Buddhism at Millennium's Edge - Lecture 1

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:

Copyright 1998 by Peter Matthiessen - Unedited Preview Cassette

AI Summary: 



Recording ends before end of talk.


Good evening, everybody. My name is Norman Fisher, cohabitant of the San Francisco Zen Center, and it's a great pleasure to welcome all of you tonight to the third lecture of our year-long series of Buddhism at Millennium's Edge. We found out from our first two speakers, Professor Robert Thurman and Gary Snyder, poet Gary Snyder, that it's not at all clear what millennium we're in, or whatever millennium we're in, whether or not we're standing at its edge. But anyway, this year that we are, most of us, calling, 1998, seems like a good time to pause for reflection on where we have been for the last thousand years or so and on where we might be going.


We all know that there will be many uncertainties and difficulties ahead, and it is my hope that the spaciousness and tolerance for difference that Buddhism can foster will be a help for us all in the time ahead. So it's with this spirit that we are glad to be able to bring you this year a number of really remarkable speakers, all of them in different ways, Buddhist teachers, each one with a unique translation for our time and place of this ancient and noble tradition. Tonight's speaker, Zen teacher, writer and naturalist Peter Matheson, whom I'll introduce in a moment, has been for nearly half of our century one of the world's strongest and clearest and most passionate spokesmen on behalf of those non-human creatures who cannot speak


for themselves but who share equally with us the fate of this planet. Next week we'll hear from Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and the Innovative Meditation Teacher, and following John we'll be hosting Joanna Macy, Natalie Goldberg, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Tension Anderson, David White, Pema Chodron and Ed Brown. Each speaker will offer a public talk here in the church on a Friday night, followed by an all-day Saturday workshop so that you will have a good chance to explore and digest the important messages that they will be bringing us. If you haven't already signed up for more of these events, check out the table if you haven't already before you leave. Here in the church and also at the Zendo and Green Gulch where the workshops are held, there is limited space and the events are selling out, so sign up quickly. Before I introduce Peter Matheson, I just want to say again a word about the Zen Center


so that you have some sense of the organization that is the recipient of your generosity tonight and also of the generosity and incredible kindness of all of our speakers. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a Japanese Soto Zen priest and author of Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, came to America in 1959 and began doing Zen meditation, Zazen, by himself in Sokoji Zen Temple in Japantown. Little by little, some Americans came to join him, and out of that simple daily sitting practice, which we still continue to this day, and Suzuki Roshi's quiet, steady spirit Zen Center grew. Today we have three practice locations. We have a temple here in San Francisco at Page and Laguna Streets, a temple and conference


center with a working farm and garden at Green Gulch Farm near Muir Beach in Marin, and Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery, which is at Tassajara Hot Springs in the Los Padres National Forest, where we conduct two monastic Zen training periods each year and are open for guest season in the summer from May through Labor Day. From the beginning of Zen Center, our tradition has been to be open to the public for meditation and teaching, and over the years we've developed a wide variety of residential and non-residential programs for students at all levels of experience and interest. Our effort, following Suzuki Roshi's wide way, has been to retain a strong connection


to the ancient tradition of Buddhist practice while being open to innovation and experimentation. Every Saturday morning in the city center and every Sunday morning out at Green Gulch, year-round, you can come and learn meditation and hear a lecture on Zen. There's no charge and no reservation is necessary, and in all of our programs we are committed to developing in ourselves and encouraging in others what we call the bodhisattva spirit, the spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness, because we feel that this spirit, understood in its widest possible sense, is what we all need to cultivate for the time ahead of us. And your dollars tonight and for the remainder of this series will go toward the construction of the much-needed staff housing at our Green Gulch Farm Temple.


If my words tonight are your first introduction to Zen Center and you have never come and visited one of our three temples, please do come and join us for practice sometime. Now I'm really very, very pleased to be able to introduce to you a man whom I admire a great deal. He's lately living at Tassajara on retreat, and when I was down there in my study listening to the sound of the rain and thinking about Peter in preparation for introducing him tonight, I really kind of had to stop for a long time and marvel at what his life has been and all that he's done, at the depth of his career and the power of the message to which he has devoted his life. All of this really moved me a great deal.


