Gates of Sweet Nectar

By November 7, 2018 Blog

In the late 90’s as I traveled around chanting, these very fierce looking shaven-headed beings would approach me after the chanting was over and with great seriousness would say, “Bernie sent me.” I was too afraid to ask any questions for a long time, but finally one night I blurted out, “Who’s Bernie?” I was told they were talking about a Zen roshi, Roshi Bernie Glassman whom I had never met but had heard about. I heard that he took people on “homeless” retreats in the streets of New York, that he also took people to Auschwitz with his non-profit Zen Peacemakers, where they stayed for a week, offering prayers and religious ceremonies. I thought that this must be an amazing guy. Then I him, and his wife Eve , at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas during the week before New Year’s Eve 2000. For me it was love at first sight. We got very close. One day he handed me some lines in English of a prayer from the Japanese Buddhist Canon that Bernie and his students chanted regularly. He said, “Can you do something with this?” I said, “Like what?” He said “We Buddhists aren’t so good with melody. Maybe you could come up with a good melody so we can sing it in our ceremonies.” “Well, I’ll try” “And at the next gathering of the Peacemaker Community, you can sing it.” I smiled and though ‘Jeez! Nothing like a little pressure,’ but just said, “OK. Great!”

The gathering was not for 11 months so I figured I might be able to get it together. I carried that paper around with me and looked at it from every different angle but it still wasn’t happening. At one point, I emailed him to ask if I could mess with the words a little because they didn’t flow well in English. I got a very Zen response, “Mess.”

There were 2 weeks left before the gathering. I was sitting one day looking at the ocean and the whole thing just dropped on me. I realized that it would also be a good melody for the Hanuman Chaleesa. The prayer reflects Bernie’s great compassion and caring for all Beings, not just the ones we can see but all Beings in all stages and planes of existence. It is an offering to all Beings of a meal to allay the pain of the unending, relentless hungers that can never be satisfied. After I had sung the prayer at the Peacemaker gathering, I got an email from Bernie saying that I could now start working on the rest of the prayer. I wrote back that it would take me at least 3 lifetimes to do it. I got another one-word email response from him, “Two.”
– Krishna Das

Bernie Glassman left his body this past Sunday November 4, 2018.

Calling out to hungry hearts
Everywhere through endless time
You who wander, you who thirst
I offer you this Bodhi mind
Calling all you hungry spirits
Everywhere through endless time
Calling out to hungry hearts
All the lost and left behind
Gather round and share this meal
Your joy and your sorrow
I make it mine.

~ The Gates of Sweet Nectar from Krishna Das’s book Chants of a Lifetime


  • Steven J Ramsey says:

    So sweet and beautiful, Is the love stretching out the walls of my heart? it aches so much, the tears flow, what would happen if this sweetness were truly released? I think I might blow completely apart.

  • Derek McKinley says:

    This is a beautiful story of how Bernie’s Chalisa was born – do you mind sharing the simple guitar chords for this song?
    Thank you

  • Misa says:

    It was a beautiful chant to offer up with heart in today’s online Thursday live kirtan. Thank you KD and Bernie for the dedication.

  • Anne McMahon says:

    So happy to read this story behind the beautiful prayer … my favourite version of the Chalisa for sure. I often find myself singing the prayer throughout the day, the melody is a perfect match. Thank you Krishna Das and Bernie Glassman.

  • Richard Harvey says:

    “Calling to hungry hearts” reminds me so much of Jesus welcoming all to share in his Eucharistic meal. “Your joy and your sorrow I make it mine”

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