“The First 20 Years: Zendo Practice “
Today I’m going to talk about my first twenty years in Zen. How many in the room have been involved in Zen more than twenty years? One . . . in Zen? More than twenty years? Oh no, you were a Sufi. [Audience laughs] One, two, OK, three, four . . . wow! So I’ll ask the same question tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the second twenty years—the last day, the third twenty years.
At any rate, my first twenty years—and what’s interesting—to me, at least—is each twenty years, the main activities which dictated my experiences that I had during those years. And when I look at it in terms of my terminology of the last twenty years, it came essentially out of the Three Tenets. So these are actions that arose out of bearing witness. And you’ll see, I mean the not knowing was obvious. And in each case they were bearing witness, and things arose, which then affected my life quite a bit.
And by the way, we’ve been working—a small group has been working on updating the Zen Peacemaker Order, and revitalizing it. And the Abbot of Zen Center Los Angeles, where I initially trained, she and I spent a week—all day long, each day—and came up with things to put on the web, and also we’ll be setting up regional circles to discuss these things. And one of the things we all looked at, that initial group, and Egyoku and I, was the wording of the Three Tenets, and of the Precepts. All together, the Three Tenets, and the Precepts, and we have Four Commitments. But the change we made in the Three Tenets is—the first two stay the same, Not Knowing, and Bearing Witness—the third we change to “Actions That Arise from Not Knowing and Bearing Witness.”
The problem with Loving Actions is that’s already a judgment. And it made people feel good to think that they were going to be doing loving actions, but what we are talking about is actions that arise out of not knowing and bearing witness. And then somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s good.” Somebody else looks at them, and says, “Oh, that’s bad.” But that’s after the fact, and that’s commentary. The third tenet is taking action—the way we explicitly said it—taking action that arises out of not knowing and bearing witness.
So, the taking is very important. That is, do something. Don’t just sit on your cushion, and say, “Oh, I had a great experience, and that’s that.” No, do something with it. OK.
So, the first experience that I wanted to talk about—it just came up to me as I was sitting with you this last period—sitting is Bearing Witness. Many things come up, arise out of Zazen. Zazen is Bearing Witness. And if you’re doing Zazen in a good way—in my opinion, a good way—you’re bearing witness to the wholeness of life. Now we do, in the Zen worlds, we do have you work on certain things like breathing, or Koan study. So there you’re concentrating on something, and those are techniques we use in certain teachings. But eventually, you do what’s called Shikantaza—just sitting. And that’s bearing witness to the wholeness of life.
At any rate, I was just sitting. And what came up to me is an experience, which I want to share. It’s one of my first Zen experiences—it’s before I had a teacher. I had already been to a Japanese Zen temple to do some meditation, but nobody spoke English, and I decided to just do meditation on my own—do Zazen on my own. So, of course I was very young, and I didn’t have—oh, I was about twenty—and I didn’t have much information or knowledge. But I sat, and I made—actually I had a garage, and I draped it with black curtains, and I did Sesshin retreats. I did a lot of sitting. But I didn’t have a teacher, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
And one day I had an experience in which I felt I lost my mind—and it terrified me. And out of that experience, what came up was I quit Zazen. I quit for a year. I was so terrified by what had happened. That night I had to keep the lights on in the house. I had no idea what was going on. And so I stayed away, and it could have been forever. That experience could have led me to stop doing Zazen forever.
But, I had read a book called Three Pillars of Zen, which many of you might know. And a man, Yasutani Roshi, who appears in that book, and some of you are from the Sanbo Kyodan club, and that, was started by Yasutani Roshi. He’s my grandfather in the Dharma. My teacher studied under Yasutani. My teacher studied under three teachers, one of whom was Yasutani. So, Yasutani is one of my grandfathers. And I also studied under Yasutani, but that was later.
What happened is I had been terrified. I had read many things about Zen. And then I saw, and I read the book Three Pillars of Zen. And then I saw an advertisement saying Yasutani Roshi was going to give a talk in Los Angeles. That’s where I was living. And so I went to the talk. And at that talk I met the translator—Yasutani Roshi did not speak English. His translator was a man name Maezumi, who then becomes my teacher.
I went up to the translator, and I said, “Do you have [It turns out I had met the translator about four years before] a group?” And he says, “I just opened up a place.” And I started to study with him—every day.
If that hadn’t happened, I probably would have never gone back to Zen, because of that experience. I had nobody to talk to about it. So, the result of that experience for me was the importance of having a teacher, which then got reinforced when I became my teacher’s right hand person in our Zen Center in Los Angeles. And many students would come who had no teacher, and had been doing meditation for long periods. By then many people knew about meditation, and they would do it on their own. And in many cases, perfectly OK, but many cases the people that were on their own had damaged themselves. Some in a physical way—their eye sight had gotten worse, some their breathing had gotten worse, many had so conditioned themselves to working on things like Mu, or different things that they had read about that it was hard to get them to work correctly—correctly in the way that we wanted to teach.
So that just reinforced for me—if anybody in those days would say, “Can I study without a teacher?” I would say, “No. You’re opening yourself for problems.” All kinds of things can happen. There are many experiences that can arise out of meditation that can be traps. It’s like taking drugs and having an experience—it could be a problem. It may feel great. Wow! But it may cause problems. The main problem when it feels great is that you want to recreate it. “I want to do that again!” You know? And if you try to do it through meditation, you try to get your meditation to do that—to recreate the experience that you had. And that’s bad news, man. It’s bad news.
At any rate, that was the first experience that came out of bearing witness, out of sitting, and the fear that I had lost my mind. And so the action that had come out of that, which was dropping Zen, you could label it however you wanted to. But at that point in my life, that was the action that came out of not knowing and bearing witness. And most people will say, “Well, who wants that kind of action?” Well, I mean, who are you to choose? And you would say, “That’s bad.” So then we can have as our third Tenet bad actions, you know. At any rate, it was an action that happened.
So I was practicing with my teacher. At that time, my teacher, he was in the Japanese Soto club. And when he went to Buddhist University, he lived at a dojo at a training place of a wonderful man named Koryu Roshi, a lay Rinzai teacher. He lived there, and that’s where he started his koan study. And because of that, when he came to the States, he continued. He came as a young man to help in a Japanese temple. Maezumi Roshi was also studying koan study with Yasutani Roshi—there are two different systems of koans.
In 1969 Yasutani Roshi decided—he had been coming to the United States every year, helping a friend of his, I don’t want to give you all these names, but the friend was Soen Nakagawa Roshi, it gets confusing. But he was helping a friend, so he came every year to run sesshins. And Maezumi wound up being a translator on the west coast for Yasutani, and decided to start studying with him—although he had been studying with this other man, Koryu Roshi. And he also was part of this Soto tradition.
So I was practicing with my teacher Maezumi Roshi, and it was a time that he was not doing koan study. So in ’69, when Yasutani Roshi told him that “I’m not going back anymore to America—the United States—come with me to Japan, and finish your training with me.” And Maezumi said, “OK.” And then he said, “Bernie [he called me Tetsugen in those days] Tetsugen, you run the Zen Center here in Los Angeles.” So, I was just thirty years old, right, and I was put in charge of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which meant giving talks and interviews, conducting the Zazen.
And also that year, Koryu Roshi—the man that Maezumi Roshi started to do his work with when he was in University—decided to come to the United States, to Los Angeles, so that Maezumi could finish the koan study with him. So he came. And Maezumi Roshi had been gone for a year, and then he came back for a month, then he went back to Japan. But when he came back for the month, Koryu came. And I decided Maezumi Roshi was my teacher—my root teacher—but I decided to do sesshin with Koryu Roshi (and Maezumi Roshi was translating).
And I joined that sesshin. I passed the koan Mu, in a way that Koryu Roshi and Maezumi Roshi thought was very unusual. So Mu is a koan, usually the first koan in koan systems. A koan is something you contemplate on until you can present the meaning—but not intellectual meaning—you can present it via expression, that you’ve experienced what it is. And working on a koan Mu, is exactly like working on what is not knowing? —The first tenet of our Three Tenets.So to pass the koan Mu, you are supposed to experience the state of not knowing. OK. So the Three Tenets actually come out of my Zen training. And they come out of—as you’ll see—a lot from the koan study.
But at any rate, so I was—in the terminology we use now—I was bearing witness to not knowing. Didn’t know it was not knowing, so it was in the form of this word Muuuuu! I was bearing witness to that. And an experience came out in which I felt the unity of life. And they said—I mean they do testing and whatever—but they thought it was very, very deep. In fact Koryu Roshi went back to Japan, and told everybody about what had happened with this guy, this American. So I actually went to Japan shortly after and did more study with him. And everybody that saw me said, “Wow, you’re Tetsugen, huh?” They all had known about it. That experience dictated my next almost twenty years—no, ten years. Ten years had passed, fifteen—but at any rate, it was a major thing during those first twenty years.
So the two big experiences during those first twenty years was 1) feeling I had gone crazy, and out of which came the feeling I have to have a teacher; and 2) the experience of the unity of life in such a way that I felt that I could help people have that experience, and that it was extremely important. It was the most important thing in my life.
So I quit my job. That became my whole profession. And I was very tough; in I felt I had done it through a tough kind of experience. And it was very tough, in that you know, my teachers were Japanese, so they trained in almost a Samurai kind of way. It was a very tough kind of situation. We would never allow anybody to come in late. We would never allow anybody to move once we were sitting. We would never allow anybody to whisper. We would, you know [claps] help them [claps] to try to realize things. And I felt that was very important, because the experience I had experienced, for me was so important, I wanted people to experience that.
So for that first twenty years, the practice in a way that I was involved in was all about me. And I was trying to have other people have the same experiences that I had had. And those experiences would then be all about them. It’s an interesting twenty years of practice, in which I have—I feel—that maybe eighty percent of the Zen groups around the world, that’s what they’re doing. And it was extremely important for me, but in my opinion it’s not the only way to practice. And in my opinion I would not—I have stopped doing that kind of practice for a long time now.
And the question that I have—do you have to go through that phase? Does everybody need to do that, or can you bypass that phase? And I think you can bypass that phase—personally, that’s my opinion. But as I always say, everything I say is my opinion. I have no truths—nothing I can say that would be other than my opinion about things.
Let me stop a little there and ask for questions, and I’ll get your sense of what I’ve been saying.
Audience member 1: Bernie, I’d like to ask something. Peter Matthiessen, who passed away in April, I remember a number of times said to you that he thought that what made your next stages so strong was precisely because you had this first stage. I remember him telling you that.
Bernie: I remember too.
Audience member 1: You know, that he said that’s what changed everything, in terms of two and three, the rest of your life. So, he had a different opinion from yours.
Audience member 1: And I wonder if you want to address what he said—that if you don’t have that, you can’t do the other thing.
Bernie: Yeah, I don’t know. He said that to me many times. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about the second phase of my life, which was serving people, which came out of an experience. So the question is, could that experience have happened without the first twenty years of my life? That’s basically what he’s saying. The work I did during that second phase did not come out of that first twenty years. It was triggered by this experience, which was so deep for me. And so the question—which I have no idea—the question is can you have that kind of experience without those twenty years?
Audience member 2: You say that people can bypass that first period, but what is it exactly that you can bypass? Is it the experience you had, or is it the way you were trained?
Bernie: Yeah, so that’s a good point. What I’ve learned, and what’s been a constant through the sixty years is meditation—so I’m not talking about bypassing meditation. Meditation has been part of my daily practice for those sixty years. And by the way, it’s not quite sixty, because I’m only seventy-five. So that would make fifteen—it’s actually fifty-six years, so I rounded it off.
So, when I say to bypass, it’s the toughness—that austerity. And we know that there are all kinds of Zen Centers. Thich Nhat Hanh has a Zen Center—he doesn’t have that kind of austerity. We, you and I, and many people here practice Zen in a Japanese model. And that model is a very austere model. It really comes out of the Kamakura period, which is the Samurai period in Japan. Shakyamuni Buddha did not practice that way. So, it’s not from that era. And one of the things that drew me to Zen was all of the stories of Chinese monks that were living in the mountains. And that was not their style.
