Roshi Eve Marko’s Remarks on Bernie’s Sixty Year Journey
Roshi Eve Marko reflects on Bernie’s Sixty Year Journey during a dharma talk given inÂ Felsentor, Switzerland in July 2014.
FELSENTOR, SWITZERLAND. Eve: So what we plan to do this afternoon is that I took some notes on Bernieâs talk, and I will try to kind of uncover from my experience some of the issues that he related to, and what you also brought up. OK? And you can also ask questions as you did for him. And then after the break, Iâm going to ask Barbara Roland, and also Cornelius whoâs here to do his retreat, but since heâs a teacher, maybe he also has questions that he wants to relate to from his years of practice. And again, you can always come in with your questions and clarifications. And what Iâd like to do is then sit again at 5:30, because this is a lot of talk. And I also want to really take the opportunity to thank our translators, who really are working hard, and great, great appreciation to you for doing this.
So, Tootsie asked Rocky this morning, âWhat about love Rocky?â And for those of you who donât know, we sometimes get bored with each other, you know. Like, oh weâre not married so long, but we know each otherâteacher/student for almost thirty years. So we created these two characters, because we both like Italians. We love New York Italians. So Bernie created this character. He used to be a fighter when he was growing up, and he was called Rocky. Did you know that? So he created this Italian fighter/gangster called Rocky. And I loved my Italian friends when I was growing up. We used to wear these fishnet stockings, and long sweaters. Of course we always wanted to catch a man right away. And thatâs how Rocky and Tootsie happened. And itâs nice because Rocky and Tootsie are not Buddhists. So when they explore things, they have to find a different languageânot to use Buddhist terms, but to find different words to ask the same questions everybody else asks, but to ask it in different ways. And sometimes they get along better than Bernie and Eve. And sometimes they donât, you know. OK.
Some of you know I just came back from Israelâactually Tuesday afternoon came out of Israel. When I was thereâI have family, I have a brother, and heâs a grandfather. So he was looking at the television set, which showed all these horrible things. Because he has two sons that are down there, in Gaza. And he has two sons-in-law, who are down there in Gaza. And his grandchild, whoâs a little boy about three years old, kept on talking to him. And my brother didnât pay much attention, because heâs staring at the television set. And finally the little boy said (in Hebrew, but Iâll translate for you), he said, âPick up your eyes, and look at me. Grandpa, pick up your eyes and look at me.â Thatâs what he actually said. And I think those words were great for many different reasons, including what happens to us when we watch television, what happens to us when we read newspapers, when we do Facebook. We donât have our eyesâweâre not experiencing life. Weâre not listening. You know, weâre in our heads, like he was. And a little boy says to us, âPick up your eyes and look at me.â
So Bernie, earlier this morning, spoke about Zazen and koans as a way of experiencing life. So those of you who have done meditation, you know that the instruction is that your mind goes off on different thoughts, different thoughts, different ideas, thoughts, feelings, right? And youâre always supposed to bring it back to now. Right, that sounds familiar, right? You go offâcome back. Why? Because you want to come back to the experience of this moment. Thatâs what it is. When you and I go into our minds and thoughts, itâs usually about the past, it may be fear about the future, some abstract thought about whatâs happening in Ukraine, but youâre not here, now. So the idea of always coming back is to come back to the experience. Come back to the experience of this moment now. Thatâs what Zazen is. Itâs experience. Really, thatâs what meditation is. Itâs experience, right now, this moment.
And for those of you who do koan study, you know that youâre asked not to give intellectual answers, but to give an expression of now. Express the answer now, without going into your head. So show me your experience of this koan. And if youâre not experiencing the koan, youâre not really doing . . . Well; youâre doing koan study, but a different kind of koan study. So let me tell you, in my experience, what was missing for me in those early years. And what was missing for me was experience of relationship. Thatâs what was missing for me. So, the idea was that you sat on the cushion, and yeah, you experience now. You did meditation, and if you did it well, you experienced this moment. And if you did koan study, you were able to experience the koan. But the question is, what happened relating to other people? So when you got up, the bell rang, you got up, and you went home. You came in to sit. You did your experience of your own meditation. The bell rang; you get up and go home.
Well what about relationship? What about the people who sit with you? What about the people who are your friends, the people in your house, your children? What do you say to them? And this was a difficult thing, because one of the first major things you learn in Zen is about emptiness. This term of emptiness I think is very confusing. But if you know what it is, itâs that you, as an I, or you as a separate independent entity, separate from the rest of life, doesnât exist. Thatâs in some way what emptiness is. But if you think about what that means is that at every momentâlike right now, you know if I look at Roland, and heâs speaking to Rachel, he is talking to her, but who is Roland? And Roland is a separate entity, but Roland is a combination of all, billions, and billions of elements from the past, and everything coming together in Roland. So he is relationship. You see, he is relationship. And Rachel is relationship. Sheâs not just a separate person. She is all the things that came together to create something called Rachel. And so that relationship called Roland is speaking, and relating to a relationship called Rachel.
In the early years, and even now, there was a sense in many sanghas that thereâs Three Treasures. We say thereâs the Buddha, and the teacher represents the Buddha. And thereâs the Dharma, which is the teachings. And thereâs the Sangha, which is the people. And the Sangha was the least important treasure.
And Bernie has often repeated to me what his teacher told himâthat if youâre gonna work with Sangha, thatâs the most difficult of the Three Treasures. And he told me that. He said, âEve, after a while, youâll find that giving talks is easy. Really, itâs not a problem. But how to get along, thatâs a problem.â How to help other people in the Zendo to get along with each other. So those of you that are in sanghas, and communities, you know what happens. There is resentments. There is competitiveness. And we donât know how to resolve them.
The old Zen Community of New York, which was the first incarnation of the Zen Peacemakers, we worked very hard in Greyston, and in social service that Bernie will talk about tomorrow. And there was tension because, you know, âYou didnât do this.â And if we worked in a bakery, âYou gave me the wrong bills,â and âYou sent me to the wrong address,â and âHow come youâre giving me an order for twenty cakes? How am I gonna finish that? Itâs already five oâclock, what are you doing?â And we had no tools. We had no tools. So some of you said earlier today that you love council. We didnât know council. We didnât do council in those years. We didnât even sit in a circle. There was no such thing as people sitting in a circle. And although we did face each otherâthat was something that Bernie createdâI know back in Zen Center of L.A., and many places, people faced the wall. They donât face each other. And they certainly donât sit like this. OK?
We had no tools for how to relate to each other. And what that meant also was we didnât know how to relate to people at home. So imagine your child wants to relate to you. You know, whatâs the child saying? Heâs saying what my brothersâ grandson said to him. âLift up your eyes, and look at me.â What are you going to say? What did the early Zen teaching teach you to say? What are you going to say? Are you going to say, âOh, donât worry, you donât exist really. Youâre empty. You donât know that, but youâll find out. You donât exist as a separate entity.â Is this any kind of help for relationships?
Yeah, we didnât have Nonviolent Communication like Ruth. Heâs a trainer in Nonviolent Communication. And now we have that a lot in our sanghas. We didnât have any of that. So we had lots of violent communicationâlots of violent communication.
So I think this whole issue of relationship was not honored in those days. Now itâs funny because Zen has teachings about relationship, in a particular way. So one of the most basic teachings in Zen is the differences in the oneness. And the idea is that we are all different, and weâre all one. And weâre both, all at the same time. So as Bernie explained this morning, the biggest work of a Zen teacher is to help people experience the oneness of life. But sometimes the differences, and that experience of differences, and what to do with those differences, which is the work of relationship, I think was deeply neglected. So, as I said Tuesday nightâand I apologize if I repeat it, but I think it was very importantâwhen I was in Israel (and I write, so itâs very often that I write about what I go through), I couldnât write about what was going on there. It was so crazy. Instead what I did was I made a list of all these opposites. And it was all going on at the same time. âTheyâre bombing us.â âNo, theyâre bombing us.â âYou know, our fighters have to go out through tunnels to get to them.â âNo, weâre sending fighters through them to get to them.â âOur survival is at stake.â âNo, our survival is at stake.â âOur sons are doing this.â And my brotherâs saying, âMy sons are doing this. Do you know how it feels like to me?â Or one of his sons-in laws is part of an elite unit. And he would say to me, âI was one of those who goes to the West Bank, and puts a mask on his head, and has to go into the family, and find the Hamas operative, and get him. And I go in, and kids are screaming from fright. And the mothers are screaming. Theyâre crying. And they say âthereâs nobody here.ââ And then he says, âAnd I hate to do that, because I have sons that age, and I canât imagine what trauma Iâm creating when I go into the house like that. But I have to do it. I have to do it. I hate to do this, but I have to do it.â
âI hate to do this, but I have to do that.â âI hate to bomb hospitals, but at the same time, they have weapons in the basement of the hospital, so I have to do that.â
And there were all these oppositesâall these differences, huge differences. And the whole time I was there, I had this whole list. And it was like this. But what I was experiencing was how do you experience the differences? Not just sit on the cushion, and say, âWell, thereâs differences, and thereâs one. And thatâs the practice.â But how do you practice differences? How do you practice differences in one? For me, through the practice of relationship. So I also mentioned Tuesday night, I was so moved by a YouTube of an Orthodox Rabbi, who after these three young boys were killed, or they disappeared, before the whole everything else started happening, somebody asked him, âHow do we deal in this situation?â And he said, âI will tell you.â He said, âThe two men who killed those three teenagersâJewish teenagers in the West Bankâthey are asking for peace.â And then he says, âYou must think Iâm crazy. You say, âTwo people killed, in cold blood, these three teenagers, and you think theyâre asking for peace?ââ And he said, âYes, but Iâm telling you theyâre asking for peace.â It could be that outside, because of karma, history, conditioning, circumstances, anger, all the things they are manifesting, and they are reacting in a very aggressive, murderous, terrible way. But deep inside, they are (in our language), they are A, and something else is B. And the A and the B have to come together. In our words, they have to form a relationship.
If you donât believe that all these differences need to come together in peace, then what youâre saying, he said, âIs that God made a mistake. God was confused when he created these two Palestinians who killed those three guys. Do you think God was confused? Do you think that God is perfect, except for those two, and those two were the only mistake that God made? No. They too are part of that perfection. And they need to come together with the others. And they need to come together to make peace.â And yes, outwardly we manifest in all kinds of crazy ways. But deep inside, we have to come together. And that for me is what relationship is about. And yet, I knew all this. I knew the study of differences. I got that. But I didnât get to the practice of relationship till this term Bearing Witness came, and the practice of Bearing Witness. That is what really pointed to this thing of relationship.
