Roshi Bernie Glassman at Upaya
Roshi Bernie Glassman gave this series of dharma talks during a workshop at the Upaya Zen Center in August 2012 on non-duality, non-separateness, and the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers.
So, I woke up this morning and took my morning bath, which I really enjoy because I have arthritis in all my joints. And a hot bath—a Jacuzzi is the best—but a hot bath is good. And a lot of things come up when I take my baths. So, I want to share this morning.
I started to think about—I was picturing—my daughter and her husband, and their new baby. They adopted a baby about six weeks ago now. And the child, his name is Milo. Milo had a urinary infection, and they kept him in the hospital to do some checking and things. And my daughter and son-in-law stayed in the hospital with him. Then I went to be with them. He was about ten days old. And they both had taken off from work for about three months. He’s a teacher, so for him it was time-off anyway.
And the whole scene was so beautiful. They were really bonding. You know, a new baby gets hungry, and you feed it. Then it’s got a little gas, so you help him burp—get rid of some of the gas. And then he has bowel movements or something—you change the diapers.
And of course when you have a new—it’s their first child—and you don’t know (some parents do know) what’s the right thing to do. And of course there’s been many books written about what’s the right way of bringing up children. I’ve had two children of my own, and they’re now in their mid-forties. But when we had them, we had our bible books on how to raise children. Everybody has their bible books. And there’s always new books being written.
And you’d think that after our children have been born now for a long, long time, right? And you’d think by now there’s probably a book, the way to bring up children. And of course parents—even before the child arrives—are reading all these books, and figuring out which is the best way, and the right way, and whatever. But we really don’t know, huh?
And to watch them, at first, there’s very deep listening. They wouldn’t say they’re deep listening, but you’re really paying attention to the child and reacting. And it was an intense time of bearing witness. You’re just—you and the child, as I described yesterday—there was one body, the three of them, and automatically, actions come up. Here’s a bottle. Time to burp. Time to clean. And things happen. Like, it’s a boy, and during the initial first few times of cleaning, after he dropped his load you know, there was a time when he peed all over them. You don’t get angry. You automatically sort of figure out what’s a better way of holding? What’s a better position so I’m not in the way of the stream of consciousness (or whatever stream)? And it struck me this morning that that is another way of talking about bearing witness—that bonding that arises.
When my wife and I moved here in ’97 or ’98—Joan says it’s ’97, I know it was March—and she died. My wife died unexpectedly. And Joan’s father died. And Joan and I went through a bonding time—I think. We spent a lot of time together. We were bearing witness. I was certainly bearing witness to my wife passing. And I never met Joan’s father, but we talked and shared. And it was more not the words, but there’s a bonding that goes on, there’s a bearing witness.
And out of that comes actions. And you can call those actions “loving actions.” I call any actions that arise out of the state of deep listening. In the Zen Peacemakers we have three tenets. The first one, not knowing, which literally does not mean ignorance. It does not mean not having knowledge. It means deep listening—not being attached to any of the ideas you have. We have many ideas, and many concepts, and a lot of knowledge. And I for one feel that the more we have, the better, but the attachments to any of those create problems. So when I talk about not knowing, I mean not being attached to any of those. Viewing them—if I want to label them—I would label them as “opinions.” And our second tenet is bearing witness. And in a technical sense, that’s non-duality. But, I think bonding is a beautiful word.
And the state of bearing witness, for those who know science fiction, I use the word “groking.” That’s from the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Bonding has a sense of practice. To be bonded, then you’re in that state of non-duality—that state of bearing witness.
And in Zen koan study, there’s a structure that a man named Hakuin (a Japanese Zen teacher) created. And at first, you’re trying to experience the state of emptiness, and then the state of what we call the source of what is there before we even have a label called emptiness. And that’s what I call the not-knowing state. And bearing witness, we have a term in sitting we call shikantaza—just sitting. That is a state of bearing witness to the wholeness of life—if it’s done right.
And koan study takes you into different situations where you’re supposed to become the situation. Again, bear witness to the situation, and then express that situation. And that’s the loving actions. They arise out of those two.
And the word loving is a judgmental thing, so an action arises. For some it might be loving, and for some it might be terrible, you know? But the action that arises, I call loving actions (I’m not fully happy with that term).
But I can’t think of a better metaphor than being in the presence of my kids and my grandchild, and seeing what was going on. There was no fixed idea of “oh, this is what we’ve gotta do.” And there was a total bearing witness to this young little infant. And out of the situation, things arose. Feeding, bathing, holding, smiling. So, in a way it’s so simple, huh? It’s so simple.
And a question that comes up is “what do I mean by practice?” or “what’s my opinion on practice?” There’s a Japanese term—it’s actually a Chinese character, kyo, and a sutra that’s chanted a lot in the Zen world called the Heart Sutra, and it starts off Kanzeon Bosa. So Kanzeon Bosa is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or Kanzeon Bodhisattva. Bosa is bodhisattva. And kyo —it’s a very common word—it means to walk. It’s a simple word, so it appears everywhere, you know? I believe when the light goes green it says kyo —to walk. Just the way we use walk.
But in the Buddhist world, kyo means practice. So when you take the Heart Sutra—and you’ll see many different translations, I’m always curious to see what word people use to translate that kyo. Sometimes it’s translated as practice. Very rarely is it translated as walking. But, my English translation for that word, kyo, is keep on trucking. So that has the flavor of the walking, but also as a practice. As a practice, it’s a very simple thing.
And in a more technical way, when I think of practice, there’s two senses—two ways. If I say in the common English thing, “we’re practicing things.” And also the practice as an absolute for me is a non-dual state. So if I say “work/practice,” it’s doing work in a non-dual way. If I say “zazen,” I would think zazen is seated meditation. And if I, doing it in a non-dual way, then it’s what Dogen would say zazen—or somebody would say—“Zazen is the teacher.” Its non-duality is the teacher. You can do seated meditation in a very dualistic way. And most of us do do it that way. It’s not so simple to be in a non-dual way. And at the same time, it is simple. Everything that we do is really in a non-dual way. But, because of our way of thinking, we think it’s dual.
So for me, when I talk about socially engaged Buddhism, what that means to me is things we do out of that state of bearing witness—out of that state of not knowing and bearing witness. So that’s pretty inclusive.
When my kids are taking care of their son, they would not say, “Oh, I’m helping him.” They wouldn’t say, “I’m serving him.” They’re just doing. That’s socially engaged Buddhism for me. So for me, socially engaged Buddhism is doing things out of that—out of the interconnectedness of life. If I’m not doing it out of that, but I’m doing it because, “Oh there’s something wrong and I’ve got to fix it,” that I would call social engagement, but I wouldn’t call it socially engaged Buddhism. Because the way I define Buddhism—it’s the awakening to the oneness of life. So it’s social engagement out of that interconnectedness.
Now, we’re all in some path, and Koba Daishi could tell you where you are in terms of your enlightened state, depending what you are, and many of you (especially since you’re here) many people want to experience—realize and experience—that interconnectedness of life. So they do upayas. So if you work with me in socially engaged Buddhism, it’s not just to do things that society would call social engagement. It’s to do it out of that. And so I would come up with upayas to help learn how to do that. Just in the same way as if you studied being with dying here, it’s going to be different than some other formal ways of dealing with dying—where it’s a separate person, there’s no bearing witness to what’s happening, there’s no being in that space. It’s very dualistic. It doesn’t mean that we can do that so simply, but we can certainly go and study and learn ways to do that. And many of us want to do that.
So for me, socially engaged Buddhism is also a way of life, and it’s an upaya. It’s a way of doing the practice, as we were talking about yesterday—so many different ways. I could do a practice of getting to experience the oneness of life. My practice could be koan studying. It could be psychological studies. It could be philosophical studies. Tendai sect is a sect that’s more on the psychological and philosophical ways. It could be Shingon—esoteric ways—all kinds of ways, all kinds of ways, all kinds of upayas.
And so the three tenets of not knowing, bearing witness and loving actions, they all need upayas. It’s not so easy to lead your life without attachments to your ideas. And in fact, zazen is one of those ways of helping let go of those attachments, let those attachments dissolve, fall away. But there are many ways of doing that. And I’ve created some of my own. I call one of them plunges—where I bring folks into a situation where the rational brain doesn’t think so well, it can’t comprehend what’s happening. It’s a scene where that doesn’t work. Koan study is another thing of that. And of course in Zen there have been different people that have come up with simple “aaahhh!” like screaming. That’s a way of getting rid of some of that kind of attachment. There’s hitting with sticks. I take people into the streets. I take people into the streets, not as a protest. I take people into the streets as a plunge, as a way of experiencing something which the brain can’t rationalize. And I keep you there, so that’s the bearing witness.
There are some things, some plunges that we take where bearing witness is easier to happen than others. Being with somebody who’s dying—that’s a plunge. Our brain does not know what’s going on. And especially if the person is close, but if you’re doing it as a practice, bearing witness happens very easily. And then what you do arises out of the situation. Maybe wiping the brow, maybe chanting, who knows? But it’s not premeditated like, “I learned these techniques, and this is what I’m gonna do in that situation.” If we’re doing it with these three tenets as a practice, then it’s what comes up, what arises out of that state of bearing witness. Even if you haven’t reached the state of non-duality, still things will arise.
So for me, practice—you could have sitting practice, you could have work practice, you could have social action practice, you could have chanting practice. If I put the word practice after something with a hyphen, I mean doing it in a non-dual state. And then the other way of looking at practice is “what are upayas so that I can experience that in a non-dual way?”
Let me see if there’s some questions about that because this is important.
Questioner 1: When you talk about the non-dual state, are you talking about that state of not knowing? Is that one and the same? Are you talking about more than that, sort of mind and action before thought? Can you say a little bit more about non-dual state?
Bernie: Yeah. What I call not knowing is a non-dual state. And we can practice, we can be aware of our dualities, as we’re practicing, trying to learn one’s non-duality. So I mentioned before that in koan study we try to get you to experience the state of emptiness. You call that non-dual, but if it’s got the label “emptiness,” it’s dual. The same way not knowing, if you’re calling it “not knowing,” it’s dual. And then we try to get you to experience the state before we give it that label of emptiness. In the world of physics the non-dual state is the state before the Big Bang. In the Kabbalah in Jewish mysticism, there’s a state before God. God is already into a dual state. So, shifting to physics, the Big Bang happens. That could be looked at as God, and then everything becomes a manifestation of that. It sort of all evolves. But there’s a state before that, before the Big Bang happened. So, same with not knowing—there’s a state where we can’t call it not knowing. That’s the real non-dual state. Once I call it not knowing, I’m now working in the wrong relativity and duality and stuff. Does that make sense to you?
Questioner 2: I just wanted to continue with this. So I understand the mother analogy. I’ve been a mother.
Bernie: You are, probably still are.
Questioner 2: I am a mother.
Bernie: And that relates to somebody else who said, “Does it last forever—that particular state?” It lasts forever, and yet it’s different.
Questioner 2: Yes. It evolves constantly. You know, I’m trying to get a feeling sense of this non-dual. And so I can refer back to an infant, and that feeling sense of being an infant. And yet when I go into the world, and practice that non-dual . . .
Bernie: Let’s stop for one second, and look a little closer at that sentence, “When I go into the world,” and where are you leaving?
Questioner 2: That’s true.
Bernie: Where are you exiting from?
Questioner 2: OK.
Bernie: So really, we’re in to some kind of ideas, right? You have a notion of something that’s not the world, and something that is the world.
Questioner 2: So I have a memory. I have a memory of a sensation, a memory of a feeling.
Bernie: Of not being in the world?
Questioner 2: No, of non-duality in taking care of an infant. We’re using that—I’m using that analogy. So, I have that sensation, that feeling. That’s a memory, but it’s still living in me. And I’m trying to understand—I’m pushing this non-duality understanding a little bit more. There’s a sense in—I’ve been trying to practice these three tenets—and how I’ve been working with the not knowing is by being open. When I’m in a situation, when I go into hospice and I don’t know what I’m going to meet, I’ll use that example. I’m going into hospice and I’m meeting someone new—I practice just being open. And then bearing witness to what’s actually there, and seeing sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t say something. When the healing arises out of it I’m really trying—my practice is trying to just be open. That’s how I’ve translated not knowing. And when you’ve got a newborn baby, that’s what you’re doing, you’re being totally open to it. And responding to just—you’re just open. There’s no conditions, you’re just total response. So in the practice, in developing the practice of not knowing, when you’re working with, let’s say going into a hospice situation, or your working with a child, it’s very poignant, it’s very you know, up front, real. They’re present. You can’t help but be there. In the daily practice of going to work, you know, dealing with the landlord, whatever, whatever, whatever, that’s what I mean by, “going into the world,” it’s not as clear-cut. The practice is not as clear-cut.
Bernie: OK. So I’m still a little confused. I’m confused about the terminology of “going into the world.” So I’m trying to grok what it is that you mean by “going into the world.”
Questioner 2: And I’m trying to grok what you mean by “not knowing.”
Bernie: Yeah. And also, when you talk about not knowing, I want to differentiate the two phases, because you talk about the practice of not knowing. So when you gave birth, you didn’t worry about the practice of not knowing. You were just there. So, then you were in that state of not knowing. You weren’t practicing to get into the state of not knowing. And then later with the hospice work, you were talking about practicing to get into that state of not knowing.
Questioner 2: Well the practice comes from not . . .
Bernie: Being in it.
Questioner 2: Shifting my action from wanting to go in to help, or fix—and taking a step back.
Bernie: Yeah. But did you have any of that when you gave birth?
Questioner 2: No.
Bernie: OK. So I’m just differentiating between the state of not knowing, and doing upayas or ways to get into a state of not knowing. And then what I’m hearing when you talk about going into the world—and correct me because these are subtle little words, terms—what I’m hearing is when you say, “going into the world,” is dealing with situations you’re familiar with.
Questioner 2: Yeah, there’s habitual response.
Bernie: Well, you think there’s habitual response. As our boss—my boss, I don’t know if he’s your boss, but I have a boss, his name is Shakyamuni Buddha—and he said, “Everything is change.” Everything is change. So what we call “habitual,” turns out to be in our head. This moment is completely new. Completely new! So, is this the world? That is extra to the moment arising. The moment arises, and I can label it “the world,” or “not the world,” I could label it in all kinds of ways. And I can say, “Oh, it came up in the old habitual way,” but that’s me creating those labels, that kind of thinking process. There’s an expression—I don’t know if it’s Japanese or Japanese Buddhist—that says, “If you meet someone you haven’t seen for two seconds, don’t think it’s the same person.” If you meet a sunrise, don’t think it’s the same. You know? Immediately we say, “Oh, that’s a sunrise.” But can you greet every moment as brand new? Not so simple. Not so simple. But is there something that happens that’s not of this world? I don’t know what that would be. I don’t know what that would be. It’s our way of thinking that this is the world and that’s not the world. If I go to a monastery, I’m getting out of the world. Why? A monastery’s not the world, you know? It’s a different scene. Some of them have tatamis, black cushions. Some have red cushions. It’s a different scene, but is it not the world? What’s the world and what’s not the world? I don’t know. For me, every moment, it’s the whole thing, man. It’s the whole thing. What’s memories? You talk about memories . . .
Questioner 2: Is that continual practice? That process, is that continual practice?
Bernie: When I talk about continuous practice, it’s very similar to when I talk about keep on trucking, so it’s always the two senses. One sense is that you just keep doing, and another sense is that you’ve got all these questions about what’s going on, and so you’re seeking new practices, new upayas, new ways of doing. So when you say, “you,” if you’re referring to me, I’ve become this simple Brooklyn guy that just, I just wake up. I smoke my cigar. I drink my coffee if some bodhisattva comes along and offers me coffee. And everywhere I go there seems to be beautiful bodhisattvas appearing, bringing coffee, and if the altitude’s high, telling me I gotta drink water. And I drink water, you know? And I’ve been involved in Zen for more than fifty-five years, and for many of those years I was seeking particular practices to try to—well I don’t want to be too flip but—now, I just enjoy my coffee, if it occurs, you know? But, it is endless.
And so I do think we are on this path of continuous practice. Later we’ll talk about—somebody asked about—after death I think. We’ll talk a little about that. That I don’t think could ever stop. I did want to also just question the word “memories.” You talked about memories of when you gave birth. And memories seem to have a sense of past, huh? So, a memory—see I think everything is just now, and I think things come up and we label it as memories. So, I don’t think it’s out of your system. I don’t think any of this is out of the system. Of course, I think it’s all interconnected. And what’s fascinating is we’ll have something we could call a dream or a memory. But they’re now. Right? It’s now. So a memory is like remembering a piece of one’s self that we might have forgotten. And something occurs, and now we remember it, but it’s all now. We’re just remembering something that’s a part of us, even if it seems to be on another continent, or even in another galaxy, or a different universe. We’re just getting flashes of something that’s us—that we had forgotten, maybe had never even remembered before. So all of a sudden, we could label it a vision—it’s all us. That’s how I see it, in my opinion.
Questioner 3: So, I’m a young practitioner/beginner.
Bernie: Me too.
Questioner 3: Cool. So I used to feel like spaciousness was like, you know, so great. And you know, some times I’m like, “Oh, I’m feeling so spacious, this must be a really good—I must be doing well.” And then when I’m walking around in that state, I feel like I can’t see the other person. I can only see my “spaciousness.” So I’m beginning to feel like that is a hindrance in my own practice. You know, I used to feel like this must be the non-dual state. You know, obviously I’m mistaken, I think. So I’m wondering what to do with that. You know, like it arises, and it fades. But sometimes it doesn’t fade, and I’m speaking with somebody, and I’m like, I’m so present right now, but really I’m not present, because I can only see my own spaciousness, and I can hardly even see the other person, even though I feel like, you know, I’m doing such a great job. So I’m wondering how to like, work with that.
Bernie: How to work with being spacious?
Questioner 3: Well I feel like it’s a hindrance when it comes to like—now the whole non-dual state, you know I’m kind of like, it will happen. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’ll just keep on truckin’ like you said. But I feel like zazen piousness is a hindrance to realizing non-duality for me.
Bernie: Yeah. So, in my opinion, man, the hindrance is the attachment to that spaciousness. Spaciousness itself is—it’s spaciousness, you know. Then you label it “great,” or “bad,” just like any other experience. And the ones that you label “great/wonderful,” you’ve got an attachment to. You want to recreate it. You want to be in that. That’s the hindrance—the attachment. If you haven’t experienced—we have a term, makyo, objects of the devil, ma is devil, kyo, objects—objects of the devil. And what are they? Anything that we attach to. So sometimes a makyo could be just beautiful, “aaahhh! Man, I’m in bliss, and I’ve got to recreate that.” That happens a lot with drugs. You can get into some beautiful states, “and I’ve got to get back there, man!” You know, it’s the attachment that’s the problem, not the state. And some things we say, “That’s awful! I got to get rid of that.” And that of course, our boss talks about, right? He said that we’ve got problems, right here in River City. And some of the problems arise because we want things that we don’t have. And some of the problems arise because we want to get rid of things that we do have. And what causes those problems? The attachments—not the thing itself. The thing itself is the thing itself. Some moments of spaciousness are fantastic.
Questioner 3: But my thing is, I can’t see, you know. When I’m sitting all day and I walk and I need to like engage with a person on a real level, on a real human level, not like a transcendental level, and I’m still spacious you know? I can’t see the other person. And I’m not attached to it; the spaciousness is just like clouding my vision. I can’t let it go.
Bernie: The only reason that you can’t see that person is because you’re attached. You can’t say you’re not attached.
Questioner 3: I feel like I need to snap out of it is the thing.
Bernie: Snap out of what?
Questioner 3: Snap out of like being all spaced out.
Bernie: Yeah. In my opinion it’s got to do with the attachments. So, what do you do with it, because we have attachments? So what I hear you saying is that you have a strong attachment to this idea of spaciousness. You had to label it “spaciousness,” right? And you’re attached to it, and you meet somebody and you can’t meet that person without being in that state of spaciousness.
Questioner 3: Or being zonked out.
Bernie: “Zonked out.” So, what you’re asking is “I need some help man, in letting go of that attachment to spaciousness.” You’re putting it a different way. I’m putting it that the issue is “How do I let go of that?”
Let me give you an example. OK, so my name is Bernie, and I’ve wanted to be a great carpenter. And so I went and I studied carpentry. And I heard of these different places where you could study carpentry. And I went to Sweden, and I studied carpentry. And I knew I wanted to collect knowledge of the Swedish way of doing carpentry. So I got to Sweden and I study all the Swedish carpentry, and I buy all the tools—they have special tools. And I put the tools in my bag. And I put the manuals in my bag, so I’ve got all this stuff in my bag. Then I go to Japan. They’ve got another way of doing carpentry. And I study their ways, and I put the manuals in my bag. And I buy all the tools, and I put the tools in my bag. And then I go back to where I came from. And I’m from New York, so I go to upstate New York. There’s a group that used to live there called the Shakers, and they did another kind of carpentry. And I studied their way of carpentry. And bought the tools and I put them in. And I went around and around, man. And I really know carpentry.
OK, so now I’m gonna have Bernie and Bernie. The first Bernie is attached to one of the things—one of the tools. And his hand—what does it mean to be attached—his hand is holding one of the tools. And he’s going around like this, see, when he’s doing his job. And somebody calls up and says, “Hey Bernie, I got a door that’s not functioning right. Can you fix it?” “Oh sure I can fix it. I’ve got all the knowledge. I’ve got the tools, and I’ve got a special tool, man.” And I go, and I take the door, and I take out my special tool that I’m attached to and I’m banging, banging, banging, banging . . . and I break the door. “Sorry, I’ll buy you a new door.” There, I fix it, by buying a new door.