In his early thirties, a self-taught amateur naturalist, he decided that he would visit all of the nature preserves in the United States, and out of that came the book, Wildlife in America, which is still, over forty years later, the classic study of the effects of development on wildlife. His fifteen non-fiction books, eight novels, and innumerable articles have taken him to the disappearing places all over the globe, where animals, habitat, and ways of human life hang on nobly against the effects of global economics and human overpopulation. Peter's writing is full of passionate advocacy, high integrity, and enormous literary reach. His books are thorough, dense, serious, and beautiful. Just reading


the titles of a few of them give you an idea of the range of his work and his concerns. I'll just read a few titles. Baikal, Sacred Sea of Siberia. Blue Meridian, Search for the Great White Shark. The Cloud Forest, A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness. East of Lomantang in the Kingdom of Mustang. Umingmak, The Expedition to the Musk Island in the Bering Sea. Nine-Headed Dragon River, A Zen Pilgrimage to Japan. Indian Country, which was a very strongly partisan book about a famous shootout in 1975 between the FBI and members of the American Indian movement near Wounded Knee. The Snow Leopard, which is a wonderful book about seeking the unattainable and about grief, which is set high in the


Himalayas, won the National Book Award in 1979. His works of fiction, those are all non-fiction, but half of his career, and those aren't all of them. His works of fiction are really among the most important American novels of the last 50 years, and the most notable among them, Far Tortuga, which is incredibly written entirely in Caribbean patois and at play in the fields of the Lord. And now that he has reached an age where he should be taking it easy, or if not taking it easy at the very least, repeating himself, he is actually doing his best and most ambitious work in fiction, having just this last year published


the novel Lost Man's River, which is the second volume in a trilogy dealing with the human and natural history of the Florida Everglades. Peter's great theme, the grandeur of the disappearing natural world, is unfortunately all too timely, and I don't think anyone has expressed it more effectively. His writing makes us feel the presence of wild places and of wild animals, like lately the tiger and the crane he's been concerned with, whose endangered existence only makes them the more awesome. I feel that the secret power of Peter's work is that he has always understood, true to the Zen practice that he has been devoted to for


over 30 years, that the immense outer world that surrounds us and the endless inner world of our heart and mind are profoundly identical. Tonight Peter's not going to talk about any of this. His title, as you've seen from the brochure, is called Bearing Witness, Reflections on a Zen Retreat in Auschwitz. So I hope that you will join me in offering a warm welcome to a wonderful person and a wonderful writer, Peter Matheson. Thank you, Norman, for a very generous introduction indeed, and thank you all for coming. It's


an all for good cause. I've been sort of in and out of Samson's Zen Center for a great many years, and owe them a great deal in terms of support for my own practice and for practice all around the country. I was even lucky enough to meet and hear Suzuki Roshi in his last year of life. I was staying at Tassajara. I heard some laughter out here. I couldn't quite hear what Norman was saying. I hope it wasn't at my expense. This evening I'd like to talk in general about this sort of program of street retreats and bearing witness retreats that we've undertaken at New York Zen Center under Tetsukin Glassman Roshi, who's an extraordinary innovator in the Zen world. This began, we had a food


kitchen, and we were trying to organize housing for homeless people, and then especially for homeless people with AIDS, because it seemed to me, and it seemed to Tetsukin at the time, that these were the folks who really needed help the most. A lot of our inspiration came from Isan Dorsey, whom some of you will have known here in San Francisco, who had a retreat for AIDS patients, and he himself died of AIDS later on, and who was an entirely saintly fellow. I think Tetsukin got a lot of inspiration from Isan. So we had street retreats. The first one we went on was about six or eight years ago, and we lived in the shelters. We didn't actually live in the shelters, because people wanted those rooms, so we had to go sleep on the sidewalk again. But it was in April, early April. It was very, very cold and rainy, but at the same time it was thrilling. It changed


our ideas about the reality of this. Our basic theory was that if we were to have these food kitchens and housing and so forth, we should at least have a taste of what this life was like. It seemed hypocritical to pretend we knew and didn't. So we only went for a few days. It was not like that life at all. Furthermore, these people knew at once that we were ringers. They have their ways of telling, and some of them are quite interesting. For example, and I know this for a fact, you get dirt in your pores, and you can't get it out with an ordinary bath. You need lye or something to get it out. I know that from this trip I took in the Himalaya. I led a bathless life for about four months. It took me at least five showers to get that gray grain out of my skin. And so these guys would pick that up at once, but they still were very, very glad we were there. It's not a cliche.


When people say to you on the street, if you just look us in the face, that means much more to us than a dollar in the long run. Right away the dollar probably looks better. In the long run, and I think it's true, and I remember one woman explaining to her, she said, you don't, you people have no idea where we are or who we are. She said, you know, we have done everything up to and including killing. We've betrayed each other, we've sold our bodies, we've stolen, we've done everything because that's what we have to do to get by. She said, we're like a piece of Kleenex that somebody has blown their nose in and then thrown down on the sidewalk in the rain. Who is going to pick us up? And she said, you people still think, stand up, my good woman, here's $200, go get a bath and get yourself a job and everything is going to be fine. She said, it doesn't work that way. We're too far down the ladder. And even if we weren't, it's so hard to organize


