Over the cold, rainy Easter weekend a group of 17 Zen Peacemakers, once again followed Roshi Bernie Glassman out onto the streets on New York with little or nothing in our pockets (I broke the rules and snuck in a small camera). This was a short street retreat by our standards, just two nights, and it seemed like a pleasant reunion picnic until we woke Saturday in a freezing, bone-soaking windstorm. Our morning meeting, sitting on cold concrete among early-rising TaiChi practitioners in Chinatown was exotic but I didn’t care, I didn’t even make a picture, I just wanted to get out of this idiotic scheme and into a warm bed. But they say miracles do happen and so they did, the cold unpredictably morphed into another feeling and then another, we were reborn again and yet again, Buddhists experiencing Easter.
At night we tried to sleep on cardboard under an overhang but between the rain and the police, I wound up on the Staten Island Ferry both nights. Round and round we went, sleeping 15 precious minutes (dreaming was not possible) , then out to the terminal and back onto the boat again and again – it became like a Buddhist bowing practice, over and over, no expectations, no thinking, just the doing of it over and over and then again, until dawn when the beauty of the water and city and sky overwhelmed the desire to sleep. And then hunger, one desire becoming another.
We were saved from our bourgeois version of pain by the best soup kitchen I’ve ever seen: heat, grace, dignity, fine food and warm socks, it’s called Meatloaf Kitchen, if any of you are thinking about volunteering or contributing in the area of serving the homeless I highly (highly) recommend this operation. I’d also like to thank The Bowery Mission which fed us once again with food and spirit. They continue to do their inspirational work even though their immediate neighbors are now a giant modern museum on one side and a red-roped nightclub on the other.
We finished with what Bernie called a “Recognition Ceremony” in Chrystie Park which was littered with drug needles and condoms when we started doing these street retreats, but now is clean and wholesome, lying as it does in the shadow of Whole Foods. Myself, I’ve managed to mingle in this Zen Buddhist crowd for 30 years as “a man of no rank” (some say that having no rank is the highest rank of all), but now I have a title, and I fear all is lost. But my experience in the month since, indicates that being lost and being found feel about the same.
I’d like to give to my European friends who came across an ocean from France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, and Israel to sleep on hard benches and soggy boxes with us crazy Americans.