The other Bernie has the same bag, but he’s not attached to it, to any of those tools. They’re all there. And so he goes. The same person calls, “Can you fix my door?” “I can try. I’ don’t know if I’ll fix it, but I’ll go try.” And I go, and I move the door. I try to grok the door. “Oh yeah, yeah,” and I reach in, and I pull out some oil, and I oil the hinges. “Ah yeah, oh, I feel a lot better,” and I get some sandpaper and I do a little sanding. “Ah, oh that feels good.”
So in your case, you’re filling up a bag of tools of wisdom—tools of non-duality—tools of the Buddha way. You happen to be attached to one of them, and the question really is how to let go of that? There’s nothing wrong with those tools. There’s nothing wrong with spaciousness, or with non-duality, or with zazen, or with chanting. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But you, in your studies, somehow you got attached to something. And you could say “Oh no, I didn’t get attached, it just happened.” Well, who are you blaming, man? Are you blaming the thing—the tool? The tool causes the attachment? It came up. What you don’t know is how to get rid of it—that attachment. But that’s the only way of getting out of that. Once you do, you can walk in your spacious way, “Hiya! Hey! Kenzo, man, I haven’t seen you in along time!” So, whatever’s coming up, you can’t blame it on what’s coming up—I think.
In my opinion, our issues are all around the attachments to our opinions of what’s coming up—or ideas. If it were really opinions, you’d be free. Opinions have no rights or wrongs, they’re just opinions. But we have lots of rights and wrongs. And things that we think are good all of the sudden become traps—we think.
The state is not the trap. Our attachment to that state is the trap—in my opinion.
Questioner 4: So, it leads me to a question that I had last night after the sesshin. I was thinking I’m very opinionated. And I notice that I have like preferences for example—preferences and opinions. And then I was just thinking, “oh I need to kind of work on it to be a little bit free.” And then I guess that was my question. That you know, like when you believe in something and you realize that you’re tangled in your own opinions, so that you can not really experience what is. And then I’m either tangled up to the opinion, and then whatever my action is so tangled up. So what comes up for me as an action is either very reactionary, or like coming out from my head. So it just basically feels like there’s a gap in between. But I’m just wondering that my thinking about—OK I have to work on my opinion to be free from opinions itself—or my preference.
Bernie: I’m glad you brought that up. In my opinion there’s no problem with preferences. So again, it’s the attachment to that preference. So I prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate ice cream. If I’m attached to that preference, means I would never even taste chocolate ice cream. But if I taste vanilla and chocolate, and I prefer vanilla—there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s my preference. I’m not saying one is right, and one is wrong. So I would not tell, “Genjo, you should eat vanilla ice cream, because that’s better than chocolate ice cream.” My own preference—I would never tell you that you should start smoking cigars, but I like to smoke cigars. I’m not attached to it. So a preference is an opinion. And you can have opinions and you can get attached to your opinions. You can get attached to your preferences. And that creates the problem—it’s always in the attachments—not in the thing itself. Things always arise, and you don’t have to like them. And you can do things around it.
I’m gonna talk a little about our Auschwitz retreat. Because when I decided to organize the retreat at Auschwitz, I spent about a year and half trying to get as many different opinions to come there. And there are a lot of attachments to those particular opinions. That happens when we have a diverse group. So for me it became—there were a number of themes, but the most important theme for me of that retreat is how we deal with diversity. So there was a lot of suffering in the room. The first retreat was about 150 people. And every morning we do council—many of you know what council is. And during the day we’ll sit on the tracks by Birkenau, near the selection site where Dr. Mengele chose some people to go to the gas chambers directly, and some to go to slave labor. If you looked like you couldn’t work—you were too weak to work—or if you were a child, too young to work, you went right to the gas chambers. If you look like you could do some work, you go to slave labor. And in the evening we formed a pleniary. We all came together and we chose different people to talk. The teacher at Auschwitz is what I would call non-duality. None of us are the teachers there. It’s the place is the teacher. And the place in and of itself is just the place.
So we divide the group into small groups for council, and we do it so that each group has a bit of diversity. So in my group last year, there’s a woman—the first day we did some introductions—and she said she’s been thinking of coming to this retreat for ten years. She’s German, and her grandfather was S.S. and worked in the camps. And she was afraid to come because she was afraid she would meet a Polish person, or a Jewish person. And then there’s a man in the group, he said he’d been thinking of coming for eight years, but he was afraid. He was a Polish person, and he was afraid he would meet a German person.
So, they had preferences. The German woman had a preference of not wanting to meet a Jewish person or a Polish person. And she was attached to that preference. And because of that attachment, she couldn’t come—couldn’t come. And that Polish guy had a preference. He didn’t want to meet a German person. But he was attached to that. Because of the attachment, he wouldn’t come. Somehow they let go of that attachment enough to come, but still that attachment was somewhat there. But they came, and they bore witness to each other. And by the third day, loving actions arose. They were hugging each other. Their attachments had fallen away.
Audience member: Maybe even their preferences.
Bernie: Maybe even their preferences. Maybe those preferences, once the attachment was gone, also fell away. That is, everything is constant change. And when the attachments fall away, opinions and preferences can also fall away—but not always. But they aren’t the problem. It’s the attachments that are the problem. And there’s not one of us in this room—in my opinion—none of us have a set of opinions that’s exactly the same even for a few minutes. So I do this kind of talking, and we’re doing this kind of dialog, and a lot of our opinions and preferences—not preferences so much, but opinions start shifting. Preferences is we do something, we like it, you know? But the attachment is a bit extra.
So I prefer zazen over—I prefer Zen kind of practice over Tibetan practice. But I’ll do Tibetan practices. You know, it’s not strong enough. I’m not attached, but it’s my preference. I like to sit still. I like simple things. I like to sit on the porch here and smoke my cigar, you know? But I’m not going to tell somebody else to do that that’s the right way of doing things. That’s the way I like it, you know. For me, life has become so much simpler—to be able to accept all of the different ways of different people. And I explore, I mean I’ve done a lot of interfaith work. I’ve lived in Catholic monasteries. I’ve studied Jewish Hasidic ways and Kabalistic ways. I took Mantra Vedanta. And this simple sitting is my preference. But why do religions go to war with each other? Why do we think that somebody is a heathen if they’re not in our religion? It’s not the religion, it’s the attachments.
Questioner 5: What’s the connection between attachments and fear? Because when you told the story about the two people in Auschwitz, one of the things that occurred to me that they were afraid of—meeting that other person and the repercussions from that.
Bernie: Yeah. Fear is a very important term. You know Kaz just did calligraphy—Kaz Tanahashi was here and just left, he was here a long time. And he did the Buddhist term for compassion is jihi. And the first term ji is what he did, for compassion, and that’s sort of the common—that’s the word we think of as compassion. The second part, hi, I would like him to do hi for me. Because hi means—Buddhist compassion is the combination of those two—hi means to remove fear. So somehow in my own case, for a long time now, many of the practices that I do for myself is I’m drawn into places where there’s some sense of fear. I don’t want to go there. Or I get nervous, you know. And when that happens, I go. And I sit there and to bear witness to why that fear is arising. And that’s how I see myself growing in a long time. So at the same time that I like to say I just sit on the deck and smoke my cigar and whatever, I’m also drawn into places where I don’t know what’s happening here, man.
So in my opinion—I mean I’ve never thought—your question’s a good one for me, it touches my own practice—I know that (I know?)—In my opinion fear arises out of a touching of the unknown. And why does it arise? Maybe somebody could tell me. I don’t know.
Roshi Joan just became seventy, and Zalman Schachter is somebody we both know—I’m very close with him. He’s now about eighty-six. And a long time ago he told me that every ten years—and that’s why I mentioned years, seventy—every ten years (and of course, this is his opinion) things will arise that are beckoning to take you into a space you don’t know—into the unknown. And fear will arise. And there’s energy forces that are keeping you in what you’ve been doing. Because you know it, even if you hate it, you know it. And it’s much more comfortable to be in something that you think you know. And in the realm of the unknown, there’s a fear that arises. Why? I’m not sure. And for me, that fear is a fantastic place to practice. And that’s why I like it in jihi—jihi, no hi—that aspect. And can we remove fear?
A lot of people are afraid of people dying. So if you’re doing your work as hospice workers—many people, my father (my mother died when I was seven) my father wouldn’t be in the same bedroom as her. When she was in the hospital for a little while, and then they released her because she was going to die, he was terribly afraid of death. When his sister died, he went into denial. He wouldn’t—he said she didn’t die. So things that we don’t know somehow can produce fear, it seems to me.
I don’t know what’s the instrument to make that happen. I’m sure one can analyze. What I know—I mean in my opinion—that’s a fantastic place to practice. To practice in those places where—another way of saying it is “it’s a fantastic practice in the realm of the unknown.”
There are people when they first started doing zazen, they can’t do it. Because they experience—they don’t know what’s happening. I’ll tell you about myself. I was sitting every day. This was before starting to practice on a regular basis with Maezumi Roshi. I didn’t start practicing on a regular basis with him until 1966. But I started to do zazen in ’62 on my own. I had my own little zendo, and my own little place. And I’d do retreats, and whatever. Before that I was just reading about Zen, in ’58. And then one day, I had this experience of everything disappearing, and I was terrified. And in fact, I went to bed. I told my wife I have to leave the lights on. I was terrified. And I stopped doing zazen—for about two years. And then I started again.
It was a totally unknown kind of thing. Why? For some people, that happens and it’s so bliss and “man, this is great,” whatever. I had this huge fear of the totally unknown. Why? I don’t know. In some sense it doesn’t matter too much. But if you’re with somebody that can encourage you to go into that state, that’s—I think that’s—quite wonderful. That’s my own opinion.
Questioner 6: My question in reference to non-duality is a relationship that I have with my brother. And I was brought up Reformed Jew, and he became a Lubavitcher. As an adult he’s a Lubavitcher. And even to the point where he tried to physically attack me, and verbally abuse me when my father died, because I was in charge of the will. And I wouldn’t move my father to another grave—it was going back and forth. Anyhow, I had the bravery to visit him in Florida, in April. And his wife started up, right before I left the house, again about, you know, it’s just, it’s a hard relationship.
Bernie: It’s a shanda man.
Questioner 6: So, I do my best. Yet I walk away with the opinion of I’ll never visit him again. I don’t want to see him again. It’s fraught with duality.
Bernie: Yeah. And the question is?
Questioner 6: Well, I know in bearing witness, as I become a chaplain, that I will be put in various situations that will be fraught with duality, and that I have to hold a neutral position, or hold my seat in that. And I guess my question would be is how to build that strength and resiliency in situations—especially family, you know he’s my only blood family left. It is fraught with sort of judgment and pain. We’re so far apart from one another in our lifestyles.
Bernie: Yeah. In my opinion, it’s to enter into the situation. That’s just what I was describing, that situations arise where, “I don’t know what to do,” “I said I’m afraid of it,” or “but I may not like it,” or whatever. And as a practice, I try to enter and bear witness. It’s the only way I know of dealing with anything. It’s to try to enter from the state of deep listening. You know, not-knowing, and try to bear witness.
I work in the Middle East. I just started again. My wife is Israeli—all her family is in Israel. They’re all Orthodox—well, some of them have sort of moved away from that. And there was a time, I got a phone call from Richard Gere—he wanted to work in the Middle East. He actually wanted to work in Iraq, but I convinced him to first see about the Israel/Palestine situation. And I asked him if he would first just go and listen. And we went—and it’s all very private—but we went, and we met with all kinds of people. We met with, you know, the musicians, the politicians, the heads of newspapers, and we met with the settlers—Orthodox settlers, and we met with a man in charge of suicide bombing. We met with as many—we took him to as many voices as we could—to hear. And some were very hard to listen to. It’s the same thing that happens at Auschwitz. We have survivors, we have children of S.S., we have Gypsies, we have many different nations, many different religions. We have Palestinians and Israelis at this point, we have Native Americans—it’s quite a mix. And no matter how progressive you are, you’ll run into somebody who in your opinion is all screwed up, man. And their opinion, they think you’re all screwed up. And it even could be within one family. But we purposely create that kind of container. Because I think if we can bear witness within such a container, we can grow. So, you know it gets worse when it’s your own brother perhaps. But, my mother-in-law who I love, and she loves me, and she’s gone to jail for the settlers. At any rate, so the only thing that I know is to try to enter as much as possible those places where there’s a difficulty. And if it’s in your family, that’s even better because that’s so much harder.
Anybody here that doesn’t know of Leonard Cohen? Everybody knows Leonard Cohen? So, I thought of him—two things—one when This Way, The Bell [Anthem]. You know that famous song of his?
Ring the bells
The bells that still can ring
There is no perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
I think that sums up our practice.
But also, somebody asked about mystery. “What’s the mystery?” I forget who it was. . . . Because I’m gonna give the answer to “What is the mystery?” He does that in his concert in England. He says, “This morning [he] realized the answer to the mystery of life.” And he then said, “Do you want to know what it is?” And they said “Yeah!” And he said, “You really want to know what it is?” And “Yeah!” And he gave the answer, which you know. “The answer to the mystery of life is . . . do dum do dum do dum dum.”
Now, are you happy?
OK, so two important things came up when I was taking my break. One was alongside generally, maybe always; with fear (I’m not sure) is a sense of vulnerability—as why the fear might arise—a sense of vulnerability. And our practice is about becoming vulnerable—taking off the armor. Removing the armor. I believe that’s in one of The Eight Awareness’s of the Enlightened Person, that Dogen talks on. That Shakyamuni Buddha first talked on before he died, and Dogen talks on. The Eight Awareness’s of the Enlightened Person, and one of them is dealing with taking off the armor.
I’m not sure if this fully answers why the fear arises, but when we are in those situations it’s like there’s a chink in our armor. And it’s fascinating, this notion of armor, because we all have it, and we create clothing, or an armor, for the world, or for the space that we tend to inhabit. And the same armor in one space could be disaster in another space.
There’s a man that—Primo Levi—Primo Levi was an Italian guy who went to Auschwitz, and a fantastic writer, and a wonderful chemist. And because he was such a great chemist, he wound up in what was called Auschwitz III, which was really a chemical factory, making Cyanide—making the gas, the main product. After a while it became the gas for the chambers. And he went back to Italy after release from Auschwitz. And in one of his books he talks about how many of the people he knew wound up committing suicide afterwards. And it was because of their guilt—they’re feeling that they survived. Anybody who survived Auschwitz saw many people die, and saw many people, and saw many cases where they lived because somebody died. At any rate, he talks about that, and then a year later he committed suicide.
And he writes about this guy that he met in Auschwitz who was a dwarf—a very powerful dwarf. And he said that he had built a set of armor—this dwarf—to where he had no problems in Auschwitz. No problems, he was quite amazing. After the war he wound up in an insane asylum. Because the armor he had developed in Auschwitz was not appropriate outside of Auschwitz. He was looked at as abnormal. We do that all the time, right? Somebody that doesn’t fit our world, they’re not normal. Let’s get rid of them.
So I’ll talk a little bit about my notion of clubs. It’s important. I use the word club a lot. And I think I talked a little last night. So my opinion is that we all create clubs—clubs that we belong to. And there’s nothing wrong about that. That’s just the way it is. We all have our clubs. And generally the way club is defined—or one of the ways that club is defined—is by who doesn’t fit in the club. So we all define our clubs, or we don’t necessarily define them.
My son, when he was very young, would take his plate and push all of the food he didn’t like into piles. And he’d call them “the yucky piles.” And then he’d have the food that he does [like]. Recently—this is like forty years ago, or thirty-five, between thirty-five and forty years ago—and recently we talked about it. And now he still does the same thing, but he calls it “good piles.” But at any rate, once you create the yucky piles, the issue is what do you do with them? His mother would say, “you gotta eat,” or “you should eat.” We weren’t that tough. And so he would come up with devious things. He would sneak it down to our dogs, or underneath the table, or whatever.
But those people that don’t fit our clubs, we gotta figure out what to do with them. What do you do with all those yucky piles? The most common thing we do—and we all do this—is we ignore them. So there are folks that we ignore. And what does that mean to ignore? It could be as simple as we would never read their books, or never watch them on TV, or listen to them on a tape. We certainly wouldn’t invite them to our house for dinner. We wouldn’t call them. We ignore them. In some cases, we cross the street. So there are many people that will pass a homeless person and not look at that homeless person—turn their eyes around, or even cross the street to avoid walking past them. That’s the ignoring.
There was a time in the United States (We’re in the United States, now? Yep.), there was a time here where if you were gay; there was a good possibility of gay bashing. That was another thing we did with people that didn’t fit. We beat ’em up. Even going back a little ways, we lynched them. We lynched a lot of people that didn’t fit our club. Of course we also have prisons. We’ve created a huge prison system for people that don’t fit our club one way or another. And Auschwitz, anybody who wasn’t Aryan could be killed there. Gays were killed there, the Gypsies were killed there, Polish intellectuals were killed there. Of course the Jews were killed there. There’s so many, if you weren’t Aryan—handicapped children were killed there. So we have all of these different ways of dealing with people who don’t fit our club.
There’s a practice that I’m particularly fond—a liturgy—that I’m particularly fond of. It’s called The Gate of Sweet Nectar. And I got attracted to it when I was training at the Zen Center Los Angeles. We chanted it every evening in Japanese. Somehow I got attracted to it—I didn’t know what it meant. But it deals with the five Buddha families. That I knew. But we never had translated it. And before I moved to New York, which was December of ’79 to start the Zen Community of New York, I translated that. I had done a lot of translation work with my teacher, and I translated that with him. And then he encouraged me to modify it.
It’s a particular liturgy that goes back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. It was rather short at that point, so it wound up in both Soto and Rinzai traditions. D.T. Suzuki has it in the Manual of Zen, but it’s rather short. In the 1800s somebody in Japan, Minzai, modified it and put in a lot of Shingon—esoteric—elements. Five Buddha families, and even the precepts of Koba Daishi are in there. There’s a part where we chant, and there’s bells, and all things, the climax of that liturgy, which says, “Now I have raised the Bodhi mind! I am the Buddhas, and they are me.” That’s the precept that Koba Daishi used for the Shingon sect. “Now I have raised the bodhi mind. I am the Buddhas, and they are me.” And that comes after a climax. The beginning of it is inviting all of the hungry spirits to come enter my mandala practice. And so it’s giving the precepts to all of these hungry spirits after the teachings, and after a bunch of stuff.
I’m not sure how I got here. We’re on clubs. Well, not knowing where I started, I’ll meander around.
So, this particular liturgy, it was used for inviting ones ancestors, feeding them, teaching them, and giving the precepts. And it’s done in all of the homes in Japan during a time called Obon. The priest will go to all of the people’s homes, and do it at their homes, for all their ancestors. And then you’ve probably seen pictures, they’ll send the ancestors home on little boats with candles down the river. “Go back home! We’ve had enough.”
But it also was used for all those who nobody was doing services for—nobody was taking care of. So for example, in the old days, before Internet, somebody could die in a war and their family might not know for a couple years because the war was so far away, and communication was not that great. So the service would be for those people, you know, that died and nobody knew they died, or sometimes homeless people who die and nobody is doing anything for. And so I expanded it to be a service for all those aspects of oneself and society that are not being taken care of. And that’s the service.
Oh, I see where I was coming from.
I do this on every Street Retreat that I’ve been on. Not the first one, the first street retreat that I did was about twenty, well it was twenty-one years ago this April, because last year was the twentieth anniversary that I went on the streets (in the Bowery). It was a closed Street Retreat. I invited people that were leading Street Retreats around the world, and they came, a group of us. There was a Rabbi from Israel, who leads Street—he’s our Rabbi now at Auschwitz. The last six years he’s doing Koan study with me. He’s five generations Israeli. And on Yom Kippur—for those who know Yom Kippur, it’s the holiest day in Judaism—he does a Street Retreat in Tel Aviv, in the poorest part of that town, which is now full of a lot of black Africans. A lot of discrimination going on, it’s a very poor area. And this year I’ll be in Brazil during Yom Kippur. Next year I’ll join him on that. But anyway, it was a group of people from Israel, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium. Pannavati came on that Street Retreat. She’s an African American Theraveda Nun working with the homeless down south.
And the first time I did it, each day during the Street Retreats, we’d gather once or twice a day in a circle and share what’s coming up. And people would tell me things, or would share what was coming up. And I was just shocked—or I don’t know if that was the right word—but several people said things that are straight out of that liturgy. And they didn’t know that liturgy. So I realized that that liturgy is a liturgy of the streets, and so every Street Retreat I did afterwards, each day we would chant that liturgy. And of course we chanted at Auschwitz.
We also say Kaddish in eight to ten different languages. We’ve translated it into all of the different languages of the groups that have come. We have it in Polish and German of course, but we also have it in Arabic—can you imagine that we’re chanting the Kaddish in Arabic—If you’re Jewish that has more meaning than if you’re not Jewish—because we have Palestinians come each year to that retreat?
And some of the centers associated with me have taken that on as a practice that they do. And Zen Center Los Angeles, where I trained originally, does that. This is where I was coming from. And once, a wonderful guy—he’s a beautiful guy, he’s a beautiful priest at Zen Center Los Angeles—they were chanting this Gate of Sweet Nectar, which is inviting all the hungry spirits. And he’s had the training. We train in that liturgy of how that’s inviting all aspects of oneself and society that aren’t being dealt with. So that was what was going on. And a homeless person came in to open the door, and started entering the zendo. And he didn’t allow that person in. And the person said, “But Father, I took my shoes off?” And he said, “You can’t come in.” A beautiful man, and our conditioning goes so deep. I’ll never forget that. “But Father, I took my shoes off?”
