Are We One
In Distribution

 A new documentary film about a 90 year-old Zen master who also happens to be a Jesuit priest.

 

 

 

A documentary tracing the transmission of Zen meditation through the life’s work of 90 year-old Irish-American Jesuit Zen Master Robert Kennedy – and his successors and students – in a contemporary exploration of interfaith dialogue on the common ground of human experience. 

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Download the EPK/Press Kit & Stills here. 

Full Synopsis ::
Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi was born into an Irish-American family in Brooklyn in 1933 and joined the Jesuits in 1951 at the age of 18. After an extensive spiritual and academic training, he was ordained a priest in Japan in 1965 at the age of 32.

In Japan, he studied Zen with Yamada Koun Roshi in the 1970s – a central historical figure in 20th Century Japanese Zen.  Yamada had a profound effect on his life. Here was a married layman with a family, who expressed insight and humanity in a way that powerfully touched the young Robert Kennedy.

Returning to the United States the young Jesuit began studying Zen with Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles and then with Bernie Glassman Roshi in New York City.

His work in Zen led him to forming deep connections with some of the most iconic figures in 20th Century Japanese and American Zen including Yamada Roshi, Hugo M. Enomiya-Lassalle, William Johnston, Maezumi Roshi, Bernie Glassman Roshi and the acclaimed writer Peter Matthiessen.

The course of his life’s journey intersected with key historical moments in the ever-evolving story of the coming of Zen to the West.

Robert Kennedy was one of the first American Catholic priests to be installed as a Zen teacher in the U.S. The installation caused outrage in the Zen community in the U.S. from people objecting to the installation of a cleric from another faith. Faced with this fierce opposition, his teacher Bernie Glassman Roshi famously refuted the objections by asking his students;
Are we one, or are we not?’.

Strengthened by his teacher’s resolve, Robert Kennedy forged ahead with his own aspiration to foster and encourage interfaith dialogue and in the words of Laurence Freeman ‘has opened, and passed through, many doors in the course of his spiritual journey’.

This new documentary film traces the transmission of Zen meditation through the life’s work of this 90 year-old Irish-American Jesuit Zen Master – and his successors and students – in a contemporary exploration of interfaith dialogue on the common ground of human experience.

 

More Information about Robert Kennedy ::
Robert Kennedy is the former chair of the Theology department of Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, where he taught theology and Japanese.  In addition to his work at the college, he was a practicing psychoanalyst in New York City and a representative at the United Nations of the Institute for Spiritual Consciousness in Politics.

He is also the author of two books, ‘Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit’ and ‘Zen Gifts to Christians’.

He sits with his Zen students daily at the Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City and holds Sesshins (Zen Retreats) internationally.


Robert Kennedy with his Zen teacher Bernie Glassman (Photo Courtesy of Peter Cunningham)


More Information about Bernie Glassman Roshi ::

Bernie Glassman Roshi (1939 – 2018) was a central historical figure in 20th Century American Zen.

He was the founder of Zen Peacemakers; a pioneering international organisation cultivating peace work and socially engaged Buddhist action.

Of Jewish origin, he was known as a pioneer of social enterprise and for facilitating interfaith dialogue.

He was also known for his unorthodox teaching style and for holding legendary ‘Street Retreats’ with homeless people in New York City.


Bernie Glassman Leads a Street Retreat, New York City (Photo Courtesy of Peter Cunningham)

In 1996 Glassman began holding annual interfaith ‘Bearing Witness Retreats’ at the old site of the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau that continue to this day.


Bernie Glassman Leads an Interfaith Bearing Witness Retreat, Auschwitz(Photo Courtesy of Peter Cunningham)

Robert Kennedy Roshi’s Dharma Successors ::
To date, Robert Kennedy has installed 22 Dharma Successors – 11 women & 11 men –  lay teachers who have studied Zen and worked with him over the last thirty years and have been approved by him to teach, including.

His successors have brought Zen meditation practice into many areas including into schools, community organisations, prisons and into social justice in international settings as diverse as the U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, Germany and Ireland.

 


People in Prison meditate in a program run by Inge von Wobeser-Hopfner in Mexico City

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One Line Synopsis (17 words / 88 characters)
A new documentary about a 90 year-old Zen master who also happens to be a Jesuit priest.

Short Synopsis (40 words / 275 characters)
A documentary tracing the transmission of Zen meditation through the life’s work of 90 year-old Irish-American Jesuit Zen Master Robert Kennedy – and his successors and students – in a contemporary exploration of interfaith dialogue on the common ground of human experience.

