Bernard Glassman's dharma bums

by Lisa Kennedy

Village Voice

Vol. 41 No. 25 6/18/96,


Copyright by Village Voice

What is the Sound of One Roshi Agitating for Social Change? Maria stares out past Frederick Law Olmsted's perfect woods to the bluff of apartment houses lining Fifth Avenue; she's waiting for a doze that will not come. In lieu of that, she will settle for dawn--still a good many hours away. An early-childhood therapist who makes her rounds to villages in the Swiss countryside, she might be thinking what an absurd way she has chosen to spend the back half of her two-week vacation in New York--living on the streets for five days with a pack of Zen Buddhists led by a 57-year-old roshi, or "elder teacher," on what he dubs a "Bowery Street Retreat" Then again, she may simply be counting her breaths. Sometime in the middle of the night, Maria bags her cardboard-box-as-blanket aspirations and leaves with a couple of fellow insomniacs to wander the streets, begging for coffee and even a meal at an all-night diner. As for me, I've been snapped out of my own fetal position in a Hi-Dri two-ply paper towel carton -snatched hours earlier from a recycling pile near 102nd and Columbus- by the wind and the sounds of a fight directly down the hill from our makeshift encampment. It's the kind of dance of bravado that hints the end point will be one brother jacking another. Luckily, it turns out to be nothing more than the reindeer game of guys knocking antlers while a little doe whinnies and pleads. I get up, pee, and grab a smaller box to cover my head and shoulders. At this moment, I am not particularly bothered by the absurdity of being here. The skepticism I harbor about hitting the streets to gain some perspective on homelessness doesn't seem to stick in my craw quite so much, now that I'm struggling to get some shut-eye. The friends I've made over the years - especially Matt, Andy, and Jay-who live on or precariously near the streets no longer seem to me betrayed so much as untouched by the relative emptiness of the gesture. But right now, I'm stuck with this fact: it is the first night of the street retreat, and I am a cranky Transformer toy trying to burrow down past the chill into my own tiredness. This downward-bound foray had begun well enough. Early that morning, there was a Buddhist service at the Zen Community of New York's zendo, or meditation hall, in Southwest Yonkers. The zendo is not as seductively beautiful as some others in New York- no perfect tatami mats, luscious wood paneling, or brood lighting- but it is a good-size, pale-blue room in a big house that was until recently part of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament monastery. Service consisted of lighting incense, bowing, and reciting the Kan Ro Mon (Gate of Sweet Nectar). A sutra that vows "to feed all the hungry spirits in the ten directions it will become the guiding text of our time on the street. The service ended with a half hour of zazen, or sitting meditation. Still, the real beginning, I like to think, occurred minutes later, not far from ZCNY's hillside perch - at the corner of North Broadway and Main to be precise. it was there that Roshi Bernard Tetsugen Glassman--founder of the Zen Community of New York, first dharma heir to the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi, head of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, in other words, the biggest cheese in the American Zen scene - fish for a Portofino cigar, bummed a match, and lit up. If, Grasshopper, your vision of a zen master Po or Star Wars's Yoda (who is rumored to have been modeled on Glassman's late teacher, Maezumi Roshi), then Glassman won't necessarily fit it. Not because he's American; there have been a number of American teachers (enough in fact to fill an indispensible book-Helen Tworkov's Zen in America-profiling five such teachers, including Glassman). Not because Glassman encourages people to call him "Bernie" (though his informality might add to the confusion). Or because he is a nice Jewish guy from Brighton Beach who went to Brooklyn Polytech and met his first wife on the boat to an Israeli kibbutz (though his continuing ties to his Orthodox upbringing might give one pause). Or because when he went off to Los Angeles in 1960, it wasn't to play in the fields of the counterculture but to study applied mathematics at UCLA and work for McDonnell Douglas on a mission to Mars. No, there is a more glaring reason Glassman is an anomaly: if Soto Zen Buddhism's emphasis is on just sitting, then Glassman's is on movement, or better yet its plural -the peace and civil rights movements. From the time he was ordained by Zen Center of Los Angeles abbot Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 1970 and then encouraged a near