OK, let’s get back to questions. Or maybe we can have answers, and I’ll give questions.
Questioner 7: Actually I’m searching for the answer. I want to go back to what you mentioned earlier today, and that was the fear that you experienced that stuck to you from practicing for two years. I was wondering if you could share your process of recovering from that fear, and getting past it so you could practice again.
Bernie: Yeah, well in later years I attributed it to the fact that I was practicing without a teacher or somebody to talk to. I had nobody to—at that time—I had no one to talk to. I thought I was losing my mind, which I might have been. But it was—using the language of vulnerability—I was losing that which I thought was me—totally. And I wasn’t ready to do that. So I shut down all systems, and didn’t want to go there again, until I had somebody that I could talk to. Now with time, that fear receded, and I started to practice again. But also around that time, I did start practicing with a teacher. You know, so with hindsight, and having the opinions that I have now, that was a very important time. And if I had somebody to relate to it might have been . . . but here we are. Here we are.
Questioner 8: I would like you to talk a little bit more about what it means to you to go on the street.
Bernie: OK. So, I’ll give you the history first.
When I graduated—got my bachelor’s degree—my undergraduate work was in aeronautical engineering, and I worked in the space industry. My graduate work was in mathematics—my PHD is in mathematics. My graduate work was at UCLA in Los Angeles. My undergraduate was in Brooklyn. And when I finished, I was with a friend of mine sitting in a pizza place. You know, pizza places in New York are still the best in the world. And whenever I’m in New York I will always end up in some pizza place. But at any rate, so we were sitting in a pizza place, and he said, “So Bernie, what are you gonna do with your life?” That’s what you do when you are graduating undergraduate. And I said, “I want to do three things. I want to live on a kibbutz in Israel. I want to live in a Zen monastery. And I want to live on the streets.”
Now, before that I had run into—not run into, but there were two things that influenced me. One—a book that became a play, and I think a movie also, yeah definitely a movie also, The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neil. I was very impressed by that, and it deals with homeless people. And the second thing was, rather young at a cafeteria on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, with my father and his second wife, and next table were four homeless guys. And they were discussing the philosophy of the comics in the Sunday newspaper. And I said, “Wow, what wisdom! I’ve got to experience that.” That sort of led me to that. And then twenty years after graduating—around twenty years later—by then I had lived on a kibbutz in Israel, I had been a long time in a Zen monastery, and I was going to start working for the homeless in New York. And I remembered, hey, I was supposed to live on the streets. So this is a good time to do it, so I can experience what street life is. Not homeless—I make a big point of that, that I could not bear witness to homelessness because I had a home to go back to. I could bear witness to what it was to live on the streets. So I went to live on the streets. And I invited some people to join me. And we lived in the streets. We didn’t go there to teach anybody anything. We went there to bear witness to living on the streets.
For me it was a very important week. We went for a week—it was Holy Week, which means April. It’s the time when Passover and Easter come together, and Buddha’s Birthday—so, in the same time period. It rained the full seven days. And I made a point of sleeping in different venues, to experience the different ways of sleeping in the streets. You know, gathering cardboard bedding, on the sidewalk, sleeping in trains and bus terminals, and different things like that. In New York we did not sleep in any of the shelters. I was told beforehand that there’s a lot of tuberculosis in the shelters, and [it’s] not safe in New York. Especially at that time, there was a lot of tuberculosis going around. And we ate in a lot of venues.
And that gave me a very good feeling of how to do the work I was going to do, which in September there’s going to be a thirty-fifth anniversary. At any rate, that work has been very important.
But joining me were some very interesting people. There were people that had been practicing Buddhism for like twenty years or so. And there were people that had never done any meditation. It was about twenty of us. Peter Matthiessen was on that first retreat. Ann Wallman was on that first retreat. Ann Wallman was sort of close with Allen Ginsberg. And she and Ginsberg started the School of Poetics at Naropa. It was different kind of people, and people that like I said, never meditated. And all of us had a very deep experience. And I think part of it was because you really wind up living moment to moment. Where am I gonna pee next? Where am I gonna rest? You don’t check the Stock Market, or things of that nature.
The first year, I had certain rules. You could bring a dollar for every day that you were going to be on the street with me. You had to beg. You had to aimlessly meander. If you took your shoes off to sleep, you had to put them under your head or somewhere so they wouldn’t be stolen. You couldn’t have a change of clothes. For a week before the retreat you weren’t supposed to shave or shower. I think that’s about it.
And the next year I met a wonderful guy who was the head of a little village under a highway called the F.D.R. Highway in New York. And he said to me, “Do you allow people to bring money?” And I said, “Yeah, they can bring a dollar for every day they’re going to be.” And he said—this is very important for me—he said, “That’s no good. They can’t bring any money. Even a dollar allows them to make a hook to what you call ‘the world’.” And so from that year-on, the rule was no money, but you could beg.
And many people when they first—when they decided—to come, had certain fears. And they wound up coming because they felt a little bit safety—that I would take care of them in those fears, you know. I imagine. But the fears they had were generally—and like I said, I’ve been doing it for twenty years, and I have students that have made this their main practice, and there are people around the world doing this. And in fact, there’s a group in San Francisco that started doing it after reading about my Street Retreats that I’m very close with. The group is called the Faithful Fools. And it’s led by a Carmelite Nun/Sister and a U.U. Minister. And their whole practice, they work in the Tenderloin, the poor area in San Francisco. And their whole work is working with the homeless. And anybody who works with them, anybody on the board, has to do the Street Retreats. And they have trained Ministers, and in fact there is now a Street Ministry in the U.U. Movement, the interior movement, with people being trained in leading these Street Retreats.
Anyway, so the nervousness, or the fear was that they wouldn’t have enough food, also a fear of being abused, and maybe raped. None of that has ever happened, in all of the Street Retreats that I know of—and that’s hundreds of retreats. Certainly more than a thousand people—much more. I think Faithful Fools alone has taken thousands of people out. That’s every week. But, what do you think the biggest thing that people feel? It should be obvious, but it probably isn’t. Loss of dignity.
And what’s the transformation that happens, for the people that go and live on the streets? They cannot treat somebody else as if they’re not human—as if they don’t exist—because they’ve experienced people doing that to them. So there’s an actress, Ellen Burstyn, I’d like to tell her story. She came on the streets with me—when I think it was her seventieth birthday, or around that time. And I may be all confused, it may have been her sixtieth—can’t be. She’s about ten years older than me, so it had to be about her seventieth. And this is a story that she put in her book. She has an autobiography. And when she talks about herself, she still tells this story—ten years later.
She approached some people sitting near Tompkins Park in lower Manhattan. And there were some women having coffee or tea. And she went up to them and asked for some money. And a woman gave her a dollar. And she started to cross the street, and she was so happy she had this dollar. She was full of joy. And then she started to cry. And she said, “Why am I crying?” And then she realized that she cried because the woman that gave her the dollar did it like this [demonstrates giving without looking]. And she had never experienced that in her life.
So she bore witness to being ignored—to being thought of as less-than-me, somebody that’s not in my club, that I can’t even look at. And the transformation was huge.
Questioner 8: And can I share something that happened to me? I’ll cut to the chase. I’d been married thirty-one years, and I was in San Francisco, trying to help my son. And anyway, I ended up staying there, and my former husband filed for divorce while I was there. I ended up living right next to the Tenderloin. And I had a place to stay, but I didn’t—I’d been, shall we say, “removed from the club.” And I didn’t have a new club. And gradually, in some ways the street people kind of became—I didn’t realize it till later on—but, these were the people I began to identify with, as I didn’t have my regular life anymore. And so I would just wander around, pretty much like I was homeless. I had an apartment, but I didn’t have a plan.
And one day, because I was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, I decided that maybe what I could do—because there were so many homeless people there—that I would try to look them in the eyes and smile at them, because he recommends smiling as a practice. And it was a really interesting experience. I was a little afraid at first. But one day, I was walking through—what’s the square, down from Post Street? The big square. Anyway, I looked at this guy—he was all huddled up—and I smiled at him, walked on down the street. And all the sudden he said, “Hey lady, thanks for the smile.” And this voice appeared in my ear. And it said, “Go back, and ask him if he wants to be in the paper flower business with you.” I’d always had this fantasy that somehow—I’m an artist, and all I was doing there was making paper flowers. That was one thing I was doing. And so I just followed the voice. And I went back, and I got down, and I said, “Excuse me, but I was wondering if you’d like to be in the paper business—paper flower business with me?” And he kind of came out, and he said, “Well. . .” And I said, “I make paper flowers, and I just live up the street. I’ll bring them down, and you can sell them, and then we’ll split it.” I thought it would be better to have it be quid pro quo. So he said, “OK.” So I went back to my apartment, came down with the paper flowers. This story’s just amazing to me. He had taken his box, and he said, “I want you to make the signs, because your handwriting’s going to be better than me, and we need to really market this.” And I’m like, “man, I need this guy!”
And it was like; you know my world was just changing, because I had no idea who this person was. And so we had a little paper flower business for a day. I went off. We agreed to meet again at 4 o’clock. And I went back, and he said, “Well, I sold two. I gave away one, and I think somebody stole one.” You know, I said, “OK.” So it was starting to get night, and we walked up the street—I was on one side, he was on the other. And he said to me something like, “You know, you really made a difference in my day.” And I realized at that time that I was so lonely, and I had been thrown out of my club. And here was somebody who was giving me exactly what I needed. He acknowledged my being.
And so, it was one of those moments in your life that was just such a gift to me.
Bernie: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that.
We have time for one more before our break.
Questioner 9: So, when we look at people that are human beings, that are experiencing life on the streets, or homelessness—not “street people”—we have an assumption to be surprised when they’re smart, or something. And I think that is like completely inaccurate. Because any one of us, you know, except for the fact that we’re all like, most of us are like probably experiencing great privilege in our lives, could be homeless—could experience homelessness, could experience life on the streets. So you know, if somebody is like intelligent and they’re living on the streets, that shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, or surprise. So I just want to mention that.
Questioner 9: So, how might we use that approach with the larger ecological environmental issues facing us right now?
Bernie: Uh huh. Whew. Yeah. So, I’m this simple guy. And I always fall back to those three that you said. And the first one, I try to approach by deep listening, right? And I don’t know, I’m not pulling out any of the stuff yet. I don’t know the world’s falling apart. I don’t know, the world’s in great shape. I don’t know all that stuff. I’m entering. And then, I try to bear witness. Now this is not only to the whole world falling apart, it’s to myself as an individual; it’s to my work with my sangha, with my kids, wherever I go. It’s always just that simple. I listen. I feel what’s happening, and I let the actions arise. So whenever somebody asks me a question about anything, that’s what I do. I have no—I don’t know how to do anything. You know, I really don’t.
And, my experience is things will arise. What can be simpler than that? But, maybe not so—what’s the right?—satisfying. It’s nice to know some things we could do, right? I do this—pshheww—everything’s good, you know. I don’t know. I don’t know any things like that.
Remember when yesterday—I think it was yesterday—we were talking about, I was talking about the one body of Bernie. So I really don’t know what’s going on in Bernie, but I read some stuff. Like I read I’m basically a pacifist. And I’ve read that I’ve got—and as well as all, everybody in this room—cancer cells that are always popping up. And I’ve got white cells that are attacking those cancer cells. So what’s a pacifist gonna do, man? How can I get those white cells to stop attacking and killing other parts of my body? Those cancer cells are coming! These guys are battling them and destroying them. I’m sitting here as a pacifist, and this fight is going on in my body. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? And then this hand starts—something cuts it, it starts bleeding. This hand, the cigar falls on it and burns it, and it’s burning up. What am I gonna do? Which—what do I do first?
Isn’t it frustrating—everything that we’ve got to do? You know, I gotta breath, I gotta eat, I gotta shit. I’ve got so much work to do! What do I do first? What do I do second?
So, luckily somewhere along the line I learned about these three tenets. Or they popped up while I was taking a bath—everything important in my life pops up while I’m taking a bath. It popped up—oh, not knowing: try to just approach everything with deep listening, feeling what’s going on, man, and then groking, bearing witness. Oh, I can see what occurs. I took care of this hand, washed off this thing. OK white cells, go ahead, do it.
So that’s how I function. Now, I also happen to be—I was a space engineer. If you asked me how do I fly something to Mars, I could tell you how to do it, you know. So, I knew a few things, and I do what I can in everything that I do.
I don’t know a time when the world wasn’t falling apart. Of course I don’t know what—we have a koan, how’s it go?
Daizui was asked, “When the world—when the fire kulpa comes, when the world is all disappearing, falling apart . . .” because in Buddhist—should I say theology, we don’t have theology—cosmology, Buddhist cosmology, there’s different periods where you, where everything is growing, then it’s sort of neutral, then it’s falling apart. And then some of these things go on for different kalpas. They all go on for different kalpas. You know what a kalpa is? So a kalpa—how many people know what a kalpa is? So, there’s different definitions for a kalpa. The common definition I use for a kalpa is if you take a marble granite . . . Is marble granite? Does that make sense? No. So if you take a piece of marble, or a piece of granite—I don’t care which, whichever you prefer—if you take a piece that’s ten million miles high and ten—OK, cubed—ten million miles in each direction, every hundred years, an angel comes down from heaven and her wing brushes this cube of marble. When the cube is completely gone, that’s one kalpa.
So, our planning, our work, is in terms of kalpas, you know. We’ve got to make sure everything is OK for a kalpa. So if you’re in the kalpa where it’s all being destroyed, what do you do? What do you do? In that kalpa where it’s all been destroyed, then what do you do? After it’s destroyed, what do you do? It’s an important koan.
OK. So, what’s fascinating is that each of us, if we just listen to the moment—we bear witness to what’s going on—that different things will arise. I call them ingredients. And we all have different ingredients that arise. And we’ll take those ingredients and make the best meal possible. And we’ll find that you might be in the world of environmental work, and I might be in the world of cigar making, and somebody else in the world—homelessness. It’s a beautiful garden of people within these different worlds doing beautiful things—doing beautiful things. And sometimes we worry—can we do the things that will save the universe? Well, you can try. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I can take the ingredients that are coming up in me and do the best thing I can—and not blame myself for not doing better than the best I can. I mean it. So I really believe in befriending the self.
And someone was talking about how they’re doing all of these wonderful things, and at the same they’re criticizing themselves. They’re not doing good enough, you know. Recently I put some thoughts on a koan called The Tortoise Wipes Her Tracks—His Tracks. You know that little story? Big tortoises—you’ve seen them, somewhere. Peter Matthiessen wrote this beautiful book, Far Tortuga—hard to read, it’s in the dialect of the . . . it’s beautiful. Giant tortoises there—and they’ll come on the beach, and they wipe they’re tracks. To get rid of their tracks, they wipe it with their tail. But of course the tail leaves some tracks. So we do the best we can. And then, we make excuses. That’s what I call “wiping.” We sort of wipe what we’ve done to hide it, because we’re ashamed of what we did, it wasn’t good enough. And we want to get rid of our tracks. So we apologize. And we feel bad, “Oh, if only I had done better.”
Those tracks—the wiping—leaves new tracks. Leaves new tracks. So maybe the best thing that we can do is just make excuses. Oh the best thing I just did was so terrible. Oh, if only I could do better than the best I can do! Some day, one day, one day, one day, one day . . . I will do better than the best.
So I really believe in befriending the self. Take what’s coming up, and do it! That’s the best we can do, man.
Roshi Joan Halifax: You know, as you’ve been talking today I remembered this koan Kyogan’s Man in the Tree. And there’s this guy hanging in a tree, and his teeth are wrapped around a branch, and he can’t touch the tree with his hands or his feet. And this other guy walks underneath, and he says, “Hey, why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” So if the man in the tree answers, he’ll fall to his death. But if he doesn’t answer, he doesn’t help the guy who asked the question.
So, one of the things that I think is so powerful about the three tenets is that they don’t provide a solution—that they actually create a context where uncertainty, and your capacity to live with the power of uncertainty can increase when we practice them.
So I think, you know, most people who hear that koan are looking for a solution. You know, they’re like, “Wait a minute. There’s a solution here. What’s the solution?” But for me what is so powerful about the practice, but also . . . The first time you shared the three tenets with me, I thought about this work that I did in the prison system, and all of the concepts that I went into the prison system with, you know. Just looking at that building, which was so imposing and ugly. And then all the ideas about working with men on Death Row and in Maximum Security. And then carrying in the three tenets—just realizing if I’m attached to my opinions about this place, there’s no way I’ll survive. And coming into this process of going upstream and finding uncertainty is my ally.
You know, of living in this sort of spirit of interest, curiosity, inquiry, surprise—Brother David calls it “surprise,” just that surprise. Yeah there are incredible equations out there in the world with regards to the tipping point that we have, you know, drifted past in our consumerism. And, you know, we’ve had a few surprises in the past few weeks. What about this Algal Bloom, you know, in the Arctic. I mean we just—this is a self-organizing system. And there’s all these responses that are completely out of the realm that we know—that are presenting themselves. Just being that interest—Oh!
So for me, that’s one side of the equation. But the other side has to do with a sense of conscientiousness. You know, of really endeavoring to do your best intentionally. You know, in the sort of way of compassion that has an object—that’s preferential. You know, recognizing there’s suffering in the world. But I can say—I was saying to Bernie—we take people to the Himalayas every year, many clinicians. And the hardest thing is to watch the clinicians help people, instead of really being able to be penetrated by the world that they find themselves in. And the curiosity isn’t there when you’re helping per se, because you have a kind of solution.
So I wanted to thank you for, many years ago of, you know, sharing the three tenets—also working with dying people. I used to do lots of hands-on work with people who were dying, and it was the same thing. If I walked in prescriptively, there was no chance for intimacy. But when not knowing was there, the possibility for intimacy and surprise, always present.
Bernie: Yeah. Thank you. It’s—I think, my opinion is—also the way to have a successful marriage. There were a couple of questions about how do you make marriage sustainable? As a male, I was extremely used to fixing everything. So if my wife came up with a problem, I would fix it. And then, little by little, I learned, what about not jumping in to fix the problem that she thinks exists? What if I could just listen, bear witness to what is going on, and see what arises? And our marriage got so much better. Our marriage got so much better.
So for me it’s sort of funny, almost all questions come back to the same principle—that whatever the relationship, whoever you’re dealing with—as a Zen teacher for I don’t know how many years, people would come in dokusan, and I was ready to fix it. I’d say for twenty years every—I was chanting, “creations are numberless, I vow to save them.” And that became a part of my being. I knew how to save you. I could push you into enlightenment. I could fix everything. The first day I was here, Shinzan picked me up at the airport. And along the way he said—he’s doing dokusan, or daison, or whatever you’re calling it—and he said, “Do [you] have any advice?” And I said, “Don’t worry about fixing things. Just listen.” People want to be listened to. They may say they want solutions. Or they want . . . but that’s—I’ve never found that to be true, in my years. The key thing is to be listened to.
And then, if we could bear witness to each other, what a beautiful thing could happen in that interview room, or in the relationship, or in anything we’re doing. And let what arises arise. It’s also so wonderful because new things will come up. And you could be excited by the new stuff that’s coming up, instead of “Oh yeah, I know that’s the way to do it, man.” It’s a little boring.
I never know what I’m going to say. So it becomes exciting. Every once in a while I “Oh, that’s interesting. That’s a nice way of saying it.”
This last week I was somewhere—and again, I guess because in the ingredients in my being right now is my new grandson . . . Somebody was talking about “fixing” — I don’t know, a solution somewhere you know, doing something so it doesn’t happen again. And I thought of wiping the rear end of my grandson. Imagine if I approach you. I’m going to wipe this away so that it will never happen again. Yeah, what am I setting myself up for? But does that mean that I don’t wipe it away? You know?
Yeah. And then somebody said to me, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” And the only thing I can think of is because it needs to be done. So the same with my grandson—wouldn’t that be a silly question if I’m cleaning him and somebody says, “Why are you doing that? Don’t you know it’s gonna happen again?” Isn’t it a silly question? You do it because it needs to be done. And if it needs to be done billions of times, you do it billions of times. You know, you do what needs to be done.
Questioner 10: So, if we come to that kind of a freedom I think, when if we can accept the not knowing, and the spontaneity of caring or loving actions coming out of the moment of intimacy, what—you know I’m a psychotherapist and a Zen priest, I get to fall in love with a lot of people—what stops me from making a move sexually because I’m feeling so close to you?
Bernie: So, we’ve moved into another field. There are questions about vows—great vow. One question was . . . as you notice, I tend to put a lot of these things into metaphors, but let me get the question. Most essentials living great vows—what does it mean to live by vows? You know about that guy, Bucky—he did big domes. Buckminster Fuller, and he talked about trim tabs. I talk about rudders. I think of vows as rudders. And he talked about trim tabs in relation to big ocean liners—I mean they’re huge. And can you imagine trying to move them? So there’s things called rudders, but then there’s little trim tabs that can move the rudders. And I think of vows in that way.
When my previous wife, Jishu, passed away—there’s a picture of her on that alter in the hall, with all those—I think she’s the only woman, with all those deceased men. But we have a lot of women ancestors also. But anyway, that’s true. Why did I bring . . . Oh. When we cofounded the Zen Peacemakers, and we talked about what we wanted—and one of the things we wanted is for it really to—for the Precepts to be an important part of it.
So we have precepts in Zen. And I call those rudders, or trim tabs. The rudders might be, for me the rudders might be the Three Tenets. And then the Precepts—trim tabs. It doesn’t matter; you can call them all rudders if you want. And I study them; we study them in koan system. When I study them, we study them from different perspectives—from Mahayana perspective, which means it’s relative. How do you work with them based on the time, the place, the position, the people involved, stuff like that. With Theravada, a literal sense, but also from a Buddha-nature sense, and the stress is put on that. There’s no subject, no object, and basically when we studied it that way, we were given the license to do anything. We were super human. We could do anything.
So I had a man that I had installed as Zen Abbot—not as a Provisional Abbot—who after my teacher died, I was in charge of the places we had, the City Center in Los Angeles, the Mountain Center. But I also had this big center in New York that was occupying myself really—it was too much. And I was looking, at that time nobody wanted to take over those, be in charge of those centers. There was a lot of karma around them. And the first thing I did was divide them, because we had nobody who could handle both. And finally, somebody—I wanted Enkyo to be in charge of the city—she didn’t want to do that. She moved to New York and was working with me there. [I] put somebody in charge.
And I got a call one night, and he said, “I want you to be the first to hear. I was in bed last night with two naked women, (He was naked too) and one of the women (they were both his major students, as it normally is), and one of them has raised a ruckus! And I want you to hear first, before you . . .” So, I flew out, and I talked with him, created processes—council processes, sangha processes, stuff like that. But the interesting thing is that he told me that as a Zen Master, if he tells three women to jump into bed naked with him, they have to do it, because he’s the Zen Master. And this was based on his study of the Precepts.
So it felt like something was wrong there, in terms of is that a training that we’re doing to creating rudders that give that kind of thing? And when I look back, we were creating those kind of rudders.
So my wife and I talked about putting emphasis—and we then worked for quite a while with a group of people that we called the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemakers—to come up with the Zen Peacemakers Precepts, and to make that something you took in the beginning, not that you studied at the end, after you thought that you were now this wonderful teacher, and that you studied in a way which made you become a little arrogant even.
And I consider those, the rudders. And we then created a day of reflection. So to make it an important part of the life, those kind of vows—and they’re a bit general, but they do not include having naked women jumping into bed with you and it’s all OK, man—or naked men jumping into bed with you.
So it’s still subjective, but the Precepts, for me, you got to listen to what’s going on, and you for one know, you’ve been involved in Dai Bosatsu, everybody knows. If you listen, you hear a lot of stuff that’s going on, you bear witness to what’s happening, and you do the best you can. And along the way you create vehicles that can help. And I call those vehicles, “rudders.” You know, and you should always, I feel, one should constantly be reevaluating the rudders. And how do we reevaluate? I listen to what happens because of that. I bear witness to what’s going on. And then, well, time to change this one, or that one, you know.
So that’s how I approach it. I do feel it’s very important. There is something called “Beat Zen.” I had friends in that movement. I’m old enough to have had friends in that movement. And I think what they refer to as “Square Zen,” was because Square Zen had those rudders. Beat Zen didn’t believe in those rudders. Anything can go. And so my opinion is it’s good to have those rudders. And it’s good to look at ’em.
What are the rudders for our life?
Boy, we’re going to get through the whole process of spirituality, you know.
Questioner 11: So the question is that you kind of notice that maybe there’s no problem.
Bernie: Maybe there’s no problem?
Questioner 11: Yeah.
Bernie: In some sense, but there’s a lot to do. There’s a lot to do.
So, you know, again I take my grandson—he pisses all over you, you know and he craps, and his rear end is all full of this sort of liquid type brown stuff. You could call it a problem. Or you could say it’s not a problem, but there’s something to do. Right? We don’t have to add to . . . we’ve got global warming; we’ve got all kinds of stuff happening. So there’s lots to do. Why do we need the extra thing of calling it a problem?
But we do. I mean, that’s the way we talk. That’s a problem that’s not a problem. I don’t know what’s not a problem. You know, Roshi Joan, I was just, where was I? Oh, I just officiated a wedding, for Shishin and Shinko, and we were going over things. So, part of the wedding ceremony, there was—we were going to do the Gatha of Atonement. And they were using the exact same version you’re using, All Twisted Karma. And that word, twisted, when we first started chanting that we had, I think it was probably Aikens’ translation—one that we were using in Los Angeles. And it had “all the evil karma ever committed by since of old . . .” and San Francisco moved it to “twisted karma.” And I sort of like that.
And in my new, as I got older, I started to wonder, evil karma/good karma, problem/not a problem, is that intrinsic in what’s going on, or is that me subjectively saying, “That’s a problem. That’s not a problem. That’s evil. That’s not.” Is twisting, what does it really mean? Which of the karma? We’re constantly, right? Every second we’re creating karma! This whole one body’s creating karma. We’re all interconnected! This karma happened. So which of it is twisted, which isn’t twisted?
As I began to think, I couldn’t come up with a word that I liked, so I wound up using all karma. Cause it’s yeah we’re creating karma. So all actions, and then we create actions (karma’s a little different than actions, but it also has that kind of implication). And then somehow we’ll call certain of that “problems,” and certain of it “not problems.” But I think that’s extra. But it does not stop us from needing to do the actions. And if we could really approach the situation in listening and bearing witness, the actions will arise.
And to help, to help that whole process—especially the last part—study as much as you can. Learn all the schemes, and techniques, and languages, you know. Have it all in that bag like that carpenter guy. So the choices are immense, but no attachments to them. And now I approach, and something pops up, and my choice of what to do is so much bigger if I could fill that bag. But if I’m attached, my choice is so limited. And one of the attachments is “This part of the bag are problem stuff, and that part of the bag is the good stuff.” Then all of a sudden, I can only go to the good stuff, cause this is the problem stuff. Why is it problem stuff? Because somewhere, sometime, I went there, and I didn’t like what happened. So now, forever it’s a problem, and I can’t go there anymore. Man, I just cut myself off from a whole part of my bag of stuff. I want everything in there. And the truth of the matter is there’s no way for it not to be.
And now we have a hand in the back. We need a mic. Oh, but why don’t you give him the mic, and he’ll be next, and he’ll be quite ready—even though his name is not mike. He’s a Roshi. The room is full of Roshis, man. Watch out.
Questioner 12: Can you say more about bearing witness? Because actions arise from how deeply we’re able to bear witness, but bearing witness comes with all of our own conditioning and lenses. So, if you could say more about the process of deepening that?
Bernie: Yeah. So my opinion is that we are all conditioned. What does that mean? We have various attachments. We’ll never get rid of all our attachments and our conditionings. For example, my DNA is conditioning me in certain ways, and the fact that I was born in Brooklyn. Whew, that’s a big one—compared to being born in say Tokyo or India. How I grew up—even my thinking, you know. I was really deeply caught by Aristotelian logic, but luckily I studied, and I got into Quantum physics, and probabilities, and also Eastern logic. A equals A, and A doesn’t equal A at the same time, and stuff like that.
And yes, that’s all part of me. So when I’m bearing witness, that doesn’t go away. It’s all part of me. I’m not—in that bearing witness—I’m not hoping, hopefully we can train, and we can be put into situations where our attachments are minimized.
I came up with the word “bearing witness” and it’s a troublesome word. I mean it has many different implications in English. But if you’re German, it’s even harder. We couldn’t get a good translation for bearing witness. How many people here are from Germany, or speak German language? We use “Zeugnis Ablegen,” and I’ve never met anyone who thinks it’s a good word to use. But the same is somewhat true in English. There’s a whole Christian sense to the word bearing witness. So we have to talk about what does it mean?
So, I like to use the word “grok.” Who knows what grok means? That’s also somewhat of an issue. The removal of subject/object dichotomy. That’s a little easier to get, I guess. But that’s why koan study’s not so simple. To really do the koans, you have to become the situation. A famous koan, a simple one, Stop the Fighting Across the River. There are different approaches that one does with something like that. One approach is to go into deep samadhi. We call that denial. That’s not the way you stop stuff, but for yourself it’s pretty good. And we all do that, right? We’ll go into denial about some stuff that gets rid of it. And in koan study, what we want you to do is become the fighting across the river! You know, to bear witness, to really become whatever the situation—to become it. And then, out of that will arise the stuff.
So the best way of sort of describing bearing witness is to demonstrate it, you know, and to point out places where that happens. And that’s why I created these plunges. There’s no way if you come on the streets, that you will not bear witness to being on the streets. There’s no way. And once you’ve done that, you’ll experience it. And people that have been on the streets—they can talk to each other about it.
I’ll give you another example. I don’t know. Did I talk in this group about—I’m gonna repeat it I guess. So, my wife Jishu, years before we moved here, before she passed away, had a pretty horrendous stroke, which paralyzed her right side, and lost sense of communication, the ability to communicate. We happened to be near a hospital when it happened.
So we got to the hospital maybe ten/fifteen minutes after the stroke occurred. And then she was in for quite a while. And then physical therapy, but she pretty much regained all of—you know, she was not a good typer anymore—but pretty much regained everything. And her speech became regular. You know when you have that kind of stroke, you “ye… ye… ye… ye…,” talk sort of like that.
And I’ve been close with Ram Dass for a long, long time, and he was around when that happened. And then he had the same stroke, but he didn’t get to the hospital very quick. He was on the—he had the stroke. Nobody was around. Somebody, call it a friend, a student, Jai was going to be doing a radio show with him, called him. And there was no—Ram Dass crawled across the floor and got the phone, but he couldn’t talk.
And Jai said, “Is there something wrong?” They had been in India together. And one of the things that they had done is at different periods taken a vow of silence. That’s something Hindus like to do. I should do that some time. But at any rate, and while they had done that, they had come up with a little code. If they tapped once, it meant “no,” twice; it meant, “yes.”
So Jai said, “Did something happen?” And he [knock knock], “Yes.” “Do you want help?” [knock] “No.”
They conversed with—Jai with voice, and R.D., Ram Dass with taps for about a half hour. And Jai lives not so far from here. And he was actually scheduled, he was calling because he was scheduled to fly out to California, where Ram Dass was and they were gonna do a radio show together.
So after a half hour he was quite beside himself. Because Ram Dass kept tapping, “No. I want no help. I don’t want a doctor. I don’t want an ambulance. I don’t . . .” Everything was “No help.”
They had also talked in their years together that they would honor the other’s request to die if they wanted to die. So he was caught a little. And he finally decided—he was in the midst of bearing witness to all this, right—and what came up for him, he had to call somebody. So he went to another phone, and called a mutual friend that lived not too far away. Told them, “Get an ambulance over there. Something’s happened to Ram Dass.” And they did. So he got to the hospital pretty late in the scheme of things. And he still is in a wheelchair and it’s been quite a while.
So my wife and I visited him. I saw him pretty soon after it happened. And then, I can’t remember when, the two of us went to see him. And the two of them were talking, because they had the same experience. And it’s just so vivid in my head. They were talking. Her language was now pretty—it was regular. His was still very choppy. But they were talking about how they could understand what was going on, but they couldn’t communicate. There was no way that they could say anything. And how it had been frustrating, until at some point all that frustration left. And they both lit up. Because they had both born witness to that same experience of where we can communicate and be together without communication. They got to that where they were fully functioning, but there was no communication—that we call “communication.” There was no verbal communication. They couldn’t even write. There was no—but there was a direct one to one communication, you know.
And that came out of bearing witness to the same thing. And there was no way that anybody who hadn’t born witness to that, could feel exactly that same thing. You could talk about it. You could write about it.
And over and over, you’ve been there. There are different things that come up in our life that create, that’s bearing witness. And based on that, things arise and we do stuff. So I’ve tried to make a practice of how do we help create that? That is I’ve looked at different upayas. Zen as a school, I would say is about helping us to bear witness. Zazen is bearing witness to the wholeness of life. All I did in these three tenets is put in a sort of a simpler language the ways I was trained in Zen. That’s nothing that’s radically new, but it’s a little easier to follow the language I think.
Roshi Joan made very popular in this country, the Way of Council. And what’s some of the principles of the Way of Council? To speak from the heart, and listen from the heart. Right?
There’s a chant which I know is done here, Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo, and there’s a word in there in the Japanese, Nen. And you know the character, what it looks like, the Chinese character for Nen? It’s got two radicals. Shin: Mind, and Ima: Here. The mind of this moment—that’s the way I tend to translate it. And for me, the circle—the Way of Council, the circle we form—where the voices are coming up, where we’re listening from the heart, and speaking from the heart—that’s an expression of Nen. The mind of this moment. The mind of the circle.
But that could also be just with two of us, even though our opinions may be very different. If we can just share, you know, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, that’s the mind at this moment. And that again, is another way for me to define bearing witness.
In the largest sense, Kanzeon, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, in the Chinese and Japanese literally means concentrating on the sounds of the earth. Kan is contemplation. On is sounds, and Ze is the earth. So, to be open to the whole, all the sounds of the earth and the planets—that’s Kanzeon Bodhisattva. That’s compassion, but it’s bearing witness, see.
The actions of Kanzeon is what we call compassion. But that only happens because it’s contemplation on all the sounds of the whole earth. But we concil with just two of us.
So, if you and Sherry can just do council, and listen from the heart, speak from the heart, and without any idea of resolution, council should not have any sense of resolution. We’re speaking from the heart and listening from the heart. That’s a form of bearing witness, and actions will arise out of it. And most of you have trained in council. And you know, that’s true—very powerful.
Questioner 13: I wanted to thank you, Bernie Roshi, for coming and meeting with us. I’m deeply appreciative of your manner—of handling this wonderful group. I have two questions/comments that I’d like to hear your opinion of. And I think they’re germane to the discussion we’re just having. I’m wondering how your precepts translate into organizational responsibility.
You know, I have a sangha, and I’m wondering how not-knowing translates to organization principles, like organizational goals, maybe filling out corporate papers, grant proposals. I mean I can’t, just now, not knowing—that won’t work. But, I’m honestly interested in your response.
And the second thing was, I went to Vietnam in 1966, as a nineteen year-old, and got shot in the head, and was partially paralyzed. Now, I say that because at the time I went to Vietnam, there was a definition of the moral situation in the United States that was very much supportive of that behavior. That’s what men did as an ethical obligation, I guess. But then some time after Tet, 1968, the definition of the moral situation seemed to change.
I’m wondering, I guess my question has to do with what do we do with social morays as they change, relative to precept development? I find that to be a very challenging thing myself. And I’ll stop now. Thank you.
Bernie: I mentioned that in the Zen Peacemakers we had a group that spent time working on the wording of the precepts. And I remember, at the time we wrote down that they should be reevaluated periodically. We haven’t done that.
But, as individuals—the people that use those precepts—the various teachers have done that as individuals. But we actually did write down that it was very important to re-look at this every so often.
Now, I’m an extremist, so I re-look at everything every moment. Wherever I go, I try to grok what’s happening, and let stuff come up from this moment. So I’m constantly reevaluating, if you will.
I also was a systems engineer. I’m very systematic. I’ve been criticized for being too much of an organization freak. But, my mind works that way. It’s a little bit of a funny kind of a mind. I’m a sort of a mathematician, and my head starts running off in these, something called Markov Chains. I don’t know if you know that, that’s a certain probability that this will happen, if that happens, there’s a certain probability this will happen, and you get chains going, and all these probabilities. And oh boy, you’ve got a mind full of probabilities of scenarios—whatever. And, so those are all probabilities.
And at this moment, what comes up is what comes up. I have not seen it cause any problem in my not being a system freak—or filling out proposals, or doing any of that kind of stuff. I found it quite freeing. So I would have all the forms, the way I’ve done things, but it also allows one to be very creative. So filling the bag up with all of the stuff, all of the various kinds of organizational methods, you know. As you know, there’s been many different great schemes for organization theory. I mean, you can specialize in organization theory, get a PhD in it. So you can learn a lot.
And if you can—in my opinion—use the three tenets in whatever you’re doing, you will be more creative. It’s almost by definition—you’ve gotta be more creative, because you’re not bound to something. But it does not mean that you don’t have all that knowledge, you know. Yeah.
And keep reevaluating. So, I mean Shakyamuni said that, right? Our boss said that. Everything is change. I’m doing a book with The Dude, a guy named Jeff Bridges. It’ll be out this fall, The Dude and the Zen Master. And I have a whole set of koans based on The Dude’s life in The Big Lebowski movie. So there is an expression in a chapter in the book that’s called New Shit Has Come to Light. What that means is that everything is change. It’s always new stuff coming to light. Always. Isn’t that fun? It’s exciting, man.
Oh. Say more. Genjo say’s I didn’t finish something. You and I are doing council, and we have different opinions.
Genjo: And they’re radically opposed.
Bernie: Radically opposed.
Genjo: And we’re at a stalemate, because you’re listening to me, and I’m listening to you . . .
Bernie: A stalemate shouldn’t be there. If I’m just speaking from my heart, and you’re listening from the heart, there’s no space for a stalemate. The stalemate is in your mind because you’re not listening from the heart. You’re wanting me to say something different.
Genjo: Well, I’m wanting you to say—how did you—how—you were in the position . . .
Bernie: All you could want from me is for me to speak my heart.
Genjo: I understand that’s council. Now you’re the person who’s in sort of authority over this situation that is messy. And you have somebody who you’ve appointed who has a radically different opinion than yours. How would you resolve?
Bernie: OK. I’m in council with this guy who says, “I can screw anybody that I want.”
Genjo: That’s right.
Bernie: And we finish. We listen. We’re both talking from the heart.
Genjo: That’s right.
Bernie: And then we’re through. And in my position, the loving action that comes up is, “You’re fired.” Cause I’m in that position. I can do that. But I listened to him from my heart. I bore witness to everything that was going on. And the thing that came up was, “You’re fired. Get the hell out of here.”
Genjo: And if the hierarchical role were reversed?
Bernie: I’d have to get the hell out of there.
Genjo: Thank you.
Audience member: Exactly! Sorry. It’s good you heard it from a man.
Bernie: Yeah. I don’t know what else one can do. One can try to hang on to that thing. But that’s gonna give you a headache if you’re prone towards headaches. Or that’s life, that’s—for me—the way life should flow. Anyway, OK.
Questioner 14: What’s your opinion on the noble lie?
Bernie: The noble . . .?
Questioner 14: The noble lie. What Plato talked about is that it’s—he said it’s necessary, sometimes. I guess another way to call it would be benevolent manipulation. To tell somebody something that you—in order to get a positive result.
Bernie: Well, first off, I have a problem because I don’t have the sense of truth. I have the sense of opinions. So if you don’t have the sense of truth, you’re somewhat stuck into what a lie is.
In the precepts, when we worked on them, we say, “We will speak what we feel to be the truth.” Now I would sort of revise that. In this era of my life, everything that I look at that has the sense of dualism, for example the three precepts that come down from our precepts—do good, don’t do evil. I would get rid of anything that has that kind of flavor. Cause that’s a dual system, man. We’re trying to work in a—how do we say this in a non-dual way?
So, the implication of the noble lie is that it’s something being said that’s going to improve the situation, depending on somebody’s’ thinking. Right? So you first have to have somebody who thinks what the situation should be. Now I will bet you that my sense of what the situation should be is different than Russ Lindbergs’ sense of what the situation should be.
So if we were using that dualistic terminology of the noble lie, we would probably come up with very different things.
Questioner 14: Well, yesterday you were speaking about upaya—skillful means. So would there be any situations in which a noble lie would qualify?
Bernie: I don’t have that terminology. Again, I come to a situation not knowing. I try to bear witness to what’s happening, and I see what arises. I don’t have a sense of what is true, what is a lie. So, somebody may look at what is arising from me and say, “Oh you’re trying to—you’re manipulating, you’re doing some . . .” That’s their subjective view of it. Plato was a subject/object when he talks about noble lies. I’m just not in that terminology, or I don’t have that sense.
Questioner 14: Could I rephrase it as a motivational strategy?
Bernie: So here’s the closest—see if I’m getting what you’re saying. Let’s say I approach the situation. I’m totally open. I listen. I bear witness. And something is starting to arise, and I stop it and say, “Uh oh. I don’t want that to arise because I think that if something else is done, I would be—I’d get a better result,” or “it would be better for them, so I’m not going to allow what’s coming up to happen.”
I don’t do that. Is that what you mean?
Questioner 14: I was thinking more of—OK; I’ll give you an example. Recycling—let’s say I have a neighbor who doesn’t recycle. He throws everything to the trash.
Questioner 14: This person could even be me. Maybe I’m just too lazy, empathetic. But one way I could motivate myself to start recycling is I could say, “Well, if everybody did this, we could make a difference.” Even though I would basically—I guess I would know—or maybe I guess this is where the mistake is—that whether I individually recycle or not is a drop in the ocean. But, if I could motivate myself to do it, by coming up with this motivational strategy, this story, then it would result in a positive action.
Bernie: Yeah. I just don’t live in that world. So, again it’s—I’m just this simple guy. I’m sort of attached to these three tenets. You know, maybe if I could get unattached to those, that’s my next, maybe I have to work on that.
My feeling is if I approach it without all concepts, and I bear witness to what’s going on the best thing will arise. I have faith in that—that that will happen. And if recycling is the thing that should arise, it will arise. And if it’s not, it won’t. I’m not going to get into labeling what I’m doing as good or bad, or try to figure out how to motivate myself.
I’m always going to go into that situation and just try to grok it, man. And one of the situations is the planet. I’m the planet, so I don’t use too much water. It just comes up. I have faith that what will come up are the best I can do. The best meal I can do.
It may sound very simplistic, but the truth of the matter is it is very simplistic. It’s like that first line of Fukanzengi, by Dogen Zenji. “After years and years and years of practice, I finally realized it was right there from the beginning.” So, I’ve practiced years, and years, and years, and years. And at this point, it feels very simple. And it doesn’t mean that any of the practice has gone away. It’s just part of the daily life. But it’s not so complicated. The brain is a beautiful thing for complicating stuff.
All kinds of theories—I enjoy reading all kinds of theories and stuff, but I don’t get stuck in all that.
Questioner 15: You just mentioned after years and years of practice, you’ve come back to what was there at the beginning. I’d be curious to hear how you think about the years of really disciplined practice, and the role of, kind of preserving a lineage of practice—the value of preserving a lineage of practice, as American Zen evolves.
Bernie: Sure. That’s an important thing for me. So we have to first really unpack what you just said. Because one phrase that’s very important is “preserve a tradition of practice.” Right? Did I hear you right?
Questioner 15: A lineage . . .
Bernie: “Preserve a lineage of practice.” OK. Then, my sense is that you’re using “practice” different than the way that I described “practice.” So I need to know what you mean by practice. Cause I told you what I meant by practice, and you’re not using it in that way. So we don’t want to confuse ourselves. I’ve got to know what you mean by “practice.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. I mean practice in the other sense of . . .
Bernie: There’s no other sense. I want you to define what you mean by “practice.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. You know you have spent a lot of your life studying the historic texts, practicing . . . you know, studying liturgy, staying true to something that you’ve inherited from previous generations. And yet, you found a kind of freedom in it. And so I’m intrigued by this. You know there’s something in our Zen world that, you know we hold on to Dogen, we hold on to ritual, we hold on to many of these things. And it’s important that we transmit them with some integrity from one generation to the next. We seem to believe that—that that’s an important kind of integrity.
And yet you find a lot of—it seems that you are very free of it all, and yet loyal to it—what you’ve inherited.
Bernie: OK. So what I want to make as a shift, and you’ve got to agree whether you’ll allow me, instead of “practice,” perhaps you mean “upayas.”
Questioner 15: Yeah. I can go there.
B: You can go there. And I’m gonna say to you that the upayas of my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, were not the upayas that he was trained in. And that he created his own forms and his own upayas. So, if we talk about tradition of lineage, you won’t find the upayas of my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, going to some kind of lineage.
If we want to talk about lineage, you almost have to define—first we’ve got upayas and we have lineage. So we can create lines, but even that is an upaya, because in the days of Shakyamuni there were no lineages—he didn’t think that way. That arises in China because of Confucius model. They need lineages.
Maezumi has twelve Dharma Successors. If you look at their upayas, they’re almost all different. So if you look at students of mine, they might go back to me as a tradition, or they’ve created their own tradition.
So at Upaya, the tradition here is not my tradition, and it’s not my teacher’s tradition, and it’s not any of his teacher’s traditions. It’s the tradition of Upaya.
So that’s one of the phenomena in the West. I hear the word tradition a lot, and usually when I try to pin it down, it goes as far as the particular teacher in that place. And what they’ve done is combined a lot of the stuff that they’ve learned or studied, and they created their own schema.
Now, is that new here? No, if you go to Japan, or you go to China, you’ll find the same thing. And so we have Han Shan—he’s a hermit. Or we have Ryokan—he’s this drunken poet. We have Rinzai, we have—he’s Chinese. We have the sixth patriarch and his rival that starts the sudden and the gradual schools of Zen.
So it becomes complicated to say—to me—to talk about tradition. What’s important to me, that is basic to Buddhism as far as I’m concerned, is the awakening to the interconnectedness of life.
Everything else is upaya. Everything.
There are Buddhist groups that don’t meditate. And in my Yiddish way of thinking, it’s a shanda! It’s a pity! Can you imagine Buddhist groups that don’t meditate? But there are, you know. And probably when you talk to them, they have found some way that they think is better.
Now I’m very involved in social engagement. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not very involved in meditation. I don’t know anybody that’s just meditating. There are people that are just meditating.
One of my teachers, a guy named Yasutani Roshi, said that you can look in the window of doll shops, and you can see people doing Zazen. That does not mean that they’ve awakened to the oneness of life—just because they’re doing Zazen all the time. The important thing is the awakening to the interdependence of life.
And a role of a teacher in Zen is to figure out what upayas are right. My teacher said that to me. Maezumi Roshi, over and over, said to me that what I have to do is swallow the teachings that he’s doing—one-to-one teachings—and spit out (that’s the terminology he used) spit out what doesn’t work for your culture and time and place. He said, “I can’t do it. I’m Japanese.” He’s through and through Japanese. He says, “I can’t do that. You have to create the American Zen,” and it has to be appropriate.
There’s another way of—another metaphor that’s used a lot, at least in the Soto sect, and that is the egg. Which is the—the white is the part that the yellow eats, gives the nourishment? What’s the nourishment.
Audience member: The yellow.
Bernie: The nourishment is the yellow?
Audience member: Yeah.
Bernie: And the white becomes the chicken? No. The yellow becomes the chicken, and the white is the nourishment. And so the metaphor is that the transmission of the Dharma is like moving—taking that egg, and bringing it to another place. If you want that chicken to be born, the nourishment has to fit the culture—where it’s going. If you keep the same white in the new place, the chicken will die. It will not last. So it’s critical that the yellow move, which is the awakening to the interdependence of life. That’s the critical piece.
And the job of the teachers and—I’m gonna say teachers—is what’s the appropriate white in this new environment—in the environment where they find themselves?
So, I think that’s dealing with the question of tradition. See, if we want to just keep that white, it will die.
Now, does that say that everything that one studied and learned gets thrown out? No! It’s the role of that teacher to say, “What pieces am I gonna keep, and what pieces I’m not gonna keep?” And luckily we have so many different teachers, so we have many different styles, and we’re all very different. So different people will go to different places. They’ll go to the place, which jives with them. That’s natural.
We can’t have any sense of, “Well, they shouldn’t go there. They should come to me.” Well, if we don’t fit, why should they come to me? They should go to—not everybody in this room wants to go live on the streets with me. Or do you? We can all go right now.
No, I mean it’s a—does that go to the question? So, just to say it once more, cause you will hear—I guarantee all of you will hear—people talking about the tradition, and preserving the tradition. And when you hear it, stop for a second, and ask the person, “What tradition are we preserving?”
I’ll give you an example—one of my favorite examples. I don’t think I said it yet here. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
So, we were in Dharamsala—a group of Western teachers, Western Buddhist teachers. And each day we had different themes that we were talking about. And once a day we would meet with His Holiness at his place, the Dalai Lama. And in this particular week it turned out he was doing some other teachings and the heads of the four schools were there too. And one day, we had this long discussion. And part of it was what tradition do you maintain, or what teaching do you maintain? Something on that order. And he said, “When that question is posed to me, I think back to Shakyamuni Buddha, and say, ‘What would he do?’” That’s how he would answer. OK. He’d be lost here. You know, if we’re talking about Buddhist tradition, man, do you know that most Theravadans feel that Zen is not Buddhist, and what’s going on in Japan is not Buddhist? Why? You don’t live by the Vinaya, man. I mean that’s a non-starter. If you’re not going to live by the Vinaya, how are you calling yourself a Buddhist?
I talk about what, to me, what a Buddhist is, and for me it’s rather simple. A Buddhist is someone on a path of trying to realize and abide in the oneness of life. I asked Bob Thurman what he’d call a Buddhist. He said, “A Buddhist has to believe in reincarnation. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, you can’t call yourself a Buddhist.” That’s another tradition.
So anyway, His Holiness said that “I would go back to Shakyamuni.” And then he excused himself, because he had a bad cold and we had been talking for about an hour. And one of the teachers, a guy named Lama Surya Das—a Brooklyn Jew, actually more Long Island, but started off in Brooklyn—said to the four heads of the four lineages, “We just heard His Holiness say that if we want to look for what the correct tradition is, if it something that Shakyamuni Buddha would do, what about Guru Yoga?” And one of the heads said, “Well, what you don’t know Surya Das, is that the night before Shakyamuni died, he had a dream in which he saw that Guru Yoga was part of the tradition.” So tradition has a funny way of becoming—what’s the tradition?
And as we know, in that famous movie, Fiddler on the Roof, Tradition! (sung), that’s beautiful. My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, loved that movie. And I think as a Japanese, that thing about tradition. And he was radical. My teacher was radical, in the early years. And then in later years, he became less radical. That sometimes happens. But in the early years, the Soto sect would say, “You’re not part of us, man. You’re not part of us.” Deshimaru would not talk with him until much later on. He was doing koans. Unheard of—he was doing all kinds of things that were just not part of the tradition. And Yasutani Roshi criticized the tradition of the Soto sect as not being in the tradition of Buddhism—of not worrying about awakening, but worrying about other stuff.
Questioner 16: It’s not that important.
Bernie: No? Everything is very important.
Questioner 16: But, in the spirit of chess, I just want to return to the nobility lie.
Bernie: To noble lie?
Questioner 16: The noble lie, and . . .
Bernie: I have to get some of those.
Questioner 16: Try and use your language maybe to bring a little clarity.
Bernie: Maybe what?
Questioner 16: To bring a little more clarity. So it your metaphor about Bernie’s body, and Mary I believe was on the right, and Johnny’s on your left arm. And back when Johnny gets a cut on his left arm. And you’ve been at the Zen center. And you’ve been practicing your precepts, and even the three tenets. And so you’re bearing witness to what’s happening. And instead of just initially covering up the cut, you realize that Bernie is terrified of blood, and it would be much better if you maybe waited and did something else instead of just initially cover up the cut. The truth is that you’re cut. But the action that follows that—if the big picture and the bearing witness says, “Well maybe I should wait until Bernie falls asleep, and before I fix it, it’s going to terrify him. We would rather have Bernie not terrified.” Am I making sense?
Bernie: Well I’m gonna be a little radical, cause I don’t use the word truth.
Questioner 16: Maybe fact. Maybe fact is the word.
Questioner 16: OK.
Bernie: I can’t even go there.
Questioner 16: OK.
Questioner 16: See how radical I am?
Questioner 16: Dig it.
Bernie: So, maybe this Bernie, and maybe also this arm, to it, it’s bleeding and it’s cut. And this may really feel it’s not cut. I don’t call one truth, and one a lie. Now that’s pretty radical, right? Because you know it’s a fact. And I tell you that the world knows what the facts are. It’s so obvious. And we will go to war over those facts. I am so radical that I don’t know what the facts are. I try to bear witness and I let what comes up come up. And if this thing is trying to bear witness and it comes up that there’s nothing going on there, man, and walks away, that’s it’s—if you want to use that word—truth. That’s its truth.
Everything for me is subjective. There is no objective truth. Nothing to me is objective truth. You know, I start off with what is basically there, is the situation prior to the Big Bang. That’s called the source of one hand, it’s called the source of Mu, it’s called what I call not-knowing. Everything else is afterwards. Its’ a label that’s put on. I just put up a little writing I sometimes talk about; I call it At Play in the Field of the Pure Land. You know in the Bible there’s a phrase, “at play in the fields of the Lord.” Peter Matthiesson wrote a book, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and so I talk about at play in the field of the pure land. But the fields is prior to any perception. Perception then goes in, and something coalesces. And that instrumentation—that coalescing—is dependent on the subject. Another subject, the same field, will coalesce differently.
So, in the Diamond Sutra, where it says, “everything is a dream,” that’s . . . yeah. The cut on the arm, for me, is my perception. And if it’s not, it’s not my perception.
Questioner 16: Mmm hmmm. It’s so radical.
Questioner 16: It’s so radical. It’s good for me to hear it. You know, part of my . . .
Bernie: Well you’ve heard it over and over in Buddhism that everything is delusion. You’ve heard that. I’m just saying it in a non-Buddhist way. I’m saying it in regular language, but you’ve heard it in Buddhism over and over. It’s all delusion. And then you hear Dogen say, “Well, delusion is enlightenment.” So it’s all enlightenment. But, that there’s no fixed thing. I mean that comes up over and over in Buddhism. I’m just saying it in a very concrete way to make that bridge from where you were reading it as theory into—yeah, this high end is dangling off and you think that’s real, man.
Questioner 16: But, it seems like the edge of that is like paralysis. Like if everything is . . .
Bernie: It may seem that way, but for me the edge of that is total freedom.
Questioner 16: Uh huh.
Bernie:Huge freedom. I mean, it’s creativity, it’s everything is possible. Why? Because there’s nothing fixed. Everything is possible. Once you have anything thrown in there, you’re limiting the creativity.
That’s how I see it. And man, I’m ready to do anything. I see it as very, very freeing. But, you know, that’s my opinion. That’s just my opinion, and you can have another opinion. You do. I mean we all have different opinions. I’m not trying to convert anybody to my opinions. That would be horrible, from my standpoint.
Bernie: Who asked about “being a householder?” And what did you mean by “householder”?
Questioner 17: Well, it is around what I’m thinking, and practicing, and being confused about right now, which is ordinariness. You know, how do you bring all this into—I mean I understand what Karen meant about the “real world.” And I understand what you’re saying about “it’s all the same world.” But you know, when we leave the zendo, and when we leave the lovely container where we all know what council is, and we all have some sort of understanding, and we go out to our work places and that sort of thing—and yeah, I’m really interested in how I can keep bringing what I’m learning here, and what I’m practicing here, into that environment.
Bernie: And that’s the householder environment?
Questioner 17: Well, I mean that’s a label I put on it. As you know—not a monastic.
Bernie: Not a monastic?
Questioner 17: Not monastic.
Bernie: So, when you’re here, you’re a monastic?
Questioner 17: People would say, “absolutely not.”
Bernie: They would say what?
Questioner 17: “Absolutely not.” No. I mean, but it’s a little bit safe.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: You know, because in the sense that we’re all in the same club, and we kind of know the rules a little bit. We kind of share the same vocabulary.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: So for instance, when I was once talking to my staff, and they were having some problems, and I suggested to them that they could change their perceptions about things—I thought, you know, just as an exercise. You know, what is it about this client that you really hate, that you really like? And they got really, really pissed off. You know, that was difficult. And I struggled with having the skills to know how to help myself, and help them through that situation.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 17: [Is] that making any kind of sense to you?
Bernie: Some kind. Yeah. Who else has a notion of what it means to be a householder? What does it mean? If you have a notion, you gotta share a notion, right? Sometimes a notion.
Questioner 18: Well, I guess my notion is similar—just being in the world.
Bernie: Being in the world.
Questioner 18: Yeah. Like outside of this container.
Bernie: Outside of . . .
Questioner 18: . . . of a practice container—of a supportive, practice container.
Bernie: Yeah. Why do you go outside of a practice container?
Questioner 18: Well, not like . . . I don’t know. It’s just the world can be a little bit more bigger than my practice container at times.
Bernie: Uh huh. Peggy wants to say something.
Questioner 19 (Peggy): What’s coming up for me is I’m wondering if they’re—what’s really being asked here is “Where do I find sangha?”
Bernie: “Where do I find sangha?”
Questioner 19: And that there’s a kind of ready-made sangha here, in a sense—or what people think of as ready-made sangha.
Bernie: Ready-made sangha?
Questioner 19: In other words, a group of people who share in a particular kind of practice, who are all on the same—all have the same interest in awakening, and seek to support that same kind of work in one another.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 20: I actually think of householder as family. So, the people who have known me, and loved me my whole life, or not loved me my whole life. And you know, kids and husbands and neighbors, and you know, people who know me outside of this container. And there’s familiarity, there’s old patterns, there’s ways that we have relating with each other that you know, are pretty entrenched—some of them. And it’s easy to—if it’s a beginning practice—it’s easy to get to go back to those old patterns without the support.
Bernie: Uh huh. Now I’m getting confused.
Questioner 21: I’m wondering also if part of what’s coming up too is the idea that you know, we’re among a very small minority of people, as Buddhist practitioners. And when we go outside of our sangha, and we enter the work place, or could be even members of our family, the work we do here, the practice that we do, the discussions we have, the things we are learning about our mind, and about the connectedness of things is very different from what most people talk about over a couple beers. And so, how do we find a sense of belonging perhaps? And how do we interact with people who have no idea what it is we’re doing? I’m just a Buddhist freak.
Bernie: Uh huh.
Questioner 22: I can relate to suffering that a long time—feeling that somehow that I was separate from, somehow the path was over there, somehow the practice was over there, somehow I was . . . And then, you know it just became actually grist for the mill. It became letting go of the biggest attachment, which was my original teaching group. You know so it was really—it was walking through a desert to actually allow myself to actually experience what it is I’d been studying I guess. So, actually it was perfect, even though I kept saying it wasn’t. So, I remember thinking, “I’m a householder,” and the whole idea of a walker in two worlds—as if there were two worlds. But it was always that separation, as if I had to be a walker in two worlds. Or also this idea of a different—a fourth-way school is a school where we do the work in the world. So that was another way that I would explain it to myself—that it was OK to be . . . You know, and then it got to where it didn’t make that much of a difference. Although I enjoy being with like-minded people just as much as people who like football enjoy being with other people who like football. But then it became all the same thing anyway. But that took a long time.
Bernie: You have the mike.
Questioner 23: I think it is about like, you know here it’s clear that it’s the practice is the main purpose, but I feel that it’s you know the bills to be paid. There are situations that can easily trigger a habitual way. I guess it is a separation, but I do feel I’m in this kind of environment for quite a long time. But I do feel that, so what do I do? You know, can I stay in this container forever, or am I going to somehow get something and start working? Something that, I was educated, or like trained for my entire childhood. Like, one day you are going to be a member of society, and then maybe have a family, and then get the job, and then you know, kind of that thing. And then being here—I came here because I question about those things. I’m interested learning about—so OK that is just my whatever I believe. And I came here to really see truth. But it kind of challenges to so-called mainstream. I don’t know if it really exists, or in my mind. But it just, like I still carry that somehow I have to make my way through it. And then, whatever I understand as a household, or outside world is that something, you know people have an opinion about it. And then somehow, the practice like this is like a little smaller bubble that we kind of train. And then some people will find a way. And some people kind of come here to get some kind of understanding, but go back. But now I’m kind of questioning about is it just illusion itself too?
Bernie: And sangha, what do you mean by “sangha”? Yeah, you said, “It had something to do with sangha.” Everybody knows the word “sangha,” right?
Questioner 24: I think for me personally, that the community that lives here at Upaya is not my sole sangha. But I think that—what I was bringing up—was that I think that’s a perception in people’s mind that somehow, you know, I think that you can find sangha everywhere. But I think what is often thought of, when you think of the term “sangha,” is somebody who practices in the same tradition as you, or who practices, you know, Buddhist practices, like meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation. They meet once a week, they, you know, ascribe to a certain set of precepts, and you know, the kind of tradition that Brian was speaking about before. You know, the kinds of things that fit into that kind of idea about, you know, Buddhist practice.
Bernie: OK. He wants to say something.
Questioner 25: So, I’m wondering if sangha would be wherever Buddha is—wherever Buddha-nature is. And I don’t know where Buddha-nature is. I don’t know where Buddha is, but I’ve heard that it’s unobstructed. So if that’s the case, I feel like sangha is unobstructed also.
Bernie: It’s all becoming clear, right?
Questioner 26: I think it’s that whole notion of club that you’ve brought up, and it’s all different ways of talking about the club—extension of the club. I’d like to hear more about that.
Questioner 27: I remember something you said in one of your books that was a plunge for me—where you’re talking about the Heart Sutra—Maha Prajna, and you said—I was kind of going along with it just fine, you know. And then all the sudden you said, you know, “Prajna is, you know, when you step in dog crap, and your shoe smells, and you know, when the sun rises—that’s prajna. And even when a Nazi puts a young child into a gas chamber is prajna.” And it shook me up, and out of a conception I had of outside and inside the circle. And I’m reminded of that in this conversation.
Questioner 28: Yeah, I think it is—people are primarily asking how to bring what we might be learning or gaining in the club—this club, we’re in the clubhouse—out into other avenues of living life. And I think you’re all about that. You’re the plunge, and going to Auschwitz, and living on the streets is all about how to bring what we might be able to explore or investigate in the safety of the club and the clubroom out into a wider venue that we call, “life and death.”
Bernie: Yeah. There was another question, which I’m sort of in my head relating to this, but it may not be. Somebody said—or I wrote down at any rate—I wrote down, “How did I become me?” Does anybody remember? You asked that?
OK. So let’s clarify some terms. “Sangha” is used in many different way, right? Shakyamuni Buddha used “sangha” very specifically to mean—and Theravada tradition keeps that very specific meaning of sangha as, “the monks and nuns.” I don’t think it’s the four classes—there’s monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. But I think sangha is just the monks and nuns, and originally just the monks. But then sangha, I believe pre-existed that.
When I studied in the koan system with my teacher, we looked at sangha in three ways. That was one definition. Another definition of sangha was those folks that were on the path of wanting to realize and actualize the interdependence of life. Now that goes beyond Buddhism, right? Buddhists don’t have a lock on that notion of the interconnectedness of life. You’ll find that in most—in many—traditions, usually among the mystics in those traditions. And then, we also talked about sangha as being everyone. So those are sort of three ways of talking about sangha.
