand everything, which is that they become MCs.
And I would like to see that we have within the Zen Peacemaker Order a number of MCs. So that when thereâs something important thatâs happening, and the place, wherever it is, in Iceland doesnât knowâwe can send an MC there, and heâll tell you. Thatâs very common in Japan. You donât have any big event without bringing in an MC. The local priest doesnât know how to do all these things. Theyâre not trained in that way. So MCs become very important.
And within our lineage, I think I fill that role, as an MC. And also Egyoku does, and I think Enkyo does. Not too many people are trained in all of the things that we know. Of course thereâs a lot more that we donât know. So anyway, for those that are going to train in positions, train in positions but also keep an eye open for the whole thing, including the officiantâs role.
OK, weâre ready to start. So, I was talking about different formsâso, it can be done in a circle at Auschwitz. What we do is we make the tree the alter, and we form a semi-circle around the tree. Thatâs the format generally. But the form and the format is what feels right for the place. And Iâm just throwing out a few different formats, to say that I like the idea of being creative, and think of new things. Another thing that I like that they doâwell, not all the time, but what theyâve done a lot at my wifeâs centerâis where you saw the officiant going up and blessing some food. They have kids with boxes of candy going around and feeding everybody in the room during that part. And the kids love it of course. And the parents love it of course. Everybody loves it. These kids come in and theyâre feeding them sweets and different stuff.
But anyway, you can see the creativity that can be brought to it. Itâs nice to know a traditional way. And itâs nice to know that there can be variations. I should say of course you know there are going to be variations. Itâs nice to feel free to deal with variations.
Jishu, my previous wife who died. She used to tell me a lot that she loved doing services when I wasnât there. Because when I was there she was nervous that she was going to make a mistake, and I would yell at her or correct her. She wanted to be free. If she did it, whatâs the difference? It was a little different. But I was very rigid in those days. And that can be harmful.
So the first thing that we chant . . . Well, weâve already talked about Krishna Das. Let me just point out, if you skip to âSupplication for the Raising of the Bodhi Mind,â So page 6, âSupplication for the Raising of the Bodhi Mind,â and you see where it says, âRaising the Bodhi mind, the supreme meal is offered.â Thatâs the part that Krishna Das wrote as The Hungry Hearts. So if you read this calling out to hungry hearts, then read that first . . . I asked him to do the whole thing, man. And he got as far as the first four. Heâs a performer. He performs all around the world, and he always sings this. And he always tells the story that, âI did it for Bernie, and then I gave it to him, and he saysâ âWell how long till I have to rest?ââ And he still hasnât done the rest.
And then weâre chanting . . . It says, âInvocation for the Manifestation of the Ten Buddhas.â Three, (Iâm gonna count them) four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. So thereâs twelve here, and thereâs one more thatâs going to be addedâthe mother of the Buddhas. Can you imagine that I fell into that trap, that old trap of leaving out the mother of the Buddhas? I chose the term that I wanted to have here. Itâs a common thing to chant the names of ten Buddhas. I chose ten, but it seems like thereâs twelve. Or whatever. But Iâm lucky I have wonderful female Dharma Successors that are always catching those errors. So this will be in there soon.
Roshi Egyoku: Well, we do have a lot of Prajnaparamita, but with a qualifier. I donât know that we want to leave her at the end. So we might move her further up on the list.
Bernie: Because mothers generally are at the beginning.
Roshi Egyoku: Letâs take our rightful place.
Bernie: Yeah. But for me, whatâs important relating to this, is that in my opinion, or how I would like to see this done is that you are . . . Whatâs the word weâre saying? Invocating? Or invitingâthat you are inviting that aspect of you that is iconicized by these things. So when you say being one with Mahaprajnaparamita, what youâre doing is youâre manifesting yourself as Mahaprajnaparamita.
There is a practice that I know of . . . that takes thirty days to chant this. And during that time . . . So at this period they are sitting to become one with Buddha, Dharma, Sangha . . . And thatâs like a week. So this part is a week. Weâre asking you do it very quickly, man. When youâre chanting, itâs not that youâre paying homage to something outside of you. Youâre recognizing that part of yourself.
Having said that, I would like to just acknowledge change, because these are all aspects of ourselves that we feel good about. I would like to have some shadow aspects in this. Because what we want to do in this service is become the whole thing, man. And the whole thing is not just the good things we like. And in fact weâre going to do invitations later on. But this beginning, we want feel like we are the whole thing, and now weâre going to do this liturgy. OK.
