The Ziji Collective – A Report

Ziji: – the Shambhala International Youth Group Network

In September Llew Watkins and 2 other members of Ziji invited members of London Shambhala to a meeting at the centre, to explain what Ziji is. In particular, Llew wanted to share what happened at the Ziji summit in Berlin this summer and to provide an opportunity for discussion about the activities of Ziji with other sangha members.

I went to the meeting because (being ‘too old’ to join it) I wanted to find out more about Ziji, in particular why young Shambhala members felt the need to form an organisation separate from the main Shambhala sangha. I was interested in what this might say about Shambhala as a whole and maybe to look at the ambiguities that can arise from having an organisation whose boundaries are defined partly by ‘age’.

Ziji leadership is very aware of the difficulties that can arise when using ‘age’ as a category for defining the boundaries of membership to an organisation (currently the Ziji age range is somewhere from 18 to mid thirties but with room for movement).  Age is an issue which is under ongoing discussion and review within Ziji. Some of the discussions around age include: Where to set the upper age limit? Why have an age limit? As a small organisation trying to get established, what happens when the current Ziji leadership become ‘too old’ to belong to Ziji; who will take over? Also, differences between members in classifying ‘old’ and ‘young’, for example, a 19 year old at the summit in Berlin saw people aged 29 as old (!) and wanted more young people to be present.

One of the members of Ziji present at the meeting in London said she wants a local youth group so that she can meet up with people her own age, with similar values.  The Ziji groups and retreats she has attended offered her the opportunity to feel accepted as she is, this is something she does not experience with her peers outside of Shambhala, where there are certain expectations of values and behaviour that she does not want to fit into.

When answering the question, why be separate from the main sangha? this member said that she wants to have a place that feels like home, a place where she can develop roots from which she can grow, develop a voice and her views, this requires some autonomy from the wider sangha. From a sound base she and others in Ziji would be able and willing to feedback to the wider sangha and help it to grow too.   

An important aspect of Ziji is its autonomy from the main Shambhala organisation, both at a local and international level.  Ziji’s autonomy could provide a useful platform for thoughtful and compassionate dissent.  A platform for dissent in any organisation is important for the health of the whole community. A platform from which to voice dissent prevents organisations from growing stale, ensuring that a wide range of voices and points of view are heard, not just those of the leadership. For example, in Shambhala, this could take the form of discussing issues around form and ritual, or the current policy of discouraging Shambhala centres from having teachers from other Buddhist traditions to speak at the centres.

Ziji is a constantly evolving international network of young people who feel there is something to be gained personally and collectively by sharing ideas.  Although Ziji needs autonomy to develop, they do not see themselves as being entirely separate from the main sangha.

The London Shambhala leadership council supports Ziji’s wish for some autonomy from the main sangha and will be providing space in which the youth group can meet.  Ziji welcomes and invites periodic discussions with the wider sangha, as this can be an enriching and reciprocal experience. But for that to happen not only does Ziji need to be open and interested in communication but the wider sangha needs to be open and show an interest too.

You can find out more about the Ziji Collective here:

Kate Grierson is a member of the London Shambhala Meditation Centre. She is a Kadoka and regularly staffs programmes at the Centre.

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