And another thing that I think of when I think of sangha is community. There are different traditions where the emphasis is practicing by yourself. You know, going off into a cave and doing a long time by yourself. And in fact when I was ready to leave the Zen Center Los Angeles—this was in ’79—and I told my teacher that I’m not gonna set up a Zen Center in New York. I’m just gonna go and start doing things, and relating to people, and whatever. And he says, “Oh no! No sir. I didn’t spend all this time training you!” And I said, “Well, look at Dhola. You had all these wonderful people in China that went off an lived under bridges, and whatever.” And he said, “No. You have to create a center, because that’s where you’re gonna learn. You’re gonna interact with people.” You’re gonna interact with people wherever you go. But for him and for many people, he quoted Yasutani Roshi, saying, “You have to have a club.” He didn’t say club. “You have to start a place, with a sangha.”
In the Jewish tradition, if you go to pray in a synagogue, you need ten people. That’s called a minyan—but it’s a sangha. If you don’t have ten, then theoretically—I shouldn’t say theoretically—if you don’t have the ten, God is not there. If you have nine, not enough, man. You’ve got to get that tenth. And in the Reformed—you said you’re in the Reformed movement—they even now, include in that movement women as part of a minyan. But in the Orthodox, no, no, it’s got to be ten men. Otherwise God aint there, man.
So, personally I think sangha is extremely important. And we talk about three treasures being Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. And Buddha as the awakened one, the stress is on associating with folks that we think of as awakened. And as you know now, my opinion is we can grade those persons depending on how they serve others. And Dharma is the giving of talks, and doing this kind of stuff. And then there’s Sangha. And you’ll find different places that stress—where the upayas are stressing one or the other of those three. And sangha’s the hardest, because it’s dealing with relationship—and relationship is the hardest.
It’s not so hard to listen to a talk, like we’re doing now, right? It’s not so hard to be an awakened one, because Shakyamuni Buddha said, “we’re all awakened.” And I—that’s not so difficult. But sangha, where we gotta interrelate, and deal with—boy, that’s tough.
For many years I was a fierce monk—I’m gonna say “monk” but I don’t like the word monk ’cause I was not celibate. I was married. I had children. So we use the word Priest, because I was ordained, I was a Priest. And for many years, my desire was that we would all stay together—the people that were training at Zen Center Los Angeles. We grew into a very large sangha. We owned most of a block, and there was probably 200 people living right on that block, and people around, and it was a large sangha. And I wanted to keep us all together. There were some people who were becoming teachers and they wanted to go out and set up places around. And I had this thought—to create like a pressure cooker where we’d all stay there, and we’d all train, and whatever.
And then I had an experience—this is after I had finished my studies with Maezumi Roshi. I had an experience going to work. I worked at McDonnell Douglas. I had a parallel life, working at McDonnell Douglas, and sort of helping my teacher run this big Zen Center. And in a carpool on the way to work, I had this experience of the hungry spirits of the world. It was immense. And it was an experience of suffering, that is, of needing, of wanting things—and wanting power, wanting enlightenment, wanting money, wanting food, wanting shelter, wanting love. It was an experience of all these hungry ghosts, which appear in the literature—in our Buddhist literature, you know—big stomachs and thin throats. I had this experience, and at the same time that I experienced this, I experienced it all as manifestations of me. And immediately what popped up is a vow to feed all of this, to work with all that.
And out of that came the sense that I had to change my venue. The venue had been the Zen Center of Los Angeles. And I had to change it to where the venue was going to be the world—society. And I went and moved to New York. I created a Zen center. It’s called the Zen Community New York. And at the same time I was working in the business world. And I started to do social action.
I put a lot of thought into what does it mean in those venues? What’s the equivalent of Sesshin in the business world, in social action, in theater? What’s the equivalent of Zazen in those? I looked at all of the upayas that we had, and I started to think about what—and the upayas, again, were for helping us to realize and actualize the interconnectedness of life, so, how is that—what would be upayas in these different spheres?
And then after a while, I stopped thinking about them as different spheres. It was just, you know, wherever I went, that’s where I was. So when I was in the Zen center in my Priest robes, my house was the zendo, and the liturgy hall. I did a lot of training in various liturgies. When I was in the business world, my household was the business world. When I was doing social engagement, that was my household.
So the house was where I was, and in reality that’s true for all of us. Wherever we are, it’s our house. Now, sometimes it doesn’t feel comfortable. We can choose among all of the various households that we meander in. So when you go on the streets with me, one of the things you have to do is aimlessly meander. And in life, we do that; we meander from place to place. And sometimes one thing feels more comfortable than another. For some, the sun feels very comfortable. For some, the snow. Like if you’re at Auschwitz with me, and it’s snowing, that’s a lot better than when it’s raining. It feels much more comfortable to be warmed by the snow than to be in the rain, and you know.
But at any rate, different things are more comfortable than others. And that’s good. There are times when, you know, if I want to learn to swim, it’s nice to have a teacher that knows how to swim, knows the right kind of forms to instruct me, so that I can learn to swim. But I wouldn’t go to him if I wanted to learn about carpentry. So to come to a place that’s teaching meditation and liturgy, that’s great when I want to learn meditation. The trap is when one begins to think that’s all of life, or that there’s an in and an out. Because what we emphasize in the world of Zen is that it’s got to be your full life.
If it’s not you’ve just created a new trap for yourself. You’ve found a place that’s comfortable, and you want to stay in that space of comfort, and you won’t grow. I mean, you’ll grow to a certain place. There’s got to be more. There’s got to be more, I think.
It doesn’t have to be more. I mean most of us do stay in what we feel is the comfort zone, right? But you’ve got to deal with the Lubavitcher brother. It’s not comfortable, but you grow. You let the Lubavitcher part of yourself manifest.
Audience member: I’ll wear a wig.
Bernie: Yeah, those are the forms; it’s not the spirit. You could be in a monastic setting and have a shaved head, and that’s a form, it’s not the spirit. In any of these venues that you go to, there’s usually a form. If you go bowling, we put on bowling shoes. If you go with me to refugee camps, you put on a red nose. Those are forms, and the point of forms, of course, there’s a certain comfort. It’s reassuring to have a sense that you know what’s going on. It’s not necessarily the best way to grow, if you stay in the places where you think you know what’s going on. But to do it for periods of time, and the period of time might be a lifetime. I’m not saying how short or long the period is. So for me, Bodhidharma facing a wall in a cave—that is a household, his house happened to be a cave. And for those here, you’re householders, and your house happens to be Upaya.
Now we do also use the term, “householder” vs. “monastic.” So that’s why I wanted to know what you all meant, because there’s not one right or wrong definition. What’s important is that we know what we mean—what is it that we’re talking about? And what do we mean by that—being a monastic?
So when I joined the Zen Center of Los Angeles, I (and my wife), we had been exploring joining a commune or creating a commune. We had meetings with people. We were going to . . . and instead we joined my teacher. At that time there was just one house. And in my head it was sort of a commune. We didn’t know that much. And we didn’t have many forms. I started teaching with my teacher Maezumi Roshi full-time—that means every day—around 1966. 1973 was when forms were introduced. So for those first seven years, we didn’t know about Oryoki. We didn’t know about many of these forms. In ’73 we had our first three-month training period. In Japanese [it’s] called Ango—Period of Peace. And he brought his brother from Japan to train me. I was the first sort of head of that training period. And all these forms start getting introduced.
And a lot of people that were practicing there wanted to split, because they thought that they were practicing Zen, and that Zen didn’t have forms, all that stuff. It’s early days, see. We were doing meditation. He was giving talks, and doing interviews. But it was a somewhat a freer spirit. He was sort of a radical guy.
And then we start introducing forms. We introduced Jukai, and a lot of people said, “Hey, you’re starting to make differentiations among people!” The Jukai people started to feel better, stronger, more important than the non-Jukai people. And little by little those things all got worked through.
And it wasn’t until I left, many years later, that I realized that as we started to do that, we became a monastic form. My teacher’s Japanese, and even though he didn’t bring many forms, it was still a monastic scene that he brought. He grew up in that kind of scene. His father was married. It was a family scene. But what I mean by monastic, in those days what that meant was that family did not count—was not important. They were called householders, and it was negative.
So I had kids. But I could not have done what my daughter and son-in-law are doing—bonding with the kids. My kids were born—I had to be in the Zendo when they were waking up. And then as they got older, and they were going to school, I was in the Zendo when they were leaving to go to school. I was in the Zendo every evening when they were going to bed. So I was an absentee parent, because I was being formed as a monastic, even though we were in a family scene. And that was correct.
My teacher’s kids didn’t know him. And there was a lot of resentment. There was a lot of resentment with my children and me. We worked it out over the years, but they remember their early days when I was not there. I was in the Zendo. And I believed what my teacher told me, which was that the Dharma is forever, marriage and family is just one lifetime. It’s not important. Not important.
So as I sort of developed, for me after that experience of the hungry ghosts of the world, everything was important. I couldn’t think of a realm that was not important. And wherever I went, that was my house. And for me, throughout all those years I felt like my mission—or extremely important—that I . . . to realize the oneness of life. So that never changed. But how to do that changed depending on where I was. And certain forms were appropriate in certain places, and certain forms appropriate in other places.
And so little by little that distinction for me disappeared. And so there were people in black clothes, and people in—I remember when we first moved to New York, and I was always interested in interfaith work. So the meditation hall had no images, so anybody could come and meditate. And in fact the first code of the Zen monastery—back in China, it was written into the code—you couldn’t have any images in the monastery.
Now of course Shakyamuni Buddha said the same thing. He said, “No images.” Because why? “If you have images, they’ll start worshipping me as a God.” Probably ninety percent of the Buddhists in the world—there are a lot of Buddhists in the world—and they don’t all do what you’re doing. Most of them are praying to Buddha for rain, for fertility, for end my illness, you know. But at any rate, he said, “No.” And most Theravadins do not have images. And the first Zen rule developed in China by Hyakujo said also “no images.” Because if you have them, all of the sudden what you’re going to find is that the Emperors, and the Lords, and the Daimios, all these people are gonna come around and ask to have services so that we can win the war against such and such, or we can have rain because, you know. It’ll change, and he said, “We want the monastery to remain as a training ground for realizing the oneness of life, not for that other stuff.” But as people we want all that other stuff.
And in the Zen world, there’s a wonderful guy you all know about, Dogen. You probably all know Keizan Zenji. Is that name familiar? He comes a couple of generations later. He’s called the mother of the Soto sect. Dogen is the father of the Soto sect. If Keizan Zenji didn’t come, the Soto sect would have probably disappeared. Dogen was a very strict monastic kind of guy, although in a certain phase of his life he writes Fukanzazengi, where he’s talking about everybody doing Zazen, not just the small group.
But any rate, Keizan enlarges, and creates temples all over the place, and creates liturgy, and Priests. The Priests go way up in numbers, and the big role is to pray for the health, and pray for different things. And that’s how it grows, ’cause that’s what most people want.
I don’t know how I got there. Do you know, Brian, how I got there?
Brian: It was making sense to me.
Audience member: You were talking about your life . . .
Bernie: I was talking about how I became me.
So before that experience, the only form that made any sense to me was the Zendo. I had dedicated my life to being in that Zendo. And those who came into the Zendo were walking into my sphere of influence in terms of my figuring out how to—in those days, it was how to save them by beating them into having realizations.
It’s a little bit like—I was an organic gardener, and chemical gardening, it’s a little bit like chemical gardening vs. organic gardening. In chemical gardening you’re pushing things to sprout, but it’s not so healthy. And I was pushing things to happen, and I feel it wasn’t such a healthy life. But it was my life, and it took a long time for me to work through all that conditioning. A long time, and I don’t know if I’ve worked it all through. I’m sure there’s remnants there. Yeah.
Questioner 29: I’d like to finish a thread that you started before we broke for dinner. You were talking about the three tenants. And what I’ve been wondering is, you come in with don’t-know mind, not knowing. And then you pay attention, do your deep listening, your witnessing. And then what I hear you saying is that the loving action emerges. And my question, what touchstone or compass do you use to make sure that the loving action is indeed a loving action?
Bernie: OK, you didn’t emphasize too much the bearing witness. You talk mostly about not knowing, deep listening. And then for me it’s extremely important, that bearing witness period where you’re really just being . . .
Questioner 29: . . . being there and groking it.
Bernie: . . . and groking. And the third, I just have faith that loving actions will arise. Or I have faith that the actions that arise are the best actions that can arise out of that situation. I don’t particularly like to say “loving” or —originally the word I had for that third tenant, it was a Hebrew word and I was looking for a translation, “Tikkun Olam.” Tikkun Olam is—Olam is the world. Tikkun is the hard one to translate. Sometimes it’s called healing. Sometimes it’s called repairing. Because it comes from a sense that the light of God fills this cup, and it’s so intense that the cup scatters into millions and millions of pieces. It’s a little bit like what happened to Avalokiteshvara. And then the role of the righteous one, or the Tzadik, is to bring those pieces back together. It’s very similar to what we’re talking about of realizing the interconnectedness of life. So it’s sort of like repairing that fragmented thing.
So anyway, I came up with loving actions, but the critical thing for me was that—it was my feeling that—if you could do this not knowing, and bearing witness, that what would come up would be those kinds of actions. Now, that’s an ideal case, because none of us are going to enter a situation really not knowing and totally open. And none of us can fully bear witness—get into a non-dual state with what the situation is. So I’ve developed upayas for each, and also for the third. So here’s actions one can do, and a way of doing it that will help to realize the interconnectedness of life.
That’s the practice part of it all. And the absolute part of it all is that I have this faith that that will occur.
Questioner 29: The key is that really bearing witness to the deepest extent possible.
Bernie: They’re all key. I mean you can’t fully bear witness if you’re attached to some kind of notion. So the not knowing is extremely important. But you can create practices to help let go of these attachments. You can create practices to experience, to taste what’s meant by bearing witness. They’re all key. I wouldn’t say one is more than the other. And if I had to say one thing is more important than the other, it’s the loving actions.
Questioner 29: And your faith is that if the first are consciously thoroughly done, then the third will emerge?
Questioner 29: OK. Thank you.
Bernie: Right. And then, different people will look at those actions and say, “That’s evil.” And other people will look at those actions and say, “That’s wonderful.” So people will judge the actions depending on their own attachments, and their own conditioning. So that’s why it’s hard to give it a name.
Questioner 29: Part of what’s in the back of my mind is that a few years ago I did some study about the question of evil, and there was this guy named Becker (I think). Do you know him? His book was basically showing how so much of the evil is done in the world because people are trying to squash out evil. I mean, Hitler was trying to get rid of—by his lights, you know, as horrible as it was, he was trying to get rid of the vermin in the world.
Questioner 29: So, that’s what brings up for me the question of what’s the touchstone? How can we keep from deluding ourselves?
Bernie: You can’t. I don’t think so. I think, being human, we can do continuous practice. It’s like if you’re in AA, and you’re doing the path, you’re doing the steps. There are some people that say, “I’ve reached the goal.” Those people have a problem. There’s just the path. And . . . there’s just the path.
Now I will say—but I don’t believe this, but I will say—I mean I do, in a way, believe this—I will say that if you do things like that, you will minimize the suffering around you—not get rid of it—minimize. How do you prove such a thing? I don’t know. But that’s my opinion, that by working in this way, you will minimize suffering. So as Roshi Joan said, bringing doctors to do all this wonderful work.
When I went on the streets—I’ll keep it to my experience—when I went on the streets, there were people giving us food. And it was wonderful that they were giving us food. We were hungry. And you know that they meant well. But most people that were giving us food, we could feel that they felt superior to us, and that was horrible—worse than the food. We can get food somewhere.
So that fed into the work that I’ve done. So I’m starting what I call cafés. These are soup kitchens. But when you walk into our café, you can’t tell who’s homeless, who’s poor, who’s rich. It feels like a café. We’ve got music. We’ve got wonderful food. We’ve got servers, but you don’t know, the servers could be homeless, they could be wealthy.
I’ve tried, based on my experience of living on the streets, I’ve tried to create an environment where there’s dignity. The environments I went into, there was love, but not dignity. I could feel the love of the people, but I also could feel that they were helping us. They were better than us, you know. They were not appreciating who we were, our life. But they were taking care.
And that’s the sense I had from some of the issues that Roshi Joan was talking about. Some of the doctors, they’re doing wonderful things. They mean well, and they’re helping. But the people they’re helping get that sense that they’re being helped rather than what we want. We want love and dignity. And we want to be listened to, much more than being helped.
And that’s what I thought . . . in terms of what I call a sustainable marriage, or the dokusan room, or whatever. People want to be heard. And they want there to be dignity, not necessarily that the person that they’re talking to is better than them in any kind of way—in any kind of way.
Questioner 30: You mentioned faith.
Questioner 30: Yeah. Do you pray?
Bernie: Do I pray?
Questioner 30: And where does faith come into your practice?
Bernie: Uh huh. So, have you read Dogen’s Shobogenzo? Dogen Zenji?
Questioner 30: A little bit.
Bernie: OK. He has a whole chapter on faith, and he said it’s the most important thing. Did you know that? So, what is faith? Do I pray? I don’t pray to an exterior being. I don’t necessarily use the prayer, but if somebody’s not feeling well, I pray that they feel better, you know. I’m not praying though to some other . . . You probably chant vows every day here. Are they prayers? What does it all mean?
So, in the Hassidic tradition, the founder was a guy that went by name Baal Shem Tov—Man of Good Name. And he introduced a form of prayer in which you become one. It’s called bearing witness. It’s a total unification with the universe. And so it’s like changing the energy of the universe by adding your vibes to the scene.
Most times when we say “pray,” right, we mean to something external. And I would say that most Buddhists in the world—because most Buddhists in the world are Asian Buddhists that are praying—that are praying to something external. It’s not what we do.
So when you’re doing liturgy, and you’re having these dedications, it shouldn’t be that (it shouldn’t be)—my opinion is that it should not be that it’s some external being to have to make it all work. But it should be a full merging into the feeling that this should happen. War should end! Peace on earth! We could have those feelings. Clean air! We can have those feelings.
And what happens if we do, they create trim tabs in us so that we work towards that. So that becomes part of our path. At least that’s how I look at it.
Questioner 31 (Brian): I have a question I know I’ve asked many times in my life before. It’s a little bit like this. It’s back to this infinite circle concept that is part of your dharma—the notion of an absolute right or wrong. I’ve struggled with this concept, and I get it in some way. And then you look at something in the world, and you know it is absolutely wrong.
Bernie: Yeah. It’s a hard practice, man. Infinite circle—he’s talking about what I call maha. It’s not maha prajna para, but it’s maha, it means big. But it means so big that there’s nothing outside of it. And that creates . . . because there are things that we don’t want to say they’re part of us. I mean if I have realized and experienced the oneness of the whole world, then all that stuff is me? Hitler’s me? Famine is me? That’s a horrendous thought. So there’s a couple of options. We can say, “No, it’s not me,” and therefore I don’t want to realize the interconnectedness of all life. Now, Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Tough. We are one body, and it’s only our thinking that prevents us from seeing—our delusions, our attachments to thoughts—that prevents us from seeing that.”
So that’s what Buddhism is about. And it does bring that dilemma. So for example, it doesn’t mean just because this is all you, you don’t do things about it. So if we go back to the simpler thing, where you—Brian has realized the interconnectedness of Brian. And seeing that, he says, “Well, is that cancer in me, me? I don’t want that to be part of me. I don’t like cancer.” But it’s you. Does that mean you have to like it? No. Does that mean you can figure out what to do? Yes.
So even though it’s you, you might decide to remove it—surgically. You might decide to attack it with radiation, or harsh chemicals, depending on who you are. In Christian Science, you couldn’t do those things. You could die, but you wouldn’t be combating yourself. It’s just like Gandhi, who it’s all me, and if somebody’s going to kill me, then they’re going to kill me. But you could also realize the interconnectedness of life, and take different actions. You can’t say which actions are right or wrong. They’re very dependent on the particular environment.
So I’ve been asked at different talks if I had the opportunity to kill Hitler, would I, in the midst of all that? And I said, “Yes.” And I call myself a pacifist, and people got really pissed at me. “How could you do that?” And in the same way I would—for example, if my hand starts getting gangrened, I would gut it off, to save the other part, you know. But some people wouldn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re all one—that it’s all interconnected. It doesn’t mean just because it’s all interconnected, that we have to like—we can have preferences. And it doesn’t necessarily determine what those actions are going to be. In my way of thinking, they’ll be to minimize the suffering. So cutting off my gangrene arm is minimizing the suffering of this one body. But the arm certainly doesn’t think so.
And my sense is that’s probably the hardest part of this—that we are all interconnected. The fact that there’s pieces of us, whether it’s you or the whole world, there’s pieces that we don’t like, man. And we don’t want to admit that’s also us. Cause no there’s a little bit of a responsibility, “What do I do, now that that’s me? How do I function? What do I do?”
Oops, there has to be a mike. And we’re almost over, so we’ll have one more, after you, which will bring us over the limit.
Questioner 32: I was just wondering about what you were talking about, right here isn’t that like when you would say the differences are relative nature vs. absolute? I mean we, everything that arises, our psyche—we all have all of it. All of it in the container is us. But it’s the relative nature, where as the absolute is that which is the consciousness from which all arises. So when we’re—that’s the simple way to understand that. What do you think? Is that, would you say . . .
Bernie: I’d say that’s a nice way of putting it. It works for you. I don’t know if it works for everybody else. But absolute and relative are both relative terms. That’s a dualistic concept, absolute and relative.
Questioner 32: The concept of absolute . . .
Bernie: . . . is a relative term.
Questioner 32: But that would be . . .
Bernie: You can’t have the concept of absolute without the other thing . . .
