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American Zen Teacher and Activist Bernie Glassman Passes Away at 79

Zen Buddhist teacher and social activist Bernie Glassman 1939–2018. From
Zen Buddhist teacher and social activist Bernie Glassman 1939–2018. From

American Zen Buddhist teacher and social activist Bernie Glassman passed away at his home in Massachusetts early on Sunday morning at the age of 79, the Buddhist order he founded, Zen Peacemakers International, said in a public notice published on Monday. Glassman was reported to be in the company of his spouse and fellow Zen teacher Eve Marko.

Glassman suffered a debilitating stroke in January 2016 but, along with his wife, remained active within the Zen community he founded. Glassman is also survived by his two children, Alisa and Mark, and four grandchildren.

Born in 1939, and a former aeronautical engineer at McDonnell-Douglas, with a PhD in applied mathematics, Glassman first encountered Zen as a student when he was assigned Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man for an English class. He began meditating in the early 1960s and soon afterwards found a teacher in the form of Japanese Zen master Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi (1931–95) in Los Angeles. Glassman went on to become one of the original founding members of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, and received Dharma transmission in 1976 from Maezumi and then inka (formal recognition of Zen’s deepest realization) in 1995 shortly before Maezumi’s death.

In 1980, Glassman moved back to New York City from the West Coast and established the Zen Community of New York. In 1982, he opened Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, to help alleviate homelessness in the area and provide jobs for residents who lacked education and skills. According to the Greyston Bakery: “Since 1982, we have developed and refined Open Hiring, assembling a remarkable team of bakers by hiring without interviews, resumes, background checks, or applications.” (Grayston)

The proceeds helped to fund the Zen Community of New York, which transformed old buildings into new housing areas for the homeless. In 2003, the bakery moved to new premises that allowed it to increase production and employ more staff. Proceeds from the bakery, which today brings in annual revenue of US$3.5 million, enabled Glassman to establish the Greyston Foundation. As of 2004, the foundation, which provides HIV/AIDS programs, job training and housing, childcare services, and educational opportunities in underprivileged inner-city communities, had developed real estate projects worth US$35 million in Westchester County, New York.

Together with his late wife Sandra Jishu Holmes, Glassman in 1996 co-founded the Zen Peacemaker Order (now named Zen Peacemakers International), which describes itself as “a worldwide movement of Peacemakers who practice meditation, embody the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers (Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, Taking Action), live an ethical life, and do social action as a path of awakening and service. We seek to connect, inspire, support, train, and mobilize Zen Peacemakers throughout the world.” (Zen Peacemakers International)

We envision an enlightened society where suffering is transformed into wisdom and compassion and all beings live in harmony and are relieved of the afflictions of hunger, war and disease. Spirituality and service are tools we use to help all beings find freedom regardless of race, religion, ability, gender or nationality. (Zen Peacemakers International)

Retreat staff at the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat conducted a memorial service in Krakow following the news of Glassman’s passing. From
Retreat staff at the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat conducted a memorial service in Krakow following the news of Glassman’s passing. From

Glassman authored several books, including The Dude and the Zen Master (2013), Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen (2003), Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace (1999), and On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, Mind (1999). According to a list of Dharma heirs published by Matthew Ciolek, Glassman left 22 lineage successors, including Joan Halifax, Eve Marko, Wendy Nakao, and Pat O’Hara. 

In the words of Sensei Francisco Paco Lugoviña, a senior Zen Peacemakers teacher, “Bernie has been the center of gravity for many of us and our projects. As a lover of people and a connector, he manifests the conditions for all of us to empower ourselves. He is the first to remind us that the power never comes from him, but rather through the undaunted capacity to forge ahead pioneering into unknown universes.” (Zen Peacemakers International)

See more

Our Founder Bernie Has Passed Away (Zen Peacemakers International)
Zen Peacemakers International
Zen Peacemakers (Facebook)
Sanbo Kyodan: Harada-Yasutani School of Zen Buddhism and its Teachers

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