So, when I say you can bypass the austerity . . . I’ll give you a sense of the austerity, it’s crazy, in my mind. I’ll give you two examples. There’s a man, his name was Ban Roshi. He was a student of Harada Roshi. Harada Roshi was a teacher of Yasutani Roshi. So Ban Roshi was a brother of Yasutani Roshi in the Dharma, and a wonderful teacher, an amazing guy. And I went to his Zendo. When you go in to the hall leading to the Zendo, on the wall is all these broken keisakus. A keisaku is a stick in which we walk around and will hit people to help them deepen their practice [claps]. You know, it’s interesting, when I talk about our first precept, not knowing, the state of non-rationalizing, different Zen teachers throughout the ages have used different techniques to help us have that state. So I’ve concentrated on what we call plunges, or going to the places where the brain can’t fathom what’s happening. But there’s all kinds of . . . Rinzai Shreeeeee! In that scream—it’s hard for the mind to rationalize. It brings you right to that place. Tokusan, a Chinese guy, hippie Buddhist, whatever you said, he would hit you with a stick sixty times. If you didn’t say anything he would hit you with a stick. So he was using that stick to get you out of your thinking—out of ideas, and experience a state of non-thinking.
So the keisaku, theoretically, it has a few purposes. They say it helps if you get drowsy sitting; it gets rid of the drowsiness. For some, it puts them to sleep, or makes them unconscious if you hit hard enough. And, if you hit hard enough . . . In the thirties in Japan, in the Soto sect there are two major monasteries Eihei-ji and Shoji-ji. In Shoji-ji—I think it was in the thirties—during Zazen a monk was killed with the keisaku. Japan being Japan, the parents came to the monastery and thanked the Abbot for allowing their son to die in such an honorable way.
So the culture, the hitting is good. So it’s not just to wake you up. I said that because not only could you fall asleep, you could fall dead with the hitting. And we, in the Zen Peacemakers have a whole bunch of different kinds of practices that help you experience this not knowing. And if you’re involved in koan study, that’s what that’s about. A lot of Zen practices are about trying to get you to do that. And bearing witness—Zazen, is a major way of doing bearing witness.
But we’ll also bring you into places where you wouldn’t normally go, and it enlarges the sense of bearing witness. And I think in my third talk, I’ll talk about how that happens.
Audience member 3: Can you talk about—a little bit about your revelations around Mu?
Bernie: The revelation around Mu was experiencing the oneness of life. Pretty simple. No separations. That’s a basic experience. The word Buddha (I was going to say it’s a basic experience in Buddhism) the word Buddha means to awaken—an awakened one. And that awakening is called in different languages different terms. In English it’s called enlightenment. In Japanese it’s called kensho, which translates into English as “seeing the nature.”
So, I always say, “awakened to what?” Awakened to the unity of life. Awakened to the oneness of life. Awakened to the interconnectedness of life. So that’s what Buddhism is about. That’s what Buddhism is about. And there are just different techniques. So Mu is one technique to help people do that, the way it’s used.
You know, in Shingon there’s a lot of mystical stuff. In Tendai they try to do it through philosophical stuff. There’s techniques through visualizations, through chanting, all kinds of ways. And the Zen Peacemakers, our major way besides meditation, is through social action—via the Three Tenets. Not just any kind of social action, it’s got to be based on those Three Tenets.
So if you’re a Buddhist group, or a Buddhist teacher, that is your life’s work—what are the ways to help people experience the oneness of life? And people come up with different things. It is not just to make us feel better. Now during those first twenty years, in today’s talk, the first twenty years, a lot of it is really about feeling better. And one of the ways you can feel better is to say, “Oh, I’ve been enlightened,” without knowing what that means. For many people, to be enlightened means to be nice, to be happy. That’s that first twenty years. You get involved, and you feel good, you sit, and it’s a good feeling. It feels good. And then maybe things come up, and it feels even better. But it’s all about your self, and how you feel. And maybe you’re more . . . it’s not a bad thing.
But for example, I think mindfulness is in that game. Mindfulness is about how do I do things more concentrated, do it better? It’s a game about me. It’s not in the game of how do I serve others? That’s a different game that we’ll talk about tomorrow—at least in my opinion.
But that doesn’t mean the first stuff is . . . And some people will argue that you can’t serve others unless you’ve taken care of yourself. And I don’t—that’s not my opinion. So, tomorrow we’ll talk about that. But I get that all the time. Even I got that in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. And I gave him my opinion. That in my opinion you can take care—you can work on the experience of the oneness of life via social engagement. You don’t have to do one first, before you do the other. That’s a very common concept—I think even Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh’s way of thinking, whatever.
So, you know, just different opinions—you don’t have to take my opinion. And of course, what I am most interested in is people experiencing things, not taking my opinion about anything.
Audience member 4: I have a question. How you felt, because you had a lot of students in these twenty years, did you never have doubts that one upaya—such a tough upaya—would be for all of them? Did not many people [go] away? And what did you think then?
Bernie: I thought they went away. Yes. Many People went away, because my way of doing. There was a person who came up to me later on, that I met, and she said she dropped out of Zen because of me—because her impression of Zen was what I was doing. You know, I mean it seemed sort of natural for me. Many people think that they run into as a teacher, that’s what it’s all about. Anyway, she felt that Zen was all about my style of doing things. And she couldn’t stand it. And she told me that she dropped completely out of Zen.
Audience member 4: And you, yourself, you didn’t have doubts about—you never asked yourself maybe it’s not for everybody?
Bernie: No, I knew it wasn’t for everybody. I wasn’t interested in it being for everybody. I was interested in working with those who wanted to work this way. Being interested in working with everyone moves into serving others. I wasn’t there yet. I knew that this was good for you, and the way I was doing it, man, would really help you.
You know, later on, in later years, what struck me—because I became an organic gardener—and what struck me was that I was using chemical methods to produce flowers. And I thought that that was the way to do it, that was very important. And later on I learned that there are organic ways of doing this. You don’t have to use chemicals, which can hurt the soil. It can hurt. You can produce beautiful flowers, but also can hurt the soil. But at that time I wasn’t thinking about that. I was concentrating on work. I had enough to do, you know, we had a lot of students in the Zen Center Los Angeles. By the time I left, we had two hundred people living on the block. We’d split people up among my teacher and myself. I had over a hundred people that I was responsible for. It was too much. I was not worried about those that didn’t like this way. There were other places to go—other things people could do. That wasn’t my concern.
Audience member 5: You said that to be able to take care of others, you don’t have to get first to the stage of taking care of yourself. Is Buddhism originally about taking care of others?
Bernie: You know, when you say, “Is Buddhism originally,” I don’t know what that means. Are you talking about Shakyamuni Buddha, because that’s the origin of Buddhism? Now, if I step away from the question I just posed, Buddhism (I just defined the word Buddha), Buddhism is those people, or those clubs that are helping people to experience the unity of life. Now, if you’re going to experience the unity of life, can it be just about your self? So if you ask me, originally—Yes, originally Buddhism is about the world—about the unity of life. And so it has to be involved with everybody. It cannot be just your self. That limits you, in my opinion.
In others opinions, they say, “You’ve got to first take care of this body, before . . .” And I never know what that means, because what they’re saying to me is that you should first become enlightened before you do anything else. Well, enlightened to me is you’ve experienced the unity of life, of all of life. I don’t know anybody who’s done that. And I’ll talk about that . . . well, since it came up, I’ll talk about it now.
Kobo Daishi is the founder of the Shingon sect in Japan—the tantric sect in Japan. He’s considered by the Japanese to be the number one spiritual philosopher, or spiritual person of all time. And a man named Dogen is considered number two. And Kobo Daishi lived in late 500 A.D. And he said, “The way you can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment is how they serve others.” So there’s two things there; one is that enlightenment comes in stages. And when Shakyamuni Buddha says, “We’re all enlightened as we are,” that includes the fact that most of us think of our one body as one body. Bernie’s arm generally doesn’t think it’s separate from Bernie. And if everything I’m doing is about Bernie, then Kobo Daishi would say, Bernie’s enlightenment, the depth of Bernie’s enlightenment (since he’s only serving himself), it’s himself. That’s how deep it is.
One can experience the unity of life in so many stages. And there’s no way of not serving, once your experience is bigger. The actions will arise automatically to serve those, and that goes on, and on.
So your question brings in two things. What is Buddhism? And what is it originally? And my feeling—so I have this metaphor, which says do not conduct your life via the things you don’t have. Take the things you have, and make the best meal possible, and serve it—and offer it. So, many of us conduct a lot of our life by things we don’t have. That is, somebody says, “Would you get involved in this project?” Then, “Oh, I don’t have enough time. I can’t do it. I don’t have enough money. I can’t do it.” In Buddha’s world, what was said, “You don’t have enlightenment, you can’t do it.”
So, for me, wherever you are now, look at the ingredients you have, and make the best meal possible. And serve it.
Audience Member 6: I wanted to ask how would you describe serving? What is serving? And who . . .
Bernie: Right. So, what’s interesting for me is—I don’t know Kobo Daishi’s words in Japanese. He was Japanese. I know the translation. So I’m curious what word was serving. I should look that up. I need to look that up. It doesn’t matter too much. Because serving—many times in English the word serving implies another, right? So, if we say we’re just serving ourselves, what does that mean? Now my feeling is that we always will be taking care of ourselves. We don’t necessarily take care of others. So maybe taking care would be better than serving.
For example, you know I use the example of the arm—it’ll probably come up in these days. But if the arm is gashed, this arm will do something. It doesn’t think about, “Should I take care of it, or not?” You wouldn’t call it serving. It just automatically takes care. And in my opinion, whatever is in our head—which many times we call our ego—whatever we think we are, we automatically serve that. We don’t think about, “Should I?” You know, if I’m hungry, I look for food. We don’t say, “Well, there’s other things to do. Maybe I shouldn’t do that.” Or if I need to breathe, “Eh, there’s other things to do. Why waste time breathing?” I don’t do that, you know, I take care. So I think that’s a better word than serve, because serve implies a dualistic thing. And Kobo Daishi is saying look at who they’re taking care of. If I’m only taking care of myself, then that’s my state of enlightenment. That’s not bad.
But since, in my opinion, we all are one, if we’re not taking care of the majority of that one, there will be problems. And vice-versa, if we’re taking care—if we could see the Palestinians and the Israelis as nothing but me—it’s hard not to take care. But as long as I can see them as others, I can blame one or the other, get angry about this, about that, and I don’t have to do anything. I can just sit there, “Ahhh, they’re all screwed up, man—especially those Israelis, especially those Hamas people.”
Eve Marko: [In Tootsie voice] But Rocky, that would seem to imply that you really need an enlightenment experience to know that everybody’s one—in order to be like that.
Bernie: [In Rocky voice] Yeah Tootsie, I think you do.
Eve: So therefore, your enlightenment experiences were very important.
Bernie: I think they were, and you keep having them. And as you keep having them, your ego, or the Dharma, or Indra’s net—the portion of Indra’s net that you’re working with. The energy field of life that you’re working with—that keeps growing.
Eve: So how important is it to really sit, and sit, and sit, and have an enlightenment experience, so that you can see everything as one, and then take care of everything?
Bernie: To me it’s very important—that’s ’cause I grew up as a boxer. I don’t think it’s so important to most people. That’s why the world’s a mess.
Eve: But you described that in your first phase you didn’t do anything—I mean, I know you had a family and everything—but you didn’t take care of the rest of the world. You sat, and you sat, and you did sesshins, and you sat, and you sat, and you sat, and you did koans, till you had a big enlightenment experience, which showed that you are one with everything. And out of that, you can serve everything, or you can take care of everything. So is that what you think everybody else should do? Take the first twenty years, and sit, and sit, and sit, and sit, and sit, till they have a big experience, and then they can take care of everybody.
Bernie: In my opinion, Tootsie, the sitting is great, is important. And, what I’ve learned in my life, if you get involved in social engagement via these Buddhist Peacemakers, it speeds the whole thing up. It speeds the whole thing up. And that came to me on my first Street Retreat. But that’s for tomorrow, that’s not during these first twenty years, see. In these first twenty years it was all about sitting on the cushion, and in the Zendo, and the formal way I had trained. Later, different upayas, or different expedient means were used. And the process of that awakening to the unity of life seems to be much, much more sped up—to me. So that’s why I do it that way. To others, no, so they do it a different way.
