Bearing Witness to the Oneness of Life by Roshi Bernie Glassman


Dogen Zenji says of the first pure precept, “Ceasing from evil is the abiding place of laws and rules of all buddhas.” This abiding place is the state of non-duality, of not-knowing and non-separation. The Sixth Ancestor of Zen defines zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object—no space between you and me, up and down, right or wrong. So we can also call this precept “Returning to the One.”

It’s a very difficult place to be in, this place where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. It is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we are open to all the ways of all lives? How many of us can say that we don’t have the answer? How many us can say that every way that’s being presented is the right way?

Zen is a practice that pushes us to realize what is. To me, zazen is a form of bearing witness to life, of bearing witness to the elimination of the denial of the oneness of our life. As human beings, each one of us is denying something. There are certain aspects of life we do not want to deal with, usually because we are afraid of them. Sometimes it is society itself that is in denial. Zazen allows us to bear witness to all of life. To me, that is the essence of the second pure precept, doing good. Dogen says, “Doing good, this is the dharma, supreme enlightenment. This is the way of all beings.” 

Bearing witness to things we are denying or that society is denying, bearing witness to the things we don’t want to deal with—this is the second precept. When we bear witness, we open to what is, and we learn. The things that we are in denial about teach us. We don’t go to them to teach them. When we can listen, when we can bear witness, they teach us.

For me, the flowering of zazen is the third pure precept, doing good for others. Dogen says, “This is to transcend the profane and to be beyond the holy. This is to liberate oneself and others.”

What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born. So we don’t have to worry about what to do. If we cease from evil, if we become that state of unknowing, if we become zazen, the offering will arise. The fruit will be born.
The question always comes up: how do we bring our Zen into our life? 

But Zen is life. What is there to bring? And into what? The point is to see life as the practice field. Every aspect of our life has to become practice. I was trained in a traditional monastic model whose forms are conducive to the state of not-knowing. 

he question for me is, what forms can we create in modern society that will be conducive to seeing the oneness of life? What are the forms that will make it easier for us to experience that state of nonduality? Almost anything we do will cause more dualistic thinking. How do we lead ourselves, our brothers, and our sisters into a state of nonduality?

That’s the question. That’s the koan.

Step Up Your Game


For the rest of the month of November 2018, the Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago will hold daily meditations, Monday through Friday from noon to 1 pm. And on Thursday from 1 to 2 pm we’ll hold a special council circle to speak and listen from the heart. All of these are FREE and open to the public. We invite anyone (adults and teenagers) suffering from fear or anxiety, to join us for any of these sessions. In this way we can come together and support each other in this time of chaos and turmoil.

It used to seem like the violence and hatred was out there somewhere, far away. At first it was in Iraq and Afghanistan where we waged war to root out terrorists. Then it showed up on our own shores in America - at schools, at diners, bars, night clubs, entertainment venues, theaters, churches and synagogues. When we did our memorial service last week for the eleven people shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh the hatred and the violence was still somewhere else but it seemed closer. Now it is no longer somewhere else but it is here in our own community of Oak Park. It’s time to take notice and step up our game.

One of our members, who’s son is a student at the Oak Park and River Forest High School, reports that there are increasing incidents of racism and hatred and anti-semetic graffiti, and vandalism taking place at the school. A teacher allegedly used racial slurs in the classroom that left students traumatized and crying. Rumors of violence have spread, and at a recent student assembly someone air-dropped a swastika onto students’ cell phones.

It wasn’t so long ago that white men marched with torches in the streets of Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us”. That should have been shocking but have we gotten used to it? Has the violence and the hatred become normalized? If you hear on the news that people were shot at a bar in Thousand Oaks, does it upset you or is it just another mass shooting? So far there have been 307 mass shootings in 2018 in America.

Our political environment is toxic and divided. Mussolini said that for a dictator to accumulate power, the best strategy would be to pluck a chicken, feather by feather, so that each squawk was heard apart from every other and the whole process was kept as muted as possible. So how many feathers have already been plucked from the chicken?

I don’t have any easy answer, but I do have a spiritual practice and a wonderful sangha community that supports me and others to open our sad and tender hearts, to practice the 3 tenets of a peacemaker of not knowing, bearing witness and loving action.

So we will step up our game. For the rest of November we will offer special noon time meditations (noon to 1 pm) Monday through Friday. We’ll also offer a special council circle each Thursday afternoon from 1 to 2 pm that is also open to everyone. You don’t need to be a member of our Zen community to join us - these events are open to you regardless of your religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.

Hatred grows in an environment of isolation, separation and social media that breed fear, hatred and conspiracy theories. So let’s ground ourselves by re-connecting with each other and affirming our basic sanity and unconditional love for ourselves and all beings.

May all beings, may our youth, and may all people regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or political party be safe.


Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

Great Zen Teacher, Roshi Bernie Glassman has Died

 Eve Marko, Robert Althouse, June Tanoue, Bernie Glassman. Eve and Bernie were preceptors at June Tanoue’s final empowerment ceremony as a Zen priest and Zen teacher on 11/2/14. photo by Peter Cunningham

Eve Marko, Robert Althouse, June Tanoue, Bernie Glassman. Eve and Bernie were preceptors at June Tanoue’s final empowerment ceremony as a Zen priest and Zen teacher on 11/2/14. photo by Peter Cunningham

"When we bear witness, when we become the situation - homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death - the right action arises by itself.  
We donʻt have to worry about what to do.  
We donʻt have to figure out solutions ahead of time.  
Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. 
Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises."

