Staying True to Mission in Tough Economic Times.

Via Bernie Glassman
on Jan 10, 2011
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The Right Location for Socially Engaged Buddhism.

Bernie Glassman and his Teacher Maezumi Roshi at the Riverdale mansion .

Social Enterprise in 1980’s New York

I am starting to blog with Elephant Journal in order to promote Socially Engaged Buddhism, a vow I have observed for decades.

When I moved my Zen community from up-scale Riverdale, New York to dilapidated Yonkers in 1982, I lost many of my students. With several of us committing to live simply together and work without salary, we were able to scrape a successful business into existence.  Not only did we eventually create a livelihood for ourselves, but the Greyston Bakery also grew to provide jobs and training for scores of people off the streets.

As Socially Engaged Buddhists, meeting the unmet needs of those forgotten by society is our spiritual practice. Thus, the Zen Peacemakers, a family and lineage of Zen practitioners integrating meditation with social action and service, was born in Yonkers, New York.

International Community

In addition to expanding Greyston to include an AIDS housing and an HIV Health

Greyston Affordable Housing

Clinic , child care center, community gardens, and other services, the Zen Peacemakers started gathering every year at Auschwitz for Bearing Witness Retreats.  Through our work at Auschwitz and peace work in the middle East, a global network of socially engaged spiritual practitioners emerged.  As this network provided me with the opportunity to teach all over the world, members also started to voice the need for a home and central headquarters.

The Motherhouse

When the availability of a farm that once belonged to a 60’s commune of back-to-the-land social activists in Western Massachusetts came to our attention in 2002, we thought we could carry on some elements of the previous tenants’ legacy.  We decided to make that our base for socially engaged Buddhism, incorporating multi-faith work, a training institute (named after my teacher, Maezumi Roshi), a zendo, and service projects. The vision for developing the Montague Farm was to make its beautiful 34-acre campus a motherhouse for the Zen Peacemakers.
After investing in construction, we opened the Main Hall in September 2005 and have operated successful programs since then.

Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism dance

Socially Engaged Buddhism

For example, Elephant Journal columnist Ari Pliskin first came to train as part of our residential seminary.  Because of his commitment to share our engaged practice through blogging and social media, I hired him to promote our Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism.  Last summer’ Symposium was the campus’ climax to five highly successful years of resident trainings, growing organic vegetables and sharing them with the neighboring low-income community, Zen teachings, and multi-faith offerings

Finding the right location

However, despite offering meaningful trainings, valuable services to our neighbors in need and hosting warm gatherings of Buddhists and others from around the world, we could not consistently and sustainably bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of maintaining our campus and facility.  We did not want to shift our focus to becoming a fancy mindfulness resort for cozy upper-class weekend get-a-ways.  So, after three months of careful consideration and discussion, the Board of the Zen Peacemakers decided to put the

Bernie Glassman Clowning in Chiapas

organization’s Montague Farm campus in Western Massachusetts for sale and eventually move its operations to a smaller neighboring location. As we did while based in Yonkers during the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Zen Peacemakers can rent conference facilities for large events.  We now feel that more modest leased facilities will better help  Zen Peacemakers fulfill its mission to realize and actualize the oneness and interdependence of life through study, practice and action for personal and social transformation.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for further updates about my work, including my plans to do clowning work in refugee camps and promote Socially Engaged Buddhism in Europe.  Please contact my assistant Ari with any questions you have for me about socially engaged spiritual practice or social enterprise and I will address them in this blog.


About Bernie Glassman

Zen Master Bernie Glassman is a world-renowned pioneer in the American Zen Movement. He is a spiritual leader, published author, accomplished academic and successful businessman with a PhD in Applied Mathematics. He is the founder of the Zen Peacemakers. Having entered his 70's, he is focussing on the promotion of Socially Engaged Buddhism, the development of Dharma Centers (Zen Houses) in impoverished areas to serve the local population and in nurturing communication and interaction between affiliates of the Zen Peacemakers Sangha.He has an intensive inter-national schedule of workshops, lectures and tours. Read more at


14 Responses to “Staying True to Mission in Tough Economic Times.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zen Peacemakers. Zen Peacemakers said: Staying True to Mission in Tough Economic Times: The Right Location for Socially Engaged Buddhism by Bernie Glassman… […]

  2. Your work is tremendously inspiring and I am very glad that you will continue to write for elephant!

  3. kloncke says:

    Thank you for sharing the story behind the ongoing navigations. I had a wonderful time at the beautiful Montague campus during the Symposium, but I'm also happy to hear about the move that will allow ZP to stay true to its own compass. Best of luck, and thanks again!

  4. Audrey says:

    This is such important work you're doing, especially now. I look forward to reading more of your pieces and following your work.

  5. Joe Yeoman says:

    I can't wait to read about your "clowning" experiences. Joy is such a great gift for children in need. Thank you so much for this post.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    I'm inspired by the fact that, against all odds, your mission remains to be of the utmost importance. Thank you for sharing your story, Bernie. I look forward to reading more from you.

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  8. […] from a place where we are selling our Zen center campus, I am impressed by what is essentially a small yet vibrant and gorgeous Caribbean village dedicated […]

  9. Lee says:

    I certainly applaud all the amazing work Bernie has done over the years, and I understand the struggle Zen Peacemakers is going though, like many of us, in these tough economic times. One aspect of his writing really bothered me, however: his reference to not wanting to become "a fancy mindfulness resort for cozy upper-class weekend get-a-ways." There seemed to be a lot of judgement in that statement, a lot of reverse snobbery, a putting down of those types of people. While I am not one of them, and could not afford a visit to Montegue in any situation, weekend or otherwise, isn't one of the basic values of Zen to have compasson for everyone, no matter who they are? Don't these kind of people need just as much spiritual help as anyone else? Just wondering…..

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  13. […] last of this rich yet strenuous form of practice. While the Zen Peacemakers recently decided to put our Western Massachusettes campus for sale, this retreat reinforced for me that Zen Peacemakers is not so much a specific location, but a […]