Iâm just remembering somebody showed me an ad when I was in Israel, like a commercial, and it goes like this. So an Arab woman, covered, says in Arabic (and thereâs subtitles), âYou donât belong here.â And then the next picture is of a Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke. âYou donât belong here.â Next picture is of a young Palestinian, and he says in Arabic, âYou donât belong here.â And the next picture is of an older European Jewish woman, âYou donât belong here.â And this goes on, and on. And at the very end, the message says, âThis was presented to you by the Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Parents Group,â the group of parents who lost childrenâboth Palestinian and Israeli. So what theyâre saying is, âWe donât want you to belong with us. We donât want you to be parents that are also losing your children.â But the way they did it is, âYou donât belong here.â âNo, you donât belong here.â âNo, YOU donât belong here.â âNo, YOU donât belong here.â You see? And there are all these opposites. And how to really hold these differences? That for me is the practice of Bearing Witness, and the practice of working with relationship. And all the toolsâwe had to develop toolsâand learn tools from other people. We didnât invent council. Council was created by other people. And to this very day, there are many sanghas that have no interest in council. They donât want to. They think, âAh, itâs too much talk, and itâs too . . . You know, itâs not Zen. N.V.C, whatâs that got to do with anything? Itâs not Zen. Zen is sitting on your cushion in silence. Thatâs Zen.â Anyway, questions?
Audience member 1: One thing that came up for me is when you say that for example, the Palestinians and Israelis have to come together in a relationship, and I wonder whether they are already in a relationship, but theyâre not bearing witness to those relationships? Eve: Yeah. I mean, I know the Jewish liturgy very well, because I was raised in that kind of family. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. So the word peace, âAnd God will make peace. God who makes peace in the heavens will make peace on earth for all Israel and all people. Amen.â That verse ends every single prayer three times a day. It ends the grace at the end of a meal. You know, itâs like a mantra. âGod makes peace.â You know, so everybody knows that. Everybody recites that. But whatâs the experience of it? Whatâs the experience of it? If this is the way youâre behaving, and âitâs always them,â and âthey donât belong here, theyâre the killers, theyâre thisâ? How do you work with each other? What is the practice of that? What is the Zen practice of relationship? What happens when you go home? What is the Zen practice of raising children; of getting along with your partner? What is that Zen practice? I mean certainly when I studied with Bernie, I did talk with him about situations in my life with other people. But heâs told me that he never had one interviewâor dokusanâwith his teacher in which he ever talked about his life. Not once. Bernie: It was either koans, or âhow do we build the center bigger?â
Audience member 2: May I ask a question? If you say, âGod makes peace,â this is God on the object level, itâs the outside. Somebody will do it. So my question is where is God? Eve: Yeah, but the idea is that if you are a godly person, you are fulfilling the work here on Earth. I mean thatâs what is understood by that. Itâs not somebody else is gonna do it. Maybe some people think that, but I think many understand that itâs our work to do that. And what is that work?
So I think this was a big area that was neglected in those years. Bernie: I just want to throw in one message, that in terms of Zen, the image of God, or that concept (in my opinion everything is a concept), that concept is our first Tenetâthat which canât be known. Thatâs all. So when we talk about the first Tenet of not knowing, that is the Buddhist concept of God in the Christian, or the Jewish, or the Muslim traditions. And within each of those traditions, there are schools of thought that say that God is that which canât be known. So theyâre using their language of God to relate it to our language of the first Tenetâin my opinion.
Audience member 3: I hear you saying that thereâs opposites. Thereâs nothing but opposites. But, Iâm seeing it as the same. Iâm seeing the dilemmas. Bernie: Youâre seeing what?
Audience member 3: The same. Iâm seeing everything as the same. You know, and they are in relationship. Theyâve been in this kind of relationship for a long time. And to me, the only thing that will change that adversarial relationship is for them to see that they are in the same boat. Theyâre both losing their children. Theyâre both suffering. Theyâre all . . . Itâs the same. So itâs interesting.
Eve: Yeah, so thatâs why this group, this bereaved parents group was started by parents who lost their children. We met the founder, Yiyzhak Frankental, whoâs son was kidnapped by Hamas and killed. And when we met him, I remember he said, âI felt that I was a failure as a father, because my job as a father was to protect my son. And the way I raised him, with the idealness of Zionism, you know, âthey are out to kill us, you go into the armyâ and so I didnât protect my son. I did the opposite. I actually encouraged him in the wrong way.â And then he met a Palestinian who also saw, and that was the beginning. And that group, they act as mirrors of each other. And they see that.
And Iâm glad you raised that, because one of the things about relationships is that . . . This is my opinion. Itâs not Rockyâs opinion, you know. Itâs Tootsieâs opinion. And Tootsieâs opinion is that âBoy I can sit on that cushion a long time [in Tootsie voice], but thereâs a lot of things Iâm not gonna see.â You know, thereâs a lot of angers, and thereâs a lot of . . . or just a denial of areas where I donât want to engage even. Places where Iâm blind, where Iâm deaf. And I donât think I want to see them on the cushion. Or I might see them after many years. Where Iâll see them a lot faster is in relationshipâa lot faster. You know, when I talk with my husband, and he says this, and I say that, I can see what comes up. And everybody here has that experience. Am I gonna be able to see those things just sitting on a cushion and meditating? That has not been my experience.
So what is wonderful is to see those things in relationship. And some of the way that I will work with it is on the cushion. Is being on the cushion the only way? No. Over these last years I have done therapy. We have done couples therapy. I have done different things. You know, wherever I can get different kinds of help, to help me work. And I also sit on the cushion. But what I learned from relationship, what I see in that mirror when Iâm in that relationship, what I learned from my own students about myselfâoh, it will take me many years to learn if I just sit on the cushion.
Audience member 4: So that could be, really another understanding of sangha. Because my feeling it was a kind of a failure that in our sangha we began to fight because of competition. And my idea was when I had this practice for a long time, and all the others too, so we should really relate in a good, peaceful, etc. way. And when one of the big fights last year started, I thought oh, something must have been wrong. But when I understand what you said now, I can understand sangha as a place where I really can see here. Like in a relationship or a sangha, here I have this, and hereâs this problem, and I can deal with it. And I have a space where I can find ways how to be with all these differencesâperhaps with fighting, but without destroying each other.
Eve: Yeah. So what weâre discovering is that even though we practice many years, you know, weâre not so different from other people. Really. You know, we still fight with our husbands or wives. We still fight with our parents. You know, weâre not some all-wonderful peaceful people. We really arenât. For me, thatâs not what Zen practice means. But what Zen practice means, and what sangha means, is that Iâm going to engage with it. Iâm going to look at that differencesâthe oneness and the differences in the oneness. And when Iâm with sangha, Iâm with other people who are committed to looking at it the same way, and working with it also. Thatâs what that means for me. It doesnât mean that oh weâre wonderful, perfect people that have no trouble. Audience member 4: But itâs really different from my beginning. My beginning was practice, and then . . . Eve: Never fight again. Audience member 4: Yeah, something like that. Bernie: That was your concept? Audience member 4: Yes. Bernie: Yeah, all concepts are concepts.
Thereâs a koan that relates to this. The koan is What is sameness? And the intellectual answer to the koan is that sameness is differences. Sameness is the fact that everything, everything is different. Now how do you experience that?
So when I started the Auschwitz Retreat, as an example, every year I would talk about why I started it. And I kept hearing people over the eighteen years talking about the Auschwitz Retreat having to do with all about the Holocaust, and it was all about the Jews and Germansâit was about the Holocaust. And every year, at Auschwitz, I would talk about that that retreat was about the differences, and how we deal with differences. I would make that a huge point. And every year that would be forgotten, because itâs very difficult to deal with the differences. We want it all to be the same. Or we want it all to be no suffering. Or we want, you know, we want everything to go away. And life, to me, aint that way.
Itâs like my own body, if I look inside my body, and I say oh yeah, I always like inside my body no germs come up, no diabetes systems to come up, no cancer cells to come up. What kind of game am I playing with myself? Iâm denying that my body is all differences, and that my ears fall apartânow I need hearing aids. My teeth fall out, and I need a partial . . . Eve: [in Tootsie voice] Rocky, youâre all fukakt.
Bernie: Iâm all fukakt![Audience laughs] [In Rocky voice] I think the practice is learning that I am fukakt, and not trying to be not fukakt. I mean if Iâm gonna sit around worrying about how am I gonna be un-fukakt?
Eve: [as Tootsie] Forget about it.
Bernie: Forget about it.
But I could learn. I could learn, I think, how to deal with it, you know. What does that mean? It means try not to forget your teeth when you leave. [Audience laughs] I now have left my teeth in different places, but usually in Christian places. [Audience laughs] Iâve left my ears, my hearing aids, usually in Christian places. So Iâve gotten in the habit of leaving my body parts at different Christian retreats I attend. So Iâve got to live with that now. But bearing witness to it . . . Tootsie every time Iâm ready to leave somewhere says, âDid you remember your teeth and ears?â So the solution came out of her bearing witness to the fact that I keep forgetting things all over the place. Anyway, the point I want to make is that the word sameness is very tricky. Itâs very tricky. Iâm gonna make it easy for you. Forget the word sameness. The only thing you can say is the same is that everything is different.
You know, I want to add because itâs such an interesting thought; Eve just wrote an article that went out on our e-mail about the trauma thatâs in Israel. That her mother, when something happens like whatâs happening now (and it doesnât even have to be this big), her mother goes into shock. Because her motherâs out of the Holocaust, and the shock that she has is that itâs happening again. Thatâs got nothing to do with anybody saying, âWell, you know, youâre not realistic,â or whatever. My Rabbi, who just passed awayâa beautiful man, Zalman Schachter, he says that all of Israel is in post-traumatic stress. Thatâs their condition. And everybody looks at them, and says, âWhy did they do such-and-such?â Itâs like looking at somebody in post-traumatic stress, and saying, âWhy donât you behave differently?â Thatâs not so simple. And most of the Palestinians are in trauma. So youâre dealing with two groups of people in traumaâand very deep trauma. And you say, âWhy donât they all stop fighting?â âDonât they know that they should be at peace?â âHavenât they read any good books about . . .â whatever. Because many of you work with people in stress, I mean, in the U.S. we have so many soldiers coming back in really bad post-traumatic stress, it is not so easy to tell those folks, âHey, donât worry. Do a little meditationâno problem.â Yeah, thank you. Whatâs much more important to me is (but itâs not the first twenty years, so we canât talk about it), you brought up Bearing Witness . . .
