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Lions Roar : May 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 53 was a young monk assisting an old roshi at a Zen temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Glassman asked the old roshi why they punctuated their sitting practice with walking meditation. But the roshi’s English was poor, so he indicated that Maezumi should respond. “When we walk, we just walk,” was all Maezumi said. That, according to Glassman, was the beginning: he wanted to “hang with this guy.” A few years later Glassman was Maezumi Roshi’s right-hand man and—as Glassman puts it—he was traveling with Maezumi wherever he went and getting to meet “all the old-timers,” the pioneering Buddhist teachers who came West. Glassman chose to stay with Maezumi Roshi because—in his opinion—Maezumi had a very clear understanding of the dharma. “Now,” says Glass- man, “I look back and think, who the hell was I at that age to be able to judge who had a clear understanding? It’s more accurate to say that I liked the way he talked about the dharma.” “Maezumi Roshi was in a way a very soft person and in a way a very dogmatic person,” Glassman continues. “In our private stud- ies, he’d always tell me that he was Japanese and could not make an American Zen. But he could help me grasp the essence of Zen and I should swallow it all up and then spit out what didn’t work for me. In fact, when I was ready to go start my own center, he said, ‘I’ll stay away for a year because I don’t want to influence you.’ ” Maezumi’s desire for Glassman to create his own way stood in curious contrast to his rigid emphasis on linear hierarchy. The teacher-student relationship is clearly defined in traditional Japanese culture, says Glassman. “You can’t be a friend to somebody who’s studying with you.” So his relationship with Maezumi was imbued with this formality. “At the same time,” asserts Glassman, “we were so close that the boundary moved,” even though the words didn’t. Glassman still remembers when Maezumi told him that he was planning to make him a roshi, and Glassman said he didn’t want to use that title. “What do you mean?” asked Maezumi. “What do you want to use?” Bernie, just Bernie, was the answer. But that was a no-go for Maezumi, so Glassman relented: “Roshi” would be fine. “I couldn’t have hair when I was with Maezumi Roshi and I couldn’t be Bernie,” says Glassman. “Then he died in ’95, and by ’96 I was Bernie again, and I had a beard and hair.” For Glassman, this marked a shift away from the traditional, linear hierarchy of student and teacher. Maybe he’s a little further along on the path than his students, but he believes that—hanging with them— they’re all learning together. Roshi Bernie Glassman with his teacher, the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi, a pioneer of Zen in America. PHOTOSBYPETERCUNNINGHAM