Zen Master Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, while then sensei at Zen Center of Los Angeles, moved to the Bronx, New York City in December 1979.Â There, he was set on exploring the merging of spiritual training and social action, and in 1980 he incorporated the Zen Community of New York. A departure from the formal Zen training and teaching he himself had received and given until now, he went on to found Greyston Bakery asÂ “…A place of inclusion and opportunity. Bernie recognized that people in the community of Bronx and, later, Southwest Yonkers needed jobs, and so opened his doors to provide employment, no questions asked…Employing individuals regardless of education, work history, or social barriers such as language skills, homelessness or incarceration, and offering the supportive services the community needs to thrive” (from Greyston Bakery’s Website).Â In 2017, Greyston celebrated 35 years of social innovation, and is being studied by major universities and companies around the world.Â Bernie has since been recognized with many awards for his groundbreaking work with Greyston.
On Bernie’s 55th birthday in January 1994, he did a retreat in Washington D.C., contemplating the question of what to do to serve those rejected by society, those in poverty and those with AIDS. Upon returning home, he discussed his vision of a container for people wanting to do spiritually-based social engagement with his wife, Sensei Sandra Jishu Holmes.Â They decided on developing a religious order, the Zen Peacemaker Order, to respond to his questioning:
“How do we bring our Zen into our life? But Zen is life. What is there to bring? And into what? The point is to see life as the practice field. Every aspect of our life has to become practice. What forms can we create in modern society that will be conducive to seeing the oneness of life? What are the forms that will make it easier to experience interconnectedness?”
The Zen Peacemaker Order was to be based on Three Tenets: Not-knowing, Bearing Witness and Loving Actions; and the Peacemaker Precepts, based on the Zen Buddhist precepts, were then developed by a group referred to as the Founding Teachers of the ZPO, Grover Genro Gauntt, Bernie Glassman, Joan Jiko Halifax, Sandra Jishu Holmes, Eve Myonen Marko, Wendy Egyoku Nakao and Pat Enkyo Oâ€™Hara. The Zen Peacemakers were intent on developing practices and skillful means to help people actualize these three tenets. Jishu put much of her energy into developing Peacemaker Villages. They practiced meditation in an abandoned school site with stones forming a zendo, and developed rules and procedures for the ZPO.
In December 1995, Bernie and Eve Myonen Marko attended an large inter-faith conference at the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.Â Upon entering the camp, Bernie tells of feeling overwhelmed by millions of souls wanting to be remembered, and decided to do a retreat there.Â Eve agreed and offered to help form the retreat. Together with Jishu and Sensei Andrzej Krawjewski, they decided that the retreat should not just be about the Holocaust but about the broader issue of the â€śOther;â€ť they invited many voices to participate, to plunge into that which the rational mind canâ€™t fathom, to help people let go of their attachments to their ideas or concepts and experience things as they are. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat has since become one of the most important events offered by the ZPO.
In 1996, Sandra Jishu Holmes introduced the Way of Council to many of the ZPO teachers.Â The method had been developed by Roshi Joan Jiko Halifax and the Ojai Foundation, and was based on practices performed by the Iroquois Native American nation. Afterward, the Way of Council was made an integral part of the Zen Peacemakers.
Acknowledging that many Zen Groups work on a vertical organization model Zen Peacemakers developed another skillful means: the Zen Peacemaker Circles. Modeled on Indraâ€™s Net, these were conceived as a horizontally-managed organization of interlocking circles, the aim of which was to realize and actualize the oneness and interdependence of life, where individuals gather together for study, mutual support and social action. Each local circle determines its vision and mission and its general way of functioning.
In March 1997, the staff of the ZPO moved to Santa Fe where they bought a property next to the Upaya Zen Center. Within a week of arriving there, Sandra Jishu Holmes passed away. The work on Peacemaker Villages, which she championed, ended. There were many Zen Peacemaker Affiliates and various Bearing Witness Practices going on: they continued, led by wonderful Zen Peacemakers around the globe. In 1998, the Zen Peacemakers staff moved to Santa Barbara. From there they continued to support the Zen Peacemakers efforts worldwide.
Bernie shifted his attention fully into lay-based social action inspired by his insights and the Three-Tenets, and In 1999 installed Wendy Egyoku Nakao as the Abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He then disrobed as a Zen Priest, a role he considered to be based on maintaining a Zen Buddhist temple.
In December 2000, Eve Myonen Marko and Bernie Glassman married in Santa Barbara, California. Eve had been a major part of the Greyston Mandala and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemakers. They began concentrating on international work in areas of conflict, assisting in various areas of social engagement and on developing the ZPO.Â They held the first gathering of ZPO members in 2001 at the Greyston Foundation site in Yonkers, NY.
In 2002 a group gathered in Europe to study together and to develop the European ZPO. This group was referred to as theÂ Founding ZPO Teachers of EuropeÂ and consisted of Malgosia Braunek (Poland), Frank De Waele (Belgium), Michel DuBois (France), AmyÂ HollowellÂ (France), Andrzej Krajewski (Poland), Roberto Mander (Italy), Catherine PagĂ¨s (France), Paul Shoju Schwerdt (Germany), Barbara Salaam WegmĂĽller (Switzerland) and Roland Yakushi WegmĂĽller (Switzerland). Heinz-JĂĽrgen Metzger (Germany) joined this group shortly after.
In 2003 the Zen Peacemaker staff moved to Montague, Massachusetts with the intention of building a home-base for the Zen Peacemakers, a Maezumi Institute and the multi-faith House of One People (HOOP). Lex Hixon and Bernie Glassman had formed the idea of a House of One People many years before, to be the home of the multi-faith actions and dharma-holders of the Zen Peacemakers. In 2010 Zen Peacemakers sponsored a large symposium of western socially-engaged Buddhists.Â Over 300 people attended and 70 major Zen and other spiritual teachers presented their works and thoughts. The farm became the training ground for the Zen Houses seminar. Financial challenges eventually led to the selling of the farm.
Bernie returned to spending one day per month at Greyston in Yonkers, helping to develop its spiritual component, lead workshops at various Zen Peacemaker Affiliate Centers and volunteer service at conflict areas around the Globe. He was still intent on giving life to his vision of the Zen Peacemakers.Â In 2013 Bernie restarted the Order, using a sociocratic governance circle spanning many Zen Peacemakers affiliates.
In January 2016, Bernie experienced a severe stroke, and concentrating on his recovery, entrusted his vision to the new international board and executive staff.Â Â Zen Peacemakers InternationalÂ was established to continue this dynamic evolution of spiritual practice and social action, and make transition from a founder-based organization, to a vision-based one. This is our story.