Jun 26, 2017
To: Zenwest members, associates, patrons, and donors
From: Eshu Osho, Zenwest Board, and members of the Zenwest strategic planning group
Dear friends and supporters of Zenwest,
In our global community, locally, and within our Sangha, the past 3 years have been filled with change. We are writing to talk with you about the changes we have been discussing over the past eight months as part of the 2017 strategic planning process.
Some of you are already familiar with Zenwest’s current model, while for others this is new information. To ensure that everyone has access to the background information to help you understand the history and context for our proposed changes, we have included as an appendix to this letter an overview of the developments in Zenwest that led to the current model, written by Eshu Osho who provides his perspective from 22 years of practicing with Zenwest and 13 years as Abbot.
The model that Zenwest has been operating under since 2005 served Zenwest well for many years. Unfortunately, as a result of multiple factors (discussed in detail in the Appendix) we have come to the difficult conclusion that under the current circumstances the strategic model we have been running is not sustainable, and Zenwest needs to make significant changes going forward.
Our collective recommendation is that Zenwest undergo a transition over the next 12 months to:
(a) gradually phase out financial compensation for Eshu Osho,
(b) undertake a review of all aspects of our programming, and
(c) engage in deep community discussions to determine how to go forward in revitalizing and renewing our community.
These are very significant, serious changes that we are suggesting and we need to know whether the sangha is supportive of this proposed direction.
We want to be clear that the recommendation to end Eshu Osho’s employment with Zenwest is in no way a comment on Eshu’s performance as Abbot. Rather it is a reflection that our membership has shrunk (as discussed in the Appendix) and it is no longer financially sustainable to support a paid position.
Throughout the extended and at times painful discussions that led to this recommendation, we have held two core principles: First, that we are responsible to treat all of the Zenwest relationships with integrity and care. This includes the relationships between Zenwest and Eshu Osho and the Martin family, between sangha members, and relationships with external bodies such as the University of Victoria Multifaith Services where we have a chaplaincy. Second, we all remain committed to Zen practice and creating spaces for people to practice in community. However, it is unclear at this time what that might look like. We see the need to create space for organizational transformation, where we individually and collectively deeply consider what we want to do, what brings us joy, and how we want to practice.
What we are proposing for the next year is a three-phase transition.
Phase 1: June-September 2017
Eshu Osho continue to work 0.4 FTE at Zenwest (the current arrangement). All Sunday and Tuesday practice opportunities remain the same. Begin community discussions about the future of Zenwest.
Phase 2: October 2017-March 2018
Eliminate cash salary from Eshu Osho’s compensation arrangement. Zenwest will continue to provide a residence and amenities to the Abbot and his family at the temple in Sooke as compensation for Eshu’s continuing work (hours to be negotiated between Eshu and the Zenwest Board). Sunday and Tuesday sits will continue. Continue community discussions about the future of Zenwest.
Phase 3: April-June 2018
All compensation will be eliminated from the relationship between Eshu Osho and Zenwest, and Eshu Osho will cease to be an employee of Zenwest Buddhist Society. This is conceptualized as a “pause” to allow our sangha and Eshu to reflect and consider what we want going forward. It is not yet clear what member-led practice opportunities might continue to be available during this time, this will depend in part on the community discussions in earlier phases.
It is our hope that this staged withdrawal arrangement will allow both Eshu Osho and the members and board of Zenwest Buddhist Society time to explore, plan, and prepare financially and organizationally for what will be a major transformation of how the future of Zenwest will unfold.
Further, it is our hope that this staged arrangement will alleviate the financial demands of Zenwest without creating catastrophic financial hardship for Eshu Osho and his family; Eshu has been employed and served our Sangha as our Abbot and teacher for the past 13 years, and his family has been very generous in sharing their home space as a temple.
The direction set out above can only be undertaken if members, associates, patrons and donors are willing to support this transition, both in principle and financially. It is our intention to continue to provide practice opportunities until April 2018 and we hope that members and associates will remain actively engaged in Zenwest and continue to provide financial support through dues in this period. We will also need to continue to hold quarterly fundraising drives in addition to dues, to allow for a gradual transition for Eshu Osho and his family. At this time we anticipate that the fundraising targets will be $6,000 in June, $5,500 in September, and $2,550 in December. Fundraising after this time depends on what the community decides to do together.
Although we don't yet know what form this will take, we are clear that we want to continue to practice Zen in community. To determine what this will look like requires our collective wisdom and creativity. As you have been a participant and contributor to this community, we would like to extend an invitation to you to participate in the conversation and exploration of how Zenwest will be moving forward into the future.
To facilitate these discussions, and also give an opportunity for people to ask questions and talk about this letter, we will be holding in-person and online meetings, including the following:
Additionally, members, associates, and supporters can email Eshu Osho or any of the Board members or other Strategic Planning participants to discuss this letter and clarify any issues of concern. Contact information is included below.
We very much value and appreciate your support, and look forward to hearing your ideas and comments.
Eshu Osho, Abbot, Zenwest Buddhist Society, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Hoyu Tommi Boulter, Chair, Zenwest Buddhist Society, email@example.com
Rev. Soshin Ruth McMurchy, Treasurer, Zenwest Buddhist Society, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Doshu Lars Rogers, Secretary, Zenwest Buddhist Society, email@example.com
Joshua Goldberg, Strategic Planning participant, firstname.lastname@example.org
Seishin Susanne Ledingham, Strategic Planning participant, email@example.com
Kozan Nori Nishigaya, Strategic Planning participant, firstname.lastname@example.org
Yushin Charles Rose, Strategic Planning participant, email@example.com
APPENDIX: HISTORY AND CONTEXT
By Eshu Osho, Abbot, Zenwest
In 2004, a strategic planning group that included the Zenwest board of directors, a group of members who had committed to being a part of the planning process, and the Zenwest Abbot together created a plan and vision for how Zenwest would grow into the future - and out of this plan and vision, a model was created.
