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Zen Alumbrella proposal of 10-05 Overview


 Proposal to fund
the Zen Alumbrella

by David Chadwick


The Zen Alumbrella promises to be a vitally important service, not only for Zen practitioners but for all who are seriously involved in the spiritual quest.

Huston Smith


I appreciate very much the support Iíve received in the past from readers. It enabled me and those who have helped me to get a great deal accomplished that we otherwise would not have been able to do. Although I have not written a proposal in the last two years, the archiving and oral history work continue as before as well as other activity that I am eager to tell you about.


The Cucumber Project

The Cucumber Project, as you may recall, is the name used for the work done to preserve the legacy of Shunryu Suzuki. I continue interviewing new subjects and getting the prior interviews in order, in the archive, and up on the projectís web site,, as well as attending to a host of other work that tells the story of Suzuki and those who came in contact with him. is only one aspect of the archive but it has become a large resource of information and an outlet for my writing that currently attracts about five hundred visitors a day. There is still an enormous amount of work to do on the Cucumber Project.


The Zen Aluminati

Another activity Iíve put a lot of effort into in the last two years is visiting people in the wider Buddhist community who canít get out so easily Ė mainly older people. Iíve always tried to keep up with friends, especially those who have become isolated, but because of some cases of neglect which came to my attention, I decided to make this visiting a conscious and systematic practice and set aside for this purpose roughly one day a week.

It become clear to me as I visited my old friends that there was a greater need than I could personally meet and so I started to communicate about this situation with others. In so doing, Iíve contacted many people inside and outside of the San Francisco Zen Center and other Buddhist groups in this area. Iíve found that everyone is sympathetic but busy and it takes a lot of work to locate people who have the time and inclination to extend themselves in this way.

This has led me to the beginning stages of setting up a volunteer program that focuses on visiting our seniors who are in retirement or nursing homes, or homebound in their own houses - this would include of course visiting younger people in times of trouble or tragedy. There has been some response to the initial efforts to find volunteers. There were a few whoíve been involved even before we started using the word volunteer. But itís not as easy as I had thought it would be to make this program work. I just wanted to visit people a day a week and mention it to others so it would take off on its own. But itís clear itís going to require more time beating the drum, organizing, meeting, writing, and being on the phone than I had imagined. I want to keep at this while thereís not so much to do Ė to meet the needs of today and to prepare to meet the greatly increased needs of tomorrow when the large number of people who started studying Buddhism in the sixties will be entering deeper into old age. In writing about this activity and encouraging others to join in, Iíve tried to add a little zest to it by calling us the Zen Aluminati.

Our principle advisors (listed toward the end of the letter) are from the hospice world. Many people around the Zen community have been involved in hospice work and in helping the ill and the poor either professionally or as volunteers Ė in hospitals, offices, homes, homeless shelters, on the streets. Caretaking and outreach is nothing new to this crowd. But there hasnít been a program just to keep in touch Ė itís been left mainly to chance. Itís not at all, of course, a new idea. There are in the Bay Area some visiting programs that send volunteers to homes and hospitals. They have names like Elder Visitors and Friendly Visitors. The Berkeley Zen Center has a Sangha Outreach Committee which tries to respond to members in need of help. The SF Zen Center has an Outreach Program but it has no visiting component as described though we are in contact with them and discussing this. We wish to study and work with existing visiting programs and to look into what other religious and secular organizations do. Little by little we want to contribute what we can to augment what already exists, to help establish an awareness of these needs, and to infuse the necessity of this practice into the consciousness of the Bay area Buddhist community. Of course we care about everyone, not just Buddhists, but we think we can be most effective by starting in our own back yard.


The Zen Alumbrella

When people ask me what my relation is to Zen Center these days, I frequently say Iím an alumnus. When I look at the various projects I am involved with, most of them fall into what might be called Zen alumni activity. It can be looked at as doing things in the Bay area around the Zen community that the institutions arenít able to keep up with or which some of us might think they need some prodding on. I lived in Japan for four years next door to a large temple and witnessed a complex interaction between the community within the temple and people on the outside - lay members, neighbors, retired priests, and civic leaders. The Zen Alumbrella could be seen as an effort toward nurturing that sort of healthy interconnectivity. It is not only individuals who shouldnít be isolated Ė it is institutions as well.