Questioner 32: Yeah, right. But just for our general, working in our . . . Oh, I hear, wait. Just as your life evolved, your life, when I hear your story, I’m hearing like a psychological and spiritual change. Do you think we, as humanity is also doing that?
Bernie: Well certainly I think we’re all changing. I think everything is change. Now, it is also my opinion, you know Intela Desjardin, and The Evolution of Consciousness, to where at some point it evolves to where it’s all interconnected and whatever. So that’s a process of evolving. What he also talks about is that it’s evolving to God. And God is the one who started that process, so it’s all one thing, but it’s evolving.
Yeah I like that theory. I mean, I like a lot of theories. And they’re all theories. I’m such a simple guy that we could talk about various theories, and the bottom line is that moment after moment what I do is try to approach this moment, from a standpoint of not-knowing, and try to bear witness to what’s happening now, and see the actions that arise.
And then we can write theories about it, and talk about it in different ways. And I do. After all, I’m an engineer, a mathematician, and all these different things, but that’s not how I live my life. For me those are all just theories and whatever. But that’s one that I like.
When I first got involved in Zen, the whole notion that we’re all interconnected was considered a cult. Zen was considered a cult. And now, that’s what you see on TV. We’re all interconnected. So something’s changed in the consciousness of the planet. I mean it’s like you say, “We’re all interconnected,” and people say, “So, big deal. Everybody knows that.” So something’s evolved for sure. That doesn’t mean just because we can talk about it that we’ve experienced it. And how can we tell? You all know. We can tell how deeply we’ve experienced it, how we serve others.
Roshi Joan: I wanted to say a few things before Bernie talks. When Bernie and I met, I had been practicing since ’65. I then had a wonderful Korean teacher I began with, then in ’75—very strong practice. He was a radical, but strict, crazy—I learned a lot practicing with him. I became a teacher in his community, but he wasn’t so involved in social action. That really wasn’t his interest. You know, I’m not sure what his main interest was. It was probably everything. But, the sort of feeling that I had from the 1960s, being in the civil rights and anti-war movement—it wasn’t quite a fit.
And so when I met Thich Nhat Hanh more intimately—I met him in ’66—that definitely was a game-changer for me, in terms of the relationship between Buddhism and social action. But it was in ’85 that I met him again, and went to Plum Village. And it was just Thich Nhat Hanh, myself, Sister Chung Kang, and Baker Roshi, who was in a sort of crushed state. And I remember it was in very early spring—the daffodils were just coming up, and that Thay really had a vision that was more integrated in terms of what I felt practice for me was about. It was not only the deep practice of meditation, but also being deeply socially engaged.
And so I spent a decade—you know, received the Lamp Transmission, the blessing so to speak, became a teacher in his lineage. And I appreciated so much what Thich Nhat had to offer. But I have to say between the cultural difference, the gender difference—he was so nice, in a way. And I always felt like I was a bull in a china shop. You know, I was kind of robust, and out there—I never felt quite—you know, I couldn’t talk to him—it’s just this sort of Buddha field. And we actually spent a lot of intimate time together, the two of us, or John Connolly, and him. But it was never this kind of straight across the pipe feeling.
And I met Bernie over the years, and when he and I reencountered each other, it was like yeah, here’s somebody—I mean for me a teacher’s not somebody who’s up there, it’s someone who’s accompanying you—who’s a friend. I realized this is somebody I could talk to. His ethics, and the ethos really fit with me, practice was great. Our sesshins were not in a beautiful place like this. They were in Schoolhouse Six, which was an abandoned, wrecked schoolhouse. Samu, we put on gloves, and picked up condoms, and syringes. We didn’t have zafus. We were in the outdoors, sitting in broken concrete weeds. We were sitting on top of concrete blocks and old tires. We were living this life—it was totally different, OK.
Yeah, this is great. I didn’t have to do a twelve-month year. I spent a lot of time in Yonkers, working with Bernie. And I was ordained in an AIDS clinic, which just felt right, you know, for the kind of person I was.
I also realized that we need refuges—that, you know, Bernie needs to come here. I need to come here, because I’m all over the world—and many places in really rough circumstances. You know, sitting in Northern Thailand on a platform—Julia’s been there—with all these women who are H.I.V.—who are now their sort of village leaders, doing things that are really tough. Then it’s great to have a place where you can practice where there’s peace and beauty.
And the sense of inside and outside doesn’t exist for me. I was saying to Bernie when we were walking down here, we have this young resident, he said, “I really want to do social action.” I said, “Great. Everybody who comes through the door of this temple is suffering.”
So often we want to identify with some super-tragic place, or some really heroic activity, but one of the beauties of what Bernie shared with us last night is that being a householder means that the whole world is your house. The whole world is your house. You know, it’s the airport, it’s here, it’s Rwanda, New York City, it’s downtown Santa Fe.
And this kind of inside/outside—I’m so glad you said it, poor thing got picked on for a couple of days—but anyway, because a lot of us have this, “there’s this, and then there’s that.” There’s no this and that. It’s the whole thing. And the virtue of being in a place like this is that you can realize it. The non-virtue is you can forget it. It’s so easy to forget in the privilege of our situation. But here also you can build capacity. But there, which is the same place, you also build capacity.
So I know that many of us have expectations of how teachers should be. And as you’ve seen in this time with Bernie, some of the teachers that look the greatest have the biggest feed at play. You know, they got the best outfits, the best looking monasteries, you know, they’ve got the most interesting expression on their face, but they’re not right. They’re deluded.
And sometimes our idea of what a teacher is, is not met until you get older and you recognize that what you want is not something that pours down . . . you want a relationship that is characterized by authenticity. It’s just honest, transparent, unfiltered.
So I know Bernie’s schedule is just so dense, it’s kind of like mine. To get him to come here is like a lift, but you know, we’re Dharma buddies, so it’s really a joy for me that he took time, not only to be with us in this way—to share his heart and mind—and to kind of help us to see things in a different way.
I love this quote that Aiken Roshi sent me. He translated, or shared one time, it says, “The Vegetable Root Sutra—Water that is too pure has no fish.” You know, the Dharma includes everything. It’s everything. It’s not here, special. It’s everything. And Bernie has carried this his whole Dharma life. He gave away a place much more beautiful than this to go live in the slums. And I choose to travel in really rugged situations, and serve in really unpleasant situations a good part of the time. But at the same time, I’m lucky enough to maintain and nurse this beautiful place that I can come back to—that you practice in.
So I wanted to say those few words to you, because I think my heart’s gratitude is really so great for, you know, everything we’ve been through together. We’re Dharma friends, but also you taking the time to be here, so thank you.
Bernie: Our last session together—I just want to say a couple of words, and then I want to go around like we did at the beginning, but this time asking you to say what the one thing that you think you’re taking away with you from our time together.
As Roshi Joan said, when we were walking down, she mentioned going to special spots for socially engaged work, and how it reminded me of a time I was at an event at Tricycle. They used to put on every year—I don’t think they do it anymore—Change Your Mind Day. And I have a hard time at some of those kinds of wonderful talks. At any rate, so I gave my talk, and the presenter normally sits up on the stage. And there’s a fairly large group, and I took the mike off of the wire, and start walking around with it, and put my nose on and started talking. And then there was one woman who said, “How do I do social action? It’s too complicated. What do I do? Can you give me any advice?”
So, I went over to her. I said, “Could you please stand up? What’s your name?”
“Genjo, why don’t you say ‘hello’ to this nice young lady next to you?”
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Hello.”
Audience member (Karen): Hi Genjo.
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “What’s your name?”
Karen: I’m Karen.
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Hi Karen.”
Bernie: And could you ask her, is there any way you could serve her?
[Bernie in Genjo’s voice]: “Is there any way I could be of service to you today?”
Bernie: And then I sat down.
So, It’s about that simple. You know, you don’t have to look for any particular worlds. It’s right here, right now.
OK. Also at breakfast, Genjo mentioned that he’d like to come to Auschwitz, and I couldn’t even remember if I taught anything—I never even remember what I say. So I asked Joan, “Did I mention Auschwitz?” “Yes you did.”
So I just wanted to offer the invitation. If any of you have nothing to do the first week of November—or if you want the experience of your life—you can come. We still have space. It’s quite . . . I have never—I haven’t stopped learning from Auschwitz. I stopped going around the eighth year. And then I went back on the tenth year, because there was a tenth anniversary. And it was just amazing for me. So I kept going. And then I stopped again.
As part of what I like to do when I’m teaching, or doing things is to hand it over, so that there’s a next generation. I particularly, from the very first year, wanted our Polish contingent—we have groups all around, and there’s a Polish Peacemaker community, led by a wonderful guy, André. André’s been to every one, and helped me organize—I could never have organized it the way I did without his help. He was in the Underground, and in the Solidarity Movement, actually had to flee Poland, took me to meet leaders of the Solidarity Movement. He’s an amazing guy. And I wanted him to take it over, but he’s not that kind of style.
So at any rate, I stopped again. And then a student, Peter Matthiessen . . . Peter Matthiessen came the first retreat, and started to write. He’s a writer. He’s many things, but one of them is a writer. And he started to write about the retreat—not so much about the retreat—about the anger, the guilt, the blame, all the stuff that comes up. So that’s seventeen years ago, he started. And he came back the second or third time—can’t remember—and then a couple of years ago, I had stopped coming. He called me, and said, “I need to go back.” He’s still working on the manuscript, seventeen years. He said, “I have some unresolved things. I need to go back. Are you going?” I said, “Well, I’ve stopped.” Someone else, actually Steve Moore was now running it. And he said, “Well, would you go once more with me?” So, I was going to do a very sort of secretive retreat—invite about ten people, because for me, that retreat doesn’t work unless you have a diversity. I need people from different aspects of life. So I said, “I’ll invite some people, but I’ll keep it secret, because Fleet’s organizing one.” And so I told Fleet, and he said, “Well, nobody signed up yet, and if you’re gonna do it, word will leek out.” I said, “It won’t.” He said, “Word will leek out. It’d be too complicated.” So he didn’t do it that year, and a lot of people came—about 160. It’s the most we could house. We stopped it at 160. It filled up in about two months. We started a year before, but it filled up right away.
And Peter came. He finished one manuscript, which was more non-fiction, which my wife and I read. He’s very meticulous, Peter, and also very cautious. He’s nervous—he’s such an amazing guy. But he’s nervous, because he’s not Jewish—to publish something around Auschwitz. And one of the issues was his friend, William Styron, who many of you know wrote Sophie’s Choice, and was criticized by Jews all over the place. “How could you write something?” It’s such a weird world we live in. But Peter’s very sensitive, and it’s complicated. So it’s going to be a wonderful book, because the issues are complicated, you know. It’s very easy to get mad, or to think “Oh, this is how we’re going to resolve it.” But we as humans are very complicated beings. And he’s dealing with all of that kind of stuff.
So he’s decided to do it as a fiction. And he has rewritten it. And Eve and I are supposed to get the manuscript soon. And he doesn’t know if he’ll ever publish it. You know, he’s been working seventeen years, this is a major work for him, but he’s not sure if he’ll publish it. But both Eve and I encourage him to publish it, but he’s a stubborn guy. You know, he’s like Roshi Joan. All these old people get set in their ways. So, I went back with him, and it’s now something I have to do each year. Auschwitz is not done with me. It’s the only way I can say it.
Let me give you one other thing.
About—I’m gonna make up a number, because I can’t remember years—about eight years ago, we have Spirit Holders. So as I say, the teacher is Auschwitz. But we have a set of Spirit Holders—a German man, a Polish man, myself, my wife, Israeli—the Rabbi, Swiss—some people that have been to almost all of the retreats. And we meet each day to get a sense of how it feels—like how it feels. And then we might shift the schedule, or change things.
So about eight years ago, I wasn’t there, and our German Spirit Holder, who was Heinz Jurgen who some people here know, said—when we sit, we sit in the morning three periods, in the afternoon three periods, and during some of those periods we chant names of people that have died there—and he said/suggested the idea of chanting names of the S.S.—the so called perpetrators. And about half to three quarters of the retreat almost left. It was . . . the suggestion of that was . . . so, I heard about it when the retreat ended. The next year I went back, and I made that the theme of the retreat.
And there was a woman that was coming each year; she was trained by Marshall Rosenberg in Non-Violent Communication, an Israeli. She had been a police detective before becoming a trainer of N.V.C. in Israel—worked with Israelis and Palestinians, a beautiful woman. And during one of the councils, we did Spiral, and she came up to me, and she said, “You have to hold me, because I’m ready to kill Heinz Jurgen.” And she meant it.
So there’s a woman trained in teaching, and being a trainer of N.V.C., and she was ready to kill this guy for his bringing this thing up. Well, the Rabbi, who’s five generations Israeli, Ohad Ezrahi, created a service, or a process around the aggressor within us. And that’s been happening for the last five years. And for me, it’s been an extremely informative piece of that retreat.
So I’m just giving you a flavor of . . . there’s many things that go on at that particular retreat, and they’re all—I think—rather important.
OK, So I’m just inviting. If you have it in mind, it’s five days, Monday through Friday. It ends with a Sabbath meal. And then after the Sabbath meal—that’s optional—then there’s an ending group, people share, and entertain. You have magicians, all kinds of people come. The weekend before we have a two-day training in Council work, because we do Council every morning. But also there’s particular energies at Auschwitz, so we offer Council training for those who want to have it. Fleet does that. Fleet Maull does it, and we also, if you’ve been, if it’s the first time that you’ve been there, we don’t allow you to take any roles. We want you just to bear witness to the retreat. So even if you’re a trained Council Facilitator, you can’t be in that role. First year, nobody’s in a role, just bearing witness. But if you’ve been there before, and you go through the training that we do, you can be a Co-Facilitator, and then little by little, a Facilitator. All the Facilitators have been to probably at least ten retreats, you know. So it’s a very experienced staff.
You wanted to say something?
Audience member: Something similar happened to what you were saying, chanting the names of S.S. people. In Holland we have liberation day on May 5th, and Memorial Day on May 4th. And in a village close to the German border, the national committee that was organizing, you know, the particular day, wanted to include the German soldiers that were buried in the cemetery in that village. And they asked the Major if he agreed, and he did. So they included, you know, everybody that suffered from the war. And it was a big, very intense reaction, especially from the Jewish community, but also from all of the people. And also a lot of support of, you know, including, just seeing that there’s been so much suffering. And in the suffering, there’s no difference also.
Bernie: Yeah, we’re amazing people. I mean the club effect, we talked about clubs, the club effect is huge.
Two years ago we had a youth program there. We invited youth from 16 to 24, I think was the age group—I can’t remember. And we had youth from Palestine, from Israel, from Switzerland, from Poland, from Germany, from the U.S., Belgium, quite a number. And the coordinator for the Palestinian youth is a beautiful man who now comes each year. He’s an Israeli Palestinian Imam. A beautiful voice, and his wife is Jewish, and teaches turning, Haron Zalikha. We introduced Zalikha to people in Palestine. You didn’t necessarily see Zalikha, but she was here for Joanie’s party. But anyway, he’s a beautiful man, and I asked him to talk at one of the preliminaries. Depending on what’s happening, we sort of choose how we’re going to do that night. We’ve done an evening with this man who died. Did I mention a man, August, who died? He just died this week, we started a hospice, and he died in the hospice. He was a . . . I said I was going to let you guys talk, but . . .
So, August was one of the few to escape from Auschwitz. He was a Polish prisoner. He was in Auschwitz I, that’s where most of the Polish people were interned, but he escaped—it was early on. A group of about thirty planned an escape, maybe fifty planned it. About thirty escaped, and about six of them actually escaped. The others were all caught and killed. But also for each of the six that escaped, I think 200 or 300 people were killed, for each person. So it’s a heavy thing to escape.
At any rate, he’s one that escaped, and he came to our second retreat, the second year. And at the end we had in those early days, we had a thing where we invited people to join the Zen Peacemakers. Wherever they were, whatever sangha, they could join the Zen Peacemakers, there’s an international movement. And he jumped in to the circle of people wanting to join the Zen Peacemakers, and I said to André, “André, does he [because August does not speak English], does he know what he’s jumping into?” So André explained, he says, “Oh, he wants to become a Peacemaker.” So he then came to all our retreats from then on—became very close with André.
And then about ten years ago, he wanted to meet with André and myself. And he said he wants to do something for the survivors, because they’re all dying, you know, of age. And we decided to do a hospice. And in the year 2000, there was a groundbreaking for—it was the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is in January, very cold. And it was a big deal, and there was a big interfaith thing, and the Rabbi from Berlin came, all kinds of people, and I was a Buddhist representative. But then the President of Poland was there, and members from their Parliament, and all the survivors—it was a huge thing.
And then about ten minutes away was the place where the hospice was going to be built. And there was a groundbreaking, and the President, myself, and August, this man, August, you know, dug the hole, and put the thing in—a tube in the ground. And in that tube was the flag of Poland, the flag of Auschwitzim, the logo of the survivors, Auschwitz survivors, and the Zen Peacemakers logo. And the President of Poland said that our retreat has caused more peace, more healing than anything he’s seen around Auschwitz. And that’s why he had invited me to come.
But at any rate, the hospice was built. Its opening day was on the seventieth anniversary of August escaping from Auschwitz. And he just died about three days ago, in the hospice.
And I don’t know why I got on that track. Oh, the Imam! Yeah.
So, I asked the Imam to talk. We do things in different places, and a couple of years we did an evening in a torture room, in Auschwitz I, you know, above where the firings wall is, where the cells were. In the attic there’s a torture room, and August was tortured in there. So we met there once, twice, with him and a woman that was tortured there.
We always meet one evening in the barracks, late at night. We always meet in the children’s barrack, and in something that’s called the women’s barrack. Normally there’s a vigil, an overnight vigil in the women’s barrack. What’s called the women’s barrack is a barrack where women got to a place where they couldn’t work. They were put there—not given any food—they were just put there to die. It might take days, or whatever. So we had the vigil there.
Krishna Das came last year. And we always have a service there, Kaddish there, and different kinds of things. And then he went back and sang to the women. And he spoke to me after. He said he first apologized that he wasn’t singing in their language, but he just felt the place filling up with people.
And then for months after that, I mean people would tell me they would be at a Kirtan concert—he does concert, Kirtan—and he was still talking about how that’s the largest audience he’s ever sang to. That he has sang to, you know, thousands in different places, whatever, but it was extremely transformative for him—to be able to sing to all those women.
So, I asked the Imam to speak, and before the retreat I was sitting in this square called Kazimierz, it was the old Jewish center in Kraków. And I had lunch with a progressive Jewish family from California—a husband, wife, and two children that were coming to the retreat. And I asked the Imam to talk one evening. And after he did, that night, this guy came up to me and said, “How dare you allow a Palestinian to talk here!?” The first night I talk about the usual clubs, and what this retreat is all about. And I said, “Oh, that’s a problem, huh?”
And so, I introduced him to Ihab, and I said, “Why don’t you tell him what the problem is?” And they spoke until about one or two in the morning. He was a little bit more cordial. But at the end of the retreat, his family thought it was very, very important, whatever. He came up to me, and he said, “You should never allow Palestinians here.” So, he went home angry. I don’t know what else went on, but he was still angry about that.
So you may come and get angry. Or you may come and feel some other things. It was very important for Ihab. His wife is Jewish Israeli. And they were married ten years at that point, with two children, beautiful children. And he called her that second night, and she told him that for the first time in their relationship that most of her family died there. She had never talked to him about—even though for a year he was organizing bringing youth there, so it was a topic—but she couldn’t share, couldn’t talk about that. And she didn’t come. It was his coming, and her hearing the effect on him of coming—this opened her up. So their relationship became much stronger.
Audience Member 1: So, what I’ll take away is—having spent lots of last night awake, and thinking about things. And thinking, well, what I would ask Bernie Roshi is . . . and then I think, well, you know what he’s going to say. He’s going to say, “Go back to the three precepts—not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.” So, I’ll try to remember that, and do it.
Audience Member 2: Yeah, I share that—just the simplicity of that. So the take-away for me is the Keep on Truckin.
Audience Member 3: First of all, thank you so much. Being in your presence has been a gift to me. And I think my take-away is the incredible power of listening.
Audience Member 4: I realize that I’ve met a dharma companion, and I think there will be a long association between myself and Roshi Bernie. And I just wrote my wife, inviting her to the Auschwitz—to come with me, saying that I was committed to go for my fifty-eighth birthday—on my fifty-eighth birthday. And I’ve always known I wanted to go to Auschwitz, and now I know why I’ve waited—to be able to go with Bernie. Two things: One, there was a massacre in Seattle a couple years ago, where we were sitting in Sesshin and we heard the shots. We didn’t quite know what it was, but later found out that seven people (I think it was seven people) had been shot and killed in one house. And there was a multiface service a week or ten days later, and one of the things that I was sure to do for my part of representing the Buddhist community was to read all of the names, including the shooter who had killed himself. And there was a big sigh in my part of the audience that was present. But I knew it had to be done. And another one; I was at a retreat at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, just after 9/11, and in New York state. And the Sesshin was so close to the retreat; I could barely get a flight. The flights had just come back on. And everyone at the retreat—I don’t know if everyone felt it, but I certainly felt it—that we were breathing the breaths that couldn’t be breathed by those who died so suddenly.