~ Bernie Glassman

Zen Peacemakers International

Great American Zen teacher Bernie Glassman died on Sunday, November 4th.  He is survived by his wife, Roshi Eve Marko, 2 children and 4 grandchildren.  Sadness filled my core when I heard the news that day and has lingered since then.  Some people are just not supposed to die.

I met Bernie Glassman at the very first Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat in 1996 that he and Eve Marko organized.  I went because I wanted to work with fear.  I was afraid of all those millions who had been murdered at Auschwitz.  Would I be overwhelmed by their restlessness and need for revenge?  Bernie, on the other hand, tells of feeling overwhelmed by millions of souls wanting to be remembered when he first went there in 1995.
Bernie introduced the concept of plunges into the unknown, into what was uncomfortable and scary.  Auschwitz, Rwanda, Bosnia, NYCʻs Bowery, Palestine and Israel, and the Black Hills were places he went.  He was energetic yet calm and focused, and seemed fearless to me.  And I sensed a deep compassion. 
The next time that I encountered Bernie was in Jerusalem.  We were there for his Peacemaker Community - to meet with other international peacemakers including Arabs and Israeliʻs.   Bernie always worked to bring people together.  Could we see that we were the Other - perpetrators as well as victims?
Bernie first articulated and developed the Three Tenets of a Zen Peacemaker in 1994.  I remember Bernie telling us that the tenets arose when he and his second wife and partner, Sandra Jishu Holmes, were on vacation in Maui.  I thought vacations are maybe necessary for coming up with brilliant ideas.  
The Three Tenets have been the core of my spiritual practice.  They are:

    • Not-Knowing - letting go of fixed ideas about yourself, others, and the universe 

    • Bearing Witness - to the joy and suffering of the world

    • Taking Action - that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness

My husband and I lived with Bernie and Eve Marko and 8 others in an old farmhouse in Montague, MA for 9 months right before we moved to Chicago.  We ate communally, shared a bathroom and burned wood for heat during the winter.  We celebrated Shabbat on Friday evenings when we could.  He loved bubble baths and a good cigar.  He had a quick mind, always measured in his speech and smiled easily. 

He appreciated and supported my Hula practice.  When he listened, it seemed as if he were listening with his entire body and mind.

The last time I saw him in person was the summer of 2017 at the 50th Anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which he helped Maezumi Roshi to start and grow.  Bernie had a severe stroke in 2016 and was in a wheel chair.  His demeanor had changed.  Where before he was more intense, now he was sweet and spoke slowly.  
I could see that it was an effort for him to speak.  I sat next to him for lunch and swatted at the flies that were attacking his plate of food.  He was very present and told me he got easily overwhelmed, but he pressed on with many people greeting him.
I will miss you Bernie Glassman.  Your work and teaching lives on through your amazing successors like Eve Marko, Joan Halifax, Egyoku Nakao and Genro Gauntt.  Thank you for your energy, brilliant love and sense of humor that have helped so many people. May it continue to flow for eons to come.  

Malama pono (take good care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei

P.S.  Photographer Peter Cunningham putphotos together of Bernieʻs memorial with a film at the end.

P.P.S. ZLMC member Donna Mindrum and I stitched together a

Memory Quilt for Bernie and sent it to him last year November. There are pieces from many of his dharma brothers and sisters. 

Invite Everyone to the Table


“I honor businesses for what they do, I honor nonprofits for what they do, I honor government for what it does, and then I invite everyone to the table so that together we can come up with innovative and broad-based solutions that can serve as many people as possible. The fewer or less diverse voices you invite to the table, the smaller and narrower your solution will be and the fewer people it will serve.” Roshi Bernie Glassman

The Hidden Singer


The Hidden Singer

“The gods are less for their love of praise.
Above and below them all is a spirit that needs nothing
but its own wholeness, its health and ours.
It has made all things by dividing itself.
It will be whole again.
To its joy we come together —
the seer and the seen, the eater and the eaten,
the lover and the loved.
In our joining it knows itself. It is with us then,
not as the gods whose names crest in unearthly fire,
but as a little bird hidden in the leaves
who sings quietly and waits, and sings.”

Wendell Berrry

Itʻs so easy to take sides.  Our political system seems to be crazy right now with principles of truth and decency getting lost in the haze - a perfect recipe for taking sides and creating anger.  

And I must admit that I have felt very angry during the current Supreme Court Justice hearings.  But I was also curious about my anger and able to notice it instead of blindly reacting and doing or saying something stupid because of it.  This little distance from which I saw my anger made a big difference.  

But what about depression and feeling overwhelmed?  Can I also be curious about sadness and how it feels in my body?  I noticed depression recently in the midst of packing up one of our apartments.  I felt an indescribable sense of being very tired mentally and physically.  My body felt tight, and my shoulders felt heavy as if a great weight was upon them.  

I decided to just sit and let myself feel these sensations in my body.  I had to work with my attention to stay focused on the feelings because I knew I was resistant to bearing witness to them.  I could easily have jumped up into my head and indulged in stories to distract me from my dis-ease.  