So Iâve never done it, but it would be interesting to do a Sesshin, where each day youâre trying to manifest as one of these qualities.
OK, so now here we are. Weâre the whole thing, the whole Indraâs net. And then we start. So itâs sort of interesting if you think about it. Here we are, the whole thing. And now whatâs going to happen is weâre going to invite everyone to enter meâenter my practice circle. Or another way of putting itâIâm going to invite myself, thatâs the whole thing, to be all of these different pieces. And Iâm going to delineate all these different families. And . . . used the five Buddha families of the mandala. The mandala being the circle of life. It was divided; there was a division of that whole circle into five energies.
So this liturgy is going to invite all of the denizens of those five energies into where? Into me. Starting off with me being all of that, but now Iâm going to delineate all these different parts of myself. And in order to do that, you need to have a certain amount of energy, and all kinds of stuff.
So first Iâm going to chant some Dharanis, so that I get all that energy, manâI can do all of that. No sweat, as they say.
So first I sort of describe whatâs going to happen. Weâre raising the bodhi mind. In a way, if I manifest this out of all these different things, then thatâs raising the bodhi mind. If I also am feeding everybody, and teaching everybody . . . And youâll see included in this is the feeding of everybody, and the teaching of everybody. And Iâm that everybody. Then thatâs all raising the bodhi mind. So what itâs saying is if Iâm having raising the bodhi mind, the supreme meal. And the supreme meal is the raising the bodhi mind. The supreme meal is manifesting as everything, not leaving anything out.
Itâs not so simple, things we leave out, because weâre afraid of them, or we donât like them, all kinds of reasons. The supreme meal is offered to all of the hungry spirits throughout space and time.
All of you hungry spirits in the ten directions, please gather here. Sharing your distress, I offer you this food, hoping it will resolve your thirst and hungers.
Now one thing I did, because I sort of liked this so much, this particular liturgy, is I made a koan system out of it. And every line was a koan. And there are (Iâm happy to say), there are two people that finished that koan system. One is my wife, Eve Marko. And one is a guy named Michael OâKeefe that many of you know, because heâs an actor. He lives in New York, and he lives in L.A. Heâs practiced here. Heâs practiced there. He finished the koan study. And he had hoped to be here, but he couldnât. But he gave Roshi Egyoku a fair amount of the mudras. Because heâs the only that I knowâthere are mudras that the officiant uses throughout thisâand heâs the only one I know that knows them all. I mean as part of dharma succession with most of my dharma successors, we went over all of that. But unless you do it quite a lot, you forget. And I canât remember any of those. He does this every day. He goes through the mudras. So he keeps them. So he helped Egyoku to make pictures of them, and we have them all down. We hadâI donât know what happened to themâI had pictures of all of the mudras.
Maezumi Roshi had the mudras when I was doing the translation. But he didnât do them. I mean itâs a lot of work. And if youâre not in a Tibetan school, you can say, âScrew it. Theyâre mudras, thatâs Tibetan people that do that. Thatâs not my tradition.â But he knew them all.
Audience member: How many are there, Bernie?
Bernie: Mudras? Not that manyâsix, seven, would you say?
Roshi Egyoku: Eight, nine.
Bernie: Eight, nine.
Roshi Egyoku: Youâll get them this afternoon.
Bernie: All of you are going to do that training. So thatâs another thing, in my time it was only given to priests. There are novice priests, people who have what I have, the Japanese word is tokudo, the word we us is tokudo. Is that the word we use here?
Roshi Egyoku: Ordination.
Bernie: Tokudo actually (these are sidelines), Tokudo, that translates as ceremony. And there are two types of ceremonies in the beginning of the practice, early on. Thereâs the ceremony, tokudo shukke, the ceremony of leaving home. And ordination is a translation of that.
Roshi Egyoku: Or initiation is I think also. Itâs more accurate.
Bernie: Initiation, itâs the beginning. And I use the term Novice Priest after you do that. And thereâs also the ceremony of staying home. And that we tend to call Jukai, which means receiving Precepts. You receive Precepts in both ceremonies.