Audience Member 5: I feel like I’m continuously, you know, this is the second time I’ve heard you speak. And the first time it took me six months to even write my paper for the chaplaincy—because, just to digest what Bearing Witness meant. And so I feel like I’ve gotten some . . . there are tears coming up . . . I’ve gotten a deeper understanding about it. And I’ve got a sensation that I can’t articulate about the non-duality, that I’m just going to sit with. And . . . the vulnerability of being able to bear witness, and doing nothing action, and that it’s an internal—resiliency is an internal process as well as an external process, and it doesn’t happen over night. It’s hitting the edge of capacity, and coming back, and coming back out again. But it’s coming back out again, and each time being able to bear witness deeper, and deeper. The necessity of that in today’s world, the loving action.
Audience Member 6: I’m also feeling emotional—talk about the oneness. I think I got a lot of pearls from the last three days. One big one is the ingredient of faith, in addition to the first two tenets—the having faith that loving action will arise. And yesterday Roshi, in the kitchen, shared that you are our dharma grandfather. And excuse my language, but I feel really grateful to be standing on the shoulders of such a compassionate bad ass. Thank you.
Audience Member 7: I too am very grateful to be in your presence. I’ve followed your work for a long time. You’ve really underlined for me that impermanence is not something to be afraid of—that it’s a great gift. It’s the dharma field in which we play and create. And the importance of groking before you start playing.
Audience Member 8: Thank you very much for coming. And what I enjoyed the most was to see the dharma. And it’s inspiring to me. Thank you.
Audience Member 9: This weekend I really enjoyed your ordinariness. And I like your snowy white mane, your lovely warm eyes. There’s so much love—it’s very nourishing to be in your presence. And I enjoy how engaged everyone is in your presence. And also, I really appreciated hearing about your life’s work.
Audience Member 10: I think I’m taking away a deeper sense of the liberating potential of leaning into fear—and sitting in fear—and also surrendering, and letting go. Thank you.
Audience Member 11: I spent a lot of the weekend actually thinking about my father, who’s alive, and who’s really been in many ways the most important person in my life—and a very, very powerful moral compass for me, and a lot of heart. And we’re Jewish. So when I was young, we lived overseas, and my dad was working in East Africa. And then we traveled for a long time. And the one country that we completely avoided was Germany. And it was always so strange for me to watch my father, who was so loving, and so open, step into this place of real anger and hatred. And it’s kind of ironic, because we actually bought a VW camper. We went to Germany to do that, and then left. But I’ve also been spending a lot of the weekend really contemplating the power of going into the places that scare me. We talked about that some, and recognizing that karmically there’s a hard edge for me there—around the Holocaust, and around Germans. And that fear is always in the places where I bump into the places where the heart is closed. And I’ve done a number of my own types of plunges over the year, because I at some level have recognized the power of going into places that I’m afraid of. And last night I actually—I drove home to Albuquerque. I was exhausted, and decided I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. And I dreamed. In my dream I was in the Middle East with my father. And I’ve actually lived in Israel, and spent time in the Middle East as well. But in my dream, my father and I were waiting for the rest of the family, and we were somewhere in the Middle East. And at some point I realized the rest of the family were gone. They’d been taken, and put in prison or killed. And I woke up with a start, and just this incredible immense sense of—some mix of love and sadness. And so, I think what’s next is I’m going to see if my father will come with me to Auschwitz. Thank you.
Audience Member 12: First I just want to say thank you. It’s hard for me to come up with just one thing, because there’s so many things that I’m taking away. Just a couple—I read your book on Bearing Witness a couple years ago. And at that time, I knew I wanted to meet you. So, I realized that. But I hadn’t really taken in the practice of the tenets at that time. This past year, when my brother was diagnosed with leukemia, we pulled out Joan’s book on being with dying. And I feel like that was a huge plunge for our family. And we really—we did live those tenets through that process. It’s all kind of coming together for me here—how much that was true. So that’s one thing—it’s just kind of reflecting back on what that was, and having a way of speaking about it. One of my questions when I came here had to do with the environment. And there’s something in your conversation about that, where you said all you know, in your opinion, is to follow those tenets. And the piece that was really helpful to me is to know that you’re doing your best. And sort of the forgiveness of all those other things that I think I should be doing, and that’s not good enough. So, that’s a really important piece for me, that I’m doing my best.
Audience Member 13: I want to continue with this work, and learn more of the upayas of how you go through those—the Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and the Loving Action. And I believe you have a group in Boulder. Is that right? Bernie: Outside Lafayette. Audience Member 13: In Lafayette. OK. Bernie: Not that I have a group. They’re my family, my wife’s family; they’re all very different. But there is a group in Lafayette. Audience Member 13: But there is a Zen Peacemaker group? Bernie: Yeah. It’s part of the family. That particular group is led by a man that I’ve made a Roshi, but he was a dharma successor of my teacher. So, part of the White Plum—that’s the family of my family—a little bit complicated. But they are . . . and his wife runs a country place. I just installed her as Abbot at that place. So there’s a male teacher, and a female teacher. And they’re part of our family. Audience Member 13: OK. So there, is that possibility. Bernie: But you’re part of the family. Audience Member 13: All right. So, thank you.
Audience Member 14: Thank you very much. This has been very rich for me. You asked about take-aways, and two of the most important for me was number one; you can tell the quality of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others. And the other is the importance of the essential nature of recognizing and experiencing the interdependence of all things—the connectedness of all things. Thank you very much.
Audience Member 15: Takeaways—something you said at dinner the other night, which was how often Zen can cultivate arrogance. And I really appreciated how you, for all of the study that you’ve done, kind of stripped it down, stripped down all of those texts and translations, and forms, to just being. And so that’s inspiration to see. And the other—I run an organization, and so often, you know, my board, and all the people who depend on us, and that stuff, reward me for having answers. You know, you get compensated better, all those things, because you have good answers. And it was good to be reminded that the reward is in sitting with the questions. So, thank you.
Audience Member 16: Thank you. I think what you’ve allowed me to really touch in with is that whole simple thing of keeping things simple. I’ve been really touched by that spaciousness that you’ve created here. It’s actually one of the things I really, really engaged with. It’s simply witnessing others, and other’s stories. Just now, just listening to people has been very heart opening. You talked yesterday about the kind of tussle with cancer cells, and white blood cells in a story. I’m not quite sure why I’m sharing this, but I mean several years ago I had cancer. And the G.P. told me something about lymphocytes, white blood cells. And actually, they don’t have to battle. Because actually, the nucleus of the lymphocyte can’t change. And actually that really allowed me to sit with myself in a much more simple way, that I actually just embrace. You don’t have to fight.
Audience Member 17: I think the impact of this weekend was really huge. There were many things that I feel the seed was planted. I received a seed that I can just now . . . to take care. So, thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Audience Member 18: I want to thank Roshi Joan for asking that I attend this. And I’m a student here, and new in the chaplaincy program. And I’ve been practicing for the last eight years in Kagyu Nima Buddhism. So it’s . . . You know, many years ago I was in San Francisco. I stopped in at the Zen Center. And they were all—had to sit against—you know, had to face the wall. And I thought this is too intense. So I got up and left. I went out, and smoked a joint. And that was the end of it. I was like I can’t do this, it’s too much! Many, many years ago. And it’s interesting to come back into Zen in this particular lineage, and I appreciate it very much. And to see that really, the only club that causes any sense of duality is within myself. Clubs are important, but the duality aspect is something that I can disengage from, as I become more interconnected. And another thing that I appreciate in this workshop is that you are a demonstration of interconnectedness. This whole workshop has been the heart opening of everybody. From the moment you sat down and asked us to engage, it is truly our workshop. So, thank you.
Audience Member 19: I’m also in the chaplaincy program—just started earlier this year. And there’s so many avenues I know that can come from participating in that. But one of the things that I’m most interested in is getting to the edge of my own death—preparing for my own death—and keeping that in the forefront of everything I do, and everything I bring to any situation. And what I’ve been finding is that I can sit with it. I can wrap my mind around it. I can think about it, plan for it. But when I let it go into my body, when I really start thinking about—that this flesh/form is going to end, and imagining the decay, and imagining just it’s nonexistence, my body has this astonishing reaction. It fights back. My heart starts beating. My breath shallows. It’s a very much fight and flight reaction. And I haven’t quite known what to do with that, except sit with it, and bear witness to what comes up for myself. But your statement that you touched on—that fear may arise from the touching of the unknown brought I guess a sense of—I’m not sure what the word is—that made so much sense to me. That made a lot of sense to me. Because I think this edge that I’m pushing to is my body understanding that it’s self-preservation mode will not go on forever. And again, the statement you made, I think is allowing me to continue to sit with what comes up, and bear witness to what I’m experiencing. And I’ll see where else that takes me. So thank you.
Audience Member 20: I always think I know what I’m going to say, but then when I get the microphone, I have no idea. There’s so much that I’m still digesting. And I guess part of it is, living in South Korea, I’m surrounded by, and sometimes involved with a Buddhist community, which does not emphasize social engagement—not so much. And it seems to focus a lot on finding your true self, and once you do, you will automatically become more interconnected and engaged. But I don’t see that happening. And I see so much suffering, and corruption actually, as a result of that. And in my heart I have never been able to detach myself from the suffering of others, and the suffering of the world. And so, even though I live in a place where there’s a much larger Buddhist community than here, I keep coming back for my teaching, my learning, and my progression. And I’m so grateful to be able to come here, and learn in a lineage from someone like yourself, who has opened up so many ways of waking up—whether it’s in a bath tub, whether it’s through immersion, immersing yourself in the suffering, and bearing witness to that. And I pray that I may also have the courage and the strength to be so radical. And I thank you for that.
Audience Member 21: I woke up to a dream this morning, of receiving a package. And when I opened it, it was a parasol—a golden parasol. And I was thrilled to get it. And I didn’t really understand it, but sitting here on this reflective time, it kind of came together for me. And the parasol is to be able to hold in front of me, the parasol was actually bearing witness, which is your gift to me. And that parasol protects me so that my heart can stay open. And whatever comes at me, I don’t have to put on any armor. So, thank you very much.
Audience Member 22: I think that what I’m taking away is—not sure if I’m grateful for it yet but—I feel really uncomfortable in some ways. And I think that’s good. That not in an agitated way, but just in a sense that I think, you know, some of my little assumptions have been turned around, or upside-down, or sideways. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I can feel certain uncomfortability. And I think that new shit is coming to light.
Audience Member 23: Well, I feel very grateful to be here, and learn from you. And I am taking many things, but one is about no attachment to the skills. And also the picture of the carpenter with his big bag. And also to open, open, open to everything. Everything is included—not just the good things. And the way how you explain the Dharma, it’s so simple. That’s what I leave with. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Audience Member 24: Well thank you for being here, Roshi. Thank you, also, Roshi. I definitely feel like the bull in the china shop. I spent about five years living on the streets, in my early twenties. And I actually felt more comfortable there than I do here. And I think that’s because, you know, here everybody is so gentle, and nice. And I personally find that pretty off-putting, because that’s not my experience essentially, you know. And I feel like it’s authentic, you know. People are generally nice here, and it’s authentic. And that’s fine. Yeah, well, the bull within me is definitely breaking things. And I think that’s because, you know, I keep on saying that bull needs to go away, or I’m going to end up back in the streets. But, you know I realized how am I gonna tame the bull, or tame the ox if I don’t let it in? So, I’m prepared now to let it in. And, you know, the Keep on Truckin’ thing is definitely . . . because I was just about ready to say, “You know what, I’m over it.” Like just this past week, but I’m not over it. And I refuse to be over it, because you know, continuous practice is Truckin’. And who am I to just give up? So, definitely I’m taking away the Keep on Truckin’, without a doubt. Thank you.
Audience Member 25: Thanks for being here. What I’m going to take away is the three tenets—and to see them differently than before. And the other thing is the opinions—I really like that. Thank you.
Audience Member 26: I think I realized—well, of course, only to some extent—how much I didn’t understand the three tenets. So I did find the question I was seeking, in that now when I want to think, I’m thinking about how to learn, experience something, not-knowing, with a mind that is constantly secreting knowing. And that it’s only when I get there, that I’ll actually be able to bear witness. That I didn’t realize the depth it takes to bear witness. Thank you.
Audience Member 27: I thank you, Roshi Bernie Glassman, and Roshi Joan Halifax, and all the residents that make this place possible. I loved being here. I’ll take away a lot. This morning has been very emotional. So I loved the part about the opinions, and the egg, and the egg needing to have an awakening in the center—not just that form. All the nutrition is great, but you know, without that egg, you know, the chicken won’t be born. And I think I’m getting that this thing of bearing witness is like, you know, the spiritual bypass that can happen in our own life, when we get into the teachings early. And then, you know, for me there was like a big crash. And then it seemed like that culture thing—which was my question early on, as I started this little trip that I’m on currently, by going to the grandmother’s council meeting. And so that was sitting with me, the intergenerational healing—and that you spoke so much about it, regarding Auschwitz. And so I’m grateful for that awakening. And I remembered even a very young experience of that when I was a very young child in Puerto Rico. And so getting out of the teachings, and doing a very personal biographical healing, and working with people doing their addictions recovery, and all the personal stuff. Now it feels like that’s now merging into this intergenerational kind of thing. And I’m glad to kind of maybe be seeing that that may be where this, at least now this journey has repeated itself a lot. And I had a visit in the middle, in Colorado, with my sister, who’s husband is like total . . . you know, the fear of mine was I didn’t want anyone to be attached to any of their thoughts, or any of this identifying with culture at all. I wanted us all to just kind of make it transparent, and you know, sitting with him, it was like, “Ahh, you’re so kumbaya, and blah blah.” And he was just like, “You’re crazy.” You know, and it’s not gonna happen that way. And so I have to not be afraid to step in to it all. And I sat across the table with him, and we usually avoid those conversations. But now that my mother is gone, in these last five years, walking the end of her path with her, which has been a huge experience, I don’t know. Things are new. And I appreciate this very much.
Audience Member 28: Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life have been just pure accident. When I came to Upaya six years ago, as a resident, Roshi Joan asked me why I chose this place. And I said, “Well, Upaya’s geographically midpoint between Houston and San Francisco.” [Audience laughs] She was affronted. But in the same way, I kind of stumbled across this retreat—also by pure accident. And in the same way, it’s been tremendously enriching. What I’ll take away from it is the possibility of doing a Street Retreat—because it scares the living hell out of me. I think about doing it. It sounds even worse than Roshi’s Wilderness Fast. So, I think that’s a sign that I probably should do this at some point. Yeah, thank you.
Audience Member 29: Thank you very much for your teachings. I’m very grateful, especially for Not-Knowing. I feel that I’m all the time in my head, and thinking, and trying to find solutions, and answers. And, I’m honest to myself that there are not so many answers that I can find to many problems. So I think not knowing is very honest. And I hope I find the strength to go to places where I’ll leave my comfort zone. Thank you.
Audience Member 30: Thank you so much. There’s a lot lot things that I’m going to be taking with me—but of course the three tenets. And, how do I say this? When you were going through the tenets, I had a big, I guess, realization that it’s really at the crux of communicating and being in the world. And also, that there is not such a thing as being in this world and out of this world. So I choose the world. And, I was thinking that in my relationship with my partner, when, as I embody the three tenets, I don’t need to be Mr. Fix-it. And, thank you for that. And that I need to be really, really listening—and I need to be listening in all areas of my life—not only to my partner. Because I come to realize that . . . when you hold council, like you speak from the heart, that we can agree to disagree, and that’s OK. And that the loving action will come up. Thank you.
Audience Member 31: Thank you very much for your teachings. So, while trying to be as present as possible for the teachings this weekend, I can’t help but notice my mind racing ahead to how I’m going to apply this to my work. So, I’m a professor. My semester starts two weeks from tomorrow. I listened closely to your teachings about the role of opinion, and subjectivity, and non-dualism, and trying to understand how I’m going to integrate those into my work. Again—mind racing ahead. And so I’ve noticed, in Zazen this weekend, I’ve noticed a very interesting thing happening. What’s been arising while I’ve been sitting is thoughts about how often I’m dualistic, oppositional with colleagues and students, people I work with. And it’s been most interesting. Instead of, in my usual way would be to see that as one more proof about my usual way of being—non-acceptance of them. This weekend in Zazen, what I’ve noticed is a general turning towards that—acceptance of that, compassion towards that part of myself. So I don’t know exactly where that’s going to take me, but it feels like a real gift. Thank you.
Audience Member 32: So, I want to thank everybody, everybody who shared. I have the benefit of being at the end, so I can say that—almost the end. Also to the Roshis, also to my fellow residents, and whoever’s cooking in the kitchen right now, it smells delicious. Or maybe that’s leftover, I don’t know. I think I’m coming away from this time with a lot of glimpses of things, and a lot of curiosity. I sort of grew myself up Christian Evangelical. And, then I kind of changed from that, still remained Christian, but was liberal, progressive, wanting to change the world. And it wasn’t coming from a good place. It wasn’t coming from a sustainable place. There weren’t good upayas for developing a desire to change the world. And so, there was just a lot of use of anger, and frustration, and guilt of privilege, and these other things that could get short-term results, but were just not good for me actually. So I have a bit of exhaustion, residual from that training. The talk about social issues, because it seems like it’s asking people to sacrifice themselves in ways it doesn’t contribute beneficially to the whole ultimately. So I never would read something like this. And I’m really glad that this came to me—this retreat came to me. And it just gives me new ways to start approaching serving people. So thanks everyone.
Audience Member 33: I have just a very strong sense of appreciation. So, thank you very much. I feel sort of astonished by life, and both the complexity and simplicity, which is so well seen by you. And, what was the word that you translated as loving actions? Bernie: It’s a Hebrew word, Tikkun Olam. Audience Member 33: Tikkun Olam? Bernie: Olam means Earth. Tikkun is a repair or a healing. Audience Member 33: I really appreciate having that word. And you know, just having a word that names something that I have searched for, for my life. And then to be given skills to actually see that, or do that, or bring that together—it’s really beyond what I expected in my life at a certain point. So, thank you very much.
Audience Member 34: You’re Grandpa. Thank you so much for your teaching here, also for all that you are bringing into our world day, after day, after day, without stopping. And thank you, my Roshi, as well. I’m so grateful that you are in my life. And when I first started calling you Grandpa, I was holding if that would be OK to say so. But it felt so right. And being a Grandma myself of nine, I thought I could do that. And I really feel like a granddaughter—you know, being happy to be with you, and enjoying that, and so honored to learn from you. And I met you before I went to Auschwitz, when I met Roshi Joan, and your children were there, Kaz was there. And the first council, we were asked, “Why are you here?” And I said, “I really don’t know why I’m here.” Not knowing that was really quite a good answer in your terminology. And gradually, I’ve come to see what a life changing experience that was, and what fortunate karma to be there. So, what I’ve learned is a deeper understanding of the three tenets, and looking at my opinions as opinions—just opinions, and really a deeper commitment, and understanding of serving as continuous practice. And you’re such a great inspiration to do so, and so is my Roshi. And I will encourage many more people to come to Auschwitz. Thank you.
Bernie: Two things popped up as we were going around. I just want to share them, even though theoretically we should end. One is when Shinzan, you brought up the carpenter’s bag. You may have gotten the reference, but if you didn’t, I just want to make sure you do—that the figure in the tenth Ox Herding picture, Hotei, has this big bag. So Hotei is—that’s the tenth Ox Herding picture, so that means it’s where we’re supposed to wind up. You know, that’s the epitome, back to the market place. And in that bag, is everything. And wherever he winds up, the right thing comes out. You know, wherever it is. So that’s just a beautiful way, for me. Hotei is also considered a Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha To Come—the Messiah in a different terminology. And then the club thing—so, we all have clubs, and that’s just the way life is I think. One thing that we could do is try to see if we can have some passageways between our club and other clubs. It’s not . . . I don’t think it makes sense to try to eliminate clubs, because they exist. And if you can make passageways—there’s even a . . . when the scientific analysis of connectivity started to happen—remember the early days, all these books about stuff—and one of the interesting phenomena’s for web people, was that if you only sent out your messages to groups that are like you, you were creating a small island. That you should—this is a mathematical theory—you should send your messages to those that are nothing like you, because then you start winding up with an interconnected world. You know, the Internet is just another expression of Indra’s Net, which is the expression of the interconnectedness of life. So, the same with these clubs—create passageways, no matter how subtle, and all of the sudden, the life becomes broader. And then, and sometimes it happens that you connect bridges. So recently, I posted an article on my opinion page, it was a two-part article, the two-part discussion I had with Zalman Schachter. I don’t remember when, I think it was probably at Naropa—it doesn’t matter—but it was called Torah Dharma—Torah and Dharma. And he brought up at that time the hyphen. So, it’s like, you know there are Ju-Bu’s. They’re Jews, hyphen, Buddhist. So he brought up the importance of the hyphen, which I look at as a bridge between clubs. So it turns out that he and I, we do have a bridge. I’m his Buddhist teacher, he’s my Rabbi, and so that’s a little bit more work. But the passageway, that’s important. And the wildest passageway, the better. My friend, Jeff Bridges, he’s very involved in hunger projects. And he wants to go on the Rush Limbaugh Show. He will be at both Republican and Democratic conventions. Now he’s a very progressive Democrat, he’ll be playing at the Democratic Convention. But there are many Republican governors and people that are part of, have joined the End Hunger. They’ve got a theme, No Child Hungry. But that thing of—maybe think of that place you would never go, and maybe make a little bit of an open door between your club, and that club. And I think we definitely, we have to grow that way. If we just stay in our club, we can only grow within our club, you know. It just makes sense. Especially if it makes sense to a kid from Brooklyn, man, it’s gotta make sense to anybody. OK, so thank you all. And thank Roshi Joan for inviting me here.