meteoric (by Zen standards) nine years later to return to New York and begin a Zen community of his own, Glassman has often been considered something of an iconoclast. He is an iconoclast in a religion known for encouraging iconoclasm because he is fond of pushing zendo activity toward endeavors that often benefit a zendo's surrounding neighborhood. In Los Angeles, this meant beginning a health clinic and renovating nearby buildings. In New York, it has meant creating a bakery that employs those deemed unemployable and building permanent housing and providing day care for people who need help escaping the Habitrail of social services. These efforts (along with Glassman's penchant for making people who are not lifelong Zen students "peacemaker priests") have had an immediate impact on the zendos Glassman was and is part of. Now his sphere of influence is widening. Due to the unexpected death of Maezumi Roshi last spring, Glassman has become the liaison between the Soto Zen powers-that-be in Japan and the White Plum Sangha, or Soto Zen community, in the U.S. But for all his heterodoxy, Glassman probably sees himself as Zen's long history of tradition and adaptation. Having originated in China (as Ch'an), Zen has been remade in every country it has traveled to. The Zen most familiar to Americans comes from Japan the Soto and Rinzai traditions. Since the differences aren't particularly evident in how each is practiced (both have zazen and koan study) they may appear subtle: While Rinzai Zen focuses on kensho, or enlightenment, the Soto practice of 'just sitting is seen as an expression of the enlightened being. When Zen masters from both schools first came to America in the early '60s, they faced students who were as attracted to some of Japan's monastic practices as they were repelled by others. The challenge for American Zen-and therefore for Glassman -is to faithfully transmit certain Zen practices while enhancing Zen's American flavor. It is a little more than a week before the street retreat, and Glassman is giving what, in a zendo, would be called a teisho, a teacher-student discourse that usually takes place after zazen. This morning, however, in the cavernous recess of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, it feels like a sermon. And- if you go in for that sort of thing- an impressive one at that. In the words of the Sh'ma, he begins in a clear, deliberate voice. Sh'ma Yisroel Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. The roshi is visiting two of his favorite themes: social action and interfaith work. The words of the Sh'ma represent for me a bridge across the traditions. Sh'ma, it's emphatic. Listen! Glassman speaks from the pulpit with a well-honed insistence; he then makes an effective leap. The student asked the Zen teacher what is the most important point in Zen? And the teacher wrote the words "Attention! Listen!" The student said there must be something else. The teacher said, "Yes, there is," and he wrote on the board "Attention! Listen!" Beginning a Buddhist teisho in an Episcopalian church using one of the most honored prayers in Judaism -one that Jews recited in the gas chambers- is not simply the effort of a good Jewish Buddhist to keep the faiths. It is also an attempt to push the faiths toward each other to challenge orthodoxies. "Bernie's very involved in this interfaith approach to a variety of different things" says Pat Enkyo O'Hara, who runs the Village Zendo near New York University and has been studying with Glassman since Maezumi Roshi's memorial service last summer. "I'm surprised by that too, because so many people come to Buddhism because they're running away from traditional Western kinds of religious practice. And this is like him turning it around, turning it upside down." Glassman himself might argue this pursuit of common themes is the expression of 30 years of practice: 'I grew up in Brooklyn in a Jewish enclave, Brighton Beach'" he tells me. "Most of my relatives were very leftist, very activist. That was in my blood. My wife was a draft resistance counselor in California, and our house was full with meetings of people staying out of the war. What I would probably say is, If you do Zen and practice it correctly, it will allow you to be who you are. If you're an artist, it will allow you to be a better artist. If what's in your blood is social activism, that's what you're going to do. It was in my blood." Back at St. John's, Glassman is hitting his rhetorical stride. There's another Zen story. The student went to the teacher and said, "Teach me the essence of Zen." The teacher said, "I hear you play chess." The youngster in his late twenties said, "Yeah, I'm pretty good at it" "So let's play a game of chess, have some tea, and later on we can talk about Zen." "Fine, let's