After my first street retreat, I noticed that all the groups providing services were Christian. We experienced all the different ways of service at the different places from different types of Christians. At most places, we felt like there was no dignity. They looked down on us. There was a big class distinction. 

I found Bowery Mission to be the only place that had the potential to be able to help those under the power of a drug. The power of a drug is so strong that you need something very strong to break into that shell. The faith of the Bowery workers demonstrated that power. That's when the seeds of starting the Zen House were planted. 

We are training people to direct and staff Zen Houses, which will be practice centers and also have as their main thrust service to the community. My feeling is that in ten years, there will be 100 Zen Houses. It'll be like the CW movement. My hope is that it'll be infectious and that people will copy. If you create a healthy cell, it will replicate. If it isn't healthy, it will die out. Than someone has to think of some modifications and make a new one.

 

Zen Master Bernie Glassman, founder of the Zen Peacemakers, emerged from a traditional Zen Buddhist monastery-model practice to become a leading proponent of social engagement as spiritual practice. He is internationally recognized as a pioneer of Buddhism in the West and as a founder of Socially Engaged Buddhism and spiritually based Social Entrepreneurship. He has proven to be one of the most creative forces in Western Buddhism, creating new paths, practices, liturgy, and organizations to serve the people who fall between the cracks of society.

Ari Pliskin is a dedicated student of Socially Engaged Buddhism. In addition to participating in the Zen Peacemakers' Bearing Witness Retreats on the streets and at Auschwitz, Ari completed the Zen Peacemakers Residential Training. He currently lives at the ZP headquarters in Montague, Massachusetts where he serves as the assistant to Zen Master Bernie Glassman and editor of the Bearing Witness Blog. He studies Zen at the Montague Farm Zendo and is completing a yoga teacher training in the Iyengar tradition.