Eve: I want to go. I want to make one other point, because it came up so much this morning. What about taking care of yourself? So for me, that still relates to relationship, which is what is my relationship to myself? And a few of you know this, that weâre trying to put together a collection of household koans, or personal koans.
Bernie: I just read it. Itâs great. Eve: Thank you. I . . . Now I lost my thought. [Audience laughs]
Itâs work that I like to do with people, personal koans, or the householder koansânot the monastic koans that we usually get. And a few people made contributions. There was one woman who sent me this koan. It was very interesting. She said the koan was Shut up, you donât know what youâre talking about! That was the name of the koan. And the situation she described is that she came back (She lives in New Zealand) after being away for many years. And she brought her baby with her. And she was nursing the child. She was talking to her older sister, and talking about how wonderful it is to nurse. And her older sister said, âShut up, you donât know what youâre talking about!â So she said, âOf course, when that happened, I got very angry. I said, âYou always talk like that to me. You always made fun of me. You always belittle me. Ever since we were children, this continues. And I hate you.ââ Something like that. Now she has sat for many years. So after many years of sitting, she said, âI now know that that was wrong. I know the practice should have been, I should have let go of the self, and said to her, âTell me, youâre my older sister, what do you think?â Thatâs what she said. âThat is the practice that I should do.â
So I looked at this, and I thought well, thatâs your opinion. Thatâs not my opinion. And I really wanted to be sure, so guess who I live with? I live with my own teacher. So I asked him, âThis is what I think, Bernie [I said to him], I donât think thatâs the right thing.â Because I think that letting go of the self, in Zen, doesnât mean that you neglect the self, that you donât pay attention to yourself, that you eliminate yourself, and youâre just with the other person. The situation includes me. I canât take my self out of it. And in her way, when she says, âOh, OK sister, tell me what you think.â She has completely denied her own self. She has denied her feelings, her emotions. She has denied her upset. She has denied what is coming up for her.
But I realize many people think of that as Zen practice. Letting go of the selfâthatâs what it means. Itâs not taking care of your self. And that was not my understanding. My understandingâand so I wrote her this, and actually itâs in my commentary on her koan in this publication that we hope will come outâthat no, you enter into relationship, and what that means. That means that you may sit down and say to her not, âOh youâre all crazy, and I hate you.â No, that isnât going to do. But relationship, itâs not knowing, and now bear witness. âWell, Iâm bearing witness to how I feel, and Iâm upset, and Iâm sad. I havenât seen you in fifteen years, and this is how you talk to me? This is how I feel. Can you please tell me why you said this? Or how do you feel? What is this?â And come into a relationship. You know, but donât leave your self out.
So you know, Bernie said, âWell, I think you can take care of others. You donât have to necessarily take care of your self.â I feel, I think you have to do both at the same time. In fact, I donât know how to do one without the other. So he has his opinion. I have my opinion, although Tootsie thinks, âYouâre crazy. Iâm right.â [Audience laughs] [In Tootsie voice] What do you, you donât know what youâre talkinâ about, Rocky. Bernie: [In Rocky voice] Thatâs true. [Audience laughs]
I always say that this is my opinion, and thatâs right now. So I have a different opinion now than when we talked. I donât know when we talked, but I wouldnât say that I had that opinion anymore. My opinions are always changing. If opinions donât change, that means you think theyâre right. And thatâs, for me, a problem. If you think anything you say, or anything you hear, you think itâs rightâincluding, for me things like The Bible, or the sutras. So in Buddhism, somebody has written, and said that the Buddha had four noble truths. I call it four noble opinions. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a truth. Somebody that calls something else as the truth, and justifies what theyâre doing, thatâs not a way of bearing witness. Itâs just quoting somebody else.
And I donât know of any emotions that could come up that I would call bad. So for example, Iâm looking at this Gatha of Atonementâwhich of course I canât read, because I donât read German, but maybe somebody could read it. Weâve changed it. If you look on the Zen Peacemaker Order website, if you look at the Gatha of Atonement that we put up. We changed it to âNot holding on to my anger.â Thereâs nothing wrong with anger. Itâs just another emotion, as far as Iâm concerned. Every emotion is an emotion. Itâs hanging on, getting stuck there, thatâs another issue. And in terms of practice, bearing witness to those things is a good thing, to me. So, we do a lot of things at Auschwitz which promote a lot of anger, which then allows work to happen in council. For me the retreat would be wasteful if everybody just came and got blissed out, or talked about how wonderful . . . I donât personally like for people to talk about how wonderful it is, because thatâs not the point. The point is what are the issues that occur. And thatâs my . . .
Eve: But again, to go back to this thing of taking care of your self. Like I say, when I was in Israel, and there was all these sirens, and missiles, and all this coming, and all this upset, and depression, and anxiety coming. It is clear to me, so I do what I can. And at the same time, if I donât take care of my self, itâs trouble. So I have to do both. It was clear for me coming back on Tuesday, coming to Switzerland, and arriving, and someone talking about the weather. And I looked at them like, âWhere are you coming from? I mean, who cares about the weather?â You know, it was like I was on a different planet. But thereâs so much to work out, so much to process in whatever ways you find. Maybe itâs just by sitting for a long time, and really taking it in. Maybe itâs to go talk with someone. Maybe itâs to have a cup of coffee with someone. But I think both have to happen. In order to be able to go on, you have to take care of your self. You know, you have to know your self. And itâs good over years, what traps you fall into about this, âOh I want to serve. I want to serve.â I mean that was really good, Bernie said this morning, âServing is too dualistic.â Once you use âI have to take care,â itâs obvious that Iâm included. I have to be included. So thatâs a much better term. Once you see that, then you also, âWell how do I take care?â You know, and I learned some ways of taking care this time, because I learned from making a mistake when I didnât take care, and what happened. So my opinion is that the two, you know, theyâre so intertwined I canât differentiate them. I think the problem is the differentiation from the beginning. âOh first youâve got to get enlightened, and then this, and then you can go enlighten the world.â Eh, thatâs just too separate for me.
You know, do meditation, and get busy, and work, and watch what comes up. Itâll come up for you. Itâll come up in the world. Thereâs no inside, no outside. We know that. Those voices in Palestine, Israel, believe me there were echoes of that in me. In different ways, I could see it. I could hear it. For me there was no difference. So that didnât mean that I just took care of others, and hoped that I would be taken care of by that. I had to do both. I donât know any other way to go on and do this kind of work. So, we had different opinions about that. Anyway, we have maybe a few minutes. Any questions? And if not, weâll have a break.
Audience member 5: One thing that came up, when you talk about using this word sameness. I think often in our language, almost every word can trigger a different kind of problem. One word for me that came up was when talking about Palestine; you talk about the word peace, because thereâs so many different meanings. I see in relationships, and social work so many people needing harmony. So itâs an important need, but often there are other needs that can be satisfied that are much more important. Maybe there will never be harmony with Israel. There are other things between them. So the question for me, is what do you mean by this word peace? Eve: Iâll tell you my sense of it. So harmony is a funny word. Itâs not a word that I like, because it evokes a picture of everybody smiling, and everybody loving each other. And I donât think thatâs what it is. Itâs much more. You know, I told my sister, who lives in Jerusalem, âI donât know what to do. I donât know what to do. Itâs just totally crazy. I donât know what to do.â And I said to her, âOK, Iâll give you an idea what to do. In the next year, go and meet one Palestinian, and form a relationship. You know, you talk about your daughter. They talk about their children. You talk about your work. Theyâll talk about their work. You talk about your family. Theyâll talk about their family. Just oneâforget 1.8 million Palestinians on the West Bankâjust one.â Because for me, itâs forming that relationship that even if tomorrow they signed a peace agreementâthatâs a political document. It means very little. They already did that once. But they didnât do this workâthe work of the relationship. If each person met one person on whatâs called âthe other side,â and theyâll form a relationship. Bernie mentioned this morning that the Buddha talked about suffering. You know, we all suffer. And somebody who sits with me said, âWould I really, really bear witness to that? Would I really see the suffering that somebody else goes through?â It actually humbles me. Because I realize that thatâs what we all do. Itâs common to all of us. Whoever it is, we all want something else. We struggle, weâre disappointed, we feel bad. Thereâs a real brotherhood and sisterhood in that world. And so thereâs something about bearing witness to that that just makes me feel like âOh Iâm just like Carl. Iâm just like you. Iâm really in my own way, Iâm just like them.â You know, those are the small things we can do. I donât know would you call it peace? Would you call it harmony? Those are big words. But just that thing, that kind of relationship, one to one, I think is a very big deal.
I feel like thereâs a lot here. And what do you do when thereâs a lot? You add more. Thereâs a koan about that. So we have other teachers here, and so I thought I would ask Roland, and Barbara, and Cornelius also to give their reflections on what they saw in early years of practice, and if they saw, you know what worked well, what didnât work so wellâjust their opinions. Bernie gave his opinion about those years, and I gave mine, and perhaps youâd like to say something also.
Roland: So when we came in contact with Bernie, and Eve, and with the Peacemakers, I was in Sufi training. And Barbara, we did it together. . . .
The practice we did was really yogic practice. And this practice was to figure out, to imagine love; to picture love is like the sea, and to plunge into this love. That was this yogic practice. Then we did a second practice that was a mantraâday and night, day and night, all the time. And when you practice this like two months, three months, or half a year, it just goes on, and on. Itâs easy, but in the beginning itâs very difficult.
So we came from a quite different perspective to what Bernie and the Peacemakers did in the first twenty years. We were sure that we have to find love, and we have to become love. But what is love? And after ten yearsâmaybe earlier, or laterâI realized that love is empty. And that was the moment when I met the Peacemakers, and I met Bernie.
So first when I began to imagine loveâit started maybe with Barbara or my childrenâbut the longer you practice this, the more you see. So I got very close to the same idea, but from another way. Not by sitting, or by attending Sesshins, but by sitting two, three quarters of an hour a day, and sharing, eating biscuits together, drinking tea, and sharing dreams.