So literally, one is the ceremony of starting the path of priesthood. And the other is becoming a Buddhist. It starts off with the initial thing of the days of Shakyamuni Buddha, taking refuge. And in many Buddhist schools they still take refuge. And itâs just taking refuge in Buddha, taking refuge in Dharma, taking refuge in Sangha. And then you say, âMazel Tov, youâre a Buddhist!â
The Soto school made it bigger. Youâve got to say more things. Then in the Zen Peacemakers Order, we include the Three Tenets, not knowing, bearing witness . . . And we changed the wording of the Precepts with the founding teachers included, Roshi Egyoku, and Roshi Halifax, and Roshi Marko, and Roshi Genro Gauntt, and Roshi Enkyo, and Roshi Jishu, and Bernie. And we spent about a year coming up with the wording that we like. And it can evolve. It will evolve.
So another way for me, when you do that taking refuge thing, I call it entering a club. So in the days of Shakyamuni, you want to enter my club? You got to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And do I have to study anything? No, you donât have to study anything. You just have to say, âIâll take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.â
We make it a little bit more difficult in the Zen Peacemaker Order, to become a member of the club. We have a lot of candidates, and I encourage everybody to become a member of the Zen Peacemaker Order, because itâs a wonderful thing. And itâs almost as good as coffee. But anyway, I think weâre doing beautiful things.
How did I get on to all of that?
Audience member: You were talking about the mudras . . .
Bernie: Yeah. They were only passed on to this person that entered the priestâs path. You get to a certain point, and guess whatâyour teacher says, âYou finished your training as a Priest, as far as Iâm concerned. And of course thereâs more to learn. And Iâm going to give you another ceremony, and now youâre a full Priest.â
Traditionally these mudras were only given to those full Priests. Today we are breaking tradition! And all of you that are in that training, thereâs about fifteen of you that are gonna learn all of this stuffâyouâre gonna learn the mudras. Whether youâre a full Priest, or a shlemiel, we donât care. Youâre all gonna learn it. And of course you can forget it. Thatâs going to be easier.
But itâs interesting; we both had the same thought. I had that thought. I know that sheâs been working on this for a while. And weâve been back and forth, and with Michael. And I was thinking is she going to do this for everybody, or just for the full Priests? And then I said, you know in my opinion, this should be done for everybody. So I get here and I ask her, what are you going to do? âIâm gonna give it to everybody.â So, isnât that nice? We had the same . . . Thatâs mind-to-mind transmission.
The mantras were a little tricky to translate. Some of these mantras, the actual wording is lost. I worked with Francis Cook, who did a lot of translation work. Heâs a professor out here, and also studied here. And I worked with him. Heâs the one that told me that a lot of these Dharanis, mantras, were lost. They were mistranslated. I mean we have something, but itâs gibberish. Because it got translated from the Indian to the Chinese, and then to the Japanese. And they lost the original.
If they had the original, he could give me the correctâin his opinionâtranslation. Because he did give me, and then Peter Gregory said, âWell there are other ones.â See, you never know, man. There are different opinions. Guess whatâdifferent translators translate things differently. Itâs just like us as humans, when we talk to each other, we hear things differently. And then when we say to somebody else, it comes out different. So same with translators. Thereâs no translation that is the correct translation. There are various opinions, different ways to translate.
But at any rate, we did the best we could. I did the best I could, I think. I referred with different people. And another thing that I would apologizeâsome of what weâre chanting in so-called Sanskrit.
Everybody knows in SanskritâIâll give you a simple exampleâthe word Om appears a lot. Itâs a special sound. The Japanese canât make that sound. So they had On. So if you ever see an On in a Japanese kind of thing, you know that thatâs a transliteration of Om. And the word Om has such a powerful thing. On doesnât seem to me to have that same power. So there are things like that, that I try to catch. But I may not have, so you should know that.
Letâs stop for a second, and ask if you have questions. I mean I donât like to talk to people . . . I think Iâve said enough to have some questions arise.
Audience member: The mudras are accompanying what? Dharanis? I missed out what that meant.
Bernie: Yes, so we have to be a little careful, and I donât know if Iâm the right one to answer. It doesnât matter that much. Thereâs a subtle difference between Dharani and Mantra. And sometimes you see something called a Dharani, and sometimes a Mantra. But there is a little difference.
Mantras and Dharanis are chants. Dharanis and Mantras are chants, and Mudras are hand positions. Itâs interesting, Iâve never heard of foot positions.
Roshi Egyoku: They do have body positions, like the royal ease positions.
Bernie: Yeah. I donât know any liturgy thatâs using other than hand positions, but you would think there would be more than just hand positions. But any rate, I donât know them. And generally yes, they are accompanying a Dharani, or a Mantra.
