Zen Master Seung Sahn first came to the West in 1972, where he established the Providence Zen Center in Rhode Island (United States). Other American Zen centers quickly developed and, in 1983, these centers came together as the Kwan Um School of Zen.
The Kwan Um School of Zen is an international organization of Zen centers and groups founded under the direction of the Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. Zen Master Seung Sahn first traveled to the West in 1972, and met his first Western students in Providence Rhode Island, in the United States, where he established the first Zen center, Providence Zen Center. Soon, more Zen centers were created on both coasts and in the midwest.
In 1978, Zen Master Seung Sahn began traveling to Europe and new Zen centers quickly appeared in many countries including Spain, Poland and Germany. He also regularly visited Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, establishing new Zen centers in Asia outside of Korea. Zen Master Seung Sahn introduced many Western students to the traditional 90-day intensive Zen retreats known as “Kyol Che,” which has been a central aspect of Korean Zen practice for monks and nuns for over 1,000 years. Today, Kyol Ches are held each year in summer and winter at designated Zen centers in North America, Europe and Asia, where monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen can all practice Zen together.
Over the years, more centers and groups were founded around the world, and in 1983, this growth led to the formal organization of the Kwan Um School of Zen, with the purpose of providing cohesion and administrative support to all of its centers. Kwan Um means “perceive world sound,” to hear the suffering sounds of the universe and offer help.
Today, the international Kwan Um School of Zen has more than a hundred centers and groups and over 40 authorized Zen masters (Soen Sa’s) and Dharma masters (Ji Do Poep Sa’s) who teach in more than 12 languages. Kwan Um Zen centers provide scheduled meditation practice sessions, public talks and retreats that are open to all who wish to practice Zen. The School also provides Dharma Teacher training for lay practitioners, and residential training and monastic training at designated centers. There are three main administrative regions within the organization: the Americas, Europe, and Asia.