Two key features of this plan were:
We believed that the best way to ensure the stability of the community, its programs, and the consistency of teaching was by employing a skilled professional who can have these goals as their primary focus, and having an appropriate place to do Zen practice.
This planning group also fully recognized that the costs of committing to supporting a full-time employee and practice space were significant, and several models of membership were suggested and considered, such as:
As a group we felt that the first model would likely be more exclusive than we wanted, with a membership in the neighbourhood of $200+/mo; which would put it way out of range of some that would greatly benefit from Zen practice.
Conversely, the instability and insecurity inherent in the second model would likely make basic survival a monthly worry and would be a distraction from practice and development.
In the end, together we created a community-centred model for Zenwest Buddhist Society. We would offer different levels of membership from “Full” (with dues representing a single full share of the cost of the resources and opportunities available), to “Basic” (with dues being non-trivial, but significantly less than a full share of the actual cost of the resources and opportunities available).
Full members would have access to all activities, and Basic Members would be required to pay for activities and opportunities outside of basic sits.
Beyond this, we made provisions to accommodate those who experienced financial hardship, as well as opportunities for work-exchange for membership.
From the outset, we recognized that by initiating this model, membership dues alone would not fully cover expenses; we committed to doing regular fundraising drives based on the belief that:
Our basic philosophy setting out was that we would take care of and support one another – as a community.
Our understanding was that some of us struggle to make ends meet financially, but could offer our time and energy to building and nourishing the community, supporting programming etc.
Others among us have greater financial resources, and less time, yet are committed to giving more financially so that this tradition, practice, and resources can be available locally to as many people as is possible.
Some of us have both material resources and an abundance of time to commit to making Zen come alive at Zenwest; and some of us are working full speed ahead just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads; and underlying all of this, we recognized that for each of us, our circumstances can change with very little notice, and that by creating community together we could create a community of awakening and refuge.
As I take the time to write this down, I realize how ambitious this model is; how countercultural and almost revolutionary it is in the context of North American culture today. I also have to accept responsibility for not championing it strongly enough.
Where we are today:
For more than a decade, our model helped Zenwest to grow, and for the training and teaching that happens here to become known around the world. The efforts of our board of directors in the development of organizational structures, policies and procedures for Zen Centres in North America have been adopted or have contributed to other Zen organizations around the world. Our use of orientation education, online resources, podcasts, and videos (once thought almost heretical) has become the norm in modern Dharma practice globally. Zenwest and Eshu Osho have become recognized and respected by Zen communities and teachers internationally.
Somehow though, as a community we lost sight of the interdependence and mutual responsibility that was inherent and intentionally built into the model.
Perhaps because of the consistency of our programming, or the stability of the teaching, or my own failure to press this principle; it seems that complacency was born into the mix.
Growth of the membership is only beneficial if all three aspects grow together – member dues, volunteer labour, and distribution of donations from members – because more members also increases financial demands as well as labour demands. When the membership did grow at Zenwest, it was in only one area: member dues. Impact and the feeling of member ownership was not emphasized, and certainly participation in fundraising was not emphasized to new members, and perhaps this was a major mistake. Regardless, the fundamental model is one in which costs – both operational and labour are not covered by dues, therefore no amount of growth will alter that balance.
While our membership was growing, fundraising drives were still a significant component of meeting expenses. Over time, while the donor pool has diversified thanks to international podcast listeners supporting Zenwest, fewer individual members are making contributions, in terms of finances as well as participation in operational teams, facilitating activities, and board involvement.
Perhaps members have felt like everything was well in hand, or that their participation wasn’t needed, or that they were already contributing as much as they possibly could. It’s impossible to say, and was perhaps “all of the above”.
Practically, it meant that expenses and programming needed to be cut, and that a diminishing group of members and donors were contributing more and more so that our endeavour could continue to be available to as many people as possible.
By late 2015 it was clear to our Board of Directors and Abbot that many of our key financial and labour contributors were rapidly reaching the point of complete exhaustion.
In terms of our budget, virtually all programs and resources that could be cut from the budget had been cut. Even so, our fundraising drives were falling short of the targets. After some very challenging discussions, the Board and Abbot decided that the only viable way forward was to reduce human resource expenses, namely the Abbot’s salary.
Fortunately I was able to find external part-time employment at Victoria Hospice relatively quickly. The downside was that many of the operational and organizational tasks that were formerly performed by the Abbot and Director of Operations had to be delegated to others; others who were already overloaded and weren’t familiar with the tasks, so needed time to learn and time to develop. This had significant impacts on new membership growth, and membership retention. In short, while our expenses were significantly reduced, our membership revenue diminished apace.
In spite of this, since the switch to a part-time Abbot, Zenwest has managed to continue to offer consistent programming. Our spring 2017 Orientation to Zen led by Rev. Doshu in Victoria was well attended, and more than 20 individuals participated in the recent NRTP with leadership shared by all ordained clergy. However, on top of being unbelievably stretched, each member of the Zenwest clergy and governance team are facing significant personal challenges that eliminate the option of doing more, even where there is a desire or capacity to do so.
Zenwest Buddhist Society is entering a period of significant change and a re-imagining of who we are, and how we are to proceed in the future. Most of all I want to reassure all of our members that my dedication to Rinzai Zen practice and the Buddhadharma remain as strong as ever. Regardless of where this transition takes us as an organization, I will continue to practice and teach the Dharma to those who wish to make Zen come alive.