because the food is available here in the morning and over there at noon, we have to walk and we have to turn in our tin cans or aluminum or whatever and the whole system militates against any kind of organized job seeking, even if we were up for it, you know. So some of that was pretty rough and yet we, you know, we don't see them. We give the dollar or the quarter and we don't look them in the face. We don't say, here's my fellow human being, you know. Well, maybe we all should go on the street a little bit and get a taste of that because we had a taste of it. The men especially, I mean, finding a toilet, something as simple as that, the restaurants wouldn't open the men's rooms for us. So we just raided the ladies' room, posted a guard outside, you know, and that kind of thing. And you have that feeling of real rejection. We were kind of dirty. We


wore old clothes and didn't shave and didn't wash our hair for a week and stuff like that. So we kind of, we look pretty crummy. I mean, the homeless people could tell we were phonies, but the restaurant people, we were the real thing and a menace to society. I remember when I was working a lot with Indian people, American Indian people, and you had to get very used to coming into a society in which you were not liked. You just plain were neither liked nor trusted for an excellent reason. And, you know, we're very used to making friends who want to say, oh, my name is Peter. Oh, what's your name? Oh, yes, I knew somebody. But, you know, we go through all this fantastic, and we're on a first name basis immediately or try to be. Indian people don't work like that. They don't want to make friends with you until they know you're their friend, you know. And I've gone into a house in Wounded Knee, I remember one time, and I went in with an Indian friend who was very well liked and very much respected in that household. They were very glad to see him, and nobody even


looked at me, let alone said hello. And we sat down at this table, and the women brought these guys coffee, no coffee for me. And it wasn't for about a half an hour later, somebody cracked a joke, and I doubled up. It was very funny. And I really did laugh. And they saw I was laughing, and the next moment, a cup of coffee appeared at my elbow. The guy can't be entirely bad, you know. So, the latest extension that Tetsugan hit upon for these retreats, bearing witness retreats, bearing witness, you know, this is a way, it goes way, way back to Shakyamuni the Buddha. The Buddha was very interested in people who were sick and old and dying and poor and so forth. And furthermore, he was the first person who really kind of established women's rights. He had women nuns and so forth. Nobody else was interested for that, and most have not since, including in Japanese Zen today. There's very, very few women who get anywhere, and they're not approved of. Basically, it goes


against the grain for them. So this is an old tradition, and this doesn't mean that all Zen students or Zen people will have to do this sort of social action course that Tetsugan is now so involved with, but because it's a very big place for traditional Zen practice, meditation and so forth, one doesn't exclude the other. The social action also has a very strong meditation component. But the traditional way is also terrific. We don't discriminate one over the other. I personally have been involved in social action almost all my life. So for me, it's a wonderful thing that's happening in American Zen Buddhist practice, that we are going this path. But I remember when I had Rinzai teachers, and I tried this, and one of my Rinzai Japanese masters said, you know, unless you're enlightened, which I certainly was not at that time, nor now, he said, it's the blind meeting the blind.


How dare you pretend to meet people or show people. So I didn't agree, and I felt that for Americans especially, to sit on our black cushion in meditation with so much suffering and poverty outside the door was simply not bearable. At least I couldn't do it. So I'm delighted that Tetsugan Roshi came around to this eventually, and there we are. So anyway, he hit upon a retreat at Auschwitz, because I think most of us would agree that Auschwitz is sort of a symbol of all the evil of the century. It's one of the evilest things that has ever happened. It's an evil place. But curiously we found that it was not an evil place, and I'll tell you about that. It's still mysterious to me. I've been taking notes on this for 15 months, and I've been asked to write articles, and I can't do it because


I haven't penetrated deeply enough. This is too serious to be superficial about. There's something happened there which is so extraordinary and so mysterious to me that I simply have not got a handle on it. And perhaps one of you will see what I'm groping for and help me out. I need this help. I tried talking about this at a Buddhist-American-Buddhist conference in Boston a year ago, and it all came out so gloomy. I mean, people thought that I was saying terrible things about the human race, but actually because I hadn't arrived at the good part, I kind of forgot the good part. So I left them suicidal. I walked away. Don't let me do that. If you're feeling terribly gloomy at the end of this, remind me that I haven't gotten to the good news yet, OK? So Auschwitz, as you know, I was teaching in Hawaii and then in Los Angeles, and then I had to go to Krakow in Poland. And I really did not want to go. And my teacher is usually


very good with me. If there's something I don't want to do, he doesn't force it, and he never would force it. But now and again, I know he really wants me to do it. And so in that case, I feel I have no choice. So I knew I had to go from Waikiki to Krakow. I haven't been called by any tourist agency to think this will be the latest trendy route, you know, the Waikiki-Krakow circuit. That's very unusual. Krakow, as you know, is a very, very beautiful and ancient town, very much a Jewish town. It was a stronghold for Jewish culture forever, it has been. And it was not damaged during the war, the way Warsaw was almost obliterated. But Krakow was almost entirely intact, and it still has virtually all of its old Kashmir section and all of the old temples and churches and museums in the old square. It's a very beautiful place. But I got there, having travelled, it seemed


