To strengthen our planetary network, ZPI will feature newly affiliated groups. Join HERE to explore some of the offerings of the organizations affiliated with ZPI, and visit here for a full list of these groups. The following is an introduction to Svalornas Sangha- Peacemakers Sweden.
What is your organization’s name?
Our name is Svalornas Sangha – Peacemakers Sweden, or in English the Swallows’(Martins/Martlets?) Sangha. So the name of the Sangha is inspired by two things; how we see our social engagement in society and in an intention to have an interfaith perspective.
We are inspired by the Jataka tale about the little bird that does what it can when an all devastating fire rages the jungle. In the stories I have read it has always been a little bird. Sometimes a parrot, sometimes a hummingbird and in one instance it was a sparrow. No matter what bird it is in the story, when all the other animals try to escape, this little bird flies to a nearby lake, soak it’s feathers and fill up it’s tiny beak. Then it returns and put the water it carries out over the huge fire. It continues to fly back and forth, even when the flames burn higher. One other animal asks the little bird why it does this dangerous and hopeless work. The bird answers:
- Because I can!
In Sweden we don’t have parrots or hummingbirds. And then we remembered a Christian story about when Jesus was on the cross with his crown of thornes. Some swallows (Martins/Martlets?) saw him hanging there, dying and in great pain. They flew down and picked out the thorns from his head. In the midst of unbearable suffering, they did what they could to alleviate it.
So we took the name Svalornas Sangha since it points to our intention to be engaged in this world of immense suffering, with our practice, and remember to do what we can, even when it is hopeless. Or with Bernie’s words: to use the ingredients of our lifes. To remember to not get stuck in some goal, but to use our life as it is. And the swallow is a little beautiful bird that lives here in Sweden during summertime.
What is your mission?
Svalornas Sangha’s mission is to bring together meditative practices and social/environmental action in the world and be open to and invite to interfaith group activities. We intend to be a very open group that welcomes people from other traditions who are interested in joining their practice and social engagement and for social activists who wants to find a place to learn and practice meditation.
Where is your organization based?
We are based in Sweden and primarily in Göteborg, the second largest city in Sweden. But there is interest from people to start up groups in Stockholm and other places as well. At the moment – and maybe for a long time, we do not have a indoor zendo or house. Instead we see ourselves as a fleeting Sangha, like a cloud, that moves over the sky. So we make it our zendo wherever we hear the cries of the world. Our Day of Reflections are held out in nature, Meditation For Future makes the zendo come alive in the middle of the city on a town square and so on.
How many regular members do you serve?
We are about 20 people who regularly meet on different activities, and then around 30 more in other cities.
Tell us a bit about how the group was conceived?
This sangha started up as a seed within another sangha. I have for a long time been interested in the merging of meditative practice and social activism, and how the two can be strengthening each other and be one. In 2010 me and another sangha member from this other Zen Sangha, took an online course with Fleet Maul on Meditation and Mindfulness in Prison. Later we did this course in Swedish prisons and also started up a ”Book Behind Bars”-project, that is still running.
There weren’t much support for socially engaged Buddhism within this sangha, but we continued to do things with that inspiration. After my first Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz in 2013 I had an idea of doing a Bearing Witness Pilgrimage in Sweden. It was an interfaith Pilgrimage where we wanted to Bear Witness to where and how war was present in a peaceful country like Sweden today. And instead of having a specific place as a teacher, we let the meetings with refugees, war veterans and so on be the teacher during this pilgrimage. Later this was followed by pilgrimages for three years in a row. A text has been published on the ZPI webpage about this some years ago – Tracing the Paths of Bullets.
I also started to study the Peaceaker Precepts and having talks with Barbara Wegemüller after my first Auschwitz retreat to deepen my understanding of the Peacemaker Path. I also became a member of the Zen Peacemaker Order then. The vision was to let the Zen Center I was a Sangha leader for have more socially engaged practicies within that tradition, but it met so much resistance, that I decided to leave in 2018 and instead build a new Sangha more in line with the Zen Peacemaker Order.
Last summer when I made my Peacemaker rakusu with Barbara and Roland in Bern, Barbara made me a Dharma Holder of the Zen Peacmakers.
Our first get together as Svalornas Sangha was in the spring of 2019 when we had some meetings and talked about what kind of Sangha we wanted to build. The last meeting for that spring we did meditation and talked about and practiced some Non-Violent Communication. So then last fall (in 2019) we started to meet regularly once a month doing Meditation and Non-Violent Communication practice together as a group. We also have Day of Reflection monthly out in nature and a Meditation for Future weekly just before the Climate Strike organized by Fridays For Future starts.
Our monthly ”Meditation and NVC-trainings” are aimed at the suffering in our society that comes out of not being in touch with our emotions and needs and how our sometimes destructive ways of communication creates more separation and suffering. We think it can be very beneficial to practice meditation and NVC together. It seems to strengthen each other and also a very hands on way to bring the practice into the relationships of our lives. These meetings are very appreciated by the Sangha members that participate.
The Days of Reflection are being done outdoors, in nature, and hopefully we will continue to do so for some time. The environmental crisis is acute and to coming home to nature, to be one with our One Legged relatives in combination with reflections on the Peacemaker Precepts and Council Circles at the end of the day is one way to let Action arise from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness. In the spring we will do these days in co-operation with an organization called ”Ren Kust” (Clean Coastline) that works with cleaning up plastic waste that floats up on the beaches. So part of the Day of Reflection will also incorporate a couple of hours of cleaning up the beaches.
Since the people who were responsible for the ”Book Behind Bars”-project in the old Zen community are all involved in Svalornas Sangha, we will also continue to work with that. From the beginning it was a ”Books only”-project, but then it evolved into Dharma Mentors through exchanging letters with prisoners as well.
How do the Three Tenets inform your social engagement? (Best to include a specific story or anecdote to illustrate)
In very diverse ways I’d say. At our gatherings, we do sitting and walking meditation. And the taking action that comes out of it is of course influenced in some ways from the theme we have met around. As for instance when we ”practice in the wild” to use David Loy’s terminology, our meditation in nature, alongside with our One Legged Relatives brings us out of our ordinary knowing of how we interrelate and inter become with Mother Earth, but the action that springs from it in every participants life is very diverse. We have also been Bearing Witness to the consumer society we have by doing Garbage picking meditation on the streets of Göteborg. To walk the streets in meditation and pick up what’s just left behind. It’s both a meditation in itself on our own consumer mentality and what we waste, but also a direct action in cleaning up the city. Some very interesting conversations came along with other people when they saw us volunteer to clean up the city in silence.
At our Bearing Witness Pilgrimages it has been especially interesting to let the meetings with people be the teacher. We did formal meditation and had periods of silence in between, but the meetings and sharing with people who had very different experience with the arms trade and/or anti-war activism and refugees made a fertile ground for Not-Knowing. We set out with the explicit intention not to be stuck in our views of what to do and to not have an agenda beforehand. And afterwards it’s been really inspiring to see all the actions that has sprung out of it.
What is the most meaningful challenge your organization faces?
To reach out to activists and people interested in social engagement and to see how the meditative practice can be of help in this work. In Sweden there is still a lot of ideas about meditative practices being some kind of escape from the world and withdrawal from what needs to be done.
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Learn more about Svalornas Sangha by visiting their website, and visit hive.zenpeacemakers.org to find more great work by our global affiliate network. A complete list of our affiliated groups can be found here.