play. I love the game of chess." "One little rule," the teacher said, "the one who loses dies." So they sat down to play and the young man made his moves and he started to fall behind, and as he started to fall behind, his brow popped out with sweat. He became nervous and started to pay attention. After a while, with studious examination of the board, bringing up all he remembered and knew about the game, he started to get ahead of the old man. At some point, he saw he was going to win the game and he looked at this old Zen roshi. And little by little, be started to lose. It was then that the old roshi said, "You've learned the essence of Zen: attention and compassion." After the service, St. John's dean James Parks Morton, Glassman and his attendant, and a group of 15 or so congregants head to an informal gathering at V&T Pizza. Pizzerias have something of a hallowed place in the roshi's life. Glassman has another story he tends to offer instead of family psychology to explain how he got from point A, Brighton Beach, to point Z, zazen and all the endeavors that have followed. It's like this: As a young man newly graduated from college, Glassman was sitting with a buddy in a pizzeria. This buddy asks him "What do you want to do with your life?" Glassman gives him a three-part reply: Go live on a kibbutz. Go live in a Zen monastery. Live on the street in the Bowery. These three goals may have had their roots in his upbringing as well as in two immensely formative books--Huston Smith's The Religions of Man and Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh--but as he has ticked each one off over the years, they have taken on the veneer of inadvertent vows. Or, as one student told Tworkov, Glassman is "a guy that always gets what he wants, but sees himself as always wanting what he gets" Tetsugen Glassman's ascendency coincides quite nicely with the continuing expansion of Buddhism in this country. Buddhism now has a high-profile quarterly, the Tworkov-edited Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. The Buddha has even been featured in his own major motion picture. And though Bernardo Bertolucci's biopic, Little Buddha, came and went without much karmic kick at the box office, this has not discouraged Hollywood from greenlighting two features about the Dalai Lama (whose circle of high-profile followers--Richard Gere, Robert Thurman, and Philip Glass; the list of celebuddhists is ever growing-may turn him into the Krishnamurti of his day). Even as much of the recent media coverage focuses on the ornate rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, the sparer tradition of Zen is forging its own second coming. This spring, Glassman's treatise on Zen, business, and social action, Instructions to the Cook (cowritten with Rick Fields), joined Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops and Lawrence Shainberg's thoroughly aggravating, thoroughly enjoyable Ambivalent Zen on mainstream bookstore shelves. Where earlier forays into Zen took a decidedly philosophical approach to the challenging language of Big Mind ("What is the sound of one hand clapping?" and assorted other koans intended to sideswipe the rationalizing activity of our small minds have been too easily reduced to smartass quips), these latest additions have as healthy a relationship to the practice of Zen as they do to its theory. This book is about how to cook the supreme meal of your life," writes Glassman. "This book is about how to live fully in the marketplace. And in every other sphere of your life." As can-do as any self-help--spiritual guide flooding bookstores these days, Instructions to the Cook is at home next to the works of such modern spiritual pragmatists as Stephen Covey and Deepak Chopra. Subtitled A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, Instructions often reads more like a handbook for a socially conscious entrepreneur or an inventive social worker than a call to Buddhist practice. But then Instructions is a deceptively straightforward book. More a Zen gesture than a text, Instructions updates a classic 13th-century tract by the father of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, Dogen Zenji. In Tenzo KyHokun, Dogen argued for the profound spiritual lessons of the lowest monk on the totem pole-the tenzo, or cook. What started out as a pilgrimage to China from Japan became a meditation on right practice. Dogen's lessons--to waste nothing (and no one), to pay great attention to the ingredients at hand--are Glassman's points of departure. "When we live our life fully," writes Glassman, "our life becomes what Zen Buddhists call `the supreme meal.'" Preparing this supreme meal is the practice, for Glassman. "Of course, the supreme meal is very different for each of us," he adds. "But