Roshi Egyoku: Well, they accompany the entire Gate actually.
Bernie: Which is mostly Mantras and Â . . .
Roshi Egyoku: Yeah. But thereâs not any part of the Gate that does not have a Mudra associated with it.
Audience member: In this Prayer of Raising the Bodhi Mind, could you say something about this language?
So that being joyously reborn you will play freely in the Fields of the Pure Land. Raising the Bodhi Mind and practicing the Enlightened Way, you become the future Buddhas without any further regress.
And I can kind of see that two ways. Oneâthat youâre joyously reborn now to play freely in the Fields of the Pure Land, or it can sound very kind of reincarnation-like. I just wondered if you could say something about that.
Do you understand what Iâm asking?
Bernie: Yeah. I do. And you introduced an important word that we all have different feelings about, and interpretations. You introduced the word reincarnation. So I have many ways of looking at reincarnation, and I have my own theories of reincarnation, which weâre probably not going to get to. But I donât know, if itâs going to pop up. But that theory of reincarnation comes out of my theory of nothing. I have a theory of nothing.
Audience member: I should say I understand this in a particular way, but the language I could easily see as being more about reincarnation.
Bernie: Well, so one way of looking at reincarnationâto me, in my opinionâis that every moment we are being reincarnated. So thatâs the usage here.
Now you have to put this in context, you know. So weâre starting off by becoming the whole thing, the whole Indraâs net, or everything. Now the whole thing is not static. The whole thing is constantly changing. So weâre also saying . . . In my opinion, the words, âyou will be liberated,â means you will drop all your conditioning. That you will be in the state of not knowing. The state of not knowing is the state of liberation, because anything can happen.
Liberation is defiled by anything you attach to, any conditioning that you are attached to. Itâs not defiled by your conditioning. Itâs defiled by the conditioning that you hold on to, that you attach to. Itâs defiled by the attachments, which in my opinion are things that are thought patterns created by your brain. The brain, if it doesnât have those kind of thought patterns, those attachments, if you can get rid of all those attachments, the brain is just receiving the whole energy field, all of Indraâs net. And thatâs total liberation.
And in that space, youâre free to play. Whatever youâre doing, youâre not playing based on your conditioning. Youâre playing based on whateverâs happening. Man, you know? Itâs so cool! I love it. Itâs such a wonderful thing to get out of your conditioning, and be able to be free.
And one way to get out of your conditioning, for all of you people that belong to whateverâdrop the word tradition. Thatâs a conditioning. Thatâs a conditioning. We open. You can look at things that are going on. Once you call it tradition, youâve put an attachment to saying thatâs the right way it should be done. Thatâs generally the way people use that word, tradition.
âOh look what theyâre doing! Thatâs the way itâs supposed to be done.â And then I look, and I say, Oh, guess what? Weâre in the liturgy hall, and the officiant was wearing socks. And sheâs the Abbot. And the previous Abbot, he was wearing socks too! That ain’t tradition. Tradition is you canât walk in those rooms with socks. Unless youâre wearing what they call bessu, a Japanese form of sock. Thatâs tradition.
Itâs crazy, man. So you could certainly say, oh in Japan, you canât go into some particular temple, into the Zendo, or whatever, with socks. And thatâs the tradition of that temple. If an old person whoâs not in good health comes in, theyâll let them wear socks. Because most of those people who are training are young kids.
When I first moved to New York I had these wonderful old people studying. And I said am I going to force them to go barefoot in this cold? Theyâre old. And I said but I donât break tradition. And I came to what this word means. And I was saying tradition, because I thought that was correct. It was correct to make these old people go barefoot on cold . . . It was cold in New York. Cold floor, thatâs crazy, man. So over the years Iâve had to continuously look at that word, and see what it means to me.
How did I get to that?
Audience member: Reincarnation.
Bernie: Oh, I got it. So this line underlines everything I just said. See that? Wow. Iâm glad you asked because I never thought of that before.
My first Dharma Successor is a man named Peter Matthiessen, he died recently. He was a great writer, in my opinion, and one of his books that did very well is called At Play in the Fields of the Lord. Iâve used that phrase, âat play,â a lot. And it comes from that. And I have to admit my teacher didnât like that translation. Itâs a translation of the word . . . Iâm trying to remember the Japanese, Jijuyu Samadhi. And so I translated that into play. And Maezumi Roshi didnât like the word play. I love the word play.
