A THOUSAND ARMS / by Peter Cunningham

I made a book for Bernie Glassman's 75th birthday.

A Thousand Arms cover


 “The Thousand Armed Bodisahatvha", or "Kannon” is a traditional Buddhist symbol. He/She symbolizes an enlightened being who chooses, rather than departing for Nirvana,  to remain on Earth until all “sentient beings” are also enlightened. In statuary she is often depicted as a sensuous female with a thousand arms indicating the myriad ways in which she is attempting to serve all human beings.  Assembling 33 years of photographs from my adventures with Bernie, I was struck with the incredible variety of skillful means this human from Brighton Beach has managed to embody, thus the title.

Bernie "Tetsugen" Glassman Sensei  with his teacher Maezumi Roshi at The Zen Center of New York in Riverdale, 1980

Bernie "Tetsugen" Glassman Sensei  with his teacher Maezumi Roshi at The Zen Center of New York in Riverdale, 1980

Bernie sometimes works with people who feel discarded. The photograph on the cover of this book is scanned from a kodachrome slide I discovered under a leg of my desk where, covered with dust, it had molded for years. It was ruined, a piece of trash nearly tossed in the rubbish years ago. When assembling the pictures for this book, this old slide jumped to my attention and resurrected itself, and now, reimagined and repurposed, it’s become the cover of Bernie’s birthday book.

Vancouver Peace Conference with The Dalai Lama in 2009

Vancouver Peace Conference with The Dalai Lama in 2009

When I thought of using this name for the book, I knew I wanted a photograph of a thousand arm statue, I visited both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but I only found sitting Buddhas.  I finally used one from Bernie's collection, but I realize that the idea of an enlightened being being socially active is relatively new in this country.  Western practice grew up with the idea that the enlightened state was to be symbolized by a figure sitting on a cushion (the eighth stage of the Ox Herding pictures), forgetting the last two Ox-herding pictures in which the man "returns to the marketplace" and looks like everyone else.  The Thousand Armed statue is a better symbol of the current wave of socially active Buddhist practice, the museums need to catch up!

An interfaith ceremony in Birkenau January 2005

An interfaith ceremony in Birkenau January 2005

Bernie trained as a clown under Wavy Gravy and Mr.Yoowho, Moshe Cohen. This is a "Clowns without Borders" performance in Chiapas in 2001

Bernie trained as a clown under Wavy Gravy and Mr.Yoowho, Moshe Cohen. This is a "Clowns without Borders" performance in Chiapas in 2001

You can see a full preview of the book here; I recommend clicking the full screen button on the lower left.

Bernie's Zen Peacemaker website