according to the principles of the Zen cook, it always consists of five main `courses' or aspects of life. The first course involves spirituality; the second course is composed of study and learning--the third course deals with livelihood; the fourth course is made out of social action or change, and the last course consists of relationship and community." Certainly, there have been more elegant invitations to Zen--from Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind to Alan Watts's This Is It--but few provide as timely a pathway (or, taking up the metaphor, as thorough a cookbook), for translating spiritual exercise into socially engaged work. At a time when public religious activity seems to be the prerogative of fundamentalists, Instructions makes an impressive and detailed claim for the transformative power of a compassionate spiritual practice. It also challenges those who see Zen as merely a refuge from the messiness of society. For Glassman, the cook's work of mindfulness takes place not only in the kitchen of a monastery but in a mosque, a church, a soup kitchen, or a boardroom. Many of Glassman's efforts have taken place in one of the most economically depressed areas in New York State. One afternoon, sitting cross-legged on a sofa in his sunny office at the ZCNY's umbrella organization, the Greyston Foundation, Glassman listing what he calls the foundation's spiritual works and "livelihoods," the activities that pay the rent, "that sustain us in the physical world." There is the fledgling fabric enterprise Pamsula, which when fully up and running should employ as many as 50 local women. There is the interfaith space House of One People; its first service is slated for November 1. There is the immense undertaking of a healthcare center and permanent housing for People With AIDS, scheduled to open in 1997. There are a few more plans that, though he knows he should, he can barely keep a lid on; indeed, his enthusiasm for the next project and the one after that is notorious. "I'm not a manager," says Glassman. "I get turned on by new things. I'm more of what people would call an entrepreneur. Problems and difficulties don't upset me, they get me thinking of solutions. I'm not what people would call a good administrator," he sighs (and former student Shainberg's book supports this assessment). "But life excites me. At this point I still love being out on the street." The Bowery Street Retreat may be Glassman's most personal expression of a Zen that doesn't stay put on the cushion, but the two examples of applied Zen that perhaps best capture the socio-cultural imagination are the Greyston Bakery and the Greyston Family Inn. Before the ZCNY relocated from its first building in Riverdale to Yonkers in the mid '80s, Glassman had already instituted an expanded version of samu, or work practice. Work practice--cleaning the zendo, tending its grounds, cooking the meal--has often been understood as a break from the rigors of zazen. But Glassman saw it as not merely a break but an opportunity to gain self-sufficiency. In June of '81, searching for a way to fiscally support ZCNY, Glassman made a deal with the Riverdale Yacht Club to cater its functions. The following year, having gotten a taste of the food industry, he decided that ZCNY should buy a burned-out lasagna factory in Yonkers and start a bakery. When ZCNY moved from its Riverdale mansion (known informally as the "Zen Hilton") to a site nearer the bakery in an urban setting--complete with projects, drugs, homelessness, devastating unemployment--a number of members chose not to follow. Walking along a desolate strip of waterfront warehouses past a rundown police station, it's not difficult to see why. Though the bakery originally employed members of the ZCNY residence (there was even a zendo above the kitchen), almost all of the employees now come from this area of Yonkers, which means they didn't necessarily come with baking, let alone job, experience. (The slide from zendo livelihood to broader social action was an easy one: "The course of social action," Glassman writes, "grows naturally out of the courses of spirituality and livelihood. Once we begin to take care of our own basic needs, we become more aware of the needs of the people around us.") Unlike the famous Tassajara Bread Bakery in San Francisco (a onetime Zen Buddhist business), the Greyston Bakery produces desserts--with names like Lotus in Mud Cake--for outlets as decidely nonminimalist as Godiva and Bloomingdale's. Its most lucrative relationship, however, is with another socially aware enterprise, Ben & Jerry's, which buys tons of brownie pieces for its Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. Written up in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the bakery has been scrutinized