Audience member 7: A couple of questions—first of all, what is the experience of unity of life? What is it?
Audience member 7: So, second—there are many people taking care of others in the world, without maybe having the same experience of the twenty years. Does it mean they do without having the experience of the unity of life, or have they caught the unity of life experience another way?
Bernie: Well, I would have to know the people. So I say that serving others, or taking care of others, or social engagement via the Three Tenets can have a huge effect on the experiencing the oneness of life. It doesn’t have to be done through the Three Tenets. It could be done—I’m doing it because I like it. It could be done for very selfish reasons. And I don’t think that leads to that experience. I think it can make you feel good. I was on my first Street Retreat; there were many people that were taking care of us. And you could feel love in their eyes, and they certainly felt good. But we that were being given things, we could experience them feeling superior to us. They were helping us, and it made them feel superior—better than us. We were lower. And that’s not about the unity of life. And I think that can happen many times—that we’re doing things not through these Three Tenets, or not through a selfless way, but in a way to make us feel better—feel more . . . yeah, I got to use the two hands again.
So, here’s Bernie. And this hand doesn’t consider itself part of Bernie. This hand feels separate from Bernie, and calls itself Mary. And this hand feels separate from Bernie, and calls itself Charlie. So there’s Charlie, and Mary, and Bernie. And Charlie and Mary are social activists. And they read, they’ve gone to retreats, and workshops, and they read books, which said they’re all interconnected. But they haven’t experienced it. So there’s still a separation.
And now Bernie gets hungry. Mary sees there’s a bunch of food—there’s food here. So Mary reaches for food to give to Bernie. But Charlie says, “No, I want to give the food to Bernie, ’cause I’m a social activist, and I want the merit of giving the food to Bernie!” And Mary says, “No, no, I’m a social activist. I want to get the merit of giving the food!” So they fight. Who’s gonna give the food? In the meantime, Bernie starves to death, and Mary dies, and Charlie dies.
So that’s a case of doing social action not from the standpoint of the Three Tenets. And that’s a very common thing, and it’s great. We all acknowledge, you know, wonderful things. But I also think there’s another way.
Audience member 8: What does Bernie do when he feels the suffering of the Palestinians?
Bernie: The question is “What does Bernie do when he feels suffering?” Everybody is suffering, right? But, what does Bernie do when he feels the suffering of Israelis, or Palestinians, or Africans, Nigerians? What do you do when you feel the suffering, because there’s suffering everywhere? What do I do when I feel the suffering of Francisca, because she is suffering, because Palestinians are suffering? It goes on, and on. What did Shakyamuni Buddha do? He said, “Everyone is suffering.” He said there’s nothing in life but change, and also suffering. So what did he do? What do you do? What do I do?
I try to approach the situation from the standpoint of not knowing. So I’m not approaching from the standpoint of the Palestinians, from the Israelis—from I don’t know. I’m coming from not knowing. Then, I bear witness. And then I see what arises out of that bearing witness. It has made my life so simple. I do everything out of the Three Tenets—everything out of the Three Tenets.
And it’s all I know. I mean, that’s all I can do. In fact, I was telling Eve, I’ve been very frustrated about the Middle East, because we’ve done a lot of work there. I have family there. All of her family’s there. She’s Israeli. She used to go every two months. We had staff in three different—Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. I go every four months. Now we’ve stopped that work, but she goes twice a year to visit family. But I, about a year ago (maybe even two—I don’t know) I came to the decision of boycotting. So what was I doing about suffering? I was boycotting. I didn’t go.
When I talk about the fact that we’re all in clubs, and when we look at our club—that’s who we’ll deal with, that’s who we’ll visit, that’s who we’ll invite in. And I say what do we do with people not in our club? The majority of us avoid it. You know, if there’s a homeless person in the street, we don’t look at him, or her. We’d cross the street. We don’t invite people that we don’t like politically to our house. We don’t watch their TV shows, read their books—we avoid.
So there I was, I was frustrated. And what did I do? I avoided, by boycotting. That’s denial, man. That’s avoidance. And I would say, philosophically, I don’t like that. But that’s what I did. That was my immediate reaction. Bearing witness to what was going on there, the action that came up was boycott. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
I’ve been doing a lot more not knowing and bearing witness, and another action that arose a couple of months ago (I think, maybe a month, I don’t know) is I gotta do something. I have no idea what to do. But that came up out of the Three Tenets. I gotta do something. This morning—either last night, or this morning—because I’ve been spending a lot of time bearing witness onwhat do I do? I already last week told Eve that I need to go back to Israel, because I need to bear witness. And I want to do something. I can’t just plan what to do. I need to bear witness, and see what comes up.
Today (or last night, I can’t remember) something came up, because I’ve been spending so much time bearing witness to this question. And what came up is I need to go there, and do a Bearing Witness Retreat (not a big Bearing Witness Retreat). I need to sit there with a group of people that I know, that are activists both in Israel and Palestine, and maybe some others. I don’t know yet who to invite. It could be just me. I’ve got to sit, and I don’t know where. It could be in the desert. It could be West Bank. I don’t know where. I’ve got to sit, and ask myself the question what do I do? And just use that as a koan, and bear witness. Because that—on my third day I’m going to talk about this—that’s how the Zen Peacemaker Order arose. I did exactly that. I sat on the steps of Washing D.C. in the snow, and asked myself the question what do I do, in terms of people that are rejected. And out of that came create the Zen Peacemaker Order.
So, at any rate, that’s what I do with everything. I do not have any preset ideas about how to take care of any issues that you might have, or anybody else might have, or how to reduce the suffering of the world. I mean, in my opinion, the world will continue to suffer ’cause that’s what Shakyamuni said we all are doing. Almost the question about how do you reduce the suffering of the Palestinians or anybody, to me would be how do I reduce the suffering of you—of any person. I don’t know. You’ll join fields. I become a Zen teacher, and try to help people realize the oneness of life. Others become doctors, physicians, psychiatrists. Everybody’s trying to help everybody end suffering, man, but it’s no simple task.
Audience member 9: So, what importance is a Zen sesshin? Do you need it any more?
Bernie: So, in terms of myself, if I just look, I haven’t signed up for a sesshin in years. I mean I signed up for Bearing Witness Retreats—that’s very different. But what you’re calling sesshin, do you remember me signing up for one?
Eve: Sure, when we had the place in Montague, we did sesshin. We lead sesshin with Peter once, if you remember. We did—not too many though.
Bernie: Yeah, enough to where I can’t remember. When was that?
Eve: About . . . not more recent than seven years ago.
Bernie: In terms of my own life, so if somebody came up to me and said, “How important is sesshin?” I would ask them, you know. Is it something you want to do? Then do it, you know. It’s different than sitting. I think sitting is extremely important. And I personally like Bearing Witness Retreats much more than sesshin, or the Street Retreats in different places. You know the idea of sesshin is not that old. I mean Shakyamuni Buddha didn’t do sesshin. It actually arose because—I think it arose maybe two hundred years ago—and it arose mainly because the people that decided to do it felt that individuals didn’t have enough oomph on their own. You know, they were too busy with where’s the warm weather for swimming, and you know, other issues. And they decided they needed a concentrated thing.
And for me, during those first twenty years, man, I did hundreds of sesshins, and it was great. What was amazing, when I did the first Street Retreat, we had about twenty of us, and some of us, like myself, had been involved in Buddhism for so many years, done so many sesshins. Some, there was around four among those twenty, had never meditated. We all had a very similar experience about the identity of—about the oneness of life. So it brought up the question to me, you know. I had done hundreds, and hundreds of sesshins, and here one Street Retreat, and it had such an effect, because it brought us [claps] right into it, what sesshin [claps] hopefully does.
So it was not my main vehicle ever since then, although I did a lot of sesshins still. When we moved to New York—well, this was already New York—I did a lot of sesshins still, until I can’t remember, I think ten years, maybe twenty years. That’s why I wanted to make it clear on the first night that this was not a sesshin. You know, if that’s what you wanted, fine. But we don’t do that.
Audience member 10: It seems a bit to me that the social engagement is like a new methodology. Coming from the point that if you look at Christianity, it’s at the end of the Way of the Cross, where you find love your neighbor. If you go to Buddhism, it seems at the end where you understand the lesson of love. And it seems on the surface, if you start with the tenth ox picture. So the confusion might come from first enlightenment, then you feel it in your heart that you can serve.
Bernie: Yeah, I don’t share your opinion.
Audience member 10: No, I don’t have an opinion.
Bernie: Oh, but you said that Buddhism . . .
Audience member 10: I have question.
Audience member 10: My question is because the social engagement seems like the essence of all the other different methodologies, all the other different ways. And so I was asking if starting with the social engagement way, if this is like an old methodology?
Bernie: Like an old?
Audience member 10: Like an old, like an old [translator clarifies] like a new, like a new methodology? A different approach—start with open heart, and then look at what’s coming up in an experienced way.
Bernie: In my opinion, no. In my opinion, if I look at all the different—I’ve done a lot of interfaith work, and study in different traditions. And in most of them, you’ll find that they divide into clubs, which specialize in certain ways. So in Christianity, you’ve got the Franciscans that are specializing in social engagement. And you’ve got the Cistercians that are specializing in contemplative work. You have divisions like that. So also in Buddhism, for example, if you go to Japan the biggest Buddhist group in Japan is called Rissho-Kosei-Kai—the largest group—they only do social engagement. There are no priests, they’re ministers and they work in third world countries. That’s based on the Lotus Sutra.
So, the same here, when Buddhism first came to the West, what people specialized in is the contemplative orders. And then that became the only way. But I think it’s very natural within any religion, or type of work that different clubs will arise that focus on different things. That’s my opinion. And each one would probably say, “You’ve got to start with this, then that will come up,” and whatever. Those are arguments to talk about the height of the club—I think, I don’t know. That’s my opinion.
I don’t know, were Franciscans looked at as weird when they arose, doing social engagement? Or were there always groups in Christianity that focused on social engagement? I don’t know the answer to that. And certainly you know, you find this, in Christianity you have groups like the Franciscans, all kinds of groups that are all about social engagement, as the way of God—you know, as the way of doing things.
Audience member 11: So, in an abstract way . . .
Bernie: Whoops! I just picked three people, and guess what—we’ve run out of time.
Eve: But the bell hasn’t rung.
Bernie: But the bell hasn’t rung.
Eve: That’s a koan.
Bernie: That’s a koan. So the koan is why are we stopping if the bell hasn’t rung?
Audience member 11: So, in an abstract way, do we help the situation in the Middle East if we all take care of each other?
Bernie: Huh? Do what?
Audience member 11: In an abstract way, do we help the situation in the Middle East if we all take care of each other? That’s what you just said. If we all take care of each other . . .
Bernie: So, in my opinion, it’s not abstract. If we all take care of each other—it’s very rare to see that happen—but in my opinion, if we all took care of each other, there’d be no problems. So there’s that wonderful example where—I don’t know if it’s God—somebody takes this person up to visit Hell. Right, you’ve probably heard that. And all these people are at a table eating, and they each have chopsticks. So this is probably a Japanese Hell. They each have chopsticks, and the chopsticks are about two meters long, and they’re having a lot of trouble eating. And then the person says, “Well, can I see Heaven?” So God takes him down to see Heaven. In Heaven, that same banquet table, all those people, same chopsticks, but each person is taking their chopsticks and feeding somebody else.
So that’s one example of saying yes, if we take care of each other, there’s no problem. And if we just take care of ourselves, there will be problems. That’s an opinion—my opinion.
Audience member 12: When you ask about Christianity, traditional Christianity, I think Christ himself was an activist, as I understand his teachings.
Bernie: Yeah. I think so too. But then lots of clubs form after that—different styles that teach. Theoretically—it’s sort of interesting—different clubs arise to probably, they say, to teach brotherly love. But maybe not, maybe they say they arise so that there can be more Christians—to procreate the numbers of Christians. And that’s happened in Buddhism. A lot of the Buddhist groups grew, and then the theme becomes how many people can have Jukai, and how many people can, you know, to grow the numbers. The original reasons of actualizing the oneness of life get forgotten.
