"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
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.