and celebrated as a successful example of Zen ethics in action--or, at least, of Zen ethics not getting in the way of the bottom line. e Greyston Family Inn. These two renovated buildings, opened in 1991, provide 27 units of permanent housing for formerly homeless families. (Work will begin on two more buildings this summer.) On the ground floor, looking out onto Warburton Avenue, is a day-care center. The center is its own special place; the light-blue walls are covered with notes to parents (instructions that hint at the subtle teaching of parenting skills to young mothers and fathers), construction-paper cutouts, and finger paintings. On one wall near the entryway is a quilt from Pamsula made up of pictures of the kids, beads, feathers, and assorted other keepsakes. There are a number of xeroxed signs tacked up that read "A Clean, Well-Lit Space." The day care's inhabitants - kids as well as their teachers (almost all of them of color) -are an ad for possibility. And like a very good advertisement, it takes more than a brief glance before it begins to fray around the edges. Sure, there is the obvious optimism that comes from watching children, most of them lower income though not necessarily residents of the Inn, getting the toys, tools, and attention they need to thrive. And there is the equally satisfying sense that this is a lovely example of what Zen has bat in America. Yet there is something vaguely amiss at the Family Inn. The separation between the beneficiaries of the practice and the practitioners appears to be glacially widening. Of course, it is not as if there were no distance to begin with: there are the all-too-familiar bugaboos of class and race. Still, it didn't take much querying to find discontent at the Inn. "Whatever they do" says Oscar Gilcrest, "they should take care of what they did first, before jumping off into the next thing." Gilcrest one of the Family Inn's original tenants, moved into Greyston five years ago. In the sort of catch-22 that is the special gift of social service bureaucracies, Gilcrest couldn't get custody of his kids if he didn't have a place to live, and he wasn't eligible for appropriate housing because he didn't have custody of his kids. The Greyston Foundation worked through the double-bind problems with the public assistance bureaucracy and was able to accomplish both tasks; for this, Gilcrest is clearly appreciative. Now, however, the 43-year-old Gilcrest and his three children are looking to move around the corner to a three-bedroom apartment. This new apartment isn't part of Greyston. Gilcrest is sitting in Tenant Services manager Tracey Franklin's office. Franklin, a young, energetic sister, has a good reputation among the Inn's residents. Gilcrest is here because there are a number of tenants -almost all of them, I've been told-who are worried about the way things are going with the Foundation, and because he's known for speaking his mind. "I always felt they left their first love [the bakery] to jump into this thing, and now they're leaving it to start [the AIDS residence] at 21 Park Avenue.' I could list the other complaints that Gilcrest aired that afternoon, but that wouldn't be fair to the tenants or the Foundation, because by themselves they seem to be a laundry list of years of frustration- often unmoored, idiosyncratic, vague, yet deeply symptomatic of a growing mistrust. Franklin, for her part, does not mince words when it comes to issues of who bears the responsibility for tenant unhappiness: Greyston, occasionally, but also the tenants. "I bring the Penny Saver in and other job listings" she recounts. "Then some of the tenants call to ask me to pick out the jobs they'd be good for. Then they want me to call the job for them. I understand their fears but I don't have time." To a certain degree, the distance between the Family Inn and the Foundation is proof of a general ignorance of Zen on the part of the residents, some of whom let their own suspicions about religions other than Christianity or Islam prevent them from understanding the philosophy underlying Greyston. And since Zen is still new enough to the culture at large that Zen communities must fight the "cult" label, Greyston has been careful not to proselytize. When I asked Glassman if there was spiritual back-and-forth between the tenants of the Family Inn and ZCNY, he replied, "My approach is that it's here and we give flyers about all events. Like I'm doing a workshop this Sunday on bearing witness and it's free to all staff and residents. My feeling is that at some point there will be people who are really interested and they will practice and then become role models, and they will speak the language better and create some new forms." In the meantime, as Glassman makes a convincing, even inspiring