I see the bell is ringing. But lets’ have one more at the sound of the bell.
Audience member 13: It’s OK.
Bernie: OK. He wants to serve the body. Get some food, man.
OK, so for me tomorrow is the next twenty years. And this afternoon . . .
Eve: Before that . . .
Bernie: Yeah, before that, what?
Eve: We’ll see.
Bernie: But certainly, in a way this will continue, Eve will make comments on it, and you will have thought it through as you chew your food. Chew what we’ve talked about.
Eve: Rocky, I have one last question.
Bernie: Ah ha Tootsie! By the way, if you don’t know, we have a radio show, Rocky and Tootsie. And usually we tweet or something, and did I tell you at St. Virgil, one of the guys in my group, in the workshop, is a cartoonist, a Buddhist cartoonist. And he’s now into making animation. And in September, he’s going to make an animated Rocky and Tootsie—take one of our shows, and there will be a film, an animated film of Rocky and Tootsie.
Eve: So Rocky, what I want to know is . . .
Bernie: Yeah Tootsie?
Eve: Did anybody ever say the word love in all those first twenty years of your life?
Eve: Why?! How come they didn’t say love?
Bernie: That’s an interesting point. That first twenty years was not about love. Now I consider love to be the rug that ties the room together.
Eve: What’s that?
Bernie: They now have the Dude book in German.
Eve: How could you be without love?
Bernie: Because that wasn’t . . . It’s interesting. Well, we had Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, you know Kannon, Avalokitesvara. But, during those first twenty years, my training—I almost divorced. My training, most of the people that lived at the Zen Center of Los Angeles divorced, or the children became really screwed up—because it was a monastic model. And love was not part of the model. And family was not part of the model. So our schedule—my schedule—made it such I never saw my kids when they woke up, because I was in the zendo. I never saw my kids when they went to sleep, because I was in the zendo. I never saw my kids on the weekends, because we always had weekend activities. So, I’m very, very lucky—I think—that my kids are in very good shape, and we love each other. And I think they’re really, really great kids. But they had such a wonderful chance of being totally screwed up by the way they grew up. And I was told by my teacher that family doesn’t count. The Dharma counts. Family is like a one lifetime thing. The Dharma is forever. It’s a whole different way of thinking, and I bought into it. In those twenty years, for me, the whole thing was that scene.
Eve: Man, I’m glad that I didn’t know you then.
Bernie: Yeah, and I’m sorry that I knew me then!
OK, let’s go eat.
Audience member 14: How about taking care of your own body in that time? Love—taking care of your own body.
Bernie: I didn’t do any of those things. Anything that you can think of that sort of seems sentimental, or helpful—no. No, that wasn’t my life—in those twenty years—it was before. But that experience that I had of the unity of life, within the environment I was in—that experience put me on a track, which I don’t find good or healthy at this point in my life—but then I did. And that was a twenty-year path.
OK José. Let’s go eat.
It would have been a better path—I think—for monastics. So somebody like Dogen, yeah, no problem.[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”The Second 20 Years: Social Action” tab_id=”1513286624925-3040c53b-6c23″][vc_column_text]So, this is my second twenty years in Zen—sort of the second twenty. I will start around 1976. That’s about forty years ago. I had just received dharma transmission from my teacher. I’m not sure exactly when that was—I should know, it might have been ‘75; it might have been ’76. Sometimes I waste a little time trying to figure out years. But 1976 was the opening of a monastery in New York, Dai Bosatsu Monastery that Eido Shimano Roshi was in charge of. And he started in—that celebration started with a one week Sesshin, which he invited people from different Zen centers across the country. And I was invited to represent our Zen Center of Los Angeles. And I already had had dharma transmission. So that was July ’76—that Sesshin—so somewhere before that.
But more important in ’76, was this experience I had in which . . . So until all of that, I was in the mode of, you know, your samurai Zen teacher. And then in 1976 on my way to work, I was in a car with four people, driving to work. I had about an hour trip to go to work. And I had an experience, which I’ve talked a lot about, because it was so important in my life. It was an experience of feeling all of the hungry spirits, or ghosts in the universe—all suffering, as we all do, not just the Palestinians, everyone is suffering.
And they were suffering for different things. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough enlightenment. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough food. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough love. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough fame. Some were suffering because they didn’t have enough housing. Some were suffering because they had bad teeth—like me, all kinds of sufferings.
And what came up immediately was a vow. So it’s another case of these Three Tenets, you know. I had been for a few weeks—a little context; a few weeks before, I had had this question about reincarnation, which I might talk about in my third phase. But I had this question about reincarnation. And I went to Maezumi Roshi, and I said, “Can you talk with me about reincarnation?” And he said, “Go read the letters of . . .” I can’t remember her name. In The Three Pillars of Zen, the young woman who was dying. And Harada Roshi visited her, and there were letters back and forth between them. She had an experience, an enlightenment experience. He thought it was very deep. They had letters going back . . .
Eve: Is that Ken Wilbur’s wife?
Bernie: No. Three Pillars of Zen, it was edited by Phillip Kapleau. It’s a Zen book. I can’t remember her name exactly, but it’s something like Iayda. So anyway, I had read them. They’re not very long. And I was sort of bearing witness to those letters, because somewhere, somehow they had something to do with reincarnation, because that’s what my teacher said I should read.
But at any rate, so out of that, in this car ride to work, pops up this vision of all of these hungry spirits. And immediately it also popped up, those are all aspects of me. Just remember, my experience was that everything is me. So whatever pops up, that’s me. And all of these hungry aspects of myself popped up. And an action came out of that, which was a vow to serve, to feed—it was really more to feed all of these hungry spirits.
So until then, I had decided that my work was going to be in the meditation hall, and in a temple. I had quit for the fourth and last time my job at McDonnell Douglas. And I was now a full time Zen teacher. And I was going to work only in the meditation hall, and work only with people who came to our Zendo, and wanted to be trained.
But now I made this vow to work with all these hungry spirits. So that meant I had to change the venue, change the place I worked. And now it was still to work in the meditation hall, but also to work in all of life, all of society.
And then the big question arose to me; what would be useful to help people in these different spheres of life—like business people, and entertainment people, and social action people, and all these people? What would be good, what we call upayas, expedient means, or ways of helping people to experience the oneness of life in those spheres? All of my training had been in the meditation hall. I was trained in how to run Sesshins, how to use the kyosaku properly, how to wear my robes properly. I had been trained in koan systems. I had done two different koan systems. So that was a lot of koans—around six/seven hundred koans. I was trained in how to teach people to do meditation, in different ways—with breathing, with Shikantaza, different styles. And I also had been interested in interfaith work, so I had been trained in Christian meditation, in Jewish meditation. Those are my trainings. But I didn’t think that would work in the business world.
So this was my new kind of study—what would be the method? Also, I have to say that this may have been influenced by the fact that for a number of years before ’76—well, for a long time—in our Zen Center of Los Angeles, we had morning liturgy, afternoon liturgy, and evening liturgy. And it’s sort of prescribed what that liturgy is in the Soto sect. There’s some choices, some variety, but the evening service that we did was called Kan Ro Mon. And we did it all in Japanese (it’s really Chinese—but Japanese pronunciations). And somehow, that service really affected me. And I knew nothing about what it was about, because I was just chanting these Japanese words. It turns out that that service—and I sort of start finding this out after the experience of the hungry spirits—that service is about feeding the hungry spirits, in the five Buddha fields.
So, I then worked with my teacher to translate that into English. And it’s all about the mandala, and the different entities that live in the mandala. The mandala is divided into five Buddha fields, five types of energies. And those energies . . . That’s a model—I’m a mathematician, so we work with models, so that’s one model. But that model is a way of dividing life. The mandala is a circle, so that’s a whole life. And then it’s dividing it into five kinds of energies—a spiritual energy, a social action energy, a business energy, a study energy, and a relationship energy. We’ve talked a lot about relationship energy, so that’s one whole—there’s a Sanskrit term, padma is relationship energy.
And my book, Instructions to the Cook describes the Buddhist principles I used to develop this project called Greyston, in terms of these five Buddha fields. And in the book, it calls it five different types of foods. You know, but it’s the five energies.
Anyway, so that was quite surprising to me, that here’s a service—we had many different liturgies that we chanted—but here’s one that somehow really attracted me, without my knowing any of the words. And then I had this experience, and it turns out that it’s dealing with the same thing, in a sense—well, in a big sense. In a big sense.
Now, in Japan that service was used particularly for all of the spirits in those five Buddha families that were being neglected, for various reasons. So it could be that somebody died in a war. And in those days, a long time ago, it might take thirty years before news came back that somebody had died. So that service was for all of those that had died and nobody knew about it—that they had died. It was for, like in our case in New York, for the homeless that nobody’s taking care of. It’s for all of those that are not being taken care of. And in a sense, for all of the parts of our selves that aren’t being taken care of, which leads to all of these hungry spirits. You know, I need more fame. Who’s going to take care of that? Who’s going to give me more fame? Or I need more money, or I need more love. So that particular service is about that.
Now we made—because it’s such an important service for me—that has become, for a long time now, the main service of the Zen Peacemaker Order. And there are many places, many centers that will chant that, and recite that on somewhat of a regular basis. And I also—because it was so important to me—I divided it, line by line, into koans. I created a new koan system based on that. And only a few people really—a number of people studied those koans with me, but only a few finished. Eve is one of those. So she wound up doing workshops on how to perform the liturgy, in terms of the gongs, and the booms, and there’s a lot of—there’s horns blowing [makes a horn noise], there’s all kinds of stuff there. And of course there’s the meaning. And she’s done that workshop in Europe a few times.
OK, so I had that experience in ’76, and by ’79 I was planning to leave the Zen Center of Los Angeles and move back to my original home, which was New York. And I started to meet with people in the New York area to create a board, and to plan where we would start, and how it would be. And I talked to them about the fact—when I came back to New York—I wanted to build a society, an actual society in the city. A little bit like the old cathedrals were, where they were a whole city. And the community we built, I wanted to build it via the five Buddha families. And that meant that we were going to be involved in social action, and business, and all these different things.
And most of the people just laughed at me, and said, “You’re crazy, Bernie. What we want is for you to come here, and set up a Zendo. And that’s why you’re coming here. We want to sit with you, and study koans, and do that.” I said, “Well, that may be what you want, but I’m coming here to do that.” And they said, “Aaach, you’re not. We still want you to come, and we don’t believe you.” You know, “this won’t happen.” That’s what they said to me, these people before I came. I have the minutes of those meetings.
So anyway, we moved to New York, and I started to build this mandala. First I built a spiritual base, and then the study base, and then the business base to give us resources, and then the social action base. And all along, I was looking how does this work in terms of relationship? How do we keep it so it stays a full mandala? At that time, I think I was the only one involved in that thinking. Everybody else was pretty much it was a regular Zendo, but just for a while. And then, they start shifting, and many people left. People would leave because I wasn’t doing what they wanted. It was a little bit crazy. But we were doing a real life plan.
So, for me what was happening while we were doing our meditations, and koan study, and different Zen studies, and teaching people that, at the same time we were trying to develop a work practice. What do you do, in terms of work, that would help the people who are working experience the unity of life? That was my question. So my question, as we started to work in these different fields was not just how do we do a good job? Or in social action, how do we help? My question was how do we do it in a way that helps the people that are doing the work, and the people that are being served—how do we do it in a way that helps both of them experience the oneness of life? That was always my question. And that question has never stopped. And it’s at the forefront of what I do.
So I’m not doing things just because—I mean there’s so much that needs to be done. And the world’s full of a lot of people. My particular study and practice was how do you do that in a way that helps the people that are doing it, and the people that are being served experience the oneness of life?
What’s interesting to me—one of the things that’s interesting to me—is that in my early years (in the first twenty years), whenever I gave a talk (I was always giving talks. I’m a terrible writer. I can’t write, but I can talk. And many times people have to figure out how to shut me up. Once I start talking . . . ), so in those first twenty years, whenever I gave a talk, always there would be some people that would say, “How do we bring this into our life? I understand about how you sit now, but how do I bring it into my life?” Always I had that question. And you probably heard that question yourself once or twice—but, always.