to me, for days without any sleep, I was absolutely obliterated. And a very nice pair of young Poles, they took me around and showed me the great sights of their city, the castle and the museum, where there's actually a beautiful Leonardo, which I had forgotten in Krakow. And then they drove me out to Auschwitz, which the Germans called Auschwitz. Auschwitz means actually means, somebody told me, the sacred or the spiritual place. And it too was more or less a Jewish town, about two-thirds of the people there were Jewish. But its other feature which attracted the Nazis, not the Germans, the Nazis, was that it was a railroad hub. All the railroads of that part of Europe come into Auschwitz, which is just north of the Czechoslovakian border, just east of Germany. And it started out as kind of a migrant farm worker town, and then it was a Polish army barracks, and it had various things.


So these buildings that made up Auschwitz I had been there for some time. The camp was begun there in 1948, and it was begun for Polish people entirely. And dissidents of various kinds, intellectuals. It was not a Jewish operation at all. They really wanted to wipe out anybody who might give them trouble in Poland. And this is called Auschwitz I. And they moved all of the townspeople out of there and shipped them off to the ghettos in Krakow and Warsaw. And then they systematically began widening it out. But today it gives you kind of a turn, because you come down the main street and there's Auschwitz right in the city, still with the German gate, with the black iron saying, Mach auf frei. No, it was Arbeit macht frei, which means work will set you free. An incredibly cynical thing over the gate, when they were told, the people were told as soon as they went in that there was no way out of there except through the smokestacks. And I talked


to these young Polish people who had driven me, I was curious about their reaction to this. And I said, how do you feel here? How do you feel about coming here? And I was asking myself, too. This was a late Sunday afternoon. We crossed all of these railroad tracks coming into the place. It was very dark. It was rainy, dark pine woods. It was just the atmosphere was overpowering. Like most of us, I always get rather gloomy on Sunday afternoons. Anyway, childhood school days. And these kids kind of laughed nervously. They didn't know how to answer me. And they say, it was too long ago. We cannot imagine it. We don't know how to think about something so long ago and so incredible. No, they didn't say so terrible, just incredible. And I wondered if that response, which was absolutely sincere, suggested they


didn't quite believe it. As you know, we have these loon balls in this country who deny the Holocaust ever happened. But I didn't know what this meant. And this is despite the fact that nearly half a million Poles died in this camp. Half a million, that's a lot of people. Imagine if half a million Americans died anywhere. They'd know quite a lot about it. And it must be said for the Polish people, they're the ones who kept this camp. They kept it intact. They left the buildings up. They built a museum. It's extremely well done and well preserved. It's a lesson for everybody to go to. And a great number of tourists do go. But they go for a half day. Then they take the bus back to Krakow, the hotel. And to go for a half day is like being thrown into cold water or something It's just such a terrible shock that I don't think you can take the place in. It's almost


impossible to take that much horror in. There's such an atmosphere of humiliation and agony and murder there. Everywhere you look, barbed wire and shooting walls and torture houses and death walks. And this vast, vast size, you know, it's absolutely incredible. So anyway, on this rainy Sunday afternoon, I got there. My spirits were not high. And one reason I didn't want to go, and I'm not going to dwell on this, but it just so happened that in the previous year, I lost four or five very, very close friends and my best friend and also my grandson, who was killed by a car. And my spirits were really, really low. And seeing this place did not bring them up very much. My room looked right into the camp. We had these little cell-like rooms in the old, it was actually the old warehouse where the Nazis took the loot, took all the possessions away from people and they stored them and shipped them off and so forth. And it's right up against the fence of Auschwitz, what's


called Auschwitz I. I'll skip that because I don't have so much to cover here. Excuse me a little bit. As I always do, and I never learn, I made out careful, fastidious notes and then I spent these afternoons scrolling them up so that I can hardly, hardly follow. Well, anyway, we got there. By that time, it was dark and raining and I said hello. I knew a few people there, like Tetz again. And then we woke up in a very dark morning and it was snowing. And everything was kind of black and white and grainy. I don't know how you all were, but when I was a kid, we had something called the March of Time. There were these news documentaries they would show. And they always showed the Kremlin or places like that or Nazi Germany. And I always, it took me a very long time to understand that those places weren't always black and white, dark and grainy. I mean, it seemed impossible


to imagine the sun ever shone in such places. Well, this is the way Central Europe looks. I've been there. I lived in Paris for three years as a student. And it's dank and cold and dark and rainy and that terrible low quality fuel they use, that lignite coal. The air is thick indeed. And we had a morning meeting and people got up and told some of their stories. We had about 160 people from 10 countries and four different religious faiths. So it was really an ecumenical group. And that was exciting. And furthermore, these people meant business. They weren't there to chat. They weren't there to schmooze. You sat down at a table and bam, the talk started. You hardly had time to tell anybody your name. They just wanted to get to the bottom of what everything was going on, what people were thinking about. And they were bright. And most of them had made some sacrifice to get there. So as I say,