bid for Zen and social services work in Instructions to the Cook, the Greyston Foundation is in danger of becoming just another social service organization that must weather the muted hostility of its clients. Taken together, the Street Retreat and the Family Inn have an irresistible "tale of two gestures" quality. And when I first described the retreat to a friend who runs a Red Cross Tier Two facility (temporary accommodations for women and children), she asked the obvious question: Isn't the Bowery focus a bit cliched? Granted, downward mobility has a deep spiritual history with adherents in many religions. St. Francis came from money, as did Augustine. And, more germane, Shakyamuni Buddha went from his father's palace to obsessive asceticism before steering a course on the middle path. But indigent-like-me masquerades are mired in the past not only because they seem so much a product of '60s-type thinking but also because the ballooning problems of institutional poverty and homelessness (the stuff of the Greyston Family Inn) are more befuddling and enervating than the hallucinatory, radical individualism of men (and it usually is men) surviving on the streets. Truth be told, that first day's search for boxes for shelter and cans for income had the playful exuberance of Carole Lombard tracking down "a forgotten man" for her upper-class scavenger hunt in My Man Godfrey. But Glassman is candid about the romantic origins of the Street Retreat. "I remember explicitly sitting in Dubrow's, a cafeteria in Brooklyn, eating," he says one afternoon. "And at the next table was a bunch of bums--Bowery-type bums--and they were discussing philosophy, and I was amazed. Their discussion made me feel that there was some kind of knowledge on the streets that was more profound than the kind of knowledge I was getting. I can still picture them--it was a long time ago. But to tell the truth, I'd forgotten all that until I was beginning work with the homeless." On the second morning of the retreat, Glassman, who hasn't shaved or washed his hair for seven days, is starting to resemble the Dharma bum he is. If there is such a thing as looking the part, then Glassman and peacemaker priest Claude Thomas are pulling it off this morning. At 6 on Seventh, the look is layered, grungy, and tired. Glassman has reminded us a number of times that the point isn't to pretend to be homeless -"we all know where we're going when this is over Saturday night"- but looking at him now, it is hard not to believe he revels in the down and dirty of this adventure. While Glassman opts for the cold air in a park across from Macy's, Daigu, Egyoku, Monynen, and I descend into the BMT station, where we join a few others - all men - sleeping along the tiled walls between Penn Station and the subway. Within five minutes, the relative warmth of the station has us nodding. The faint aroma of piss mixes with the orange tang of the MTA cleanser, adding to the ambient funk. When the two cops come with the 6:15 wakeup call, they are relatively gentle-no poking, no banging loudly with their night sticks. Do we confuse them? A Japanese American woman, a Jewish woman, and a black woman (the makings of a joke), and a tall blond man they may think they recognize thanks to his stint on a top 10 sitcom? Something happens next that underscores the complex intentions of this retreat. Daigu, who brought an extra pair of shoes, gives his boots to a scrawny, barefoot white guy who is curled up against the wall opposite us. If the retreat were as hardcore as implied in the introductory letter from Glassman -nothing extra, only the layers you wear-then Daigu wouldn't have the boots, and if he hadn't had the boots, then this guy would have gone out onto 34th Street shoeless. Like any good trip, the retreat continues to offer up similar coincidences and conundrums. A day after the shoe episode, as we head off to lunch at the Bowery Mission, a lovely woman brings us leftovers from the previous evening's seder. It is clear that Glassman is annoyed: How can we learn about emptiness in this situation? Like the story of Daigu's boots, though, there is an equally satisfying moral for me: because someone decided to feed her Buddhist comrades, as many as 10 other guys from the park were fed excellent food. As if to add to the karmic okayness of it all, moments later, someone comes through the park announcing that St. Brigid's Church on Avenue B is serving a Maundy Thursday feast. On yet another occasion -the morning Ron Brown's plane was reported downed and Ted Kaczynski made the headlines-Daigu pops 60 cents of his $2 for a New York Times. Roshi is frustrated-it's an extravagance-and he demands the rest of Daigu's money. A couple of hours later, Glassman finds out that another retreater coughed up 30 