So in my opinion thatâs a good translation. Itâs a very important term, that kind of Samadhi. How would you translate it? Anybody here . . .
Audience member: Well itâs from the Latin translation, and âat play in the field of the Lordâ is from the Proverbs in The Bible.
Bernie: No, I know. I mean how would you translate this word Jijuyu Samadhi? Itâs sort of like an unattached . . . Itâs a free kind of Samadhi, literally. But play was going a little too far for him. Â
Roshi Egyoku: I think sometimes we do see it as play now.
Bernie: Iâm just saying he was more serious than that. He didnât like that word.
Audience member: If I may, it also includes, âdelighting a human being, causing God to laugh.â
Bernie: Yeah, thatâs the inspiration. And Peter Matthiessen I think took the title of his book from that, from what you said.
So I use it a lot when I can, but especially when I run into this particular word. I translate it this way. But itâs basically an unattached, you know, a nonconditioned state, which youâre free to do. And itâs considered (I think, if my memory is right), itâs considered the highest level of Samadhi. One is totally free.
Audience member: When we talked about in here, itâs always been confusing to me when I was looking at this. We have dharanis, and mantras, and then we have prayers, we have invocations. How do you distinguish those, or do you?
Bernie: So, Iâd have to look through it again. But without looking, because this was done a long time ago, and it changes constantly. If I went through it, Iâm sure I would change a lot. So as I stand or sit now, for me when I see the word invocation, what comes up in my head is being one with. An invocation for me is removing the subject/object relationship between myself and what Iâm invocating. I think thatâs a fancier way of saying, âbeing one with.â
To me mantras and dharanis both cast a magical spell. And I donât believe in magical spells, but I do believe in magic. Iâve done a lot of magic work. I love magic work. So theyâre used to ask for health. Theyâre used when youâre going on trips. Theyâre not used when youâre going on acid trips. Theyâre used on different . . . when youâre wishing somebody well. But they should do it on acid trips.
Audience member: When you say that itâs like . . . A couple weeks ago somebody was giving a talk about the science of body posture. Like if you stand up like this . . . you feel really free. . .
Bernie: Not if you have arthritis.
Audience member: . . . and if you bend over like this . . . youâre trapped. Is that the same kind of thing as a dharani?
Bernie: Well, in my opinion I would apply mudras to what you just said. But maybe dharanis and mantras would be verbal expressions of that. You know?
Roshi Egyoku: Theyâre like a concentration of energy, in a very particular way.
Bernie: Yeah, and usually to make some kind of change that you want. So we would hope, see, that youâre making those changes for something nice. But there are people that are using those mantras and dharanis to cast spells on you. You know, theyâre hoping that youâre going to get sick, not well. Or theyâre hoping youâre gonna trip. So they can be used in different ways. And then they say oh, thatâs black mantras, or red mantras.
So in Judaism we have a dharani thatâs used all the time. âKenahora.â And you know what it literally means?
Audience member: âWithout the evil eye.â
Bernie: So if you say anything good, âMy son just graduated collegeâkenahora.â That kenahora means the evil eye wonât come on you, and on my son, or on anyone. See? Itâs a protection. And my father, who was born in Romania of a Jewish teacher, learned how to get rid of the evil eye. If you didnât say kenahora, and the evil eye came on you, he could come along and get rid of the evil eye. So he had other mantras.
So these mantras and dharanis are all over the place. And certainly mudrasâwhen we sit in the Soto sect, we generally sit with whatâs called the Ocean Mudra. And itâs supposed to be a relaxing mudra. But other people sit with a different mudra. Thereâs all kinds of mudras, and theyâre supposed to do different things. And where you place them, and what chakra youâre doing is gonna have different effects.
Now we know mudras. If you raise up your fist, and go like that . . . Thatâs a mudra. And thatâs evoking a certain thing. Very different than a gassho, which is a mudra. So the hand position we know evoke different kinds of feelings and emotions. And there are people then that study these and create new ones to evoke different images. Whether they work for you or not, itâs not the question. And you have to experiment, and see if itâs useful or not, and get into the business of mudra-making.
More questions? Why donât you say your name when you ask a questions? And stand up so we see you.
Audience member: My name is Sarah. In a prayer for transferring the merit of this practice, I was wondering if you could speak just to the language of the âdharma world of true reality.â Iâm just a little curious about that, alongside what you were saying about using words like true or false, or good or bad.
