I went in search of my tribe and found that they are scattered around the planet, seeded in different communities and cultures, but bound together in a network of kindred spirits with intentional impact, namely Buddhist practitioners engaged.
Like certain quantum entanglements, individuals appear in this Pure Land from other Buddha fields, with unique Bodhisattva truths to impart. So was my meeting with Yingzhao Liu. It was her background in design thinking that caught my eye when I first met her in a leadership training module for young people organized by the Tung Lin Kok Yuen Buddhist Society Canada, where she was a speaker. She was director of the user experience design team for LinkedIn for nearly six years, helping launch the Chinese edition of their platform.
In 2013, she left Seattle for the job at LinkedIn in the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually finding the Jikoji Zen Center, set in a beautiful forest of oak and laurel trees on the ridge that separates Silicon Valley and the hills. coastal. She resided there for four years, before joining the center's board of directors, before returning to Seattle.
His path to Jikoji was not straight. Yingzhao had previously worked as a designer and volunteer at a hospice. Since 2004, she has also been working in outdoor experiential education, the second main axis of her career. It was there that she learned a lot about group dynamics, self-awareness and leadership. She says this is where she first found her tribe.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Jikoji was also a catalyst for Yingzhao to teach others how to find their tribes in Impact Networks, which is what she's working on today with Converge. Their mission: to cultivate impact networks for social transformation and support network leaders. Their services include catalyzing new networks, designing and facilitating, training and coaching, cultivating existing networks, finding and hiring, and evaluating networks. The Converge website also contains links to a 20-minute impact networking video co-produced by Yingzhao, as well as a variety of resources and training. I highly recommend it.
To give you an idea of the type of work they do, here's a current example: They help build and facilitate an early childhood education network for Washington State, involving many different agencies in the area.
Why is this consistent with a Buddhist perspective and why is it important?
We Buddhists talk about Indra's network, interbeing and being a person without rank. We view our relationship with the planet as one based on mutual respect and universal responsibility. Yet many of our Buddhist organizations are based on hierarchical models. We don't network or collaborate as much or as well as we should.
The network approach is a relatively new perspective, stemming from systems integration, cybernetics and deep ecology. Think of it as a theory of complexity in practice. This last facet has been particularly relevant to the challenges of our modern world, such as climate degradation and biodiversity loss.
As Albert Einstein famously joked: you can't get out of a problem with the same level of thought that got you there.
Yingzhao's point of view is to design for integration. As she puts it, “I think Buddhism, perhaps more specifically non-duality, has a lot of overlap with complexity theory and the practice of it in today's context, in active hope. »
So how do committed Buddhists embrace this new approach? Yingzhao says a starting point for this conversation is to contrast hierarchies with networks, as in nature. The training that emerges from this organizational development would include teaching participants how to create flat and diverse network structures for working collaboratively when people are used to the hierarchical mindset. And it would also involve investigating conflict styles and further training in communication, because Western Buddhists so often avoid conflict or are too accommodating.
A concrete example
In the 1980s, I helped form the Buddhist Council of Canada (BCC). After the BCC was revived in 2011, it once again fell dormant and existed more on paper than in reality, with a few small projects like the Buddhist Literary Festival for Canada that went back and forth but never never created a wave of support or a sense of belonging. for most Buddhist organizations across the country.
Recently, the founder and beacon of the BCC, Bhante Mihita, retired into a more complete solitary retirement and stepped down from his role as the organization's spokesperson and driving force. This sparked the formation of a new board and renewed interest in what the organization could and should be.
To this end, the new board called a meeting to discuss a five-year plan, to which I was invited.
My first suggestion to the group was to adopt the Converge model, in which the Buddhist Council of Canada sees itself as a facilitator of Canadian Buddhist impact networks, helping the more than 550 Buddhist organizations that exist here to better serve their communities. That's what I've been doing for over 14 years with the Sumeru Guide to Canadian Buddhism directory, among other initiatives. So I offered to give ownership of the directory to the BCC as a way to connect with all the organizations they seek to serve. In fact, the repertoire has been available to everyone for several years without takers, which highlights one of the great challenges.
Yingzhao had mentioned to me in one of his letters that Buddhist organizations, like many advocacy groups, operate in a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance: lack of time, funds, and personnel. The picture is further complicated by the lack of digital literacy on the part of many sanghas, a serious constraint in our hyper-connected world.
She went on to say:
Certainly, more than 550 organizations would constitute a very large network, which takes a long time to catalyze. It's good to start low-key, as a learning network, where organizations can share learnings, challenges, and resources, whether with events or a platform. Some coordination would be needed to support the flow and exchanges. If some organizations want to do more together, there is a process to catalyze impact networks:
• Clarify purpose and principles
• Summon people
• Cultivate trust
• Coordinate actions
• Collaborate for system changese
This process is described in the Impact networks book. You have to focus on an impact network, and the convening is ideally done in person, so there would be quite a bit of work to do. He'It is also perfectly acceptable to remain a learning network, to have a directory and to share information. It is also worth pointing out that Impact Networks are driven more by purpose than by five-year plans, as projects that grow out of trusted relationships and emerging needs are more likely to be realized. We say that “things move at the speed of trust”. Long-term top-down plans will most likely remain on paper. The predominantly paper-based type of organization is a good example of the need for new ways of collaborating.
The BCC find themselves revisiting the first task, finding their purpose, and unable to move on to the second and third because they have not emerged organically from the larger community. They currently lack the connections or trust to authentically exist on the meta level that the name "council" implies, especially bearing in mind the Buddhist councils of long ago. The meeting participants agreed.
This lack of common purpose, trust and sense of belonging in the larger context of civil society are themes that have been repeated in many ways and time and time again in Canadian Buddhist organizations. It's not something you can just face head-on and defeat. But it is a macro-fractal of the same difficulties that individual temples face in building their own local sanghas.
What would you do to contribute to the conversation?