Exploring the Bodhisattva Way, Free Adventures Every Day
EXPLORING THE BODHISATTVA WAY,Â FREE ADVENTURES EVERY DAY
By Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt
A talk givenÂ at Upaya Zen Center on September 28, 2015
Transcribed by Scott Harris, Photos by Jesse Jiryu Davis
Genro: Good evening everybody. Itâ€™s lovely to be here, lovely to be here with you. And this room, the energy during zazenâ€”good work. It feels great.
Joshin mentioned that Iâ€™m here because weâ€™re doing a Bearing Witness retreat tomorrow in Albuquerque. And the whole idea of bearing witness came out of Bernie Tetsugen Glassman Roshiâ€™s practice. Back when he was in collegeâ€”he did his graduate work at UCLA, in Los Angeles, got a doctorate in mathematics. And when he was there, before he dreamed of Zen practice, he realized that he wanted to do three things. He wanted to start a monastery, somewhere. Iâ€™m not sure he knew what tradition he wanted to be in, but he wanted to start a monastery. And he wanted to be a clown. And he wanted to live on the streets as a homeless person. And heâ€™s managed to do all of them.
His early practice at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which started in about 1967 with Maezumi Roshi . . . His doctorate at UCLA was in mathematics. And the Zen Center wasnâ€™t up to full speed yet. It was still growing. And so he would work during the day. And during the day he was in charge of the manned mission to Mars project at McDonnell-Douglas. So they say you donâ€™t have to be a rocket scientist to be a Zen person, but he was.
When he left the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1980 or so, he came to New York, started a Zen community, and quickly sort of revolutionized Zen practice. Because it became clear to him rather quickly that Zen shouldnâ€™t be practiced only in a meditation hall, only in the templeâ€”that in order to really manifest it, we need to really manifest it in our daily lives, in service to all beings.
If our practice is to realize the oneness and the wholeness of life, and that weâ€™re really one with all beings, then we have to take care of them. We have to serve themâ€”thatâ€™s everybody, including our self.
So, he quickly started engaged practice there. Started a bakery employing formerly unemployed persons, people that were actually coming out of jails. And that model is now a major model being studied in business schools in the United States, around the worldâ€”a model called open hiring. Where when somebody comes to your company, and they want a job, you donâ€™t say, â€śWell, whereâ€™s your rĂ©sumĂ©? Whatâ€™s your history of work?â€ť They say, â€śSure. If weâ€™ve got a position, you can work for us.â€ť Â Thatâ€™s open hiring. It just means you can begin right now, if youâ€™ve got the most minimal qualifications, like youâ€™re physically able to do it. And they were taking people right out of jail, a lot of homeless people who had never had jobs before. Those are the people that are making the fudge in Ben and Jerryâ€™s Fudge Brownies. Theyâ€™re now making four million pounds a year, and increasing.
And then in 1994, it was going to be his 55th birthdayâ€”something like that, and he decided he wanted to change his practice. Bernieâ€™s always great, one of the most dedicated practitioners Iâ€™ve ever known, and one of the most dedicated people to forms Iâ€™ve ever seen. But he loves to blow them up, and blow them away, and change them. And he realized he wanted to change his practice. So he thought the best way to do that would be to go to Washington, DC in January, for his birthday, which was the 18th of January, and live on the streets for four days, and see what happened, see what ideas came up. So there were about fifteen people with him, maybe twenty, and they did that. And at the end of that retreat he decided he wanted to start the Zen Peacemaker Order, an organization based on Zen practice and service of all beings, social service. That wasnâ€™t the first Street Retreat. Actually heâ€™d done one in New York.
And then very quickly, we did an Auschwitz retreat in 1996. And that retreat has been going on since 1996. And this year will be the twentieth, which will also coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the camp, which was in January of 1945.
So whatâ€™s bearing witness really about?
