A friend emailed for ideas regarding a memorial service, and as I looked up different files I came upon this prayer:

As I light this incense

I offer this prayer

to you Kanzeon.

Please protect me from internal demons

and bad situations.

Sure the world is a mess,

just help me not to worry.

Just do what I can do to help,

and to realize my capacities and limitations.

Kanzeon is Kwan-Yin, the goddess of compassion. The man who recited this prayer every day in the years before his death was Greg Shindo Bechle. I wrote about Greg in The Book of Householder Koans, namely, that he had struggled for decades with PTSD after being stabbed with a 9” knife when he was 16. 35 years later, when meditation practice and psychiatric treatment had finally begun to stop the horrific flashbacks he suffered from, he was told by his doctor that he had terminal cancer and would die within the year.

After his death I was shown his prayer, and we incorporated it into the memorial service for him.

Today I came across it again, and realized how many people I have met over my life who have been my teachers. Of course, Bernie immediately comes to mind. When he and I got together a good friend asked me: “So what’s it like, living with a Zen master?”

I didn’t know how to answer that—we were arduously working things out like other couples, and we’d continue to do that till the end—so I shrugged and said: “He’s my husband.”

But over the years I understood. There wasn’t a meal or coffee that we shared that a certain part of me didn’t watch and listen to him, not a private time seeing a movie that my eyes didn’t veer to the periphery not to lose sight of him. There was a special layer of alertness there that I don’t think I gave others, perhaps I should have; still, I stayed attentive to him over many years.

When he died, he didn’t leave a small emptiness, rather a vast emptiness. And as time goes on, the hollow sense of that emptiness is fading and the vast part of it takes over. I don’t know how else to put it.

I got an email from the new president of Greyston Foundation, Joe Kenner, asking me how I could put Bernie’s motivation for starting Greyston in just a few words, and one way of saying that is vast emptiness. But I won’t use that term, I’ll probably use One Body instead.

Only it’s not Bernie I wish to write about, it’s people like Greg who sat together with us for a short time and then died, leaving me this gorgeous small prayer. It’s people who dribble-drabbled to Greyston as we built and developed it, curious about this phenomenon of sitting in the early morning and getting up to work with folks from all walks of life for the rest of the day, including those without homes or work.

It’s the people we met at many retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau who came from the Balkans, Palestine, Rwanda, Pakistan, and Syria. It’s people I’ll see later today for food cards (assuming the big thunderstorms permit it). THEY GIVE MORE THAN THEY TAKE.

“I pray all the time,” a woman told me. She has two children at home and supports them on a midnight factory shift till the factory closes. I don’t think she meant that she’s constantly asking God for help, she probably does, but I knew from her words that it was far more than that, an acknowledgment that there was something far bigger in her life than poverty and worry, something beneficent and connecting, the most alive thing of all.

I have received so much from them, as I have from fellow travelers, those of us on this path of spiritual engagement, who know that meditation isn’t just something you do on a cushion but continues through your every movement. Meditation does you, you don’t do it. This life of purpose we share is the great gift of my life, Bernie’s great gift to me and many others.

Last winter I read a book, another gift given me by Abundance, by a European Zen teacher on how he saw the coming climate crisis. There was no doubt about it, it was going to be catastrophic. He talked of the garden in back of his center in Sweden and said he’d like to think that future generations will have that garden to come to, sit in, and get sustenance from as they face these big challenges.

I thought then to myself that I, too, wish to leave something for the future generations. I have no children, I certainly don’t have money. I don’t even garden.

And that’s when I remembered the Zen Peacemaker Order that Bernie always tried to get off the ground, an order of people living a vow-driven life to act on behalf of our entire planet and all its inhabitants. People who sit first thing in the morning to experience once again that vast emptiness that births everything, and then get up from their chair or cushion and work in the world as agents of that great emptiness. It does them, they don’t do it. They’re the best people I’ve ever met, but even for the short while that they and I exist, we’re not doing really anything, it does it all.

So a wonderful group of teachers and senior practitioners is creating that Order as I write this. Earlier today I spoke to Jorge Koho Mello, a teacher in Switzerland . He will represent Europe in our discussions. He said: “Zen has to change some of its forms and we are the generation that, through Bernie, are the bridge to what future generations will do.”

Yes, I thought, but we must also be a bridge to a future when people will be broken and angry, disillusioned and afraid, Perhaps when rivalry over depleted resources and ecosystems will threaten us all. Some say we’re there already, or close to it. And indeed, I won’t lie to you, there have been times when I’ve closed my eyes and thought: It’s good I’m 70 and won’t live to see all this. But no, a Zen Peacemaker Order is a far better alternative.

This Order for people who seek fellowship for a meditation-based active life may be a gift and maybe not. I try not to exaggerate my importance in any of this, I’m a creature of small steps. And I’m reassured by Greg’s prayer of so many years ago:

Sure the world is a mess,

just help me not to worry.

Just do what I can do to help,

and to realize my capacities and limitations.

We’re doing something new. Below are now two Donate buttons, one for immigrant families and one for my blog. Each is tied to a different PayPal account and to separate bank accounts, for greater transparency–and to ease my bookkeeping. It’s taken a while and I hope they work; we’ll find out soon enough and make whatever adjustments are needed. Please follow your heart, and if you prefer to do this by check, send it to me: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 and write For food cards on the memo line.