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In the Bardo

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Here we are. A new beginning.


I am beginning a new blog. This beginning announces a new period in my life.


A transition period.


A transition. Period.


Maybe life is all about transition. I say maybe because maybe I am really experiencing the transitoriness of life, a glimpse at least.


Buddhists always talk about the impermanence of life, of all things, the process of perpetual change.


One thing to say it, another to experience it. Everything is always changing, always temporary, always in transition. Everything is transitory.


Everything is transitory.


My awareness of this transition in my life began in the early days of my self-imposed, pandemic isolation.

The beginning coincided with the beginning of weekly meetings with Dharma brothers Francisco “Paco” Lugovina and Chris Panos.


We began meeting because we recognized a common heritage and challenge which we shared. We saw ourselves as three, perhaps the only three, of Roshi Bernie Glassman’s successors who were carrying forward Bernie’s social entrepreneurship Dharma. It was up to us to preserve and transmit this teaching. When we began meeting, it had only been little more than a year since his passing.


While I had always felt that part of what was expected of me as a Zen teacher was to transmit the teaching to the next generation, to pass it on, to keep it alive, to preserve the authentic Zen teaching as it had been directly transmitted from teacher to student in the unbroken line of succession which we trace, -- this a central element in Zen belief, -- back to the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni.


But I had always excused myself, somehow. My Karma, I told myself was to carry forward Bernie’s social entrepreneurship Dharma by building our network of charter schools on Staten Island, schools which provide an integrated pathway to college for students living with emotional challenges and other atypical students, students whose differences are poorly accommodated by the regular public schools, in Bernie’s words, “to bring to the societal table those who have been excluded.


I could leave to Bernie and other of his successors, -- I always thought particularly of Roshi Bob Kennedy, Jesuit priest, my friend and teacher, -- to empower the next generation of Zen teachers.


But as Chris and Paco and I talked, it seemed that it was going to be up to us if this specific aspect of Bernie’s teaching, this social entrepreneurship dharma was to be sustained and transmitted.


I realized at the beginning of the pandemic that an unanticipated mission was forcing itself to the front, asking of me something other than the training up of the next generation of leaders in our schools while leaving to others the continuation of our Zen legacy. Bernie was gone. Bernie was gone, and Bob and his successors were fulfilling a very different, perhaps even more wonderful aspect of Bernie’s teaching, the multi-faith practice of Zen.

This was the first recognition of a new period in my life.

And then a year later, with the fatigue of isolation and working remotely wearing on me, I began to say to Dee, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” referring to the school leadership work. “Maybe next year will be my last.”


Another month of working remotely and I was saying to Dee, “Maybe this year will be my last.”


Just an expression of exhaustion. I knew I couldn’t just walk away from our schools with only two months’ notice.


A New Recognition


But a new recognition was dawning: major projects at ICS which I am beginning now, new long range strategies, all are visions of a future in which I do not expect to participate as President of ICS.


I expected this thought to be depressing. It is exhilarating.


And, during the summer, I read a talk by Pema Chodron. At that moment, she was my favorite Zen teacher. Oh, I know Pema is not a Zen teacher, that she trained and is empowered in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of Trungpa Rinpoche, but her teaching has a flavor with which I identify strongly, which captures so much of what I have taken from my Zen practice and training.


Pema talked about the Bardo, -- in Tibetan Buddhism, the transitional space between this life and the next life. For Pema, talking about the transitoriness of life, we are all always in a transition state. We are all in the Bardo.


I am seeing the transition in my life as a Zen teacher.
I am seeing the transition in my life as a charter school leader.

And I am getting older. I was seventy-nine this Winter. I am feeling impermanent. I am cherishing and appreciating the moment.


Finally, two additional, comparatively small things have happened which are taking my blog in a new direction.


A new direction.


First, Jill Patel, chairperson of the ICS board of trustees, raised the question of the appropriateness of this Zen of Charter Schools blog for the ICS website: Did it give the impression to site visitors that ICS was a network of Buddhist schools? Shouldn’t we avoid that perception? That seemed like a good idea.


We came up with what I thought was a really exciting idea about how to address this possibility of misperception. We would canvas staff and trustees in search of other potential bloggers who would be willing to share in an ongoing way their experience of the unfolding work in our schools from different perspectives, religious, racial, gender, reflecting the diversity which is so central to our ICS values and mission.


No takers.


At the same time, something else was happening. I had completed a draft of a book, The Zen of Charter Schools, which was created to a significant degree from the raw material of the blog.


The book is done. A huge sense of relief. It is my longest writing project since my doctoral dissertation.


And then reflecting, I recognized that in recent months I had sometimes found that blog drafts had no clear relationship to the work of our schools. I realized that the framework of the Zen of Charter Schools was becoming restrictive.


The Universe was converging to tell me that the time had come to take my blog to another site, that the Zen of Charter Schools was coming to an end. I wanted to write about my life in the Bardo, as a charter school leader, as a Zen teacher, as a person.

The Universe was converging to tell me that the time had come to take my blog to another site, that the Zen of Charter Schools was coming to an end. I wanted to write about my life in the Bardo, as a charter school leader, as a Zen teacher, as a person.


So here we are: A new beginning.


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