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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 35 WHAT DOES IT MEAN when we stumble upon a person or a place or a thing we hadn’t known before, and we feel home? That’s how Glassman felt when, assigned the book Religions of Man by his aeronau- tics professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Brook- lyn forty-odd years before, he read Huston Smith’s one-page chapter on Zen: He felt “home.” But this was the late fifties and there were not many Zen Buddhist practitioners or teachers in the United States yet. So Glassman, the child of non-practicing Jews and socialists, read whatever books he could find, and taught himself to meditate. Then, in 1963, after he’d graduated from col- lege and moved to Los Angeles to work as a senior aeronautical engineer at McDonnell Douglas (he worked on the Mars Project there, among other things), he went down to a temple in Little To- kyo to see if he could join a sitting group. What he found was an old priest who didn’t speak any English, and a young monk. Glassman sat zazen with them, and afterwards, he asked the old priest why they did walking meditation. The old man motioned for the young monk to answer, and the young monk said, “When we walk, we just walk.” That was Taizan Maezumi, who would later be- come Glassman’s teacher and one of the most in- fluential Zen masters to come to the West. But Glassman was turned off by the temple in Little Tokyo because of the language barrier with the old priest, so he didn’t go back. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1967, at a talk given by Yasu- tani Hakuun Roshi, that Glassman saw Maezumi again—again acting as translator. Glassman, this time impressed by Maezumi’s English, asked if he was part of any temple in town. Maezumi told Glassman that he was just starting one, and invited the young engineer to come. Glassman went the very next day. SEVEN YEARS LATER, Glassman was driving to work at McDonnell Douglas with some colleagues when he had what was probably the most significant vision of his life. He was nearing the end of his six- year-long koan study (having just finished his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA), and there was a question lingering in his mind about reincarnation. He’d asked Maezumi Roshi the question, but Maezumi hadn’t answered it. So it was in that space—what Glassman called “the powerful space of the unanswered ques- tion”—that this particular vision occurred: Sitting in the back of the car going to work that morning, Glassman saw hungry ghosts everywhere. Above: Glassman rings the bell at Montague Farm to summon people for the beginning of the working day. Below: A meeting with members of the Zen Peacemakers family.