Dogen Zenji, his famous quote is, â€śTo study Buddhism is to study the self. And to study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. And to be enlightened by all things is to remove all barriers between your self and everything else.â€ť Thatâ€™s our practice.
But Bernie was trying to figure out how to do it faster than thirty years of meditation in the zendo. So he came up with bearing witness. And bearing witness, whether they be Street Retreats, or Bearing Witness Retreats that we do in Auschwitz, or Rwanda, or weâ€™re going to be in Croatia in May, Iâ€™ll be in Greece in May also, in the Black Hills . . . wherever, and however, in the Congo probably coming up . . . Â Wherever and however we do it, itâ€™s an upaya. Itâ€™s an upaya. And of course all of you from Upaya know what that means. Itâ€™s a skillful means to raise the bodhi mind, to raise the enlightened mind.
And so one of the ways a Bearing Witness Retreat is called is a plunge. So when you plunge into the water, you donâ€™t put your feet in just a little bit, and test it, and see â€śIs it warm enough? Can I really get my feet in there? Do I want to go in as far as my knee or my hip?â€ť No, you just PFFFF!Â You just go in.
So at Auschwitz . . . How many have been on the Auschwitz Retreat? Letâ€™s see all your hands. Good, thatâ€™s good. So come this year. Thereâ€™s still places. And weâ€™ll be there from November 2nd to November 6th. So Auschwitzâ€”everybodyâ€™s got some sort of gut-feel for what Auschwitz is, some deep psychic buzz about what that is. And when we go to Auschwitz, the first day is sort of doing museum kind of things. But this museum is not built to shock you out of your normal consciousness, but thatâ€™s what it does. You see a couple movies that are just awfulâ€”about how the camps were operating, and what they found when they liberated them. There were film crews. So you could see the bodies, and the people absolutely emaciated, hundreds of little children no bigger than this <gestures> who were leaving their barracks because they were to be experimented on by Dr. Mengele. Horrible things. And of course if anybody knows anything about Auschwitz, they have these places where you can see tons of human hair that was collected, and suitcases, and all the human things that people brought with them because they thought this was just simply a transport campâ€”where they would be moved to some place where they would have farms, and their homes and communities again.
Iâ€™ve been there more than twenty times. And whenever I do that walk through these archives of human suffering, I find myself in a state where my mind doesnâ€™t work anymore. I canâ€™t grasp anything. The thought process sort of breaks down because itâ€™s impossible for any of us as human beings to imagine even one person being killed. Really. Although we hear it on the news all the time, thatâ€™s not real for us. Weâ€™ve allowed ourselves to be immune to that. But if we really know somebody who is killed, or it happens closely, or weâ€™re in an area where that happened, it breaks us down. We canâ€™t take it. And then multiply that by a million and a half, and the mind doesnâ€™t work anymore.
Thatâ€™s where we get to the place thatâ€™s the first of the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers, and of Bearing Witness Retreatsâ€”thatâ€™s not knowing. Not knowing. You donâ€™t have to work at not knowing. In these places not knowing happens to you.
Then from that place of not knowingâ€”that means a clear mind in a sense, itâ€™s not cloudy because thereâ€™s so much pain. Itâ€™s just sort of cleared up. Itâ€™s like wiping your screen of all the dust and stain, and suddenly thereâ€™s a new faculty that can see clearly. From that place of not knowing, then we can bear witness. That means that we can see what is. See things as they actually are.
I was talking to friends last night. And I said you know, every day as weâ€™re getting ready to go to work, or school, or whatever it is weâ€™re doing to be residents and practitioners here at Upaya, weâ€™re standing in front of the mirror, washing our face, combing our hair, doing all that, and weâ€™re looking in the mirror. And make faces, you know, whatever we do. Clean out teeth and we walk away from the mirror thinking we know what we look like. But the truth is, thatâ€™s not how we look. Nobody sees us that way. They donâ€™t see that person making faces in the mirror that we think we are every day. Weâ€™re a total mystery as to what we look like. We cover our perception with all kinds of assumptions and judgments, conclusions, and we just canâ€™t see anything as it is. What is everything as it is?