cents for hot water for tea instead of begging for it. That's it. Glassman promises to sweep the last remnants of the I-shop-therefore-I-am mentality away; next year there will be no money, period. When I sit down with Zen priest novitiate and Greyston administrator Eve Marko a week later (to catch up on what I'd missed, since I stuck around for only half of the retreat), we discuss this recurring tension between bounty and dearth. "It's only when you're open to this emptiness that all this abundance, all this generosity appears" she says of the retreat's primary lesson. The challenge then for Greyston and Glassman is to understand the difference between choosing emptiness -with its incumbent fullness--and struggling with it if it's an identity that's been hoisted on you. It is perhaps the difference between doing a weeklong retreat on the Bowery and doing a lifelong stint at the Family Inn; between seeing the soup-kitchen line as a classroom and trying to resolve the koan of social services a conundrum illustrated by the Foundation's own Wendy Powell. Powell is one of those success stories that gets the donors reaching for their checkbooks: not only are she and her son, Bismi, tenants, but she is the program administrator of the daycare center. Yet Powell has become increasingly reluctant to be a poster woman for Greyston, even though she wholly believes in its mission. Recently, she turned down an interview on CBS when it became clear that she'd be forced to trot out how low she'd been first and foremost. "They weren't that interested in where I am," or, even more important to Powell, "where I want to go." Yet Greyston's fundraising is contingent on constantly offering up the homeless identity to government agencies and other funders, even at the risk of reinscribing it on their tenants. It's somewhat ironic that Glassman's drive toward the next thing, a quality that led to early dissent in ZCNY when he proposed the bakery and the Family Inn, is producing anxiety at the Family Inn. When Helen Tworkov wrote Zen in America, the Inn was still two years from fruition, but even then some of the members who'd fought the bakery were now questioning the validity of social work as an expression of Zen practice. In her discussions of the ongoing tensions between Glassman and some of ZCNY's other practitioners, Tworkov repeated one refrain over and over: But is it Zen? Sitting in his sunny office at Greyston, Glassman gives what initially strikes this reporter as too tautological an answer to just that question. "I think that question will die out. I think it's there because of the newness of the practice," he says. "It's asked because people aren't really understanding what the practice is all about. People are caught up with the aspect of Zen that deals with themselves, with bettering themselves." Like all Zen masters, Glassman proceeds to use a story, or in this case, a metaphor, to illustrate his point. "In Zen we talk about going up the mountain and down the mountain. Up the mountain you're focusing on your own understanding; down the mountain, you're helping others. It's the preoccupation with going up the mountain that leads to questions of `Is it Zen?' For me, when that question arises, I'm looking at a person who is young in their practice and is concentrating on their notion of what Zen's about, and usually that's got to do with their desire for enlightenment." When I next catch up with my retreat friends (because, have no doubts, they have become friends), it is the night before Easter and they are ensconced in the choir pews at a candlelight service at St. John the Divine. Bleary eyed, and a little smellier for the wear, Glassman and the rest of them sit surrounded by parishioners. The night before, they slept- or did not sleep- in Penn Station. Even though a judge upheld the right of the homeless to take shelter in the station, they were not allowed to stay long in any one place. In short, they are beat, or as Daigu put it, looking the part completely, they are "wrecked." It is true that I spent the days following the Street Retreat nosing around the Family Inn, slightly tarnishing the goodwill and peace I found on the street. The bliss I garnered just sitting or just walking or just eating, or as Glassman calls it, "aimlessly meandering," has waned some. And as I make for the regular pews, I feel a little cut off from these comrades, a little cast out by my own discriminating mind. To soften the sadness, I sit in the darkness and flickering candlelight and imagine them resting, slipping into a blissful sleep before the next day's mountain climbing. PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): Bernard Glassman; Instructions to the cook: Glassman witnesses the unexpected bounty of the street. -------------------