Audience member: On page seven.
Bernie: So, this is a great example. If I were to reread it now, I wouldnât use that term. I have to say that when I did this translation with Maezumi Roshi, that was about thirty-five years ago. And then I revised it probably around â82âthirty-three years ago. And I havenât revised it since then. Some of my dharma successors have revised what I have done. But I havenât gone back and looked over it. Thirty-three years, Iâve changed a lot, man. So I should. And weâre trying to make this the basic liturgy for the Zen Peacemaker Order, because itâs about dealing with the issues weâre hoping you in Zen Peacemakers will be doing.
So I should go through word-by-word the âDharma of True Reality.â Iâm sure . . . Iâm not sureâI would imagine that was a straight translation. And I would not use truth in anything I did now. So I will change that. Â Â
Audience member: To the âDharma world of just my opinion, realityâ?
Bernie: So that brings up a good example of trying to do a good translation right now, that the one that was just put out I find awkward.
With this I didnât have a chance . . . I did a lot of translations. As I said, I did a lot with Maezumi Roshi, and then I did a lot more with a Japanese guy that was a student of mine, Kosho, and Peter Matthiessen. Because Kosho knew the Japanese really well. I had the sense, or I had an opinion of what was trying to be said. And Peter Matthiessen was a wonderful wordsmith, so he could put it into something that sounded right. What we just heard was horrible wordsmithâin my opinionâbut close to the meaning I would have.
So if we start with that, âThe Dharma of True Reality,â and we try to get a translation, one of the problems . . . I do have books with the original. I have the original, and a word-by-word of whatâs in the original. But it doesnât matter. As I said, I changed many things.
Let me just think for one second. âThe Dharma of True Reality.â What the hell is âTrue Realityâ? So Iâm going to let my mind work a little. OK?
So I say Dharma of True Reality, and True Reality morphs for me into just this. âThe Dharma of Just This.â I think I might go with that. I might go with that. âThe Dharma of Just This.â
The way I operate in everythingâso I want to bring it to this example tooâI operate via the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order. So again, what popped up was Just This. But I would still try to drop that âJust Thisâ for a second, and not have any idea what it could be, and Iâll bear witness to âDharma of True Reality,â and see what comes up.
I do that in all aspects of my lifeâthe Three Tenets. And for me itâs worked very well, or Iâve enjoyed it. Iâve had a good lifeâin my opinion.
So far what keeps popping up is âJust This.â But Iâll spend some more time with it, and thatâs what I will do going through the text.
Audience member: I believe it may be a strict translation of âDharmakaya,â possiblyâif that might help.
Bernie: Say more. You said a strict translation . . .
Audience member: Oh yeah, the original, when you originally translated it, it might have been from the word, Dharmakaya was the word it was translated from.
Bernie: No. I have to go and look at the translation, but I doubt it. In the original if it said âDharmakaya,â would probably remain âDharmakayaâ or would become âDharma Body.â I mean Dharmakaya literally is Dharma Body. Thatâs a straight translation. Iâve never heard Dharmakaya translated as âDharma of True Reality.â The word Dharma is in there, but thatâs . . . âTrue Realityâ is the key. Whatâs the original âTrue Realityâ? I doubt that the original . . . I have to look.
There are certain words that have crept into our Buddhist thought that a very philosophicalâthat absolute and relativeâthat comes from the world of philosophy. The original doesnât have that. The original is more poetic. So truth is a tricky word. And many times the word that gets translated as truth is actually in the name of this templeâShin, in which the Roshi has used essence, rather than truth. A lot of people would say, âBuddha Truth.â And that Shin is not mind, itâs really essence. But it gets translated a lot as truth. So thatâs what I would think more. And Dharma in Japanese is Ho. Hoshinji is another famous temple, which could be translatedâand I think badlyâas âDharma of True Reality.â
The âEssence of the Dharmaâ could be. That would be my guess without looking at the original. I donât know if I would do that as âDharma Essence.â I mean thatâs a possibility. But âJust Thisâ is clearer for me. I tend to try to use when I translate non-Buddhist terms. So if I say âDharma Essence,â I donât know how clear that is to you. But what is âDharma Essenceâ? Is it a new perfume? But just now, âJust This,â thatâs fairly clear. You canât make too much of that. It may not be too clear to grasp what âJust Thisâ is, but still, the thought is clear.