And that was for me, ten years. And then I had to do a new step. And the new step for me was I had the idea to do koans. And then I met Bernie. And then I went to Auschwitz. And in Auschwitz, I worked the Three Tenets. And I thought thatâs the way I want to go. I didnât understand any word about the Three Tenets when I practiced there, but I had the feeling I know what it is. I only have to find out what it is. And that has something to do with this ten-year practice of love, and insights into what it could be.
So I came from far away, but I saw that Bernieâs heart is like the Sufi heart. I felt his heart. He tells now, âI was a strong teacher, and I was hard and tough,â but what I felt myself was this open heart, that is the goal of a Sufi.
So I donât know if itâs really important where we start, where we begin. But we have to go, and where we go, we never know. But then for me, it was always important to have a teacher. And I knew to have a teacher, thatâs something thatâs crucial. I need that. And then Bernie refused to be a teacher, because he was at this moment in the phase he said, âI donât teach anymore. I am a peer.â And we sat in a circle. And then the circle training started. And this is one of the qualities that Bernie, for me, represented. That he was all the time changing. Eve said he has every day new ideas. And you are never sure that today what he says is really true tomorrow too. And I think thatâs great. And I could swallow that. You have to swallow that, if you donât, then you get into trouble.
And the time that I started with Barbara meditation is when we had little children. We married. She had already two children. And within three years, I found myself with five children. And still there was a goal to do practice, to maybe train together. And we did. We did these all our life together. We went a so-called spiritual way. But we meditated beside our children. And we tried to integrate our spiritual life in our normal life, because we had no choice. And we had a beautiful grandmother who gave us the opportunity to go away for night meeting, or even Sesshins, or even go together with the whole family to Sesshins.
So for me, my idea is to now find a monastic way, because it wouldnât have been possible for us to do this way together by this monastic structure. And I was very happy then, after the Sufi way that Bernie, and Eve, and all these people, a lot of teachers we met. I had several teachers, and I loved them all. There was a lot of love. But we trained in Sufism. I found in this heart, Zen. I donât know why, but it was there.
And so I would say that the Three Tenets for me still are the basic . . . The more I understand what it is, the more I see how precious it is. And how useable, how possible it is to use it as a tool in the daily life.
So when I hear that the Zen that Bernie did, and all these people it was so tough, I know I wouldnât have joined there. I was in another way, and I preferred other things. But I see still the beauty what it isâwhat this strictness, and this discipline has. And I still feel this in Bernie and Eve, and I still feel it in the sangha. The energy, in a way, I wouldnât say everything has gone. I would say thereâs still a beauty. I canât describe it, but itâs o flower of different tools, and energies who are here. And for me, it gives me some good feeling to know that they did this path. And in a way, they did it for me. And they were always open, and they shared, and they were committed. I would say the commitment was there, and of course a bodhisattva only has ten, or letâs say a thousand arms. So there are limits. But there are a lot of arms. And still, I feel these arms. I feel this open heart, this open mind. Thatâs for me the most important is that, yeah I would say open mind.
This open mindedness is for me, I feel that I can through this open mindedness, I can be myself. And I can find myself. And Eve, during her talk, she mentioned âno fear.â And that has a lot to do for me, is no fearâopen mind, and finding new solutions. When it doesnât work, OK, change. Change the way, and go with the flow.
So, still I say Sesshins are good. Bernie has done hundreds. I did maybe ten, maybe a little bit moreâOK, letâs say twenty. Twenty is good, maybe thirty. I only say everything that is here that they talk about had, and has its beauty. But if you relate to change, and if you really use it when the time is right, then everything is OK. And then we have to bear witness. We have to out of not knowing, to bear witness to let come up what is the right solution. And for me thatâs so precious that I can say that discussionsâletâs say a retreat, or a plungeâfor me has a lot of flesh on the bone.
And more flesh on the bonesâthat is Sesshin, still sitting every day is crucial. I find itâs important. And sitting every dayâenjoy as a tool with good energy, I think. Itâs so nice. Why should we thing that sitting meditation is hard, or has to be hard? Itâs just like when I donât clean my teeth before going to bed, I canât sleep very well. Thatâs it. So itâs something that I have found that is very helpfulâI count on. And I also think, I have the idea that all this process has helped me to be happier. Iâm sorry I have to say.[Audience laughs]
Barbara: For me, my experience of oneness were my pregnanciesâfor sure, a deep connection, a deep intimacy. And that did not end after giving birth. It was like pieces of me started to move around. Pieces of me got teeth. Pieces of me lost these teeth. They had belly pain, and I was with them. And they didnât communicate. They could not speak. So I had to be very aware to watch them, to see what they needed. And there were quite a bunch of them. So I didnât have time to think on myself, because all of them. I had two teenagers, and three little children, twins at the end. And everybody needed something, and everybody needed something different. And everybody got not enough, in a way. So there were a lot of hungry ghosts around me.
And at one point, one of my friends said, âYou really look not so well anymore.â And she said, âYou donât have to pack anything, just make sure that Roland will take care for the children for the weekend. They will survive, and you will come two days with me.â And this weekend I went on it, and we did some sitting, and we did some Tai Chi. And I really felt that this was like a golden thread that saved my life in a way.
And immediately I started to do meditation. And for me, in the moments when I sat in the beginning, I often just cried because I felt myself so tired. It was not that I was sad, but I was so exhausted. So I think to take care of our selves is maybe different for women as for men. So for me, it was extremely important to have these moments where I could really feel my self, how I really was. Because I could relate better then with the family. When I was too tired, I was like shutting down my self, and I was really not so much in connection. So I really felt that it is so important to be alive, and to give answers to the life, and to all these needs. And that I also had to feel my self, and my needsâeven when I didnât have the time for very long meditation. So we sat with the children.
But I also had in this time, like the longing to real practice. And nobody told me that having family, and having children, that this was practice. I had the longing to really practice, because even as a child I always enjoyed like masses, and prayers. So I had this strong longing. And I had the feeling that I missed something on a certain part, because I could not really do thatâwhat I heard was practice.
So there was also something in my Sufi schoolâI loved the Sufi school, because we did studies about mystics, which I really loved. We did family retreats where we could take the children with us, and the children had little groups where they had a lot of fun. And we could listen to the teaching. And we could sit. We could sit longer in this. So this I really enjoyed.
What I wanted to say, I lost my point.
Ah, yeah. I often heard, in this time, a sentence that my Sufi grandfather said, âAt one point on your way to enlightenment in a way, you have to pass a hungry child. You have food, but you will not give. Youâll just pass.â And all the time when I heard that, it was like, âWhat? Iâm at the wrong place.â It was always like I was so shocked. And then, when I met Bernie in 1990 in Auschwitz, and when I listened to his teachings, I felt that maybe I should immediately change the way, and follow this teacher, because he spoke of itâs OK to feel itâthe hungry children. And itâs maybe not so OK to pass this child. Because my whole body said no to this step. So Auschwitz changed my life completely.
This was nine years after I met my Sufi teacher. Because there I sat in the circles and listened to all these different voices. It was very, very challenging very often, because they were really sometimes difficult statements that I had to listen to. But the good thing is I had to sit there, and to listen several days. And always, even when a person said something very difficult, on one point this person said also something that I could relate.
So it never ended without relationship, even when we had hard times, and real hard challenges. I remember once a very orthodox woman in my group, who said things that I was so shocked. But at one I had also a Palestinian in my group. And at one point she just spoke about her children, and about her fear that she could lose her children. And it changed everything for me, because I could immediately relate where her pain came from.
Itâs so beautiful, this practice, reallyâto listen to each other, and to listen to our self also. So this was my beginning.
Cornelius: When I started sitting, I was working in a bank. I was working in an IT group, so computers. The beginning was nice, but every time it was more difficult for me to work there. And then I used Zen to be myself in another world. So telling me thatâs not reality what Iâm living here, the reality is different. So I had context about what Iâm doing, so I thought. So Iâm sitting for a better reality, something like that.
But now when I think about it, I think itâs normal. I think you always start having ideals. You always start having concepts. And I think itâs The Way that makes you understand that itâs not about concepts, but itâs about now, reality, radical acceptance of seeing what is happening at this moment.
And later on I was doing psychotherapy, to be a psychotherapist myself. I had to fulfill 120 hours myself, doing psychotherapy. And there I learned that itâs a very important thing as well, to do sitting and psychotherapy. But I came in trouble, because the psychotherapist told me itâs not very serious, what Iâm doing on the cushion. And then people told me that itâs not very serious making psychotherapyâthat it can all be done by sitting, just sitting. And I was in trouble. I liked doing the two things. And I noticed it was good for me. And I would still say itâs a good way to do those things.
At one point I noticed that itâs about the sameâlistening to people when Iâm psychotherapist, and sitting there and listening to myself. Itâs about the same attitude I found out. And so there was somehow a peace between those two parts of me, which I found out was important.
If youâre sitting in shikantaza, and just sittingâitâs still for me a little bit like the same attitude when Iâm listening to somebody in psychotherapy, or in the dokusan room. And I found out that itâs a great challenge, and itâs a wonderful exercise to be in the position, and to listen in this way. And it was much more hard to do that with personal relationships, than in the dokusan, or in therapy, because Iâve got the robe, which helps me.
And so I thought about really what can help you, what can contain you, to help you to not only blame others, but to have this free contact to myself, to others, to the world. What can help you to have a peaceful place, a container to look at the truth, without pointing at somebody else with this finger.
And I found the third thing Iâm doing, which is mindfulness training. And I think everything is like a pot of something very good to eat. And we donât need to make one meal out of it. I think everything is very useful, and for something else. But in total, itâs helpful.
I remember, it was in mindfulness training, when somebody told me, âWhat about your hatred, and your anger when youâre seeing what is happening in Palestine? When you see what is happening in wars,â and so on. And I remembered when I was in hospital with a child which was very ill. And there was a moment when there was no anger anymore. So no bothering with the world, why this child, and not somebody else? All those things you have in your mind, and it was just stillness, and it was just being there. It was just very sad, and it was laughing as well, and it was just what it was. So it came to a point of essential. It became essential.
So Iâm telling this, my answer, when they ask me, âWhat about hatredâ, and so on, was I see it like shelves around a center. And when youâre coming to the center, it comes to the essence. It becomes essential. And why Iâm telling this is because thatâs what I realized in Auschwitz.