In the second twenty years, never, never heard that question. Because when people saw me talking, what they saw was somebody who was bringing it into his life. That’s my feeling—why that question never arose again, after the first twenty years. So that’s an important little piece of information, because in those first twenty years, always we said that the practice has to be in your life. I mean that’s what my teacher said, and my teacher’s teacher. You know, I studied with Yasutani Roshi, with Koryu Roshi, Maezumi Roshi. They always said that, and people like weren’t seeing it. Because if they saw it, they wouldn’t have asked the question. But they kept asking the question, “How do we bring it into our life?” So that’s important to look at, I think.
So, we got into business. We built a bakery. But it was all in a plan. My plan, as I said, was first to build the spiritual base. We had a very good sitting schedule, and Sesshin every month, a lot of Sesshins. We had liturgy, and people learning. Eve is fantastic at liturgy—she’s not a priest, but she knows all of the liturgy, how to hit the bells, and all of that kind of stuff. So she can teach people that. But we did liturgy, we did all of that. And we had a lot of study. And of course we studied the five Buddha families. And we did studies of all of the various texts, and all that kind of stuff.
And we had some small business, but I wanted to create a big business. And we started something. We spent about six months to figure out what we would do, because I wanted something that could be used as a work practice. Now most of you probably know, if you go back into China, and even Japan, a lot of the monks in temples, they were supported by the monks working. They were farmers. They had rice crops, different things. And in fact, the man (he was Chinese), the man who wrote the first rule—in Zen Peacemakers Order we have a rule, that’s what makes it an order. There was a rule; the first rule for Zen made Zen an order. The first rule was written by a guy who’s—the Japanese pronunciation is Hyakujo, everybody knows Hyakujo, who studied Zen. And he’s the guy who said “A day of no work is a day of no food.” And when he got older—now I think he got really old, he got to maybe seventy-five [audience laughs]—and they took away his tools (the gardening tools, and whatever), because he was too old. He was getting dizzy, or fainting, or whatever. They said, “No more work for you, man.” And so he said, “OK. No more work, no more food.” And he stopped eating. Now eventually they tried to convince him, “You gotta eat.” “No. If I’m not working, I’m not gonna eat.” So they had to give him back his tools.
Audience member: Meshugenah.
Audience member: Him.
Bernie: “He was a meshugenah,” she says. [Audience laughs]
He wrote the first rule, which is a very interesting rule, if you read it. Because he said that you can’t have any images in a Zendo, or in a Zen Center. Because, he said, if you put images in, then before you know it people are going to start asking you to make prayers for the Lords to win their battles, and for rain to come, and they take you away from the practice—which for him was the sitting.
So I’m switching back and bringing new idols into the Zendo. And those idols are serving all the hungry spirits. And I had one member, when I introduced and talked about this service . . . Kan Ro Mon in English translates as The Gate of Sweet Nectar. And it’s not a direct translation, pretty direct, but I included some pieces from some other traditions. So one of my members got really mad. She said she wouldn’t chant it because she had enough troubles of her own, and did not want to bring all of these hungry spirits into the space. And in that chant, we’re inviting all of the hungry spirits to come into our space, so that we could suffer with them, and take care. And she says, “Leave me alone already! I’ve got enough suffering!”
So, we started the business, and we built this Greyston—first a bakery, to make money. And as soon as we were OK financially, we started to expand what we were doing. And what I did is—I didn’t have a plan as to what we would do. I’d listen to what was going on. We built our bakery in a very poor part of town. And I’d listen to what was going on in that poor part of town. And it seemed like the biggest issue was homelessness, and single parent homelessness. There were crack vials everywhere on the streets, so drugs was also big.
So out of bearing witness to what was happening where we were, we started to do things. First, to feed people in the local soup kitchens, but then we started to build housing, permanent housing for people. But you couldn’t give somebody an apartment that didn’t have a job. They would lose the apartment. So at the same time, we were creating jobs. And if you’re a single parent, you can’t work in that area either. You couldn’t get childcare. We didn’t have the social system you have here. So, we had to build childcare. And there were drugs everywhere. So we had to get involved in drugs.
So we looked at the whole picture, essentially again bearing witness to what was going on. And out of that, came this Greyston model. And this Greyston model was built on the Buddhist principles. What we did came out of the Three Tenets. And the structure is intimately involved with these five Buddha families.
And I’m going to present a program on how all that happened, and what those details are in New York. And I found out that Barbara wanted to attend that. And now Cornelius is going to attend that. So we’ll have various folks that have studied that whole way of doing things, and that model. I find it, of course, very interesting, because that’s what I did.
But what comes out of that is it’s not the Zendo anymore. What comes out of that, when you work with all five energies of that mandala—you’re working in all of society. And we don’t have all these techniques developed in those five spheres of how to help folks experience the oneness of life. Remember, that’s what Buddhism means. So it has to be based on that. So it means we still have work. We developed a bunch of upayas. And some very important—that I’m going to talk on the third twenty years. But at this time we were still exploring how do you serve, how do you take care in a Buddhist way?
I did not introduce any Buddhist notions to our staff. Most of the staff are people that either had been homeless, drug addicts, convicts. We hired them right off of the street. We do no checking of their backgrounds. They have to work well. If they don’t, their buddies fire them. We do not preach any Buddhist values. But the whole structure, the whole environment they’re working in was informed, in my opinion, by our Buddhist values.
So, it’s fascinating, this started thirty-two years ago. It’s still growing very nicely. It’s done so many wonderful things. The staff is about 180 people. Most people came off the streets. We have a program, called Pathmaker Program, which works with a person on their life, in terms of the five Buddha energies. What do they want their life to be, in terms of spirituality, in terms of work, in terms of study, in terms of relationship, and in terms of social action?
And about a year ago—we had a person in charge of that program—about a year ago, she worked with the staff on the vision, and mission, things like that that most companies do. And she first asked the people to think about what do they think is the spirituality of Greyston. Now, remember these are folks that never heard of Buddhism. They knew there was this guy Bernie, that was the founder. I came back, about a couple years ago, this work, the mission work was started before I came back. But they knew that this was all started by this Zen monk. So at least that was the myth about me. There was this guy Bernie who started it. But they didn’t know anything about Buddhism. There is a Zendo in that building. And there is a teacher that lives in New York. But none of the staff were going to that. Some other people went to the Zendo. But they knew that there was such a thing as meditation. They saw people going.
At any rate, they worked, and they came up with three principles of spirituality of Greyston. The first principle—this is what they came up with—the first principle was that we should listen to what other people have to say. The second principle that they came up with is that we should get to know what their lives are about. And the third principle they came up with; we should serve the community.
These are folks that when they first came into Greyston, they didn’t care about anybody but themselves—where to get a hit (Is that the language you use? What’s the German word for a hit? To get drugs, how to get some drugs.). They didn’t care about their wives, their families. So after a certain amount of time, one of their principles was how to serve the community.
So, I have an opinion that this was a way of teaching folks about the oneness of life. We had some other little tricks that had to do with the work, and whatever. But people were really getting that. Now they’re asking for meditation. They’re asking for meditation—to come into our meditation. I now come down once a week, but they want to bring mindfulness throughout the whole company. And we’re talking about bringing council throughout the whole company.
But if you come and visit, I’m sure you will feel that there’s something unusual about Greyston. It’s many buildings—many, many, buildings. It’s quite large. You know, it’s not just in one town. It’s a few different towns. It works with seniors, and youths, and with AIDS, and with all kinds of things. But if you come, you’ll feel something different. And because of that, it’s being studied. The model is being studied in many of our colleges. But when they study it in our colleges, they leave out the spiritual component. And I think, therefore they will miss the point. That’s my opinion.
And so we developed a little course too, to show them. So besides Barbara and Cornelius that are going to attend that, there’ll be many different business people that want to bring that model into their companies—both in U.S. and in Europe. That’s gonna happen.
So after a while, we had built this Greyston, it was going along. Eve had a few different jobs at Greyston. She worked in sales, selling cakes and stuff.
Eve: I hated it.
Bernie: I didn’t know that. She worked in fundraising. And she’s a great writer, and she wrote a proposal. We started an AIDS facility for both a health clinic, and housing. And our governor put out a proposal—they were going to give a million/two million, do you remember?
Eve: I think ours was a million and a half.
Bernie: A million and a half dollars for what they thought was the best AIDS program in the country. And she wrote the proposal, and we won that. So we had a lot of little, and big, or different kinds of things that happened. One of the things that I thought is fantastic is—In the United States, New York is considered to make the best cheesecakes in the country. They don’t count Europe. So, in the United States, New York is the best area for cheesecakes. And there was a newspaper (it doesn’t do it any more), it used to do an annual award for the best Cheesecake in New York. And we won that award. And for me, what was so fantastic is that the best cheesecake in New York, which means the best in the country, was made by people that our country considered garbage—that threw away those people, didn’t consider they could do anything. So all of the products that were made at Greyston were superb. And they are all being made by former homeless, former prisoners/convicts, former drug people. I just love that. That was quite wonderful.
So after a number of years, I felt it was time for me to move on. I’m a very unstable person. And when things become . . . well, at any rate, I don’t want to get sidetracked. It became time to move on, for me. And there were people who I felt could do a great job—maybe better. I’m good at the initial vision. I’m not such a great administrator. So when things go into that phase where it has to be more operational, I’m not necessarily the best. I like to keep creating new things.
So at any rate, I decided I wanted to do something else. And because of the work at Greyston, and also my Zen work, I had traveled a lot, and met wonderful groups all around the world doing all kinds of beautiful things. So I decided to do something else, but I didn’t know what. But I had the Three Tenets. So, what did I do? I had no plan of what to do. This was 1994, so it’s still during that second twenty years. And I decided to bear witness to that question of what should I do?
And the way I did it is I chose a place to go sit, and do meditation, and to bear witness on the question. And I raised the question for myself, I said, “What should I do next to work with people that are being rejected by society, in particular AIDS, homeless, poverty? What should I do?” It was my fifty-fifth birthday. And since it was my birthday, I invited people to join me in the sitting, with that theme. To bear witness to that—it’s like a koan. That’s what you do when you do koans. You bear witness to the koan. So here’s a koan, let’s bear witness to it. And about twenty people came—or I don’t remember, something like that.
And I decided I always like to do things on a very special spot. So I chose that we would do this, we would sit on the steps of the Capitol of the United States, in Washington, DC. And we went there. My birthday is January 18th, so it’s very cold there. And it turned out to be the coldest week in fifty years in Washington, DC, so we were covered with snow. And we have pictures of that.
And something arose out of that bearing witness. And what arose was the Zen Peacemaker Order. What arose, to me, was that we should build a container for people who are interested in meditation and social engagement. And I went home, and discussed it with my wife. Her name is Jishu, and she passed away in ’98—March, ’98. So I went home—this was ’94—went home, discussed it with her. And she said it was a great idea. And she said, “Let’s base it on precepts—on a rule, on the Three Tenets, and on precepts.” And we decided to spend a year—I don’t know if we decided to spend a year, but we wound up spending a year—working on that rule with a bunch of wonderful teachers. Eve was one of those. Joan Halifax (some of you know) was one of those. A woman Egyoku, she’s now the Abbot in Los Angeles was one of those. Genro Gaunt, if you’ve been to Auschwitz, you know him—but he comes here to Switzerland a lot—so he was one of those. Pat Enkyo O’Hara was one of those. And we sat, and we talked about precepts for about a year. And those are now called the Zen Peacemaker Order Precepts. And we have a Zen Peacemaker Order Rule, which consists of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the Three Tenets, those Ten Precepts, and Four Commitments, which were proposed and developed during the World Congress of Religions (we adapted). So that was the beginning of Zen Peacemaker Order.
I’m gonna stop there. When did we go to Auschwitz?
Bernie: ’96. So tomorrow, we start in ’96. So that brings us up to ’95, around the same time, maybe a little later than ’95. I forget, but I’m gonna close that middle twenty years that way. And tomorrow we start in the next twenty years. So let’s open it to dialogue. We only have ten minutes, so you gotta ask quick. We got eight minutes, because Eve wants two minutes.
