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Tetsugen Bernard Glassman (1939-2018), or just Bernie
グラスマン徹玄 Glassman Tetsugen

Tetsugen Bernard Glassman (born January 18, 1939), or just Bernie, is a Sōtō Zen teacher and member of the White Plum Asanga—comprised of various teachers in the lineage of the late teacher Taizan Maezumi-Roshi, to whom he is a Dharma heir.

Glassman & Maezumi

Glassman-Roshi co-founded the Zen Peacemaker Order in 1996 with his late wife, Sandra Jishu Holmes. In 1982 he established Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY, a successful business staffed by his students and homeless people of the area which catered to a wealthy clientele. Glassman-Roshi is well-known for his so-called “street retreats,” where he and his students live among people living on the streets for extended periods of time. In 1989, Greyston Bakery entered an agreement with Ben & Jerry’s icecream, becoming the supplier of brownies for some of their ice cream offerings.


Bernard Glassman, or Bernie as those close to him know him, was born on January 18, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. In 1963 he married his 1st wife Helen Silverberg, who he had met in Israel—the couple settling in Santa Monica, CA. Philip Kapleau’s 1965 classic The Three Pillars of Zen had a profound impact on Glassman, and by 1966 he and some friends began to visit Zenshuji Soto Zen Mission in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles (where Bishop Togen Sumi and Taizan Maezumi-Roshi resided). In 1968 he began practicing at the Zen Center of Los Angeles (ZCLA) with Taizan Maezumi-roshi while also working for McDonnell-Douglas designing shuttle systems. In 1970 Glassman became a novice Sōtō Zen priest and received his Dharma name Tetsugen (“To Penetrate Mysteries”). In 1971 he moved in to ZCLA with Helen and their two children, spending the next five years in residence there training. He continued his work with McDonnell-Douglas and also became chief administrator of ZCLA during this period. In 1976 he finished koan studies with Maezumi-roshi and was authorized as a teacher in the lineage; he quit his job at McDonnell-Douglas so that he could devote himself fulltime to ZCLA. He became executive director of ZCLA and, through his efforts, the Zen center acquired many properties in their neighborhood, started a publishing company, and developed a medical clinic for residents of the Mexican-American neighborhood in which the center resides.

In 1979 Glassman moved from Los Angeles to New York and founded Zenshinji, the Soto Zen Buddhist Temple of the Zen Community of New York (ZCNY)—serving as its spiritual head as well as its executive director. In 1982 Glassman borrowed $300,000 USD and opened the Greyston Bakery in the Yonkers neighborhood of New York. The bakery was modeled after the Tassajara Bread Bakery run by the San Francisco Zen Center, a venture which had proven successful during its own run. Heralded as a way to financially support ZCNY, the bakery also employed many of the locals who were disadvantaged or homeless. The bakery also gave their day old breads to area soup kitchens and also donated a weekly bread order to the hunger program at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Through the bakery’s’ efforts, the ZCNY helped provide job training for some two-hundred homeless and provided people with jobs.

However, some members of the sangha did not see the correlation between Zen training and baking cakes or delivering baked goods—particularly not on an essentially volunteer basis. This model was once played out with Green’s Restaurant run by the San Francisco Zen Center—where (at the behest of Zentatsu Richard Baker) Zen center students donated their hard work in exchange for little compensation. While this was not the most important factor in Baker-roshi’s forced resignation from the SFZC, it certainly played a role in some of the resentment that accumulated among the sangha preceding that event. Perhaps similarly, several members of Glassman’s sangha eventually left due to a perception held that the importance of business had surpassed the importance of Zen training.

By the mid-1980s, Glassman and the ZCNY sold its headquarters and purchased an old Catholic convent in Yonkers. They called the place Greyston Mandala and it served as headquarters for a variety of social action initiatives. This was the product of Glassman’s long held desire to use some of the kickback from the Greyston Bakery to begin a move in to social action. In May of 1987 Glassman and his 2nd wife, Sandra Jishu Holmes, founded the Greyston Family Inn—a homeless shelter which offered permanent housing, drug and alcohol treatment, child care, and other support services. Though the project was riddled with various bureaucracies and plagued with red tape, they eventually landed a grant from the New York State Housing Assistance Program through the help of wealthy and influential friends. In 1997 Greyston Mandala opened the Maitri Center and Issan House (named after Issan Dorsey) to provide housing, care and treatment for those afflicted with AIDS-related illnesses.

In March of 1998 Glassman and Holmes left Greyston Mandala in the care of some senior students and relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico—there they planned to devote their energy to building an organization known as the Zen Peacemaker Order. Sadly, twelve days after arriving in Santa Fe, Sandra died from a heart attack at age fifty-seven. Despite his bereavement, Glassman continued on building the Peacemaker Order, the three core tenets of which are: “Not knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe; bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and healing ourselves and others.”


Bernie Glassman - Zen Peacemakers


PDF: The Dude and the Zen Master