Just noticing my thoughts, without judgment, and returning to the uncomfortable feelings in my body is one process of hoʻomanawanuʻi (being patient) and kind to yourself.   It means bearing witness with loving, respectful attention to what is happening in your body without being distracted by the many stories of your mind.  Thatʻs the pause that heals.  Mindfulness meditation helps with this ability to pause.

Going to my mind when Iʻm upset is the path to circular ruminations about how Iʻm not good enough or how others are wrong.  Iʻve gone down that path before and know that it only fuels the fire of depression and anger.  It does nothing for truth.

Can I notice how I feel without having to change the feeling?  Can I be curious about my reactions?  After calming down, can I feel angerʻs transformation into something else - perhaps determination? Meditation truly helps my focus on where i want to pay attention.

I was impressed with Dr. Christine Blasey Fordʻs testimony - how she wove neuroscience, her specialty, into descriptions of her traumatic experiences.  Her honesty, intelligence and vulnerability were evident during her presentation and the subsequent questioning.   She was very courageous to come forward as she said, "to do her civic duty."

I liked what Zen priest and teacher Norman Fischer said about Judge Kavanaugh and the commotion around him.     "None of this would be happening if he had said, ʻyeah I did drink a whole lot when I was young, I had so much pressure to succeed and knew I would have to so needed to blow off steam while I could. Like other young men in my world I was insensitive to women. But my Catholic upbringing kicked in finally and I really did become a different person. I can't remember having done this but if I did I am truly mortified and deeply sorry.  I also would like to know the truth.ʻ"

Itʻs a beautiful warm October day.  The breezes are blowing, leaves are changing color.  Meditation helps me clearly see how truth, integrity and compassion are essential.  Determination helps me be courageous and vulnerable like a little bird who sings quietly and waits, and sings - even as the environment and my thoughts swirl about like falling leaves.

Malama pono (take good care of body, mind and heart),

Sensei June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue

Kumu Hula and Sensei

Pathways to Violence


"We live in a world in which distrust and greed and violence masquerade as common sense and in which the pathways of distrust and greed and violence are rapidly becoming self-validating. By following those pathways we create the social and international structures, the premises upon which we must live. By choosing the "common sense" of distrust, we choose also the progressive truth of distrust. We cause horror to become the only pathway to wisdom." Gregory Bateson

Spiritual Practice for Difficult Times

Difficult times are an opportunity to deepen the spiritual path and practice, to dig down and ground yourself in your meditation. Take time to be still, to be quiet and listen.

Then get up and go outside. Take a walk. There are seasons for everything. The rhythms of change may be large or small, slow or fast. Appreciate the cycles of light and dark, gain and loss. The dharma is timeless and vast. It can be a source of truth for you during times of uncertainty and rapid change. All humans are intrinsically awake, sane and good. Express your basic sanity by refraining from acting in anger or fear. Manifest your own goodness through acts of kindness and generosity towards others. 

Don't settle for anger, fear or reactivity. You are responsible for your behavior. You are free to choose hatred. You are free to choose love. And remember, hatred never was cured with more hatred. 

Maintain the precepts. Practice the paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, effort, meditation and wisdom. Practice personal integrity. 

Proclaim the dharma by being gentle but firm. Let your true nature shine forth with courage and bravery. And seek to disarm anger by giving no fear. Listen. Learn. Plant seeds of goodness and water and nurture these seeds as often as possible. May all beings be free of suffering.

Roshi Robert Althouse

Hope, Optimism, Cynicism or Engagement



"Hope is not the belief that everything will turn out well. People die. Populations die out. Civilizations die. Planets die. Stars die. Recalling the words of Suzuki Roshi, the boat is going to sink! If we look, we see the evidence of suffering, of injustice, of futility, of desolation, of harm, of ending all around us, and even within us. But we have to understand that hope is not a story based on optimism, that everything will be ok. Optimists imagine that everything will turn out positively. I consider this point of view dangerous; being an optimist means one doesn’t have to bother; one doesn’t have to act. Also, if things don’t turn out well, cynicism or futility often follow. Hope of course is also opposed to the narrative that everything is getting worse, the position that pessimists take. Pessimists take refuge in depressive apathy. And, as we might expect, both optimists and pessimists are excused from engagement."

One Who Remains Calm in the Face of Difficulty

June Blog.jpg

The poʻi na kai uli, kai koʻo, ʻaʻohe hina pukoʻa.
Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing.
Said of one who remains calm in the face of difficulty.
~Mary Kawena Pukui #904
ʻOlelo Noʻeau, Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings

"Every life is a work of art, and if it does not seem so, perhaps it is only necessary to illuminate the room that contains it...If you learn to listen, you will find that each life speaks to us of love."
~Andrea Bocelli


I started volunteering again at the Cook County Dept of Corrections - the county jail - teaching mindfulness meditation to incarcerated women awaiting trial for whatever crime they were accused of committing. 

Since early July Iʻve been going every Tuesday from 12 noon to 1 pm.  My friend Ruth goes with me to volunteer.  Itʻs nice having a second person with me.

The approximately 30 women we work with live on the 2M Tier of Division 5 at Cook County Jail.  Some have been there for many years.  This is the maximum security tier where after their trial date, most will go on to a federal penitentiary.

I was a little nervous when Ruth told me she was going on vacation last week.  I thought about emailing the administrators and telling them I couldnʻt make it.  But my Zen practice is about sometimes sitting with difficult situations (including emotions like fear) and by breathing bearing witness to them and not turning away.

