Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom (BSCW) is a North American Buddhist Order originally from the Korean Zen (Seon) tradition. The Society was founded in the summer of 1967 as the Zen Lotus Society by Venerable Samu Sunim at his flat in Manhattan, New York City. In 1990 the name of the Society was changed from Zen Lotus Society to Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom. The change of name reflected an important development in the movement of the Society. The experience of more than twenty years of Seon-Zen Lotus Society paved the way for making the necessary transition from Asian forms of monastic Buddhism to salvation and enlightenment for all. On the surface this transition was the modern-day renewal and reapplication of the five major pronouncement of Mahayana teachings:

  1. All sentient beings are buddhas. 

  2. Samsara is Nirvana. 

  3. One's passions are enlightenment. 

  4. We are an interrelated whole. 

  5. Everyday life is the Way.

However, in reality, there are vital signs that the new pioneer movement will prove nothing less than a complete overhaul of the tradition and mark a New Turning of the Wheel of Dharma in the West. The corporate community of urban professionals and the conflicted world of the righteous and sinners as well as the self-support groups of the hurt and addicted will serve as a fertile ground for the Dharma work of the new bodhisattvas or wisdom-inspired, compassion-driven volunteers to promote the non-dual gate of liberation and enlightenment without renunciation and to fulfill the unimpeded interpenetration of the absolute and the relative in the everyday life of ordinary people.

 

The establishment of Buddhism in the West is an important event of global implications not only in the history of the world of Buddhism but also in the making of world culture and spirituality. The wisdom teachings of the Buddhist tradition are unique in their approach to human spirituality. We believe in the worth of being human and trust the best of being humane. It is the purpose of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom to play a role in facilitating the inculturation of Buddhism in the West by building a peace bridge of going beyond the awareness of the culture of self and the culture of non-self by following the Nine Statements.

  1. We will honor and spread the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni and other enlightened ones for peace of the world and happiness of all beings.

  2. We believe that all human beings are equally capable of realizing their original enlightenment in their everyday life.

  3. We know that the first sign of awakening to our Buddha-nature is our willingness to take responsibility for our Dharma life as well as for the well-being of others.

  4. We follow the tripartite tradition of the Three Jewels of Buddha/Dharma/Sangha, the Threefold Training of moral discipline/meditation/cultivation of wisdom heart, and the Three Canons of Sutra/Vinaya/Abhidharma. We follow them in an inclusive and all-embracing manner so that each of us would become a living embodiment of the tradition.

  5. We realize that meditation practice is essential for moral discipline and cultivation of wisdom heart, and that the silence and solitude of meditation are vital for peace of mind and healing. Therefore, we must encourage and inspire each other through group practice thereby supporting a meditation movement towards a wholesome and enlightened society.

  6. We understand that all beings sentient and insentient are interrelated and interdependent. Accordingly we have to care for one another and promote a culture of enlightenment in which nature can be protected and preserved and living beings can pursue joy and happiness free from fear and hatred.

  7. We must practice Right Livelihood and guard against the culture of consumerism and technology madness and begin to reduce our consumption and waste for the sake of our future and greater justice.

  8. We recognize an urgent need for inter-Buddhist, interreligious and interspiritual dialogue and exchange in order to deepen our mutual understanding and to promote our common goals such as tolerance, non-violence, social and economic justice, and ecological harmony and peace.

  9. We pursue the Bodhisattva's path of boundless love and wisdom with six perfections and four great vows to save all beings from their delusion.

 

To put into practice the Dharma expressed in the Nine Statements, BSCW has now five mission operations: Zen Buddhist Temples in Ann ArborMichiganChicagoNew York CityToronto and Mexico City. The Zen Buddhist Temples in the U.S. and Canada and the Mexico Sangha serve as mission centers to advance the meditation movement and to train Dharma workers to promote a culture of enlightenment and green spirituality.

 

BSCW runs the 3-year Dharma student program of Maitreya Buddhist Seminary to train and produce qualified Buddhist teachers, and the Dharma Guardian program for urban professionals. BSCW organizes an annual precept-taking ceremony in order to promote Right Livelihood and build a Buddhist Sangha responsible for world community. BSCW also sponsors art shows in order to promote art and culture, and occasional seminars and conferences in order to gain a better understanding of social conflicts and issues and to find solutions that would work for all parties. BSCW published a quarterly journal, Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum, to inform Spring Wind Sangha members and friends of our Dharma activities, to discuss application of Buddhist values in modern day life and to deliberate on Buddhist solutions to problems facing the planetary life of all beings. May all beings be well and happy and enjoy peace! Namoprajnaparamita.