So when I started working with Peacemakers, that we are thrown into situations where itâs going to be essential. The same thing when I am visiting somebody who is dying. So there is no tra la la. Itâs just coming to the pointâwell, not always, but in a lot of occasions. And that is what I feel is what we are doing with Peacemakersâthat we are just coming to the point.
Eve: We have a few minutes. So, do you have any questions for the three people who spoke, for us?
Audience member 1: I think for most of us who started to practice, when I started I had the feeling that I could escape to a better placeâthat everything would get easier immediately, in a way. And the truth was it would even become more real, and sometimes even more difficult. So it was not that it was easy. The whole thing became more workable in a way, more real.
Audience member 2: My own experience, in the first ten or fifteen years it created more separateness than unity, because youâre sort of practicing something, but you donât integrate it into daily life. You go to your meditation class, or you go to your Sesshins, and then you go back . . .
I would like people to be more supported by their Zen teachers from the beginning about the integration process in their daily life. But what comes up for me is an important part of those first years is I would have longed for in hindsight.
Roland: You can think that it takes time. And if you give this burden to the teacher, itâs like you would like to grow the grass quicker than it grows. So we really have to be patient with ourselves, and with the ones we are together in relationships. So, we need a lot of patience, with respect to time. Little steps for us sometimes are not enough. I see this giving more to giving back. But OK, it really takes time.
Cornelius: Yeah, Iâm not sure. Itâs good to mention that in my time, when we started, we didnât have Bearing Witness Retreats. No wonder how it is when you start in Zen, and you go to an event like thatâor something else, something that plunges you into the depths of the bearing witness process . . . Iâm just wondering if there could be other processes that people start with meditation, then Zen or something else could be supportive there.
Eve: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that is an issue. Again, it always comes back to the monastic culture. So the skillful means came out of the monastic culture. So if you know, your child gets sick, you have this problem, that thing with, you know, the house and work, a lot of these new things have to be developed in the West. And I think we are doing that more, as the years pass by. But if you started years ago, as Bernie described, and other people, for sure you didnât find that. What you found was a more monastic framework that was not ready to deal with the situations you described. That was my experience.
Cornelius: I was in Japan last year, and I spent some time in a small Rinzai Zendo. . .
And one of her jobs was she took priests of the Rinzai temple on tours to the U.S., and to Europe to show them how we are practicing Zen in the West. Â They knew that the monastic process in Japan was not working anymore. . . .
Audience member 3: Iâd like to share my experience with my first teacher. We had a great Sesshin. There were many people, fifty people. The talks were about peace, and taking action, and really not stopping in the dokusan room. And at the end of the Sesshin, I had political things with me. It was an initiative against export of war material from Switzerland. And what I experienced was almost nobody signed. I was like, âWhoa?â For me, it was so obvious. Of course you can sign to the concept of talking about peace and action. But itâs your acknowledgement of Zen. So I talked to people. And I remembered that Pia, she signed right away. And she started to talk with the studentsâmany long-term students.
And what I thought from then on, is like these are like two separate things. We do koan practice. And even teachers who say, âWhat are you doing with that koan in your daily life?â And if something comes up that is against my political views, or is confronting me, maybe that part is missingâthe political part in Zen training. I donât know. Maybe what we talked before was the psychological part, it was missingâthe ethical training. . . . So I just wanted to throw that out.
Audience member 4: It came up for me that I come really from another learning. Years ago I began studying with a teacher. It was a personal crisis for me at that time. And I happened to get to know a teacher that was Japanese. And he was trained in Japan. He was also trained in Zen. When he came to Europe, he was focused on family work. Like family massage, he was a healer. So with meditation, there was also always massage. And his focus was just very simpleâjust how to massage the children, how to also touch each other. He spoke of relation. And for me this was wonderful in this group, this family group. And I also got interested in Zen, and Japanese Zen. He was very shocked about that. . . .
And I also came to this Zen Peacemakers Circle, because I found this family. I like the Zen training very much, but somehow I missed the power of being in relation with each other. And this family feeling I found in the Zen Peacemakers Circle. And so for me this is just a wonderful gift. And this Zen tradition we have is also this focus on relation.
So todayâs point was the middle twenty years, which is taking the practice now outside of the zendoânot leaving the zendo, but in some way taking it out to other spheres of life. So thereâs two things that come up for me. And the first is something that I already talked about last year, and we did a retreat about that, which is the householder life.
So, you know there are a lot of great adventuresâI think of the whole Greyston time of building businesses, and not-for-profits as practice, and also as an adventure. And then the rest of us think, âOh, well we have children. We have aging parents. We have jobs.â But actually every single one of those areas is a place for practice. And this I think is the big deal in the West right nowâthat after two thousand years of monastic practice, I think itâs up to us to develop new means of waking up, and helping others awaken in the life that we ourselves liveânot as monks.
So for instance, those of you who know something about koans . . . You know, all those koans. A monk said to Joshu, âGive me a teaching.â And Joshu said, âHave you eaten your breakfast?â And the monk said, âYes.â And Joshu said, âWash your bowls.â
You see those things, theyâve come to us as some kind of a . . . You know, itâs like a story, or for me itâs like when I read Shakespeare. You know so much of Shakespeare has become these aphorisms, these sayings that are repeated so many times. If you read Hamlet, itâs like half of it is going to be very familiar to you, because people say those things all the time. So sometimes I catch myself reading Shakespeare, and I say, âAh, heâs using a clichĂ©.â And then I think to myself, âNo, no. Heâs the original!â He was the original, afterwards it became a clichĂ©.
So in some ways it happened with those koans. They almost sometimes become clichĂ©s. But we forget that when they arose, they arose out of very close circumstances. So there were these monks studying together, and there was a teacher. And the teacher knew the students. He knew them. He saw them. They lived together. They ate together. They sat together. So when a monk said, âGive me a teaching,â the answer was customized to that person in that situation. It wasnât just a clichĂ©. It wasnât, âHere Iâll hit you.â Why? You know, where did this hitting come from? Or where did this shouting come from?
And our job, in some way, and we have it, is to look at our own situations and say, âWhat are our koans?â So when Bernie said that the goal is âHow do you help people awaken, everywhere, and in all the areas of life?â You know, if youâre living with someone, and you go home, if youâre a real bodhisattva (and we take those vows at the end that weâre going to help all beings awaken), then it isnât like you did your job because you went to sit in the zendo. Youâre now going home. And when your husband or wife says, âWhat did you do today?â What are you going to say? And what are you going to say that may help them awaken to the oneness of life?
You see right then, thereâs a koan. Right then, if you are ready to plunge into it. See, so those monks were ready to plunge. They had their teachers. They knew that their teacher is going to say something, maybe give a turning word. So they were ready to plunge. You know, what does he mean by that? What is that?
So imagine that we, in our home, you came back from here. You go home, and somebody will ask you at work, at home, your friends, âWhat did you do at Felsentor?â
âWell, you know, theyâre high up. And you know, they have nice rooms, and the food was pretty good. And there were these two weird teachers from the States . . .â
So you could do like that. Or you could say [snaps]. So what answer am I going to give that is going to awaken someone? Or do something? Serve somebody in some way; gonna take care of this whole thing?
So thatâs when I started a compilation of our own householder koans. And the idea is your home, and your situation, what comes up for you that is like the old koans? Which means what is other for you? Where is there a situation that you stay away from? What are those things where, you know thereâs a call, but you canât respond. Or you donât know how to respond? Thatâs your koan.
And if youâre ready to work with it the way that they worked with it in the old monasteries, I think itâs going to be as effective in helping people awaken as those old koans. And there are some people here who contributed to that collection of householder koans.
But the point is that in every area of your life, there is the opportunity to do the kind of work Bernie talked about this morningâhelping everyone awaken. And itâs a brand new field. Itâs like a start-up. Itâs a start-up, really. It hasnât been done. What are the new ways of doing this? What do we do with people who donât meditate? Do we say, âAh, youâre out of luck. Youâre never gonna awaken.â? What do we do?
You know, when he talked about Greyston, none of those people came to the zendo. And the way the zendo was done then, there was no reason for them to come. You know, they were poor. They looked at us, and we were in silence like that. They didnât understand it. Because what they needed was talking. They needed support. They needed to be there for each other. So they would go to these big churches, and there would be these great choirs. And they would sing songs, and they would help each other. And a preacher would preach, and inspire them. And that really is how they took care of themselves. They liked silence. Some of them really enjoyed five or ten minutes of silence. But did they really want to be in silence for an hour, and go to weekend retreats where itâs all silent? And was that the thing that was going to take care of them? Iâm not sure.
So that, you go back to not knowing, you see. I think, âOh, I know this is for everybody.â But is it? Or is there some other way to show people that theyâre all one? And maybe it doesnât involve meditation. Maybe it involves something else.
So itâs a very new time for us. And I think itâs a very exciting time, especially for what I call laypeople, or householdersâpeople who are not monks.
So thatâs one thing.
Bernie: As Eve was talking, I thought of a few things. One is today, as you know, was the funeral for a Pia Gyger. She was a sister, and the mother of her order, St. Katerina Werk for a long time. She changed it. You all know her history. Some may not know, if theyâre not from this area. But when she started it was cloistered, and theyâre in habit. And she changed everything. And she changed the whole group, St. Katerina Werk, to include first non-Catholics, other Christians, and then to include men. She broadened it quite drastically, and also did a lot of social action work.
And she told us many times that that period in which she was changing everything, she almost diedâthat literally it almost killed her. The stress of criticism, as you know, thatâs radical for the church, what she was doing. And then she falls in love with a priest, a Jesuit. Heâs still around. And theyâve been a couple for forty-one years.
And when we first met them (I donât know how long they continued), they had gone to Paris. In the beginning of their relationship theyâd gone to Paris. And they actually discussed leavingâhe was a Jesuit, she was St. Katerina. They decided not to leave their ordersâand to be a couple. But in their language, not to be a âgenital couple.â But they were deeply in love. And when we first met them, they had been going every year back to Paris, where they honeymooned, for their anniversary. And they both finished Zen studies. They both studied in Japan, one finished in Japan, with the same teacher as Corneliusâs teacher. So Nicholas is an uncle in that Sanbo Kyodan, to Cornelius. Pia studied in that, but she finished with Aiken Roshi, who also was part of the Sanbo Kyodan. So Iâm also related to all of them.