Medium Synopsis (76 words / 482 characters)
A documentary tracing the transmission of Zen meditation through the life’s work of 90 year-old Irish-American Jesuit Zen Master Robert Kennedy – and his successors – in a contemporary exploration of interfaith dialogue.

Robert Kennedy’s work in Zen has brought him into dialogue with some of the most iconic figures of 20th Century Japanese and American Zen; a life’s journey of intersection with key historical moments in the ever-evolving story of the coming of Zen to the West.

Long Synopsis (125 words / 770 characters)
A documentary tracing the transmission of Zen meditation through the life’s work of 90 year-old Irish-American Jesuit Zen Master Robert Kennedy – and his successors – in a contemporary exploration of interfaith dialogue.

Robert Kennedy was one of the first American Catholic priests to be installed as a Zen teacher in the U.S which caused outrage in the U.S. Zen community. Faced with this fierce opposition, his teacher Bernie Glassman famously refuted the objections by asking his students;
Are we one, or are we not?’.

Robert Kennedy’s work in Zen has brought him into dialogue with some of the most iconic figures of 20th Century Japanese and American Zen; a life’s journey of intersection with key historical moments in the ever-evolving story of the coming of Zen to the West.

Director’s Statement ::
This is my first documentary film focusing on Buddhism and meditation since working on the acclaimed ‘Journey Into Buddhism’ trilogy over 20 years ago. The films in that trilogy went on to receive world-wide distribution in cinemas, broadcast and online, and the third film in the trilogy ‘Vajra Sky Over Tibet’ was the first film to received the blessing of His Holiness The Dalai Lama. This acclaimed trilogy was re-released by PBS for free on youtube last year to mark its 20th anniversary – and has already received over half-a-million views – so it is timely now for this new documentary film to be coming out into the world.

Working on the ‘Journey Into Buddhism’ trilogy 20 years ago inspired me to become a meditation/dharma practitioner; a focus that has become a central anchor in my own life. So when Executive Producers Miriam Healy and Turlough O’Donnell first brought my attention to the life’s work of Robert Kennedy I was intrigued. Growing up in Ireland, like 99% of the population I was raised Catholic so I was curious how this man could bring the two main spiritual influences in my own life into dialogue with each other, and to ultimately respond to the question posed in the title of the film; ARE WE ONE?

I was in my 30s, and living in New York, when I heard of Bernie Glassman’s famous ‘Street Retreats’, taking place quite often only blocks away from where I lived in Manhattan. But because I was relatively new to meditation at that time, I decided the mindful endurance needed for those incredible feats of Buddhism-in-action were beyond my own capabilities at that stage, so I was not destined to encounter either Bernie Glassman or Robert Kennedy in person until a later time.

That later time, and the idea for this documentary film, began with a conversation with both Miriam & Turlough seven years ago – coincidentally the year my son Oisín was born. So it has grown and evolved alongside his growing. It has witnessed the passing of Bernie Glassman, the pandemic, Robert Kennedy’s 90th birthday and the transformation of the world as we know it. So I am deeply indebted and grateful to Miriam, Turlough, to all at Morning Star Zendo – including the other Executive Producers, Noel Brennan, Dr Cuca Montecel, Amy Yee and John Ankele – and each of the many sangha communities and individuals who supported the making of this documentary film along the way, even at times when it felt like it was no longer feasible to continue.

I realised early on that much of Robert Kennedy’s life journey intersected with some of the key moment’s of the unfolding story of Zen’s coming to the West, so I am also deeply grateful and indebted to photographer Peter Cunningham – for both his artistry and generosity of spirit – for sharing so openly from his incredible archive to bring this wider dimension of the story to life.

Although our 7-year old son Oisín is not quite ready to make his own way out into the world yet, this documentary film finally is. With time, and with the support of so many, it truly has become its own entity, and my hope is that it will – like both Bernie Glassman’s and Robert Kennedy’s incredible work – bring some moments of insight and inspiration to those who come into contact with it.

Director Dónal Ó Céilleachair,
Caiseal na Mumhan, Éire – June, 2024

Executive Producers:
Miriam Healy
Turlough O’Donnell

And for Morning Star Zendo
Noel Brennan
John Ankele (Old Dog Documentaries)
Dr Cuca Montecel
Amy Yee

Director:
Dónal Ó Céilleachair

An Anú Pictures Production in Association with Morning Star Zendo

For a copy of the full documentary film credits – download the EPK/Press Kit & Stills here.