My Dharma brother Bernie Tetsugen Glassman died November 4, 2018 — he was 79. Bernie was a man who transformed peoples’ lives.
He had a profound opening experience many years ago that led him to develop the Greyston Bakery (providing jobs for the homeless), street retreats, the Zen Peacemaker Order (ZPO), the 23rd annual Auschwitz Bearing Witness retreat, to name some of his legacy. He had a degree in aeronautical engineering and a PhD in applied mathematics. He was a father, a husband and a grandfather. He loved to schmooze. Bernie had a deep impact on me and I miss him.
In 2006 I did this practice of immediacy — it reminded me of Bodhidharma (the 28th patriarch in the Zen lineage) and Bernie. But mainly, to me, it looked like Bernie (though he didn't have red hair).
At the beginning of this year, the painting began calling me to be revised — this often happens to me with older PIA pieces. I turned the painting upside down.
It felt like something was plunging into water which reminded me of others referring to Bernie’s street retreats as “plunges.” Going into the unknown, just jumping in, applying the ZPO’s tenets of:
taking action based on what arises from not knowing and bearing witness
While revising the PIA painting, I felt the quality of plunging, the draft the plunge makes, the displacement of water, the sense of falling and floating.
When the piece was done, I wondered if Bernie’s stroke, and being present with all the changes that had brought him, was like this plunge. When I look at this piece now, several weeks after his death, I feel very connected to him and his work.
A revealing story about Bernie: In response to a student's question about different meditative states resting in not knowing that he'd experienced after his stroke, Bernie replied “The real question is what does this have to do with being a mensch, a human being? If we can’t answer that, what are we doing?”