Nicholas first met me on the streets. I was doing a street retreat, and a Jesuit brother of his (American) said, âMy teacherâs doing a street retreat.â And Bob said, âIâm gonna go join him.â Nicholas said, âCan I come along?â So thatâs when I met Nicholas. He came to join that street retreatâthe second, or the first (I donât remember) that I did. And then he invited me to do the street retreats in Zurich, to be part of a Christian/Buddhist conference. And we did that.
And then the two of them spoke to me, and asked could they also get dharma transmission from me, because they were teachers. They were established. They had groups. But they wanted to be connected to a lineage that was doing social action. And they loved a phrase that I used at that time, and they kept repeating. And Sunday I did a keynote talk for Zen in the West, and I think it was Anna who brought it up again. She said, âCan you explain the new wineskins?â
What I had saidâthis is maybe twenty-five years ago nowâthat whatâs needed is new wineskins. And they said, âYes! We need that.â And in the church also, not just in the households, but the church needs new wineskins. And of course they were creating new forms.
Thatâs what my second twenty years was all about. What are the new containers for the broader spectrum? But when you talked, I just wanted to bring out that itâs not just the householders, itâs the whole monastic forms that need new wineskins.
Eve: But Rocky you know what I want to ask you?
Bernie: Yeah. No, I donât.
Eve: Whatâs a genital couple?[Audience laughs]
Bernie: A genital couple is a couple that fucks around.[Audience laughs]
And a non-genital couple doesnât do that. They kiss, and they hug, they cuddle. They just donât fuck around. And thatâs what they decided to do. But still, as far as the church is concerned, thatâs not a good thing to do.
Eve: On that note, OK, so, the other thing . . . Oh, I knew I shouldnât have asked that question.
So the other thing is going back to the story of Greystonâso I have many wonderful memories of Greyston, and how this group of Zen practitioners . . . Oh, I remember how I first came on the Zen Community of New York, which was that a friend wanted to take me there, because there was this teacher there from Brooklyn. And he thought I might like him. So we went, and we thought we were going to do zazen. And it was a big mansion, and a beautiful place. Not like this, but green, and in a very wealthy neighborhood. And to our surprise, there was no zazen that evening. Instead they were having a community meeting in the dining room, to talk about (to my great amazement) social action. This is â85.
So the bakery had already begunâthe business. And they were already serving food in the shelter. But now there was discussion about hiring more people for the bakery from the neighborhood. Originally it was all Zen people. It was members of the community. And then it was, âweâre gonna build apartments for homeless families. And thereâs gonna be a childcare center, and thereâs gonna be this, and that.â
So hereâs this group, like you and me, there are fewer than here. There were fewer people than are in this room. And they werenât particularly talented, or businessy. They werenât bakers. I mean they learned it all. They werenât naturally more talented than anybody else here. And they just said âOK.â
So there was a visionary man, who said, âThis is what I want us to do.â Like he said, âWe opened this business. We had retreats. Now weâre gonna do social action. Weâre gonna develop this sphere, and that sphere, and that sphere. Weâre gonna develop new things. Weâre gonna do it all.â
And they said, âOh, OK.â Nobody really believed it. But OK. And they did. So thatâs the thing. And not everybody, because as Bernie said, many people, they didnât want to leave that beautiful place. We left that place to go into a very poor area, full of drugs, and prostitution, violence, and killing, all kinds of things. And so many people didnât come; because they didnât feel their cars would be safe there when they parked. We had a zendo on top of the bakery, but it wasnât like this. There were trucks going up and down.
Bernie: And it wasnât like what we had, which was a mansion overlooking the Hudson River. Half the membership left, quick. They were afraid to make that move.
Eve: They were afraid.
Bernie: I canât blame them.
Eve: Right. And there was a paint factory with illegal immigrants across. It was full of smells, very poisonous smells. And a meat factory on one side (could you imagine?) with the carcasses hanging out, and next door was an all-night bar.
Bernie: I loved it.[Audience laughs]
Eve: Loved it. It was great. You know they went out all . . .
Bernie: Not just a bar, believe me.
Eve: Yeah, so at 4:30 in the morning, you know we did weekend sesshins there. So you could never sleep at night because the music would be blasting through the walls. And at about 4 in the morning, we always kind of met together. Why? Because thatâs when we woke up, and thatâs when they went to sleep. It was very simple.
And we were really religious. We had our robes on. They must have thought we were crazy. And we thought they were pretty crazy. So there we are in our black robes, drinking coffee before the first thing. And theyâre coming out of the bar, happy. And thereâs a lot of women there, beautiful clothes hanging on to the âJohns.â And saying, âCome with me, Iâll give you a good time baby.â And all these people are meeting. Itâs fantastic. And theyâre looking at us in our black. And they donât think thereâs anything weird. And weâd look at them, and theyâd say, âHi, how are you doing?â We said, âWeâre fine. How are you doing?â OK.
And thatâs fine, you know. So it all came together. So thereâs a lot of stories about Greyston. And also a lot of difficultiesâeverything that people come up with. You know, a lack of energy, a lack of money, things going wrong, things you count on and then it doesnât happen, and then cancellations, and postponements, and on, and on. And it takes much longer than you think. And youâre tired, and you want to give up. But you donât want to give up. And Bernie does not give up.
So thatâs what it was.
Bernie: I want to mention one thing. What Iâd also like to mention, in those days when I was doing thatâyou know I was in the early days of Zen, So I was friendly with all of the other Zen teachers, and most of the other Buddhist teachersâthe Tibetan folks, the Insight Meditation folks. And what they would ask meâthey knew about Greyston, we started Greystonâand what they would all ask me is am I teaching them to meditate? So the model that was in their head was the first twenty-year model. Was I bringing that to this inner city? Thatâs what they all wanted to know. How am I getting them to meditate?
So the wineskins that they had were the wineskins from this first twenty years. And they thought thatâs what youâve got to bring. And what I told my teacherâI remember it was a little shocking to himâI told him that I am gonna let go of everything I knowâget into the not knowingâand wait for people from what we call âthe hoodâ (neighborhood, itâs called âthe hoodâ), wait for someone from the hood to arise as a leader. And I will learn from him what new wineskins we can make.
He said, âYou canât do that. I taught you all this stuff. You gotta teach.â I said, âNo, I donât want to do it that way.â
So that whole process started, again, with the Three Tenets. I let go of everything I knew. And waited for some people to pop up. And I watched what they did. And out of that started developing new ways of being. And we have Greyston, that youâll see is quite unusual. But that was a major, major point, in terms of spiritualityâthat all of the teachers were expecting me to bring tools, and ways out of that first twenty years into this very poor neighborhood.
So in a senseâI just thought of it nowâthatâs very common. Thatâs called missionaries. Thatâs what the missionaries did. They go into some area, and bring their stuff. They didnât go into an area and see whatâs the deal here, and bear witness to whatâs going on, and develop new forms. Thatâs exactly what it was. And these were all people that didnât like the idea of missionaries. But they fell into that right away. Thatâs what youâre supposed to do, man. We spent a lot of years learning our things. Now we gotta teach the poor people and the heathens our ways.
Anyway, thatâs the first time I thought of that in this context. So, thank you.
Eve: You know what that reminds me of? I remember going up once with one of the women up front. She was a help with the money, and she worked in the neighborhood. Her name was Hermina. And so we went out drinking one day.
Bernie: She was our treasurer, or our assistant treasurer.
Eve: Right. And she says, âI donât understand whatâs with you Zenies [thatâs what they called us]. You know, you all kind of have these weird clothes.â Some of us had the clothes like youâre wearing, only itâs beautiful, itâs clean, itâs ironed. You donât want to know what ours looked like, especially Bernieâs with that yucky brown, the threads all coming out and everything. âHow come you always wear dark clothes? And you wear those dumb jackets, and youâre so serious. Youâre so serious, girlfriend. Whatâs wrong with you, girlfriend?â You know, it was like they were reacting to what is this separation? Even with everything Bernie says, we still cling to the old forms. Why would we wear a Japanese Samurai jacket? Why, in Yonkers, why would we wear that? You know, because thatâs what we were used to doing. And everything was so serious, and this is our practice. Oh forget about it! You know what I mean? Itâs like she said, âHey girlfriend, why donât you just let loose, man?â Thatâs what she was saying to me, âlet loose.â
And the other thing I remember, there was the front part, sales, administration, and in the back people were baking. Now in the back, if you were on the baking floor you had health regulations. So everybody was in whites, and you had to cover your hair completely. If you had a beard or mustache, you had to cover it. So it was so interesting that the minute you walked on the floor, everybody started looking alike, because they were all wearing the same thing, and with the same kind of covering. So you could see who was white, and who was black. You know, you could see that, but very often it wasnât so simple to see. And they were all listening to the same loud rap music on the intercom. And you know, they were all busy with the machines, and the dishwashers, and the ovens. You know, it was all mixed, and yes, there were some very serious Zen people there. There were PhDs from Harvard there. There were all kinds of people there. And they were all mixed up together, and it was so alive. It was so alive.
Bernie: We all had many different jobs at Greyston. And there was a period where Iâd come down at the end of office hours, to help wash the pans. There was a lot of pans to wash. And I remember this guy who was hired to wash these pans. We had a few people like that, but this guy in particular had been a real tough guy. And one day he says to me, âBernie, I gotta ask you something. Iâve changed a lot coming here.â Because he would never have thought months before he got the job that he would do that kind of work. I mean he would sell drugs for a lot of money.
Eve: Yeah, he was a big dealer.
Bernie: I mean to do washing pans for a relatively small amount of money. He says, âIâve done a lot of thinking. Iâve made a lot of changes. But Iâve got to tell you, when somebody says something that angers me, I want to off them.â What that means is I want to kill them. He says, âHow do I change that feeling from coming up?â So those were the koans we dealt with. He was talking about different kinds of koans. Thatâs a koan, thatâs very, very direct, and powerful. What do we do when somebody gets us angry? We have very simple things, somebody gets us angry and itâs eh. But itâs not that often that we get angry and what we want to do is kill the person that angered us. But for many people around the world, thatâs the normal thing. You anger me, I kill you. Thatâs what we do.
Eve: But you know, some of us Zen people also wanted to kill each other.