Audience member 1: My question Bernie, yesterday you looked back on the first twenty years in Zen. I wonder what continued from your first twenty years in the second twenty years?
Bernie: It continued all the time—till now. I mean, you’re here. It continues all the time, but it expanded. What I consider Zen training expanded. And I’ll talk about that tomorrow. This is Indra’s net, so we could say that the first twenty years, it was a portion of the net. The net is all of life, and we were working with one portion. And the second twenty, there was a bigger portion, but this is still a part.
Audience member 2: I hear you talking about your path, and I’m wondering is it me just beginning to come over to understand, what is your path. And your path, what you want to bring for us to recognize—or to bring us, to share your path for us, where you want to give a gift to us to continue, or for now where you want to pass on to us to continue on your journey, or one we can put in. So really, really like to ask for Buddha path Master here, now, present also reflection our Master in everyone. So for me, right now, I would like to ask one question. You are talking about your path, what you want to bring for us in the moment, and for us to bring in to the future? Thank you.
Bernie: I think, in my opinion, what you’re saying sounds true to me. It sounds like the reason I’ve been doing workshops, and things of this nature is to offer this path that I’ve done, and for those who like it, to jump into it.
It’s not always been what I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve been very active in building Greyston, and doing these different things that I’ve done. And what happened—I’ll tell you the explicit thing that happened that changed me into doing this, to including this—is I was invited to do a dialogue with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Frankfurt, five years ago. And it was His Holiness, myself, and a Catholic Priest and Abbot (I’m forgetting his name, he has a beard, very involved in social engagement, who, I believe he is in Frankfurt). So he was the third, three of us, and it was in this big soccer stadium, about 15,000 people—the Frankfurt soccer/football stadium. And at the time, I asked him (the man who was organizing, a wonderful newscaster, like a Charlie Rose of Germany, I’m forgetting his name) . . . And he asked if I would come, and I said, “Why me? I’m an American.” And this was in Frankfurt, and it should be a German Buddhist person doing social action. And he said, “We don’t have any.” That was shocking to me. So, I actually Googled German Buddhist social activist, and I came up with Bernie Glassman. [Audience laughs]
So I went. And Willigis Jager was there, with his assistant at the time. And Willigis Jager was Cornelius’ teacher. And he studied with Yamada Roshi in the Sanbo Kyodan. And he has stayed at our place in New York, when he was on his way back from Japan. He did Zen studies in Japan. So we talked then, but I hadn’t seen him since then. That was like ’81. So we spent some time talking. And his assistant said to me, “Could you start giving talks here in Germany, because social action is a very important thing, and nobody’s talking about it? No Buddhists are talking about it.” So I thought about it, and I started to do it. I hadn’t been doing these kind of workshops before that—mostly. It was mostly just in projects. And that’s what started me doing it.
So, yes, the direct answer is that’s why I was doing it. I did it, trying to hook people up to do projects themselves, to get Buddhists to know that it’s not bad (a lot of Buddhists felt it was bad to do—social engaged work).
Eve: We’re running out of time. So, this is not just an answer for you, but for everyone, for the rest of today.
So this today was taking Zen out of the Zendo—not leaving the Zendo, but taking out to the world. And tomorrow it’s taking Zen to the streets. So, I think when you asked, “What is it that we’re getting from the story?” It’s the question for everybody here (including us) continually is how do we take this practice into every area of our life? Every area of your life, and my life.
So Bernie gave his answer. It was social action, it was business, but he also said, “There are many sectors where practices have not been developed yet.” Because Buddhism was monastic, so a huge area where it has not been developed is the home—family, children. It’s one of the biggest concerns people have. What do I do with this practice that was monastic for 2,000 years, and now we’re bringing it to the West, and making it available everywhere? But, what do I do? What do I do with my children? What do I do with the person I live with? What do I do?
And in all these areas, I think everybody has to start—if you’re interested in what he’s presenting, so yes that includes social action, and everything, but includes every area. And I think it would be a really nice thing if for the rest of the day, everybody works on what are the practices that I’m trying to develop in the different areas of my life? That, as he said, will bring people to see and experience the oneness.
Bernie: And don’t answer the question by saying, “meditation.” We know, meditation, we know that’s it. What else?
[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”The Third 20 Years: Practice in the Streets” tab_id=”1513286643045-40f2c35b-e3a5″][vc_column_text]Bernie: At first there was no Indra’s Net. So that’s like when Indra says to Heinz, “Build me a monument.” There was no idea what to build. And then boom, an action arose. So, in science, they say the Big Bang arose, and energy starts expanding. It expanded to a certain distance, but it kept expanding, it never stopped. It kept expanding, still expanding. And they called the universe—all of that—energy. And I call that also, that’s all energy. And I also call it Indra’s Net.
Now somewhere along the line, things started to happen, and other actions arose. And those actions got called names. Just like when we have an action, we then name it—because we can’t stand not naming things. It’s very hard. We gotta name it. “Oh, that’s good. That’s bad. That’s suffering. That’s pleasure.” We gotta name it, man. We can’t deal just with the thing. That’s too much somehow—or too little. So we give it names.
So as this stuff expanded, they start giving it names. They gave the whole thing the name, Universe. And then boop, these other actions happened, and they called them galaxies. And then they called other things suns, and other things planets, and other things people, and other things cockroaches. They gave names to everything that arose—all the stuff that arose.
Basically, it’s all energy. That’s my opinion. See, what I’m giving you . . . Don’t take it like it’s the . . . Well, I don’t believe in truth. I was going to say “the truth, according to Bernie.” But I don’t believe in truth. So, it’s Bernie’s opinion.
All this energy, and all these things are arising, that’s the Indra’s Net. And each thing that we gave a name, like a cockroach—that’s a pearl. Or we think of a unicorn, and we think “unicorn.” That’s a pearl. So all these things that arose are pearls that everything is contained in them. That’s why Shakyamuni Buddha, bless his heart, said 2,500 years ago (a little bit more than 2,500 now, huh?), he said, “Everything as it is, is.” The enlightened way—it’s all one. He’s talking about that whole Indra’s Net, or that whole energy field, or an individual. So within that individual, that’s one net, one pearl. Everything is contained.
But because (and here’s the rub), because of our deluded thinking (I don’t know if he used the word deluded, maybe we can just say thinking.), the brain works dualistically. And so the brain is naming everything, and causing separations. Because of that, we only see a certain portion of the net. Or we only grok a portion of the net. It’s not that we see it necessarily, but all of the things that come up is in this sub-portion of the net. As we deepen (This, again is my explanation of enlightenment) our sense of the interconnectedness of life, we are experiencing more, and more of this energy field—or more, and more of Indra’s Net, which now includes more, and more things.
So if I could extend/deepen my interconnectedness of life to the whole energy field, or the whole Indra’s Net, you see what that means? What that means is that you now understand Jung’s “Cosmic Consciousness.” Because that’s what Jung said, there is a cosmic consciousness. And it’s all of that. And we are part of that.
And so, when I now see something, I say, “Oh, that’s my reincarnation.” That means I’ve extended my experience of interconnectedness to include that part of the energy field that’s my reincarnation—or your reincarnation.
OK, I wanted to set that all straight before I go into this, my next twenty years. It all makes sense, right?
And of course, it’s just an opinion. But it satisfies me. Now that opinion took me sixty years to develop. And it’s not that I developed it. It just came out of something. The elements—I’ve been talking about Indra’s Net for probably fifty-five years. I’ve been talking about the Big Bang in this way for probably about twenty years. Putting it all together all happened because . . . And I’ve been thinking about reincarnation for a long, long time. Because if you remember, yesterday I said that experience I had of all the hungry spirits came by my bearing witness to reincarnation. So that’s what had happened. Recently, in the last six months, somebody asked me—they’re writing a book about reincarnation, and they asked if they could do a chapter on me. And they asked me about reincarnation. And this is what came up. I hadn’t thought of this before. So, in my head, this is an opinion that arose six months ago. But this fits in very well with the experience I had, what is it, forty years ago? I’m losing track of time—when I experienced the hungry spirits. That came out of bearing witness to reincarnation—starting with no idea of what it was. I had read all kinds of things, you know, as you have I’m sure. There’s so many different theories. The Jewish mystics have a theory. Of course the Tibetan Buddhists have a theory. There’s a lot of theories around reincarnation. I’ve read, I’ve studied all that stuff. But it was out of bearing witness that the opinions that I share come from. I very rarely share what I read. So I wanted to put that in context.
So now we’re starting the next twenty years. You have a sense by now, probably why for me; the Three Tenets is such an important way of practice. Because in my life, it just lead to such amazing changes, and opinions. Every opinion of course, you’ve got to get rid of, or at least explore deeper, and deeper. And certainly, don’t think that you’ve experienced some kind of truth. It’s an opinion. But they’ve been wonderful for me.
Eve: So Bernie, all these opinions are also pearls.
Bernie: Yes, exactly. Everything is a pearl. Every thought is a pearl. When somebody says, “This is the right thing.” That’s a pearl. So all that stuff is contained in us too. And that’s why it is not easy to let go of all those facts, that are pearls that are shining in us. They have their own power. And if that power is strong enough, that leads to our knowing certain things for sure. What I think is fascinating is when we know things for sure, then we can blame, right? When we don’t know things for sure, we can’t blame. Everybody’s to blame. I mean if it’s all this energy field, man, how do you blame anybody? It’s all interconnected, but once we know for sure things, then we can blame and say all kinds of stuff.
I’m at the beginning of this next phase, so I’ll give the history. And since Eve was involved, she will give her version, when my version doesn’t correspond with her version—which most likely will happen.
So I had a student that many of you probably know, named Claude AnShin Thomas. And when I met him he had already been pretty heavily involved with Thich Nhat Hanh. He had been in the Vietnam War. He had had a mental breakdown. He was a very confused person. He couldn’t sleep at night, you know. He’d be kept up by the bombs, and all kinds of things. He had been a tailgate gunner on a helicopter, shooting people. And then he had a nervous breakdown. At any rate, he came to me wanting to know if he could ordain with me, and be my student. And for many different reasons I agreed. And it turned out that he was soon going to be involved in a walk. He did a lot of walking. His practice was walking. He walked across Europe. He walked all over. And very soon—maybe a year, I can’t remember the timing—he was going to join a bunch of Buddhist monks who chant the Lotus Sutra (demonstrates chanting), and they march and beat a drum, and chant—and they walk. Their practice is walking and social engagement. So somebody here was confused about Japanese maybe not being involved in social engagement—their leader, sort of a Gandhi kind of guy in Japan told them if they weren’t in jail half of the year, they weren’t being a good monk. They had to do resistance. That was part of their practice, and walking.
So they were planning a walk from Auschwitz to Hiroshima—through all of the war-torn countries. And AnShin had decided to join them. So I said that I would go with him to Auschwitz, and give him lay what’s called Jukai. Jukai means taking the Precepts, as a layperson. And I would do that at Auschwitz. And then I would join to the last month of that walk, and ordain him as a Priest at the helicopter site where he was stationed in Vietnam.
And it turned out there was an interfaith conference being held at Auschwitz, in regards to this walk. And so different people were invited for this interfaith conference. And the group that was going to walk was sitting in Birkenau during the conference. And we were all wishing them well. Then they started their walk. So I decided to go to the interfaith conference. It was my first time to Auschwitz.
And Eve was on her way to Israel to visit her family, so she said she’ll stop off with me. And that was also her first time physically to Auschwitz. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor, so the Holocaust was part of her daily growing up. But this was the first physical time to Auschwitz. So we went.
And then there was a tour; I mean there was all this conference stuff. For those of you that have been to Auschwitz, that’s where I met Ginny. She was at that conference. I’m not sure if there was anybody else at that conference who’s been a part of our retreats. There was a Lakota man there. The Lakota elders have come to Auschwitz, and we’ll have a Bearing Witness retreat with Native Americans one day. But at any rate, we went, and part of that workshop is they give a tour. And so in the tour we entered Birkenau. And I was struck again—like before when I was struck by all the hungry spirits suffering, and wanting to be fed, wanting their suffering to be relieved—so now I was struck by the feeling of souls. In my head it was like millions of souls wanting to be remembered.