When I confided my nervousness to my friend Ruth, she looked at me square in the eye, and said, "you know you are absolutely safe there."  I knew then my fear was something good to practice with, and I decided that of course I would go.

Division 5 is big and houses about 200 women.  The 2M tier we go to is lit by florescent lights.  There are some 15 cells for the women - housed two to a room.  Thereʻs no door to the bathrooms so when someone flushes the toilet, the sound reverberates through the tier.  I always stopped talking when someone flushed because I couldnʻt compete with the volume.

There are three rectangular tables where most of the women sit on cold steel benches.  Robinson was the name of the African-American guard who opened the door to the tier. She  yelled at a few women to get off the pay phones because I was there.  She was a no-nonsense woman who gave me a brief smile as she nodded for me to enter.

I noticed a small flat screen TV high up on the wall where inmates watched movies.  The women were busy talking to each other.  A few recognized me and started to settle down.  I managed to get their attention and talked to them about the Path of Freedom - Fleet Maullʻs excellent workbook teaching mindfulness for prisoners.  I reminded them that even though they were physically incarcerated, their minds did not also have to be imprisoned.  Mindfulness meditation can free anyoneʻs mind.  This is the Path of Freedom.

About 1/3 of the women were listening to me.  About 1/3 were zoned out - maybe on prescription drugs for anxiety.  The rest were talking quietly to each other.  I gave them some basic meditation instruction, and then we practiced meditation for a few minutes.  I heard some laughter and talking, toilet flushes, and then more talking.  I reminded them that just noticing sounds is good - making it part of your meditation is good - and just coming back to your breathing is the practice.  

Carol, a tall, thin older African American woman, got really into it.  After we ended meditation, she said sheʻd been practicing, and it had helped her tremendously.  I could see that she was one of the most relaxed, calm, and clear woman there.  Itʻs not easy living on this tier!  One young Latina woman, Tracy, kept asking me questions about meditation.  She asked, "Can it really help? My thoughts are all over the place."  She was visibly tense - her shoulders all hunched up, her face drawn and worried.

Yes I assured her that it could help.  I said, "you have to do the practice.  Thatʻs the hard part.  Itʻs simple but not easy to do.  But it gets easier like any new habit you try to incorporate."  The tier was getting noisier.  My hour was just about up.  As I was walking out, Tracy came up to me and burst into tears. My heart just about broke. Tracy said, "I hope meditation helps because I just found out that I need to be here a little longer." 

I assured her that it would.  Carol was next to me thanking me for coming and wondering if she could get a copy of the book The Path of Freedom.  I gave her a copy of the first chapter I had with me - called Training the Mind - The Power of Mindfulness.  When Carol saw Tracy, she gave her a hug, and said, "Iʻll help you."  

Carol was like the coral rock in a rough sea.  I saw love in that dark place.  I knew that every life there was a work of art.

Malama pono (take good care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei

Your Three Feet of Influence


By Sharon Salzberg
Submitted by Robin Sheerer

When I ask myself or workshop attendees to name what each values most, people commonly say things like fairness, honesty, generosity, honor, and compassion. I often feel they say them almost wistfully, as if they exist in their imagination or in some world to come. Yet the world we can most try to affect is the one immediately around us. I’ve come to see that we will feel happier and more secure if we try, to the extent that we are able, to bring fairness, generosity, and kindness into our dealings with others.

My friend’s son Frank tried to put this idea into practice during his daily commute on the New York City subway, a place where he often encountered people who, like him, were frazzled and quick to speak sharply to each other. He’d often ended up responding that way too, and he wanted to stop, to not spread the things that were upsetting him to strangers who, he thought, had their own lives to worry about.

As he went down the stairs and through the turnstile he thought about what he was bringing into the station with him that morning. He’d had a fight with his girlfriend, and he faced a difficult meeting when he got to work. Also his back was hurting again, and his steps were jagged. Along with his anxiety about the morning news, he recognized how cranky he was and that he was he was spoiling for a fight to let some of this loose. As it turns out, he was also bringing a book he was reading, one I’d written, Lovingkindness.

There were big crowds on the platform. There had been some snafu, and three packed trains passed his station without stopping, to the jeers of the others on the platform. He was angry that, through no fault of his own, he would be late to work.

Finally a train stopped. When he maneuvered through the crowd at the door, he saw it was packed with rowdy middle schoolers on a field trip. They were boisterous and physical. He turned up the volume on his headphones to drown them out.

At the next stop a woman holding two heavy bags in one hand and a child’s hand in the other pulled the little girl through the crowd to the pole where Frank was standing. Immediately she berated him, saying he was taking up too much space, his big hand was blocking out too much of the pole, and how did he expect her little girl to get a grip?

Frank wanted to bark back at her, but instead he paused to take her in. Likely she would be even later to work than he. She had to drop this child off at school or day care. Literally she was carrying a heavy burden, two of them, and objectively this transit situation was frustrating them all. “You know, you’re right,” Frank said, moving his hand higher. “Sorry about that.” One of the students careened into Frank from behind, right at the tender spot in his back. Again his first impulse was to yell at the boy, tell him to watch where he was going. Frank looked at him before he spoke and saw genuine concern in the boy’s face when Frank winced from the pain in his back.

“Hey, buddy, slow down,” Frank told the boy with a smile. “This train is crowded.”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry. What’s the book you’re reading?” the boy asked.