Audience member: I have one thing that came up when you bore witness to this, and this is in the lineage of my co-witnessing. I would say in the âDharma World of Co-Arisingâ came right up for me. But I had another question.
Bernie: Where are you . . .
Audience member: In your same thing where you would say âDharma World of True Reality,â I would say, âDharma World of Co-Arising.â But I also wanted to know your, kind of how you look overall at ritual and liturgy, and how you see that operating in the Zen Peacemaker Order. What are some of your opinions on that?
Bernie: Yeah, OK. So, I donât want to brag, but that was one of my fortes, liturgy. I somehow grasp it very quickly I think, and then I had the opportunity to see liturgy as it was played out in Japan, and various places. So I wasnât stuck into thinking that the liturgy we were doing at Z.C.L.A. was the right liturgy, or the tradition, because I saw all different plays. And in fact, my teacher Maezumi Roshi was not so big on liturgy. He brought monks from Japan to teach us. And they always came with little different ideas. You know, so it was always different. So that helped.
It helped me to realize that there are a lot of differences, and that thereâs an importance to that. Because the founder of the Soto sect said each place should have itâs own . . . He used the word fu, which means literally air, or wind. Youâve heard of the word typhoonâthatâs a big fu. Fu is also in the way we use styleâit had a certain air. So he thought everybody should have itâs own style.
But I was quick to pick up the various ways it was being done in these different places. You know, I would hear it, or see it, and I would remember it. Nowadays I forgot everything. I canât remember anything.
So Iâve always liked it. Iâve thought a liturgy is sort of celebrating. A celebrationâin that context the liturgy was celebrating the essence. And so I would want liturgy to be in that wayâsomehow a celebration of whatâs going on.
So for me, this Gate is a celebration of the Zen Peacemaker Order, or the Zen Peacemaker movement, or of that. And the reason I choose this as that celebration is because itâs dealing with all those aspects that people arenât taking care of, including of myself.
I started this whole thing because in â76 I had this experience of all of the hungry spirits in the world, the universe. And my immediate reaction was a vow to feed them, to serve them. So you can see this liturgy is directly dealing with that. And I think the Zen Peacemaker Order is directly dealing with that, and celebrating the hugeness of us as an international sangha, as people to become friends with like minded people around the world, and to work on taking care of the things that this thing is trying to ask us to do.
So the simple answer is that liturgy for me is a celebration. And the more complicated answer is what I just rambled.
Audience member: My name is Julia. Two thingsâwhat came up for me in the translation is âThe Dharma World of Reality As It Is,â which is very simple to your âJust This.â âReality As It Is,â because it is a philosophical . . .
Bernie: Yeah, Iâm not so comfortable with âReality,â thatâs my problem.
Audience member: Ah. âThe World As It Is,â then.
Bernie: Yeah. Thatâs more comfortable to me. And we may say, I would think we would say that the world as it is has a name, and that would be Reality. But reality is just a conceptâin my opinionâso I donât use it.
Audience member: So the other thing, I wanted to pick up on the question from before, because I didnât hear you use the word prayer, as a separate category. Is invocation a prayer, or is there some difference between them?
Bernie: You know, really to be good, Iâd have to go through and see how itâs used here. So I was answering independent of whatâs happening in the Gateâjust on those terms. So I would say that dharanis and mantras could be translated as prayers. Thatâs just an English term for it. And dharanis and mantras have a little bit more magic associated with it. Prayer, because itâs a word in the Christian Judaic tradition has its own connotation. And I donât know if we would call prayer magical. But in both cases well wishing is sort of what comes out of . . . Youâre doing dharanis and mantras as means of well wishing, and prayers too.
Audience member: Would you say itâs a state of mind?
Bernie: Yeah, definitely. Or not definitelyâbe careful. I would say, in my opinion, itâs a state of mind. And so there are practices to achieve that state of mind. And mudras are one of those practices. The use of mudras can help us achieve that state of mind. But also the dharani, or the mantra, or the prayer can get us to achieve that state of mind. But it is a state of mindâin my opinion.
Audience member: I had the same question. So all of the language here, itâs really about evoking a certain energy in yourself. I mean what is the intention here?
Bernie: Yes, I would say so.
Audience member: I guess because my point is a lot of times different people conceive of prayer, coming from that particular idea, is youâre asking someone else for something. But the way Iâve always related to it is itâs really about evoking . . . Itâs like the being one. You know, itâs like that kind of a sense of it.
