An Interview with Bernie Glassman

By Alec Story
This interview took place during Naropa University's Radical Compassion Symposium

“Let’s go over here where there isn’t road noise and construction. We might get asked to leave by the police because you’re not supposed to smoke on the mall.” After five minutes of walking with this Zen Buddhist practitioner of 60 years, and teacher for 40, I felt like the title of “Zen teacher” did not apply. Not because I didn’t sense his great sweetness, clarity, and joyousness, which was obvious, but because I couldn’t picture him with robes living in a monastery, at all. I would learn that titles and labels, in his “opinion,” as he framed it, like having a fixed lens, often get in the way of simply being.

Bernie has done so much and has such a varied background with a multitude of accomplishments, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect from him. I went looking for a dedicated do-gooder, and found a joyful, bright man. I found myself laughing throughout the interview at his silliness, and he didn’t even have his red nose on. I wasn't sure if I was joking with a comic or a spiritual teacher, but by the end, the two had interwoven into a reassuring smile for those who walk the path.

It’s inspiring to see this natural, joyous state that one relaxes into over a lifetime of practice. Bernie helps to facilitate very difficult processing work at Auschwitz for example, and yet in the simplest interaction with me, his cheer and laughter were infectious. It became evident to me that when one harmonizes with Being, or as he put it, with “what is,” you are constantly spreading warmth. What more could one ask for? Thank you Bernie.


You can find out more about Bernie’s life and mission at


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