Listening to the voice of the Sangha

— What is the Sangha Convention? —

In September 2018 in Poland, members of Kwan Um School of Zen Europe, empowered by our bylaws to share their experiences, ideas and concerns during European Sangha Convention, voted for changes that could help our School adapt to contemporary culture while keeping its core tradition, so we can better help this fast-changing world. The results of this convention were presented to the European Teachers Group, who in May 2019 during the Teachers Meeting in Czech Republic responded to students’ recommendations. Their decisions were then sent to International Council, which consulted these suggestions in all three regions, not only Europe, but Asia and America as well. Below you will find the endorsed recommendations ready to put into action in Europe starting NOW.

— Recommendations —

Recommendations were given regarding four topics and based on were based on 2020 SC survey results, preexisting world-wide KUSZ surveys and teamwork on case studies regarding organic changes that spontaneously already took place in Europe: (1) Zen practice for beginners, (2) New forms of together action, (3) More education, (4) Empowerment of students.

— School’s Responses —

Below you can read the responses to Sangha Convention (SC) both from European Teacher’s Group (ETG) and learn about the final changes that got endorsed by International Council and Regional Council Group (IC/RCG) and are to be implemented in local Sanghas.

Recommendation 1 – New forms of together action for community building

  • SC: In each Sangha let’s encourage group discussions on new activities. Let’s appoint Community Directors locally and centrally.

  • ETG: Approved. Virtual Kwanum Zen Community is also the right place to develop this.

  • Regional Council Group/International Council: Not involved.

Recommendation 2 – Zen practice for beginners

  • SC: Let’s establish a standardized beginner’s program for Sanghas to follow.

  • ETG: Approved. Dharma Teacher Training committee is working on this task.

  • RCG/IC: Regional Sanghas are encouraged to evaluate if this handbook from Asia meets their local needs.

  • SC: Let’s iImprove or establish a system to collect membership data.

  • ETG: No sufficient need.

  • RCG/IC: Not involved.

  • SC: Let’s reconsider formal aspects of our practice that are not culturally relevant in the West.

  • ETG: Approved. Titles (SSN, PSN) shall be used during formal Dharma events but they are optional in all other situations. Ceremonial hit with the stick is optional for the teacher. Greeting bows in the mornings during and outside of retreats and goodbye bows shall be dropped. Bows to Buddha statue upon returning or leaving home temple is optional. Interview bows shall be changed to a standing bow.

  • RCG/IC: Through the entire KUSZ, we will keep the full prostration to the teacher before and after the kongan interview. All other bowing forms can be adapted to regional/cultural needs by each region. Any change of forms needs to be approved by the guiding teacher.

Recommendation 3 – More buddhist education

  • SC: We recommend actively cultivating an open attitude towards various kinds of education, based not only on listening but also on free expression and discussion (e.g Dharma circles).

  • ETG: Approved. Dharma Teachers Training committee is working on it.

  • RCG/IC: Not involved.

  • SC: Let’s work on podcasts and webinars on buddhist subjects by the European teachers

  • ETG: Approved. We need a volunteer to cluster existing materials. Contact European Office.

  • RCG/IC: Not involved

Recommendation 4 – Empowerment of students

  • SC: Let’s engage students with professional skills to take leadership of administrative tasks, outside teaching and retreats and create a paid and accountable position in School’s administration. Let’s work on acknowledging volunteers better.

  • ETG: Against karma points to reward volunteers. Let’s look for a different solution. There is no budget for any employment.

  • RCG/IC: Not involved.

  • SC: Let’s include a student representative in the Council and change the bylaws accordingly.

  • ETG: Disapproved.

  • RCG/IC: Not involved

  • SC: Let’s assign a neutral person (neither involved in teaching nor administration) as a first or alternative contact when raising an ethical complaint.

  • ETG: Approved. A new paragraph was suggested: “If one of the parties involved believes that it is necessary to solve the ethic issue with the help of someone outside the school, then they should try to use an ombudsman, if available in their country. This is especially recommended, if one of the parties involved is dissatisfied with the organizational way of dealing with the case and before taking legal action.”

  • RCG/IC: No response yet.

  • SC: Formally promote Dharma Friend Program (peer mentoring).

  • ETG: Approved. Dharma Teacher Training committee shall include DF guidelines and request to change Dharma Mirror.

  • RCG/IC: Preexisting top-down peering programs did not show much energy. If Sangha members wish to establish it (bottom up) there is no objection in general, but the standards have to be developed (e.g. who is qualified to mentor and how is the mentor supervised).

  • SC: Let’s change the Dharma Teacher title (this point was not conclusive)

  • ETG: Voted unanimously to propose a global committee for working on new titles.

  • RCG/IC: This topic has been in discussion for the last 30 years, and at this time, we are not going to change “Dharma Teacher” title. Encouragement to set higher standards to become a full DT and introduce regular online DT trainings. Let’s try to clarify the difference between JDPSN and a Dharma teacher by calling JDPSNs “Dharma Masters”.

— Letter from Council —

Dear European Sangha,

This year has been a special year with unknown challenges, especially due to the COVID 19 pandemic that affects all our lives and the sad loss of our two beloved teachers Myong Hae Sunim JDPSN and Oleg Suk JDPSN. The purpose of practicing on the Zen path and thus of our schools goals is to understand the nature of suffering, of old age, sickness and death.

Many ideas have sprout in these last months about the reasons why something like the pandemic happens. In fact it gives us multiple possibilities to look into our lives and investigate the big question of live and death. If we do that with a fearless and open mind, our inherent clarity and wisdom can appear and we are able to fulfill our vows to help our world. That is our schools mission as it is expressed in the preamble of the bylaws:

In keeping with the mission of saving all beings, as formulated by Zen Master Seung Sahn, and based on his teaching and that of his Dharma heirs, the European Kwan Um School of Zen will guide and support all the Kwan Um School of Zen Sanghas in Europe, Russia, and Israel.

I think we can be proud that we as a nonprofit organisation succeed in keeping our Sanghas of Europe, Russia, and Israel united and stay connected to our Sanghas worldwide. The bonds are getting stronger and stronger, especially in these challenging times.

You might not always notice how much effort and hours it takes from many of us who are engaged in the Dharma and also on different administrative functions to communicate through all levels of our global school to make sure, that we keep our main direction – help this world and saving all beings – and also stay united as a world wide school and thus can enjoy the richness of all our people, students and teachers, contributing to it in many ways.

So even though the process took its time to discuss the input generated on the Sangha convention in 2018 I think we can be very happy with the results we can present now.

I want to thank you all for you engagement at your local Sanghas and our school. I do want to express my gratefulness to the European Office, that has worked tirelessly with many reminder emails to not drop any of the claimed topics (I would have lost some on the way without them …).

Last but not least I want to thank Knud Rosenmayr for his dedication to work for the council and to function as head of council.

Just now I realize how much work he has done for all of us and how wonderful he has guided us all in the council. We miss you and wish you all the best!

I think we can be happy on what we all together have achieved. My wish is to make us stronger and more effective so we won’t be too busy in administrative necessities. The clearer anyone understands how the school is functioning, the easier it will get.

Let’s just do it more like that together. Let’s enjoy each other and help each other by keeping the things as simple as possible so we can focus on what is most important: understand ourselves so we can understand how we can help this world.

Yours in the Dharma,

Arne Schaefer

on behalf of Council