Thereâ€™s a line in the Jewish Kaddish, the memorial poem that says, â€śThis is the divine presence here and now.â€ť This is the divine presence here and now.
Thatâ€™s our life. Thatâ€™s our life, moment to moment. Our life is nothing but the life of the divinity, however you call it. You call it Krishna, or Rama, or Buddha, or Christ, or God, or the Creator, or Tunkashila Wakan Tankaâ€”theyâ€™re all the divine presence here and now. Thatâ€™s what we see when our minds are clear.
Then seeing life as it is, seeing things happening as theyâ€™re happeningâ€”our compassionate mind, which is the function of wisdom (Wisdom does not exist apart from compassion. Theyâ€™re not two things. Theyâ€™re only one thing.), wisdom is knowing that everything is me. Everything is you.
If you know that, then you have to be compassionate, to take good care of yourself. How often do you say to people, â€śTake good care of yourselfâ€ť? What are you really saying? Take good care of the entire universe. Take good care of everything you see, and everything you canâ€™t.
That happens, and that results as loving actions, or actions that come up out of bearing witness. Our whole lives moment to moment, one way or another are not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action. Thatâ€™s just the way we live.
Now what we notice is the mind going, and going, â€śMan, I didnâ€™t do that right. I should have helped that person, but I didnâ€™t.â€ť Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re hearing. But itâ€™s all happening all the time.
You chant the En Mei Jukku Kannon Gyo here, probably daily. Is that right?
Namu ButsuÂ Yo
EnÂ Yo Butsu U
EnÂ Bu Po So En
Jo Raku Ga
JoÂ Cho Nen KanzeonÂ Bo Nen
KanzeonÂ Nen Nen
Ju Shin KiÂ Nen Nen
Fu Ri Shin
What does that say?Â It sayâ€™s everything is nothing but the divine presence here and now. Thatâ€™s what it says. Everything is the functioning of compassion.
So we chant these things in zendos, and in monasteries, in churches and temples all the time. What are they trying to tell us? This is it. This is it. Letâ€™s live like that.
Letâ€™s live like that. Letâ€™s have enormous compassion and love for everything around us, because you are my life. You are my life.
So Street Retreats, which a few of you have on your mind right now a little more than others . . . Whoâ€™s going on the Street Retreat? Good. Let me just see. Keep â€™em up. Yay! Good. Good. OK, Thank you. So bearing witness on the streets is a plunge into the life on the streets. But itâ€™s really not a problem. I know people if theyâ€™ve never done this beforeâ€”even some who haveâ€”are kind of frightened. Whatâ€™s it gonna be like out there with those crazy homeless people? Right? Whatâ€™s it gonna be like with no money, no credit card, no toothbrush, none of my normal conveniences, sleeping outside? Oh my God.
Itâ€™s really not a problem. And hereâ€™s the keyâ€” have no expectations. And thatâ€™s it. If you have no expectations, thereâ€™s no problem. You canâ€™t be disappointed. You canâ€™t be surprised. You can walk on with this mind of â€śShanti, Shanti, Shanti.â€ť Compassion. Â
Thatâ€™s the compassionate mind. Itâ€™s tranquil. It doesnâ€™t care about whatâ€™s happening next. Nothingâ€™s happening next. This is it. Right? Moment to momentâ€”this is it. Thereâ€™s nothing next. What happens next? Nothing really, this is it.
So if we could really justâ€”getting ready for this retreatâ€”just be where we are, take care of our life as it is, right where we are, it all just rolls out by itself without our worry, or without our anticipation. And youâ€™ll find that to be true. Itâ€™s actually a real experience of the divine presence here and now.