Brief History of the Society:

By Sujata Linda Klevnick (former general secretary of BSCW and editor of Spring Wind), 2007

In August of 1967, Samu Sunim arrived in New York City and founded the Son-Zen Lotus Society in a small apartment near Broadway. In early 1968 his karma brought him to Montreal, Canada, where I first met him when I was a student at McGill University. In 1972 he moved to Toronto. Right from the beginning Sunim wished to establish a Buddhist meditation community. Sunim attracted a few students and they worked hard. Those early years were difficult ones for Sunim marked by hardship, poverty and illness. Sunim lived in a shabby basement apartment in Toronto where he did personal retreat. When a few Korean Buddhist ladies discovered him, the basement became a temple where he conducted services and taught meditation. By1976 artists, musicians, students and dropouts came for meditation instruction in an unorganized way. Sunim encouraged community living and a series of houses were rented, first on St. Clarens, then Osler and Westminster. In 1979 with the combined effort of the Korean ladies and dedicated Canadian meditation students, a decrepit rooming house was purchased in Parkdale. In 1980 the Zen Lotus Society was incorporated as a non-profit religious organization. Over several years, the crumbling Victorian house at 46 Gwynne Avenue was completely renovated by the intense efforts of a lay monastic community of men, women and children living communally under a vow of poverty. Much support was received from the faithful Korean ladies. A regular schedule of services and meditations and retreats was held year round and a full-time training program for priests and dharma teachers was established. In 1981 an offshoot temple was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, organized on the same lines. The Ann Arbor temple has gradually developed into a thriving community of practitioners.

In 1983, Sunim made his first trip to Mexico and planted the seeds of a meditation group. It was then that he met some dedicated Mexican students, two of whom came for sustained training in Toronto. The 1980s were busy years for Sunim. Under Sunim's vision, the Society began to publish Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum, a non-sectarian publication for all Buddhists regardless of persuasion. Spring Wind sought articles from distinguished Buddhist teachers, scholars and artists, as well as lay practitioners. Sunim's emphasis on Buddhist ecumenism was ahead of its time. Another aspect of Sunim's conviction of the vital need for Buddhists to know each other better, was his organizing of the first North American Zen Teachers Conference. In 1986, he invited the first generation of western Zen teachers to meet for six days at the Ann Arbor temple. The conference has been held annually at different centres since then. In 1987 Sunim organized the Conference on World Buddhism in North America, bringing together Theravada, Pure Land, Zen and Tibetan monks, nuns and teachers, both eastern and western trained, to dialogue and learn about each other over eight fully scheduled days. A two-hour documentary video recorded the event. By 1988, the Toronto temple had outgrown its premises on Gwynne Avenue and relocated to 86 Vaughan Road, another crumbling but much larger building. In November 1989, under a leaky roof and with the temple still under renovation, Sunim organized a Day of Celebration in Honour of the Dalai Lama upon the occasion of his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. The events included an inter-religious service, a forum on non-violent social action and an evening of literary and musical celebrations. The following year, a historic weeklong Conference on Buddhism in Canada was held at the Toronto temple, another first for Sunim who is firmly convinced that Buddhism benefits when Buddhist groups communicate with each other. The Toronto community continued to grow; new members replaced those who had moved on. In an organic process of renewal, the Vaughan Road temple was renovated.

In the early 1990s, Samu Sunim became interested in establishing a temple in Chicago. In 1992, on March 3rd, Sunim's birthday, we set out from Ann Arbor to look for a temple building in Chicago. After several visits, a large run-down building was purchased and renovations begun. The following year, the centenary Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Chicago. Sunim organized a panel discussion on New Dharma for the West. While still undergoing renovations, the Chicago temple held several successful exhibitions of Korean Buddhist art, including Kwanjo Sunim's memorable photographs of Korean Buddhist nuns' life. Sunim’s considerable energy and wide ranging efforts attracted some dedicated and wonderful helpers and, over the years the Chicago temple has been completely transformed into a beautiful venue for a thriving Buddhist community. Unique to the Chicago temple, the members hold an annual street parade for world peace during the Buddha's Birthday celebrations in May.

 

More than anything else, however, Sunim is a meditation master. He firmly believes that meditation and Buddhist wisdom are the right prescription for the salvation of humanity. He teaches that meditation practice based on the threefold discipline of ethical awakening, spiritual awakening and social awakening and the pursuit of the Bodhisattva path, are a self-sufficient regimen for all beings with a view to world peace and happiness for all. To this purpose he urges people to do chanting and prostrations for purification and empowerment along with regular meditation. Sunim sometimes gets impatient with Buddhist indulgence in long retreats and individualism. He points out, "The calm and peace from five years in a mountain retreat can shatter in one day spent in the marketplace. But a mind cultivated in the market place will shine bright in short retreats in quiet and solitude." Therefore, he recommends retreats in the midst of activities and everyday life. He reminds his students with a chuckle, “It’s easier to become a buddha, than to become a good bodhisattva.” To people who doubt the doctrine of the Wheel of Life and rebirth, Sunim would say, "Life will continue with or without you after you check out. It would be better to include yourself and enjoy voluntary rebirth as a bodhisattva. Stand with Life and support all lives! Above all, just be a good bodhisattva life after life."

 

Forty years have passed since Samu Sunim came to North America. During that time, Sunim has carried out dharma work with modest resources but with enormous dedication and determination. In forty years, he has founded remarkable temple communities in Toronto, Ann Arbor, Chicago and Mexico City, Mexico. He single-handedly published a groundbreaking non-sectarian Buddhist journal and organized a series of significant pan-Buddhist conferences both in Ann Arbor, Michigan and in Toronto, Canada. The Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom salutes Samu Sunim for these remarkable achievements. Sunim feels that he is still young. Let’s give him a big cheer and encourage another forty years of excitement!

More History of the Society with Photos and Writings

Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom, Zen Buddhist Temple

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