Board in Discussions to Bring Zen Teacher to NCZC!

The following letter has gone out to the NCZC membership and sangha, making the official announcement:

Teshin Matt Sweger at Sunday Tea

Dear Sangha and Friends,

On behalf of the Teacher Search Committee and the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Zen Center I wish to let you know that the Center has entered into discussions with a candidate for the teacher position with the Center.  Here is an update of recent activities of the Teacher Search Committee.

Summary

Two years ago we began a process whereby we hoped to bring a new Zen teacher to the Center.  This process has unfolded through several stages. 

  1. First and foremost was consulting closely with the sangha to determine the hopes and wishes of the membership. 
  2. We then took those expressed wishes and used them to create guidelines for a teacher search process.
  3. We created a Teacher Search Committee tasked with designing and implementing a national search based on those guidelines.
  4. The Search Committee formally began that search by receiving applications starting on December 1, 2016.
  5. We received three applications over the next four months.
  6. On reviewing those applications we found that one fully met the criteria.
  7. We closely reviewed all of this applicant’s materials, interviewed his references, and interviewed him several times.
  8. We brought him to the Center for nearly a week in April to meet him and experience his teaching.
  9. We conducted further interviews and discussions over the next month.
  10. Based on what we learned, the Search Committee recommended to the Board that they offer the position to this candidate.
  11. The Board, on May 11, offered this candidate a letter of intent to enter into discussions with the intended outcome being this applicant accepting the position of teacher with the Center.
  12. This candidate accepted the letter and agreed to enter into discussions with the Center.  Those discussions are underway.

Discussion

As many of you know, during 2015 and 2016 several sangha-wide meetings were held in order to gather a sense of the direction forward the community wanted to pursue.  Through those meetings it was determined that the sangha as a whole wanted to pursue the possibility of bringing in a new Zen teacher for the Center.  Furthermore the overwhelming preference expressed by the community at these meetings was for this teacher to be either a Rinzai Zen teacher, or a teacher from a tradition which embodied the core parts of Rinzai Zen practice, in particular koan practice.

Taking these expressed wishes as directives, in late 2015 the Center put in place a Teacher Search Committee.  Over the course of that year this committee developed materials to be used for the search, and began a process of researching how other Zen centers have gone about conducting successful teacher searches.  We held additional sangha meetings to refine our understanding of the wishes of the community.  We reached out to friends in other communities across the country for advice and guidance.

Late in 2016 I left my position as President of the Board in order to take over leadership of the Teacher Search Committee.  Working with Matt Young and Ken Simon we prepared a structured process for conducting a national search.  We set the search in motion on December 1, 2016, by opening the four-month application period.  We made every effort to disseminate our position announcement as widely as possible, including posting it through very prominent national Zen groups including Zen Teachers of America and the Soto Zen Teachers Association.

Over the next four months we received three applications.  We also received inquiries from two other teachers after the application period was closed.  We began to review application materials in January of 2017.  During this review process it became clear that while all of the applicants had a high degree of Zen training and great references and credentials, only one of them fit the specific requirements as outlined by the Teacher Search Committee based on the preferences stated by the sangha.  We began to focus our efforts closely on this one candidate.

This candidate is Teshin Matt Sweger, Osho.  Teshin comes from the Rochester Zen Center lineage, which was founded by Philip Kapleau Roshi, one of the early pioneers in bringing Zen to America after World War II.  Kapleau studied under Harada Roshi and Yasutani Roshi in Japan.  These two Zen teachers taught a blend of Rinzai and Soto Zen which they felt brought the best of both forms together in one practice.  This is the tradition that Kapleau brought to America and which continues at the Rochester Zen Center under Bodhin Roshi, Dharma heir of Philip Kapleau Roshi.

Teshin began formal Zen practice at Rochester in 1993, when he was in his early twenties.  He pursued formal residential training there from 1996 to 2000. He later left the Rochester Zen Center to study under Lawson Satcher Roshi and Sunya Kjolhede Roshi at the Windhorse Zen Center in Asheville, doing residential training there from 2003 to 2007.  Lawson and his wife Sunya are both Dharma heirs of Philip Kapleau Roshi.  Teshin was ordained by Lawson Satcher Roshi in 2004.

