Zen Abbot Calls for Social Action

First American-Born Zen Priest Discusses Work With Homeless

Zen is an awakening to the one-ness of life and is a useful vehicle for social action, the first American-born Zen priest told an audience of more than 200 Tuesday night.

Bernard Glassman, a Zen abbot and head of the Zen Center of New York, discussed the interplay of Zen religion and community service in a speech titled "Zen and the Challenge of Homelessness."

Glassman said his program for social action centers around two companies he founded--the Greyston Bakery and Greyston Builders--both of which create jobs and teach occupational skills.

Last month, 18 previously homeless families moved into the Greyston Family Inn, a subsidized housing project headed by Glass-man and built by Greyston Builders, Glassman said.

The Zen priest added that though eliminating homelessness is a tremendous task, "I have taken a vow to do it, so I look at the situation and make the best effort I can."

Zen Ideals

"An example of the ideal person in Zen is a person who climbs up a mountain to get a spoonful of snow and then climbs back down to put the snow in an empty well and continues to do this with the hope of filling the well," Glassman said.

Glassman said he tries to emulate that ideal in his work for the homeless.

"When I first proposed the bakery, someone asked me how I could get the money to begin the venture. I told her we have all the resources in the universe. You can't just look in your pockets," Glassman said.

Glassman described himself as a "nonreclusive monk," adding that, "Zen contemplation is very active, like the center of a hurricane."

Glassman is the first American