And so again, this came out of my bearing witness to that place—this action of these souls arising, wanting to be remembered. And that sent me on a path of designing a retreat that would work with that theme. It took about a year and a half to design the retreat. And what’s fascinating to me is this will be the eighteenth year, or nineteenth year, I don’t know . . .
Eve: I think it’s twenty.
Bernie: This is the twentieth year? It might be the twentieth year. Eve is a very good historian. I have a very bad time with that kind of thing.
At any rate, so it’s a long time. And at each of these retreats—I haven’t been to all of them, maybe three or four that I didn’t go—and in all of these retreats, when I’m there, I always talk about for me, what the retreat is about—which has to do with remembering. See, these souls, what’s fascinating to me is that most people who come pick a few souls. Maybe the Jewish souls—the Poles in the first retreat picked the Jewish and the Germans. They said, “It’s all about you guys. It’s got nothing to do with us.” Everybody in that is saying, “This is what it’s about.”
I’m saying it’s about all. It’s how we treat the other. I mean that’s where the handicap were killed. That’s where gays were killed. That’s where the gypsies were killed. That’s where the Polish intellectuals were killed. That’s where the Catholics were killed. That’s where the Jews were killed. That’s a lot of people, man.
So for all those years I was saying that. And other people were writing “Oh no, it’s about the German/Jewish thing.” That’s too narrow. Nothing is that narrow. That’s our way of thinking—narrow. It’s like thinking the Israel/Palestine thing is about the Israelis or the Palestinians. It’s not about either one. It’s not even about the Middle East. It’s about the gestalt of this Indra’s Net, and why we are constantly picking on each other, or doing things. What’s the deal here? Once we narrow it to one group, “oh it’s what the Germans do”, and then they feel guilty or, “oh it’s about this.” We lose the picture, man. I think, in my opinion, if you don’t see the whole net, you go astray. And you’ll cause more problems. That’s my opinion.
So I tried to devise such a retreat, and we called it a Bearing Witness Retreat, and in my head a Bearing Witness Retreat would come out of two things—a place, I’ve always been interested in the place. So Zen Peacemaker Order, that retreat a few of us chose the place, the Capital, Washington, and out of that came something. This time the place for me was Birkenau. And the theme was how we treat others. But because I chose Birkenau, for most people the theme is the Holocaust. That’s never been my theme, and I’ve said that each time. I keep repeating it, because it still amazes me.
And I just received something that’s going to be a book that’s going to be published that’s gonna talk about the transformations that different people had. And in the introduction it talks about this whole retreat was to commemorate or to deal with the Holocaust. And I don’t know how many times I’ve said that that’s not what it’s about, the retreat. But at any rate, you’ll see I have hot spots too that get pushed. But also what’s interesting to me is how hard it is to look at the whole picture. You know, to look at the bigger picture of what’s going on.
So at any rate, out of that experience we spent a year and a half, and Eve was instrumental. In my opinion there were three cofounders of that retreat—myself, Eve, and a Polish man, André Kudelski. Some of you know André, and some don’t. We couldn’t have done it without any of those—all three of those had essential roles to make that work. And all three have been involved over all these years. But we haven’t necessarily gone to every one. One of the times that I didn’t go—and in that retreat we have Spirit Holders . . . And the role of the Spirit Holder is to stay tuned to the gestalt of the retreat. And if it’s getting away from the intention, to change the schedule, to tweak the schedule. You know, we’ve modified the schedule many, mnay, many, many times. It’s pretty good, but still it needs to be tweaked each year. And hopefully those Spirit Holders can do that.
Now as I got closer to feeling that I’m not around that much, and whatever, I started some training programs for those Spirit Holders. So that we could discuss—for the Spirit Holders, and also for the next generation of Bearing Witness Retreat leaders—so that we can grok more what role does the Three Tenets have to play in these Bearing Witness Retreats. So when the Spirit Holder says, “We should tweak it,” they should be tweaking it because it’s getting away from the Three Tenets.
And of course one big way that it gets away we ran into the second time that we wanted to do it. I was very concerned because people that attended the first retreat were telling people that were thinking of coming about how wonderful it was, and how they were going to be transformed into loving people, and all this healing. And I didn’t want people to be telling people what it was about, because that was breaking the first Tenet. They were not coming in a state of not knowing. They were coming expecting to be transformed, and this is going to be a lovely experience. For me that was very harmful to what that retreat was supposed to be about. And I put a lot of energy into the first one to help plunge into that not knowing state.
Now that still continues, and still the beginning helps you do that, but there’s been a lot of talk, and a lot of other stuff. So we have to work with that. And the Spirit Holders have to look, and it continues through the retreat due to what goes on in the Plenary experience, you know, different things go on there. It’s still a wonderful retreat, and in my opinion it does work with the other. And that’s really, really important.
You know, I like to repeat this one particular story. Two years ago this woman came who lives in a village outside of Munich. And her grandfather ran a camp. And she was in my Council group. And the first day we introduced ourselves, and she said that she had been wanting to come to this retreat for fifteen years, but was afraid to. She was full of fear. And what she was afraid of was that she would meet a Jewish person, or a Polish person. And then there was a man in my group who lives in Krakau. And he said he had been thinking of coming for ten years, but he was afraid. He was full of fear. He was afraid he would meet a German person.
So could you imagine this woman for fifteen years full of fear that she would meet a Polish or a Jewish person? They were all over, Poles and Jews. You know, what was her life like? And he, in Krakau, there’s Germans all over the place. And he was afraid to meet a German person.
So, they met. And four days later they’re hugging, and that fifteen years of fear was gone to them. They didn’t have to talk about German Holocaust, or any things of that nature. They felt each other. And they felt their differences, and their samenesses, and just being in contact with each other.
That’s why I wanted all these different people. And it doesn’t always help. There was a Jewish guy that came from Los Angeles. And that year we had an Imam, a beautiful guy named Ihab, who lives in Yaffa. That’s a city right south of Tel Aviv. He’s, I don’t know, six generations Yaffa, maybe more. I mean his family’s been there forever. And we had a Plenary, and I asked him to talk. And after that evening, this Jewish man came up to me and said, “How dare you allow a Palestinian to talk here?” Now this is after I had talked about how we treat the other, and what the retreats about. “How dare you allow a Palestinian to come here?” And through the retreat, at the end of the retreat he said he had a very powerful retreat, and he still feels I should not allow Palestinians to come here. Who’s suffering more, the Imam or this L.A. Jew?
So in one of the years where I didn’t attend, one of the Spirit Holders—Cornelius is now the German Spirit Holder. Before Cornelius, a man named Heinz, I wonder if it was the same Heinz that was the author . . .
I never asked the architects last name. This one is Heinz-Jurgen Metzger. But at any rate, Heinz was our Spirit Holder. And as I said, Eve and I both weren’t there that year, and he introduced the thought of remembering the Capos, the guards and the S.S. that worked there. And what I was told was about half of the retreatants were gonna leave. They were very, very upset at that notion.
And so the next year, I made that the theme, and we did a lot of work on that. And there was a woman who had been very active with us, an Israeli who is a teacher of nonviolent communication, had been a teacher for years, and years, and was doing beautiful work in Palestine and Israel. She had worked directly with Marsha Rosenberg. And she was now involved with us a long time. And she came up to me one of the evenings when we were dealing with the subject of allowing Capos, and Gestapo, and what Heinz had introduced. She came up to me, and she was serious, she said, “Bernie, you’ve got to separate us, because I will kill him.” So this was our experience. N.V.C. trainer, who’s buttons somehow was very well pushed enough to where she seriously (and before being in N.V.C., she was in the police force), and she really wanted to kill him.
Audience member 1: And Heinz said he felt so in danger that he wanted to leave the retreat.
Bernie: Yeah. Well, Heinz was scared, because she meant it. She wanted to kill him.
At any rate, one of the things that was so important for me personally—which again, I didn’t realize until yesterday, and I don’t know if it was yesterday, because I have such a bad sense of time, but it was recently—what struck me is that when I went in to Berkinau that first time, and could feel all these souls wanting to be remembered, those souls included the Capos and Gestapo. But it took us ten years before we started to include a process, which we now have for the last eight years or something—a process on working on the aggressor within us.
So when I reflect on that experience of the souls wanting to be remembered . . . You know when some people here me talk, they think, “Oh he felt all the Jewish people.” But in my consciousness, at that time, it included all the groups that I mentioned. Because I knew that’s where the Gypsies—so we had the Queen of the Gypsies at our first retreat. And we had the S.S. house at Auschwitz 1, that’s where were housed all the gays that came. And we almost always had handicapped, we’ve always had survivors, and X survivors, and children of Gestapo, you know, that big variety.
But it took Heinz to bring that up, and for us almost to lose all of our retreatants—the notion that they should be remembered too. Because if you’re talking about suffering, was it just the Jews that suffered then? It doesn’t work that way. Just like now, you go to Israel and every Israeli is suffering. And if you step over to the West Bank, every Palestinian is suffering. If you went into Gaza, everyone is suffering. And the soldiers, like her nephews that go in there and see what’s happening—they’re suffering. And they will continue suffering after it’s all over. After it’s all over, all these people are suffering. So, what’s the deal? What ends the suffering? If you choose one piece of this Indra’s Net, is that gonna do it?
At any rate, the power of that Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz lead me to make Bearing witness Retreats a major part of the work I do. And Street Retreats is one form of Bearing Witness Retreat. And by now we have many within the Zen Peacemakers. So there’s a Zen Peacemaker family, which is rather large. And we’re now revitalizing the Zen Peacemaker Order to only be those people that are engaged in social action. But if I now look at all of the people that are now leaders of different Bearing Witness Retreats, they’re all part of Z.P.O. And we’re requiring anybody who joins Z.P.O. to go to at least one Bearing Witness Retreat every three years. Genjo probably leads Street Retreats about five times a year. A couple people here are from Frank Waele’s sangha. They’re involved in Street Retreats annually, but he then does other Bearing Witness Retreats.
So that’s become a very important part of our work. And in my head, for something to be a Bearing Witness Retreat, it has to come out of the Three Tenets. And that’s why I’m doing a training now of what it means to organize a Bearing Witness Retreat, because the name catches on, and people call all kinds of things Bearing Witness Retreats. I don’t mind that. But it’s important that if people want to be part of what we’re doing, that they grasp the Three Tenets, and how these Retreats should be, and not cause more problems by creating a Bearing Witness Retreat that they think is going to deal with an issue, and give people all the answers to what that issue is about.
You know, that’s so common among us. When we first started council, and even now when we do council, the hardest people to learn how to do council are teachers, and ministers, because they want to preach. They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to be open to everything. They know the answers. Man, they’ve been in this business a long time, and they want to preach to us, and tell us what’s the right way of doing things, you know. So council’s very difficult for them, and it’s very important for them, I think. That’s my opinion.
And so this last twenty years, it’s been about preaching the gospel of council, and of bearing witness work. And I think that’s what I wanted to say.
But I just want to add that I think you can see how these Bearing Witness Retreats increase our experience of Indra’s Net, or this energy field. Because a lot of what we’re bearing witness to are parts of that energy field, or parts of that Indra’s Net that we don’t want to be in touch with, or we haven’t wanted to be in touch with. So for this woman, look at her energy net—this woman from near Munich—she kept all Jews and Poles out of the energy field. She tried to, you know, you can’t keep them out, because it’s an energy field, it’s Indra’s Net. But her brain was trying to keep it all out. And what does that create? It creates fear. It creates suffering. So in my opinion, the suffering that any of us our going through has got to be because there are portions of this net that we’re keeping out. If we experienced the whole thing, there’d be no suffering, in my mind. How could there be? It’s all; we’re all just all these things happening.
Eve: What? You mean all this pain is gonna make us happy?
Bernie: No, but happiness and pain will be just two pieces of the net. I mean it won’t be that we’ll make a problem out of it.
Eve: Rocky, come on! I mean come on; you want me to go to Rwanda. You want me to go to Congo. You know what goes on there? The rape, and the mutilation, and the children, they take them to the army. And you think if I stay away from that, that’s what makes me sad?