they meant business. And that was thrilling. I found that very exciting, right from the very start. That was terrific. And so four people with various experiences stood up and talked. Now, we had quite a lot of Germans. About a third of them were Buddhists. About two-thirds were really all religions, really. And among the Germans, they were more or less evenly split among people who had family who died at Auschwitz or another camp and Germans whose families had been among the oppressors. Usually, they did not know about it until after the war. And often, the parents had lied to them, and they didn't find out about it until after the war was over. You know, it seems odd to say, but it was very hard to say which group was suffering more, the guilt or the grief. These young Germans were really, they were so full of shame and so full of pain. And that refrain kept coming


up over and over again. But I loved my father. He was a wonderful father. And then we find he was in the SS troop, and I don't know what to think of him now. And the German parents obviously were guilty. They just often denied what they had done and their participation and so forth. So these stories were immensely moving. And then they showed a 17-minute film of the death camps. Absolutely horrifying. And then we had a tour of Auschwitz I. All these buildings you sort of read about and heard about and so forth, the death blocks and the small crematorium. The small crematorium, they had an experimental one there at Auschwitz I. And yet, in that small experimental one, they killed 70,000 people, beginning with criminals and prostitutes, homosexuals, as I say, army officers, people who might give them trouble.


And in the museum, the usual things you would expect, the terrible bins of broken eyeglasses, old worn-out shoes, and faults in feet and legs and arms, and piles and piles of human hair, which was used to weave sweaters and stuff. And these pathetic old suitcases. And I said, we tread uneasy here, our footsteps on the bare floors, loud in the stunned silence. We are shamefaced, like voyeurs, scarcely able to look at anyone else. Already we sense that we are deeply implicated in what we see here, that in some sense we do not understand as yet we are both victim and oppressor. Now this wasn't because it's all coming out now. We know that our own country and all the European countries went along with this. The facts of what were happening in Europe, in the death camps, were well known. The Vatican knew


about it. The present Pope lived in Krakow. He came from Krakow. He was a young student there when one of their own people, one of their own clerics, was one of the early people killed at Auschwitz. And the Vatican was going back and forth about it. We knew about it, and we were still turning away ships full of Jewish people. And as we've been reading recently, of course, the Swiss were making money hand over fist off it. But not only the Swiss, also the Swedish, the Portuguese, the whole world kind of sat on their hands while this act was taking place. So this is getting toward my point. We're all in this soup a little bit. I should have read my novel tonight. My novel's got a lot of funny stuff in it. But anyway, bear with me. It is kind of serious stuff. Well, the advantage of going the way we did, we went for a week, six days, seven days. And you become immersed in this. Because on the first day,


that whole tour of Auschwitz, and then the museum, and then these crematoria, and the place where the Commandante Hoss was hung afterwards. If you read William Styron's Sophie's Choice, you'll know about that household. And people were really in shock. They were just weeping. You're just with such a beating. And I really hated to think of the folks that came there on the tourist bus, and then after a morning like that, get back on the bus and go back. I think it's not. Don't ever do that. You must not do that. If you go, plan to spend a night or two perhaps in Auschwitz, and walk around, walk around these camps. Just walk and walk and take it in. You'll feel this extraordinary power there. And this is leading me toward this very miraculous, I think, phenomenon that took place there. There's a hotel glop in Auschwitz. I just


happened to notice that coming through in the car. I've never heard of a hotel glop. I don't think they're as big as Marriott or anything like that, but they're there. I'm going to read something now. Yeah, this was 1940, Auschwitz was opened. And this man, Huss, was the one that Heinrich Himmler told to open it. He was a standard issue Nazi bureaucrat, military functionary. No better and no worse than anybody. He was hung because he was a commandant. But all people who ever knew him found him a very normal, sensible man, just like Eichmann. The banality of evil. But in 1942, that was when the final solution was undertaken. And then they realized they didn't have enough room here. They really needed some working room. And they moved out two miles into the countryside


to Brzezinka, and they cleared, all the Jewish families had been cleared out of there already, and their house was given to people who were not going to object. And they cleared the farms out there, and this enormous area was made into Birkenau, the birches. And Birkenau was roughly Auschwitz II. And Auschwitz III was a factory just a few miles east of there. And that's where the people went from the selection platform if they were considered to be work worthy, they were not killed, and they went to work at Auschwitz III. In the afternoon, we walk across the fields on a farm road about three kilometers to Auschwitz II or Birkenau, which means the birch trees. This is the same road used by the prisoners who used to walk to the factory at Auschwitz III. But this long, dark file of thick winter figures plodding


