No School

I read this morning in Dogen, There is no School of Zen. 

Funny. I have been clinging to visions of a Zen Peacemaker Order for 15 years.

Three bows to Roshi Eve Marko and the members of the Zen Peacemaker Order Steering Committee for preparing me to hear Dogen.

It is all coming back to me. I feel responsible for this long, winding road of misdirection.

I remember Bernie, very intent on creating the House of One People as a container where practitioners on diverse spiritual paths could come together. I loved the vision. I always did. For me, always, Bernie’s wonderfulness was never more evident than in the openness of his giving Dharma transmission to a Jesuit priest – Bob Kennedy, to a Rabbi -Don Singer, and to Sufi Sheiks – Lex Hixon and Fariha Fredrick.

I had always felt excluded or, more likely, feared being excluded. 

Bernie’s vision was all-embracing, including me.

But when talk of the Order first came up, I knew I would not be included. The idea of an Order evoked an image of people totally committed to peacemaking, willing to go anywhere at any time. I was and still am too thoroughly a householder. I am not totally available. Who would be members of the new order? In my mind, servant warriors for peace. Bernie and Jishu. I thought, maybe, Claude Thomas. Others had other ideas. I thought I could be part of a ZPO support group. Over the last few years, as we have grown our schools, as they embodied and extended aspects of Bernie’s Greyston vision, I have begun to feel that perhaps I am a Peacemaker, that I could be a member of the Order if it ever materialized.

I was always jealous of the included. Others who were included in Bernie’s container also had another home, an exclusive circle to which they belonged. I wanted an exclusive circle to belong to. I wanted an Order, what Dogen called a School. Greedy me. It wasn’t enough for me to be included in Bernie’s circle with everyone else. I wanted my own exclusive circle. Somebody had to be excluded.

Remembering this today, I am embarrassed by my insecurity. Initially, Bernie was unmoved. I didn’t keep nagging, but my greedy energy was out there in the Universe. Others must have been sending out similar energy. Somehow, the ZPO began to become more Buddhist, to become that place where we belonged somewhat exclusively, began to be imagined as that place. If only we could figure out how to build it. 

Really, I am guessing.

 The Zen Peacemaker idea wouldn’t go away, manifested several times under Bernie’s leadership, and again after his stroke and again after his passing. I don’t know the details. I only occasionally entered the process. I never stayed long. What was always clear was the conflict between Bernie’s impulse to inclusivity and the impulse to Order. I was frustrated because it never seemed to be going anywhere. I didn’t really appreciate at all how much of that conflict was also my conflict. 

I was torn. I didn’t really feel at home amid the increasingly Buddhist ZPO (at least that’s how it felt to me). I was very attached to Roshi Kennedy. I always felt that his lineage was the most important part of Roshi Bernie’s tree. Bob was an important teacher on my journey, an older brother who helped to raise me, to whom Bernie sent me to do Koan study, all through the years when Bernie was in California and continuing after Bernie returned to the East Coast.

And I was busy. I was more involved increasingly with other projects which became our network of charter schools. I was intensely ambivalent. I managed to stay close to Bernie, visiting with him whenever I could, without ever becoming involved in the permutations of the ZPO. 

Then recently, Roshi Eve invited me to participate in a virtual gathering to discuss again the creation of a ZPO. Eve felt this was an important, unfinished piece of Bernie’s work. I attended because she asked me. I felt all the old frustrations. It was what Yogi Berra called, “Déjà vu all over again.”

No School of Zen, says Dogen. He does not say, No Zen.

If not a School of Zen, what? At the heart of Dogen’s teaching is a lineage, the trail of face-to-face transmission, what Dogen following Shakyamuni, calls the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Even to call it “teaching” is misleading. What is being taught? What is being learned?

Just a smile. Not taught.

What did I learn from Bernie? What did he teach me?

I remember things that he said. They opened my eye. Sometimes right at the moment. Sometimes not until many years later. Sometimes they are continuing openings, on and on, year after year, still pointing at a moon I have barely glimpsed.

Things that Bernie said are now stories. Koans.

Riding in the car with Bernie and Jishu, returning from dinner, I say, “I know for Tokudo (Tukudo is the first step on the Zen priest path), I need to shave my head. “But,” I ask, “do I have to shave my beard?”