“It’s a book about how to be kinder to each other,” Frank said.

“They write books about stuff like that?” the boy said, and turned back to his friends.

Think of the difference if Frank acted on his first impulse. He’d be glowering at the woman and child, and likely the woman would be staring at him with the same fury while the child looked confused and frightened. He would have made the boy feel guilty and clumsy. Instead the space around Frank was calmer because he’d paused before adding to the friction. He had done his part not to enhance the misery in the three feet around his body that were his to influence.

Few people are powerful enough, persuasive, persistent, consistent, and charismatic enough to change the world all at once, but everyone has the ability to affect the three feet around them by behaving more ethically, honestly, and compassionately toward those they meet. Just picture it: If more people acted from this space of love, there would be more and more terrain covered.

Yes, it may be tough to hold to these values when you may feel them under threat. Close quarters, like a crowded space, automatically engage our defenses. When someone breaches that imaginary boundary, our first reaction is to push back without pausing for a moment to examine the nature of the intrusion. Is it an act of aggression, someone who wants to harm us? Or is it a reflexive rebuke, like the woman at the subway pole, who was more frustrated than she was menacing? Or is it, as it was with the young boy, just clumsiness? When we consider the three feet of space around us as our canvas, we can more and more make those assessments and act creatively in a way that deescalates conflict.

None of us can do this perfectly. Sometimes you are the one who is the aggressor because the unfolding of your day, or year, has you the one feeling you are alone. Committing to speaking truthfully and without the intention to do harm, to listening carefully to what others have to say and to remembering that all of us are struggling to make sense of a changing world, will allow us to stand strong amid the chaos. You cannot control the world, the country, your town, the mood swings of those you love, but you can try to create around you a little bit of space that is all your own, a place where the rules of interaction you’ve chosen make sense and your actions have integrity.

We can be the kind of people who lead with their hearts and behave to those around them in an ethical, honest, and kindly manner that creates for those who enter that three feet around us a feeling of peace that also serves to steady the self.

Message from the Hopi

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell them this IS the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living? What are you doing with your life?
How are your relationships doing?

Are you in right relation with those around you?
It is time to speak your truth, to create your community.
Be good to each other, and look within to find your guide.
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and so
swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart.
And they will suffer greatly. Be there for them.
And know that the river has its destination.

The Elders say that we must let go of the shore,
Push off into the middle of the river, and
Keep our eyes open and our head above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all ourselves.
For the moment we do, our spiritual journey comes to a halt.

Banish the word "struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in the sacred manner
and in celebration
We are the ones we have been waiting for.

 The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona. Hopi Nation

Stop Separating Immigrant Families — Buddhist Statement

 John Moore/Getty Images

John Moore/Getty Images

As Western Buddhist leaders, we unreservedly condemn the recently imposed policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of children have been inhumanely taken from their parents by US Customs and Border Protection, in a policy that has been condemned by the United Nations and many international human rights observers. Indeed, no other country has a policy of separating families who intend to seek asylum.

Whatever the legal status of those attempting to enter the US, separating children from their parents is a contravention of basic human rights. Parents seeking asylum make long, dangerous and arduous journeys in an attempt to find safety and well-being for their precious children. Ripping these vulnerable children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions. From a Buddhist perspective, it is the close bond between parents and children that nurtures not only the physical well-being of children, but their psychological health and their moral formation.

Separating children from their parents and holding them in detention inflicts terrible and needless trauma and stress on young children that hampers and damages their development, causing long-term damage. This policy being employed on United States soil is morally unconscionable. That such egregious actions be employed as a deterrent for families seeking entry and/or asylum in the U.S. – using the sacred bond between innocent youth and their parents – is unjustifiable on any level. We suggest that our current defenders of this policy visit some of these border crossings and child detention centers so they can experience for themselves the present effects of their decisions. It is difficult to conceive that anyone having compassion for our world’s children and their families, and who witnesses such pain and anguish for themselves could continue to uphold such a practice.

As people of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important that we speak out clearly in defense of basic human rights at this time, calling for an immediate end to this heartless practice. In doing so, we join the voices of many religious leaders and congregations that have unreservedly condemned this policy of separation. This policy is a serious violation of the rights of the child and must be stopped today.



Rev. Robert Joshin Althouse
Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago - Abbot


Click Here for a Full List of 200 Buddhist Leaders who have Signed

Sign the petition

How to Be a Friend Until the End by Frank Ostaseski

 Photo © Victor Torres / Stocksy United.

Photo © Victor Torres / Stocksy United.

A friend or family member shares the news of a life-threatening diagnosis or we see them stumble on a curb or over their words, and in that moment we realize that we’re about to become a companion to someone facing death. Perhaps it’s a conscious choice. Maybe we feel we have no choice.

It’s important in the beginning to remember that we already know how to care. We’ve extended a helping hand hundreds of times in a thousand meaningful and loving ways. Caring is a natural expression of our humanity. We can trust our good hearts to be reliable guides.

Offering care is like meditation, there’s no one right way, but some basic guidelines and practice can help.

Embrace Impermanence

Recognition of the transience of life is a central tenet of Buddhism. Impermanence is an essential truth woven into the very fabric of existence. It’s inescapable and perfectly natural. How we meet that truth makes a world of difference.