along the ruts a half century later is warmly dressed and thin, not starved and frozen in painful wood clogs and loose striped uniforms like coarse pajamas with no protection from wet winter weather. All we have in common with the victims is our humanity, our frailty. And I ask myself, perhaps we all ask ourselves, could I have borne it? Could I have endured? Primo Levi, some of you may have read Primo Levi, the great Italian poet who survived Auschwitz and then took his job back, went back to work, and then finally destroyed himself. He never did really recover. He killed himself. Here's a poem. You who live safe in your warm houses, you who find returning in the evening hot food and friendly faces. Consider if this is a man who works in the mud, who does not know peace, who fights for a scrap of bread, who dies because of a yes or a no. Consider if this is a woman without hair and


without name, with no more strength to remember, her eyes empty and her womb cold like a frog in winter. You enter Birkenau through a huge arched gate, which is kind of a barrack for the people who are the guards and so forth there. And the railroad tracks come through that arch from all over Europe. And these trains often came in and just sat at the siding while the people got up and had their breakfast and checked in or whatever they did. And they would get to the tracks, these silent railroad cars, those poor terrified people in there, some of them dead, wondering what was going to happen. Well, they were all pushed out, of course, as you know. And the ones who were saved, so-called, because nobody was saved, they were registered in a very dutiful bureaucratic


fashion. Names and address taken down, age and so forth. And all this was filed and when they died their names went to the other people, had no names, they were just shunted and they went directly into the crematorium. And it was a huge operation. We speak about Moss, Auschwitz III as a factory, but the real factory was the death factory. They were manufacturing death. The stillness of the death camp, the screams are silenced. I recall reading a statement by an astrophysicist that due to the incomprehensibly minute nature of particles, all breaths ever taken by humanity are omnipresent in the air of earth, that every breath we take contains the scream of Jesus on the cross, the moans of those at Auschwitz. And perhaps that is why one thinks one hears in this mute wasteland the silent screaming. When the camp was occupied by crowded thousands,


there was only mud or dust between the barracks, but the people were starving and the grass was eaten. A child wrote, there are no butterflies living here. Because the original meadows between the Vistula and the Sola rivers were low-lying and swampy, and because the grass that might have held the earth was gone, the sea of mud rose with the floods and entered the prisoners' barracks. Where the tracks part are the selection platforms. What we did all day, we would walk out to Birkenau every morning, and we'd be there at nine or so, and we had sitting cushions, and we had a huge circle right across the tracks, on the tracks, on the platforms. It was a big circle, more or less the length of this hall, I guess, the whole thing. And we did sitting meditation, and then during the walking period we would go and offer


incense and chanting, the Christian and Hebrew and Buddhist and Sufi Muslim, at the crematoria. I was up to the various priests who were there, and then we would join all the other groups too. We didn't stick with our own bunch. In fact, I didn't go to a Buddhist one the whole time I was there. I wanted to check out the others, and they were wonderful, wonderful people in charge of them. And then we got a hold of these lists with all these names, and we would chant, chant these lists. And it was so moving, the snow coming down, you're sitting there in this silent snow, and all these fences, barbed wire, and the guard towers, and the whole thing is there, and it's so huge. It goes forever, it seems to go. But with the snow coming down, we would chant from these lists, the lists of names. We would just, and then we would offer these lists, and we had a fire, and we would offer incense and pay homage to these people, because of course the


rest were nameless. But it was immensely moving. I just found that I had not been able to really grieve, and I was grieving. And first it was kind of a general grieving for everybody, you know, who was there. But I found that for me, it was almost immediately, immensely healing. My son is blind. He has a congenital eye disease, and he's been blind now for about 20 years, and he's an enormously courageous fellow. He never complains. He's now an addiction counselor, and he takes care of people, and runs a clinic. But it was his son who was killed, and I thought, this is quite a lot to have on this plate. And I never could, when that happened, I could never determine who I was grieving for, whether it was for Luke or for little Christopher. And I couldn't sort it out. I was kind of tangled up about it. Well, here, it all, all that feeling came up, you know, like a hydrometer you put in a car battery, you know,


to check the battery acid, you know, this sort of feeling started to come up. And everything clarified, so that I could grieve for both of them. And of course, for Luke's wife, my daughter-in-law too, because for her, equally terrible. But because it was my own boy, and because he was blind, it was particularly painful. And now, I really knew who I was grieving for, and it was wonderful. Somehow it all clarified, and was separated out, and that snow coming down, and chanting the names, and the identity with this vast humanity who had suffered here. All of us felt that the power of those people who had died there, there was an enormous power there. And at first, it struck us as black, a very black power, because of the sheer mass of evil that had been perpetrated there, you know. But then, this strange, very strange thing that I wanted to talk about happened. That night, I don't want to get ahead of myself, we're out of line here. I'm going to keep moving with all these terrible notes.