Without even a moment of reflection, Bernie answers, “As long as Maezumi is alive.”

At that moment, the lineage begins to live. 

At Auschwitz following the first Bearing Witness Retreat, we held a second event, an international gathering of people who had attended the Retreat and were interested in the formation of the ZPO (or interested in Bernie, perhaps). At some point in the afternoon, Bernie was talking about what might be expected of members of the Order, something I imagine that had to do with the financial commitment expected of members.

I asked if perhaps he was setting the bar too high. Something like that.

Bernie responded, “Ken, that’s just your hang-up about money.”

I really don’t remember the exact words. What I remember clearly was my embarrassment. Everyone saw my humiliation, I felt, although over the years there has never been any indication that anyone else noticed.

Years later, when we were working on The Verrazano Foundation, I called Bernie, who was the best fund-raiser that I knew, to ask for advice. I may have been hoping that Bernie would share his donors with me. I didn’t know. Is that what teachers do?

Bernie’s advice. “If I were looking to hire a fundraiser, you would be the last person in the world that I would hire.”

At least, no one else was on the call.

As years passed, I have worked on my attachment to money. Have I got the whole thing, the Treasury of True Dharma Eye?  Don’t know. Don’t think so.

But things have changed. I did try hiring a fundraiser. He seemed to have the personality for it. Outgoing, comfortable in social situations, very different than me. Unfortunately, he never even raised his salary. We brought in consultants who gave us ideas for a campaign that was beyond our capacity to implement.

Finally, with nowhere else to turn, I had to just do it. I would do a mala. I had done my first mala as the price of entry required by Bernie to my first Street Retreat. I had told Bernie I wanted to spend more time with him. I think I was hoping that we could write something sociological together about American Zen priests disrobing.

“The way to spend time with me is to come on the Street. I have plenty of time on the Street.”

I understood something. I didn’t want to go to the Street. But I did. I went out and begged for my first mala, my ticket to going on the Street with him (18 beads, $108 each, to support Greyston as well as the homeless programs which we visited for something to eat). I did get to spend time with Bernie which was wonderful, although it turned out that the Street was an even more stunning teacher.

Since then, I had repeated the mala practice several times. 

Now, $400,000 was our target  — 72 beads (a multiple of 18); $5400 a bead (a multiple of 108). We haven’t made it yet but we are more than halfway there. I wear the beads everywhere. They are magical. Sometimes people ask me how to get their name on a bead. (I inscribe a donor’s name on each bead). 

“Pledge $5,400 over three years.”

Sometimes people laugh.

Sometimes people say, “OK, I can do that.”

Maybe everyone has hang-ups about money. Maybe Bernie did too. Most of us do.

I smile. Probably. Bernie’s hang-ups or not, the value of that teaching for me is not diminished.

Was Bernie intentionally trying to teach me something in those long-ago moments? Was he just thinking about something else?

Don’t know.

I am still digesting the teaching. Some of my Dharma brothers and sisters (others who received a transmission from Bernie) tell me he is gone. Not my teacher. I am studying with him every day.

“Work at the schools with me. That is the Zen way to study with me.” I am saying that now.

What emerges over and over again in Dogen’s writing is the centrality of lineage.

On the Street, we noticed that we were all smiling. But most homeless people were not smiling. It’s not just working in our schools.

Yes, there is a lot of Joy in our Schools. 

Jenna Curran, one of our early teachers and now Principal of the Lavelle Prep Elementary Division, was, I think, the first to call it “drinking the Kool-Aid.” But catching the Joy is not the same thing as realizing the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.

For it to penetrate to the marrow, one needs to really study the self. Dogen wrote, “To study the way of enlightenment is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind and the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.” (Dogen, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, (Kazuaki Tanahashi, ed.). Boston, 2010: p. 30).

There are many pathways; and while it’s possible to find one on one’s own, most of us need a guide. Otherwise, we get stuck. 

Otherwise, we get lost.

 I am a guide only for the Zen pathway.

It’s not enough to learn about what I do. Or for me to learn about what Bernie was doing. Zen is not about that kind of teaching. It is about unlocking and unblocking the demons which prevent us from making the example which we see in our teacher’s practice our own. That is the lineage.