Itâ€™s so much fun, I canâ€™t tell you. If people really knew how much fun it wasâ€”seriouslyâ€”weâ€™d have to like do them in every city twenty times a year. Because there would be so many people who want to come. This, itâ€™s really fabulous. I love it. I love it.
Yeah. No cellphones, no telephones, no computers. Itâ€™s all gone. Nobody trying to find us, because they canâ€™t. People say, â€śWell, where do we meet you out there?â€ť I donâ€™t know where weâ€™re gonna be. Weâ€™re just gonna be where we are.
Time to see where we are, and actually look around. Weâ€™re not walking down the street to something. Weâ€™re just walking. And when you do that, you can look and like, â€śWow, look at that light! Itâ€™s so beautiful. How did they decide how to do that?â€ť And you can just . . . Details everywhere are just, ah, everything looks fabulous because you can see it. Youâ€™re not thinking about something else. Youâ€™re just where you are.
Itâ€™s giving yourself a chance to live like the Buddha, or like an enlightened lady. People are terrified that the homeless people are gonna go, â€śOh, youâ€™re not really homeless. Youâ€™re just masquerading.â€ť Because we think, â€śIs this a charade? Iâ€™m not homeless.â€ť Yes you are. When youâ€™re out there, you are homeless.
We donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going to happen in the next moment. So weâ€™ve taken on this homeless identity. What if everything changes when weâ€™re out there tomorrow? What if the government comes down, and nobody has any possessions, or any property anymore, the state just like takes it all? Nobody has homes anymore. That could happen. We donâ€™t know.
That would be OK too, because one of the things that we find out when weâ€™re on the streets is that you donâ€™t have to kill yourself when all your stuff is gone. You can lose all your money, your home, your possessions, everything. And itâ€™s OK, because I can survive out here. Thereâ€™s actually food. Thereâ€™s actually shelter if you need it. Everything you need, doctors, nurses, dentists, toothbrushes, itâ€™s all there.
But in our normal life weâ€™ve got all this stuff, and all these defenses, and all this money that gets between us and anybody weâ€™re transacting with. Right? You donâ€™t have to have a relationship with anybody when youâ€™ve got money, because theyâ€™ve got to take your money and be nice to you.
When you donâ€™t have money, itâ€™s a whole different thing. You have to be nice to everybody so theyâ€™ll be nice to you. But it just happens that way.
Oh, and I wanted to finish the point about masquerading. So the homeless people go, â€śWhat are you doing?â€ť You know, if they do. Theyâ€™ve usually got so many of their own problems, they donâ€™t care about yours. Seriously, so you donâ€™t have to worry about that. But you just say, â€śIâ€™m on a homeless retreat. Weâ€™re out here with a spiritual group, and weâ€™re out here for four days experiencing homelessness.â€ť And what do they say? â€śWow. Thatâ€™s so nice.â€ť Theyâ€™re totally grateful that we take the time, and the opportunity to be with them, to honor them as human beings, to walk a few miles in their shoes, to talk to them, to look in their eyes and acknowledge them as human beingsâ€”which nobody does, because what if you look in the eyes of a homeless person when youâ€™re walking by? Theyâ€™re gonna ask you for money, man. And youâ€™re gonna have to go, â€śOh, sorry.â€ť Right? Or whatever you do.
So, we donâ€™t have that block, because we donâ€™t have any money to give them. So we have to say, â€śHi. Sorry man, I donâ€™t have any money,â€ť or whatever it is, and actually maybe get in a relationship. And what do we find out? Theyâ€™re human beings just like us, with stories that got them there. And everyone is different.
Thereâ€™s no such thing as the homeless. No such thing as the homeless. Everyone is a beautiful individual just like us. All have their stories. All absolutely should be honored with our love and presence, as we find out.
(To be continued with questions and answers from the audience in Part 2)
Zen Peacemakers Street Retreats are planned in many cities around the world.Â JOIN A STREET RETREAT IN 2016[/box]
May 12, 2020
April 09, 2020