Oh, yeah, that evening we gathered in the auditorium again. Now, we had early morning meetings too. All the people like myself, and all who were clergy, more or less, we would meet with people who could not talk at the public meetings, and some people were so upset they couldn't do that. So we all met, and in my case, it was my bedroom, and we had six or eight people in there, and we had these extraordinary conversations. But again, anyway, on that first day, we had this meeting in the auditorium, and people again got up and told these absolutely extraordinary stories. I wish I had time to tell you some of them. They were so bare, and they were so brave. A few things people said. It's really because of that, the way I feel, which I'm not normally a very, you know, I'm a private sort of person, and I wouldn't tell you about my little family tragedy there, but it was so in the spirit of this thing, you felt you kind


of had to. There wasn't time for anything else. You had to be blunt. You had to come out with it. And I remember this young German weeping because of what had happened to his uncle, who first of all wanted to marry a Jewish girl, and then was castrated, and then his own family turned on him, and it was this boy's family too. He said, my family wouldn't speak to him at all. He was out, and he hadn't done anything except want to marry this Jewish girl. That was his only crime. You know, he told this horrifying story. And another one went absolutely kind of berserk with rage because he saw, this is the truly horrifying thing about Auschwitz, and I'm sure all of the camps, but Auschwitz was an incredible operation. If you wanted to get, I mean, the CEO there could be hired anywhere. You couldn't believe the efficiency, how it was done, how everything was designed to be. And I remember one young German standing up and saying, I hate it.


I hate this. Auschwitz is so fucking German. He shouted this out just with sheer rage and agony against his own people and against his own country. And after a while, people trusted one another. They didn't hold anything back. They really spat it out. And I remember Anna Gama. She was a Swiss nun of the Order of Santa Catarina. And she got up, she looks exactly like that woman in the Leonardo that's from Krakow. It's absolutely eerie, the woman with an urban. You may have seen that reproduction of the Leonardo painting. Beautiful nun with a towel. And this young woman looks exactly like her. And she said, she thanked the Jewish pilgrims who come to this retreat for coming and chanting with the Catholics when they went and offered liturgy at the crematorium. And she said, I'm very grateful to you. She said, because gratitude is the only way we can express our great sorrow that this dreadful thing was done by Christians


in a Christian country. And I remember one of our people who was a Jewish guy from New York. And he was really resisting the idea, which has been very popular here, that the Holocaust was strictly, I don't know if you recall, but some of you will, Styron got in very hot water with Eli Wiesel and people like that because his book indicated that a number of people besides Jewish people were killed at these places. And Wiesel felt that they were such a small minority compared to the great numbers of Jews that were killed that they shouldn't be emphasized and so forth. But this was a Jewish guy from New York who was quite embarrassed by some Jewish people who they didn't want to eat with the Germans, you know, that kind of thing. Well, it was supposed to be a healing ecumenical thing. We felt this was not the healthy attitude.


But he started thinking and he said, I mean, he said, after all, is there no anti-Semitism in America? Do none of you not Jews? You never had an anti-Semitic thought? Are only the Germans guilty? This is a Jew talking. He said, if only the Germans had been guilty, there would not have been a Holocaust. And I think he's absolutely right. And this is what was becoming more and more clear. So much so, I wasn't going to speak. I told Tetzkin I didn't want to speak. I'm not Jewish. I thought I had the least connection to it emotionally of anybody there probably. And there were so many painful tales that should have been told and had to be told. That I said, I'm not speaking. But one night, and this happened despite the fact that everybody there knew how horrible the Germans, the young Germans who were there felt. They knew because even though they were polite and they were discreet, this great mass of evidence against


the Nazis, of course, but still behind that, the German nation that let it happen, that the good Germans who didn't look, who looked away, you know, this mass of evidence against the Germans. And it got very uncomfortable. So I just sort of spontaneously jumped up. And I went up on the stage and I said, yes, it's true. The Germans are world-class killers in our century. They certainly perpetrated the worst thing we know about in this century. But who among our 10 nations would claim that their government has not committed genocide? What government on earth has not done so? We have right now, we have 52 genocidal wars going on on earth. People have always slaughtered each other. This is what we have to deal with. In this century, for cultural reasons, things have happened in German culture. It made it, all the circumstances were right. And as I say, the world turned its back. We can't talk about good Germans.