Eve: Oh Rocky, come on. That makes no sense at all.
Bernie: I never said I make sense. I just share my opinions. That’s my opinion.
Eve: But how can that . . . If you give me a choice between going to the Congo and seeing all these things, and watching a comedy on TV, which is going to make me happier?
Bernie: Going to the Congo. It’s going to open up your—in my opinion, Tootsie—if you do that, then more of that net’s going to be there. Now they may give you things to do. Probably stuff is gonna happen, and you’re gonna want to do certain things. But I think you won’t be as fearful, or as nervous as if you did do it. To me, the smaller the net that you are dealing with, the worse it is. You’re confined, and yet inside you do have some sense of everything going on. But you’ve got like all these walls; so all that stuff just causes problems. Just like that woman, in her mind, “Poles are haters, so I gotta be afraid of meeting a Pole.” Extend the net, now she’s with a Pole, where’s the hate? “How come you don’t hate me?” It changes. So for me the experience, and that’s what Buddhism is about, it’s experience, experiencing these things, and as Shakyamuni Buddha said, “It’s experiencing the interconnectedness of life, the oneness of life.”
So what are the tools to help us do that? Zazen is one. But for me, what I’ve seen in my experience is this bearing witness stuff has done that much broader. And what’s interesting—this is just a thought that just came up—I haven’t seen people that do Bearing Witness Retreats become arrogant. I have seen many Zen teachers become arrogant, like they know what the deal is. I think when you do Bearing Witness Retreats, because they’re based on the Three Tenets, you get to know that you don’t know what the deal is, and you’re experiencing more, and more of the net. But they’re not carrying with it the notion that you know it all. And many Buddhist teachers that I’ve met seem to know it all. And it always sort of amazes me how they could feel that way. I just throw that out because it just came up, just an opinion.
So, any questions? We have fifteen minutes.
Audience member 2: I have a question in three parts. The first is more about the second part . . .
Bernie: The second twenty years? Isn’t that great we can talk about twenty year periods? Of course they’re all now here, right? It’s all part of this net. So in my case, and now in your case, you can experience that net, at least the part of that net that’s sort of Bernie for sixty years—or some parts of that, you know?
Audience member 2: I was asking myself . . . You told us yesterday about the new wineskin was needed. I was asking myself how do the practitioners of the old wineskin look at your new wineskin? And in your opinion, should the old wineskinners better be turned on to the new wineskin? That’s the second question. And out of that, the third question; should it maybe be an idea to integrate these Zen Peacemakers concept in existing organizations that don’t have anything to do with Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism in particular?
Bernie: OK. So the first part, you gotta ask them. How can I talk for other people? It’s hard enough for me to talk for myself.
Eve: It’s not that hard.
Bernie: I can just share my opinions, but I certainly won’t talk about anybody else. That’s just part of my practice. This came up in a discussion I had with Barbara. I would not for example recommend anybody go any other place, including myself. I mean people have to make their own decisions. And I have no idea what other people have to say. The only way I would have some idea—this is again not knowing, bearing witness—so if I wanted to know . . . So he’s [Cornelius] a Zen teacher, if I want to know what he thinks of the old skins and whatever, I can’t tell you what he thinks of it. I would have to come to him without any prejudgment, bear witness to Cornelius, and then see what comes up. And what comes us might be a question. “Hey Cornelius, what do you think about the old one?” But then, which old one? The second part of the first question—what part? And what’s the changes?
What struck me today was that during our sitting, in the morning sitting, I’m sitting, and this woman next to me, her nose starts to drip, and she starts reaching for her handkerchief. I guess it was a handkerchief, she was reaching for something, I could tell. And I could also tell she wasn’t finding it. In my old training—the training during the first twenty years—when somebody did that, my response was “Let it drip! Don’t move!” That was what I did in those twenty years. And now, I was sitting, I experienced this dripping and some movement, and what came up was I reached into my pocket for a tissue and gave it to her. That’s a change. It may not sound like a big change, but believe me when I trained you couldn’t do that, what I did. I mean I was the guy who would yell at you for doing that.
But at any rate, so there are so many different wineskins. Now, one of the wineskins that I learned back then was how to do Zazen. I haven’t changed that at all. Well, my body is now bad, so I do most of the sitting in a bathtub, because I have such bad knees and stuff like that. But I mean many of the forms I learned—I learned a lot of forms in those first twenty years—and I have kept many of them, most of them. But I let go of a lot. I dropped the kyusoku, for example, probably more than twenty years ago.
What was the second question?
Audience member 2: Should the old wineskins be turned over to the new wineskins?
Bernie: You know, what I learned . . . So, one of my advantages in Zen—I think, one of my advantages in Zen—is that I trained under three different Zen teachers, all very different. My direct teacher was Maezumi Roshi, but I started my Zen training with a man called Yasutani Roshi. I did the passing of Mu, and my first 100 to 150 koans with Koryo Roshi. So I trained under three different teachers, all of whom their styles were very, very different. And what Yasutani Roshi would say, one of the things that he said that effected me a lot, he said, it’s like in Japan, Japanese people love noodles. And there are all kinds of noodles—dozens, and dozens of different types of noodles. And so you have all these different noodle shops. And he said, “I’ll serve whatever noodle is right for the person who comes.” Well, that was not what some other places were doing where you had to do it this way. They served one type of noodle, and if you didn’t like that noodle—bye bye.
So from an early age I was working with all kinds of folks, including Catholic Priests, and Jewish Rabbis, and Muslim Sheiks, and Priests and laypeople. I learned to work with many, many . . . This is in the early twenty years, and continues. But I learned to work with many, many different forms, and which wineskin to use depended on the relationship. If I said that this is a wineskin that had to be used, that’s violating my first Tenet of not knowing. How do I know what’s appropriate unless we work together, and study together? And even then it’ll change depending on the time, the place, and whatever.
So that’s how I do things. I don’t have time to go into my little skit about the carpenter, about using a way.
Audience Member 2: Would it be a good idea to integrate the Zen Peacemakers concept into existing organization who don’t have anything to do with Buddhism or Zen?
Bernie: Greyston, for example, is such a case. Greyston is a huge organization. It’s not a Buddhist organization. It’s being listed as past of the Zen Peacemakers Order. It came out of the Zen Peacemakers, but it’s not a Buddhist thing. And the head of the bakery, a wonderful guy, and myself are preparing a training program for organizations that want to use the model of Greyston, which is basically the Three Tenets, and the five Buddha fields. So, yes, and that’s happened even by itself. People have come to us and trained, but not Buddhists. And these Three Tenets, as you hear, have no Buddhist terminology in it. And you’ll see those Three Tenets now all over the place. It’s sort of interesting, fascinating to me, how it’s arisen in different places.
Audience Member 2: Where did you find the Three Tenets? Where did you get them from?
Bernie: In my experience in Zen.
Audience Member 2: It’s your invention?
Bernie: I invented them. But I’m quick to say that the first Tenet of not knowing is the experience of the source of Mu. If you’ve done koan study, in koan study we’re trying to get you to experience that state of no knowing. But I put it into an easy way of talking. What I think I brought is an easy way, where I can take these Three Tenets and talk with any businessperson, or anybody. And the bearing witness is what I define as Shikantaza. But also, when I looked at koan study, for me, I wanted that student to become that koan, to bear witness to every aspect of what was going on. So that was bearing witness—and the actions that arise out of that.
Eve: So, when you say you “invented them . . . “
Bernie: I didn’t invent . . .
Eve: But they’re all pearls. So it’s like they were always there. So it doesn’t matter even when you say, “I created this. I created this book, this poem, this movie.” It was always there.”
Eve: And you’re just either seeing it . . .
Bernie: Expressing it in a different way, maybe.
So, I expressed it as the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. Yeah, I’m not sure, or I’m bringing attention to them. I’m bringing more light onto that portion of the thing. I mean the not knowing—take any religion, right. In Judaism, God is that which can’t be known. In Islam, God is that which can’t be known. In Christianity, the cloud of unknowing.
Eve: I guess my question is everybody here creates something. You create a song. You create a picture. You create a story. But if those are pearls, then really you’re not creating anything, because those pearls are there. So what is it that happens when we create something, you know, and at the same time it’s always there? So what is that? You know what I’m saying?
Eve: How do you unveil it? How do you unveil that pearl that’s always been there?
Bernie: Yeah. It’s an interesting question. So let’s go to the beginning. What’s the beginning? The beginning is before the Big Bang. It’s all there. Everything is there—all past, present, and future—before the Big Bang. But it can’t be perceived. And that’s what most religions call God—that which can’t be perceived. It can’t be known, right? And that’s what I call not knowing. And in Zen practice, that’s the source of Mu, if you’ve done work on koans. So every mystical tradition is trying to get you to experience that state before perception. That’s also the koan, What was your face before your mother was born, before your parents were born? That’s a koan. And that’s pointing to before the Big Bang. So it’s all there, but you can’t perceive it.
OK, now the Big Bang happens. And now it’s all moving out. And you’re saying that all the sudden I’m shining light on this portion that’s got to do with the Three Tenets. I’m just making this up as I go along. You know, I’m just thinking. And somehow, that other things that are perceiving it get excited by it, and join in.
So now we come to Jonah Salk. So we just did a retreat at Rwanda. A Bearing Witness Retreat in Rwanda, and Eve said to me . . . And a lot of things came up out of that. We did a retreat, and now there’s a lot of connections. There’s a wonderful woman that’s doing work with trauma. And she’s created over a hundred circles in doing this work. And now she and Barbara are connected. And she wants to become a Z.P.O. Steward. And all of her circles will be members of Z.P. And there’s a guy who wants to put light on all the Z.P.O. work that’s happening in Rwanda. A lot happened out of that. And Eve said, “You know, you don’t need to go again.” But next one, you go, you be the seed. You go, and things will arise, or they won’t arise. And stuff will continue.
So it reminded me of something that happened in Los Angeles, so it’s during the first twenty years. A man that in the United States is credited with developing the Polio vaccine, Jonah Salk—I don’t know if he’s known in Europe—he was a member of Zen Center Los Angeles. He sat with us. And one day he said to me, in his opinion, where there’s an unhealthy system—usually he was dealing with the body, we were dealing with society, the world—what he thinks you have to do is get a healthy cell, put it in the body, and if that cell is really healthy, it will multiply and eventually that body will become healthy. And he said he thought Zen was like that.
But that’s because he was a new Zen student, and new students always think what they just found is so fantastic. But I think that that’s what’s happening with Z.P.O. The Zen Peacemakers seed, there’s about 140 affiliates around the world now. And the amount of people that have heard about the Three Tenets is huge. They’re not all doing things. So now we want to encourage people to do things. And if they do, there’ll be new seeds all over the place. And that will shed more light, I think. And I think that’s what we’re doing, sort of more light is happening. And if it’s healthy, then it grows. If it’s not healthy, it’ll die. So just because you do something based on the Three Tenets, if it’s not healthy, it’s gonna die. If it’s helpful, I think it will live, and grow. And I know it won’t be just in Zen places. It’s already happening that all this stuff we’re doing is effecting all kinds of . . .
I was just visiting a wonderful group in Los Angeles that works with street gangs. It’s called Homeboys. And it’s a Catholic priest that’s in charge. And I was just talking with him; it’s a Catholic Priest that thinks he’s a Buddhist. He’ll come to Greyston soon. He’s ill; he’s got cancer—not in good shape. But he’s been working for a very long time, and saved so many people. And he’s built a huge thing called Homeboy Industry, and Homegirl Industry. And he’ll talk with people—these are all street people, these are gang people that are killing each other. You’ve heard of the killings that go on among those kinds of gangs. That’s who he works with. And it’s grown tremendously. And it’s very much on the same principles that we do. When we talk, we can talk like, “Yeah, so he comes first, we come first,” it don’t matter. It’s the same principles. And what he’s doing is fantastic.
Eve: The lunch bell has rung.
Bernie: The lunch bell has rung, I’m sorry. So we will go to lunch, and we’ll continue with . . . I don’t know, what are we continuing with?
Eve: We’ll see.
Bernie: We’ll see.