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The Supreme Meal: Group Koan Study 

I am offering another class series for Zen Peacemakers, seven sessions of koan study working withThe Bernie Koans.

Teaching Zen for me is always another 100-foot pole. I sit on the top of the pole, and I breath. I breath some more and I allow my mind to relax its grip on the pole. I am reminded of Zen and the Art of Archery. Just breath. The arrow will release itself.

Koans are always another 100-foot pole, although every year longer that I live with them — at least with some of them — I find myself going deeper. And the Bernie Koans are more readily accessible to me than the classic Chinese koans. They are contemporary. And I know (or knew) almost all the actors. 

I knew Bernie. Bernie was my teacher.

With just a little nudge from the Peacemakers, I am opening to teaching. Am I ready? Don’t know. There is an old Zen adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I’ve adapted it. “When the teacher is ready, the students will come.” We have our small Staten Island meditation group, been meeting on Tuesday evenings for more than 20 years, but I have seldom taken my Zen teaching beyond that.

I cling to my pole, and I breath, and I say to myself, “When the teacher is ready, the students will come.”

Last year, I was invited by the Zen Peacemakers to lead an online seminar on Bernie’s Instructions to the Cook. Every year there were more and more members of ZP who’d never met Bernie. The seminar was a chance for some people to get to know Bernie as a teacher for the first time. Bernie was never a lecturer. The flavor of Bernie’s teaching could only be conveyed if seminar participants engaged their demons. It wasn’t enough for them to hear stories about my demons or Bernie’s demons. If this was going to happen, group members were going to need to develop a comfort with each other in which sharing could be safe. We asked participants to commit to the full series, 8 sessions. They needed to get to know each other. Participation would be limited.

We started the series last August with a dozen registrants. By the time we wrapped up in early December, half remained. One had thought she was signing up for a cooking class. The others I think were probably not looking for so much intimacy.

We spent part of the final session reflecting on our experience together. If we did this again, what should we do differently? Questions like that. I was surprised that there was interest in continuing. Five members volunteered to be the core of a new group. We brainstormed a bit about format. We weren’t going to read Instructions again. Not so soon anyway.

How about The Bernie Koans, the collection of memories and teaching stories about Bernie which Chris Panos and Paco Lugovina and I had collected during COVID from Bernie’s Dharma successors and the other teachers he’d given Inka? I love the stories but have never used them for teaching.

Roshi Bernie Glassman has been gone for five years. How do we study with him today? Studying these koans would give people who had never met Bernie a taste which probably wasn’t available in any other way. It was an opportunity to be with Bernie the teacher.

But there was more than that. Bernie believed in the wisdom of groups and the power of studying together. When we study together, we get to experience Bernie’s way of teaching.

Koan study is often thought of as an individual practice. In this new offering — initially 7 sessions where we will dive together into 7 of the Bernie Koans — we will have a chance to become intimate with Bernie, and we will also have a chance to explore a new way of koan study.

Let’s see how deeply we can go together.

If you're interested in participating, able and willing to commit to the entire series, follow this link to registration. The offering went fast and is already fully subscribed. Sign up now for the waiting list and for the opening of additional sections.

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