Ep.13 | Remembering Bernie Glassman

Ep.13 ~ Remembering Bernie Glassman

Roshi Bernie Glassman, an American Zen Master affectionately referred to as “Bernie,” was a vibrant character who had a significant influence on American dharma. Along with being a Zen master, was also an aeronautical engineer, a social entrepreneur, an interfaith activist, and a clown.  Bernie left his body in late 2018.  In this episode, KD shares his recollections on his great friend. At 11:42 KD sings “Hungry Hearts” chant. This chant was recently recorded for
Bernie’s memorial. If you would like to download this chant for your practice, its available in our digital library details are below. You can also find a video of KD and Bernie together on YouTube channel Krishna Das Music, and album recording of Sri Hanuman Chalisa / Gate of Sweet Nectar on the album Door of Faith.

“He was pulled to relieve the suffering, to confront the fear around those situations, to melt and vaporize the arrows of anger and shame and greed and fear that are release in all directions by our egoistic self-serving desires, self-protection, walls we put up, laws we make to limit people’s freedoms, everything that causes suffering was what Bernie wanted to relieve.“ ~ Krishna Das  {photo: Peter Cunningham, 2001}


I’m here at the Sivananda ashram in the Bahamas where I first met Bernie Glassman on the eve of the millennium. I arrived here for the first and he had already been here for a few days. I knew about him. I had seen his picture and I’d heard about these Homeless Street Retreats that he took people on. And I looked at his picture and I was scared shitless. There was no way I was going to meet him or go on these retreats, but when I ran into him here at the ashram in the Bahamas, he came up to me, and he said, “You’re Krishna Das?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’ve been listening to you every day since my wife died.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “I’ve been listening. I put the headphones on and play ‘Namah Shivaya’ over and over and I just do my work on the computer.” And that was it. I fell in love with him and it was love at first sight.  He so sweet to me, so kind. And in that closeness that I felt to him, I never felt any awe. It was always perfect at-easement and loving friendship.

Now that he has left the body, even though I miss him so much, mostly I feel awe. He seems to fill the universe. Because there was nowhere he wouldn’t go. There was nothing he wouldn’t face. There was no fear that he wouldn’t confront with love and kindness and caring. Everybody was a part of his family. He greeted everyone equally. He didn’t carry signs and badges to advertise how great a being he was, and the real sign of greatness. My guru, Neem Karoli Baba, looked like somebody’s grandfather. And in fact, one time, He said, “I could have been a really big Saint. I could have been a really big Saint, but I had one fault.” And his devotee said, “Baba, what was that?” He said, “Too much compassion.”

And that was Bernie.

Too much compassion to take anything for himself.

Too much compassion to advertise himself.

Too much compassion to be a great Zen Master.

He cared too much about people.

He wanted to meet everyone exactly where they are.

And that’s the mark of a real Great Being.

Shortly after I met him, I got an email from him with eight lines of a prayer called “The Gates of Sweet Nectar” from the Japanese prayer book, “The Kan Ro Mon”, the Japanese liturgy and apparently this was Bernie’s favorite and most powerful prayer. He had had an extraordinary experience riding in the back of a car once and he experienced the interconnectedness of All Beings in the Universe; Human, Animal and Beyond. All Beings. And this prayer is an offering to All Beings to come for a meal and the meal that is offered is the Enlightened Heart, the Enlightened Mind, the True Nature of all of us. So the prayer had eight lines and he wrote, at the end of the eight lines he said, “Could you do something with this?” So I wrote back, “Like what?” And I got another email saying, “Well, you know, we Buddhists aren’t that good with melody. Maybe you could come up with a nice melody and then we could sing this at the Zen Peacemaker meetings.” The Zen Peacemakers Organization was one of the organizations Bernie started to confront suffering and bear witness to suffering anywhere in the world that it was happening. And that led to him going to Auschwitz and Ireland and Rwanda and Palestine, Israel, many places that most of us are scared to go to. He was just pulled right there to be there and bear witness to the pain and the suffering and liberate it into caring and kindness.

So I carried those lines around with me, around the world, for about 11 months, and then I wrote back, I said, “Bernie,” you know, “Can I mess with the lines a little?” And then I get a one world email back, “Mess.”

So I started reworking the words just a little bit and then a melody came to me and it fit very nicely with those, with that prayer so I told Bernie, that you know, I’ve got it now. And he said, “Good, now you can sing it at the meeting next month with the peacemakers.”

“Oh ok.”

And then he said, “Now you can start working on the rest of the prayer, which I don’t know, is like 40 pages or something like that. So, I wrote back, I wrote to him, I said, “Bernie, that will take three lifetimes.” I get an email back, “Two.”

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

Now, the actual last line of the prayer is, “Gather round and share this meal, all of your sorrow, I make it mine.” However, when I first showed it to Bernie just before the meeting with the peacemakers, he looked at me and said, “Oh, I don’t only want your sorrow. I want your joy, too.” So, I had to change the last line to “your joy and your sorrow, I make it mine.”

This was Bernie.

At ease in the world.

Totally motivated to relieve suffering wherever it arose, wherever it entered into his consciousness in any way. He was pulled to relieve the suffering, to confront the fear around those situations, to melt and vaporize the arrows of anger and shame and greed and fear that are release in all directions by our egoistic self-serving desires, self-protection, walls we put up, laws we make to limit people’s freedoms, everything that causes suffering was what Bernie wanted to relieve.

Now that he’s not in the body, I’m in complete awe of the things he accomplished in this world, the energy he put into helping people, in creating situations that allowed them to grow and to find happiness in life and accomplish things that were previously impossible for them. I’m blessed to have called him a friend.

Suggestions for your practice: Hungry Hearts Chant & Door of Faith Album

Hungry Hearts Chant
Made especially for you. This recording is a 7 min 11 sec loop of  the chant. This track is FREE and available for download in our digital library (thats where we offer other free stuff too)  for you to use at anytime.

Door of Faith
An unusual recording, a departure from the call-and-response (kirtan) style, the deep longing to connect with his guru that comes through makes one feel as if you are listening in on Krishna Das’s personal puja offerings. Also included is Bernie’s Chalisa/Gate of Sweet Nectar.  Find out more in our online shop.


Call and Response podcasts are made possible by the Kirtan Wallah Foundation

Your support via direct donations go toward offerings such as this series, new teaching materials,  as well as the the compilation of all of KD’s work on the Path, for the purpose of sharing it with everyone in a variety of media. Kirtan Wallah Foundation is also be able to offer assistance to organizations around the world, whose efforts are in alignment with the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba. For more information about the work of the foundation you can visit our blog for recent updates as well as sign up for our foundation news letter.

A note about your donation:
Donations can be made via Paypal below and are tax deductible under 501c3 guidelines. If you prefer to give via a check, please send your donation to Kirtan Wallah Foundation | 35 east 4th Street | Apt #1 | Brooklyn, NY | 11218. We thank you in advance for your generosity.

“Donations are like streams, flowing into the great river of compassion that carries us to the ocean of Love.” ~ KD

Leave a Reply