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Dispatch from the Train to Auschwitz

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Photo by Peter Cunningham

I received this email (below) on Sunday from Michael Melancon, a friend who is in his second year of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. He is on his way to take part in the Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz with Roshi Bernie Glassman and others from the Zen Peacemaker Community. Thank you, Michael, for your deep intention to practice with suffering.

It is Saturday morning June 5 as I write this. I’m on a train from Warsaw to Krakow, Poland… Starting this Monday we will sit a Retreat of Remembrance at Auschwitz… In total we will be about 150 people from all over the world on retreat together.

I’m not Jewish myself, but I was “adopted” by a dear Jewish family about 20 years ago. My adopted Jewish mom Hedy stood in for my own mother when Glenn and I were married. She offered a Hebrew prayer of blessing over our rings; everyone was dry-eyed until that moment in the ceremony. Hedy’s daughter Eve stood up for me as my Best Person. These people are my family.

Hedy’s family of origin — her mother, father, sister and grandparents — were all killed at Auscwhitz.

In my Rakusu case here at my side are photos of Hedy’s family members the way they were when she last saw them. Her parents hid Hedy away in a convent in Belgium, just before the Gestapo took most of the rest of the family to the death camps. Later this week in a ceremony of remembrance we will honor those family members I’ve met only through Hedy’s cherished memories.

My choice to travel by train in Poland is intentional. It is part of my pilgrimage here. I am mindfully aware that this rail track from Warsaw to Krakow, on which i now ride in comfort and in a bright and sun-filled rail car, is like the very route so many traveled to their deaths a mere generation ago. I hold them all in my heart: the victims as well as those who risked their lives to defy and stop the madness. I also hold the perpetrators, and the innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders. I know I am not so separate from either the willing or the unwilling participants. A single cloud hovers in this clear blue sky, as I consciously untangle their entwined karma, while weaving it more deliberately together with my own . . . and with yours.

Here, you are not far from me.

The many beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them.

Dharma gates are countless, I vow to perceive them.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it . . . fully.

Love in cubits . . .

Michael ‘Daiun’

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

5 responses »

  1. How long will the journey take?

  2. Pingback: Dispatch from the Train to Auschwitz |

  3. none: this pilgrimage, unless it is done often, took place, I thought, some years ago. here us a piece i wrote.

    An Unexpected Journey

    I park legally, hurry downtown to the Village,
    Walk to Chelsea, return to the Upper West Side.
    It is a Saturday of side trips, busy and comforting.

    At the Jefferson Market Community Garden,
    I photograph reeds. At the Chelsea Market,
    Buy raw olives and red wine vinegar

    Meant for curing them myself. After talking to Greeks,
    And Turks across three boroughs, I hope i have a recipe
    To ripen them properly: all recommend patience.

    My backpack now contains two pounds of olives,
    Four hard cover books, A Single Subject Notebook,
    A 50 mm lens, an accent pen, and a polarizing filter.

    My camera is under my jacket, its black 105 mm lens
    Sticks immodestly out below my jacket.
    The books are going back to the library.

    Leaving the library, I remember I promised myself
    I would read Master Dogen, who is not to be found.
    The pertinent shelf has DT Suzuki and Bernie Glassman,

    Glassman, a zen buddhist abbot who has a bakery in Yonkers,
    Bearing Witness, Glassman’s book, is a pilgrimage
    To Auschwitz-Birkenau. A pilgrimage for peace and healing.

    Sufi mystics say we must ‘die before death,’
    But death isn’t mysterious in a concentration camp.
    A survivor says: “I saw that life is gornischt, Life is a feather.”

    Gornischt isYiddish for worthless. Reading Glassman,
    I travel there, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, by feather,
    Unexpectedly, on a chilly Saturday in October of the year.

    Years after that war ended.


    Rumi has insisted you don’t have to go to the kaaba to see the kaaba. I did look for Glassman’s bakery in Yonkers, but couldn’t find it! And I do believe you do have to go to the bakery to see it.

  4. Pingback: Jizo Celebrates His/Her First Birthday « The Jizo Chronicles

  5. Pingback: Looking Back at the Year in Socially Engaged Buddhism |

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