Bernie: For sure. So those are gritty koans. You know, theyâre not maybe such a nice world, but theyâre an important world. Because those in one degree or another are very important koans I think. And it was very important. So I called that work practice, because we worked together, with the Zen students and the people off the street. They all worked together, and had to deal with all the stuff that came up. And a lot of stuff came up. Just like it comes up at Auschwitz. So it came up thereâon the floor. And why did it come up there? And why does it come up in Auschwitz? Because theyâre different cultures. The cultures are so different. And itâs not easy to deal with different cultures. That was part of the beauty for me of the growth of Greyston. And the other part of course was that we were providing housing, and job-care, and jobs, and people were going off of welfare, and all kinds of things were happening.
Eve: And AIDS-care.
Bernie: And when the AIDS epidemic started, we were right there to build housing for folks with AIDS, a health center.
Eve: You know thereâs a lot more to say, but itâs already 8:05, so I think itâs better to get questions.
Audience member 1: Iâve got a question. When you got rid of the old skins, the old wineskins . . .
Bernie: We didnât get rid of them. Thatâs important. We created new ones. So the ones I had, I put aside in working there. I still would go home to our Zen community, which happened now to be in that same building. And in our zendo we were using the old skins. But with the people in the neighborhood we werenât. Just a minor point, we didnât get rid of them.
Eve: Actually circles are new wineskins in the zendoâin a zendo environmentâdonât you think?
Bernie: Oh, definitely. When I was taughtâand Iâm sure you were tooâwe werenât allowed to talk to each other about our practice.
Audience member 1: OK, that was the question, but what did you do instead? Because the wineskins is something you get out of, and the first twenty years I suppose it was important to have formsâto be sure that you are doing right. And you were sure, and were able to let them go, to find new forms. What was the difference between a social worker and what you did?
Bernie: The difference was the Three Tenets. That is the difference between what we were doing and what a bakery would be doing, or a therapist or any social worker would be doing. The work we were doing theoretically was supposed to be based on the Three Tenets. Was everybody accomplished and doing that? No. Because remember, the Three Tenets youâve first got to put aside all that you know and really totally listen. Itâs hard to do. So most people doing that donât do such a great job. But that was the training. And thatâs where I would try to catch people if it looked like they werenât doing that.
But I donât know any form that we gave up. You asked the same question. We didnât give up old forms. We brought in new ones. I gave upâI disrobed. So that might be called giving up an old form. I decided at some point that the robes were not helping me do my work. They were hindering my doing my work, and I disrobed.
But all those initial techniques, many things got modified. So when I was training in Los Angeles, the schedule was such that it destroyed families. I mentioned that. So we start changing the schedules. What time do you sit in the mornings, and evenings? And we start changing things, so that families could still be families. You didnât have to be a monastic to meet our schedule. So thatâs changing the schedule. And bringing the form of counsel into the Zendo was huge when we did it, because the rule when I trained (And I canât remember if I kept that same rule. I probably did when we started in New York.), but certainly when I came to L.A., when you came to sit, you had dokusan with the teacher (interview with the teacher), but you were not allowed to talk with anybody else about what was going on with you, in terms of the Zendo work, the practice. And the practice was called the sitting. When you said âpractice,â you meant sitting.
I shifted the word practice, and I still have to explain that to mean trying to experience the oneness of life, to experience non-duality. So it could be work, it could be anything. So I expanded the word practice. And we brought in counsel, which is a sharing. And for me, counsel, and the Three Tenets are very intertwined. Listening from the heart is our first Tenetânot knowing, deeply listening. Many people when they listen to somebody are judging them right away, and saying, âitâs this, itâs that.â And then speaking from the heart is bearing witness. So whatâs happening, and what then comes upânot planning.
And in fact, Joan Halifax is the one who really developed the way of counsel in this country. She brought it from the North American Indians a long time ago, the Lakota tribe. But there are othersâthe Quakers have a circle; there are many other kinds.
Eve: More questions?
Bernie: Yeah, what was the point I was making with circle?
Eve: Theyâre new wineskins that you brought in to the thing.
Audience member 2: I have one question of example I know. We are family. How we can practice? How we can take this work, how we can join your work in such a country, in such a situation? We have to deal with our family. And also I would like to offer my personal offering. How can I do that? Is the koan for me to the person I think for me the work will be different. We have to meditate on different point. How in just a short time to practice myself in when I am listening? When I hear your past, how can I connect it with my past with your work? Is any koan for me where in this moment I also can practice it?
Eve: You know, as a couple, I really recommend a lot for couples to do council with each other. Itâs a wonderful practice. And when you do it long enough, you really are able to say some very difficult things to each other. So when Bernie and I fight (which never happens) . . .[Audience laughs]
Bernie: Rocky and Tootsie, they fight all the time.
Eve: Never happens, you know. When we argue, one of us is gonna say to the other, âWell, should we do council?â Exactly what we do here, so you can take that home and do that. And I donât know how old your child is.
Audience member 2: Six.
Eve: Already at that age people are teaching their children to do council. So that once a week, you know, the whole family gets together and they learn how to do council. And itâs a practice, and children have very short attention span, but they start learning and getting used to it that once a week this is what they do. And they begin to see themselves that, âOh this is a space where I can maybe say some things that I donât feel safe saying in other places.â But I think especially for a couple, itâs a fantastic practice.
In terms of how you can connect to our work, so I think Bernie was going to talk about the Zen Peacemaker Order Sunday morning. And there may be some answer to your question then. But I would say more directly, you know, you have to do whatever work youâre gonna do. Youâre gonna make your offering. You know, so Bernie makes his offering, I make my offering. Itâs very different. We have very different paths, he and I. We arenât always together or anything. And youâre gonna make your offering, and thatâs gonna be your work. Where it may come together is in these big containersâthese new wineskins. So something like a Zen Peacemaker Order is a new containerâa new wineskin to bring together and support people who want to do this kind of work based on the Three Tenets. And Pia Gyger was absolutely vociferous, meaning very eloquent, and insistent about the need for healthy structures, and good structures that help people do their work. She always talked about it. And the Zen Peacemaker Order I hope is going to be such a structure, that will bring people together who want to do work like that. And theyâll do different work, in different countries, and different continents. But there will be some things that they have in common, and support them.
Audience member 3: . . . your experience, and how it startedâthe change from the first twenty years to the second. And . . . mentioned that there were difficulties, and my question was what made you not to give up? Was it really only this one experience? I canât believe that. And the other thing is I love my . . . and I think âWow, thatâs it.â And two days later I have a lot of doubts, and I let . . . and I go the old ways. And for me itâs a question of trust. Can I really trust in what arises? And is it only fear to go in new ways? But one of the things is I think of itâs only feeded by old patterns. Itâs not really a new thing. And donât trust in it to your things that youâve done for a lifetime.
Bernie: The first oneâs easy to answer. The second one was?
Eve: What happens when you have your self-doubt?
Bernie: Yep. So my experience is that always there is self-doubt. But I like to look at it in a positive wayâthat thatâs what drives you to resolve that doubt. Some people say (the first time I read this was Yamamoto Roshi), he defined kenshoâa great enlightenment experienceâas being âone in which there is no more doubt.â And that is extremely, extremely rare. Until then, no matter whatâs happening, whether you have enlightenment experiences or you donât, youâre gonna have doubt. Now his teacher talked about doubt as one of the three elements thatâs needed for practice. Doubt is one, determination is another. I have this doubt, but Iâm determined to resolve the doubt. And the third is that you do it. You donât give up.
And then you ask, âHow did you not give up?â Thatâs easy to answer in a way, because I donât think you can teach somebody not to give up. Some people donât give up. Some people give up. Some people give up for one, and start again. I donât know. In my life, Iâve never found it interesting to give up. I get interested when things arenât working, and things are falling apart. Thatâs exciting for me. And I want to see how to make it work. But thatâs just a weird characteristic I have. I donât know, I think I was born with that, you know. I was just this little baby, and I couldnât reach my mothers breast. And I wouldnât give up, man. I wanted that breast, so I could get started . . .[Audience laughs]
And it continues now. Now I donât know what to do about the Middle East, but Iâm not gonna give up. And the bakery, and Greyston almost collapsed a number of times, and I didnât give up. I just kept going. And I think one of the characteristics of an entrepreneurâthey donât give up. And they donât look at failure as a problem.
Eve: Can I say something, Bernie? I think that if weâre lucky . . . You said that Bernie had an experience that took him into that. So I didnât have that experience. But I think what happened to me may be more common to most people than what happened to him. And that is that as time passes, you know, you really get finally that itâs not about you. You know, you just kind of get it. And itâs a slow process, and it doesnât mean that you donât take care of yourself.
You know, in the Greyston years one of my big koans that I used to bring was what about me? Yeah weâre taking care of them, weâre taking care of them, weâre taking care of them, weâre taking care of themâwhat about me? That was a very important koan. Itâs like everyone is being taken care of. You know so then people get into their dramas, âOh but itâs not good enoughâI failed againâI thought I was doing it again, I failedâI knew I shouldnât do itâcatastrophe is around the cornerâblah, blah, blah.â And itâs all very entertaining, and upsetting, and all that.
Iâm sorry if I told this story, but itâs stayed with me for so many years this story. I always tell Bernie what was the shortest Dharma talk he ever gave? And that was when we first got a building to develop as apartments for homeless families. We had no money. We went into debt. You know, it was just a mess. So we got this old, old building. And the roof was leaking. And it had been abandoned and locked up. And a few peopleâI wasnât one of themâbut Bernie, they opened it up. We owned it. We were able to open it up.
So that night, he sat down and he gave a dharma talk. And he said, âLook folks, today we went into [the address was 68 Warburton Ave] . . .â And we went into the entrance, because itâs all dark, thereâs no electricity. The floor is terra cotta floor, very old, full of water. Thereâs a staircase going up. And at the bottom of the staircase is a dead dog. I guess somebody locked the dog there, and left it. So there was this carcass, you know, a long time itâs been left like this. So he said, âYou know what weâre gonna do? Weâre gonna take out . . .â And people did. They took out the dead dog, and buried it with a Buddhist ceremony. âAnd weâre gonna clean up the floors. And weâre gonna renovate the whole building. Weâre gonna change the roof, so thereâs no more holes, and no more rain coming in. Fully renovate the buildingâthere will be eighteen beautiful apartments. Thereâll be a big child-care center. Itâs gonna be the beginning of everything. Then weâre gonna build more apartments. Weâre gonna do more of this, and weâre gonna do more of that.â Now at that moment we were broke. But it didnât matter. You know, we had no money. âWeâre gonna do all this. And then you know whatâs gonna happen after years? Some of you are gonna leave. This is gonna happen. You know, thereâll be a big financial recession. So after about fifty or a hundred years, weâll be dead, and the place will be abandoned, and it will be empty again. And it will fall into disrepair, and there will be leaks coming from the roof. And finally families will just leave the building. And somebody will lock a dog, and abandon a dog inside. And itâs gonna remain like this for another fifty years. And then maybe another person one day is gonna buy the building, open the doors, see the dead dog.â And that was it. And thatâs our work.
