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In Memoriam - Bernie Glassman

Roshi Tetsugen Bernie Glassman was an influential Zen teacher, an activist, and the co-founder of the Zen Peacemakers, a global organization integrating Zen practice and social action.  The organization, which he founded in 1980 with his late wife, Roshi Sandra Jishu Holmes, had been called the Zen Community of New York until 1996. The Zen Peacemakers is perhaps best known for leading “Bearing Witness” meditation retreats, which take practitioners to the sites of terrible tragedies such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Glassman, who was born in Brooklyn, started studying Zen in 1967 with Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who named him as his successor upon his death. Glassman went on to transmit the dharma to a number of well-known teachers, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Pat Enkyo O’Hara Roshi, and Peter Muryo Roshi Matthiessen.

Glassman was a prolific author, writing books such as Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen, and Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace.  He was also known as a social worker, an engineer, and a clown. In 2009, at the age of 70, he started a new project called the Zen Houses, which created residential dharma centers in impoverished neighborhoods, where Zen practitioners could also offer social services.

In January 2016, Glassman suffered a stroke, from which he had partially recovered. He later discussed his rehabilitation and shared his thoughts on life’s great unknowns.

—Matthew Abrahams for Tricycle Magazine (Banyen edit)