Teshin returned to Rochester to continue residential training from 2007 to 2010.  In 2010 he took up study under Sevan Ross Roshi.  Ross had been a student of John Ford Roshi, Philip Kapleau Roshi, and Bodhin Roshi.  Teshin studied intensively with Ross for five years, completing what is known as the Harada-Yasutani Koan Curriculum, a study of hundreds of koans from the Zen traditions of China and Japan.  Ross gave Teshin full sanction to teach Zen in 2015. 

Currently Teshin lives in Rochester where he has taught Zen for the last five years through a Zen group on the campus of the University of Rochester.  He is also a chaplain working with the University.  In addition Teshin works as a licensed psychotherapist, and also as a carpenter and woodworker.  For further information about Teshin, please click here to view his resume.

Through the spring of this year the members of the Teacher Search Committee interviewed Teshin’s references in great detail about his personal character, his Zen training, his personal history, and his ability to teach Zen.  Very important to us was his ability to teach Zen on several levels, both to newcomers and to longer-term practitioners.  Also critically important to us were Teshin’s personal integrity and his interpersonal skills.  Teshin received very high marks on all of these.

We conducted lengthy interviews with Teshin by phone and Skype several times, and in March we invited Teshin to come to the NC Zen Center so we could meet him and he could meet our community.  Teshin stayed for six days, guiding practice on Thursday evening and on Sunday morning, which included giving interviews and Dharma talks.  Over the following two months we had further discussions with Teshin.

All of this is to say that according to the best efforts and judgement of the Teacher Search Committee, based on the guidelines established at the start of the search process, the Teacher Search Committee came to believe that Teshin looked like a good fit for our Center and our Sangha.  On May 9 we recommended to the Board that they enter into discussions with Teshin to see if arrangements could be worked out to bring him to the Center.  

Shortly thereafter the Board sent a letter of intent to Teshin.  The purpose of this letter was to let Teshin know that the Board would like to begin discussions with Teshin about becoming the Center’s teacher.  Teshin responded favorably, and discussions are underway to work out an agreement between the Center and Teshin.

We are all aware that this is a big transition for the Center.  It has come at the end of more than two years of intense effort involving deep study by the Teacher Search Committee, and many long hours of discussion, consideration, and communication back and forth between the Committee, the Board members, members of the sangha, and other friends of the Center around the country.  Many people have participated in this process to get it to this point, and we would like to offer our appreciation to all of them.

There is still a lot to work out.  This is a huge step for both parties.  If we reach an agrement, Teshin and his wife Dana will have to end their relationships in Rochester and pick up their lives and bring them to North Carolina.  They will have to work out jobs and lodging, and then begin the process of building new lives in this community, in addition to Teshin taking over teaching duties with the Center.  

For us, we will have to face the fact that the Center will be going in a new direction under new guidance.  All change is fraught with difficulty.  However, we, the Board and the Teacher Search Committee, are very excited about the prospects going forward.  We believe Teshin is a great fit for our Center and our community.  He is personable, dynamic, easy-going, and yet very focused.  He brings a very high degree of Zen training and experience to his teaching.  We fully expect Teshin to help to revitalize the Center, bring a whole new energy to practice and to the community, to help the Center expand, grow, and develop new programs and capacities, and rise to its full potential as a Zen teaching and practice center.  We feel extraordinarily lucky that at just the point we were looking for someone like Teshin, Teshin was available and we found each other.  

We will keep you informed as the process moves forward.  Teshin will return to the Center for a visit this coming weekend, and will guide service on Sunday morning, May 28.  If you have not met Teshin this will be a good opportunity.  He will return again to lead the summer retreat in July or August.  The dates for that retreat are not yet set but we will post them as soon as they are available.

In closing, we would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has participated in this process, to all of the sangha members who have stuck with the Center for the last three years, and to everyone along the way who has given us input, feedback, guidance and resources to assist us in this difficult, complex process.  This has been a group, a community, effort, and it has been our honor and privilege to serve the sangha in this capacity.

Yours,

Jason Dowdle

Chair, Teacher Teacher Search Committee

The North Carolina Zen Center