The world turned its back on what happened, even the Vatican, maybe most especially the Vatican. So I said that, and that kind of, I think that eased some of the pressure on that, but it was so uncomfortable there. Yeah, this night, after all the talk, and this is the first day, this is the museum, the first taste of what the whole thing was, a whole scale of a thing, kind of overwhelming everybody. And so Tetzigen suggested that Rabbi Don Singer, who was from Los Angeles, and Rabbi Singer, he's sort of a feel-good guy, he's always very up, very happy, and eyes sparkling, and he asked Don, and he's a wonderful singer, he's a cantor, so he asked Don to lead us in the Oseh Shalom and the chant, and just, he said, I want to do that, just to live in the atmosphere here. Well, Singer cannot sing without holding hands, so he held hands with the people on the


stage, and they held hands with the people beyond them, and then he did what he always does, he started to sway, he started to sway, and the next thing we know, this circle started going around the auditorium, and people started to smile. Now, I don't have to tell you that there was a PC element in the group that went, oh, oh, dancing at Auschwitz, my God, you know, they rushed back to their rooms, you know, that kind of thing, horror. Well, you know, and all of us knew about that, we all felt it was grotesque what we were doing, and yet this enormous elation started filling the hall. Now, this is the mystery I want to talk to you about, because it was so, well, first we all felt a terrible guilt, and we were looking at each other, should we be doing this, you know, kind of thing, but we all, or almost all, felt like doing it. After it was over, we had a clergy meeting,


and there were two women from Israel there, and they were very good friends with a very well-known guy who wrote a book about Auschwitz, and they had already decided to boycott the whole thing and go home, because there was a filmmaker there. They thought you should not bring filmmakers here, and actually Tetzkin wasn't going to, and I was rather sorry that he did, but nonetheless, the filmmaker was there, and they were going home for that reason, but we invited them to come to our clergy meeting, and they sat in on it, and two of the Zen monks said, I think that was terrible, people getting up and dancing, and I said, well, I noticed you were dancing too. You should have rushed to your room and been a real PC if you didn't like it, you know, and they said, well, that's true, and then this woman said, she said a really wonderful thing. She teaches at Berkeley. She's a professor at Berkeley, and she lives in Israel half the year, and she said, and they said, well, this is just, it was, these guys said this is


grotesque, that we should have done that, and she said, no. She said, when grief is so deep, and the crime is so unspeakable, she said, in our tradition, we dance, because there's nothing to be said. What can you say? So we sing, and we dance. There's another saying that the way to God is through melody, is through music. That's the way, that is the channel, and they, these two women, stayed. I think because of the dancing, almost, it's so clear. Well, needless to say, this all started a lot of talk. We're discussing among ourselves and so forth, what was happening, and it kept coming up. The spirits kept rising and rising, and now, at first, I thought, how is this, how is this possible? And I thought, well, it must be that there are very good people here. It must be that we think that. You've all seen my lecture.


Oh, I just can read this passage. This is about the snow. That snow was just extraordinary. All these figures sitting there on their black cushions, turning white, you know, and chanting, and, you know, and they looked, you know, with the hoods and stuff. Of course, we were all wearing Gore-Tex, and I don't know what all, but compared to the poor guys who were there in the camp, their clothes, it was one of the most horrifying things about it, but they had to wear it. But still, you couldn't tell that, in this sort of wintry, dark afternoon of the snow coming down, these hooded figures, when they all walked up the selection platforms into the crematorium, which, of course, have been blown up, so there are these grotesque piles of concrete domes. The Nazis blew them up before they left to try to cover up the mess, their sins, a little bit. So, sitting there, snow and church, snow and then the church bells, the church bells coming, and then also distant trains, all these reverberations of the past,


and rumbling of trains as we sit in meditation in light snow on the selection platform. The gentle litany of names falling as lightly as the snow in the dead silence stirred everyone to tears and filled our hearts with sorrow. And one of the rabbis there said, in our tradition, it is said, the only whole heart is the broken heart. Holy, holy broken. This great silence, opening our hearts to it day after day, and finally we set out again, we hope, upon our path of greater compassion and the will to heal ourselves. And one person next to me said, he was chanting the names and he looked up and he said, I keep feeling that the owners of these names on the way to death had paused a moment on these tracks as full of breath and life as you and


I looked at us, you know. Sadiq, who's one of Tetsuken Roshi's students, and he's a Sufi, he's a black guy, but he's a Sufi sheikh, and he led a service and I was over at his service one day, we were chanting and we were right next to this little pond, which we found out later was an ash pit where they would take the ashes from the crematorium and dump them. And then again, when they were blowing up the crematorium, they pushed a lot of earth into this ash pit and then it subsided. Now it's a little pond. And we were standing there and I had my left side to a piece of the crematorium, one wing of the building. The building is collapsed, but you see the form of it because the brick foundation part of it is there. And I really felt this extraordinary kind of burning and cold on this left side. I felt my whole left side was burning there. And I didn't,


at this time, this is the first day, I didn't quite know the layout of the crematorium. I felt something really evil happened in that wing. And sure enough, later I went back to the, they had a chart there of the whole building, what it looked like before, and that was the chamber. That was where people were shoved in and the door slammed and they were killed. With what was a Cichlon B, it's so funny, the whole thing was just done that way in contempt. It was roach powder. That Cichlon B they poured into the gas chambers was what they used for insects. And that's the way they were thinking. That's the way they were called.