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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 36 “There were all kinds of people,” he said, his voice deep but soft, with a slightly worn-down Brooklyn accent, “all kinds of animals, all kinds of things that were unsatisfied. At first there was a sense that they were out there, these hungry spirits. But that moved quickly into a realization that the hungry spirits were all me. That is, there was no separation.” “No separation?” I asked. “As one practices,” he said, and sighed, “the notion of self grows. So at some point early on the notion of self is yourself. At some point the notion of self is your family. At some point the notion of self is your community. At some point the no- tion of self is the world. At some point the notion of self is the universe. For me, what some people call ‘no self ’ is equivalent to realizing and actualizing the self as larger than what you thought it was. That’s what I meant when I said that the hungry ghosts were me.” Glassman, that day in the car in L.A., started to laugh and cry together, and couldn’t stop. He went to his job but had to go home. He knew that he somehow had to work to feed these hungry beings who were everywhere. “Before that I had thought that my life path was going to be forever in the zendo,” he said, “pushing people into having realizations—” Glassman, appar- ently, was a very, very tough taskmaster in the zendo, using the stick hard and often—“but this opened it up, and brought so many questions: How do you do the same kind of work in all the aspects of life?” He laughed, a kind of exhausted laugh. “It was a lot bigger path,” he said. “An endless path.” HE DIDN’T EAT with me the day I came to visit. He said he’d just had some beef jerky and wasn’t hungry. So I picked at the thick cheese sandwich with sprouts and the fruit salad served to me by one of Glassman’s young assistants, while Glassman drank coffee and smoked his cigar off and on. A word people use to describe him is “charismatic”—and sometimes “seduc- tive”—but I didn’t find him that way. I found him brilliant, very gentle, and a bit weary. “The actual definition of the word ‘Zen’ means ‘meditation,’” he said, sitting back and exhaling. “But Maezumi Roshi defined Zen as ‘life.’ And life includes everything.” IN 1979, when Maezumi Roshi asked Glassman, by this time a priest in the Soto Zen tradition, to move to New York City and start a Zen center in an old mansion in Riverdale, Glass- man imagined starting a “modern-day Safed”—a city like the ancient center of the kabbalists in Galilee, where mystics would feel comfortable creating their communities and interacting with different traditions. He imagined starting a business locally that would help pay for the Zen center, and give his students a place to practice some of what they were learning in the zendo. (“My goal,” he said in one of his several books, “was to eliminate the distinctions people made between what they considered practice and what they considered non-practice.”) He imagined inviting the local poor to work at whatever business the center opened. But, according to Glassman, the board of trustees for the fledgling Zen Center of New York was not supportive. They felt that Glassman was there to start a zendo—and a small busi- ness to support it—and teach Zen. That was all. So when Glassman moved to New York with his first wife, Helen Yuho Harkaspi, and his two small children, he sent some of his students to the Tassajara Bakery in San Francisco to learn how to run a bakery. (Monasteries in Japan had always sup- ported themselves by growing rice, and so a bakery seemed apt.) And then, in 1982, Glassman and his students opened the Greyston Bakery in one of the poorer sections of Yonkers. Over the next few years, Glassman began to see the neigh- borhood poor as his sangha, and he wanted to bring them into the bakery. But he knew that they couldn’t work unless they had homes and health care for their families, and daycare for their Left: A Zen Peacemakers family gathering at the Mother House at Montague Farm. Right: Wendy Egyoku Nakao (left), abbot of Zen Center of Los Angeles, and Pat Enkyo O’Hara, co-spiritual director of the Zen Peacemakers family.