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Lions Roar : March 2019
been unable to wear since he’d suffered a stroke in 2016. Someone put a clown nose into one of his cupped hands, while his widow, Eve Marko, placed his wedding ring in the other. Glassman’s mourners were many—Buddhist and non-Buddhist, in America and abroad. “He was the primary force of dharma and social action in this country,” says Frank Ostaseski, the guiding teacher of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. “The beautiful thing about Bernie was that he allowed everything. He allowed all voices to be heard, and that was wonderful to be around.” “He was always willing to go to that place where we don’t know, which is the place of absolute creativity,” says Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, abbot of the Village Zendo in New York City. Glassman, she asserts, “revolutionized Western Zen. He reminded us that ordinary mind means caring for every aspect of creation.” Hozan Alan Senauke, former executive director of the Bud- dhist Peace Fellowship, concludes, “Our debt to Bernie and the reach of his tender humanity cannot be fully seen.” BERNARD ALAN GLASSMAN—known as Benyamin in Heb- rew—was born in Brooklyn in 1939 to Eastern European immi- grants with strong socialist leanings. His father was a printer and construction foreman. His mother, who’d lost many of her relatives in the Holocaust, worked in a factory. She died of mercury poison- ing when Glassman was just a small boy, so he was raised by his four older sisters. Glassman studied engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, then he got an assistant teaching fellowship at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. On the boat to Israel, he met his first wife, Helen Silverberg. The couple eventually moved to the West Coast, where Glassman got his PhD in applied mathematics at UCLA. He worked as an aeronautical engineer developing plans for NASA for what were expected to be manned spaceflights to Mars. Glassman’s first taste of Zen came in 1958 when he read The Religions of Man by Huston Smith. While engineering and Zen may seem worlds apart to us, for Glassman there was no difference between them. Zen is all of life, he said, and in everything we do, we can bring to bear “the Zen of action, of living freely in the world without causing harm, of relieving our own suffering and the suffering of others.” At first, Glassman tried practicing on his own, then he sought out teachers. It was in 1963 that he first met Taizan Maezumi Roshi, a legend- ary Zen master who played an instrumental role in establishing Zen in the West. At the time, Maezumi was just a young monk assisting an old roshi at a temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Glassman asked the old roshi why they punctuated their sit- ting practice with walking meditation. The roshi’s English was poor, so he indicated that Maezumi should respond. “When we walk, we just walk,” was all Maezumi said, and for Glassman this stripped-down response hit the mark. Four years went by before Glassman happened to see Maezumi Roshi again. This time Glassman asked if he was part of any temple in town, and Maezumi said that he was just starting one. The very next day Glassman showed up at the nascent Zen Center of Los Angeles, and eventually, he, his wife, and their two children moved in. However, the young family continued to keep the Sabbath and the kids attended Jewish schools. As Roshi Joan Halifax, one of Glassman’s dharma heirs, has quipped, “Bernie was 100 percent Jewish and the rest was Buddhist.” Apparently “the rest” added up to a lot, as he became Maezumi Roshi’s right-hand man. Maezumi, as Glassman remembered him, was a very soft person in a way, yet also very dogmatic. “In our private studies, he’d always tell me that he was Japanese and could not make an American Zen,” Glassman recalled. “But he could help me grasp Actor Jeff Bridges touring Greyston Bakery, which Bernie Glassman founded to create jobs in the troubled city of Yonkers, New York. Bridges and Glassman were friends and coauthors of The Dude and the Zen Master. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 46