Bernie: Yeah, in my opinion, I agree with your thought, with your opinion. But I would go one step further, or I think itâs one step further, that youâre doing that not just to evoke that in your state of mind, but in the state of mind of the crowd, of the environment, or the universe. Thatâs where you should be heading.
Now if itâs just to evoke it in oneâs selfâand I think a lot of it is all about thatâthat to me is very limiting. Thatâs a small part of Indraâs net. How do I evoke that in the whole Indraâs net? And this is about the whole thing, man. Itâs breaking it into different parts. And weâre going to treat different parts in different ways, but itâs about the whole thing. Itâs not just about . . .
So if youâre using me, in the sense of me as the âwhole thing,â then weâre fine.
Audience member: You know one of the things, when we do this, there are eleven positions, because I usually assign them, or often do. And we talk a lot here about practicing in that way, practicing as one body. And how much you see all these different people that have various positions in the Gate of Sweet Nectar service. And itâs all flowing in all these different ways. And then all of the participants, who are chanting. So it really is youâre evoking an energetic in this body, but also in the one body thatâs there. And then of course throughout all space and time.
But the thing thatâs great about this service in particular is there are so many different moving parts to it, that as it moves together, you really get a sense of the continuous flow thatâs really required.
Bernie: Yeah, thatâs a nice opinion, in my opinion.
Audience member: I just had an opinion coming on the question of the prayer, and the mantras, and the dharanis. You know, Iâm reflecting where I come from, and we use the word for prayer as a devotional practice. When Iâm a hungry ghosts, I donât have space to raise the bodhi mindâIâm a hungry ghost. And the only practice thatâs available to me is prayer. Iâm praying for that aspect of me to arise. So I actually like that . . . I donât know if itâs by chance, but the way Iâm reading this is that because Iâm inviting all of these parts, some of this liturgy is actually being sung by the hungry parts in me. And thatâs why we pray. And then when I shift into the bodhi mind, I can include all of that.
Bernie: Thatâs another nice opinion.
Audience member: I like the English, âPray tell.â I mean thereâs something so . . . In truth, pray tell. It just . . .
Bernie: So let me give an example of a part of this that weâll probably talk more about tomorrow.
Thereâs a part where the officiant goes up to the alter to feed the hungry ghostsâliterally, with food. When she goes up there . . . And of course weâve done some preliminary work, which weâll see. She has to make a lot of food because sheâs going to feed all the hungry spirits of the everything, including all of us. So weâve already done some stuff, but now sheâs also doing some stuff to make the food thatâs up there enough to feed everybody and whatever. And she does her reading, and weâre chanting along with her. Turning the wheel of compassion.
And then she comes back, and we keep chanting. Why do we keep chanting? Sheâs already fed everybody.
[Phone alarm goes off]
In the Zen Peacemaker Order, we ask everybody to spend one minute at noon in silence for peace in the universe. And most people have put that on their iPhone at noon so theyâre reminded. And no matter what the situation, we spend a minute in silence. And if you donât want to, you can get up and make noise, but most of us spend one minute.
Thatâs another reason to join the Zen Peacemaker Order, so you can set your alarm to go off at noon. Iâve been doing that since 1980âevery day. And I thought of the idea of doing that at a conference I was at with a guy named Brother David. Heâs the only one I knew before we made this a practice. Heâs also been doing this since then. I do it no matter what. Iâve done a lot of big things, meeting with banks, or meeting with mayors, or whatever. And the alarm goes off, I explain to themâthey can join me, or not join me.
So now with this Zen Peacemaker Order, so people doing this around the world, can you imagine? Pretty soon weâll have peace because so many people do that at noon. One minute, man. Thatâs enough.
So, why do we keep chanting after she comes back to the alter? The reason is that many hungry spirits are too embarrassed to come and get fed at the alter. I donât know if youâve ever met anybody who thinks theyâre not worth it. So all of the hungry spirits who think theyâre not worth it, they donât come.
This last time around, this third time around, after sheâs back to the alter, thatâs for all of those who were too ashamed to come. They didnât come for whatever reason. They tripped and they sprained their ankle, they couldnât come. Whatever the reason, they didnât come. And most of the reason is they didnât think enough of themselves. They thought they werenât worth it. And we think they are worth it. So weâre gonna feed them also. Â
So that is a prayer for those who didnât accept our first prayer of coming to be fed. Itâs a prayer for those who donât think theyâre good enough to be fed.
July 18, 2017
March 27, 2017