Bernie Glassman is both an iconoclast as well as a steeped-in-tradition Zen master, in the White Plum lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi.
Brooklyn-born and bred, Bernie studied engineering and mathematics and worked for a number of years as an aeronautical engineer for McDonnell-Douglas. The book The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau inspired him to study and practice Buddhism. Bernie received dharma transmission from Maezumi Roshi in 1976 and then inka in 1995.
Bernie’s output over the past three decades has been amazing. He started the Greyston Bakery in 1982 in Yonkers, NY, which eventually grew into the Greyston Foundation — an array of social services to the surrounding neighborhood that was based in Zen principles and aimed to empower all who were part of its mandala. He also started the Zen Peacemakers, devoted to the exploration and practice of socially engaged Buddhism. One of the main practices of the Zen Peacemakers is “Bearing Witness” — retreats that invite participants to intimately enter into the stream of reality of those who are homeless or in other situations of suffering.
Bernie’s latest project is “Zen Houses.” These will be small, Buddhist-based residential communities around the world that focus on serving the needs of members of that area.
This quote is from Bernie’s book Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace:
When we bear witness, when we become the situation — homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death — the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t 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.
Loving action is right action. It’s as simple as giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who has fallen on the floor. We take such direct, natural actions every day of our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special. Each is simply the best possible response to that situation in that moment.