And you know, itâs always stayed with me, because he wasnât saying, âPlease donât have big expectations like youâre going to solve the problems of the world.â You know, really, letâs get real here. Thereâs a flow here. Itâs not my flow, and I donât think itâs Bernieâs flow. It life. Life is flowing. You know, itâs juts a big fall, and itâs flowing, and you know, we make such a big deal about ourselves. âOh my God, can I do this? Can I write this? Can I do this? Am I enlightened enough?â And this, and this, and we cry, and we laugh. And thatâs OK. Thatâs wonderful.
But you know, at some point itâs not about that. And when we start getting it more, and more, itâs not about that. Itâs just about the water, just flowing, man. Just go with it. You know, find something where you fit in, and then just go with it. Donât worry. Just donât worry. Thatâs all.
Bernie: That sounds like good advice.[Audience laughs.]
Audience Member 4: I had a question about bearing witness. When you cultivate to continue bearing witness, is it the same as cultivating compassion?
Bernie: OK, so what I mean by bearing witness, it has many words in English, and when you translate it, we all know that the translation in German is not such a good translation. What I meant when I came up with Bearing Witness as the second Tenet, I meant shikantaza. So what is shikantaza? Shikantaza is a Japanese word. Shikan means just. Za means sitting. And Ta is a grammatical term that makes whatever else is in that word emphatic/strong. And to do shikantaza, thatâs to be in a state of non-duality. It has nothing to do with compassion, or any other label. Because any label takes you out of non-duality. So itâs just being in that state where thereâs no subject, no objectâthe state of non-duality.
So I was looking for . . . how do you translate shikantaza? You canât translate it as just sitting. That doesnât work. You can translate it, but itâs clumsy, as JUST SITTING! Thatâs what shikantaza is. And in that state, thereâs no duality.
So thatâs what I was meaning by the word bearing witness. So maybe that gives you a better sense of bearing witness. So when we say shikantaza, to just sit and whatever arises, arises, let it be, become it, let it flow away, you know. So in the practice of bearing witness of the Three Tenets, we become the situation.
Koan study . . . you guys do koans with Frank?
Audience Member 4: Yes.
Bernie: You do koans? So koan study is the study of bearing witness. You have to become the koan. And as long as youâre not the koan itself, and youâve come to the teacher with a description of what you realized, thatâs no good. In the best of all worlds, what koan study is about is youâve got to present yourself as the koan. And if itâs many people, youâre presenting yourself as many people. Youâre presenting yourself as the non-dual situation thatâs described in that koan.
So in life, the same thingâto bear witness to life, is to bear witness to all of the elements, without any dualistic thinking. And thatâs why itâs not simple, and why we create practices to help you learn how to do that. Thatâs just the same reason why they created a koan system, to learn to do it through that.
But I want to add one little thing, because the koan system is not so old. It only goes back a certain ways. And before that it was what Eve was describing. Youâre in the monastery, and sometimes the monastery was just little individual huts on a mountain. The mountain might have had a hundred monks. They were living there separately, and they would gather to hear the teacher talk. But their practice came out of the stuff that happened in their lives, on that mountain. And as she said, the teacher knew each of them. They were living together. And things would happen. They would stub their toe on a rock. And the teacher would work with what was going on. Then there grew a period where people werenât living together like that. And somebody whose name happened to be Hakuin developed a system, a koan system. Using a lot of those same incidents as things for the new people that are going to study to train with. So now theyâre working on not things that are happening in their lives, but things that came out of the stories of other peopleâs lives.
And some people got very upset that that was gonna kill the practice of Zenâkoans. Because it was working with dead stuff. It wasnât working with stuff out of life. And in fact, in Japan in the Rinzai tradition, it got mainly very, very, dead. Because in order to be in charge of your temple you had to pass a certain amount of koans. And so the teacher would start selling the koansâthe answers. And for the majority of folks that do koan study there, itâs just a matter of how much dollars youâre paying so that you can be in charge of a temple. Itâs got nothing to do with the experience of the identity of life. But of course there are wonderful Rinzai teachers. But thatâs why Yasutani got upsetâone of the reasons he got upset with the standard stuff.
So in a way what weâre doing, and what Eve is doing in her group is not using the koans that developed from old histories (which we said is the old monastic thing, their histories), sheâs using koans that developed out of students lives. And thatâs what youâre asking. âWhat do I do?â You work on things thatâs in your life.
And anything thatâs in your lifeâsame with those guys back in China a thousand years ago, manâthey walk out of their hut, and they see this beautiful woman, nude, taking a bath. And they get all excited, and they go to the teacher. âWhat do I do?â And heâd make them work on it as a koan.
So thatâs what you guys gotta do.
Eve: He would make them work on it as a koan?[Audience laughs]
Bernie: Uh yeah. Oh boy. Imagine if Tootsie was available to all these Zen teachers. Theyâd go crazy. Itâd be good for them.
Eve: And you call that the direct approach?
Bernie: D.T. Suzuki was one of those who thought that the koan system was destroying Zen, because it made it more of a dead practice instead of out of peopleâs lives. You know, those things got written down. It all got very formal, and away from life. That was at least his feeling. He was very critical of koan study.
I love koan study. And I see those problems. So if youâre gonna use koan study, thereâs a way of making it aliveâbringing that into the personâs life. If you can make it alive, then I think itâs wonderful. Which means no fixed answer, because itâs got to be a function of the personâs life.
Audience Member 4: Can you please give us an example how we can bring a daily life, this koan, with a daily life practice?
Bernie: Yeah. So thereâs a simple koanâHow do you stop the fighting across the river? And you can do that in formal koan study. But you could also sayâHow do I stop the fighting in Gaza? Itâs the same koan.
Eve: Or How do I stop the fighting in my own home?
Bernie: And thatâs the same koan. How do I stop the fighting with myself? Same koan.
Audience Member 4: I have been in a koan, also a sesshin, for some time. And there was a simple koan, just Who is me? And I would practice face to face, each one five minutes. So for that I find out I face each one person I got different energetics, also different faces. To their face, for me, I have different answer in Zen koan. For me they were so directly straight to ask me What is in me? And also for me to bring it out, to look at it, and to watch it. And for me to look at another person eyes to eyes, I get deeply washed, and refreshing. And I feel the transformations straight away. And that was very simpleâjust time. Face each other, and this time for others to give to me, and I was giving to them, that was so powerful. Just go to a person, just five minutes, and others five minutes. And in the end, I come out with such grateful.
Bernie: So, why do you ask the question? You have the answer.
Audience Member 4: Yes. But I feel like dojo is the place to bring such different spirits together. And for me right now, Iâm also looking for the place. Like how can I bring my richnessâhow can I bring such things that carry on in me? Where can I go and say I wish to give this as a present?
Bernie: OK, my immediate feeling as you talk, is you need to find a teacherâand you may have a teacher to work with. Because it canât be all your own thing. Youâll drive yourself crazy.
Thatâs important. What I said in my early years, and I started to quit Zen or whatever. Youâre asking questions that you should be working withâI thinkâwith somebody. If youâre only working with yourself, youâre bound to get yourself into a problem. Thatâs my opinion. You donât have to listen to my opinion, but my opinion is that that is critical, and thatâs not enough. So hopefullyâbut again, my opinionâfor many people thatâs the kind of practice that is only one. And thatâs enough to do that. In my opinion thereâs more to life than dealing with just your own stuff.
And I would hope that the person you find to work with will also besides work with your own stuff help you to move out of your own stuff. But I would say eighty percent of practitioners work with their own stuff all the time. So itâs OK, but itâs not my way.
So if you were asking me, if I was your teacher, man I would kick you out of yourself and into a bigger sphere. Thatâs what I would do. And you might not like that kick, but thatâs what I would do. But thatâs me; so donât get close to me.
Audience Member 4: Iâm looking for a teacher. . . So I think a teacher, and listening, the student and the teacher they are coming to the one point of, in Chinese we say when we are still not awake, we bound for the teacher. When we are awake, we are bound for the student. In the awakening part we say, when I not understood, Iâm asking for the answer. When I understood, I asking answer to come to me. So that means Iâm learning for the student where this come from. So I feel like this is like meeting. The teacher and the student are meeting each other. Where is the point? Itâs you and me, we are same. And I think that feeling, for me right now; I feel like I need somebody just to sit beside me, I just want to talk. But for now, before now I felt like I more listen than talk. But I also need to listen for what I want to say for this person as empty. As unknown, what is inside to say? I would like to understand. I would like to have this chance. And what I really sometimes feel like, I want to stand up and jump. My body also wants to have some place to talk. Itâs not only talking. Itâs also action, also energetic emotion. And all of these parts, of these thousand hands, where to put? So I feel right now Iâm like a cloud full of water. I want to find a place to rain. And where is the place outside me? And hurry on to find a toilet to relieve my stuff. And for now I also have to practice myself where is my patience. How I can relieve just by listening to somebodyâs path. I also want to tell my path. I also want to keep my treasure, but where is the empty space? Where is now and here? . . . This is it. I want to meet you. Can I say something to you? Iâm afraid to ask.
Bernie: Thank you.
Audience Member 4: And I think this is also a place for me in this such a feeling of myself, I also feel all of our self in one. And I would like to, because Iâm sorry I come from East. So all of one who have past, also where I come from. So in the beginning I want to run away from that. So I come to here to learn something. And I would also like to share what I have learned from my West. I would also like to share what I have learned from the East. And important is where is the meeting? Where is now, here? How can I bring me to that? Also of life, what I want to experience before my last breath. Thank you.
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and a principal teacher at Green River Zen CenterÂ in Massachusetts, USA. She has co-led bearing witness retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda and the Black Hills. Eve writes regularly in her blog and is the author of the novelÂ The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx.
June 19, 2019