ROSHI BERNIE GLASSMAN RIP
In the 70's I was living in California…..5 years in San Francisco and another 5 in San Diego. At that time, I was going to Maezumi Roshi's Zen Center in LA for teachings and remember seeing Bernie there. Over the years I would read about his clowning and peace and justice work and was always very inspired/impressed but about 6 months ago I got that I wanted to go to his Concentration Camp sesshin but did not follow the call.
I had also heard about his Yonkers social practice bakery and the fact that there was MORE!!!! ...that he invited students to live on the streets to do sesshin practice there as literally homeless dependent/needy people who had no money/no bed/no clothes. Bernie seemed to be a performative kind of person friendly with fear and trembling as substitutes for sitting on the cushion to achieve the big wake up.
So when he died this weekend I found links and have listened non-stop to his teachings and posts and interviews which rounded out the portrait of this man and his life's work. And in almost 20 hours of listening I have not smelled an ego or a subconscious blunder or a stain of oye vey....but have seen and witnessed someone cleaned out by meditation and called to reach out and share non-seperation with others. But not with just others but with the Hungry Ghosts.
It happened this way: He was driving to work in LA, still being a Roshi at the Zen Center there but heard a call to "feed the hungry ghosts" or something like that. After listening to many variations of this story I was able to piece together his "hungry Ghost" reference and got that he meant that the "hungry Ghosts" were others in need of more: more food/money/pleasure/power/etc. But he also indicates that wanting to address these hungers and fix others was also a call to "fix" his own hunger. For I think 10 years he had been a bona-fide/strict Zen master who could keep hunger in order and when he saw students being "hungry" he could invite them/order them back to their cushion when they presented their "hungers." Then he was literally called to leave the world of order and sitting inside and took the show on the road to the streets/the bakery/the housing he built/the concentration camp but once outside in the world, in the streets as a homeless person or at a concentration camp surrounded by millions of Holocausted beings waiting to be honored and mourned, it was less about clean cut control. No bowing and silent entering and leaving the dokusan/darshan room. Outside, things get messier, more chaotic, more human and scary. But the intention the same as the one for those who sit sit sit: it was to cut through the conditioning and fear and veils we all swim in to make way for wake-up-Love.
He thrived in these atmospheres and that is why I am so taken with his sadhana...how can people put themselves as leaders and organizers in these atmospheres of care-giving/danger etc. That equals taking care of people who are crying/dirty/smelly/needy and HUNGRY!!!! He talks about wanting his students to become fearless on the streets, become fearless at the Camp because the many, many people on sesshin present/act mixed up and messy and guilty and chaotic and angry. He talks about the camps/the bakery/the streets/the homeless suspension of safety which invites his student into the fearful unknown BUT like zazen, breaks the shell in a way that sitting can and does, but when it occurs at the Camp or the street or the bakery, it does it with bravado that does not stink of zen. Walking the tightrope over the Grand canyon is Bernie's way.
I think of Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Padre Pio, the Berrigan Brothers, Maryknoll Nuns/Priests and others willing to touch the holy via the unkempt, the smelly, the needy, the hungry. Bernie talks in many of his interviews about being called a social working Catholic because his social justice practices smell of Catholic practices that bring comfort/healing/housing/food/food kitchens to the unloved/starving etc. And he mentions that he was a forerunner in the Zen world of practitioners who once were encouraged to sit, sit, sit but NOW are encouraged to reach out and do and not just sit. Joan Halifax, Peter Matthiessen are only two of his many lineage holders. And their practices are a mix of cushion/non-cushion.
BERNIE GLASSMAN thanks for being willing to get dirty and literally "not know" when on the streets practicing homelessness; Bernie thanks for teaching that it is mind blowing/enlightening to not know where to find a place to shit.
Linda Mary Montano 2018 November.