Helsinki 7–10 September 2022
Leader: Roshi Frank De Waele (Belgium)
Retreat coordinators: Mikko Ijäs & Peacemakers Finland (Finland)
Helsinki Street Retreat Homepage:
Peacemakers Finland’s Facebook page:
Donation: Minimum €250 (+ additional donation for retreat leader Roshi Frank De Waele)

A Street Retreat is a plunge into the unknown. It’s a spiritual practice started in New York by American Zen teacher-social activist Bernie Glassman Roshi in the early 1990s. According to Glassman Roshi, at the heart of Buddhist practice is the awakening to experience the oneness and interconnectedness of life. To nurture this experience, he developed practices suited for Western practitioners, of which Street Retreats in various cities are the most significant alongside with Bearing Witness retreats at genocide venues.
Street Retreat participants live on the city streets for four days without permanent protection, money, a cell phone. The Street Retreat participants are only allowed to bring their own clothes, a sleeping bag and their imagination. They experience living on the street first hand. They have to beg and look for places where they can get food, shelter and where they can go to the toilet.
In the mid-1990s, Bernie Glassman Roshi together with his wife Jishu Holmes founded the Zen Peacemakers to unite socially engaged Buddhist practitioners. Roshi Frank De Waele, a Belgian Zen teacher who will again lead the Helsinki Street Retreat, was involved in founding Zen Peacemakers in Europe. At the heart of the Zen Peacemakers’ practice are the Three Tenets, which are:

When we go…to bear witness to life on the streets, we’re offering ourselves. Not blankets, not food, not clothes, just ourselves.”
– from Bearing Witness by Bernie Glassman Roshi

The exact starting location will be reported closer to the retreat.
Duration of the retreat: The retreat will begin on Wednesday, September 7th. at 11:00 and ends on Saturday, September 10th. at 13:00.
Retreat language in English.

What to do on the street retreat?
Food and money are begged during the retreat. Participants visit organizations that help the homeless, stand in bread lines, and eat in the homeless canteens and cafes. We will practice council circle, liturgy and moments of silence every day. During the day, time is also spent in silent moments and participating in liturgies. The group stays together almost all the time. At times, they may spend moments in smaller groups, but no one is ever left alone. Group members always eat and sleep together.

The Street Retreats participants do nothing dangerous or illegal. Plans for the street retreat have been discussed with the Helsinki police. Street retreat does not violate any Finnish laws.

As a practice, the Street Retreats are demanding. Participants are aware that participation requires good physical and mental fitness. All participants are responsible for their own actions. The retreats are safe, but we do recommend that you take care of your insurance against surprises. The coordinator has a mobile phone at the retreat for emergencies.

How to prepare for street retreat?
Prepare for a street retreat by not shaving and washing your hair for at least the last three days before the retreat.

What will you need?

  • Wear old clothes. Wear as many layers of clothing as you feel appropriate and comfortable for the season. Do not bring change of clothes.
  • You can bring a pair socks if it seems absolutely necessary.
  • Good, but used shoes. We walk a lot, so good shoes are important.
  • Photo ID.
  • Rain Poncho (required)
  • In addition to the clothes you are wearing, you can take one empty bag with you, which can even be a plastic bag or an old backpack.
  • Female participants may, if necessary, bring spare underwear and the necessary sanitary items.
  • Medicines prescribed by a doctor may be taken with you.
  • Sleeping bag or blanket for sleeping.
  • Empty soda bottle, etc. that acts as a water bottle.
  • If a participant makes Mala while preparing for Street Retreat, it may be included. More on this later.

What should not be taken to the retreat?

  • No money, debit or credit cards, drugs, alcohol, weapons, knives, cameras or mobile phones may be brought in.
  • Do not wear any jewelry such as earrings, bracelets or wrist watches.
  • You must not bring books, diaries, pens or any other entertainment.

As circumstances change, we may change the arrangements for Street Retreat on site.

Participants of the Street Retreat are dependent on various social service agencies and public non-profit organizations. Since we are not truly homeless, we want to make donations to those who will be supporting us. At the end of the retreat, participants make monetary contributions to the organizations that assisted the participants. The organizers of the street retreat hope that each participant would ask for a total of at least €250 from their relatives, friends and co-workers. This money will be collected upon the final registration.
Once you have collected the donations, you may contact the street retreat organizer (Mikko Ijäs) and he will give instructions for depositing the money. The donations will cover €500 worth of travel expenses for the retreat leader Roshi Frank De Waele. The distribution of the rest of the funds will be decided together at the end of the Street Retreat.
Besides travel expenses, the retreat leader and organizers do not charge fees from your donation. However, Roshi Frank De Waele lives largely on the generosity of those who attend his retreats. We therefore ask you to make an additional donation for the teacher, you may specify this upon your final registration with your donation.

Mala practice
Participants in Street Retreat have been asked not to use their own money for the donation required to participate. Begging is an integral part of the practice of humility. According it would be important for a participant to tell other people in their immediate circle why he or she is participating in a street retreat. Asking for help is a challenging experience for many. We recommend that the participant seek financial assistance from at least five different people, but preferably even more.
In Zen Buddhist practice this is called ‘Assembling a Mala’, which is a string of prayer beads. If you assemble a Mala of 18 or 108 beads, for example, you could beg proportionate donations for each bead. Your mala could also be, say, five or ten beads. Sincerely promise your donors that they will be traveling with you on the retreat and you will personally tell them about your experience when you return home. It is a lovely gesture to label (engrave or paint) the beads with your donors’ names and wear them during your time on the streets.
To give others the opportunity to give is a true gift. When we are truly and selflessly motivated, people will support us. Trust in this all your life.

Thank you for considering joining us for our Helsinki Street Retreat. The group can accommodate 15 participants. Please pre-register for the Street Retreat in a timely manner. This will give you enough time to prepare and practice Mala.
Read more about mala-practice from the website of the Zen Peacemaker International

Donation: Minimum €250 (+ additional donation for retreat leader Roshi Frank De Waele)
Registrations and participation donations by September 5, 2022.

You can read more about street retreats and about Zen Peacemakers in Bernie Glassman’s book ”Bearing Witness”
The same themes are also covered in Bernie’s and Jeff Bridges’ book ”Dude and the Zen Master” also available in Finnish.
If you live in Finland, these books can be found in the Peacemakers Finland library:

Dharma talk by Sensei Josh Byrnes on street retreats:

Bernie Glassman Roshi’s series of dharma talks on street retreats and about the ”Gate of Sweet Nectar” liturgy: