The ZP Bearing Witness Program



When you participate in a Zen Peacemakers

Bearing Witness retreat, you participate in a peacemaking process.


Our Bearing Witness retreats take place in places where much trauma happened and where healing is needed. We want to contribute with our retreats to this healing.

In our retreats we are practicing the 3 tenets of the Zen Peacemakers:

  • Not-Knowing by giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe
  • Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the world
  • Taking Action that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness


There are different Bearing Witness [BW] Retreats; BW retreats in places where genocide has occurred (eg. Auschwitz, Rwanda, Black Hills and Bosnia), the BW retreats on the street (called street retreats) and BW retreats in places where trauma has occurred (eg. Lampedusa).

To start the Peacemaking process we seek a partnership with local key figures who can enable this Peacemaking process. For their efforts, the key contributors receive a fee and expense reimbursement. In the formation phase of a new retreat we invite local staff to our Auschwitz Bearing Witness retreat, to get acquainted with the format and practices of the retreat.

Prior to the retreat we train an average group of 15-30 people from the local community to supervise council groups. After the retreat this group of trained individuals bring their training and experience to other local peace-building projects.

Participation in our retreats means more than just joining a retreat, you contribute to a Peacemaking process.



What does the retreat fee pay for?

What does the retreat fee pay for?

  • Accommodations and meals during the retreats
  • Transportation during the retreats
  • In some cases, such as the Native Americans Retreat in South Dakota USA, the building facilities like toilets, showers, sewage, roads etc.
  • Council facilitation training for locals for both the retreat and sustained post-retreat work with the local community.
  • Honorariums, travel and lodging costs of key figures and presenters
  • Travel and accommodation costs of new presenters for the Auschwitz Retreat
  • Scholarships for local participants
  • Scholarships for potential leaders at future bearing witness retreats and those with limited means.
  • Pre-retreat planning and development trips for first-time retreats
  • Logistical and administrative costs of international staff (some staff works as a volunteer and unpaid)

Profits from our Bearing Witness Retreats are used to cover the costs of other retreats with loss, split with other participating organizations, or towards future and ongoing projects of the Zen Peacemakers.


When you participate in a Bearing Witness retreat, you enter a carefully crafted container held by various teams:

1041_black_hills_pcSpirit Holders learn and listen to the pulse of the retreat during the retreat, and adjust the schedule accordingly. This role is specific to the retreat they have been chosen for. They review the retreat structure and schedule and make recommendations for changes. The Spirit Holders include (1) individuals whose lives are deeply infused with the place and theme of the retreat, (2) Zen teachers or Masters with extensive experience in the practice and teaching of the Three Tenets and (3) Those of particular role such as Head of Logistical Staff and the Head Council Trainer.

Staff serves the needs of the retreat and its participants and translates the direction set by the spirit holders into actions. Half of it consists of local staff members with personal connection to the place of the retreat. The other half are highly trained ZPO Members.

Council Facilitators lead the daily council groups, sharing circles that give space for sharing of one’s experience of the retreat with others. These facilitators have trained with Center for Council and are under the guidance and supervision of the head council trainer, a spirit holder.


Elders are past retreat Spirit Holders who have transmitted their role to another and hold years-worth of insight from experiencing, practicing and leading at ZPO Bearing Witness retreats. They participate informally and offer to the retreat administrators and the current spirit holders feedback on the flow and pulse of the retreat.They are available to everyone as a resource before, during and after a retreat.

The Administration team develops, plans and manages the budget, marketing and schedule for each retreat from its inception to the actual start of the retreat. They continuously evaluate and determine whether a retreat is financially feasible.

If you are interested in more information on how these roles are determined and staffed, please email [email protected]

Current Actualized Projects

Current in-process Projects


Background on 2017 Bosnia/Herzegovina Bearing Witness Retreat

Click on the photo or title to learn more about our work in Bosnia/Herzegovina


Past Completed Projects

2014 Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat