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July 20-22, 2012
Just My Opinion, Man
Bernie Glassman's ongoing series responding to community member questions
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What are Bearing Witness Retreats?

Bernie's Opinion:
In the days of Shakyamini Buddha, during the rainy season, Buddha would stop his meandering and spend time with his monks and nuns in one locale. In Japanese this period is called Ango, a period in space and time of peace. In English we use the word retreat to often mean “getting away from the issues of the world.” A Bearing Witness Retreat is becoming one with the “issues of the world.” A Zen Meditation Retreat is to bear witness to the wholeness of life. I use the word “plunge” for my Bearing Witness Retreats. To plunge into the unknown, i.e., to plunge into that which my rational mind can’t fathom. These plunges or Bearing Witness Retreats have helped folks let go of their attachments to their ideas or concepts and experience things as they are.
My two best known Bearing Witness Retreats are:
  1. In the Streets and
  2. At Auschwitz/Birkenau

Bernie's Opinion to: 

Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz event a retreat?

From Judy Lukin: Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz event a “retreat?” It seems so incongruous. How could one have a “retreat” at the site of the torture and murder of one’s family and one’s people? One retreats to a place of safety. Auschwitz was not that. Your work seems good and important, but my family’s history makes it difficult for me to get past the use of the word “retreat” in this context.

Bernie's Opinion:

As you can see from my explanation of Bearing Witness Retreats, I use the word “retreat” differently from how you refer to it. At the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat we invite as many voices as we can to attend and we deal with the issues of diversity. This means we deal with anger, guilt, love, hate, forgiveness, non-forgiveness, blame, victim, oppressor.
I is indeed difficult to do this work but my experience has shown that much healing arises from this. I have never looked at a retreat as a place of safety but rather as a place to deal with the inter-connectedness of life which is often very threatening to our sense of ego.



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