One of the most exquisite of Japanese terms, mono no aware, expresses an aesthetic sensibility that’s challenging to translate. It speaks to a gentle sadness—to being deeply moved by the transient, finite nature of things. It doesn’t deny loss or bypass grief but reminds us that the beauty of things and our appreciation of those dear to us is heightened by our awareness of their ephemeral nature.

Isn’t it the fragility and brevity of the cherry blossom, or morning light, or cresting wave that captivates us and invites us into wonder and gratitude?

Enter Mindfully

In the Zen tradition, we have the practice of dokusan, a face-to-face meeting with the teacher. The student is instructed to wait outside the teacher’s door and gather herself. She has no idea what’s waiting for her on the other side of the door. She has no idea what the teacher will ask, or perhaps even what she most needs. She does her best to be ready, flexible, and open.

Going into the room of someone who’s ill or dying is like going for dokusan. Empty your mind, open your heart, and enter with fresh eyes. Once in the room, sit down, talk less, and listen more. Touch when appropriate.

Be a Calm Presence

When we’re caring for someone who’s sick, we lend them our body. We use the strength of our backs and arms to move them from the bed to the commode. In the same way, we can also lend them the strength of our mind. We can help to create a calm and accepting environment. We can be a reminder of stability and concentration. We can expand our heart in such a way that it can inspire the individual who’s dying to expand theirs. One calm person in the room can ease the entire experience for everybody.

You Are Enough

We’re always messing with ourselves—telling ourselves what we should be experiencing, trying hard to be someone special, hoping we’re doing it all in the right way. Often in spiritual practice and in caregiving, we set some goal of where we think we ought to be and then use that to not be where we are.

I’m guided by the counsel of Carl Rogers, the great humanistic psychologist:

“Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man, this woman has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin.”

No Advice

Some of us reach too quickly for our version of a prescription pad, doling out unsolicited advice. While our intentions may be genuine, we can be blissfully insensitive to the way we impact others. The attachment to the role of helper runs deep for most of us. If we’re not careful, it will imprison us and those we serve. Let’s face it: if I am going to be a helper, then somebody has to be helpless.  

Wise speech is a mindfulness practice. Words can heal or harm. Before speaking, pause. Silence has the benefit of slowing things down. Ask yourself, is what you want to say true? Is it helpful? Is it the right time? And, maybe most important, is it wanted? If the other person doesn’t want to hear it, you may not need to say it. But at times we do need to speak whether the other person likes it or not. In such situations it’s more likely to go well if you follow the other guidelines covered in this article.

Turn Toward Suffering

An integral part of healing is letting go. But there’s no letting go until there’s letting in. As James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that can be faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

Suffering is exacerbated by avoidance. Our attempts at self-protection cause us to live in a cramped corner of our lives. We accept a limited perspective of the situation and a restricted view of ourselves. We cling to what’s familiar in order to reassert control, thinking we can fend off what we fear will be intolerable. When we push back, hoping to get rid of a difficult experience, we’re actually encapsulating it. In short, what we resist persists.

Suffering will only be removed by wisdom cultivated through inquiry, not by drenching it in sunshine or attempting to bury it in a dark basement. Compassion manifests through the medium of fearless receptivity.

Love Heals

The boundlessness of love is made evident when the veils between this world and the invisible world are thinnest. At birth and death, love can melt division, allowing us to move beyond what we thought possible.

When someone is sick, when their body is ravaged by illness, when they can no longer function in their familiar roles, when their identity is shifting daily, many people feel un-loveable. When someone believes they’re beyond love, you cannot convince them to love themselves. But you can show them that they’re loved.

When someone is sick or suffering, love them. Just love them. Love them until they can remember to love themselves again.


This article was originally published on

How to Deal with a Narcissist
By Karolis Žukauskas


I’ve been reading accounts from the American press written by journalists stunned to find Trump is worse beyond their expectations. I obviously don’t share their sentiments. I’m an abuse survivor, grew up with a (much less wealthy) Donald Trump in the house, and have the misfortune of currently working with a Donald Trump heading my place of employment. Over the years, I’ve seen what sort of madhouse network dances about men like our president.

Get used to it, America. We are now an abusive family.

Abusive families have three primary players: the abusers, the enablers and the victims. If it isn’t clear, the abuser (Trump) dishes it out while the enablers (the establishment) make excuses for it, attempt to rationalize it, sometimes to benefit from it, thereby supporting it, while the victims (citizens) take insults and deal with disorienting confusion, even chaos.

It’s more complicated and shaded-gray in reality. All sorts of professional people have broken these roles down further. Obviously, there’s overlap between them.

Most abusers were once victims, and still perceive themselves, like Trump does, as mistreated or unfairly targeted. Some enablers also abuse, but all enablers are victims of the abuse, at least to some degree, if even by virtue of needing to depend on it to play a role, complete some task or access a resource. From my point of view, victims are enablers until they remove themselves from the system, decompress, gather their bearings and accept, with as much clarity as possible, what the abuse was truly like. This requires admitting it. They have to make a conscious decision that the abuse stops with them or it simply won’t.

Most of us are nowhere close to that point yet. This is new and bizarre; we’ve been dropped into the madhouse and can’t tell where to focus our attention. It explains why so many of our journalists and other professionals are staring ahead wide-eyed, mouths agape, making delusional claims like “this might lead to totalitarianism” when a totalitarian is already in control, when reporters are being arrested for doing their jobs and protests outlawed in the wake of idiotic, distracting tweets and abject falsifications of reality.

