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In the Bardo, Again.




I have been convinced for a long time that zazen and lineage were the defining elements which made Zen, Zen.


Now, re-reading Bernie’s memoir written as he worked at digesting Jishu’s passing, I see that Bernie is recognizing that the “students” who he is working with through the bakery and other Greyston projects don’t sit.


Teaching students who don’t sit: Can that be a Zen teacher's practice?


Bernie was saying, “Yes.”


Paco says, “Yes.”


I have been living “yes” in practice. Actually, always have been. Although I didn’t always know it. In the beginning, when I was still working in mental health, I thought of this as “not my Zen practice,” as something else.


From my very first day at ZCNY, I faced Bernie’s Buddha Families formulation of the five aspects of Zen practice. Zazen was one aspect of the balanced life. Social action was another.


This is the way I lived it. Two aspects of a balanced life.

Spiritual practice and social action.


Building Our Schools.


In the twelve years of building our schools, maybe even beginning earlier in the work of building The Verrazano Foundation, I began increasingly to see my social action as not just an aspect of my life in balance with my spiritual practice. This social action practiced was my practice as a Zen teacher.


But there has also been a fundamental discomfort.

On the one hand, I have maintained two teaching paths. Most of my time and energy has gone into my “teaching” role in our schools, developing the next generation of school leaders. A relatively small effort, for many years now little more than one evening a week, has gone into traditional zendo teaching, - sitting with students, interviews, teisho.


Of course, that is not all of my “Zen” practice. I sit daily, I study. I journal. I have a wonderful family. That is my practice. But its “personal”. It’s not my “teaching”.


And I have chafed at this separation in my life.


I always hoped that people who I worked with in the schools would come to sit. I have been hoping that they would solve my “separation” problem. In the last few years, I have encouraged some to sit. I have offered beginner’s instruction after school hours. I have been pleased when a few tried and been disappointed when they stopped.


When I met Bernie, he was already moving away from the Zendo. I heard the complaints of the old timers, but this was the only Bernie that I knew. I got a taste of the Zen student disappointment when Jishu’s commitments to Greyston were taking her away from “Zen teaching”. I understood the pull that opening the Greyston Day Care program was exercising, taking her away from the Zendo. But when Bernie wanted her to become director of quality assurance for all of Greyston, that was too much from me. I argued with her. “There are tons of quality assurance people out there.” I knew this from my work in hospitals. “There are not nearly enough Zen teachers.” Without effect.


I understand now.

My major energy has been outside the zendo for more than ten years. I feel guilty. Not very guilty. Not all the time. But when I have thought about it, I have said, “I wish I was more of a Zen teacher.”


I suspect that Jishu felt the same guilt. “Guilt” is probably not the right word. Not an expression of regret in the choices which I have made but a recognition of an unresolved tension. I am not sure if Bernie ever did.


I have also tried to deal with my “separation” problem by getting folks from the Zendo to engage in social action. I have tried to deal with this the way Bernie did with me. He encouraged Zen students who wanted more time with him, who wanted to study more intensely, to join him in his social action work. “Come on the Street with me,” he had told me. “I have plenty of time to talk when I’m on the Street.” I did.


I invited Zen students to find a way to get involved in our schools. Some tried. I was not very skillful at creating opportunities. I didn’t understand the challenge: How to create Upayas for Zen student engagement in social action. It is still eluding me.


Listening to Bernie.


Now listening to Bernie, listening to Paco, seeing what’s right in front of me, I am noticing that the people I am working with are the “students”, however they think of themselves.


OK. Zen teaching, says Bernie, is “teaching” the Oneness of Life. That is what I am studying every day, that is my practice, that is what I am pointing myself and those I am working with in our schools toward, the Oneness of Life.


OK. Zen teachers don’t need to practice in the Zendo. Zen teachers practice in the market place. That, after all, is the message of the Ox Herding pictures. Very traditional Zen teaching. Not some radical Bernie discovery.


But even as I see this, more clearly than I have before, I am coming back to the question which came up over a year ago when Paco and Chris and I began meeting weekly: Where then, if I am teaching in the marketplace, will the next generation of teachers come from?

While Bernie was alive, I lived an ostrich, head-in-the-sand existence. Somehow, not my problem. Bernie had plenty of successors. Others would take care of the succession challenge.


Of course, there was guilt here or a sense of failure. I knew that in our tradition, the transmission of the Dharma, empowering the next generation of teachers was a prime responsibility of all lineage holders, of all successors in the way.

And there was envy. Why don’t I have any successors? I would attempt to comfort myself with the thought that Chao-Chou, among the most revered of the classical Chinese Zen masters, star of many koans, although he lived a long life, teaching until his death at 120, had died without a successor.


But then meeting with Paco and Chris, I was recognizing that there were very few among Bernie’s successors who were keeping alive the vision of teaching which Bernie had begun to manifest at Greyston. Who would transmit the way of practice and teaching through social entrepreneurship which Bernie had manifested at Greyston? Who would transmit this way of practice to the next generation and perhaps even more critically to the generations to follow?

I am forcing myself to face the fact that those teachers are not likely coming out of the Zen Centers. Bernie had, of course. He had trained with Maezumi and then gone on to create a new way of teaching and practice, just as Maezumi had, in creating, along with a few others, most notably Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen Center, adapting traditional Japanese monastic forms of teaching to the American environment.


Bernie was exceptional.


Shakyamuni was exceptional. He grew up as a prince in a palace, then left, and over a period of years became the Buddha. It is naïve to take that “palace” training as the ideal training for future Buddhas. Almost all princes have gone on to live their entire lives in palaces. Shakyamuni was exceptional. Bernie was exceptional. Future Buddhas are as unlikely to emerge from Zen Centers as future Buddhas are to

emerge from palaces.


Now I am stuck.


Now I am stuck. Call it my koan.


Where will the next generation of teachers come from?


Bernie was right. Paco was right. It is my experience too. The people I am working with, students who are engaging with, wrestling with the Oneness of Life, are not drawn to a cushion in a zendo.


Can one become a Zen teacher without practicing zazen? Can one become a Zen teacher without a deep appreciation of the lineage through which this teaching arises and is maintained and transmitted, of the responsibility of continuity which one accepts in becoming a Zen teacher?


I don’t remember who I first heard this from. I think in one of our interviews of prospective teachers for Lavelle Prep, an interview of a candidate who had been teaching for ten years, someone asked, “Have you had ten years of experience or have you had one year of experience ten times?”


She was asking, what have you learned each year? How has your practice changed? How have you grown?

There probably is a backward looking bias in all spiritual paths. We do, after all, call them spiritual “traditions.”


There is a huge bias toward training the previous generation of teachers over and over again.

Maezumi Roshi went beyond the training he had received.


Bernie went beyond the training he had received.


Where will the next generation of teachers come from?


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