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Zen Peacemakers

The Zen Peacemaker Order, also known as Zen Peacemakers Circle or simply Zen Peacemakers is an organization of socially engaged Buddhists. It was founded by roshi Bernie Glassman and his wife Sandra Jishu Holmes in 1996, as a means of continuing the work begun with the Greyston Foundation in 1980 of expanding Zen practice into larger spheres of influence such as social services, business and ecology but with a greater emphasis on peace work. Zen Peacemakers is a school within the White Plum Asanga lineage of Taizan Maezumi.

Tradition and lineage

Although Zen Peacemakers is part of the White Plum Asanga lineage, founder Bernie Glassman did not envisage it as an organisation bound by traditional Japanese Sōtō Zen practice. Bernie Glassman has said:

"Maezumi Roshi was not carrying out the tradition of the Japanese Soto sect when he came here. The Soto sect of Japan was not carrying out the traditions of Chinese Zen. You have to be careful with the word 'traditional.' We honor a lot of eccentric people." [1]

Likewise, although within the lineage, the Zen Peacemaker Order was not formed as part of the White Plum Asanga organisation. Links between the two organisations are now distant; despite being named as heir to the presidency of the White Plum Asanga in Maezumi's will, Glassman ceased attending the annual meetings of Taizan Maezumi's dharma heirs within a few years of his former teacher's death.[1] According to author James Ishmael Ford, as of 2006 Glassman has "transferred his leadership of the White Plum Asanga to his Dharma brother Merzel Roshi and has formally 'disrobed,' renouncing priesthood in favor of serving as a lay teacher and leader of what is now called the Zen Peacemaker Family."

Greyston Foundation

Activities of the Zen Peacemakers originated in Yonkers, New York with the opening of the Greyston Bakery, its most well-known and prosperous project, in 1982.[2][3] Its projects eventually united under the auspices of the Greyston Foundation, a network of community development companies and non-profit organizations based in the inner city. Greyston Family Inn opened in 1991, on proceeds from the sale of Greyston mansion. It provides permanent housing for homeless people, with a child day-care center amongst services available for residents. Currently there are three buildings, providing fifty housing units. Other projects include the Greyston Garden Project, five community-run gardens established on neglected properties. In 1992 Greyston Health Services was formed, primarily to provide services for poor people with HIV/AIDS. In 1997 Issan House opened, named after Issan Dorsey a Zen Roshi who had died from an AIDS-related condition in 1990. It provides thirty-five permanent housing units for people living with both HIV/AIDS and mental illness or chemical dependency.[4] The Maitri Day Program within the building provides a variety of health and rehabilitative service to 150 people with HIV/AIDS from the local community. As one of the first 'welfare to work' programs in the USA, in 2004 Greyston had an annual budget of over $20 million and received numerous government grants. At Yonkers, they occupy the former Ethan Flagg House-Blessed Sacrament Monastery, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.[5]


In 1996 Bernie Glassman - with his wife Sandra Jishu Holmes - officially founded the Zen Peacemaker Order, later the Zen Peacemaker Circle and currently Zen Peacemakers. According to professor Christopher S. Queen, "The order is based on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world and a commitment to heal oneself and the world."[6]

Zen Peacemaker projects have included a Paris soup kitchen for immigrants and non-violence efforts in the Palestinian territories, with joint Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence projects in Israel. Zen Peacemakers in Poland established 'Nonviolent Communications Training and Practice' in the national public school system and opened an AIDS hospice. The Auschwitz project brought together families of the Holocaust survivors and the descendants of those who ran the camps to '"bear witness to the horrors of war" during retreats at the site of the former German concentration camp in Poland.[7] In the United States, Zen Peacemakers have campaigned for prison reform, provided hospice care and worked with the poor in both inner city and rural areas.[8]

Zen Peacemakers has 70 affiliate centers in 5 Continents and 12 Countries. Countries with groups affiliated to Zen Peacemakers include: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK. In the United States affiliates include the Upaya Institute and Zen Center led by Joan Halifax in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Elders and Spiritual Directors

The founder roshi Bernie Glassman has served as the spiritual director of Zen Peacemakers from its inception. In May 2005 roshi Enkyo Pat O'Hara was ratified as Co-Spiritual Director by the Zen Peacemaker Board.