It’s important for everyone in a position of influence, from every level of our government to the whole of our press, our institutions of education, social services, our courts and our legal professionals to understand something unequivocally. Our president is an abusive madman, a narcissist with no capacity to change, no ounce of empathy, no motivation beyond his own aggrandizement.

Showing him photographs to contradict his delusional claims is pointless. Narcissists cannot be “managed” or “influenced.” In my experience, there are only a few ways to deal with a narcissist, none easy or comfortable.

The first is a war of attrition, the arsenal merciless, consistent insult. The insults do not have to be exotic, vulgar or vindictive; speaking about reality, consistently and in a sustained effort, is enough. You’re not very well liked. Most people abhor you. They disagree with your values. They think you’re uncivilized, deranged, mentally ill and unable to grasp reality.Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Do it in shifts, like an oiled hockey team crashing the net. He makes a false statement, so you dismiss it, call it a lie and immediately set about ridiculing it in every possible channel, making certain he sees it.

A narcissist will try to exhaust you until you give in, until putting up with whatever the narcissist is doing becomes easier than listening to his assault on reality, or hearing the insults. It’s exhausting, obviously, to tell the narcissist, “No. The tablecloth is white, not yellow,” every time you deal with him. But that is what we must expect. When the president speaks, he is fabricating a delusion in an effort to exhaust our imaginations and mental capacities. He wants to shell-shock us into submission.

Trump will not stop lying. In fact, he’s going to need to lie more as his administration unravels, as people begin abandoning him. He will not respond to reason or rational conversation, and he will continue sending his representatives to meet the press and lie that they intend to tell the truth, one second after they lie.

This seems counterproductive, even masochistic. A narcissist does not lie merely because he can or because it provides him attention (narcissistic supply). A narcissist’s lie gives him power over others’ imagination and feelings. The lies become the parameters of the discussion—we argue over the delusion instead of weighing the reality—and anything the narcissist doesn’t like he’ll claim has been invented by his victims. The technique renders reason useless and obliterates the basic agreements among the educated; you cannot argue with someone who makes up numbers, contradicts himself constantly or tells you your information is fake, what you’ve witnessed is false.

This latter point is most important. An abuser will beat you up or molest you but then accuse you of imagining it. He’ll accuse you of being unfair, of trying to make him look bad when you show everyone your bloody nose. What’s true is what he says; he is the center, the ultimate reference point. Everything, including reality, is subject to his power.

Attacks on a narcissist, in the short term, only increase his bluster. Eventually, however, the embarrassment of enabling him becomes a liability. At that point, exile becomes an option, but it requires a critical mass of enablers to stand up and say they’ve had enough.

The press cannot in good faith come to press conferences and ask Trump’s secretary, “What lies have you for us today? What bullshit of yours should we share?” However, our legislative branch can, and rather quickly, exile Trump to someplace outside the White House. Currently, Congress is Trump’s greatest enabler, far worse than the press, and getting worse as this horror show blusters on.

What will it finally take for our leaders to say they’ve had enough? Well…the usual thing. Massive opposition from an intrepid, inexhaustible, furious (but also clever) populace.

Hippos on Holiday


is not really the title of a movie
but if it was I would be sure to see it.
I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theater.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.

I would be both in my seat
and in the water playing with the hippos,
which is the way it is
with a truly great movie.
Only a mean-spirited reviewer
would ask on holiday from what?

Billy Collins

Part-time Contract Position Available

We want to thank everyone who applied and inquired about this position. We've had man highly qualified applicants apply. We have chosen the person, so the position is no longer available. Thank you to everyone for your interest and your inquiries. 

The Zen Life and Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC) is seeking to engage an individual for a part-time contract position with responsibility for marketing, event management, ecommerce and some general administrative activities. A partial listing of responsibilities includes:

  • Managing the Center’s social media activities;
  • Maintaining the Center’s website;
  • Designing and developing marketing flyers and brochures;
  • Responding to email and phone inquiries;
  • Managing course registration activities including responding to participant inquiries; and
  • Assisting with the planning and execution of workshops and events.

This 15 – 20 hour/week contract position pays $20/hour and offers flexible hours. Following a period of training, most activities can be performed from a home office. Occasional evening and weekend hours at the Center are required. The qualified individual will have and maintain his/her own computer with internet connectivity (Macintosh is preferred). 

The responsibilities of this position require the mastery of a number of proprietary software applications (such as Tula, Campaign Monitor, and Square Space), as well as facility with Google, desktop publishing, and other software. The ideal candidate will have previous experience with similar programs and/or be able to demonstrate a strong aptitude for learning software programs. 