In the last two decades Iíve found myself to be most effective when working with institutions from the outside. When I decided to write a biography about Suzuki Roshi, most people thought it was a good idea but not an appropriate task for the institution to sponsor. The oral history Iím amassing contains a great deal more breadth than employees of the Zen groups would likely pursue. When some of us realized that it was imperative Suzukiís lectures be preserved, we worked with respected scholars and friends of the Zen Center from the outside to support those on the inside who wanted to get this work done and then raised money necessary to get that project going. At times there are people who have grievances with one group or another who want an impartial ear. I frequently hear from people who want something as small as to locate an old student whoís no longer on the ZCís mailing lists. And after talking with senior members of the SFZC and other groups in this area about the elders who were isolated it was clear that there needed to be a visiting program run at least for now from outside of the institutions because the institutions have their hands full dealing with their own retirement, pensions, insurance, and housing issues. The network we are creating to deal with these sorts of issues is the Zen Alumbrella.


As we presently envision it, the Zen Alumbrella will cover three areas of activity:

Zen Aluminati Ė visiting those of our friends who because of age or illness canít get out so easily.
Cucumber Project - preserving Suzukiís legacy Ė oral and written history, his lectures, photos, film, archiving.
Miscellaneous Projects involving the SFZC, other Zen groups, and beyond.

Each of these areas includes more possibilities than have been mentioned. A nearby Zen group wants to support the visiting program, but has asked in turn for help with starting a residential hospice in Marin County. Currently there is no residential hospice in Marin or Sonoma Counties. Some of us have been discussing the idea of a Zen retirement home and are talking about various ways in which we could join forces and help each other to nurture a caring community which addresses the problems presented by the maturing of the sangha that initially formed around Shunryu Suzuki. It is hoped that in the future we could aid in establishing residential retirement communities and hospices.

Weíd like to be able to extend our energies beyond just the Suzuki lineage in the Bay Area such as in helping John Tarrant and his Pacific Zen Institute to acquire a building of their own for zazen, classes, and events.

Sometimes there are worthy projects from outside of the Bay Area which draw our attention. Weíve provided some assistance in the last two years to Michael Goldberg in his documentary film on DT Suzuki, the immensely influential Japanese scholar who opened the door to Zen and Mahayana Buddhism to the West. [See enclosed letter from Goldberg]

We would love to be able to help brother archivist and oral historian Lama Karma Khedup of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala in his efforts to archive 25,000 audio and video tapes and films of the Dalai Lamaís talks and talks and interviews with other Lamas and lay people, including a record of their music, dance, stories, and oral history. The amount of money he needs to do his work is a fraction of what it would cost here.


Self Support

There are ways that the Zen Alumbrella can provide at least some of its own support. I am working on some writing projects that could produce publishing income in the future. Up to this point, publishing has provided 90% of the funding for these activities but thereís no income from it at the present. Another idea is to follow the suggestions of a few advisors on how to develop and better present the web site, reach more readers, and sell appropriate advertising space on it. One idea which is in its infancy is an online store, a print-on-demand business which sells gift items such as tee shirts and we hope will soon make books, CDs, and video available. Print-on-demand would allow out-of-print and non commercial books, which publishers wonít handle, to be available because there is almost zero investment and no back stock. The content files are uploaded onto the print-on-demand site, the items are made only after they are ordered, and then they are sent out by the fulfillment company. This store could also include downloadable items such as e-books. The plan is to slowly develop and add to this store, the Cuke Basket, and see what happens. We think there is great potential in this highly flexible and popular type of new market Ė not only for self-support, but for sharing ideas.


In Conclusion

All this sounds like a lot to do and it is, but it would be possible to attend to all of these tasks with enough support. I keep work prioritized and give attention on each moment to what seems most important which at the present is mostly limited to visiting people and encouraging others to do so, working on the archives and interviews, and writing. I need some support even to continue this much but with sufficient help I could put full time into it, hire helpers, seek more volunteers and the Zen Alumbrella could open wide.

We ask for your support  for the development of this alumni network, the Zen Alumbrella, so that we may be able to continue the Cucumber Project to preserve and present the life, teaching, and memory of Shunryu Suzuki, so that we can continue to keep up with our isolated friends and more successfully get a volunteer visiting program going, that we may expend some time and energy on projects such as helping to establish the residential hospice and start thinking about a retirement community, so that we may lend support to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, so that assistants can be hired as needed to do transcribing, web site development, and other clerical work. Our goal is to raise $88,000 to run full steam for a year. We would greatly appreciate your help in achieving our goals.


Thank you for your consideration of this request.

David Chadwick

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