Zen Peacemaker Sangha

The structure of Zen Peacemakers is, like the Greyston Foundation, somewhat complex and also like Greyston is described as a mandala. The mandala is based on the Five Buddha Families with the intention that the organisation addresses needs in all aspects of life. The Zen Peacemakers Sangha (ZPS) is a branch of the Zen Peacemakers Order. It is an association of groups founded by or led by seniors empowered by Bernie Glassman or groups who practice Zen and socially engaged Zen. The ZPS is a forum for sharing the diverse methods of practice, service and teaching within the Zen Peacemakers Order for the purpose of education and personal development as practitioners and teachers.[9]

The Mother House

Formerly sited in Montague, Massachusetts, in the United States, the Mother House was the study and practice center of the Zen Peacemakers. The approach of the institute is based on the Japanese concept gyogaku funi, or "practice and study are not two".[10] It provides various training paths, study programs, and hands-on internships. The Mother House hosted various programs including the Montague Farm Zendo, the Montague Farm Zen House and a residence program.

The Mother House was foreclosed on in 2011 and sold to a private owner in 2012.

Training and Spiritual practices

The training of Zen Peacemakers is grounded in traditional Zen practice - meditation, retreats, liturgy, personal study-relationships with empowered teachers and the intimate recognition of mastery, which maintains the integrity of Zen lineages.

Formulations of spiritual principles specific to the order include "The Sixteen Practices of a Zen Peacemaker", comprising the "Three Refuges", the "Three Tenets" and the "Ten Practices" of a Zen Peacemaker[11]

'Street retreats', excursions by Bernie Glassman and others into the streets for days at a time to live amongst the homeless, have become a feature of Zen Peacemaker practice.[6][7] Author James Ishmael Ford writes, "...'street retreats,' for instance, moves sesshin into the streets: participants eat in soup kitchens, and, if they know they're not displacing homeless people, sleep in homeless shelters or, otherwise, sleep in public places. Zazen takes place in parks and dokusan in alleys."[12]

Socially Engaged Buddhism

As a leader of Socially Engaged Buddhism, the Zen Peacemakers publish Bearing Witness, a free monthly online newsletter. The socially engaged practices of Zen Peacemakers is aimed at extending Dharma beyond the meditation hall to the worlds of business, social services, conflict resolution and environmental stewardship. Socially Engaged Buddhism has frequently led to new models of practice, allowing Buddhists to addressing the needs of individuals and communities in disadvantaged areas. The Zen Peacemakers' way is intended to "illuminate all life as a boundless meditation hall".[13]


Religious historian Richard Hughes Seager writes "The Zen Peacemaker Order...has the potential to rival Thich Nhat Hanh's groups and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship as a force in American activism".[14]

Notable Zen Peacemakers

Notable Affiliates

See also



  1. ^ a b Jones, Noa. "White Plums and Lizard Tails: The Story of Maezumi Roshi and his American Lineage". Shambhala Sun. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  2. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (1991-12-23). "YONKERS JOURNAL; Cookies, Civic Pride And Zen". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
  3. ^ Lazarus, Chris. "Issue 1: Community Revitalization - Recipes for Empowering Community Greyston, Mandala, Yonkers". New Village Press. Retrieved 2008-03-03.
  4. ^ KnowledgePlex: Issan House Supportive Housing Case Study-2004 MetLife Foundation Awards, 2004
  5. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  6. ^ a b Queen, Christopher S (2000). Engaged Buddhism in the West. Wisdom publications. ISBN 0-86171-159-9.
  7. ^ a b Perry Garfinkel (2006). Buddha or Bust. Harmony Books. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-1-4000-8217-9.
  8. ^ "Zen Peacemaker History". Archived from the original on April 17, 2008. Retrieved 2007-07-10.
  9. ^ "Zen Peacemakers web site". Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  10. ^ "Master fuses Zen, Western concepts to draw Japanese to new institute". Asian Economic News. 2006-01-02. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
  11. ^ "Upaya Teachings: Peacemaking". Upaya Zen Center. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
  12. ^ Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-509-8.
  13. ^ "Zen Peacemakers web site". Retrieved 2008-06-20.
  14. ^ Seager, Richard Hughes (1999). Buddhism In America. Columbia University Press. p. 209. ISBN 0-231-10868-0.

External links