Qualifications include:

  • Excellent customer service, communication, and interpersonal skills
  • Strong organizational skills with an exceptional eye for detail
  • Aptitude for learning, using, and troubleshooting software applications; previous experience with software similar to that listed in the above description is strongly preferred
  • Previous experience with web maintenance, social media, and desktop publishing preferred 
  • Demonstrated self-starter with ability to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Ability to exercise discretion and confidentiality 
  • Previous event planning experience strongly preferred

If you are interested in being considered, please send a brief cover letter and resume to:

Through its public meditation offerings, courses, workshops and other activities, the Zen Life and Meditation Center, Chicago, seeks to cultivate a community of openness, generosity and wisdom. For more information about the Center, please see our website at:

Co-Founder's Statement

 Ryushin Sensei and Joshin Roshi

Ryushin Sensei and Joshin Roshi

June and I have been running Zen Centers for most of our lives. We founded the Zen Center of Hawaii in 1992.  We began a Zen Center out of our home on Humphrey Avenue in May 2004.  We transformed it into the Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago in 2010 that pioneered the approach to teaching and practice that we currently enjoy in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Over the last seven years, we have seen the Center grow from 8 to 115 members. Over 2500 people have benefited from our Core Curriculum Primer and Gateway classes. As a result, our sangha community has grown vital and strong.. 

After great care and thought, June and I announced at our last Board of Director meeting on February 25, 2018, that we will step down from all of our administrative duties and responsibilities by February 25, 2020. We intend to continue teaching and leading ZLMC, and will do our best to help the community make this transition over the next two years. 

June and I are aging, and as such, we are moving into the next phase and journey of our lives. On March 20, 2018 we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary during our Spring 7-day Meditation Retreat. On March 29, 2018, Roshi will turn 69 and on June 6, 2018, Sensei will turn 68. 

As teachers we are modeling self-care. We want to spend our time differently. So we are asking the sangha to help us make this transition. We believe this change will be healthy for us, and also healthy for the sangha. When our teaching and administrative duties are clearly separated we will be better able to continue teaching and holding the vision that carries the Center forward into the future. 

The Center is strong enough to make this transition. We plan to hire our first administrative manager within the next few months. We are farming out our marketing tasks to a company, Jumpfly in Elgin. We may also consider working with a local bookkeeper to do our accounting.

We know that change will bring challenges and we are up for the task ahead. We ask you to join us. One way you can help make this change and transition smoother is to join our Shared-Stewardship Circle and become active stake-holders in the health and well-being of our sangha community. 

Should you have any questions about this, June and I are open to answer them. We value openness and transparency so we want to make sure everyone is fully aware of our decision and what lies ahead. It has been the honor of our lives to bring forth this Zen Center and we are forever grateful for your practice and commitment to living a Zen-inspired life. 

Thank you,

Zen Master, Robert Joshin Althouse
Abbot, Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago


Mindfulness: Mystery and Not Knowing
by Susan Sensemann

 Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

In Primer 4, Living a Life of Openness, we speak about the first of the three tenets of a Zen Peacemaker: Not Knowing. What it is to not know something? In this culture of quick response time that technology demands, we react fast and faster. We cannot count to two between opinions spoken at a faculty meeting, board meeting, or family gathering. We speak over each other. Opinions fly. To be smart is to be at the ready with information and views that we have solidified into rock formations in our minds. We believe what we know we know. We rush to a Got it!  or Gotcha! response. Our hearts race as we fill a momentary lapse in the conversation as quickly as we can. And everyone goes home tired and dull.

What about not knowing? Admitting to oneself that there is something new to learn. Being teachable is a humbling experience as we step away from our mental encampments. However, not knowing allows us to be expansive and creative with our thinking, because we take the time to listen. We allow for possibility. We breathe into a feeling of openness and mystery that is intriguing and fresh. I delve into the word mystery with novels in mind, whodunits, that are plot-driven and unfold to a certain resolution. The reader is witness to the protagonist’s logical and reasonable mind as she ferrets out clues and then, clap, the book is shut tight. The reader grins with satisfaction, I knew it!,

But, what if mystery is simply and profoundly beyond our grasp? A friend recently mentioned Thomas Merton’s consideration of mystery as the certainty that some things are true even if they defy our ability to understand them or explain them. Can we locate truth within a mystery that we cannot grasp? Are our minds open or closed? 

Imagine, for a moment, an old man sitting on his porch in a rocking chair on a summer night. His granddaughter asks, “PaPa, how do those fireflies light up?” The old man rocks back and forth, takes a deep breath, looks out at the pasture, and says, “Child, that’s just stars getting closer for a bit.” 

The old man may not have known the answer to her question. He did not open his laptop and google what illuminates fireflies?  His conjecture about stars twinkling nearby and far off in the night sky satisfied her ten year old mind. She liked being surrounded by stars - it felt like they tickled her shoulders. In fact, his answer is true. Every element on earth was formed at the heart of a star. The old man took a moment to be with those stars and then he enfolded his grand-daughter with a bit of mystery and magic.  

Susan Keijo Sensemann

November 15, 2017

An Empty Day
by Vivienne Lund


 I snuggle in the warm, clean
sheets of routine
and sigh to myself, "ah! an empty day
to count the colorful threads of
my blessings
to court and woo the many
happinesses that are my life.

Thought this life doesn't give
me sexy black-lace stockings
filled with wiry–healthy limbs,
straight, happy toes,
fertile, hilly arches,
the crafty spry silence of bending knees,

I can always leave them
locked in their closets
and plant myself in the
whirleygigs, corkscrews and
madness of life,
know that I belong,
to hear the flowers sing
their arias to the sky.

When darkness shadows
my heart
and I hunger for sunshine
to veil peoples' plastic stares
and all their wasted time,

My landscape is lit up
painted by the innocent
giggles of a grandchild's play
through heady fields
of bright flowers,

My imagined empty day
brims with the joy
of practice in creating
our symphony of two.

© 4/12/2013, Vivienne Lund