Why Bernie Glassman keeps going back to Auschwitz

Every year since 1994, Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers have traveled to Auschwitz-Birkenau for a Bearing Witness Retreat, where they spend a week sitting by the train tracks in the death camp, meditating and reciting the names of people who died there. Since other teachers help run the program, Glassman says, he doesn’t have to be there every year, but he keeps going back.

“When we bear witness to a situation,” he says, “we become each and every aspect of that situation.”

When we bear witness to Auschwitz, at that moment there is no separation between us and the people who died. There is also no separation between us and the people who killed. We ourselves, as individuals, with our identities and ego structure, disappear, and we become the terrified people getting off the trains, the indifferent or brutal guards, the snarling dogs, the doctor who points right or left, the smoke and ash belching from the chimneys. When we bear witness to Auschwitz, we are nothing but all the elements of Auschwitz.

Read the rest of “Why Do I Keep Going Back to Auschwitz-Birkenau?” at the Zen Peacemakers website. This year’s Auschwitz retreat runs from November 4-8, and registration is open.

Look for Andrea Miller’s profile of Glassman and his longtime friend Jeff Bridges in the May Shambhala Sun, along with a teaching from Glassman on bearing witness to all of life. The May magazine will be on newsstands soon; if you’re not a subscriber, click here to subscribe and save.

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